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Silence in India on the horrors of Sri Lanka war is inexcusable-Arundhati Roy

Government of Sri Lanka is using the propaganda of the ‘war on terror’ as a fig leaf to commit unspeakable crimes against the Tamil people and is on the verge of committing what could end up being genocide, writes Indian writer Arundhati Roy, in The Times of India of Monday, March 30th, 2009:

The silent horror of the war in Sri Lanka

by Arundhati Roy

The horror that is unfolding in Sri Lanka becomes possible because of the silence that surrounds it. There is almost no reporting in the mainstream Indian media — or indeed in the international press — about what is happening there. Why this should be so is a matter of serious concern.

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. Working on the principle that every Tamil is a terrorist unless he or she can prove otherwise, 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.


[Indian writer and activist Suzanna Arundhati Roy (born 24 November, 1961); she won the Booker Prize in 1997 for her novel, The God of Small Things, and in 2002, the Lannan Cultural Freedom Prize]

Meanwhile, there are official reports that several ‘‘welfare villages’’ have been established to house displaced Tamils in Vavuniya and Mannar districts. According to a report in The Daily Telegraph (Feb 14, 2009), these villages ‘‘will be compulsory holding centres for all civilians fleeing the fighting’’.

Is this a euphemism for concentration camps? The former foreign minister of Sri Lanka, Mangala Samaraveera, 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 its stated objective of ‘‘wiping out’’ the LTTE, this malevolent collapse of civilians and ‘‘terrorists’’ does seem to signal that the government of Sri Lanka is on the verge of committing what could end up being genocide. According to a UN estimate several thousand people have already been killed. Thousands more are critically wounded. The few eyewitness reports that have come out are descriptions of a nightmare from hell. What we are witnessing, or should we say, 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 being able to commit these crimes actually unveils the deeply ingrained racist prejudice, which 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, of social ostracisation, economic blockades, pogroms and torture. The brutal nature of the decades-long civil war, which started as a peaceful, non-violent protest, has its roots in this.

Why the silence? In another interview Mangala Samaraveera says, ‘‘A free media is virtually non-existent in Sri Lanka today.’’

Samaraveera goes on to talk about death squads and ‘white van abductions’, which have made society ‘‘freeze with fear’’. Voices of dissent, including those of several journalists, 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 disturbing but unconfirmed reports that the Indian government is lending material and logistical support to the Sri Lankan government in these crimes against humanity. If this is true, it is outrageous. What of the governments of other countries? Pakistan? China? What are they doing to help, or harm the situation?

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

It is extraordinary that this concern has not travelled to the rest of India. Why is there silence here? There are no ‘white van abductions’ — at least not on this issue. 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 including myself, 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. [courtesy: Times of India]


The Indian government needs to assert its authority in its own backyard. At present it remains a silent watcher due to the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. Due to its secret support of the Rajapakse regime it is alienating the 80 Mn Tamils in Tamil Nadu as well as creating division within its own populace. This will lead to problems in Tamil Nadu in the long term. Other nations like Pakistan and China are asserting their influence in Sri Lanka to the detriment of India. Hence it is in the interest of India to take action to stop the killings going on in Sri Lanka.

Posted by: IndiaWatcher | March 29, 2009 10:43 PM

I want to know where were you LTTE blasted civillin targets and killed infants and monks.Did you raise your voice against them. Where were you?. Hey do you have any modus operandi to ditinguise innocent civillian from terrorists. you can say whatever you can hear and watch on news paper, TV. Why do you speak in favour of LTTE. Sri Lanka is the one country forever. If it is splitted India must be splitted in to numerous pieces. Don't try to get advantage by concealing the truth.BE reasonable and come up with actual fact. Goverment do not war against Tamil but Tamil terrorist. Shut up your mouth.

Posted by: Tharanga Gnasinghe | March 29, 2009 11:13 PM

Better late than never. It is a big mystery and shocking lapse from the part of Indian media, intelligensia and people in general to totally ignore the human tragedy unfolding at Vanni. Many people from Tamilnadu were perplexed that why nobody in 'India' bothered about the inhuman war happening just across the border and the sufferings of the innocent people. If not for anything, atleast for its 'news value' couldn't the media have reported the developments?

The Hindu was religiously publishing whatever the Srilankan defence ministry daily handed out, even without changing any of the words at one corner, with occassional few lines quoted from Tamilnet at the bottom. It totally ignored the killing of the civilians, often celebrating Srilankan military 'successes' and writing editorials branding LTTE chief as polpotist. It is justified in having its views, but is its presentation of 'news' neutral?

