Thursday, April 27, 2006

Forty Thousand People

Thousands flee Sri Lanka strikes
Thousands of people have fled their homes in north-eastern Sri Lanka as the military launched fresh air strikes on Tamil Tiger targets.

About 40,000 people were moving north to seek safety in the jungle, local officials told a BBC correspondent.

At least 15 civilians have died since the strikes began on Tuesday, a rebel leader in Trincomalee district said.

The strikes were in response to a suicide attack on army headquarters, which killed at least eight people.

The army said three people had been killed and at least 11 were injured in a rebel attack overnight, but rebels denied the attack.

The BBC's Dumeetha Luthra in Colombo says the situation is going from "crisis to crisis" as families leave their homes in rebel-held territory near Trincomalee.

An emergency meeting of the co-chairs of the Sri Lankan peace process has been called for Friday in the Norwegian capital Oslo.

Meanwhile efforts are continuing to persuade the rebels to return to peace talks in Switzerland.

The Sri Lankan government has offered to provide a sea plane to transport Tamil Tiger regional leaders to confer with each other beforehand.

The rebels pulled out of negotiations last week in a dispute over transport arrangements for their eastern commanders.

Palitha Kohona, special adviser to the Sri Lankan president on the peace process, told the BBC that raids against the Tamil Tigers would cease if they agreed to attend peace talks.

Rebel spokesman S Puleedevan said the Tigers would attend peace talks in Geneva if they could meet their regional commanders beforehand.

Norwegian peace mediator Eric Solheim said work was being done with both sides "on an hour-to-hour basis to do whatever possible to bring them back to the negotiating table.... and to put a stop to this violence," the AFP news agency reported.


Earlier, S Elilan, the rebels' political leader in Trincomalee district, told the BBC's Tamil service that 27 people had been injured, three critically, in the military bombardment.

The latest violence comes after army chief Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka was seriously injured in Tuesday's suicide blast in Colombo.

The strikes were the first official military action against the Tamil Tigers since a 2002 ceasefire.

The rebels say the strikes were unprovoked, and have warned of retaliation if they continue.

The military said it had resumed air and naval attacks on Tamil Tiger bases around Trincomalee port after its navy ships were attacked.

It said three civilians had been killed and at least 11 people injured - including two navy sailors - when rebels fired mortars into government-held areas. S Elilan denied rebels had opened fire.

Helen Olafsdottir, spokeswoman for the European team monitoring the ceasefire, said the government had closed a road providing the only land link between the south of the country and the rebel-held areas in the north, AP reported.


Escalating violence in the north and east of the country over the past three weeks has targeted Sri Lanka's security forces on a regular basis.

About 100 people have died, some 70 of them soldiers. A number of Tamils have also died in attacks which the rebels blame on the security forces or government-backed paramilitaries.

The rebels have denied being behind recent bomb attacks, although police say Tuesday's explosion at the army headquarters bore all the hallmarks of the Tigers.

It was the first suicide bombing in the Sri Lankan capital since July 2004, and the most serious blamed on the Tamil Tigers since they signed a truce with the government in 2002.

The Tigers began their armed campaign for a separate homeland for the island's Tamil minority in the 1970s.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Quote of the Day

"I don't want to marry Calvin because he always lies on my lap and says I'm his mother."
- Cousin G, who's almost five years old

The younger an Indian woman figures out what the deal's really about, the better. :)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Bamiyan Way

One of the films I had earmarked to see at this year's Singapore International Film Festival, when I came down last week, was The Giant Buddhas, a documentary by Christian Frei on the Taliban's 2001 blowing up of two massive, priceless standing Buddha statues carved into a mountainside, and Afghanistan before and after 9/11.

I didn't manage to catch it. But it looks like all I have to do is finish my trip down south and head home.

I blogged the other night about the demolishing of a temple in Pantai Dalam -- I realised only minutes ago that it is most likely to be a temple that I see very often on the NPE, a temple I had intended to go to for some time now but never got around to. Earlier tonight, I left a comment on that same post about another disturbing thing I had read regarding temple demolishing. Last I heard, it's official : Please gather and show support / oppose at 8.00 a.m on 26-4-2006 at: Kuil Sri Mahamariamman, No.3, Jalan 11/2F, Seksyen 11, Jalan Tarian, Shah Alam.

