16 November, 2018

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War Crimes And Curry

By Frances Harrison –

Frances Harrison

Publishing a book about a highly charged ethnic conflict in which tens of thousands have died is no path to a peaceful life. You only need to look at the racial abuse and filthy language in the comments sections of online sites frequented by Sri Lankans to see how intense the emotions still are.

Like anyone who writes on Sri Lanka I’ve had my share of abuse from both sides. I’ve been told I am covered in the blood of the babies who perished in the killing fields, that I’ve been making money out of the dead, and am a terrorist or “white Tiger” not to mention, a hysterical liar.

But what the public doesn’t see are the private messages from readers around the world. Every few days I receive a message of thanks from a Sri Lankan – mostly Tamils but a few Sinhalese too. Some just wish me a long life, say I will always be in their hearts or bless me. When I meet them at book events there are men and women who envelope me in a bear hug. A few confide that they’ve bought the book but are too scared to read it because they themselves are so traumatised as refugees from earlier phases of the war.

I sometimes pass on the messages to the characters in the book, who are the ones who deserve the credit, not me. They have taken huge risks to speak out, feeling it’s their duty to bear witness to the carnage. Many readers write commending the doctor in Still Counting the Dead for his extraordinary bravery. In Canada a Tamil group gave him a “living hero award” which was the first public recognition of how much he’d contributed, literally saving thousands of lives with no thought for his own. Because the doctor has to remain anonymous for his own safety, the award plaque was hand delivered to me in London so I could post it on to him. Unfortunately it was made of glass, but luckily survived the journey intact.

Last week a grey haired Tamil gentleman came up to tell me how he’d read the book in two days flat, gripped but appalled. “I am a seventy years old man but I cried at several points while reading” he announced proudly. Another man from Melbourne sent me a message on Facebook saying:

“I cried when I read that it wasn’t a palmyrah fruit but a head of an infant child. I was in the train. People were surprised and one kind lady offered me a tissue. It wasn’t embarrassing. The same thing happened too when I read about the dead mom breastfeeding her baby. I wonder how you managed to pull it off without breaking down”.

It’s not just Sri Lankans. Tamils from neighbouring India write to say how ashamed that they didn’t take more notice of what was going on in Sri Lanka. One graduate student in southern India told me he arranged discussions on the book at his university and then organised students to do outreach work. This involved taking the Tamil version of the book into the Sri Lankan refugee camps to show them someone had written about the war. He said, “Once a refugee saw the original work with the map, his face lit up. He began to explain it to his wife the details of the nation; the fertile northern part etc”.

A Tamil in London, himself once a refugee, donated a hundred copies of the Tamil version of the book to libraries throughout the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. He’s now roped in his cousin and friend and they’re sending ninety copies to diplomats at the UN. Others in Canada and the UK tell me they’ve posted the book to government ministers and MPs, urging them to read it.

Three days after Still Counting the Dead was published I encountered a Tamil man after an event in London who went up to the bookseller and in broken English demanded fifty signed copies. Misunderstanding ensued; she thought he wanted them on a sale or return basis and was being rather cheeky. Someone had to intervene in Tamil to straighten things out. Soon the man had whisked out his credit card and carried off the bookseller’s entire stock in his backpack. It turned out he was going door to door selling my book to Tamil households and community centres – not for profit – but as a public service.

Although the English version of the book has been openly on sale in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, I’m told Tamils in the north are scared to be seen carrying it into Jaffna because their belongings are searched by the army. Nevertheless it has been read there and discussion groups held on it. At the launch in the UK people were buying up five or ten copies to send to their aunt or cousin in Jaffna. Sri Lankans – including some Sinhalese – have come to thank me in person, saying how important it is that someone has told the story of the final phase of the war.

More used to literary fiction, my British publishers have been astonished by the level of engagement. They were open mouthed that tickets for the launch event in London sold out well in advance and two hundred and fifty people packed the hall. Now they are less surprised when I demand a hundred copies of the book at the author’s discount for someone who’s buying in bulk.

Writing and talking about war crimes every day is corrosive and soul destroying and yes it takes it out of you slowly. Of course it’s nothing to experiencing a war first hand. But there are some perks – the warmth of ordinary people. Now in Australia for the Adelaide Book Festival I got chatting to some Sri Lankans after an event and in no time they’d decided to hold an impromptu dinner party for me. The Australian publicist couldn’t believe it. I tried to explain how normal this was but she said it simply never happens to their authors.

Frances Harrison is a former BBC foreign correspondent based in Sri Lanka.This article was first published by the Huffington Post.

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Latest comments

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    Yawn… so Frances gets invited to a dinner party on the back of a whiny polemical book.

    One of the best bits is where Frances recounts her chats with “Puli”, a “thoughtful” LTTE spokesman with whom she had regular Skype and satphone calls even as the fighting reached its climax.

    “Mostly Puli wanted to escape the butchery,” she writes, “to talk about the heavy snow that lay on the ground that winter in England, the books he’d read and my mundane domestic life.” Along with most of the Tigers’ senior leadership, he was killed on the war’s final day.’

    Oh, poor little persecuted, “Puli”…

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      Mango:

      Very soon it will be “poor Rajapakses”. Who know, at that point in time, even you may join the chorus.

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        Jansee,
        The words “poor” and “Rajapakses” don’t belong in the same sentence. When they go (or when they’re finally thrown out by a disgusted votebank), it won’t be because of anything that Frances and her friends have done.

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          I have no problem with that. Whether you blow the trumpet or beat the drum, it will be just the means to the end. You dump them, this will make it a lot easier in our journey to make them pay for their war crimes.

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            Jansee,
            Who exactly is taking part in “our journey” to see MR & co “pay for their war crimes”. Don’t be shy, tell us. And what makes the Tamils so special? Get in line for justice in Sri Lanka. It’s a very, very long queue. Bring an umbrella, some short eats and a good book.

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      Very well said.. As she described ‘Puli’ know to His ‘FRIENDS’ enough said where the so called BBC ethical and Unbiased Journalism when it came to SL conflict was and is.. Still ex so called journalist like francis has to earn some money and why not the EElam LTTE section of the Western tamil community are doing the same..

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    Dear Frances,

    If you wrote a book about ghastly crimes of LTTE on Sri Lankan soil for 30 long years, I would happily serve you devilled Chicken Curry at a time of yor choosing, any where in the world, you travel to promote that book.

    For the time being your curry is being served by members of the cunning LTTE rump delighted at you taking part in their propaganda.

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      Why only the last 30 years? Whatever happened to the Tamils since independence: 1956 riots, burning of the Jaffna Library, the ethnic cleansing in 1983. Surely you are not suffering from Alzheimer, do, you?

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        Hey what about the suffering we went through? Bus bombs train bombs massacres ethnic cleansing? We all suffered for 30 years

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          Surely you would understand that I have had not left out the 30 years you are talking about. So, what’s your problem?

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        You have been reading too much Francis.. Actually the Riots were 58 and not 56.. And during the riots of 58.. alot of sinhala people were also killed by Tamils.. For instance the Famous Tar barrel story where the LTTE have manipulated the True facts.. Where a Sinhala Baby was thrown in in Trinco. ANd equally sinhala mobs murdered a Tamil kovil priest in panadura.. pls refer to True facts in emergency 58 by tarzie vittachi.. But the 1983 Racial riots were the worse where Sinhala Mobs Murdered and killed Tamil citizens of this nation.. (just like how thousands of Sikhs were murdered and displaced in India in 84 by Hindu )Even though the response to Previous killings of the LTTE of SL troops In Jaffan. But that was no excuse to murder and displace Tamil citizens of this nation.. But before you start ur BBC style propaganda get ur facts right..

