0845

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• 90mm • f/5.6 • 1/800 • ISO400 • Canon 600D & EF-S18-200/3.5-5.6 •

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No 13A in Tamil Town

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A busy Friday evening in Pettah, Colombo’s main shopping and market district. January 2023. Interestingly, while the city of Colombo is mostly Tamil-speaking (over 60% of the residents are Tamil or Tamil-speaking Moors), the sign in the foreground prohibiting parking is only in Sinhalese (the majority language of Sri Lanka), reflecting decades of Sinhalese-dominated governance that many believe has contributed to ethnic conflict. The controversial 13th Amendment to the Constitution, passed by Parliament in 1987, legislated that, amongst other things, Tamil be elevated to the status of an official language, alongside Sinhalese, and that all official communications be in both languages. However, more than thirty-five years later, many clauses of the amendment remain unenforced, despite Tamil demands for equal treatment.

• 35mm • f/4 • 1/100 • ISO2000 • Canon R6 & RF14-35/4L •

My Country, May She Ever be Right…

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…But right or wrong, my country.* Ethnic minorities have been visibly present in the widespread protests calling for Sri Lankan President Gotabhaya Rajapakse and his government to resign; none more so than the country’s Muslim community, typically distinguished by their conspicuous garb. Long an undeserved target of the chauvinistic politics that has plagued the country since independence in 1948, the Muslims have been especially marked for persecution in the decade following the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2009. Announcing his run for the presidency days after the Easter Sunday bombings of 2019, Gotabhaya Rajapakse blamed the Muslims for the act of terrorism, accusing them of killing hundreds, and vowing to stamp out Islamic extremism and restore national security. Borne aloft on a wave of fear and nationalism, he won a landslide victory seven months laterbut today stands charged with having engineered the bombings himself as a ploy to gain power. The country’s majority Sinhalese Buddhists, similarly making up the bulk of the protestors accusing the government of corruption and ineptitude, have welcomed minority participation; presenting, for now at least, a united voice for change. Colombo, April 2022.

• 50mm • f/4.5 • 1/1250 • ISO400 •

*An oft-used misquote of American Commodore Stephen Decatur’s “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong!” after victory over the Barbary pirates in 1816.

Many Languages, One Voice

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Ethnic minorities have been visibly present in the widespread protests calling for Sri Lankan President Gotabhaya Rajapakse and his government to resign; none more so than the country’s Muslim community, typically distinguished by their conspicuous garb. Long an undeserved target of the chauvinistic politics that has plagued the country since independence in 1948, the Muslims have been especially marked for persecution in the decade following the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2009. Announcing his run for the presidency days after the Easter Sunday bombings of 2019, Gotabhaya Rajapakse blamed the Muslims for the act of terrorism, accusing them of killing hundreds, and vowing to stamp out Islamic extremism and restore national security. Borne aloft on a wave of fear and racism, he won a landslide victory seven months later, but today stands charged with having engineered the bombings himself as a ploy to gain power. The country’s majority Sinhalese Buddhists, similarly making up the bulk of the protestors accusing the government of corruption and ineptitude, have welcomed minority participation; presenting, for now at least, a united voice for change. Colombo, April 2022.

Many Causes, One Revolution

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While most of the demands by protestors calling for the resignation of Sri Lankan President Gotabhaya Rajapakse and his government have focused on charges of corruption, nepotism, and ineptitude, all of which have been flagged as causes for Sri Lanka’s current economic crisis, there remains a less visible but still strident undertone of accusations that predate these. When the Sri Lankan military defeated the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009, it was amidst heavy civilian casualties; many of which were seen by critics of the state as resulting from callous and heavy-handed strategies ordered by Gotabhaya Rajapakse; at the time Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, and de facto head of the Armed Forces. While no evidence of war crimes has ever turned up, this hasn’t prevented a minority of protestors from gleefully taking up that cry again. Colombo, April 2022.

