Sounthiyas Amarathaas captured the last three years of the island nation’s bloody civil war, before he was forced to flee to Switzerland.

Lost my land sense of belonging Sri Lankan war photographer exhibits work in Kerala
news Photography Wednesday, January 03, 2018 - 18:59

An endless stream of people, their faces devoid of hope; people bent over dead bodies, trying to identify their kin in the mass of corpses – these are just some of the visuals 39-year-old Sounthiyas Amarathaas shot back home in Sri Lanka of the final years of the bloody civil war that ripped through the island nation.

Sounthiyas, who now lives in Switzerland, is currently in Thiruvananthapuram to work on a movie based on the war. On Tuesday, he spoke at an event organised by the Kerala Union of Working Journalists, where he also showcased his works.

“I lost my brother to the war. I want to make a movie to tell the world the atrocities my homeland saw during the civil war,” he said.

Sounthiyas, a native of Kilinochchi, did not just lose his brother, but also his home in 26-year-long war, that finally ended in 2009. “You lose your land, your identity and your sense of belonging in a war,” he said.

In an attempt to document the atrocities he witnessed, he travelled on his bike everywhere, even though petrol was scarce.

In one photo, we see a family fleeing from their home, clutching the few belongings they have managed to salvage – touchingly, they took their pet dog with them. All the photos have been shot in black and white. “In black and white, the expressions are aptly reflected and presented intensely. In colour, I can’t say it’s reflected as well. By shooting in black and white, the feel of the photo is much powerful than in colour,” Sounthiyas said.

He even managed to capture the moment his own family was forced to flee from home – his house in Kilinochchi was devastated by a bomb. In one photo, we see a woman with a bullet embedded just above her chest.

“I don’t know if the woman is still alive or not. I don’t know how many people I captured through my lens survived the war. Wandering through the war-torn country was my life. I was born into the war and I had lived through it. I was one of the lucky ones who survived; not only did thousands die, but so many people lost their limbs and were mutilated by war,” said Sounthiyas.

Food was scarce during the war and in one photo we see a long line of people waiting to get a bowl of kanji. Invariably, people carried their children on their shoulders, to not lose them in the crowd of people in the camps. In another photo, we see the Norwegian Refugee Council that was reduced to rubble two days after Sounthiyas took the picture.

Speaking to TNM, he said, “The victims of the war are yet to get justice. We cannot say everything is back in order in the country now. Back home, I was viewed as someone who aired country’s internal issues to the outside world. I knew I was not safe there any more. I got opportunity to exhibit my work in Switzerland and I decided to stay on there. I live as a refugee there for I never made Switzerland my home.”

“I want to go back home. It took me 15 hours to come to India and Sri Lanka is hardly an hour away from here, but I cannot go back. My mother and my siblings still live there, but they can’t come meet me here. They lost all their documents in the war, so they cannot travel just yet.”

Sounthiyas Amarathaas/Pic Courtesy: His Facebook Page

According to him, the Tamil Sri Lankans across the globe don’t have a country to call their own. “If they were safe in Sri Lanka now I wouldn’t say anything. But there is no one to listen to their problems, they still feel insecure, justice is not ensured … Their problems have just not been addressed.”

Now, in Kerala, he intends meeting filmmakers, including auteur Adoor Gopalakrishnan, and scouting for locations where he can shoot his movie.

“There are lots of geographical similarities between Kerala and Sri Lanka. The film will be in Tamil. I am waiting for a producer, and if I find one, I am 100% sure I can make the film,” said Sounthiyas.