The making of ‘The Brothers Shaikh’

When the journalist Peter Savodnik asked me to collaborate with him on making The Brothers Shaikh, I said no. I was scared. This was my home. I knew that if I crossed some invisible line, there would be repercussions.

But then I changed my mind.

What convinced me was that The Brothers Shaikh was a story ordinary Sri Lankans could relate to. The story is not complicated by terrorism, or how the war ended or about emerging conflicts. It’s about a gang of men who committed the crimes of murder and rape against two individuals. Not because of their politics, their ethnicity or their religion, but simply out of rage and lust and a sense of power over the weak.

For me, Sri Lanka is a complicated, beautiful country. The government in Colombo wants the world to believe that everything is normal and that anything abnormal is the fault of outsiders conspiring against it. According to this line of thinking, there is no violence against women or Islamophobia; there have never been any serious human-rights abuses. These are, we’re told, fictions created by Western governments meant to destabilise the country.

I believe that Sri Lankans are decent and honest people who would be appalled at the behaviour of these men. About crimes committed against a couple who only really wanted to enjoy the beauty of their tropical island and the warm welcome of their people. Something I fell in love with when I made Sri Lanka my home 8 years ago.

But there is one thing in common between these crimes and the news reports about Sri Lanka that have filled the pages of media this week because of the anniversary of Black July: the idea that you can get away with it.

The film touches on many of the themes at the heart of Sri Lanka’s identity crisis. I was fascinated by these themes, these ugly manifestations of our past and our fragmented politics and culture. I thought that if we could delve deeply into stories like that of Khuram Shaikh and his brother’s quest to see that Khuram’s killers are brought to justice, then we could begin to make sense of things, to understand how we arrived here — and, more importantly, to start building a better country.

The Brothers Shaikh, produced and reported by Peter Savodnik, directed and filmed by Kannan Arunasalam and Ed Perkins. The film was first posted on The New Yorker on 26 July 2013.

Editors note: The New Yorker video’s resolution is very low, making is blurred on large screens and Apple Retina displays. The producers have promised to release a high-definition version soon.

  • Dev

    I wonder what people like Dayan and off the cuff will say of this ?

    Dayan, why is your president whom you never fail to call “pragmatic” not taking any action?

    • Off the Cuff

      Dev,

      Khuram Shaikh was a hero who sacrificed his life defending the Birthright of a stranger. He stood for Justice and he should get Justice and I would demand that it be given.

      That is a far cry from the power hungry elements driven by an insatiable greed, that attempt to steal the Birthright of 21 million Sri Lankans by making false claims to 40% of Lanka for the exclusive benefit of 6% of that 21 million.

      You were speculating about my views and I have stated them. What are yours? Is that in support of the 21 million or the exclusive 6%?

      • Dev

        My comment was about the state of the country that you and Dayan praise ! The state of its police/justice !

        But , the story of this brother’s search for justice and its denial by this government reminds me of the search for justice that many Tamils face too in fact its much worse for them !

        • Off the Cuff

          Dev, Your comment was not about the state of the country it was speculative of what I thought. You wrote “I wonder what people like Dayan and off the cuff will say of this?”

          You shamelessly tried to use the misery of Khuram Shaikh’s family as a cover for your insidious propaganda to further the claims of the exclusive 6% who are attempting to steal the birthright of the other 94%.

          I defend my country from that insidious propaganda and you seem to be having problems in factually countering them as evidenced by the many comments that fail to address issues but delve on irrelevancies of a personal nature (like in the present case). I don’t like some aspects of the state of her governance but that is no reason to abandon my country an allow unbridled false propaganda to destroy her for the future generations.

          Best Regards
          OTC

          • Dev

            Unlike you I suspect, I have actually lost family in the war, so I know the feeling of losing loved ones before their time !

            I asked for your opinion as you praise Sri Lanka and anyone who suggests any problems with it, be it
            Ms. N Pillay,
            The UN panel
            Desmond Tutu
            Jimmy Carter
            Hilary Clinton
            Mary Robinson
            Human Rights Watch
            Amnesty
            The list goes on and on… as people who are “out to get” Sri Lanka !
            All part of this “great western conspiracy”

            So do you believe this innocent guys death is also part of this massive conspiracy to tarnish this triply blessed land of yours?

            As for Dayan, he praises the president as “pragmatic”, “doing the right thing for the Tamils ” etc
            Does this extend to him “doing the right things” as for this crime?

          • Off the Cuff

            Dev,

            I sympathise with your loss but you are very presumptuous with your suspicions. Many of us who oppose the separatist propaganda KNOW what it is to lose loved ones and friends prematurely. The separatists bombs and bullets targeted the Public and it was the Public that died and I am a member of that public.

            I don’t want it to be ever repeated and fight FALSE separatist propaganda with the TRUTH. It seems that you find that irksome the same way you found Dr Rajasingham Narandran and other Tamils who oppose terrorism and separatism irksome.

            You say “I asked for your opinion as you praise Sri Lanka and anyone who suggests any problems with it ……… as people who are “out to get” Sri Lanka!”