Two temples in a couple of days is nothing short of a calculated, deliberate attack on minority rights. It's almost like a prelude to genocide.

Then I remembered reading about an Orang Asli church in Kuala Masai that was demolished just before Christmas last year. The community it had belonged to had awoken to the sound of bulldozers.

And about the Jasin Reclining Buddha statue, the second biggest in the country, being destroyed along with an adjacent Siamese temple. The demolishing came as a surprise, despite prior warnings. But what are prior warnings, anyway? Destroy or we will destroy. Trample on your faith or we'll be glad to do it for you. Isn't that it?

If two temples in a couple of days is pre-genocidal, what can it mean to have four different places of minority worship destroyed, in a startlingly similar pattern of suddenness, in the span of under five months?

And then I read this. And this: The 100-year old Sri Kalikamba Kamadeswarar temple that served residents formerly living in the Ebor palm oil estate in Batu Tiga, Shah Alam, was destroyed and burnt in June by a group of unidentified individuals and allegedly witnessed by police officers. According to lawyer and activist Uthayakumar, several unidentified individuals first tried to burn down the temple earlier but failed because it started to rain. Devotees from the temple lodged a police report asking for protection, and they took turns to watch over the temple. However, he alleged that two days later, another group of people came together with uniformed policemen and proceeded to destroy the temple. According to several police reports lodged over the second incident, three eyewitnesses claimed that some 10 uniformed police personnel had restrained them while another group of unidentified persons set the temple on fire. One of the witnesses, K. Chandrasegaran, said that he and two other men posted to watch over the temple were restrained by the police and forcibly taken out of the temple. "[The police] dragged us out by pulling our shirts with our hands held to the back. We were told that if we ran or resisted, we would be handcuffed," he said in his police report lodged on the day of the incident. Chandrasegaran said five men in civilian clothes then pulled out the carpet from the floor of the temple, placed it on top of the temple roof and set it alight after dousing it with petrol. Senior Assistant Commissioner (SAC) Abu Bakar met the temple committee and apologised for the incident, and said that he would send some policemen to help clean up the place. In return, he asked them not to make an issue out of the matter.

And then I had to stop reading because I'm afraid to wake up and find out what will happen tomorrow.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Cecilia Fire Thunder

"To me, it is now a question of sovereignty"
- Cecilia Fire Thunder

Of of my favourites from The Vagina Monologues is "Crooked Braid", which was added the year I took part in the V-Day campaign. It was written by Eve Ensler for the women of the Oglala Lakota nation of the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Since then, thanks to a personal interest in Native American history and culture, I've come across the Pine Ridge reservation a few times in music and books, often smiling to myself when I placed the name. But nothing quite tackled my attention and pinned it down as much hearing about this did.

On March 6th, Governor Mike Rounds of South Dakota signed a bill into law that effectively prohibited all abortions except where the mother's life could be saved as a result. No exceptions were made for rape victims or any other scenarios where abortion might seem, even to moderate pro-lifers, a reasonable choice.

This is what senator Bill Napoli said in response to what he thought was an acceptable exception to the ruling: "A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life."

And this is what he thinks is coming next: "You know, I we are really think we're pushing the envelope on that issue. I'm not sure that the Supreme Court is ready for us yet, but what's that old saying, 'There's no time like the present'?"

But thank God for Cecilia Fire Thunder.

As President of the Oglala Sioux tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation and a former nurse and healthcare provider, the fact that decisions regarding women's uteruses were in the irresponsible hands of a state body comprised mainly of white males made Fire Thunder furious.

The most frequent quote attributed to her on the Internet now is: "To me, it is now a question of sovereignty. I will personally establish a Planned Parenthood clinic on my
own land which is within the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Reservation where the State of South Dakota has absolutely no jurisdiction.""

Fire Thunder was also the first woman to be elected president in her tribe, defeating her (male) opponent by more than 600 votes, in her very first time running. As far as challenging the patriarchy goes, that's a great start. More on her from an article written after she became president in 2004.

