On Naming Genocide in Sri Lanka

So not fun. This post may strike you as a strange way for the ethnomusicologist to start her stint as a guest blogger here, but bear with me. Given the news this week, this question has been on my mind, and I need to get it off my chest before I start blogging about all the other things dear to my heart—- music, movies, food, art, driving my parents crazy with my music major, and living at 6200+ ft above sea level in a pristine Alpine desert climate. Rest assured, there’s time for all of that.

Over the past few months, I have noticed that many people (ok, I’ve especially noticed one) have used the term “genocide” to describe what has happened to the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. The word is a strong one, evoking the most heinous acts that can be committed against humanity. Tamil civilians have indeed suffered in the civil war over the past two decades, but echoing Amardeep earlier this week, I’m uneasy with the term.The word “genocide” is loaded with historical baggage that dates back to the UN Convention on Genocide in 1948. In a recent book on Darfur, Mahmood Mamdani provides a working definition that represents how most people think of the term, and why the term wouldn’t, for example, apply to the high numbers of casualties of Iraqi civilians: “Only when extreme violence targets for annihilation a civilian population that is marked off as different ‘on grounds of race, ethnicity, or religion’ is that violence termed genocide.”

This definition is straightforward—mostly because it leaves out any mention of who is committing that violence. As the term circulates, it tends to clearly distinguish those who are committing violence from those who are the victims of that violence—whether it’s Hutus attacking Tutsis or the Janjaweed attacking Sudanese civilians in Darfur. The reality on the ground is rarely so black and white, and Mamdani’s book (which has, admittedly, ruffled a few feathers) lays out the intricate, tangled strands that compose that complicated reality in Darfur.

With respect to Sri Lanka, Tamil civilians (as well as those in the considerable Muslim minority) have been the victims of abductions, disappearances, and systematic killing by the government of Sri Lanka and armed groups linked to the government. During the war, they were caught quite literally in crossfire and subjected to intensive aerial bombing and shelling. These same civilians were also until very recently prevented from trying to flee LTTE-controlled areas, and there is other evidence for internally committed human rights abuses within the Tamil community. Terms like “genocide” (and “terrorism,” for that matter) raise our blood pressure and focus our attention on those who have committed violence, but they don’t even begin to address how minorities can be more effectively represented and fairly treated in the future.

I’m not saying it didn’t happen. But now that we have people’s attention, can we get past the name-calling?

40 thoughts on “On Naming Genocide in Sri Lanka

  1. Welcome to SM !!

    I think this is one of those issues, where, when you are a part of the minority that is affected, it is much harder to stay objective. The same thing occurred in Burma – if you talked to any Burmese, they would have listed off many examples or human rights crimes and how their situation warranted international action – even if the numbers involved may be smaller than other areas of conflict. Sometimes its sadly a numbers / percentages game (how much percentage of the minority killed is considered a genocide vs raw numbers).

    Then again, as many have stated, the Government which represents the minority as well as the majority should always have a higher standard – no matter how low the other side gets. Also, as in Pakistan, it seems to be an easier tactic to simply shell the enemy than use ground troops (see Balkans conflict in the 90s where the NATO also chose to bomb from afar, while the Tutsis were being massacred), which always leads to high civilian deaths.

    What I am seeing now though is that many Tamils are not and will not be ready to move on from this even if the conflict is over – there was too much collateral damage, and with the LTTE decimated, the government is still around and accountable. And it seems that even though the LTTE did some horrible things as well, worse as time went on, they still seem to be seen as representing a legitimate issue which needed to be addressed in their mind.

    Heck, some Sikhs still see the Khalistanis like Bhinranwale as a hero and even disliked Gandhi for not doing more to help the pre-partition freedom fighters who chose more violent tactics.

    Always a touchy issue when not part of the group being affected. But nothing is ever black and white.

  2. Oh – and speaking of things not black and white – I highly recommend the movie Terrorist. Although obviously (though not specifically stated as such) set in Sri Lanka, depicts many powerful themes which apply to any peoples and individuals in the similar conflicts and also beautifully filmed and finely acted.


