This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War

Samanth Subramanian (L) and Suhasini Haider (R) in Mumbai on August 7, 2014. (Asia Society India Centre)

On Friday, August 4, 2014, Asia Society India Centre welcomed Samanth Subramanian, author of the acclaimed book This Divided Island: Stories From The Sri Lankan War, and Suhasini Haider, a journalist with years of experience covering conflicts. The venue was packed, with many in the audience having to stand. The evening began with Mr. Subramanian reading out to the audience a passage from his book — a heart-wrenching account of an interview with a man who had lost his relatives in and himself barely survived an attack on a nearby mosque in the midst of Sri Lanka’s long-running conflict between government forces and Tamil rebels that came to a bloody end in 2009.

Both speakers then discussed the difficulties of covering conflicts as authors and journalists. Ms. Haider spoke about how journalists are not only “dehumanized” by the conflicts that they cover but often find it difficult to stay neutral and obtain pictures and stories from both sides, particularly as they are often not trusted by the subjects that they interview. She commended Mr. Subramanian for managing to represent both sides in his book by stating facts and allowing readers to draw their own conclusions.

This was followed by a discussion on the situation in Sri Lanka five years after the end of the war, with both speakers agreeing Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government in Sri Lanka has failed to “win the peace after winning the war” and commenting that resentment among the island’s Tamil community is again growing. They were both also very critical of India’s policy towards Sri Lanka, pointing out how India not only alienated both sides during the war but also has failed to regain the trust of the island’s people and join in the rebuilding effort following the war’s end. The large and diverse audience was then given the opportunity to ask the two speakers questions about the current situation in Sri Lanka, attitudes of its peoples, parallels between Sri Lanka and other areas of conflict and the island’s future. Many, inspired and impressed by the talk, rushed to buy Mr. Subramanian’s book, with sellers running out of copies by the end of the evening!

Reported by Adhiraaj Anand, Intern, Asia Society India

This programme falls under our Meet the Author series, which aims to bring together the freshest perspectives from writers across Asia as they engage in dialogue about their recent publications and the art of writing.

Video: Watch the complete programme (1 hr., 17 min.)

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