Reservation lands in the US are not subject to state laws. However, they do remain under the jurisdiction of the federal government. So as long as Roe vs. Wade is not overturned by the Supreme Court, technically speaking, Pine Ridge can in fact offer abortion services. Legally.
As Fire Thunder so passionately points out.

I love this woman. I love the great big middle finger this is to patriarchy and cultural imperialism and legislation on private morality. Cecilia Fire Thunder has a heart as fierce as her name.

You can make donations to: Oglala Sioux Tribe
ATTN: President Fire Thunder
P. O. Box 2070
Pine Ridge, SD 57770

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Temple Demolished

Update (June 12): It seems that a great many referrals from Google lead you to enter my blog via this page. Please do check out this newer post for more detailed updates on the current situation. The newer post contains links to all my posts on the subject, of which there are several. Thanks for visiting, and thanks for so much interest and concern about what is going on here.

Sometimes I will post things up and I will have nothing to say about them. And I hope it's clear to you why, when my words become redundant.


From Outlook India

Malaysia demolishes century-old Hindu temple
Malaysian authorities have demolished a century-old Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur, bulldozing the building as devotees cried and begged them to stop, Hindu groups said today.

The Malaimel Sri Selva Kaliamman Temple was reduced to rubble after Kuala Lumpur's city hall sent in bulldozers, they said.

In a complaint to police the temple's vice president, Subramaniam Ragappan, said about 300 devotees were praying Tuesday when the machines arrived, accompanied by police and city hall officials.

"We were forced to stop our prayers and (rituals) halfway as they proceeded to tear down the temple," he said in a copy of the complaint obtained by AFP.

A copy of a letter from city hall to a local lawmaker, who had asked for the temple to be left intact, said the demolition was going ahead to make way for a building project.

City hall officials were not immediately available for comment.

Subramaniam said city hall tried in 2001 and again in 2004 to tear down the building, which was on government land, but had been dissuaded by politicians.

"Everybody was crying and saying how could the government do this, but they still broke the temple," he told AFP.

"For 100 years we prayed there. How could they come to remove the temple?" he said, adding that they were given just one day's notice of the demolition.


The police report lodged by Subramaniam A/L Ragappan, from Klang:

Hindu Temple breaking criminal act by DBKL

ADDRESS : --NO I/C : -- AGE : --
DATE : 18.4.2006 Pantai No:3356/06

Telephone : --

This is my Police Report lodged against Dato Bandar (Mayor) of Kuala Lumpur Dato Haji Ruslin bin Abd Rahman and the Director of En.Rolan forcement DBKL En.Rolan. This report is as a result of the "cleansing" and demolishment of Kuil Malaimel Sri Selva Kaliamman Temple by the Kuala Lumpur City Hall(DBKL).

On the 29th March 2006 a notice was served on a foreign laborer working at the temple premises by the Enforcement Office of DBKL giving notice to the Chairman Mr.Subramaniam a/l Kanniah to demolish the abovementioned temple within 14 days.

On behalf of the temple we had made various representations to DBKL appealing against their decision.

Our Member of Parliament for Lembah Pantai who is also the Women,Family and Community Development Minister, through her special officer had written to DBKL appealing on the "cleansing" (demolishment)of our temple. A similar
appeal was lodged by the ruling United Malays National Organization(UMNO)Division leader for Lembah Pantai.

On the 16th April 2006 at about 11.30am we were served with a letter dated 14th April 2006 by DBKL at the temple premises addressed to the Service Centre of the said Lembah Pantai member of Parliament and Minister informing
that their appeal for stay of demolishment were rejected.

Today 17th April 2006 about 300 devotees of Kuil Malaimel Sri Selva Kaliamman Temple had been performing prayers and yagam (rituals) in the temple premises since 6.30 am. At about 9.30 am a group of about 40 Police officers, 50 DBKL enforcement officers, 20workers from TNB and JBA
(electricity and waterworks) and numerous unknown individuals who were behaving suspiciously came with bulldozers and excavators to demolish our temple.