  3. GurMando, thanks for the welcome. I know I’m not doing justice to the complexity of the situation, but I’m very worried about how long it will take before people are able to focus on addressing what is already a huge humanitarian crisis and start thinking productively about moving forward. You’re right in expecting that the government should have taken the higher ground, but it of course didn’t. In the meantime, there are already some troubling debates as to whether the Sri Lankan government’s approach should serve as a model for addressing insurgent conflicts elsewhere. On another note, whether or not you buy his argument, one of the things that Mamdani points to is this game of numbers that you mention– and the fact that the crisis in the Congo had a far greater number of casualties than in Darfur– suggesting that it’s more than numbers.

  4. I agree with what you’re saying – and since I’m not Tamil, just playing the devil’s advocate.

    I think it’s just too new / recent for people to move on for while , especially when they feel as if their “side” is being portrayed as just the losing, terrorist side.

    • There are many Tamil legislators in Sri Lanka’s parliament – both in the government and in the opposition. This includes the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance.

    • Over one million Indian origin Tamils live in Central and Southern Sri Lanka in peace among the Sinhalese and Muslims.

    • The representatives of the Indian origin Tamils are a part of the current Sri Lankan government.

    • More than 50% of Sri Lanka’s Tamil population live outside the north and the east of the country.

    • Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka is a majority Tamil-speaking city.

    • Tamil is an official language of Sri Lanka alongside Sinhalese.

    • There is an officially sponsored Tamil Language Day, whilst there is no such day for the Sinhalese language.

    • There are many Tamil language television channels and radio channels that are broadcast throughout the island. They are all based in in the south of the country.

    • There are many Tamil language newspapers and magazines. Most of them are based and are published in the south of the country.

    • State television has a dedicated Tamil media unit that ensures production of indigenous Sri Lankan Tamil shows (versus the ones brought from Tamil Nadu).

    • State radio provides a dedicated Tamil language service.

    • All Tamil language media from foreign countries are exempted from the tax the government imposes on foreign films/shows, even though many Tamil shows are from India.

    • There are Tamil medium schools all across the island, with some of the most sought after ones to be found in Colombo.

    • In some of the most prestigious Sinhalese medium schools, the government has ensured there is a Tamil stream so that Tamil students can study in the Tamil medium. Not one Tamil medium school – even the most prestigious ones – offers a Sinhalese medium stream.

    • Tamils can study in Tamil medium from kindergarten upto and including university. There are two universities that are almost exclusively available to Tamil speakers whilst the other universities in the south of the country are ‘shared’ amongst all the ethnic groups.

    • Tamil students from Jaffna and the Vanni – almost exclusively Tamil – can get into university with lower marks than students from other parts of the country.

    • Sri Lanka’s most brilliant foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was a Tamil. He was assasinated by the “freedom fighters”

    • Sri Lanka’s cricketing hero is Muttiah Muralitharan – a Tamil.

    • Ketheesh Loganathan who was head of the Government Peace Secretariat was a Tamil. He was assasinated by the “freedom fighters”

    • The Sri Lankan flag is the only flag in the world that recognises the Tamil people. The Tamil people are represented by the orange stripe..

    • Over the past 25 years the government has been paying the salaries of all the Tamil teachers, principles, doctors, nurses, health care workers, bankers in LTTE controlled areas.

    • Over the past 25 years the government has been paying for the upkeep of schools, hospitals, banks, educational institutions, clinics in LTTE controlled areas.

    • Over the past 25 years the government has been providing electricity and water to LTTE controlled areas.


  5. So I am still not clear what in your opinion constitutes genocide. Did the Hutus commit genocide of the Tutsis or not? If not, what examples would you give for genocide in history and why?

  6. The deaths of Tamil figures in government is sad but mirrors what was done in Iraq or Afghanistan (if your not with us your against us).

    Those are great facts and not ones heard that often – but what does Tamil multi-culturalism within Sri Lanka and government support and subsidization for Tamil speaking media and education have anything to do with large civilian deaths ? Again, not Tamil myself – just wondering if your argument could be better phrased. I am sure if things were as rosy, as stated by that list, in the 1970s, there would be no conflict – are they not more a result of the conflict ?

  7. No one debates whether there was a genocide in Rwanda – a minimum of 500,00 people were killed (up to 1M by some estimates) and all in a very short period.

