Originally Published 2013-02-20 00:00:00 Published on Feb 20, 2013
Since the BBC Channel IV film director has indicated that one purpose of the controversial film on the Sri Lankan war may have been to act in a particular way at the UNHRC session in Geneva next month, New Delhi has to be wary of efforts to influence its decision.
Sri Lanka: Tales which pictures don't tell
As was only to be expected under the circumstances, the Sri Lankan Government has promptly dismissed the published pictures of LTTE leader Prabhakaran's 12-year-old son Balachandran, before and after his killing in the Northern war-zone in May 2009, as "lies, half-truths and speculation". India, which has a stake in it all, has reacted cautiously. New Delhi could not vouch for the authenticity of the pictures is how External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid has put it.

The published pictures form a part of the upcoming documentary, "No War Zone: Killing Fields of Sri Lanka", to be shown in Geneva, timed to coincide with the UNHRC session, due to discuss 'accountability issues' flowing from 'Eelam War IV'. The latter is part of the US effort, flowing from the UNHRC resolution, with India voting in favour, last March. The former is an effort at forcing New Delhi's hand to vote in favour of the follow-up procedural resolution that the US has proposed to bring before this year too.

The documentary seems intended to influence India. This has become clear with the the director of the BBC-Channel IV documentary, Cullum Macrae, declaring that the "film will test India over its next move on the UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka". Media reports quoting the director have said, "The new evidence in the film is certain to increase the pressure on the Indian Government to not only support a resolution on Sri Lanka and accountability, but also ensure that it is robustly worded, and that it outlines an effective plan for international action to end the impunity in Sri Lanka."

If nothing else, such posturing raises the question if the pictures, if not the film as a whole, is aimed at forcing New Delhi on a major foreign policy concern with implications flowing from and into domestic politics, particularly in relation to the South Indian State of Tamil Nadu. As was only to be expected, political parties and organizations in the State have reacted promptly the way they were expected to do, implying that efforts may already be on to prompt the Tamil Nadu polity - and possibly, a section of the society - to force New Delhi into taking decisions that are better left to the policy-maker.

Controversial at best

The film, aired by BBC's Channel IV, seems to be a sequel to what has become an annual series, whose releases are timed to trigger tough positions on Sri Lanka at successive sessions of the UNHRC over the past couple of years. The producers have said that the film will be shown in India too, possibly through local television channels, as was the case with the earlier parts. In particular, great efforts went into producing a Tamil version of the same, which was shown in TV channels in the State, followed by television talk-shows that are picking up momentum.

However, these pictures are as controversial at best as the series that were shown earlier. On earlier occasions, the Channel IV fare put out high figures of Tamil deaths, citing UN-commissioned reports, and used pictures, as if to justify the voice-over. The Sri Lankan Government had contested those figures, sticking to the early goal and claims of 'zero-casualty' but modified by individuals to a figure closer to the original 7,000 civilian deaths, as enumerated by the UN itself.

Much will remain to be known when the new film is shown, but the media promo - if one could describe the news reports with static pictures of Balachandran, before and after his bullet-wound death, have a different tale to tell, or what they do not tell. Like the earlier version, it claims that the young and healthy boy was shot dead by the Sri Lankan armed forces, at point-blank range.

Forensic analysts, who studied the picture, have confirmed 'point-blank range', but the conclusion that it was the cruel handiwork of the armed forces would still require independent confirmation. The possibility that the LTTE supremo or his close aides did not want the little boy to fall into the hands of the 'enemy', whose 'cruelty' they had talked about, has to be ruled out through independent evidence before any conclusions of the kind could be drawn.

The latest picture also pre-supposes and pre-disposes for the viewer that the Sri Lankan armed forces were the killers, and had shot the boy dead in a bunker. That it was an army bunker, and not that of the LTTE, has also to be proved. Another question to be answered is how the child shown in the picture was sitting quietly in this place (forced as he may have been under a soldier's gun, if the other assumption of the experts in the news report is to be believed), and seems to be nibbling something from a packet in the other hand, as if all was well all around him - or, at least was not all that shocking and frightening, as it was supposed to be.

At best, the forensic report could vouchsafe for the authenticity that the earlier picture of the dead boy, and the new ones showing him in flesh and blood, were taken by the same camera and formed a part of the series. Otherwise, the claims, based on the assumptions by the forensic expert, that the child may have been witness to the armed forces' killing of LTTE cadres, whose bodies were strewn along with that of Balachandran in earlier films, too needs authentication of a different kind.

To the extent, the forensic expert, extensively quoted, has made assumptions that are not supported by scientific data, the report cannot form the basis for Governments across the world to base their decisions on it. Since the film director has already indicated that one purpose of the film may have been to force New Delhi's hand to vote and act in a particular way, New Delhi has to be wary of efforts of the kind more than ever. Decision has to be based on facts, not films!

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

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