Violence in Sri Lanka: Slipshod Scholarship

Michael Roberts

I recently circulated a whole set of articles by some Muslim scholars (located in the Eastern Province and abroad) as well as a few others in Western universities — mostly written in the 2011-19 period. I am beginning to go through them slowly when I can carve out time for this set of tasks. A few have focused on the incidence of crime and communal violence in the post 2009 period.

What strikes me on reading these ventures is the limited degree of reading of past works that has been pursued and the appalling gaps in their background – lapses which also impinge on their comments on the death toll in the last stages of Eelam War IV.

One shortcoming is that which I would call a “presentist focus” … viz., an immersion in the last 10-20 years. Thus, take those that focus on murders, crimes and violence. They seem to know bugger-all about the studies of homicide and violence in the last half of the 20th century – several at village or locality level by anthropologists and/or political scientists.

In my own impressionistic recollections as a Sri Lankan and as a researcher on frequent sojourns in the island between 1977 and 2006, Sri Lanka has always had a high incidence of homicide and affray at the local level. Those interested could begin with a reading of Paul Alexander Sri Lankan Fishermen. Rural Capitalism and Rural Society, (Canberra, 1982). From folklore about the Ambalangoda, Balapitiya,  Ratgama and Gintota localities, I can assure everyone that the incidence of retribution and conflict highlighted by Alexander in the Matara/Tangalla coastal arena is not peculiar. Prabath De Silva’s recent work on the Woolf era court records suggests that these tendencies go way back in the Southern Province.

Again, my intimate interaction with Rohan Bastin during his fieldwork in Katukurunda in the 1990s brought to light a Sinhala Muslim clash in that locality; while I can recall news reports on incidents of localised Sinhala-Muslim ethnic clashes in Gampola in 1974 and others in Mawanella in the 1990s and 2001. Again, when holidaying at one of my favourite seaside haunts at over the last forty years, I have heard of minor affrays with ethnic hues in that area.[1]

The lesson for contemporary political scientists is simple: they should immerse themselves in the field studies of Rohan Bastin, Premkumara de Silva, Bruce Kapferer, Gananath Obeyesekere, Jonathan Spencer, RL Stirrat and Mazakazu  Tanaka.

Such ventures will point them towards the importance of the plethora of religious shrines and specialists where individual and families seek support in moments of difficulty (real and imagined). These are powerful mediators that are regarded as means of overcoming – and in some instances violently overcoming — obstacles in their path. Retribution is a major driver in this ‘game.’

Towards this end Obeyesekere’s 1975 study entitled “Sorcery, premeditated murder and the canalization of aggression in Sri Lanka,” Ethnology, 14: 1-23 (also available as SSC Pamphlet No. 11 (1993) is essential reading. Addressing the homicide studies on Sri Lanka presented in the 1960s by HS Jayawardena & H Ranasinghe (1963) and AL Wood (1961), Obeyesekere set out to test his theory that premeditated murder in the island was much less than in other comparable countries because people could deploy renowned sorcery shrines to effect he removal of an enemy or a tormentor.  His findings are mind-boggling.

It is as mind-blowing that contemporary researchers are totally inattentive to this body of research. They are not only enmeshed and trapped in the present era; they seem to be blinded by the moral fervour that is sweeping the world today in ways that lead them to focus on contemporary bad guys and/or political forces. This may earn them brownie-points and advance their career. But such a course hardly does a service to our body of knowledge and our analytical tools.

Sure, there are many contemporary baddies; but there are other currents with a deeper/longer history which we cannot gloss over. These suggest – repeat “suggest” – profound societal causes.

That I use the term “suggest” is an indication that social science is a dicey field of work in murky arenas. Not many conclusions can be hundred percent definitive.

 ****  ****

victims –the sorrowful at St Sebastian’s Church, Negombo …. visit https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/23/world/asia/pictures-of-sri-lanka-bombings.html

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bastian, Sunil 2008 “Political economy of ethnic violence.in Sri Lanka: the July 1983 riots,” in J. Uyangoda, Matters of violence, Colombo: Karunaratne & Sons, pp. 151-64.

Daniel, E. Valentine 1996 Charred Lullabies. Chapters in the anthropography of violence. Princeton University Press.

De Silva, Prabath2016Leonard Woolf as a Judge in Ceylon,” 20 November 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/leonard-woolf-as-a-judge-in-ceylon/

De Silva, Premakumara 2000 Globalization and the Transformation of Planetary Rituals in Southern Sri Lanka; Colombo: International Centre for Ethnic Studies.

