Politics & Economy

Victory Day, Mulli’vaykal and Heroes Day: Remembering as resistance

”I need not state afresh that this day – the 19th of May - is now a great historic day in our country. Today marks third celebration of victory of the nation under a single flag. It is the great victory that restored the honorable peace that our country had preserved through many centuries.”

”Friends, our heroes and veterans of war gave their feet for us to walk in freedom. They gave their lives to save all people from the throes of death. They gave their last breath to the winds to let us breathe in freedom. The nation will no doubt remember all that sacrifice with great honor.”

”Just as much as their [Tamil Diaspora] work, their demands also remain the same; they seek the same ends through different means. Therefore, we must ask if we are in a position to remove the armed forces camps in the North and reduce our attention national security. That is not possible. Armed services camps are not found in the North alone. They are seen throughout the country. They are in Colombo and Giruvapattu in the South. These are found in our country. Not in any foreign country.”

Selected Excerpts from Mahinda Rajapakses V-Day Speech on 19.05.20121

On May 19th, the splendorous Victory Day parade was once again conducted in Colombo, and in accordance with state ideology, it was the anniversary for the defeat of terrorism and restoration of peace in Sri Lanka. In this year’s speech, President Mahinda Rajapakse has defiantly rebuked any international demand of de-militarizing the Tamil homeland and vowed to fight all the 'external elements' that 'disrupt' peace. 

Quite contrary to the President’s representations of the anniversary, Tamils marked the 4th year of  the genocide of their people at Mullivaykal. The state and its president address this day as a milestone in their nation’s history, making evident that the nation concerned is the Sinhala. Directed by the state the V-day is intended to be naturalized and inscribed into the Sri Lankan political identity: implying a selective and obtuse awareness of the island’s history while accepting, promoting or remaining silent on Sinhala chauvinism and the protracted genocide.

In essence the state-centric remembering is a glorification and celebration of the genocide and also the acceptance of the state representation of the ‘national question'. Mulli’vaykal is the single most destructive process in the recorded history of Tamils. Since May 2009, more than 146, 000 Tamils are unaccounted for and now it is estimated that over 70, 000 civilians perished just in the final phase of the war; the deaths and disappearances are not even permitted by the Sri Lankan state to be symbolically acknowledged. They are rendered as ghosts of a mythical character, existing only in the minds of those who remember. Physical remains and symbolic objects denoting the resistance against the Sri Lankan state have also been desecrated throughout the Tamil homeland. Two shocking incidents took place in March and November 2011. The first being the destruction of over 20,000 tombstones of fallen LTTE soldiers in Killinochi and the building of Army HQ over the ruins2. The second the decapitation of the statue of Selvenayagam, a non-violent predecessor of Tamil resistance3. It is clear that any act of commemoration is intended to be prevented by the state through intimidation and violence. The commemoration of Tamils is subjected to somewhat of a witch hunt under the cloak of protecting the nation against rekindling terrorism. On the other hand the V-day for the Sinhala state and its ideologues is presented for the Sinhala masses as a day of honor, righteousness, patriotism and celebration. 

May 18, has become a day of remembrance and solidarity for Tamils, remaining pivotal in not forgetting the horrendous crimes committed against them. To remember those who lost their lives during the three decades of war, the Mullivaykal and to salute all those martyrs who devoted and sacrificed their lives for the cause of self-determination and liberation. On this date, while the government prepared for the celebration and manifestation of their representation, they banned all gatherings of any form to mark remembrance. Last year a Jaffna student leader was viciously attacked by state agents with iron rods as he proceeded to attend the remembrance marking meant to be held in the university amidst the threats4, and was eventually hospitalized. This year, some of the leading members of the Tamil National Peoples Front (TNPF) were arrested in Mannar while they were preparing to commemorate the war dead5. In a similar attempt to disrupt an event organised by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in Vavuniya, the military threatned to arrest participants6 while a monument for the dead at Samanakulam, Vavuniya was reportedly destroyed7 .  As the state utilized its militarized occupation of the Tamil homeland to suppress such acts of remembering, ceremonial remembrances proliferated in spaces among communities living outside North-East Sri Lanka. Remembrance was also held in Chennai8 and in number of main cities in Europe and North America9, as well as in numerous other metropolises across the globe. This indicates both the transnational character of Tamils and the significance of the act of remembering for various Tamil communities. 

The act of remembering

The act of remembering is crucial when the power to constitute history is unattainable for oppressed nations, one of the fundaments in forming internal integration and also enabling resistance. The words of Floyd ‘Red Crow’ Westerman, a Native American actor and activist is exemplary to show the power relations involved in history writing and remembrance: “There is an ancient Indian saying that something lives only as long as the last person who remembers it. My people have come to trust memory over history. Memory, like fire, is radiant and immutable while history serves only those who seek to control it, those who douse the flame of memory in order to put out the dangerous fire of truth.”

