Hughes, Dhana. Violence, Torture, and Memory in Sri Lanka: Life After Terror

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Hughes, Dhana. Violence, Torture, and Memory in Sri Lanka: Life After Terror
  This article was downloaded by: []On: 10 February 2014, At: 11:49Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Journal of Contemporary Asia Publication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information: Violence, Torture, and Memory in SriLanka: Life After Terror Anna Stirr aa  School of Pacific and Asian Studies, University of Hawaii atManoaPublished online: 08 Jan 2014. To cite this article:  Anna Stirr , Journal of Contemporary Asia (2014): Violence,Torture, and Memory in Sri Lanka: Life After Terror, Journal of Contemporary Asia, DOI:10.1080/00472336.2013.869000 To link to this article: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the“Content”) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis,our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as tothe accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinionsand views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors,and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Contentshould not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sourcesof information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims,proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever orhowsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arisingout of the use of the Content.This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms &Conditions of access and use can be found at  Book Review Violence, Torture, and Memory in Sri Lanka: Life After Terror  Dhana Hughes (London: Routledge, 2013) The relationship between violence, memory, and the intimacy of families and neighboursis the core issue addressed by Dhana Hughes ’  ethnography of how southern Sri Lanka ’ slate-1980s insurgency continues to affect life in the present. Less widely known outsideSri Lanka in comparison to the lengthy civil war between the state security forces and theLiberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), this violent insurgency was led by the leftist Janatha Vimukti Peramana (JVP) party, predominantly carried out by youth, and brutallycrushed by the state. An intra-Sinhalese conflict motivated by a mixture of Marxism andnationalism, and, unlike the LTTE conflict, impossible to frame in terms of ethnicotherness, this insurgency and its repression are often known simply as  “ the Terror  ” (  Bheeshanaya ), in which intimates turned on intimates. Hughes examines the ongoingeffects of this period, focusing on how those who experienced the  Bheeshanaya  remember and ethically re-frame their participation in a conflict which left nearly everyone withsome amount of   “  blood on their hands. ” This book is based primarily on interviews with former insurgents, state counter-insurgency officers, and others affected by this period of violence. The research wascarried out while the state-LTTE conflict was still ongoing. This book is thus the result of a painstaking process of finding and building trusting relationships with people whowanted to share their stories, all within the context of continuing violence. In this context,Hughes is keenly aware of her responsibility toward her interlocutors, and takes pains to protect their identities and present them with dignity. Through their narratives, Hughesshows that memories of violence, far from being forgotten or overcome, continually shapeethico-moral negotiations of self and society in the present. Eschewing simplistic distinc-tions between perpetrators and victims, she examines how former insurgents both engagedin and were subject to violent acts, and how these violent acts have come to carrymeaning. She explores the messiness of violence as a condition of life during the  Bheeshanaya  and afterwards, as those who committed violent acts against each other,and those who suffered at the hands of their intimates, continue to live as neighbours.How to live in the present with these memories of violence borne and violence carriedout? Often, the men Hughes interviews (and they are mostly men, though women did participate in the JVP insurgency) appear to be looking for ways to absolve themselves of responsibility for violent acts, yet their narratives still acknowledge that they happened,and sometimes demonstrate great regret. Hughes begins with tropes that govern memorynarratives: Youthfulness, the subject of the first chapter, serves as a  “ safe repository ”  for memories of violence (p. 27), allowing former insurgents to disassociate themselves fromthe violence and absolve themselves of moral culpability (p. 28), writing off violent actsas youthful indiscretions. Describing the majority of the violence as the opportunistic  Journal of Contemporary Asia , 2014    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   7   6 .   9   3 .   2   0   8 .   