Sri Lanka: Cannes presents a documentary about the slaughter within the Tamil community during the civil war between the Tamils and the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka.
Demon in Paradise
Jude Ratnam is a Tamil film director. The Tamils are the minority cultural community in Sri Lanka where the Sinhalese majority represents the administrative, political and commercial leadership of the country after decades of bloody conflict.
In one of the first scenes of his documentary Demons in Paradise, Ratnam is visibly nervous when he hears his son speaking loudly in Tamil. His mother had taught him thirty years ago that he could get killed for doing so, and he’s seen enough to know how right his mother was.
Even if the Sinhalese are predominantly Buddhist and the Tamils mainly Hindu, they had lived in peace and tranquillity for 2000 years, at times even in the form of separate coexisting kingdoms. An active cultural-religious exchange between these two ethnic groups, already characterised by many similarities, had taken place for centuries.
All this changed in the era of British colonial rule. Ratnam’s documentary, screened in Cannes’ special section, opens with black and white footage from this period, showing a frightened population oppressed by their conqueror’s technical and industrial supremacy. The British chose (divide et impera) to place the minority Tamils in key social, commercial and administrative positions. This fact, after the British retreat and Sri Lanka’s declaration of independence in 1948, quickly transformed the Tamil community into victims, which are oppressed to this day.
«Jude Ratnam has worked for ten years in relatively risky circumstances to film his documentary, hiding his true subject matter behind a pretend love story.»
The Sinhalese repatriation and expulsion of Tamils with Indian roots reinforced the conflict. Acts of arbitrary violence were already occurring all over the country, but then in 1983 a huge civil war broke out resulting in indiscriminate aggression and the use of petrol bombs and torture. Tamil homes were ransacked and inhabitants often burned alive. Manhunts were tolerated by public forces and never stopped or even condemned by the government.
As a reaction, an independent Tamil state based in the northern town of Jaffna was born and it was defended by thousands of Tamils taking arms. During the following virtually thirty years of war, an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 people lost their lives and a further 100,000 became refugees in their own country.
Resistance turns to slaughter