Jayawardene, H. S. & H. Ranasinghe 1963 Criminal Homicide in the Southern Province, Colombo

Jeganathan, Pradeep 1998 “All the lord’s men? Ethnicity and equality in the space of a riot,” in M. Roberts (ed) Sri Lanka. Collective identities revisited, vol II, Colombo: Marga, pp. 221-47.

Kapferer, Bruce 1983 A Celebration of Demons, Bloomington: University of Indiana Press.

Kapferer, Bruce 1988 Legends of People, Myths of State, Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Kapferer, Bruce1989 “Nationalist ideology and a comparative anthropology,” Ethnos 54: 161-99.

Kapferer, Bruce1997 Feast of the Sorcerer, University of California Press.

Kearney, Robert N.1967      Communalism and language in the politics of Ceylon, Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press.

Obeyesekere, Gananath 1967 Land Tenure in Village Ceylon, CUP.

Obeyeeskere, Gananath 1975 “Sorcery, premeditated murder and the canalization of aggression in Sri Lanka,” Ethnology, 14: 1-23 (also available as SSC Pamphlet No. 11 (1993).

Roberts, Michael 1996 “Teaching lessons, removing evil: strands of moral puritanism in Sinhala nationalist practice,” South Asia, Special Issue, XIX: 205-20.

Roberts, Michael 2017 Professional mourners in Ceylon and Southern India,” 3 March 2017, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/professional-mourners-in-ceylon-and-southern-india/

Rogers, John R. 1987a Crime, justice and society in colonial Sri Lanka, London: Curzon Press.

Rogers, John R. 1987b “Social mobility, popular ideology, and collective violence in modern Sri Lanka,” Journal of Asian Studies, 46: 583-602.

Rogers, John R. 1989 “Cultural Nationalism and Social Reform: The 1904 Temperance Movement in Sri Lanka,” Indian Economic and Social History Review, 26 (3), 1989, pp. 319-351.

Spencer, Jonathan 1990 A Sinhala Village in a Time of Trouble, Delhi, OUP.

Spencer, Jonathan 1992 “Problems in the analysis of communal violence,” Contributions to Indian Sociologyn.s. Vol 26: 261-279.

Stirrat, R. L. 1988 On the Beach. Fishermen, Fishwives and Fish Traders in Postcolonial Sri Lanka, Delhi, Hindustan Printing Corporation.

Uyangoda, J. (ed.) 2008 Matters of Violence, Colombo: Karunaratne & Sons

Wood, A. L. 1961 “Crime and Aggression in Changing Ceylon,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society,

SPECIAL BIBLIOGRAPHY …. Roberts

SPECIAL BIBLIOGRAPHY …. Recent Conflicts … ONE

Peiris, Gerald H. 2017 “A Study of Contemporary Buddhist-Muslim Relations in Sri Lanka,” 14 September 2017, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2017/09/14/a-study-of-contemporary-buddhist-muslim-relations-in-sri-lanka/

Holt, John 2018 “John Holt rebuts Gerald Peiris. A Focus on Buddhist Extremism,” 30 December 2017, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2017/09/30/john-holt-rebuts-gerald-peiris-a-focus-on-buddhist-extremism/

Wettimuny, Shamara 2019 “Anti-Muslim Violence Present and Past,”  14 July 2019, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2019/07/14/anti-muslim-violence-present-and-past/

Ameer Ali, ACL  2009a “The Transformation of Muslim Politics in Sri Lanka and the Growth of Wahhabism from the 1980s,” 5 May 2009, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/the-transformation-of-muslim-politics-in-sri-lanka-and-the-growth-of-wahhabism-from-the-1980s/

Ameer Ali, ACL 2019b “How Extremisms have fed off Each Other in Sri Lanka, 1950s-to-2019 … and still proceeding,”  6 May 2019,https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2019/05/06/how-extremisms-have-fed-off-each-other-in-sri-lanka-1950s-to-2019-and-still-proceeding/

Bastians, Dharisha 2014 “Death toll rises to 4 from Aluthgama riots,” Daily FT, 18 June 2014

De Munck, Victor 2005 “Islamic orthodoxy and Sufism in Sri Lanka,” January 2005, Anthropos: International Review of Anthropology and Linguistics 00(2):401-414.

