Returning after nine years and the end of a brutal civil war, Bourdain finds cautious hope for the country’s future.
Anthony Bourdain returns to Sri Lanka for this week’s Parts Unknown for the first time since 2008, and there’s been at least one major change since: the end of the country’s civil war. Sri Lanka Press Institute member Kumar Lopez sums it up at a local curry joint. When Bourdain asks how life is different now, he answers, “the fact that you are able to eat without even thinking that there could be a bomb that could go off at any moment.” Nine years ago, Bourdain remembers, Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo was filled with soldiers, military, sandbags, and barbed wire—now, the huge machine gun atop a tower by an old beachside hotel stands unused, looming above a man trying to scare off crows with a slingshot.
Sri Lanka, says Bourdain, was known for its spices and a tour of Colombo’s street food shows just how flavorful the food is. As told by Sri Lankan chef Dharshan Munidasa, the nation’s cuisine differs from nearby Indian food in that its curries are lighter, and that thanks to ocean access, fresh seafood is widely available. For Bourdain, “the holy grail of Sri Lankan cuisine” is crab curry, which he savors later with a family who somehow managed to get their 1930’s-built home back after the war. Lasting from 1983 through 2009, the conflict between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (known as the LTTE or Tamil Tigers) and the Treat Rohingyas as in case of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees areas even where local public opinion may be against the influx. Going beyond the obvious, the ‘Assam agitation’ of the eighties was as much over the alienation from the Indian Centre as about the ‘foreigners issue’, involving Bangladeshi refugees, especially from the war years of the early seventies. All this is not to ignore increasing international concerns over humanitarian issues of the refugee kind, which again is influenced by political considerations of their own kind. On the Rohingya front, for instance, it was very clear even during the Myanmar elections the last time round, Opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, was ambivalent at best on the ‘humanitarian aspects’ that the West was tom-toming vis a vis her long house-arrest under the military junta.
The West wants the Rohingyas in but do not want to deny that they cannot be branded jihadis with a sweeping hand. India is caught in between, but the Indian concerns on both the humanitarian and terrorism fronts are real. It has to become more realistic, a balance of both. Greater consequences The Centre’s security concerns flowing from the ‘refugee’ issues are real, but cannot be sweeping, either. If nothing else, it still has to be seen as playing fair by all kinds of refugees. For instance, aspects of the continuing refugee-centric, if not refugeeinduced politics in Tamil Nadu have greater consequences for the Indian Nation – but no one in Delhi seems to be as concerned about it all as they are about the Rohingyas just now. There is then the growing tendency for the ‘trans-national government of Tamil Eelam’ (TGTE), located in the West, to get involved in Indian affairs.
The latest one is for the so-called sports ministry of TGTE conducting sports events in Tamil Nadu, with the participation of their self-styled ‘parliamentarians’, who continue to have periodic sessions in some part of the world or the other, with the full knowledge and possible blessings of western governments. At the height of the ‘anti-NEET protests’ in Tamil Nadu recently, TGTE instituted a scholarship in the name of Anitha, the aspiring-medico who committed suicide as she could not clear the national-level exam. It is not just about the rump LTTE’s possible hopes of and aspirations for a ‘greater Eelam’, including parts of Indian territory, which should be of concern for the Union, while addressing the ‘Rohingya refugee’ issue just now – but it should also concern ‘Kashmiri secessionism’ that has been a live issue since Independence. The Centre has since commenced negotiations with NSCN-IM on the ‘Naga issue’ without telling the nation what it is all about. Selectively-leaked media reports talk about ‘shared sovereignty’, which again has not been denied, either. Then there are unilateral ‘referendums’ for an ‘independent’ Catalonia in Spain and those in Iraq, for a separate Kurdistan. India has since reiterated its commitment to a “stable, peaceful, democratic and a united Iraq that is able to settle its internal affairs amicably through peaceful process of dialogue and other constitutional means, which serve the interest of the people of Iraq”.
This has also been consistent with the Indian position on the ethnic issue in neighbouring Sri Lanka, all along. There is also the continuing failure of New Delhi’s elite of all types and kinds to sweep all aspects of alienation from the Indian Nation that they do not understand – nor care to understand – as being motivated, and are aided and funded by foreign forces. This year’s massive Tamil Nadu protests on Jallikattu bull-taming and NEET are a case in point. The truth lies in between, and ideological branding alone does not help, whether they pertain to the Naxal issues in the North and the East, continuing from the anti-development protests that the presentday ruling BJP had supported while in the Opposition, or some other local concern.
The Union of India thus cannot view or review the Rohingya refugee issue in isolation, either as a security concern or as a humanitarian problem. There are elements of both and in abundance. The long-tested approach to the Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu camps is a good way to look at the problem – of housing the genuine refugees in insulated camps, and isolating possible/identifiable trouble-makers in ‘special camps’ as was the case with known LTTE cadres, especially after the ‘Rajiv Gandhi assassination’. (orfonline.or0067) Anthony Bourdain explores Sri Lanka’s newfound peace in latest ‘Parts Unknown’ Returning after nine years and the end of a brutal civil war, Bourdain finds cautious hope for the country’s future.
Sri Lankan government resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, and has left as many living in refugee camps even after the war has ended. Bourdain asks Tracy Hoslinger, founder of Mind Adventures theatre company, which puts on plays about the war that a few years ago would have been dangerous to perform, whether she has hope for Sri Lanka’s future is left as a cliffhanger while Bourdain travelswhere he couldn’t last time, the northern city of Jaffna. After a ten-hour train ride across the reunified country, Bourdain arrives at a coastal city more visibly scarred by the war than Colombo. But the fish market is buzzing, and, residents say, if the country truly tries to rebuild by investing in the destroyed areas, and letting refugees return to their homes after, in some cases, multiple decades, progress is possible. Eventually, the show gives us Hoslinger’s answer: “you have to be optimistic.”