The significance of remembrance was also reflected on Heroes Day on November 27th, the day of commemoration of Tamil freedom fighters. From Canada to New Zealand, the martyrs of Tamil national liberation were paid homage to10. The peculiarity of last year’s marking was the courage and resoluteness displayed by the people of North-East in marking it. Jaffna University became the locus for massive acts of resistance and remembering. The common ceremonial flame was lit in the Jaffna university compound as well as candles were lit within the ladies hostel. As the flame became the apex of threats against the state, the armed forces took extraordinary efforts in suppressing any form of its manifestation. The authorities even banned the undertaking of an auspicious ceremony observed by Hindu Tamils for millenniums known as the Kaarthikai festivals of lights, as it included lighting fires11. Orders were given to prohibit gatherings at religious sites as well as candle lighting in private spaces. Amidst the steps taken by the state to suppress, across the North-East youths put up posters paying homage to the fallen heroes and heroines, flames were ablaze, bells were rung, as silent prayers and vows filled the air of Eezham12. In the North, the occupying forces responded to the courageous students of Jaffna by sending a punitive force into the ladies hostel13. The next day on November 28th the incursion into the ladies hostel was condemned in a peaceful demonstration organized by the Jaffna students. The authorities responded by sending the army and police to attack the demonstrators, hospitalizing ten and sustaining injuries on dozens more. What followed was a series of extra judicial arrest of student leaders. During the first week of December, arrests and disappearances of Tamils have been reported throughout the North-East, starting with the midnight arrest of four student leaders on the first of December14. By the second week more than 45 people including at least a dozen students of Jaffna University and tens of suspected ex-LTTE fighters have been arrested under the draconian PTA15.  The PTA entails the state to arrest without trial any person they consider a threat and hold them incommunicado for 18 months. It has also come forth that he TID (Terrorist Investigation Department) notorious for torture have fabricated terrorism and sedition charges on the incarcerated students stating they were attempting to reignite LTTE activities.

Conclusion

Through acts of remembrance the continuity of a basic but significant form of resistance is ensured. Organized protests against the state have also been on the rise in the Tamil homeland. Since May 2012, Tamil political parties, activists and civil society as well as comrades from the empathic Sinhala Left, have been mobilizing demonstrations condemning the systematic and genocidal oppression in North-East. The protest in Murukandi on the 26th of June and the protest in Mannar on the 06th of July last year, are evident of this united front being mobilized. Post Heroes Day, as the military crackdown unfolded, the island wide student protests were reported  condemning the atrocities. Also throughout the Diaspora protest and solidarity rallies were held. The growing international awareness of atrocities against Tamils is evident, which is a form of solace. Unfortunately as much of the international nation-states interact more or less in normalcy with Colombo, the tacit approval it gives emboldens a genocidal military occupation in its blatant suppression of the emerging resistance in the North-East. Although anti austerity protests, government criticism and dissent in the south are curbed and also met with violence, the nature of the state violence differs from the genocidal forms unleashed in the Tamil Homeland.

Therefore the need for a united front and an internationalized platform to resist and arrest the genocidal policies of the Sri Lankan state is crucial and has been stressed upon on numerous occasions by the political representatives of the Tamils of North-East Sri Lanka. Dissent, protest and resistance within Sri Lanka is present but are severely circumscribed and attempted to be controlled or silenced through media blackouts, state violence and fear. When considering how the state centric media is reporting the unfolding affairs of the island it is understandable how any effort to arrest the genocidal occupation in the Tamil homeland and the dictatorial regime in the south, must be from an international stand, i.e. external. There is no reason to retain hope for a change ‘from within’ which e.g. the LRRC rest its moral resonance on. A transformation of such measures is predicated upon a utopian revolution in the attitude and epistemology of the state, its elite leadership and its ardent supporters. Instead Colombo presents a paradoxial image: Policemen are shown to save cows from illegal butcheries and in the name of ahimsa, Tamil rituals such as Animal sacrifices are targeted. Last year, the Bhatrekali Amman Temple at Munneswaram was subject for this by the State and Buddhist clergy and was compelled to abort rituals16. The people in the country of Buddha are presented as highly conscious, empathic and moral when convenient. The genocide of Tamils are denied as even the  symbolic act of commemorations are quelled, while in the kind nature of being a Buddhist Sinhala nation state, the death of the Mahanayaka Thera, on September 3rd is declared as a national day of mourning17

© JDS


Athithan Jayapalan is a student in social anthropology and studied in Oslo and Pondicherry universities. Born in Jaffna, he currently lives in Oslo, Norway.

 

Notes:

1. For the Speech reproduced in text, See: http://www.dailymirror.lk/news/18734-well-implement-what-is-necessary-mr.html (Accessed 21.05.2012) 

2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12668613

3. http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=34580

4. http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=35190

5. http://www.tamilguardian.com/article.asp?articleid=7847

6. http://www.nst.com.my/latest/sailor-dies-during-sri-lanka-victory-parade-1.281933

7. http://www.tamilguardian.com/article.asp?articleid=7847

8. http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=36333

9. http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=36331

10. http://eng.lankasri.com/view.php?2bmM0e0dXO40ecBmA2a4TYc3d2K5V2c2ABV243Al3222MAA2

11. http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=79&artid=35781

12. The students at the ladies hostel were threatned at gun point : http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=35796

13. http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=35798

14. http://www.jdslanka.org/index.php/2012-01-30-09-30-42/politics-a-current-affairs/225-jaffna-university-students-union-leader-four-others-arrested-midnight

15. http://www.jdslanka.org/index.php/2012-01-30-09-30-42/politics-a-current-affairs/235-arbitrary-arrests-escalate-in-jaffna-as-terrified-students-face-ol-exams

16.   http://www.dailymirror.lk/news/21954-no-animal-sacrifice-this-year-chief-priest.html

17.  http://www.dailymirror.lk/news/21566-monday-declared-a-day-of-mourning.html


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