2   0   6   ]  a   t   1   1  :   4   9   1   0   F  e   b  r  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   4  settling of personal scores is another strategy that allows members of both sides of theconflict to deflect personal responsibility, as shown in the second chapter. Yet bothyouthfulness and opportunism also serve as conduits for deflecting others ’  responsibilityas well as one ’ s own, and this double utility makes them useful tropes for voicingmemories while maintaining peace in the present. And, in addition to being a strategyfor dealing with uncomfortable memories, the narratives of opportunistic violence alsoillustrate the pervasive extent of terror and concomitant breakdown of trust amongfamilies and neighbours that characterised this period in recent history.The difficulty of voicing memories of torture is the topic of the next two chapters, andthe third chapter  ’ s examination of how torture carries meaning for survivors is especiallyvaluable for studies of violence in general. Building on the growing body of anthropolo-gical literature on violence and pain, Hughes argues that torture carries meaning for itssurvivors, and that memories of torture are rooted in understandings of the intimate (p.75). Furthermore, she argues, while torture and pain may indeed suppress if not activelydestroy language as some scholars have argued (see E. Scarry,  The Body in Pain . NewYork: Oxford University Press, 1985), survivors of torture use other, creative means of communication to express what their experiences of torture meant to them, and to morallysituate the violence they endured. With examples of how survivors talked about torture asa collective experience, how the torture of family members caused the rest of their families to suffer, and how kinship and neighbourly relations helped individuals survivethe experiences of torture, Hughes challenges the idea that the experience of torture is “ hyper-individuated ”  (E. Daniel,  Charred Lullabies , Princeton: Princeton UniversityPress, 1996). The following chapter on narratives of counter-insurgency officers servesto further ground the experiences of violence during the  Bheeshanaya  in intimate socialrelationships, through the counter-insurgency officers ’  shock that   “ our boys ” –   family,neighbours, co-ethnics  –   would turn on them, and the mixed emotions of anger andsympathy they expressed when asked about their participation in quelling the insurgency.And, the sixth chapter addresses the flip side of these counter-insurgency officers ’ shocked pronouncements, as well as of the tropes of opportunistic violence: that is, how people on both sides and those affected by their family members ’  participation in theconflict could and did maintain familial and neighbourly relations through the years of terror, and how the persistence of these relationships remained a ground on whichindividuals could come to terms with the violence, and begin to rebuild after it wasofficially over (p. 123).With these facets of the  Bheeshanaya  itself examined in detail through the memories of those who experienced it, Hughes turns to the ongoing work of rebuilding lives andrelationships in the aftermath. Two chapters examine this subject. The first focuses onhow JVP insurgents experienced their return to their villages, validating Veena Das ’ s (  Lifeand Words , Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007) perspective that violenceseeps inextricably into the everyday, and re-asserting that for former insurgents andtheir intimates, the process of rebuilding is never finished. The second of these finalchapters, on Buddhist ethics as a way to understand and come to terms with violent pasts,deals with former insurgents ’  understandings of the concept of   karma . Hughes states that in their interpretations,  karma  functions both as a way to acknowledge some culpabilityfor their own violent acts, and a way to excuse themselves from taking reparative steps (p.147). This chapter, while serving as a conclusion to the study, also raises many questions.As Hughes writes in her conclusion,  “ There has been no accountability or adequate2  Book Review    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   7   6 .   9   3 .   2   0   8 .   2   0   6   ]  a   t   1   1  :   4   9   1   0   F  e   b  r  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   4  reparation for the violence of the  Bheeshanaya ”  (p. 172). What would such reparativesteps be, and how would they relate to the Buddhist ethics, or other frameworks, throughwhich former insurgents reinterpret and come to live with their own violent pasts? What would adequate reparation look like?Providing definitive answers to these questions is not Hughes ’  aim. Rather, with thisstudy, she aims to break the silence surrounding this episode in Sri Lanka ’ s recent history,so that these questions can begin to be discussed. Where she makes her own strong ethicalstand, beyond arguing for an end to the silence regarding this period, is in her rejection of the idea that those who engage in violence are somehow different from the rest of us, andthat violence itself radically separates us from each other. Her insistence on the continued presence of meaning and intimate sociality amidst the worst of Sri Lanka ’ s terror, and her ethnographic demonstration of the  “ slippery ”  identity of victim/perpetrator categories,require us to acknowledge that our capacities for violence and compassion are but twofacets of   “ the ambivalence of being human. ”  Constantly keeping that ambivalence at theforefront of analysis, this book is a sensitive, thoughtful, yet provocative addition to thegrowing body of ethnographic work on violence, memory, and intimacy, and to studies of contemporary Sri Lanka.  Anna Stirr © 2014School of Pacific and Asian Studies, University of Hawaii at Manoa Email: Book Review  3    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   7   6 .   9   3 .   2   0   8 .   2   0   6   ]  a   t   1   1  :   4   9   1   0   F  e   b  r  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   4
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