An Asian Christian woman living in London blogging about the everyday issues of religion

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka by a Tamil Blogger

This is a hard blog post to write because it isn’t often that you see people you are ethnically related to being tortured and killed. This happened to me on Tuesday night (14 June) when I watched the ‘Sri Lanka Killing Fields’ on Channel 4. It was, to use a cliché, a groundbreaking masterpiece in producing evidence to show the suffering and evil injustice suffered by the Tamils in the last weeks of the civil war in Sri Lanka in 2009.

My grandparents left Sri Lanka about 80 years ago. I have never lived there myself and only visited once when I was a child but I followed the events of the civil war waged between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government and hoped for a peaceful outcome. There were many nights when I stayed up to watch the news because there were rumours of a settlement or a breakthrough which never happened in the end. I cared but I hadn’t suffered in any way like them. There are thousands of Tamils in the UK who managed to flee the persecutions there but we don’t hear their individual voices, only the collective voice which called and still calls on the world to intervene in their quest for justice.

Such is the power of the Channel 4 programme that it makes you feel as if you are caught up in it. I didn’t need the English translation because I understood what the Tamils were saying. The Tamil language is a very descriptive one and is especially eloquent when expressed during grief. The English translations, quite understandably, could not convey the magnitude of the distress of what the victims were saying. I can only capture the depth of their powerless by telling you that it was akin to watching an 18 rated horror slasher Hollywood movie but without the fictional element. In other words, this was for real.

Mobile and video footage show Tamils being shot, shelled and running and screaming. Babies and children lie dead and one mother cradles her dead child and asks the camera, ‘what did this baby do?’ Tamil women were raped by soldiers and killed. What is most difficult to watch is the comments made by these soldiers as they hurl dead woman after dead woman into a pick up truck. One comment has stayed with me for days, ‘This one has the best figure’, a soldier says as he chucks the dead woman he is referring to.

When the programme ended I had a strong sense that what had been shown was only a microcosm of something so much more un-imaginable that had gone on. I went onto the Channel 4 website and Twitter and wept at the messages coming in from the Tamils who were thanking Jon Snow of Channel 4 for providing the breakthrough that they were so powerless to do themselves. I thought of my Tamil grandparents who died a long time ago and had not been able to afford to visit Sri Lanka after they left but still hankered to see it. They never knew what they had left behind. They were the lucky ones and, subsequently, descendants like me. This is why I am using my ethnicity to raise awareness.

I ask for your prayers that truth and justice prevail. I know the Tamil Tigers were guilty of many atrocities too and the report I quote below does say things to this effect. I was greatly saddened at the possibility that a Tamil had assassinated Rajiv Gandhi. However, two wrongs don’t make a right.

Here is an extract from the 2011 UN ‘Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka’:
The Panel’s determination of credible allegations reveals a very different version of the final stages of the war than that maintained to this day by the Government of Sri Lanka. The Government says it pursued a “humanitarian rescue operation” with a policy of “zero civilian casualties”. In stark contrast, the Panel found credible allegations, which if proven, indicate that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law was committed both by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Indeed, the conduct of the war represented a grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity during both war and peace.

Just for today I will sign off using my Tamil name (which is also my middle name)
Jayanthi Chelliah


  1. Hi Jayanthi,
    I lived in Madras for three years, and am somewhat aware of the disgraceful treatment of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
    A friend of mine recently worked in Sri Lanka with World Vision. She blogs about it at 2007-2009 posts
    She was particularly upset about the abusive treatment her Tamil maid met at the hands of the security forces--being woken up at night and made to stand at attention while they searched her room, randon searches etc. Disgraceful.

  2. I felt the same way when there were programmes about the civil war in Sierra Leone during the '90's, since it's my wife's country. Subtitles and voiceovers never really captured what people were really saying.

  3. Dear Anita,
    I read the blog you recommended and the particular post about the maid too. Your friend has encapsulated Asia well. What happened to the maid in question, do you know?
    Thank you for leaving the comment.

  4. Dear Robert,
    As I was writing my blog post I did remember all the other wars that have occured including in SLeone. Thank you for leaving a comment.
    God bless