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the socialist review
No more tears sister
Anatomy of love and betrayal
directed by Helen Kladowsky
This is a film about Rajani Thiranagama, a Sri Lankan university lecturer and human rights activist. She was murdered in Jaffna at the height of the Indian Peace Keeping Force's (IPKF) involvement in the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1989.
Review by Senan
Through interviews with Rajani's sisters, children and husband, the film tries to depict the circumstances of her murder and her life as a political activist.
Her elder sister Nirmala is the main narrator; she herself was once a political prisoner and was responsible for Rajani's entry into politics. In her words, they identified themselves as socialist revolutionaries and tried to build towards revolution.
Now she feels that they have been unfairly excluded from Sri Lankan politics and that the LTTE was responsible for her sister's murder. She is very critical of the LTTE for sabotaging the struggle towards a real socialist change of society.
Intellectuals, nationalism and socialism
Nirmala doesn't comment on the reasons why they have lost faith in socialist revolution. The history of 'left' intellectuals in Sri Lanka is one of compromises and betrayal. The Tamil intellectual Left in particular lacked even the internationalist outlook that existed in the predominantly Sinhala South.
Their lack of understanding and distance from the workers' movement left them unable to overcome the very nationalistic character of Northern politics. They jumped in to take the side of the armed national liberation movements and gave unconditional support to the militias in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
By the time they realised that the fight for national liberation had driven socialist ideas into the background, the Tamil armed groups had already taken control and sidelined them. The intellectuals who had not completely surrendered to nationalist ideas either left the country or were murdered by the Sri Lankan government or by Tamil militant organisations. Rajani is one of those who stayed in the country, but with little hope.
During the IPKF-LTTE war, the Tamils in the north had a bitter taste of the implications of imperialist interest. The LTTE at first had illusions in the IPKF as a liberating force, but were unable to defend their territory when attacked by the IPKF and then retreated unannounced. Many died in the crossfire from the invading IPKF forces.
Rajani, together with her fellow teachers, collected information on IPKF atrocities and on the way that the armed Tamil groups reacted to the situation. These records and articles were later published with three other authors as a book entitled Broken Palmyra, which is now effectively banned in the north and east of Sri Lanka because of its criticism of the Tamil groups.
A few weeks after the book's publication, on September 21 1989, Rajani was shot dead by a gunman at Thirunelvely, a district of Jaffna, while she was cycling to work.
Immediately after that phase of the war, pro-Indian Tamil groups, together with the IPKF, terrorised the Tamils living in the north. At the same time, the LTTE launched guerrilla strikes against the IPKF and threatened to kill all 'would-be' traitors. Rajani was murdered during this period.
Any argument against the validity and truth of her documentation will not hold water as there are many eyewitnesses and survivors of this period around the world. And yet still she was murdered, for the pure selfish and propaganda reasons of narrow-minded nationalists.
Canada, where this film was produced, is home to many of the survivors but no attempt is made to explain the events through interviews with them. As the film is just concentrating on Rajani's life and death it does not give a clear picture of the circumstances and reasons for her assassination.
Human rights violation and mass murder were not new in Sri Lanka but very little has been reported around the world. In that sense, the release of this excellent film is an addition to the small number of reports and artistic productions that raise the issue of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.
There are many murders and atrocities yet to be documented. There have been brutal political murders committed even in Europe. For example, human rights activist, Sabalingam, was brutally murdered in front of his wife and children in Paris. The French government has not taken any steps to investigate this murder, despite the repeated complaints made by Sabalingam's family and local activists. In this light, any attempt to document the history and the suffering of the Tamil people should be welcomed.
In The Socialist 27 April 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party election campaign
1926 General Strike
Environment: Nuclear power
Campaign for a New Workers Party
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis