17 April, 2024


New Scalpels Of Dissent

By Sanjana Hattotuwa –

Sanjana Hattotuwa

How does one resist State terror?

Counter-terror was tried, and failed, for it only made State terror worse, and more pervasive. The relatively non-violent rallies and demonstrations over democracy deficits in and around the Fort Railway station and Lipton Circus spring to mind, if only because everyone over at least two generations has either witnessed them in person, learnt of them through the media, or courageously taken part in them. Informed by the recording of human rights violations from around the country, op-eds, TV and radio spots and interviews, press releases and other mediagenic output are the familiar to those who seek better governance and accountability through greater public awareness. Face to face representations, overt and covert, with influential individuals and lobby groups in capitals around the world and both the participation in and the organisation of workshops on inconvenient truths are also employed frequently.

The challenge however is in the fact that State terror comfortably coexists today with the good life and its pursuit. Those who seek economic prosperity and wealth are not those who will hold architectures that favour the corrupt and violent under greater scrutiny. Three brothers from single family today control every imaginable avenue of social and commercial enterprise at all levels and across the country. Maintaining this deep and vast oversight requires violence at many levels and in many forms, from the outright physical to the psychosocial, from the individual to the communal. Because this violence is deemed necessary, it is perceived to be just and even karmic – those who are excluded, killed, maimed and just disappear don’t generate sustained social or political outrage and are seen to somehow have invited their fate by what they said or did. The new, horrendously violent ordinary is just fine with the majority – why, they ask when confronted with discontent and dissent, can’t you just enjoy a country post-war? The veneer of open roads, landscaped parks, influx of tourists and a soaring skyline suggest progress and the trappings of cosmopolitanism. The reality is anything but.

Ai Weiwei’s According to What? on display till the end of February 2013 in Washington DC’s Hirshhorn Museum, captures this harmony between development, wealth creation and State terror, albeit around his own country. Given China’s tentacles in Sri Lanka’s political imagination and architecture, Ai Weiwei’s art is a cogent interrogation of our own polity and society. The violence he has faced as an artist reflects our own silencing of dissent. A surveillance camera sculpted from pure marble is both stunningly beautiful to look at, and precisely because of this, disquieting – suggesting that most embrace technologies and artefacts of enslavement and subjugation.  There is a brain scan showing trauma to his head after police brutality in 2009 is the most didactic of his art on display. Cube light, an installation that appears to be suspended off the ground, featuring tens of thousands of crystals lit from within is jaw dropping in its visual lure. Your columnist went on all-fours to examine just how the massive cube was elevated off the ground. At this level, the artist’s message is clear – what appears resplendent and alluring in fact has very flimsy foundations. In ‘Remembrance’, the simple act of recording the names of the dead (in an earthquake) is an act of defiance – counting those who are inconvenient to register, making their numbers matter, making their deaths known. In a powerful article published last month in the Guardian, the artist notes that “art needs to stand for something” and that “widespread state control over art and culture has left no room for freedom of expression in [China].

Perhaps the resistance of State terror requires us to invent a new vocabulary through new media, using as Ai Weiwei does, the digital as well as the tactile, the physical as well as the virtual, the visual as well as the sensory, to communicate the real violence of our social and political compact post-war. Perhaps the danger of simply bearing witness and expressing dissent through placards, posters and public rallies is that it exists in its own world, and doesn’t really capture the attention of those who are in fact agents in a violent socio-political system, who may at best silently agree with activists, but never risk social standing, career and life to join them. Rather than attempting to forcefully convince the majority, to present violence as violence, providing the masses with new ways of seeing our country today beyond a sanitised sheen can be a powerful channel to foment dissent. New scalpels of mixed media, literature, art, theatre and culture can incisively interrogate our own repressive government but only if, as Ai Weiwei suggests, it is informed by a critical gaze.

Few in Sri Lanka have this gaze, and use it for public good. They need our support.

Courtesy Sajanana’s blog

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  • 0


    Where has Sanjana being living all his 40 years?
    State Terror has existed since 1983 riots, which was specifically against the Tamils.
    State Terror showed it’s ugly face against the JVP between 1987 and 1991, when even the young MP Mahinda Rajapakse ran to Geneva to complain against the sovereign government of Sri Lanka, of course with a lot of help from a young Tamil GIRL in Geneva named Tamara. That was not considered unpatriotic or being a traitor to Mother ……….Lanka.

    State Terror has been going on against the Tamils despite the end of the Tamil-Sinhala war, 41 months ago. The same state terrorist have been terrorizing the poor Tamils from Point Pedro to Pottuvil, ably supported by the likes of Minister Karuna, Chief Minister Pillaiyan and King Pin KP. They operate Slave Camps, Torture Camps and Rape camps, and the vulnerable Tamil widows and young children are not spared. There are 80,000 widows who are regularly subjected to molestations and rape by the State Terrorist.

    North East is an open prison camp and the State Terrorist have their pick among the vulnerable females and children, most homeless and poor. There are no complaints from those in Colombo 7… May be they are oblivious…

    Now that the State Terrorist are changing their focus to a few in Colombo, and the military intelligence are ringing their fortified offices door bell, they are panicking, and naming/shaming those very same State Terrorist that we Tamils identified many years ago. Even the UNP opposition do not name them State Terrorist anymore, after they joined hands with Sarath Fonseka in December 2009.

    I am reminded of the Neimoller Poem, When they CAME FOR YOU.

    It is that time now…..lol.

    Tamils countered State TERROR for 30 years or more.
    Their attempts were not a failure if they took on Sri Lanka and India at the same time. All paid a heavy price for their terror, and the defence budget from 100 million dollars in 1983 is now 2,500 million dollars, even after the war is over for 41 months.

