Item in MSN.COM, 17 September 2018, with this title “I wanted ‘my side’ to lose the war”
By his own admission filmmaker Jude Ratnam is a “traitor”. A Tamil himself, he blames the Tamil Tigers for many of the atrocities carried out in Sri Lanka’s civil war. The director told the BBC’s Nalini Sivathasan why feels the way he does.”When the war was coming to an end, I wanted the [Tamil] Tigers to lose the fight. I wanted it to end, even if my own people had to be killed,” Ratnam says.
Warning: This story contains graphic details that some readers may find upsetting.
The war did end in 2009, with the Sri Lankan government – dominated by the Sinhalese majority – defeating the Tamil Tigers. It came at a huge cost though, with the United Nations estimating that 40,000 people, mainly Tamils, died in the final offensive. Nearly a decade on from the end of the war, Sri Lankan filmmakers are tentatively re-examining the 26-year conflict, which killed more than 100,000 people.
A critical portrayal
Tamil directors, including Nirmalan Nadarajah and Gnanadas Kasinathar have subtly criticised the Sri Lankan government, which was accused of targeting civilians and carrying out extrajudicial killings.
But Ratnam goes further. In his film Demons in Paradise, he became the first Tamil filmmaker to openly criticise the Tamil Tigers. “There had been other films… which portray the Tamils as just the victims, which is problematic in a conflict.”
The Tamil Tigers were notorious for carrying out suicide bombings and recruiting child soldiers, but to many Tamils – both within and outside Sri Lanka – they were heroes. Many saw the rebels as their only protection from violence by Sinhalese mobs and an increasingly nationalistic government which had passed anti-Tamil laws, including one in 1956 that made Sinhala the only official language of the country.
But Ratnam’s belief is that the rebels committed the most brutality to their own community – the Tamils they were meant to be defending.
The film looks at the Tamil nationalist groups which emerged from the 1970s in response to anti-Tamil violence. But these factions started killing each other, with the Tamil Tigers emerging as victors. In one massacre, it reportedly killed hundreds of members of the rival Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO).
Ratnam follows his uncle, a former fighter for a rival Tamil organisation, as he meets other critics of the Tamil Tigers. In one scene, a man describes the torture meted out by the group. “They took my father in his sleep, with his bed. They tortured him with an iron. They ironed his back and pierced his eye with a needle. They did that to lots of people.”
Demons in Paradise has received critical acclaim since its premiere at the Cannes Films Festival in 2017.In Sri Lanka, the S inhalese-dominated press has also praised the film. The Daily Mirror newspaper called it “the most honest, courageous and important piece of art on Sri Lanka done by a Sri Lankan”.
Most of the Tamil Tiger leaders were killed in 2009, so audiences will never know their response to the allegations in Demons in Paradise. Among the wider Tamil community, however, there has been anger.
Athithan Jayapalan, a Norway-based academic who specialises in Tamil identity, doesn’t dispute the crimes committed by the Tamil Tigers. However, he thinks the film is misleading for foreign audiences who may be unfamiliar with the civil war. “Sri Lanka has escaped the world’s attention for all this time, and then this film comes along… Where is the Sri Lankan state? It’s pretty much out of the picture. You could compare this to a film which looked at the black civil rights movement in the United States but only focused on the struggles between the Black Panthers and another rival party – it’s not giving you the proper context.”
Mr Jayapalan believes the crimes committed by the Sri Lankan government far outweigh what the Tamil Tigers did.
Warning for Tamil diaspora
Ratnam says his focus on the Tamil Tigers was intentional – to warn the Tamil community, especially those living abroad, about romanticising the group. “In the diaspora you tend to live in a bubble, that you left your homeland and you have this nostalgia about it… whereas the truth is that even back at home things change. Those who faced the brunt of the war, they would probably welcome this film more.”
But Sri Lanka-based human rights lawyer Mathuri Thamilmaran disagrees. She saw Demons in Paradise in the capital Colombo, and asks why Ratnam has avoided screening the film in Tamil areas of the country. “Ironically this film is about Tamil people but it hasn’t been shown to Tamil people and I’m suspicious of that.”
In the past decade, a semblance of peace has returned to Sri Lanka. But the reaction to Demons in Paradise is another example that Sri Lanka is still very much divided along ethnic lines.
Jude Ratnam says he is not surprised by the backlash but insists his film can help foster reconciliation between the Tamil and Sinhalese community in Sri Lanka. “Acknowledging the vice in our [Tamil] community, is how we can get away from it. If you keep denying it and play the victim card all the time, then you invariably return to it.”