            You can try to twist, turn and squirm but what you wrote is up their for everyone to see. Now you are going on a rhetoric trip since my reply was not what you expected.

            Surely I cannot reply to your rhetoric as GV will not allow it here. But since you seem to be an avid reader of my facts based arguments, I wonder why you did not challenge them at the appropriate time!

            Please take up issues as and when they arise without bleating belatedly.

            It is foolish to ask me about Dayan.
            I am not a mind reader hence please address those questions to him.

            You wrote “So do you believe this innocent guys death is also part of this massive conspiracy to tarnish this triply blessed land of yours?”

            As I noted before, you are shamelessly trying to sell separatist propaganda using the misery of the Khuram Shaikh family. I do feel sorry for you Dev but I do not want to be a party to it.

          • Dev

            Find me ONE just ONE piece of evidence that I support separatists ! I never and never shall. My grand uncle was gunned down way back in the late seventies by the LTTE.
            You twist and squirm and try to paint anyone who opposes your racism as separatists !

          • Off the Cuff

            Dev,

            You have written the following “The TNA has won 1/3 of the seats and the Tamils roughly make up 1/3 of the population in the east–so I am happy the Tamil people continue to bank on the TNA (and as you probably have already gleamed from my writings, I too have faith in them)”

            The TNA is an umbrella for a collection of separatist parties of ONE race. Please don’t contest it as the names of the constituent parties proclaim Tamil Arasu Katchchis (Tamil Kingdom) and Tamil Eelams.

            Hence the Political objectives are racist (mono ethnic) and separatist. You have declared your unequivocal support for the racist separatist TNA.
            What does that make you?

            And yet you melodramatically ask “Find me ONE just ONE piece of evidence that I support separatists !”

            I oppose separatists who make false claims to steal the Birthright of 94% of the population because 6% of population claiming 40% of land is not equality. But I support full devolution of power as long as the Land so devolved is not disproportionate to the population within the devolved area. Language rights, the freedom to live anywhere, Land powers. Police powers etc are things that I support as long as false claims are not made infringing on the rights of the rest. Perhaps that is racist.

            I hope in the future, you have the courage to debate issues as and when they come up without complaining belatedly.

          • Dev

            I ask for proof and you can only show my support of the TNA? They are made up of all REGISTERED political parties of your “democratic” Sri Lanka ! Why hasn’t your government banned them then????? Pray tell me my dear boy !

            As for fighting us, the so called “separatists” I think the world can see the truth.

            You can cry/scream/jump up and down till the cows come home but this very case of murder is enough to proof of the behaviour of this triply blessed land !

            not to mention the reports by the UN/Amnesty International/Human Rights Watch/Ms. N Pillai/Desmond Tutu/Mary Robinson/Jimmy Carter/The international crisis group…..the latest being the report by Madaline Albright !

            Yes, I know you think/claim all have been paid off by the “diaspora” -tell that to someone who will believe all these people have been bought off !!!

          • Dev

            Also please tell me dear dear boy, off the cuff:

            Why is your wonderful president and leader in coalition with Douglas Devananda the leader of

            Eelam People’s Democratic Party !!!

            Note the word Eelam??? LOL

          • J Fernando

            Let me apologize on behalf of [edited out] such as off the cuff, he does NOT represent the majority race/religion. He blows to the rubbish heap that BBS/JHU belong to. As many writers wrote in last week with regard to the 83 riots, many Sinhalese including my family saved our Tamil brothers but here were also people like [edited out] who engaged in looting and pillaging them -sad day for us Sinhalese !

          • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

            Please stick to vigorously debating the issue, instead of, for whatever reason, attacking those who comment. Our guidelines can be read here.

          • Off the Cuff

            Dear “J Fernando”

            You wrote “Let me apologize on behalf of [edited out] such as off the cuff, he does NOT represent the majority race/religion. He blows to the rubbish heap that BBS/JHU belong to. As many writers wrote in last week with regard to the 83 riots, many Sinhalese including my family saved our Tamil brothers but here were also people like [edited out] who engaged in looting and pillaging them -sad day for us Sinhalese !”

            I can use a Tamil name to post under but that won’t make me a Tamil. It would however make me deceitful but only I would know that. What ever name you chose to go by, what you write, reveals who you are.

            The article at the following link caries 213 comments.
            http://groundviews.org/2013/05/28/sri-lankas-numbers-game/

            The very first comment is by Ms Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah, Senator, Transnational Govt of Tamil Eelam.

            I rebutted her comment with factual content giving references. The Sinhalese in you was offended by my defence of the Sinhalese and came to the defence of the TGT Eelam senator Usha, with an ad hominem attack on me. I responded on 29 May 2013. You ran away without responding. Reminds me of the Hit and Run tactics of the LTTE. (http://groundviews.org/2013/05/28/sri-lankas-numbers-game/#comment-53491).

            Usha continued to make 18 very long comments in her VILIFICATION campaign of the Sinhalese, presenting them as brutes.

            Her evil propaganda was contested by Padraig Colman, David Blacker, Manjula, Spring Koha (CINCINATTUS suscribed to Spring Koha), Hikz, fed up, Candidly and myself but NON from you.