    I think the argument here isn’t was this a genocide or what constitutes a genocide but that an effort should be made to move forward instead of retaining anger and blame. Something horrible happened, yes - so what do we do now ? Rather than labels, let’s create some unity.

    But I don’t think that a people that feel this wronged will move on right away. The government will always say they were fighting a just cause against terrorists so they won’t admit wrongdoing – and the Tamils will feel the same about the LTTE (that in their mind, their cause, not tactics, was legitimate).

    The diaspora around the world will feel more anger than those at home – this is the case a lot of times. Those at home may wish to move on sooner – but you have to remember, this was a 20-30 year conflict. And the government may be keen to take the surviving LTTE and have long running, public trials.

    It is going to take some time. But maybe similar model to South Africa (and Rwanda) may work – Truth and Reconciliation – on both sides. Something where government and ‘former’ rebels meet and admit what was done wrong and ask for forgiveness. But again – it would take both sides to admit to something.

  8. interesting topic, glad you brought it up…i was one of the people who had issue with the term “genocide” that was being thrown around. i had never heard it used before during this conflict, but during the last several months, where an end to the war was in sight, some of the diaspora starting using this term, as if in a last ditch effort to get humanitarian orgs riled up. sorry if that sounds cynical—i do believe that the slgov has committed human rights violations, but it wasn’t systemically against tamils. as you pointed out, the LTTE has committed systemically killing of the dissidents within their own ranks and beyond. the only “ethnically cleansed” part is the north. while accusations have been made about the slgov playing a role in communal violence—the current sl government is different from the one that existed in the 1950s.

    you can’t use the word “genocide” if there are tamil people in the south and upcountry living in peace—with their own schools, temples, etc. the people are dying in the north is an unfortunate byproduct of them being in what is essentially a military zone. that area has been unsafe for a long time. i’m not blaming them for being there, i’m sure they couldn’t very well easily escape being under the LTTE—but it’s not genocide.

    it does bother me when some people (MIA) continually try to conflate the actions of sinhalese with the sri lankan goverment. she calls it a “sinhalese” jail, not a government jail. sorry if this is a bit of a tangent, but she was a high profile person that was parroting this genocide stuff over the airways. that kind of stuff is just so unproductive, and it definitely doesn’t help her countrymen on the ground. it’s unfortunate she doesn’t try search out the subtitles of reality…but i guess that takes more work, and it’s easier to parrot one viewpoint (the LTTE in her case), esp if that’s what you want to believe.

  9. Thanks to all of you for your feedback on what was a difficult column to write. (I thought I would be eaten by trolls even before I made my coffee this morning.) What constitutes “genocide,” especially in terms of the percentage of people affected, is rarely clear; the UN Convention isn’t even that clear. But the mere mention of it (and discussions as to whether or not it took place) inevitably narrow our understanding of a very complicated conflict into two voices that would claim to represent all the voices in Sri Lanka and in the diaspora. That’s what got us into this mess. I am aware that it will take a while to move forward, but if some of us can be vigilant about how and where words like “genocide” and “terrorism” are used, that will help move things along by creating a space for other voices and viewpoints to be acknowledged.

  10. 5 Genocide?.

    Because you are giving statistics. Can you tell us how many Tamils are there in the Sri lankan Army / military / para military / police forces?. (whether in tens/hundreds or thousands)

  11. I think I left this option in #11

    Because you are giving statistics. Can you tell us how many Tamils are there in the Sri lankan Army / military / para military / police forces?. (whether in tens/hundreds or thousands)

    which is


  12. there is no possibility of ‘getting past’ the name-calling. Something that can be known only by looking through a good SL blog aggregator like http://www.kottu.org (currently down, as well as http://www.indi.ca)–a a great way to gauge the tone and know the vocabulary of the ‘live’ discussion going on among most interested and invested parties.

    ‘Genocide’ can certainly be put aside but ‘terrorism’ cannot because whether purposefully or not, both the LTTE and GOSL caused people to be terrified throughout their conflict. No one can ‘move on’ from acknowledging that, least of all those who lost loved ones (whether they were voluntarily there as most of the tigers and soldiers were or involuntarily as all of the IDPs were)

    The “two voices” you describe are not those arguing along the lines of “genocide ” or “terrorism” but the Singhalese who routinely describe “the diaspora” being or doing this or that without substantiation or even the slightest shred of insight to establish credibility and the diaspora Tamils who believe the GOSL and army to be a monolithic entity filled with racist sinhala supremacists bent on rape and plunder of the north.

