Seasons of Change: The Legacy of Impunity in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has had a tumultuous decade. After the end of its three-decade-long civil war in May 2009, it saw five more brutal years under President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose regime became the face of growing authoritarianism, nepotism and militarisation. In January 2015, in a stunning show of the power of a frustrated electorate, Rajapaksa, seeking a third term, was voted out decisively. Today, the new president Maithripala Sirisena faces optimistic Sri Lankans who hope that finally, the post-war moment of peace will arrive, and the decades of ethnic polarisation, corruption and recent dictatorship will be rooted out.

This, however, will not be easy-despite Sirisena’s clear mandate and widespread popularity. Violence and impunity are systemic in Sri Lanka, which has seen conflict for most of its independent life: bias is written into its constitution, brutality is embedded in its police and armed forces, and state violence has gone uninvestigated and unpunished since the seventies. The Rajapaksa regime deepened the gulf between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils and Muslims, and their ideology of Buddhist supremacy has entered popular culture, history and media.

This conversation between journalist Rohini Mohan and anthropologist Pradeep Jeganathan, Professor at Shiv Nadar University, highlighted Sri Lanka’s current opportunity for peace with the welcome election of the new president, and given the legacy of impunity in Sri Lanka, discuss the difficulties that lie in the road ahead. Much of the island nation’s struggles with conflict, discrimination, and state-sponsored violence will resonate with those working on these issues in India and other South Asian countries.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015
CSDS Seminar Room