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          FRANCIS HARRISON IS [Edited out] ,HER AIM IS TO MAKE MONEY OUT OF TAMIL PEOPLE .SHE JOLLY WELL KNOWS THAT THE TAMIL NUMBERS FAR EXCEED THE NUMBER OF SINHALA IN THE WORLD . THE ONLY WAY TO SELL HER BOOK IS TO PANDER TO THE TAMILS BY SELLING HER BOOK . HOW MUCH MONEY WOULD SHE HAVE MADE IF SHE WROTE ABOUT THE LTTE ATROCITIES. SHE KNOWS THAT AWARDS WILL COME HER WAY FOR BASHING THE SINHALA. MAYBE SHE IS IN LINE FOR THE NOBEL PEACE PRICE . HOW PATHETIC.GET A LIFE.

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            Kumudini:

            Looks like Frances has actually got her life – you seem to have implicitly admitted in your own writing. The question is, your attempt to outsmart her in this adventures comes as a pale shadow to hers.

            Actually, I honour the likes of you. I got it. There is no need for you to work at all. The money is dropping from the sky on your lap. Or you, too, got laptops from the Rajapaksas? All those working in Lakehouse, Rupavahini, etc are very conscious Sri Lankans who are not receiving even a single dime for their effort and work. The ministers in SL are the most patriotic because they are so noble that they turn their faces away when their pay check is laid in front of them. Thank you for the information.

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          Go and talk about these facts to the Rajapakses. They will roll out a red carpet for you, that is, if you are lucky.

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    i dont get it. this [Edited out] writes a book on others suffering and pockets the money. so the real reason is money and does she give any monies earned to the families of the victims. i guess not. so her motivation is greed. [Edited out].

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      Way to go man. The next time your employer passes you the pay packet, simply tell him you are not interested in the pay check. After all, you are a very patriot Sri Lankan.

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        she says ‘Like anyone who writes on Sri Lanka I’ve had my share of abuse from both sides’ i dont think so as many LTTE eelam groups are your primary supporters and who buy ur rubbish.. and those ore the once who live in western nations as any rubbish they will believe rather than the facts. If you eelam LTTE supporters need to know the truth than read from Respected Tamil authors and some sinhala ones as well..

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          How come the respected Tamil authors, or the Sinhala ones, did not figure this year very much. Could be obscure ones or you did not do your job – what they write would mean nothing if they can’t stir the conscience and do not reach the eyes and ears of the world. And I don’t blame you for that. It was not the vintage periyar but Annadurai who made the difference in Tamilnadu. You will, like periyar, remain a vintage.

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      At last we have found a true human being who does not have even a single strain of greed in him/her. Are you a beggar or what?

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    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

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    If Frances Harrison’s attempts to present her version of the disastrous Tamil Tiger project has any good results, it is this: this is what happens to terrorists and their apologists when their victims eventually organise to settle accounts with them. May this lesson be forever burned into the memory of those who believe terrorism is a legitimate method of political struggle.

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      Look at the bright side. If and when the Rajapakses are hauled for war crimes, this would have gone a full circle. Then everyone can sleep with the thought that we have settled all our scores.

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    Frances

    What you’re saying smacks of your craving for some positive reinforcement in the wake of the justified outrage of a large number of fair-minded people who know what really happened during the final phase of the war. Whatever happened was a tragedy. But your book is a hack job meant to humour the Diaspora Tigers and the human rights/NGO industry. Your own words expose your unabashed glee that you grabbed the tragedy as an opportunity to enhance yourself. Rest assured the demand for such third-rate journalism on Sri Lanka will continue for a while. There will be a ready-made readership as most of the LTTE supporters have never read a good book.

    The Tiger supporters are well-known to deceive gullible westerners by their acting skills developed and polished over the last 40 years or so. I’m not saying some of the things you describe in your book didn’t happen. But much of what you have written is based on misinformation due to the fog of war and disinformation and spin deliberately spread by the LTTE. You just ask those play actors, book buyers and dinner hosts – did they ever shed a tear for the countless Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim children and infants killed by weapons and ammunition bought by the LTTE with the money sent by them. How can you and your readers be so selective in shedding tears?

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      Never mind about them – they are “external” people. What about those citizens who were bombed and murdered by this regime? It is because of guys like you that now this has become an external problem. What do you think you want to do that your masters cannot do to stop the external factors overwhelming SL now?