Television channels were giving days and weeks of Mangalore pub assault but did not find it news worthy to report atleast for a few seconds about the mounting death toll at Vanni.But they alloted full airtime when the army entered Killinochi and one reporter was even wondering that they could not locate Prabhakaran there!

Tamilnadu people feel whether they are part of India and if so, then why the 'national' media or intelligensia totally ignore their sentiments. If not for the sake of people of Tamilnadu, atleast humanity demands when so much of injustice is being done, atleast spend a few seconds to have a look. If possible ask why the Indian government is assisting this genocide?

Posted by: Ashokkumar | March 30, 2009 12:13 AM

Please get rid of congress, get new leadership in india. Indian foreign policy makers making big mistake.

Posted by: R.Veera | March 30, 2009 01:29 AM

Thank you Ms. Arundathi Roy! I knew only as the writer of God of Small Things. A great book. Now you have lent your voice to save captive 200,000 Tamils.

Thank you!!

Posted by: Daniel M. Asaipillai | March 30, 2009 02:50 AM

Dear Ms.Roy,

You say "Several of us including myself, who should have spoken out much earlier, have not done so, simply because of a lack of information about the war".

Perhaps you should continue to be silent because your actual knowledge of ground realities is far from accurate!

Or perhaps you too have been tempted by an overdose of US$, like some corrupt Sri Lankan politicians, journalists and NGOs???? I am sure you know what I mean....Truth Hurts!

Posted by: Minchaka | March 30, 2009 03:57 AM

Once Bitten Twice Shy !!

India always has the interest of upsetting the geopolitics of regional countries and thats why they don't have many friends amongst countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bagladesh and Nepal etc.

Having funded and trained almost all the Tamil Terrorist of Sri Lanka in yester-years, which caused mayhem mainly to Tamils of this country, and also to Sinhalese,in the form of tens of thousands of civilian deaths,they also learnt their lesson when Rajiv Ghandhi was assassinated and when they understand the separatist under-current that was going on in South India.

As much as we should address the genuine grievances of Tamil people in this country, whilst working towards the Ethnic Harmony, we also should initiate legal action against India, seeking compensation for what it has done to this beautiful country and it's people over the years!!

Posted by: Ramesh Pathirana | March 30, 2009 04:15 AM

It is Genocide. Thanks to your insight.

Sinhala Government has killed over 3000 to kill 200 Tigers.

They are ready to kill another 10000o to kill the rest 200 because we are all Tamils

Posted by: April | March 30, 2009 04:34 AM

History of genocide is full of delayed preventive action. In Kosovo, "NATO must act and not the UN" consumed major decision time. And in Darfur, to decide that the UN must act caused major action delay and loss of lives. The history of cruel genocide in the North East(NE) of Sri Lanka(SL) would one day surely be written down briefly as one caused by "the irresponsible drag feet policy" of Britain.

It is an abuse of people to fool the ignorant and benefit from it, is what I felt when I read the arguments of the Minister of Commonwealth Affairs Rammel, in British parliament last week. Based on falsehood, he argued that the commonwealth had no precedence to suspend SL from the club.

When Ian Smith regime unilaterally declared independence with a rebel constitutionin 1965, the British Commonwealth expelled the country from it. It later intervened again in 1969 and arranged "Lancaster Conference" for the parties in the armed conflict to meet and draft a constitution to decolonise that country, formally as Zimbabwe. Britain, thus fulfilled its unfinished obligation to the UN on decolonisation.

But, when Ceylon was still a British Dominion, the South, like Rhodesia, unilaterally declared it as a republic with a rebel constituion in 1972 and made the NE to be a "colony" of the South. Britain failed to act responsibly as it did for Rhodesia, though the political history of the Commonwealth strongly supported it.

Thus, Britain covertly made the South to be an "imperial power" over the NE. Consequent silence and engagement in wrong actions with the Sri Lankan state have caused the present Tamil genocide.

If Britain asserted rightly at the UN Security Council last week and previously, that the matter of SL was its sole decolonising responsibility, not even the responsibility of the government of SL or India, China and Russia would have understood the problem more clearly. China would have never called erroneously the problem of SL as an "internal matter". But Britain failed here also.

Bad company corrupts good character. Russia screemed aloud of genocide by Georgian forces in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Its strange indifference and behaviour at the UN Security Council for genocidal events of Tamils in the NE of SL is unexplainable.

Russia and China should handle their priveleged positions in the UN Security Council responsibly to prevent Tamil genocide without being influenced by any country whatsoever. Justice is vital. Realism is essential. If not, history may blemish both countries as cruel states that had no heart to end the nightmare of Tamil genocide.