The devotees were in complete shock when the authorities gave us 15 minutes to leave the place or else we would be arrested for public disorder. All the devotees pleaded and most of them were in tears trying to persuade and beg
the Police and DBKL enforcement officers from demolishing our temple. Our pleas fell into deaf ears as the Police threatened to use high handed tactics (arrest) if we don't leave the premises. Mr.Arumugam our Treasurer
immediately contacted our Lawyer Mr.Uthayakumar who had requested to speak to the Head of the enforcement unit at the site but the officer refused to speak to our lawyer. Mr.Uthayakumar then asked us to inform the officer to
hold on until he arrives as he was attending to a matter at the Shah Alam Session Court but that too fell onto deaf ears. We even pleaded for a one(1) day halt to the demolishment but our pleas were ignored when they started
tearing the temple and defiling the 90 steps leading to the temple which was
situated on a hill top more that 300 feet hill.

We were forced to stop our prayers and yagam (fire ritual) half way as they proceeded to tear down the temple and demolish temple structures. Our lives were in serious danger as their violent demolishment of the temple using
excavators, bulldozers and other heavy machines was a threat to us as we risked being bulldozed from the hilltop ourselves. We could have also fallen more than 300 feet to the ground. Senior citizens and children slipped in the mud which was caused by the defiling of the 90 steps leading to the hilltop temple.

Persistent begging by some senior citizens who were in tears and horrified by the inhumane acts of the authorities saw some fruits when the officers
assured us that they will not deface the deities but the buildings and structures. However when they completed their mission of "cleansing the temple" which took about 1 ½ hours, they told us that they will come back in
3 days to demolish and destroy/deface the deities if we don't do it ourselves.

This temple has its history of more than 100 years when the Indian Laborers began settlement in Malaya during the British Colonial time and the current temple was part of a rubber estate known as Latex Estate. Over the last 30
years this temple has been managed by the Long House (Rumah Panjang) settlement community and has more than 10,000 devotees who frequent the temple weekly.

The action by DBKL in demolishing our temple is an inhumane, violent, degrading act and against our peaceful and quiet practice of our religion. This ancestral worship which has been going on for more than 100 years has
come to an abrupt end as a result of the unlawful act of the Mayor and DBKL.

The Mayor and the Director of Enforcement failed to look into the history of this temple and suddenly proclaimed this temple to be sitting on Government land illegally.

I now lodge this report against the Mayor of KL and the Director of Enforcement of DBKL for criminal offences committed under section 295 (Injuring or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult the religion
of any class) Section 296 ( disturbing a religious assembly) and section 298A of the Penal Code (causing disharmony disunity or feelings of enmity,
hatred or ill-will or prejudicing ect, the maintenance of harmony or unity on grounds of religion) and against Article 11 of Federal Constitution .

I urge the Attorney General of Malaysia to immediately prosecute the Mayor of Kuala Lumpur and the Head of Enforcement Unit DBKL and all other criminals and prevent them/their agents from making their second trip to
destroy and deface our deities which is still on the hilltop.



For more background

Friday, April 21, 2006

Reasons for Exile

This is from Time Magazine (Asia).

Standing Up to Madras' Morality Police
A local screen legend is one of the latest victims of a decency drive many worry is getting out of control

Friday, Apr. 14, 2006
Kushboo makes an unlikely outlaw. The 35-year-old queen of "Tollywood," southern India's Tamil-language film industry, is breakfasting on croissants and strawberry jam with her three-year-old daughter on the executive floor of a five-star hotel in downtown Madras. Her salwar kameez, a traditional Indian dress, is embroidered with scarlet and gold, her nails are painted deep red and the silken hair that transfixed a generation of fans tumbles lazily to her waist. And yet, Kushboo confesses, she is on the run. "There are 22 separate cases against me," she says. "I'm accused of causing a nuisance in public and degrading the culture. I've had crowds of a thousand outside my house, burning my effigy and throwing rotten tomatoes and sandals. One magistrate has even issued a non-bailable warrant against me: basically, he wants me in jail." Kushboo's crime? Suggesting that in today's India, an educated man should not expect his bride to be a virgin. "Our society should liberate itself from the ideas such as the one that women should have their virginity intact when getting married," Kushboo wrote in a September article in a Tamil newsmagazine, instantly provoking an uproar in the socially conservative city.

