Sri Lanka          All photos taken in April 2014


I have a long essay, The Perils of Majoritarianism, on the ethnic history and politics of Sri Lanka and a review of Samanth Subramanian’s This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War. A shorter version of it appeared in the Times Literary Supplement. [—Namit Arora, Apr 2015]
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I traveled in Sri Lanka for most of April 2014. Not only a beautiful island with a rich cultural history and ample wildlife, it's the only country in South Asia to be rated "high" on the UN Human Development Index. It has relatively low economic disparity, little abject poverty, high literacy, and universal healthcare. To most Indian visitors, Sri Lankan urbanscapes and rhythms of life will feel familiar and comfortable. I found traveling to be easy enough, the locals friendly, and the food delicious. Sri Lanka even has seven UNESCO world heritage sites.

It's also a country whose major ethnic communities—mainly Tamil and Sinhala but also the Muslims—haven't learned to live with each other. Their troubles grew in the 1950s with Sinhala nationalism and majoritarianism, driven by chauvinistic monks and militant buddhists, and fueled by cultural insecurities and jaundiced readings of religio-historic texts like the Mahavamsa. Humiliated and cornered, the Tamils demanded their own homeland; many resorted to violent resistance, leading to harsh reprisals from the Sinhala-dominated state. Both sides committed brutalities for nearly three decades. Tamil areas suffered great destruction, mass exodus, and genocidal violence; ruins of war abound in the north (the Vanni and Jaffna Peninsula). The LTTE may be finished, but will the great many atrocities committed against Tamil civilians near the war's end be forgotten or forgiven easily, especially with no reconciliation underway, tens of thousands forced off their lands, and 100K+ refugees still in India five years after the war's end? Under the Rajapaksa family's authoritarian regime, Sinhala pride and triumphalism have resurged, public corruption is rampant, there is little freedom of the press and disappearances are common, especially in Tamil areas that have an oppressive army presence. The economy, however, is growing again and new infrastructure, often funded by the Chinese, is coming up: an airport, modern highways, high-rise apartments, casinos, resorts, and more. For a country its size, I found Sri Lanka to be enormously complex and interesting.

A brief sketch of Sri Lankan history is here. For a closer look at contemporary Sri Lankan society and politics, start with the following: How Not to Win a War, Buddhists Behaving Badly, and the harrowing documentary, No Fire Zone. Below are some of my pictures. [—Namit Arora, May 2014]

 

Jaffna Peninsula and Islands

The Vanni and the East Coast

Anuradhapura

Polonnaruwa

Kandy

Dambulla Caves

Sigiriya

Colombo

Galle

Yala National Park

Uda Walawe National Park

Kataragama

 



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