    DBS Jeyaraj (probably the only working diaspora tamil journalist worth reading) hits on this here: http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/611

    you should consider the impact of asking people to “move on” when the repercussions of 25 years of conflict are only now starting to be unpacked, identified and, frankly, recognized as consequences by SL society.

  13. Nayagan, Thanks for your comments. I didn’t mean to imply that we should sweep anything under the rug and pretend that all is well; in fact, it’s crucial that we don’t. But lumping all Tamils together with the LTTE, which then gets associated with the term “terrorism,” does detract attention from the legitimate concerns of minority groups (Tamils, Muslims, not to mention the voices of women and children who aren’t usually asked their opinions). As for the term “genocide,” well, we seem to agree on that, and you’ve also portrayed the stereotyping (on both sides) as I understand them.

    The tone of discussion right now is indeed lively, and the last thing anybody should be doing is to silence those voices. But what Mamdani has written is what’s resonating in my mind right now:

    If peace and justice are to be complementary rather than conflicting objectives, we must distinguish victors’ justice from survivors’ justice: if one insists on distinguishing right from wrong, the other seeks to reconcile different rights. In a situation where there is no winner and thus no possibility of victors’ justice, survivors’ justice may indeed be the only form of justice possible.

    Perhaps it’s unrealistic to think in these terms, but I would prefer to not give up hope altogether.

  14. What would someone call the following

    The Darfur Civil War (Present), Rwanda Genocide (1994), Srebrenica Genocide (2001), Khojaly Massacre (1992), Congo Civil War, Helmet Massacre (1988), Tibet Killings (1959), Iraqi Kurds War (1988, I guess), Soviet War in Afghanistan(), Sabra and Shatila Massacre, The Holocaust, Cambodian Killings, Guatemalan civil war….list goes on….

    if they don’t want to call the Tamil Civilian Killings as ‘Genocide’ (esp the ‘Black July’)…??

  15. “I’m not saying it didn’t happen. But now that we have people’s attention, can we get past the name-calling?”

    I think you kinda have it backwards. Whether it happened does matter. Using conciliatory language is only useful if the other side is genuinely interested in compromise. The question of whether this was genocide comes first – if a state makes a deliberate attempt to target a community, is being civil about it going to change their minds? Screaming genocide and making a huge racket is more useful to your cause in that situation. The Palestinian use of the word apartheid is a good example. It’s not strictly accurate, but it has drawn more attention to their cause.

    Coming back to Sri Lanka, It’s still too early to say how the govt. plans to approach this post-war. No state will ever come out and state they are conducting genocide. You can only judge their intent by their actions. They’ve just conducted a very violent campaign against the Tamil people, regardless of who they were actually targeting and why. The GOSL needs to earn the benefit of the doubt. It’s naive and unfair to say Tamils should play nice when they haven’t yet seen any signs that indicate doing so would be productive.

  16. A really great post Nilanjan. A difficult topic (one that I’ve shied away for fear of the trolls you mention) and IMO, you handled it with thoughtfulness and care. Saying we should get past “name-calling” might raise hackles, but I think you mean that we should refrain from loosely throwing around words like “genocide” and I couldn’t agree more.

  17. It’s good to hear someone try to reclaim the proper language.

    Genocide strictly is when one ethnic group tries to target and exterminate EVERY SINGLE PERSON of another ethnic group. In the past century, there have been only three genocides: Armenians (by the Turks), Jews (by the Germans), and the Tutsis (by the Hutus).

    Targeting a few is not genocide. Targeting thousands is not genocide. Yes, these are murderous, but not genocide. When every single member of the group is targeted, then it is genocide.

    The Tamils are unquestionably the victims of oppression, war crimes, murder. atrocities. Not genocide. That has become (in most cases) a marketing term for a political agenda.

  18. A working definition of genocide that involves the killing of “every single person of another ethnic group” is not an accurate one, nor is it a more precise use of language. The UN Convention on Genocide states in Article Two that the acts in question constitute genocide when they are “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. Under that legal definition, there is a very strong argument to be made that what took place and is taking place in Sri Lanka constitutes genocidal action.

