‘Galle literary festival, backed by establishments, gives mask of normalcy to genocidal Sri Lanka’
The Galle Literary Festival, which is scheduled to begin is reported to involve diverse participants with the funding from a variety of corporate houses and Western embassies in Colombo. But the prevailing opinion in Eezham Tamil circles is that such occasions and the participation of high profile writers only serve the purpose of providing cultural and ideological legitimacy to the Sri Lankan state and the structural violence it imposes on the Tamil people. While the moral thing to do would be to boycott this literary festival that gives a mask of normalcy to a genocidal state, the least the socially and politically committed writers who are attending the event can do is to recognize that what Eezham Tamil nation has faced and is facing genocide, a Tamil academic in Colombo told TamilNet.
An article published on the Pakistan-based Expresss Tribune on Sunday claims that “the challenges posed by political violence, exile, tribes on verge of extinction, contradictions within the community and economic marginalisation in the South Asia region as well as in the global context, are predominant subjects that are likely to generate debate” in the festival.
Economic marginalization coupled with social and political violence, exile are issues that the Eezham Tamil nation is facing as a part of the protracted genocide that has been happening against them under the Sri Lankan state ever since 1948 which seeks to push the Tamil people into a near-state of ‘tribes of verge of extinction’ within a decade.
The Galle festival, which does not have even one event to address this issue and one of the worst and most successful massacres committed in the 21st century at Mul’l’ivaaikkaal, appears only as an apology for the Sri Lankan state.
The Express Tribune article adds that “GLF, which has often been described as a veritable elitist farce in nature, has also been marred by boycott and withdrawal in previous years due to Sri Lanka’s poor human rights record and non settlement of issues concerning freedom of expression.“
“Nevertheless, those at the helm of affairs at the festival maintain that they believe in the power of literature and creativity and they are committed to share their experience and exchange opinions for any social betterment.”
Prominent writers and intellectuals including Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy, and organizations Reporters without Borders and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, had appealed to progressive writers to boycott this festival last year.
Among the main attractions at this year’s festival will be the well known atheist author Richard Dawkins, whose book ‘The God Delusion’ has a cult following among rationalist circles. Whether he will speak up against Sinhala-Buddhist fundamentalism, which is an essential character of the unitary Sri Lankan state, remains to be seen.
According to the festival’s programme, among the speakers in the first event will be Dr. Izzeldin Abueilash, a nominee of the Nobel Peace Prize and author of the award winning memoir ‘I shall not hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey’. Dr. Abueilash, a Palestinian medical practitioner, lost his three young daughters in shelling by Israel in January 2009.
In the same period, leading up to May 2009, thousands of Tamil children were killed, injured and maimed for life when Sri Lanka intensified its genocidal war, with extensive bombing and usage of cluster bombs and chemical weapons.
If Dr. Abueilash can recognize and speak out against this at the event, it would be a genuine show of solidarity between the oppressed people of Palestine and Tamil Eelam.
He is to speak on ‘Forgiveness, reconciliation and responsibility in literature’ at the first event sponsored by the Royal Norwegian Embassy. It is hoped that this event doesn’t serve as an excuse to market the ‘reconciliation paradigm’ that the Sri Lankan government and its friends abroad are trying to set, the academic said.
Likewise, participants from India and Tamil Nadu also came under criticism from Tamil activists in the country. Githa Hariharan, a novelist who hails from Coimbatore, is to give a workshop on January 21st on ‘Writing Conflict’. The event is sponsored by the India-Sri Lanka Foundation, an organization established by a MoU between the two governments in 1998.
To what extent can the novelist speak out against the political agenda of the events sponsors, assuming she wants to genuinely use the platform to send out an honest message, is a question that the participant should answer on the 21st, sources in New Delhi told TamilNet.
French philosopher and novelist Jean-Paul Sartre, in his path breaking work ‘What is Literature?’ emphasised on the need for committed writing and the writer’s authentic involvement in grave social and political problems of the day. He had opined that the function of the writer was to call a spade a spade and that one is responsible for what one does not try to prevent.
In recent times, demonstrating such a spirit of recognizing crimes of states, Orhan Pamuk, Turkish novelist and Nobel Prize winner, acknowledged the massacres of Armenians and Kurds in Ottoman Turkey. Despite threats from Turkish chauvinists and legal pressures from the government, he stood by his views and reiterated them later on also.
It is to be seen at this literary festival and from the positions the writers take on the genocide of the Eezham Tamils whether the participants are really committed to literature as a means of honestly reflecting on reality or whether they are just acting out according to the interests of corporate capital and the existing power structures, Tamil literary circles said.