Without any further delay, Britain should admit its problem to the UN Security council and get the help of the UN to rightly decolonise its former colony of Ceylon. Britain must "cure the sickness to save the patient".

Posted by: Sam Thambipillai | March 30, 2009 05:43 AM

Too late........ Arundhati Roy

Posted by: Suresh M | March 30, 2009 09:57 AM

“Several of us including myself, who should have spoken out much earlier, have not done so, simply because of a lack of information about the war.”
There is no lack of information, especially in the current information era. There is lack of interest to know why
1. There is conflict going on in Srilanka for last 30 years.
2. Why India sent its peace keeping force and the very peace keeping force why killed thousands of Tamils committed several human rights violations against Tamils, especially Tamil women.
3. Why the chief minister of then Provincial council Varatharaja Perumal declared “separate state”
4. Why the Srilankan government that invited IPKF kicked them out.
5. Why there was an attempted murder of Rajeeve Ghandi during accepting a Navy guard of honour.
6. Why Rajeev Ghandi was killed in a suicide attack
7. Why the Norway mediated Peace ended up in failure.
8. Why a full scale war was resumed with greater logistical and technical support of India.
9. Why Indian government is silent about it.
10. Why the Govt on India had not responded to the call of Tamil nadu.

Indian journalist community had failed in their duty to investigate and report where their county is involved in their neighbouring country which has greater significance and impact in India’s internal affairs due to Tamil Nadu factor and external geopolitical affairs. The delay in speaking about the war is not by days, weeks or months, the delay is by years.

Only ex RAW officials keep writing something from their own defense military perspectives. India is a union of countires where one province or sector of people is not sensitive to giviences of the other and the journalistic practiceses also reflect the same. For a country to be vibrant in deocracy self soule seeking, open journalism is essential. Such had brought Vietmam war to an end, major policy shift from George Bush’s War on terror in recent times.

Posted by: RAM | March 30, 2009 12:24 PM

Arundhati Roy writes a well informed piece on the current situation in the North of Ceylon. Thank you.


Posted by: Segaran | March 30, 2009 01:12 PM

No chorus of GENOCIDE is ever complete without Arundhati Roy. If you Tamils in the Diaspora are TRULY concerned about Innocent Lives being killed, please Please PLEASE tell your LTTE SOLE REPRESENTATIVES to Surrender their Weapons and End the War.

They have LOST... THe only thing that will happen now is just more Civilian deaths from their refusal to SURRENDER. Its time to ask yourselves is Supporting the LTTE to the Bitter End worth it? Remember the Tamil population will bear the brunt of your STUBBORNESS and STUPIDITY.

The choice is ENTIRELY yours.

Posted by: Devinda Fernando | March 30, 2009 03:26 PM

and I was waiting for her to speak….

I am disappointed that she is riding the popular wave of the ‘reactive international-wallahs’ but on the other hand I am not surprised. As ‘Liberal Lanka’ notes about Roy’s ‘consistent-ness’, she has proven once again that she is a consistent anti-imperialist to the core but, I was hoping, despite her being admittedly less informed about the ground situ, that she would have taken the trouble to research into the fair amount of neutral and genuine reportage provided by ‘voices of dissent’ living overseas; a small but non-negligible group belonging to the Tamil diaspora.

Furthermore, she has been sharply and rightfully critical of India’s role in strengthening the LTTE as a rebel group a fact that she highlights in her essay ‘War is Peace’. She says, ‘India, for its part, denounces countries who sponsor and abet terrorism, but the Indian army has, in the past, trained separatist Tamil rebels asking for a homeland in Sri Lanka-the LTTE, responsible for countless acts of bloody terrorism.’ So despite this ‘understanding’ of what the LTTE is, it’s a bit sad that she has neglected the fact that the LTTE is still ‘responsible for countless acts of bloody terrorism’…

To me this clearly highlights the GoSL’s failing in stifling the free media to an appalling extent and detrimentally fueling the adverse propaganda that the LTTE and its sympatheticos have so far been successful at…

Posted by: SahaSamvada | March 30, 2009 03:27 PM

As a follower of my lovely sinhala brains, No one want to know what really happening in tamil home land. They still following Mr great sinhala and his lovely thug kotabaya.

