The recent campaign against the Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka, of which I was involved, was related to highlighting the gross human rights abuses in the country. It caused global discussion and forced both Colombo and the festival organisers on the defensive. “What? Us? Backing war crimes? Never!”
Here’s Sri Lankan born writer and artist Roma Tearne explaining why boycotting the event was so important to make a statement; an individual can raise their voice and not be complicit in the silencing:
I am often asked why I do not go to this festival even though I have been invited. Why I chose to attend the Jaipur literary festival but not Galle. Let me make this clear. I long to go. I long to see my home once more. But the terrible injustice that was done to Sri Lanka’s ordinary people on both sides of the ethnic divide needs to be highlighted. Because the dead have no voice, because their memory is still not honoured or talked about. Because those who speak out are still being silenced. Because I am not so misguided as to imagine any real or serious discourse in the manicured atmosphere of Galle is possible under the current government. Of what will these writers actually speak? Thus far no writer going to Sri Lanka has said anything that addresses the real problem.
And even if I have got it completely wrong, even if all those visitors who come to Galle to sit in hallowed silence under ceiling fans, to hear the UK-returned writers speak, are right and the conversations taking place are about life and literature, what good will this do? What has the internationally ‘acclaimed’ Sri Lankan writer got to offer the poor and the displaced, the bereft and the victims of Sri Lanka’s war? Will their discourse give the lost generation of children a different life? Will the government suddenly become transparent and admit to the killing sprees they went on in order to gain power? Will the broken woman who came this year to Galle, in search of her journalist husband, (disappeared on January 28th) have him returned to her? Let us not be so naïve as to believe so. Nothing will change other than perhaps the level of our suntan.