    Resistance for State Terror was lost, because the Tamils could not resist the Power and assistance of India, Pakistan, USA, UK, EU, Israel, South Africa, Iran and China… GOSL as a government had the power to borrow and receive credit by the Billions of dollars and the Tamils had to depend on KP and a few others….
    Tamils could not also resist the cluster bombs, phosphorous bombs, and chemical weapons or the millions of illegal mines….. That is another reason the foreign deminers were not allowed in most of the Vanni, because they can identify easily the sellers of the mines, and also the GOLD and Currency buried by half a million Tamils…

    • 0

      Can’t argue with most of what Donald G says. A bit carried away with the camps though, also ‘cluster bombs, phosphorous bombs, and chemical weapons or the millions of illegal mines came into the picture after the LTTE brought their own bag of dirty tricks into the scenario(with RAW help mind you). The south has been shielded from the extent and scope of of the atrocities carried out by the armed forces. This was because they did not have the proper counter terrorism training nor did have strategic planning.

      • 0

        Sanjana is mentally 40yrs. Physically younger.

        • 0

          @Barney.. I really don’t care how old Sanjana is. The 40 year period I was referring to was from the 1971 Sinhala insurgency and terrorism, where the State Terrorism began in full blast.

          Sanjana might have not been thought of, or a work in progress, and also might have been young enough not to be a witness to the State sponsored Race riots of July 1983, or the State Terror of the GOSL murdering tens of thousands of innocent youth from 1987-1989. POW’s were murdered in captivity after torture and no one was prosecuted because the Sinhala opposition was incompetent and one young MP ran to Geneva and got distracted with extra curricular activities and did not follow up and did a very poor job with the UNHRC/UN.. No body came to the UN in NY, lobby the HR agencies etc..

          We Tamils and the diaspora have 29 years of such experience and although the diaspora at times are absolutely dysfunctional in general, but some have worked smartly and canvassed, lobbied against the State Terror and have exposed the Sinhala governments in the corridors of power as well as the US and UK courts and elsewhere. Tamil diaspora still, have a long way to go to reach the goal in bringing the war criminals to justice.

          As much as the Sinhala terrorist from the JVP have joined the ruling political powers and enjoying the fruits of corruption and power, a few Tamils also have forgotten the demand for Justice, and cooperating with the government to amass personal wealth and power. KP, Karuna, Pillaiyan, Daya Master, Devananda, and Chandrahassan are some good/bad examples.

          But the difference is, the Tamil diaspora who will fight for the Tamil rights without much compromise, and will work on forcing accountability, Truth and Justice, immaterial how long it would take. The Tamil political party TNA has it’s limitations since they are terrorized by the State and the Rajapakses and do not want to be butchered on the streets, temples and churches like the 5 MP’s who died in the hands of the Rajapakses/Fonseka.

          Barney, when there is an international investigations, and the SLA/GOSL comes clean with the land mines they have imported and used, (Fonseka is one of the witnesses), the use of chemical weapons, cluster bombs, phosphorus bombs will be revealed. There is plenty of credible witnesses and evidence which will be available only at an international and independent investigations.

          Some of it has already been shared in and with the appropriate authorities, and there are more evidence and witnesses to come forward… Fonseka can chose to speak the truth or face the criminal charges in the US.. The choice is his, and he or Gota have no immunity for War Crimes in the US, like President Rajapakse and Brigadier General Shavendra De Silva…

          Remember the Nazi hunters and Nuremberg Trials???
          Simon Wisenthal was the Nazi Hunter and he did a great job…

          Unfortunately, the Sinhala opposition dare not open their mouth against the War Criminals and their “Affair” with General Fonseka as predicted has been short lived… The leopard doesn’t change it’s spots…

          Tamils For Justice..

    • 0

      State terror started in September 1948 disenfranchising voters.

  • 0

    State terror is not specific to SL or south Asia, it is prevalent in most developing countries. Since most countries in the world are in the ‘developing/emerging’ category, state terror is the norm and not an exception. Even in developed countries state terror exists in subtle forms. Juliann Assange is a case in point. An educated population has been the traditional remedy for this malady. As long as greed is a human failing and greedy people assume power, state terror will always exist.

    • 0

      Not in the way successive Sri Lankan governments treated Tamils – unleashing mobs to butcher and burn Tamils and wait to declare curfew till critical mass of man and material are decimated and ……………..

      sending ”young” parliamentarians to Tamil diaspora instead of making them listen to conscientious Sinhalese inside SriLanka is also a part of state terrorism:

      These young parliamentarians must break away urgently from the old parliamentarians on political thinking and don’t realise the golden treasure of wisdom in many conscientious Sinhalese in the country – time is running out and the holders of this golden treasure are not very long from the end of their lives.

      Sanjana, pl do something.

  • 0

    State Terror commenced in 1951 by massacres of groups of tamils only because they were tamils,by the armed forces and police.
    This led to tamil militancy,after the July 1983 pogrom.
    Now,by concensus, all appear to agree that State Terror is institutionalised,and functions on behalf of the ruling junta and its extended family.
    GLPeiris has dicovered that the terror against the JSC Secretary is justified as he was 30th in seniority & thus should not have been appointed to the post.
    He forgets that a very junior judge has been appointed to the Appeal Court bypassing many seniors.
    Now state terror has commenced proceedings to oust the CJ,as the court
    she heads did not approve the Divi Neguma bill as presented.
    Her husband who was totally unqualified was appointed as Chairman NSB by the president himself.But his attempted fraud backfired and he is in hotwater.
    Thus, State Terror is selective – this is a ‘refinement’.

  • 0

    Extremely thoughtful and well written article! I do hope that our intelligent people would read and take this message to heart!

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