Special Feature — Retracing My Black July

A version of this post first ran in July 2008, on my blog, The Blacklight Arrow, under the title, ‘Black Thoughts’, and was later reproduced on Groundviews as ‘My Name is Cedric, do You Remember Me?’; part of a Black July anthology. With my intention to move some of my online writing to this site, I thought I would retrace my journey on that first day of the July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom, from my school in Borella to my grand uncle’s home on Temple Road, Maradana, and on to my own home on St John’s Way, in Mutwal. So I walked and taxied across Colombo today, trying to find some of the places I had described thirteen years ago, and compare them to the images in my head from thirty-eight years ago. I took a few photos too.

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Wesley College, Colombo, where generations of Blackers have graduated by the skin of their teeth, and yours truly, in June 1982, a year before Black July.

July usually passes me by without too much notice, beyond the vague worry that there might be a Tiger attack on Colombo, and a few flashbacks to that weekend in 1983. But this time it’s been a bit different. I’ve found myself reliving that day a lot more this year. It isn’t the fact that this is the 25th anniversary of the carnage which most people see as the starting point of our war, though that has been the focus of a lot of attention. What did it was a phone call a couple of weeks ago.

Continue reading “Special Feature — Retracing My Black July”

Interior of the Aluvihare Rock Temple, Matale

Shrine room of the Aluvihare Rock Temple, in Matale. This was originally shot on assignment for Explore Sri Lanka magazine in May 2017, to be featured in my piece, A Drive through Rattota, but never made it to print.
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Broken Trust

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The face of Mr Tuan Rishard, a Muslim resident of Kochchikade, displays the shock he feels at the carnage wreaked on his Christian neighbours, by what is widely believed to have been Islamic extremists of the National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ), a militant group claiming ISIS affiliation. Five days before, on Easter Sunday morning, 21st April 2019, a suicide bomber blew himself up inside the crowded St Anthony’s Shrine, just around the corner from Mr Rishard’s home in Newham Square, killing over a hundred worshippers. Until the Easter Bombings, which simultaneously hit several churches and large hotels in and around Sri Lanka’s capital, the Muslim and Christian communities, both small minorities in a largely Buddhist population, had lived alongside each other peacefully. Both religious minorities have been regularly targeted by Buddhist extremist groups, with several violent anti-Muslim pogroms being initiated in the years leading up to the bombings. Shot on assignment for Polaris Images.

Hindsight is 2020

12x12 grid of 2020.
My favourite photo of each month of the last year. Not all of them were the most viewed or appreciated on social media, but each of them has something of appeal or meaning to me. It’s also clearly a year spent mostly at home. Blues, blacks, and other darker hues seem to dominate, perhaps fittingly, with a few flashes of brightness dropped in. Top row (l/r): Kundu House Project’s Sri Lakshmi, tea on 3rd Cross Street, and people scrambling to buy food on Hill Street, during Colombo’s six-week curfew. Second row: Mt Lavina Beach, Pulinda Gunawardena of Thiwarna, and the anti-cremation protest at Borella. Third row: McCallum Road bookshops, Vesak lanterns during curfew, and Talalla Beach. Bottom row: Rusini Gunawardena of Thiwarna, Fort Railway Station, and the Superman of Keyzer Street.

Integrate or Die

Scraps of white cloth festoon the outer fence of the crematorium at Colombo's largest cemetery in Borella.
Scraps of white cloth festoon the outer fence of the crematorium at Colombo’s largest cemetery in Borella. White is the colour of mourning in Sri Lanka, and the pieces of cloth are both a protest and a symbol of solidarity; protest against the cremation, last week, of a 20-day old baby, suspected to have died with COVID-19, and solidarity with his Muslim parents who refused to agree to the cremation. Sri Lanka continues to cremate the bodies of COVID-19 victims as a precaution, despite there being no scientific evidence of its usefulness. Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority believes cremation is a desecration. Colombo, Christmas 2020.
Continue reading “Integrate or Die”