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Traumatised Tamil Communities

Scarred Communities: Psychosocial Impact of Man-made and Natural Disaster by Daya Somasundaram (New Delhi: Sage Publications), 2014; pp liv + 453; Rs 1,250.

It is difficult to write about the ordinary people affected over the course of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war without adopting, at least implicitly, some kind of anti-state stance. As evidence of the indiscriminate killing of thousands of Tamil civilians in the last two years of fighting has slowly surfaced, choosing to write on the matter is choosing to question the moral and legal authority of the government. Much recently published writing that tries to document these atrocities has in fact chosen to make this attitude explicit. Some writings, most notably, Gordon Weiss’s The Cage: The Fight for Sri Lanka and the Last Days of the Tamil Tigers (2011) and Frances Harrison’s Still Counting the Dead: Survivors of Sri Lanka’s Hidden War (2012), have even contributed to international efforts to pressurise the Sri Lankan government into acknowledging and making restitution for its crimes.

While writing about the plight of Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka, with these kinds of political objectives is both important and necessary — particularly the issue of political acknowledgement — this approach tends to focus attention almost exclusively on the more violent and dramatic ordeals this population has been through. These events are described with empathy and outrage, but as a result the subtler, more long-term effects of the violence are often ignored or treated as secondary.

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