Bangalore might be more famous today, but as a business and cultural hub for 2,000 years, Madras has long been a crucible of change. The first recorded battle for India's soul was fought here in A.D. 78 when, in a rare and fatal display of overconfidence, the apostle "Doubting" Thomas was speared to death by a Hindu warlord as he tried to spread Christianity on a hill close to what is now the airport. Today Madras has all the trappings of modern India: call centers, mobile phone factories, even an animation studio creating CGI cityscapes for Spiderman 3. But in its conservative culture, the city retains much of India's past. Over the last several months, an alliance of self-appointed moral guardians, including politicians, professors and policemen, have mounted a campaign against what they see as the tawdry modern ethics imported along with the wealth of the global economy. As well as vilifying Kushboo, they have banned jeans for girls at the city's Anna University; imposed a midnight curfew on nightclubs; and forced the arrest of two hotel managers after pictures were published showing a kissing couple and a girl drinking beer in the hotel's nightclub. Asked if all change is bad, G. Pavalan of the Dalit Panthers of India, a Tamil cultural and political group which organizes street protests against such outrages of public decency, replies: "Well, no. But yes! Kushboo likes free sex. Here we like to build a social wall around our women. Our culture is very disciplined." Madras Police Commissioner R. Nataraj says his men arrested the hotel managers in response to the "hue and cry" the photographs created. "People are conservative here," he explains. "They hold onto their values."

Some question whether Madras traditions are as restrained as their advocates suggest. Kanimozhi, a documentary filmmaker who is campaigning against what she sees as the new conservatism's attack on freedom of expression, points out that the ancient sex guide, the Kama Sutra, is a Tamil book, and that Tamil temples are full of erotic sculpture. She suspects a more sinister, chauvinist agenda: "It's like our whole society is moving towards a sort of Talibanization," she says. "It's scary. If a university vice chancellor is allowed to dictate what you wear because jeans are 'a distraction,' maybe one day he'll decide that girls per se are a distraction." Others question whether modern Madras is all that proper either. Dr. Lakshmi Bai of the Tamil Nadu AIDS Initiative says the city of six million supports a vast and largely hidden sex industry, with an estimated 83,000 female sex workers and 35,000 transvestite prostitutes. "If we think sex work and premarital sex is wrong," she says, "then we have to work with sex workers and teenagers. Just banning it is never going to work."

Kushboo, meanwhile, finds herself in a new role as a spokeswoman for modern, independent Indian women. "These people think women shouldn't have a life of their own," she says of her accusers. "But where are these guardians of decency when a 44-year-old man marries his eight-year-old niece and demands his conjugal rights? How moral does our culture and tradition feel to that little girl?" In a recent twist, Kushboo herself is suing the Indian edition of men's magazine FHM for publishing scantily-clad pictures of her. She alleges the photographs were doctored, featuring her head pasted onto an under-dressed body. "We are a conservative country. I'm a conservative woman, and there's nothing wrong with that. But when you have a whole city that can see a foreign assault on decency in the mating scenes on [nature documentary channel] Animal Planet, it's not hard to see something is very, very wrong."

I am from Chennai. I was born there when it was still Madras (and on that note, close to a decade after the name change, why hasn't Time bothered to get updated?). For years I harboured an intense, impossible love for the city of my birth, the city that should have been my childhood.

Two years ago I moved back there. I had never lived there before, not really. Even my birth there was by accident: riots in Colombo three days before and my heavily pregnant mother getting flown out. It was, in retrospect, probably the single worst decision of my life so far.

In the span of eight months, I saw every last vestige of the chimerical city of my heart shatter. In the span of eight months, I went from buoyant, rose-tinted optimism to a medical prescription. I was groped, molested, sworn at. I witnessed firsthand the oppression of young women under the guise of education. And then, I was assaulted.

How does one reconcile her immense love for a city itself -- its geography, its history, its seasons, the idiosyncrasies of its streets and architecture -- with the cruel reality of life within it? How does one reconcile herself to an unrequited love so great that she cannot even look it in the eye?