    As an aside to Poster #5, the Sri Lankan flag may recognize Tamils and Muslims (orange and green stripes), but surely you can also see that the Sinhala lion is holding a sword towards these minorities? The symbolism is potent in such a fraught context.

    Nilanjana, I can appreciate that the conflation of “terrorist” and “Tamil” has been problematic. I can appreciate that you think using the term “genocide” is unhelpful. I can appreciate all of that. I still don’t, for the life of me, understand how you think that a prospective and prescriptive approach to what has happened in Sri Lanka even gets off the ground without a meaningful attempt to understand why people use those terms, and their accuracy.

    Moreover, I don’t think it is correct to suggest that: “they don’t even begin to address how minorities can be more effectively represented and fairly treated in the future”. They are the starting points for the necessary discussion in this particular situation. The havoc wrought by the Tigers, over the last twenty-five years, had a destructive and profound impact on the psyche of the country. The havoc wrought by the Sri Lankan government, whether you call it state-sponsored terrorism, or chauvinism, or now genocide, over the last forty or so years, has borne a generational nihilism. This is exactly where we start.

    Anyway, the very painful reality is that it doesn’t matter whether anyone here thinks it was a genocide. What has happened has happened. And the realpolitik involved will not do anything to prevent the untold suffering still to come in those “refugee camps” ringed with barbed wire and rampant atrocities, and that burned and beaten ground.

  19. if they don’t want to call the Tamil Civilian Killings as ‘Genocide’ (esp the ‘Black July’)…??

    Black July — definitely government-sponsored pogroms.

    Nilanjana and Cicatrix,

    I request you to pause and reconsider using the label ‘troll’ in the context you are using.

  20. Where to start? Cicatrix, you’re right about that last sentence not being so clear, but I did indeed mean what you said. (Do you have ESP?)

    I don’t think that distinguishing what is the certainty of war crimes committed by the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE from “genocide,” murky even in its official UN definition, is being “conciliatory” or “playing nice.” It’s being concrete and precise, which ultimately helps assign responsibility and move towards justice.

    As for what’s next, your guess is as good as mine. It’s early yet, and I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t at all rosy. The article by DBS Jeyaraj that Nayagan mentioned is indeed useful reading, and I would recommend it to all of you. I can’t say much more to clarify my own position, but in the meantime, thanks to all you for sharing your thoughts.

  21. Oops, my husband hit the send button on comment # 23 thinking I was done. I was not.

    I meant to say I appreciate why you felt defensive–but in this context, every side is defensive in addition to being more or less emotional. If inviting people to have a dialog is your aim, then give less importance to your own defensiveness.

    A small point, perhaps, but it will mean a lot to everybody.

  22. Our posts were crossed. Malathi, I was scared of potential trolls and had nightmares about it all night, but they didn’t come out– for which I’m thankful.

    Nux2, there has been so much ink spilled on whether the 1948 Convention definition is useful. I agree that what has transpired does fulfill that definition, but it doesn’t exactly fulfill Lemkin’s definition, which is what Murali refers to– and which many people view to be as or more legitimate. That grey area inevitably rears its head in most discussions of genocide as it has here, and in this case, I do think we can accomplish a great deal without using it– perhaps even more. If it’s not already clear, I fully agree that we need to take a detailed look at all that has happened. As you remark, there is now a whole generation that does not recognize the identity of Sri Lanka outside of this conflict and all the destructive divisions that it has wrought, and it’s in everybody’s interest to ground the discussion to follow in the most concrete terms possible.

  23. Apologies, I misunderstood you position. I guess I wasn’t clear on mine either – I was speaking purely in terms of practical consequences of the allegation of genocide as a tool to further your cause as a member of the minority under siege. Not in a discussion of the issues that’s more intellectual – where you’re trying to be unbiased and honest.