Keep on trust your great leader, you should remember atleast 20 to 30 thousand sinhala forces removed from battle field last 3 to 4 weeks. Remember 20000 dead. Your leaders going to declare so called humanitarian ceasefire, which is not acceptable to tamils or ltte. Only solution for us take your sinhala iletrate forces from our beloved land or face extermintion of your brothers and sisters. I said before we can live and help each other or else.
allways loving

Posted by: R.Veera | March 30, 2009 03:36 PM

Ramesh Pathirana,

Hey before you embark on a legal action against India, can you compensate Tamils whom your Sinhala regimes murdered, raped, and destroyed their livelihood for last fifty three years! Further to that at least let Tamils live in peace.

Posted by: Suresh M | March 30, 2009 03:53 PM

How would these shameless, deceitful souls who are commenting here, trying to hide the truth on behalf of the govt, attempt to hide the lost limbs of this innocent unfortunate boy? [Viewer discretion needed] At least Arundhati Roy had the decency to acknowledge that she should have spoken earlier. Common decency doesn't allow me tell what I think of these evil ones here.

Posted by: Velu Balendran | March 30, 2009 05:05 PM

I am an avid reader of Arundhati Roy and "Come September" has had a profound influenced on my political thinking. It is a bit demoralizing to see such a debasement of her ability to grasp facts and fall prey to propaganda.
The shortcomings of Arundhati's understanding of the conflict are explained here.
The LTTE has been a tragedy - not only for all Sri Lankans (especially for Tamils because it has destroyed almost all the Tamil Intelectuals among the victims of the conflict - including but not limited to Lakshman Kadirgamar, Neelan Thiruchelvam... and a generation and a half of Tamil Youth) but for the whole of humanity.
The fact that India's percieved superiority despite her moral poverty was instrumental in creating the monstrosity, does not exclude her from having a right to guide the conflict to a lasting solution, but it gives India the added responsibility to be fair, honest and just at least after her actions have cause 30 years of indiscrimitate bloodshed including that of her own.
Moreover, India's perception of her superiority cannot offset the sovereign powers of the people of Sri Lanka.

Posted by: citizen | March 30, 2009 07:40 PM

The tragedy is some only notice the cruel war now. Some had not published anything and not looking for cheap publicity. The others become nuisance in streets all over the world glorifying suicide bombers and child abusers. Where were they numerous time Sinhala govt seek peaceful alternatives over 3 decades?

Posted by: Panhinda | March 30, 2009 08:06 PM

Panhinda Group has been trying to find solutions for three decades. What a joke. If so, Panhinda is trying find fault with Thanthai Selva and Amir.
Because of their Intransience Tamil youngsters started to Arms strugle.

Posted by: metha | March 30, 2009 10:00 PM

Citizen and the Like minded

What is LTTE to do with Government Killing thousands and She is Voicing her concern as it is them (government) is calling “DEMOCRATICLLY ELECTED" when in fact doing all but democratic measures.

You and the educated ( not learned) Prof. Rajiva are trying to match LTTE with Government. You guys are in fact doing a favor by placing LTTE par with government as Equal partners.

Posted by: April | March 31, 2009 04:44 AM

The silence in India is understandable. India learned its lesson after the assasination of Rajiv Gandhi. Only then India realised that it had made a terrible mistake by breeding terrorists. To all the LTTE sympathisers I have one simple message, "If you live by the gun, one day you will die by it"

Posted by: Liyanage | March 31, 2009 06:38 AM

only solution the big brother India can give to tamil grievences in SL is to alow freely citizenship for all SL tamils who don not wish to live with sinhala speaking people in SL.
few more millions added to its population may not affect India I suppose. THe tamil speaking hindus will be overjoyed to live among tamil speaking poeple in TN and leave SL alone as one nation in peace.

Why not any one suggest this as a political solution? Stop asking for a separate state in this tiny tear drop island with no room for 2 nations.

Posted by: TRN | March 31, 2009 07:48 AM

You have earned your place in the Lankan minefield. You were received with pomp and pageantry the last time/s you were here. There was much warmth here
for you. While the middle class english-educated may not change their views about you, it is certain you will be denigrated by that real source of political power here - the Buddhist Sinhala supremacist lobby of whom the world is now beginning to take contemtous note. Like Prof. Suriyanarayan, in their eyes, you too will be persona non grata. If you risk a further visit here the JHU, JVP, NPF, the political priests will all ensure the usual rowdy and insensible reception, which is their trade-mark. The servile Press will attack you from now on. But, my dear, this is nothing new to you - as Keralites are born fighters and anti-establishment by nature. You have taken on the might of the Indian Govt - both BJP and Congress lead. You are a born fighter against injustice within and outside India. You will survive. In the traditions of that great writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Jean-Paul Sartre, Lord Betrand Russel and others you fear none and are ready to combat injustice. Thank you for raising your voice against genocidal crimes against innocent Tamil civilians. But do realise there is a large section of the Sinhalese who are for reason and justice too - though they are overpowered by thuggery and armed force. These good non-communal Sinhalese believe in a United Nation of Sri Lankans - as the large majority of Tamils do. We are, unfortunately, caught betwixt a web of deceit, treachery and competing nationalisms.


