Celebrating Sri Lankan Women’s Writing in English

The English Writers’ Cooperative (EWC) of Sri Lanka in association with the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) organised an evening of poetry and prose by Sri Lankan women writers to celebrate International Women’s Day. Some of the work can be viewed here.

December 16, 2012 is one of the poems I read out. It was written in January this year and was in response to the horrific event that took place in Delhi, India in December that sent shock waves across the world.

December 16, 2012

They made a movie on a bus

riding around town, no one

.

heard the songs, or

saw the dances. The action stars

.

were new. Later, someone threw

in a name – Amanat. On and

.

on they moved around Delhi’s leafy

avenues, curtains drawn while the engine

.

kept time to the sounds inside. No cuts

no breaks the actors played their

.

part. The heroine protested – like all

heroines do. A new face she was dressed

.

for the part. An item girl they sang as

she danced. Munirka to Dwarka

.

it purred on its way. The wheels turned

round and round as the winter chill crept

.

through the leaves on the trees

and a single leaf fluttered to the ground,

.

torn apart. It fell across the road and no

one took note. Just another

.

leaf among so many in the city. Action

spent the bus came to a stop but

.

before they could shoot again the city rose

in wrath to demand a ban on the script’s

.

repeat. Candles lit, they waited it out, but

the wheels grind slowly round

.

and round. And while the old men argued

in vain inside colonial walls another

.

leaf fell silently to the ground.

.

© 2013  Shirani Rajapakse

Islam on the Rampage

It doesn’t take much to annoy a Muslim. Draw a cartoon figure and call it Mohammad and you’ll have the Muslim world up in arms, destroying property and killing a few hundred innocent people who have nothing to do with the cartoon.

Nearly seven years ago Muslims ran amok protesting vehemently when Kurt Westergaard, the Danish cartoonist published a series of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in Jyllands-Posten. Over 250 were left dead and approximately 800 injured as a result of Muslim extremism.(Huff Post)

Muslims went berserk worldwide recently when Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the California based film maker made a movie on the life of the Prophet Mohammad. This time too it was innocent people that got killed as Muslims the world over took to the streets and forced non Muslims to take note of the insult to Muslims.

Those same Muslims went on the rampage killing Buddhist monks in Bangladesh just a few days ago. Why? Because someone, no one is quite sure who it was, allegedly posted a photograph of the Prophet Mohammad on Facebook. Did they wait to verify the authenticity of the person before they turned violent? No. They didn’t merely target the person who is alleged to have posted the photograph. They targeted the entire community. It was as if the Muslims were waiting for the opportunity to destroy the Buddhists community and that one photograph gave them the much needed excuse to go ahead and kill in the name of Islam. Not so long ago, a young Christian girl was arrested in Pakistan for allegedly burning pages from the Koran.

Muslims are quick to shout out against the slightest insult they feel that is directed at Islam but they don’t seem to care about insulting other religions or hurting and destroying the life of non –Muslims. When the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas in Kandahar, Afghanistan, non-Muslims didn’t go on the rampage killing and destroying property of Muslims or dragging out the ambassadors of Islamic nations and killing them. The Bamiyan Buddhas were ancient statues depicting the form of the Buddha. Not only were they of value to Buddhists but they were also of historical and cultural value to the world.

Religions are supposed to, and claim to be tolerant of other people’s beliefs and view. Yet this doesn’t appear to be so in practice, or at least it doesn’t seem to hold true in Islam where it seems it’s alright to destroy and kill people of another religion.

Innocent Buddhist monks were killed, their temples burned to the ground and the homes of hundreds of Buddhist followers were destroyed in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. A photograph posted on Facebook a few days later, of a monk sifting through the charred remains of what once must have been a temple in search of books that were saved from the fire brought back startling memories. It reminded me of another incident way back when in history. Nalanda University, in north India was one of the world’s oldest centers of learning and was once a thriving center of study. But it was razed to the ground by Islamic fundamentalists that didn’t appear to tolerate other religious views. It was said that the University burnt for days. Everything was destroyed, books, journals, and many students perished too. It was said that scholars came from far and wide to study there. Not anymore.

What Islamic fundamentalists burnt down that day in history was knowledge and the freedom of expression and discourse; the people they denied were the scholars and intellectuals, the cream of any society; they also denied future generations gaining from Nalanda’s vast storehouse of wisdom and knowledge. It was not only a gross injustice to freedom of expression but also a violation of the very basic rights of all peoples – the right to knowledge, education, freedom of expression and importantly the right to life and liberty.

Sadly it’s still the same.  Nothing seems to have changed. Except that the temples and houses they burnt recently in Bangladesh was no Nalanda, yet it represented a place of learning, of discourse among people living in that area. These were also their homes that gave them shelter. Now these innocent people are forced onto the streets.

How can a religion claim to be tolerant or peaceful when it burns down and destroys places of religious value? How can it be called peaceful when it destroys life? Islam does all this and still expects the world to feel sympathetic towards them when someone insults Islam. Isn’t this hypocrisy? Or is that allowed?

The Pakistani ambassador recently condemned the anti-Islam video made by Nakoula that defamed the Prophet. Speaking at the UN on behalf of the 56 Islamic states that make up the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) he spoke of the urgent need to protect against “acts of hate crimes, hate speech… and incitement to religious hatred.” His speech is clearly directed at what he believes to be insults towards Islam and not to other religious or peoples.

“Incidents like this clearly demonstrate the urgent need on the part of states to introduce adequate protection against acts of hate crimes, hate speech, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation and negative stereotyping of religions, and incitement to religious hatred, as well as denigration of venerated personalities,” Pakistan’s ambassador Zamir Akram said in a speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council. (Reuters)

The OIC hopes to introduce laws to make insults against religions an international crime. It has backed a resolution submitted by African states and calls on all countries to introduce a provision in domestic criminal law to prosecute those responsible for racism or xenophobia.  While the text deplores “the targeting of religious symbols and venerated persons” one wonders if this will be applied to crimes such as those that took place in Bangladesh recently, or even in Pakistan or any other country. Will this piece of legislation, if adopted by countries be applicable for all citizens living in those countries, including Muslims, or will it only target non –Muslims? If found to be guilty of inciting religious hatred or acts violence against believers of other religions or faiths, would Muslims agree to abide by the decision of local courts or would they try to get away from punishment by hiding behind Shariah? Only time will tell and hypocrisy rules.

India

Terror Nadu’s eunuchs huddle in the Lok

Sabha impotent to the cries of a thousand and one

voices in the valley up north. They dance

 

to the tune of the nautch girl

 

from the south now too old to lift a foot, an arm

in dance so she wags her tongue instead.

Terror Lalitha the fat wields her truncheon and a few

hundred innocent tourists are molested

by her mob. It doesn’t matter

that some are Tamil, the kind she is trying to save.

 

She has no cares for the likes of anyone

 

from her neighbour. The vote is all she lives

for, has been doing so for the past

several years. She is nothing and everyone knows it,

an old actress with naught to show her worth,

except a widening waistline, millions

plundered from the citizens, yet few want to

voice it.  The battles in Terror

Nadu are fought over political fault lines

 

Lalitha vs. Nidhi the corrupt

 

who hides his shame behind sun shades

and goes into battle to rule with no care for

the people on the street. Refugees

 

raped and killed in camps

 

in his own home while Delhi’s old men

blinded by power and hate bend in supplication to

the false Gods from the south.

 

© 2012 Shirani Rajapakse