MSN Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.
A NOTE FROM MICHAEL ROBERTS
Readers will have noted this comment: “The war did end in 2009, with the Sri Lankan government – dominated by the Sinhalese majority – defeating the Tamil Tigers. It came at a huge cost though, with the United Nations estimating that 40,000 people, mainly Tamils, died in the final offensive.”
That a Panel appointed by Navy Pillai did indicate that there was a “credible allegation of 40,000 deaths” is True. But for any reviewer to leave it at that is as venal as indefensible. For these reasons:
- The UN agencies involved were appointees of an US consortium within the UN and in the Western world order bent on nailing Sri Lanka to the wall.
- The members of the Darusman Panel as well as the guiding hands in Geneva and Washington were armchair personnel with limited experienced in battle theatre conditions and focused on deaths without studying data on the wounded and heeding the basic military principle that in wars confined to soldiers the WOUNDED always exceed the number of those KILLED. This glaring failure simply destroys the Darusman Panel’s estimates. ……
- …..That numerous individuals and agencies glibly repeat these figures is an illustration of (a) intellectual laziness and/or (B) dishonesty and/or (C) the power of Western media engines
The fact is that little people like the Thuppahi site, or The Island or The Sunday Times/Daily Mirror in Sri Lanka …and for that matter the little government in Colombo, simply have no clout in the big bad world of power politics and its media circuits.
Hull, C. Bryson & Ranga Sirilal 2009a “Sri Lankan War in Endgame, 100,000 escape rebel zone,” 23 April 2009, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-srilanka-war-idUSTRE53J0IZ20090422
Hull, C. Bryson & Ranga Sirilal 2009b “Sri Lanka’s long war in bloody final climax,” 17 May 2009, http://mg.co.za/article/2009-05-17-sri-lankas-long-war-in-bloody-final-climax
IDAG [i.e. Citizen Silva] 2013 “The Numbers Game: Politics of Retributive Justice,” http://www.scribd.com/doc/132499266/The-Numbers-Game-Politics-of-Retributive-Justice OR http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/shrilanka/document/TheNG.pdf.
Noble, Kath 2013 “Numbers Game reviewed by Kath Noble: The full monty,” 14 July 2013, https://thuppahis.com/2013/07/14/numbers-game-reviewed-by-kath-noble-the-full-monty/
Roberts, Michael 2013 “BBC-Blind: Misreading the Tamil Tiger Strategy of International Blackmail, 2008-13,” 8 December 2013, https://thuppahis.com/2013/12/08/bbc-blind-misreading-the-tamil-tiger-strategy-of-international-blackmail-2008-13/#more-1122
Roberts, Michael 2013 “Witnesses to “the War without Witnesses” … Voiceless? Buried Foreign Reporters?” 30 December 2013, 2013 https://thuppahis.com/2013/12/30/11504/
Roberts, Michael 2013 “Introducing “Numbers Game” – A Detailed Study of the Last Stages of Eelam War IV,” 30 April 2013, https://thuppahis.com/2013/04/30/introducing-numbers-game-a-detailed-study-of-the-last-stages-of-eelam-war-iv/
Roberts, Michael 2014 Tamil Person and State. Essaysl, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.
Roberts, Michael 2014 Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.
Roberts, Michael 2014 “Generating Calamity, 2008-2014: An Overview of Tamil Nationalist Operations and Their Marvels,” 10 April 2014, http://groundviews.org/2014/04/10/generating-calamity-2008-2014-an-overview-of-tamil-nationalist-operations-and-their-marvels/
Roberts, Michael 2014 “The Landscape of the LTTE’s Last Redoubt, May 2009,” in Roberts, Tamil Person and State. Essays, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 204-15.
Roberts, Michael 2015 “Lilliputs in a World of Giants: Marga and CHA bat for Lanka in the Propaganda War, 2009-14,” 18 November 2015, https://thuppahis.com/2015/11/18/lilliputs-in-a-world-of-giants-marga-and-cha-bat-for-lanka-in-the-propaganda-war-2009-14/#more-18467
Roberts, Michael 2016 “Reuters in Word and Image: Depicting the Penetration of the LTTE’s Last Redoubt, 19-22 April 2009,” 19 March 2016, https://thuppahis.com/2016/03/19/reuters-in-word-and-image-depicting-the-penetration-of-the-lttes-last-redoubt-19-22-april-2009/#more-20190