Posted by: Ilaya Seran Senguttuvan | March 31, 2009 08:08 AM

She quotes an opposition politician who has many times confirmed the ruthless state terrorism of the Rajapakse regime.
The regime keeps a tight lid on access to actual news and happenings from the conflict zones by totally barring media both national and international under the lame excuse of 'security'.UN Human Rights chief Ms N.Pillay wants independent UN monitors in the region.Beacause of this request,she is being vilified as a 'supporter of terrorism'.The government is terrified of the truth of the situation being bared in the media.Now Roy is being vilified in similar manner.Non of the international & UN personnel including the most recet visitor John Holmes have been allowed to speak with civilians in private without the immediate presence of army, police & state officials,lest they come to know the truth from the very people who are most affected.When a woman told Holmes that her sons had been abducted by the army,the muslim minister who had accompanied him translated it to mean that she complined of her sons being abducted by the LTTE.This is the type of cover up of civilian massacres by the army which is going on.Indians couldnt care less about the situation, but make appropriate noises occasionally.Many are referring to Rajiv Ghandi's assassination but ignore the fact that the suicide bomber was brought to the venue of the Sri Perumputhoor meeting by Maragatham Chandrasekar who was a Congress Party MLA who vanished soon after the bomber got down from her car - & that the twenty odd Congress Politicians who greeted Raiv carefully kept an adequate distance behind him as he walked forward to speak with the crowd of civilians who were waiting to greet him, among whom was the bomber, and thus escaped the blast - and that these facts were never mentioned at the assassination trial.

Posted by: Nathan | March 31, 2009 09:30 AM

Quote :sovereign powers of the people of Sri Lanka

It is being lost since 1983.

Srilanka is a piece on a GRAND CHESS BOARD in a GREAT GAME.

Only thing that changed is we have more players now than in 1983.

Posted by: Nam | March 31, 2009 12:03 PM

Arundhati Roy is absolutely right. Of all the racist regimes in the history of the island, the Rajapakse one is perhaps the most ruthless. Ruthless, because as Roy suggests, it is playing a very subtle double game - on the one hand, engaging in a slow tortuous genocide - while on the other, doing its best to hoodwink the international community.

While the brutality of past UNP regimes is well-documented, this is the first regime to openly declare innocent Tamil civilians as POWS and confine them to a barbed-wire existance indefinitely.

This regime has taken the scorched earth policy of warfare further than any other.

It is the first regime to aerially bomb its own citizens for months and months, if not years, with no let-down.

This regime has done far more harm to the media than any other.

This is the first regime that has complete disregard for the Supreme Court.

Perhaps this is also the most corrupt regime; if we consider that the President himself came to power through treason (e.g. by bribing the LTTE).

One should understand that this (Rajapakse) regime does not embody any civilized values. It needs to be isolated and sanctioned.It should not be given covert support and funding. Whatever India's past with the LTTE may have been, it has no obligation to support vile, despicable, racist regimes like the present GOSL. It is a poor reflection on India's own stature. Furthermore, India should well understand, from her past dealings with the island, that Colombo has no interest in a political solution; that the only goal of the Sinhala-Buddhist dictatorship is total hegemony of the island culminating in massive colonization of Tamil lands. 99% of Tamil villages in the Wanni have already been emptied of their inhabitants.

India does not openly subscribe to racism and genocide the way her Lankan neighbor does. Therefore, she should not lose sight of her moral obligations. In particular, she should look at her own successes - embracing federalism, investing in private education, creating a class of highly competent technical professionals - and note how each one of those is missing in SL. India is a rising superstar on the global stage. This is her chance to step up to the plate and deliver. If she misses out on that chance, the consequences will be disastrous.

Posted by: Dinesh | March 31, 2009 08:13 PM

Quo Vadis Ms. Roy? Mind your own business(In India) and let us fight our own battle. We don't come and poked our noses in to what India does in Kashmir. You want to talk about oppressed people, talk about over 700 million Indians living under the most primitive of conditions. Keep your nose off.... The likes of you aren't welcome here in Sri Lanka. The likes of you who live by selling others grief...

Posted by: Sam | April 1, 2009 08:28 AM

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