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        Dear Jansee

        You are damn right they are “external people.” I forgot to mention these external people were giving their children a good education and lavishing them with everything the “good life” of the West had to offer. And these children, most of whom not even born in Sri Lanka, had no knowledge of what was going on there; they had no knowledge the LTTE was killing its own people. These misguided, shallow Tamil youth in the diaspora embraced the Tamil Eelam myth due to brain-washing by their bigoted parents, identity-crisis they faced in the racist Western societies they were growing up, and to have fun calling themselves “social activists fighting injustice” which is so fashionable when you are young and restless. And what did they do? They collected money and sent it to Prabakaran to recruit more child soldiers and sacrifice them as cannon fodder. And what is most tragic was these were children of the impoverished Wanni and Eastern Province, of the lower castes in general, and children of Indian origin estate Tamils who had migrated to Wanni in the 1970s – and not the children of the cunning Jaffna “upper” classes and castes most of whom are the “external people” now. It is these hypocritical and diabolically evil people who are putting attention seeking Frances Harrison on a Murunkai (Murunga) pedestal.

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          Looks like your ostrich head is still stuck in the sand. Who killed thousands of Sinhala youths – just disappeared without a trace? The LTTE guy who killed 600 SL policemen is sleeping in the lap of Rajapakse. Another Rajapakse is feeding fruit cake to KP who obtained arms to bomb the SL people? Being blind is understandable but being blissfully pathetic and ignorant??

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            Dear Jansee

            I’m glad you admit the LTTE killed 600 Sri Lankan policemen in its custody on the express orders of the blood-thirsty Prabakaran. Your ADHD doesn’t allow you to see this is 600 times worse than the alleged white flag incident. KP is what he is today because his crossover to the government side was the first decisive step in sealing the fate of the “invincible” LTTE. And then you jump to the JVP which has nothing to do with the present regime. Learn to focus.

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      Ajay

      Forget the final phases of war and Frances Harrison.

      Do you know what had happened in this island since 5th April 1971 or for that matter in the past 2,500 years?

      I have listened to enough of your teenage tantrums and be serious.

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        I beg your pardon, I thought we are discussing about what Frances wrote “now”. Sleeping may be a good therapy but sleeping for 2,500 years??

        Do I really care what happened 2,500 years ago when what matters is the present. Oh, I have not finished quite yet and if you find my “tantrums” a bit overwhelming, I rejoice it. You are what, the loyal disciple of the Rajapaksas that I have to stop talking when you decree it?

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          Vedi Boy

          Too bad you ADHD patient had to face the “friendly fire” from fellow ADHD sufferer Jansee !

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          jansee

          Whom are you aiming your comment at?

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            Sorry, it was meant for someone else. Sorry about that

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              jansee

              Its okay, people make mistakes.

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    I like to read this book. From where can I buy it?

    • 0
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      Most likely those who serve Curry to Frnaces must have printed pirated copies in Tamil Nadu for Propaganda. Buy an Indian copy for next to nothing.

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    Frances

    SL Tamils have been terribly unfortunanate in many ways but they still have people like you to tell the world what they went through. You are a Tamil goddess. You are giving a voice to those voiceless people. I highly respect you.
    I would love to see you in a pattu (silk) saree and a pottu on your forhead.

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    Frances
    As a Sri Lankan in London I do intermittently get distracted by the antics of my fellow countrymen. Do not be deterred by the negative comments, they are encouraging in a sense. You are right to write to the book but you should not ignore the historical underpinnings of the war.

    Sri Lanka’s contemporary decline started at the beginning of the 20th century and to this date the trend continues. Quite evidently. One thing we must never forget, the British Colonial Past has had a bearing on the current state of affairs. The British did more damage than Rajapakshe’s; be it importing slave labour, or creating a single, for convenience, administrative unit. And – most certainly – encouraging the class divisions to administer, that fester to this date.

    If Sri Lanka had only been blessed with the enlightenment of Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, etc…..rather than the feudal class based British system. And, I believe, if the Sri Lankan leaders have been to American universities rather Oxbridge, they would have been more familiar with the principals of free market economics.