            You made four comments in the linked article. ALL of them were Ad hominem attacks on those who opposed Eelamist Usha’s Lies.

            You are indeed an exemplary example of a Sinhalese who is not offended by the deceitful vilification of 15 million+ people of his own race. Must be the good Buddhist in you coming to the fore. How unfortunate for the separatist Tamils that the 15+ Sinhalese are unlike you.

            You now claim you “Saved” Tamils from persecution in 1983. Perhaps it is that magnanimity that you demonstrated by rushing to the defence of a Tamil Separatist who was vilifying your “own race” by propagating utter lies about the Sinhalese.

            You can wear many masks but that cannot hide what you are.

            Rather than apologising on my behalf ad nauseum or being Tickled Pink about Jewish Israel, it would be more constructive and informative to contest what I write by a well argued FACTUAL rebuttal.

            A man of your Humility, Knowledge and Stature should enrich Groundviews with dazzling comments that infuse quality and substance that we can look up to and emulate.

            Please share your unparalleled knowledge of World History with us.

            That you have not posted such a comment since you first appeared on GV on 27 May 2013 is very disappointing.

            Hope to hear from you, with a well argued Factual rebuttal, the next time you respond to a comment of mine. Let’s raise the quality of discussion on GV together. Let’s rise above the Ad Hominem arguments.

            Best Regards
            OTC

  • N. Ethir

    A cruel tragic murder of a woman and the murder of a hero. Many in Sri Lanka can relate to the grief of the families and their search for justice that never came . It is not too late to bring those murderers to justice. other wise Sri Lanka will descend to the point of no return and chaos will dominate. I see no light at the end of the tunnel. As a citizen I can offer only my sympathies to the victims and their families.
    The producers and the filming, and the New Yorker bringing the tragedy to the notice of the world will give some relief to the families of the living . Very tastefully and diplomatically filmed Nd told. I hope those responsible for justice react enough to bring justice to e victims and solace to the bereaved families.

  • Aia

    What had sprung to my thoughts was the gentleman, Khuram Sheikh, who was killed in cold blood by our man’s man and his psychopaths, felt safer whilst working even at what was considered as the high risky areas of conflict including the Gaza strip, on his last assignment. He could however not be able to avoid his death from these disgusting animals in Sri Lanka. But, these are our animals. Do they know what kind of service he renders to mankind, working with the Red-cross? And, to hear these animals are roaming at large and mixing with people at high office, I am really lost; is it the dividends of peace time. It had happened, not anywhere else, but in our own leader’s backyard. Most shocking was Khuram’s partner was raped while she was still unconscious; are not they real psychopaths. Not sure if our high office is in an illusion that protecting these thugs is an act of patriotism, because the one who killed was a foreigner, the ones committed were locals. Not sure the thought process of the people who matters most, including the Judge who allowed them on bail, but seems weird indeed.

  • Pragmatist

    It is very clear from this sad and horrific event, and many others that most of us never hear about, that Sri Lanka is fast becoming a land without law and justice that is also full of perverts. So much for the sacred land of Buddhism. I hope that decent people in civilized countries are well informed about this sad state of affairs in the country and discouraged from visiting Sri Lanka. At least women should be warned to stay away as the island seems to be crawling with perverts connected to the “royal” family.

    • Off the Cuff

      “Sri Lanka is fast becoming a land without law and justice that is also full of perverts. So much for the sacred land of Buddhism.”

      Is that pragmatic?

      Perhaps Israel (Christianity), Saudi Arabia (Islam) and India (Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism) are devoid of perverts.

      Perhaps the Theocracies such as the Vatican is a land of saints devoid of perverts

      • J Fernando

        LOL you have rewritten the entire world history of the last 60 years in one swipe !!
        When was Israel Christian ? LOL The very creation of Israel was to be a safe haven for Jews !
        So funny, working overnight you made my day !

        • Off the Cuff

          Jerusalem is considered to be a sacred land by Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Where is it located Mr J Fernando?

          Nazareth is the Home of Joseph and Mary, mother and foster father of Jesus. It is a Holy land to Christians. Where is it located Mr J Fernando?

          The historian in you asks me “When was Israel Christian ?”

          That is a silly and irrelevant question really.
          Israel being Jewish has no relevance to Christians holding Jerusalem and Nazareth as a Sacred Land.

          Bethlehem is the birth place of Jesus.
          Bethlehem being in Palestine a 75% Muslim country does not prevent Christians the world over considering it the sacred land.

          India is not Buddhist but we Buddhists hold many places in India as sacred.

          But this is not what I based my post on.
          Perhaps your preoccupation with history has clouded the issue.

          According to Pragmatist, Sri Lanka should be free of sin because it is a majority Buddhist country 70% in fact. That 3 million + are non Buddhist has escaped the attention of Pragmatist. Perhaps Pragmatist believes that all of them are Saints. Perhaps you believe in that too as you have not found fault with that assertion.

          Any SANE person can see that blaming the purported increase of perversion on Buddhists is not Pragmatic. Hopefully you do too.

          You wrote “So funny, working overnight you made my day !”

          Glad that you found it funny. Hopefully you are still laughing.

          Best Regards
          OTC