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Many truths: Two documentaries evoke interest in TN

india Updated: Feb 18, 2009 16:01 IST
MR Venkatesh
MR Venkatesh
Hindustan Times
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Sri Lanka long back may have nominally declared itself a Buddhist State. But the pear-shaped island's protracted ethnic conflict seems to actually prove Jainism's cardinal doctrine of 'Sayadvaad' - 'many-sidedness of Truth'-.

This is the distinct impression two telling documentaries on the decades-long ethnic violence in Sri Lanka is generating among the people of Tamil Nadu, as they do the rounds on a special screening drive amid the on-going war there reaching a climax.

"I was in Sri Lanka during the years 2000-05; so many events have overtaken it and from what used to be called an ethnic conflict, it is now called a war on terror, completely dislocating peoples and memories; that is why it is so important to recapture the (agonizing) memory of those times," said the Kashmiri film-maker, Ms. Iffat Fatima.

Ms Fatima, also a culture researcher, has made the more longish of the two documentaries, "Lanka- The Other Side of War and Peace-". Their screening was made possible by the French Cultural Centre here and evoked considerable public interest.

The other documentary, which along with the former was screened over the past two days here, is by a Sri Lankan Tamil journalist and film-maker, S. Someetharan, whose 'Burning Memories', is weaved around the burning of the World-famous Jaffna Public Library in 1981, a critical turning point in the Sinhala-Tamil relations there.

Fatima's canvas is wider. She had the 'advantage' of the elusive peacetime before the latest phase of the offensive between the Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE broke out. In fact her documentary's take-off point is the opening up of the 'A9 Highway', the only and critical road-link connecting the Jaffna peninsula to the Island's South, both geographies endowed with beauty, after LTTE had agreed for a ceasefire in Feb 2002.

"It is about 100 hours of conversation I managed to record, traveling the A9 highway, collecting stories and testimonials of people whose life has been disrupted by the violence," Fatima said in an interaction later. But as a diligent culture analyst as well, she juxtaposes the past and present of the politics of violence including the rebel JVP's uprising in the South, in a way people get a wholesome, yet non-judgmental picture.

Someetharan, on the other hand, as he put it, started shooting his documentary there under more troubled times in 2006. The Jaffna Library image is glued to his childhood memories, as "I was born very near it 19 days before its burning." "So I had to offer something to my generation," Someetharan, who calls himself a gypsy and who has been staying in India for the last few years, explained on why he made the film. He had worked on it for three years and "six Sinhalese friends helped me", he added.

At the end of the day, both the screenings underlined the fact that the worst sufferers of the cycle of political violence and counter-violence are the common people. They leave behind the room for hope and highlight the need for a peaceful and just settlement of the Tamils issue.

Both have no ready answers to the pressing issues in Northern Sri Lanka today. But as Prof. R. Manivannan, of the Madras University's Department of Politics, put it succinctly, they have shown how "Truth is not one; there are many Truths in Sri Lanka."