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The Silence Surrounding Sri Lanka

Arundhati Roy

 by the Boston Globe

NEW DELHI The horror that is unfolding in Sri Lanka
becomes possible because of the silence that surrounds it. There is
almost no reporting in the international press - or in the mainstream
media in India, where I live - about what is happening. From the little
information that is filtering through, it looks as though the Sri
Lankan government is using the propaganda of "the war on terror" as a
fig leaf to dismantle any semblance of democracy in the country and
commit unspeakable crimes against the Tamil people.

The government is working on the principle that every Tamil is a
terrorist unless he or she can prove otherwise, and civilian areas,
hospitals, and shelters are being bombed and turned into a war zone.
Reliable estimates put the number of civilians trapped at over 200,000.
The Sri Lankan army is advancing, armed with tanks and aircraft.

Meanwhile, there are reports that several "welfare villages" have
been established to house displaced Tamils in the Vavuniya and Mannar
districts. The Daily Telegraph in London reports that these villages
"will be compulsory holding centers for all civilians fleeing the
fighting." Is this a euphemism for concentration camps?

Mangala Samaraweera, a former foreign minister of Sri Lanka, told
The Daily Telegraph: "A few months ago the government started
registering all Tamils in Colombo on the grounds that they could be a
security threat, but this could be exploited for other purposes like
the Nazis in the 1930s. They're basically going to label the whole
civilian Tamil population as potential terrorists."

Given the government's stated objective of "wiping out" the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelan, this malevolent collapse of civilians
and "terrorists" does seem to signal that the government is on the
verge of committing what could end up being genocide. According to a
United Nations estimate, several thousand people have already been
killed. Thousands more are critically wounded.

What we are witnessing - or, rather, what is happening in Sri Lanka
and is being so effectively hidden from public scrutiny - is a brazen,
openly racist war. The impunity with which the Sri Lankan government is
able to commit these crimes unveils the deeply ingrained racist
prejudice that is precisely what led to the marginalization and
alienation of the Tamils of Sri Lanka in the first place. That racism
has a long history, involving social ostracization, economic blockades,
pogroms, and torture. The brutal nature of the decades-long civil war,
which started as a peaceful, nonviolent protest, has its roots here.

Why the silence? In another interview, Mangala Samaraweera said, "A
free media is virtually nonexistent in Sri Lanka today." He described
death squads and "white van abductions," which have made society
"freeze with fear." Voices of dissent have been abducted and
assassinated. The International Federation of Journalists accuses the
government of Sri Lanka of using a combination of anti-terrorism laws,
disappearances, and assassinations to silence journalists.

There are unconfirmed reports that the Indian government is lending
material and logistical support to the Sri Lankan government. If this
is true, it is outrageous. What about the governments of other
countries? Pakistan? China? What are they doing to help or harm the

In Tamil Nadu, India, the war in Sri Lanka has fueled passions that
have led to more than 10 people immolating themselves. The public anger
and anguish - much of it genuine, but some of it obviously cynical
political manipulation - has become an election issue.

It is extraordinary that this concern has not traveled to the rest of India. Why is there silence?

Given the scale of what is happening in Sri Lanka, the silence is
inexcusable. More so because of the Indian government's long history of
irresponsible dabbling in the conflict, first taking one side and then
the other. Several of us who should have spoken out much earlier, have
not done so, simply because of a lack of information about the war.

So while the killing continues, while tens of thousands of people
are being barricaded into concentration camps, while more than 200,000
face starvation, and a genocide waits to happen, there is dead silence
from this great country. It's a colossal humanitarian tragedy. The
world must step in. Now. Before it's too late.

© 2021 Boston Globe
Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy was born in 1959 in Shillong, India. She studied architecture in New Delhi, where she now lives, and has worked as a film designer, actor, and screenplay writer in India. Her most recent book, a novel, is: "The Ministry of Utmost Happiness." Her other books include: "Listening to Grasshoppers: Fields Notes on Democracy," "The God of Small Things," and "The End of Imagination."

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