    Show me a single American educated Asian leader who have gone onto pursue racist politics?

    Am glad the US is taking the initiative which the British should have done a long time ago.

    Your book, rightly so, deals with the outcomes of final stages and, should, provide the impetus for an inquiry. Through inquiry comes accountability and reconciliation.

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      A note: Work visas ( three month) are to be issued to Indians to come and help harvest paddy in the north and east. This has been a need that has manifested in various forms over the centuries.
      Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

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        What are you really getting at?

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          Read history, before erecting your quills!

          There were deportees who came from N . and E . India ;there were brides and their retinues brought from S. India; there were mercenaries recruited in S. India ; there were Kings imported from S. India; there were craftsman imported from S. India ; there were labourers imported for the tobacco, rubber, cinnamon , cocoa and teas plantations from S.India ; there were monks imported from S. India; and there were teachers, researchers and toddy tappers imported from S. India. There were also many who came here from S. India in both ‘ Nalla thonies’ and ‘ Kalla Thonies ‘.

          Many of their descendants are Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims today. When we need manpower or women power, we have always looked to India, especially the South. History is repeating . I am glad that this is happening in our life time to remind us of what happened before. With birth rates declining to 1.7 percent, across the island, we may have to keep on importing more and more from S. India!

          Is there a lesson in this for the bickering tribes here?

          Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

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            The Rajapakses found a more noble way of reducing the numbers. Herd the people into a dubious no-fire-zone and wave the humanitarian wand at them like a pied-piper and then turn them to pulp. You have to learn the secret from the Rajapakses.

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              Don’t you think this a bit too much?

              Dr.R?N

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    Dr. Rajasingam:

    Nothing personal doctor. It is just that the lies of the Rajapakses get on to my nerves.

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      Jansee

      Don’t worry, this doctor will have to see a proper doctor soon!

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    Rajasingham is right when he says that historically there was a labour shortage [in the East],but not so long ago.only after the colonial powers wanted to open up the country. Rubber and Mulberry plantations in lower Mahaweli had to be abandoned for want of labour among other reasons.

    The population of Trinco district in 1868/9 was around 6843,in kaddukulam, koddiyar and Tampalagama Pattus; in 1901 it was 28441 for 1175 sq.miles. In 1906, the numbers remained the same.Nearly half of that was in the Local Board area and not in the country.The sinhalese were dieing through hunger, privation and disease.When the Kantale tank was restored only 12 Sinhalese from the most backward parts of Nuwarakalaviya were allowed to settle, others were brought from Jaffna peninsula and South India..

    At the Darbar of Tamil Chieftains held in Jaffna by Governor McCullulum in 1911,the Governor asked the chieftains of the Eastern Province, whether they wanted Jaffna Tamils or Coast Tamils. That is when the Governor told the Tamil chieftains that he had reserved the Tank Country for the Tamils”. Also that British administrators wanted to settle Indian Tamils from plantations in the Eastern province.
    So says a leading researcher in an article recently, citing archival recoords. Earlier, the Dutch settled South Indians there. Even a Malayali contingent from Cochin which was disbanded by the last Dutch administrator, Burnand, was allowed to settle down at Panama area as husbandsmen. Also as husbands for the Sinhalese women there!

    Till the LTTE chased away the Sinhalese farmers, the Kandyans came to work in the Eastern fields during the season for the later landlords in the former fields they once owned before they forfeited them to later owners when they were unable to pay their debts of seed paddy.They lived with Tamil women during the season and a good many of children are the result of these temporary unions. The LTTE found them useful to train them as suicide cadres.

    Why not invite these Kandyan farm workers back? Wewagam Pattu now incorporated in Ampara district, was a 99 per cent Sinhalese area, says the former DRO, there, TBM Ekanayake, in his Memoirs.The then Govt. Agent, he says, wanted to close down the DRO’s Office because he wanted the Sinhalese population to die.
    Defence Secretary might be interested in this suggestion.

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    I would love to see you in a pattu (silk) saree and a pottu on your forehead.

    I would love to see cyanide capsule necklace around her neck

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