Fernando, Asiri 2019 “The Thinking and Operational Capacity of the 21/4 Jihadists,” 14 May 2019, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2019/05/14/the-thinking-and-operational-capacity-of-the-21-4-jihadists/

Zahrah Imtiaz, D.B. Subedi, and M. Sarvananthan 2019 “After the Easter Sunday Terror: The way forward,” 3 May 2019, ……………………… https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2019/05/03/after-the-easter-sunday-terror-4-21-the-way-forward

Roberts, Michael 2019 “Slippages: Where ‘Muslim’ is An Ethnic Label as well as a Religious Typification,”  3 May 2018, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2019/05/03/slippages-where-muslim-is-an-ethnic-label-as-well-as-a-religious-typification/

Roberts, Michael 2019  “The Clash of Civilisations and Hate at the Heart of 21/4 in Sri Lanka,” May 14, 2019 https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2019/05/14/the-clash-of-civilisations-and-hate-at-the-heart-of-21-4-in-sri-lanka/#more-35621

SPECIAL BIBLIOGRAPHY …. Recent Conflicts … TWO

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2010b “Information Warfare and the Endgame of the Civil War,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, May 2010 30/4: 35-37, http://www. asiapacificdefencereporter.com/articles/40/Sri-Lanka

Engage Sri Lanka 2013 Corrupted Journalism: Channel 4 and Sri Lanka, http://www.amazon.co.uk/Corrupted-Journalism-Channel-Lanka-Engage/dp/0992684544

Harrison, Frances 2012 Still Counting the Dead. Survivors of Sri Lanka’s Hidden War,London: Portobello Books.

Harshula 2011a “When allegations becomes evidence,” 6 June 2011, http://groundviews.org/2011/06/06/when-allegations-become-evidence/

Harshula 2011b “Channel 4 ‘Killing Fields’: Journalism, Advocacy or Propaganda?” 13 Sept. 2011, http://groundviews.org/2011/09/13/channel-4s-killing-fields-journalism-advocacy-or-propaganda/.

Hewavitharana, Siri 2011b “Channel-4 video a ‘fake’, concludes video forensic analyst,” http://www.globalpeacesupport.com/globalpeacesupport.com/post/2011/06/13/Channel-4-video-a-fake-concludes-video-forensic-analyst.aspx.

Hewavitharana, Siri 2011c “UN misled on Channel 4 video,” 6 August 2010, https://lrrp.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/un-misled-on-channel-4-video-by-siri-hewawitharana/

IDAG 2013 “The Numbers Game: Politics of Retributive Justice,” http://www.margasrilanka.org/ OR http://www.scribd.com/doc/132499266/The-Numbers-Game-Politics-of-Retributive-Justice.

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2009 “Wretched of the Earth break Free of Bondage.” Daily Mirror, 25 April 2009, http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/380.

Mango 2013 “KIA:WIA Ratios – Conjuring With The Dead And Ignoring The Wounded,” http://thecarthaginiansolution.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/kiawia-ratios-conjuring-with-the-dead-and-ignoring-the-wounded/

Mango 2011 “Jim Macdonald of AI boxed into corner by Mango in 2009,” 10 August 2011, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/3133/

Marga Team 2011 2011 Truth and Accountability. The Last Stages of the War in Sri Lanka,http://www.margasrilanka.org/Truth-Accountability.pdf

Noble, Kath 2013 “Numbers Game reviewed by Kath Noble: the full monty,” 14 July 2013, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/numbers-game-reviewed-by-kath-noble-the-full-monty/

Padraig Colman 2011 “The Cage by Gordon Weiss,” Island, 13 May 2013, 2http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=78825.

Prasad, Kanchan 2011a “Indian Reporter Pics at NFZ-14-to-18 May 2009,” http://www.flickr.com/photos/thuppahi/sets/72157626797805167/

Prasad, Kanchan 2011b “Mullivaikkal Hospital in NFZ Last Redoubt,” in http://www.flickr.com/photos/thuppahi/sets/72157626797848747/

Rajasingham, Narendran 2009 “Rise and Fall of the LTTE — An Overview,” Sri Lanka Guardian, 7 Feb. 2009.

Reddy, B. Muralidhar 2009 “Multiple Displacements, Total Loss of Identity,” http://www.hindu.com/2009/05/27/stories/2009052755811500.htm

Roberts, Michael 201v Tamil Person and state, Essays, Colombo, Vijtha Yapa

Roberts, Michael 2014 Tamil Person and state, Pictorial, Colombo, Vijtha Yapa Publications.

UTHR 2009 “A Marred Victory and a Defeat Pregnant with Foreboding,” Special Report No. 32, 10 June 2009, http://www.uthr.org/SpecialReports/spreport32.htm

UTHR 2009 “ Let Them speak: Truth about Sri Lanka’s Victims of War,” Special Report No. 34. 13, December2009, http://www.uthr.org/SpecialReports/Special%20rep34/Uthr-sp.rp34.htm

 END NOTES

[1] Alas, I did not keep notes, so I cannot provide chapter and verse – but I remember at least three such instances in a vague way.

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