Courageous Journalism: Island of Blood
Pain, I believe, has to be felt to be realized. There are but a few books that actually evoke pain within us, that sensitize us to suffering of humanity. Island of Blood is one. Authored by veteran journalist Anita Pratap, the book revolves around violent flashpoints in South East Asia, with extensive focus on the conflict in Sri Lanka. It evoked more than pain within me. A feeling of uncontrollable rage against the injustice meted out to the Tamils. This is the kind of book that hits your heart before it hits your head. A person reading this book would see through the farce of the contemporary Indian media with respect to this contentious issue.
It is not surprising that the ‘Nationalist’ media chooses to side with a state committed to genocide than a people fighting for their legitimate rights. After all, it would then pose a question on what their own government is doing in Kashmir. Now, the Indian state wouldn’t really want that, would it? And thus, the media renders the cries for justice mute. Or better, it takes sanctuary in denial. The genocide of Tamils in 1983? It never happened! The Chencholai massacre of children? There weren’t any children there – it was a Tiger base! No, these are not claims of a political fruitcake like Subramaniam Swamy. They can be found in the op-eds of certain ‘respectable’ national dailies. Their opinion on the right of the Tamils to live with dignity is not only one of apathy, it is of contempt. In their desperate attempt to cater to the bourgeois-nationalist elite in the corrupt, free market society of India, they have lost the capacity for humanitarian concern.
Now, Anita Pratap belongs to the rare creed of Indian journalists who have the courage to call a spade a spade. She has minced no words in criticizing the genocidal actions of the Sri Lankan state or the atrocities of the Indian Peace Keeping Force against the Tamils. Though she is also critical of the ‘autocratic’ functioning of the Tamil Tigers, she has expressed her profound admiration for their unwavering commitment to a genuine struggle. Her analysis of the personality of Velupillai Prabhakaran, though short, is insightful and provides the reader an intimate understanding of one of the most brilliant liberation leaders of the era. Objectivity is consistent in the book. A far cry from the jingoist opinions of the ‘Indian mainstream media.’
The crisis involving the Tamil people in Lanka has been going on for decades. It was the discriminatory policies of the Sri Lankan government in the 1950s, followed by repressive measures against the Tamils in the 60’s that led to the blooming of the struggle for an independent state which began to intensify during the 70’s. And the vicious state sponsored genocide of the Tamils in 1983 sealed it. Two nations were at a bloody war, one for its rights and the other for its hegemony. The book brings out the gory details of the war, oft with a personal touch. The empathetic portrayal of the plight of the victims, the anguish of the survivors or the agony of someone who has lost a beloved has been done in a manner that provokes some deep feeling within the reader. A professor once remarked in class that feeling shame over injustice is the biggest revolution. I was revolutionized many times over.
There were quite some narratives which shook me. The tales of raw courage and determination even at the time of pain and unimaginable suffering was something I found out of the ordinary. Had Nietzsche reworked his concept of the Ubermensch, he would have modeled it around the Tigers. They were, by any standards, supermen.
” I once visited a Tiger hospital after a major battle. In one ward there were sixty young women, recuperating from serious wounds. Most had their arms or legs ripped off, some did not have a part of their face, some had craters where there should have been stomachs. But what was even more bizarre was the atmosphere in the ward – it was cheerful. Sixteen-year-old Sumathi, who had lost her right leg in battle, said, ‘All I want is to get an artificial leg so that I can go back to the field. If I stay home, how will we get Eelam?’ ”
Island of Blood, P100