Sri Lanka, 1983: Jude Ratnam was five years old. He fled the massacre of the Tamils instigated by the majority-Sinhalese government on a red train.
Now a filmmaker, he takes the same train from the south to the north of the island.
As he advances, the traces of violence left by the 26-year-old war, which turned the Tamil’s fight for freedom into self-destructive terrorism, pass before his eyes.
Reminiscing about the fighters and Tamil Tigers, he unveils the repressed memories of his compatriots, opening the door to a new era and making peace possible again.
Demons in Paradise is the result of 10 years of work. For the first time, a Tamil documentary filmmaker living in Sri Lanka is showing the civil war from the inside.
The end of the no-prisoner war and the defeat of the LTTE as the largest embodiment of Tamil resistance against an authoritarian and neo-colonial Sri Lanka state left a void in the Tamil territorial and social landscape. The complete destruction and the subsequent absence of Tamil war memorials post-war is in itself not just an act of violence, but also an act of humiliation and subjugation of a people. The contested pieces of land were reclaimed by taking possession of the grief and memory of its people. With the destruction of war memorials, the sovereignty of the Sri Lankan state was bound to be re-established. Tamil war memorials as challenges and contestations to the majority Sinhala state’s narration of the past and readers of the present were successfully erased from the war-torn Tamil homeland and people. With the disappearance of thuyilum illams and other sites of Tamil memories of oppression and resistance, the representations of the past, the narration and visualizing of history, personal and collective, private and public that spell the desire for holding onto the familiarity of landmarks that are disappearing and securities that are unsettled, completely vanished post-war for Tamils .
The aftermaths of wars are coined by various, often divergent, forms of national politics of commemoration and historiography. In a pluralistic world, states and governments are globally committed to the production, remembrance and celebration of their distinct interpretation of history and the memory of those who have fallen for the concept of the nation-state. Amidst their varying tales, at times, a common denominator can be found in the acknowledgement of an emphasis granted to the memorization of suffering and sacrifices, especially in the process of reconciling with historic passages of severe national and/or societal violence and trauma. The questions of who is being memorized and for what particular reasons remains thereby crucial to the understanding of the architecture of national memory, i.e. the physical and psychological manifestations of memory, as well as its designers.
Placing the Past in the Present: Tamil Oral History in London chronicles the stories, memories and experiences of Sri Lankan Tamils in London. It is one piece of the larger, one-year Through the generations: Tamil oral history project conducted in 2012.