    The thing about assigning blame and moving towards justice is that realistically, this doesn’t happen. Whether we call it genocide or ethnic-cleansing or civil war, the Tutsi have never got justice and they’re not going to. There’s no authority capable of dispensing such justice. Whats left then is for the minority to use whatever tools it can to protect themselves. Public perception is pretty powerful in this regard if you can get it mobilized. Using loaded terms like ‘genocide’ and ‘apartheid’ which hold historical significance gets them that attention from the people watching. Branding obscures issues, but it works. Like I said, it does become counterproductive when there is genuine hope of compromise, but without that hope, maybe the attention is worth abusing this tool. Whatever actually happened, constantly reminding people it was genocide is more likely to protect the Tutsi in the future than plain old ‘civil war’.

    I guess I’m saying I agree that a historian, for example, shouldn’t use the word genocide carelessly, but when someone like MIA uses the word, more practical considerations come into play. I personally feel whether she’s helping or hurting her community with her allegations takes precedence over whether she is being accurate.

  24. Nilanjana,

    Here’s few more with mostly reasoned commentary. Hard news is tough to come by–but it was al jazeera english who was ducking bullets in the conflict zone while CNN, BBC and the rest threw their hands up in despair and newspapers complained about their ace reporters being turned back at CBK.

    1. http://cerno.wordpress.com/
    2. http://blacklightarrow.wordpress.com/
    3. http://www.transcurrents.com/
    4. http://sahasamvada-forum.blogspot.com/

    I think the ‘concrete terms’ should include discussion of whether an action is indiscriminate in effect, rather than intent.

  25. All of you have given this music professor a run for her money in her first blog post ever over 140 characters. (In all truth, it was a tossup between “genocide in Sri Lanka” and “German Playboy model eyes Bollywood,” but I had some issues with being tagged as that ethnomusicologist who writes on German porn. Music professors already have enough credibility issues.) It speaks to SM and its readers that we’re able to talk about things like this. Most people aren’t.

    AV, you’re entirely correct that the term has been effective in many contexts– in the real world outside academia, which is where most stuff happens [grin]. But here’s what still bugs me: given that there are abuses on both sides, what happens to pursuing the injustices committed by the LTTE if this conflict is framed as one of genocide? Would there even be space for that discussion? (I won’t even bring up the incredibly fanciful possibility of an international war crimes tribunal or a truth or reconciliation commission process… whoops, just did. Forget that I even mentioned it.)

    Nayagan, your point about distinguishing effect and intent is well-taken. I’m cutting and pasting links to the blogs you’ve listed above so lazier people can access them, and I look forward to checking them out: 1. http://cerno.wordpress.com/ 2. http://blacklightarrow.wordpress.com/ 3. http://www.transcurrents.com/ 4. http://sahasamvada-forum.blogspot.com/

    Thanks, guys. Good night…

  26. A litmus test on the definition of Genocide may be the reason why Genocides are defined as such after the fact and not during.
    I believe the debate about using the term loosely has more to do with the need to hide our inability to act decisively in the face of mass atrocity. We keep inventing new terms to keep this academic discourse alive preciously because we have not been able to prevent mass atrocities in general: The new term being responsibility to Protect (R2P). Mass atrocities are most often committed by states or by people closely associated with its power structure. I am not disputing that terror groups can cause havoc and carnage but only states are capable of carrying out a sustained mass atrocity using all the resources of a state. Any collective group of people who don’t identify with a state but decide to oppose it by violent means (regardless of how oppressive the state is) are at the complete mercy of the international order which will always seek to protect the states over people’s sovereignty. The Post WW11 encouragement for sovereign people to exercise their rights over that of the states ceased to exist once the global configurations met the needs of the powers that be. It may again be brought back at an appropriate time. What I was trying to highlight was that the debate on the proper use of the term Genocide will always remain only in the academic arena. Loss of innocent lives will also remain only as mere statistics in the larger game of geo politics. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article6322415.ece if you are interested in an academic view of if it is Genocide that is happening in Sri lanka you may also want to listen to this guy who may know a thing or two about mass atrocities http://archive.kpfk.org/parchive/mp3/kpfk_090519_170030bts_michael.MP3

  27. Milthi,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments I couldn’t agree more with what you write below:

    Any collective group of people who don’t identify with a state but decide to oppose it by violent means (regardless of how oppressive the state is) are at the complete mercy of the international order which will always seek to protect the states over people’s sovereignty.

    I hear you saying that we need to use the term “genocide” because there’s no room to acknowledge the LTTE’s attacks on Tamils and Muslims as well as Sinhalese and at the same time ensure that international authorities hold the Sri Lankan state government responsible for its own abuses. (Please correct me if I’m garbling what you said.) Can any of the rest of you see a way around this?

  28. I may have garbled what I was trying to say actually I was trying to say that the discussions on the academic and legal merits for the quailed use of that term Genocide is nonsense. Tamils used it because that is how they saw it.
    Genocide is a label reserved only for remembrance (and it some cases for self appointed celebrity cause bearers and in most cases to wash away our guilt) and it will always remain as such. Tamils mistakenly believed that in their case it may be used for prevention of mass atrocities. So they were not wrong to use the term Genocide they were just naïve. A repeated argument I see on the forums is that the government could have killed all the Tamils but it did not. So it could not have been Genocide. It flaws then that the genocide can be proven ONLY after ALL the Tamils are killed thus the Tamils should have waited until that happens before using the term Genocide. Proving my earlier point. If we are truly interested in prevention, then the genocide label should also apply to intent regardless of academic and legal definitions. The fact the government was willing/trying to and partially succeeded in wiping out a very big percentage of one ethnic group should have been clear enough. Coupling that with the history of systematic and structural racism and discrimination of that government to the same people.
    Knowing that the term Genocide is utterly useless in any practical sense, is why people keep inventing new terms such as R2P, hoping, at some point, they have a way to actually get to prevention of mass atrocities: Yet another useless and futile exercise. Because the current international order always seeks to protect states and their right to be violent. The dictum is States are the sole possessors for dispensing violence and they are allowed to use the most horrific means to keep that in their possession. The one and only exception is when the geo political interests are threatened. Humanitarian concerns play a role only when they are NOT man(state) made (eg: Tsunami) (Many people were left with out any Aid when the Burmese government refused outside help).
    So even if the Tamils did not use the term Genocide, the end result would be the same. I think it is some what absurd to argue that may be if they had not used the term Genocide, they may have gotten some help.
    Whether LTTE and Sri lankan government should be equally held responsible for what happened is a different thread so I don’t also garble that.

  29. It was interesting reading the post and more importantly the comments. Topics such as these are inherently personal and I guess after a certain point, there is always the difference in perspective simply due to ones own involvment in this matter. I was in Copenhagen this weekend and I saw that there was a huge procession of Tamils protesting …they were basically walking around in circles around the parliament building with flags and banners. They were atleast thousand of them I guess. I wonder if many of them had come to Europe as asylum seekers (?) What is also interesting is how these conflicts are being transplanted into the host countries…e.g the incident in Austria.

    On a totally unrelated topic, I look forward to your posts. I looked up the link on ethnomusicologist. I hope you already ran into Ilaiyaraaja in India..who I consider to be one of India’s and world’s finest composer/musician who blends music styles like no other (i.e not just ‘fusion’ but somebody who understands the true depths of indian classical music and western classical music while being known as the champion of folk/rustic music).

  30. Bhanu, hello, and thanks for following my link!

    The relationship between the diaspora and the home country is indeed always evolving and always changing– and rarely something that can be summed up in one viewpoint, as we can see here.

    As for Ilaiyaraaja, he’s a towering giant who’s difficult to avoid– in the best possible way! I listen to and write on Hindi film music mostly because I don’t understand Tamil, but I have a few colleagues who do lots of work on S. Indian film music.

  31. Thanks for the reply. Your profession seems quite interesting. In your view, should an enthomusicologist be trained in music themselves or do people get into this area with just the ability to discern and interpret ?

    As for IR, I guess language is no barrier, but if you have not listened to any of these albums (Hindi/Instrumental), please drop me a note (may be on my bloglink or via email). As a fan of IR, it it our duty to ensure that the music of this genius is shared -:)

    Sadma, Mahadev, Cheeni Kum, Nothing But Wind (a western classical album with Hariprasad Chaurasia on flute), How to Name it (an interpretation of Bach music in South Indian Carnatic idiom), Thiruvasagam (old tamil texts set to symphony orchestra of Budapest).