I fled.

Now, I think of Chennai as one might an old lover -- with fondness and compassion but with an appreciation of why distance is necessary. Chennai who fills me, yet punishes me. Who I wait unlit nights for. Write to in secret. Long to possess yet cannot claim my own.

I live in the city of much of my real childhood. It rejects me, forces me to affirm my desire for it in queue after queue, application after application, rubber stamp after rubber stamp, always under the threat of revoking it's snide, scornful tolerance of me. This love too is unrequited.

How does one reconcile herself to an unrequited love so great it won’t even look her in the eye?

Someone told me once, remorsefully, that at least I had a back door, another country.

But in actuality, I have no country. Let alone another.

How dislocation like this shapes a person is a gradual, insidious thing. To take it down and shake the dust out of it is to concede the inherent madness of what it means to be unanchored. Moving becomes a way of life. Change invariable. Every attachment is made first with an acknowledgement of its precariousness. My possessions sit for months and years in suitcases and boxes, and it never occurs to me that to take them out of there might be a good thing.

And I move and I move because I can’t go home. Where my cunt will betray me. Where my Tamilness will betray me. Where a woman who isn’t even Tamil herself can be persecuted for going against a forced, reconstructed version of Tamil culture. Where a woman, because she is a woman, can find herself persecuted for going against a forced, reconstructed version of proper womanhood. Where at every corner, every college, every coffee shop lies a threat so pervasive it doesn’t even have to be named. It has the face of a politician. The face of a parent. The face of a person walking beside you somewhere who simply does not like the fit of your blouse.

But I’m making it about me.

But then, my sister there is me. My mother there is me. Kushboo’s daughter there is me and so is the 8-year old selling earbuds and pins out of a tray strapped to her chest in Pondy Bazaar. Only – how lucky, how lucky I am to have been able to flee.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Sharing The Art That Moves Me

The day before yesterday, I was in Borders for Dina Zaman's reading, and came across a heavily discounted (RM17!) collection of Taschen's art books. There was one on Georgia O'Keefe which I picked up solely because of one painting -- "Summer Days" (1936). I had never come across it before, not in the biography I have of her or in any book I've seen with her work in it. It struck me for its symbolism, how her trademark flowers were relegated below the looming, imposing antlered skull, and its use of space. The book also contained a 1931 Alfred Stieglitz portrait of her, holding a cow skull, as well as another similarly themed painting, "Cow's Skull with Calico Roses" (1932)

"Summer Days" struck me because of the bones and flowers motif, which I also used in the last painting I had been working on (Grateful Dead? No.). To me, the work seems spiritual in nature. The flame-like red flower hovering between mountain range and cow skull seems in ascent toward the enormous, commanding skull. There is a vastness and a sense of rising, of some sort of vertical movement, that exudes a profoundness that belies the actual structural simplicity of the painting.

Georgia, of course, was infamous for railing against interpretations of her work. She was frequently furious, for instance, at anyone who saw sexuality in the paintings she is most famous for -- the open, layered petals, the prominent stamens, although how anyone can look at them and not see eroticism is beyond me.

And so, yesterday, after months of stagnation, I painted again. The work is still not finished, but it is shaping up, I think. I got sick the last time, I'm not sure how, but it had something to do with some cheap linseed oil I was using. The smell made me nauseous for a good day after. And it made the paint look patchy on the canvas when it dried. It was good to figure out quickly what the problem was, and to have found the time again to go back to my painting.

But if there is one thing that would help me finish paintings faster, it would be perfect vision. I am paranoid about touching anything after I have handled turpentine or oils. I don't know how many times I wash my hands before I am comfortable, but it would surely help if I didn't need to wear contacts -- before I paint, I usually have to think about whether I'll be wearing them the next day. It's a killjoy, I tell you.

I've been asked to be a contributor to Puisi-Poesy, a Malaysian poetry discussion blog/forum, and am pretty excited about it. I love sharing the art that moves me. Now, if I can only remember that I'm only supposed to post once a week! I've just left my first contribution there. You can check it out at http://puisipoesy.blogspot.com