  32. Genocide, blah blah. The Tamils are desperately engaging in hyperbole. Typical of them, especially the guys sitting outside Sri Lanka – with their Propaganda attempts. They – again, the guys outside – think they have nothing to lose and possibly only something to gain if they can erase collective memories the world over of all that happened and substitute it with a sugar coated genocide pill. (Like the Auschwitzers gassed their own, or prevented their escape! It is even worse of an insult to all those Native tribes who have been decimated from our history books – as if they killed their own, and financed such efforts, in their struggle against “civilisation”).

    I’m glad to see the Sinhalese didn’t cave in earlier (during the fighting), and that the Indians didn’t try and play hero either. Showed that some people recognized that the organized LTTE had to be wiped out – to the extent possible.

    That policy was defensible. You had to contain and try and eradicate the LTTE – some of the worst specimens that humakind has produced. And collateral damage always was and always will be part of every war. (So if you all-of-a-sudden-holier-than-thou Tamils didn’t like it – the CD – you should not have financed it).

    But that war has been “won” and it is now time for another battle. A bloody, ruthless war has ended in victory for one side and a reluctant defeat for the other only in name. The Sinhalese are going to have to learn slowly but surely that no battleground victory over LTTE is any substitute for even handed treatment of all. In this second battle, there won’t be any winners. Only equal participants. So all the internment, and lack of access to relief efforts – all those games had better end soon. Otherwise SriLanka pays a price. Not the breathless, savage LTTE kind of “off-with-your-head” price – despite any calls for blood emanating from the Tamil Diaspora – but a sure, unremitting, further deterioration of SL society. One that will, for sure, leave all island residents worse off 10-20 years down the road.

    So that’s the battle that remains. Internment is no policy to deal with what’s left of the LTTE hiding like cowards with the civlians. No, sirree – aint gonna work. Want to not give them their Eelam? Want to go to bed with them as an undivided country? Then you gotta live with any after-effects – and deal with them like other countries do. Selectively. In routine “police” terms. Can’t lock up a few hundred thousand.

    As for the rest of you – Tamils in Staten Island and Missisauga who are now enjoying a fresh lease of life (being no longer yoked to teh LTTE) – want to help? Then show us – meaning the non-Tamil, non-Sinhalese global citizenry – that you are responsible. That you subscribe to pluralism – in your politics, in your attempts, in your goals, and in your methods. (And no, that does not mean trucking with the NKoreans or other violent pipe dreams). It may help to tell us why you will do a better job of dealing with your minorties than you say the Sings are doing. Of course, that may mean you might need to tear a page or two out of any manifesto you revere that worships a pure Tamil society.

    Do that and then, but only then, at the same time point fingers at those elements (or chunks) of Sinhalese blah blah that need worldwide condemnation. Educate us. Until then you are just a thief who got caught and is peeved that the other criminal got away. Until them what you may see as education is just ethnic hatred and PR to us.

    Bottom line: demonstrate to us why we should suddenly start treating you with respect. Don’t try and wage any PR battles anymore. (Your track record stinks). Stick to the truth. You’ve got lots of legit reasons. In time that policy will help you overcome your past reputation. So it would be good to stop all the bull from outside Lanka as soon as possible. That means: get real; discard the Genocide crap. And by all – other – means twist the Govt’s arms as much as you can to hold them to start on the long road to humane treatment.

  33. as someone has pointed out in a comment, each person has a different view on the situation in Sri Lanka. It’s frustrating to see people writing about it in the way the author has done here. People who don’t know enough info about Sri Lanka and the suffering of the Tamil minority should attempt to inform themselves a little before writing articles such as this one. That would be a start!

    Please visit my site for some information. > > >


  34. Ms Nilanjana, try telling your pathetic ‘doubts’ about the use the word genocide to all the children who now how no parents, all the children injured, all the Tamil girls raped by the Sri Lanka Army, all the Tamil boys and girls being tortured and to all the other Tamil civilians suffering in Sri Lanka right now. Please see this website >



  35. While the legitimacy of the term ‘genocide’ on events that occurred in the past six months is something that may be considered ‘debatable’, it would be interesting to make available the demographic changes that occured in Sri Lanka from independence to now, settlement programs, effects of the conflict (and policies enacted by organisations and institutions) on population growth of different segments of Sri Lankan society, etc.