Tamils defy military restrictions through to pay homage to war dead

By Siva Parameswaran

War affected Tamil people in the North and East braved the restrictions imposed on them by the Sri Lankan security forces on their movements and paid homage to their near and dear who lost their lives in the civil war.

At a solemn occasion organised in Mullivaikkal, where thousands were massacred eleven years ago, Tamils could be seen maintaining strict social distancing to keep the Covid 19 threat in check.

Led by Catholic and Hindu clergy, the young and old wearing face mask, washed their hands with soap provided by the organisers at the venue and walked to the open area where arrangements were made light camphor placed atop bent iron rods fixed firmly in the silver sands.

The sombre event, a silent one passed off peacefully in an emotionally charged atmosphere in a short time. The loved ones carried flowers and incense sticks which they placed at foot of the makeshift poles.

Earlier the military hd imposed restrictions on the movement of people citing Covid-19 crisis, at many places with troops stationed at junctions and blocking roads leading to the venue.

“With information reaching the ministry that several groups have planned to gather individuals to commemorate the ‘Mullivaikkal Day’ ignoring advices given by the provincial health authorities, the ministry instructed security forces commanders in the north to strictly follow provisions in the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance” a stern letter from the Defence Ministry said.

Former Chief Minister of the Northern Province and retired Supreme Court Judge C V Wigneswaran was stopped at Sangupiddy from proceeding further to participate in the homage event. However, he used alternate routes to proceed and pay homage.


Political leaders like M K Sivajilingam and Gajendra Kumar Ponnambalam paid their homage though they were also restrained initially.

A Jaffna court issued a quarantine order restricting Gajendra Kumar from moving out of his premises, which was contested and subsequently withdrawn.

However, following the restriction order, heavy military presence was seen in front the Tamil National People’s Front –lead by Gajendra Kumar- office in Jaffna.

The Defence ministry in its restriction order quoted the spread of infection due to the association with a pastor who came from Switzerland and tested positive for Corona Virus.

Jaffna Security forces Commander Major General Ruwan Wanigasooriya however had said in that “Anyone who wishes to commemorate their loved ones who died in the 30-year-long was could remember them at their homes”.

Legal fraternity point out that, right to worship being a fundamental freedom and paying homage to the departed being part of it- ‘Depriving them of that action would amount to violation of their fundamental rights’.

The earlier government formed in 2015 had eased restrictions and the Tamils were permitted to remember the war dead and pay homage. This is the first Mullivaikkal remembrance since the new government under Gotabaya Rajapaksa came to power in 2019.

Journalists from the north were also stopped from proceeding to the Mullivaikkal village. Around 30 journalists from the Jaffna Press Club were proceeding for both news gathering and paying homage were restrained at several places.

Heavy military presence

The said group of journalists left Jaffna around 6 AM could reach the remembrance venue only by 11 AM.

“We were intentionally stopped and delayed at more than 6 check posts, with a view to stop us from reaching the venue by 10.30 AM when the lighting of the lamp to remember the deceased was to be held,” a journalist from Jaffna told JDS.

“The officials came out with any number of reasons like registering our names, seeking approval from the military officers, getting permission from the OIC of police”

Due this the journalists say they were able to reach the venue only after 11 AM well beyond the time marked for the homage.

The Jaffna based journalists allege that the GOSL was particular to ensure the news of this emotional gathering happening in North and East does not reach Southern Sri Lanka and abroad.

“The intention to stop dissemination of the news was clearly evident”

At present Sri Lanka ranks low in the Press freedom index. Authorities also claim that the commemoration is to pay respect to fallen Tamil Tigers.

In 2017 Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka wrote to the then president. “The fact that a person who died was LTTE cadre should not be used as reason to deny family to mourn and remember their loved one. Every family has the right to remember the memory of their loved ones irrespective of their status or political beliefs.’

However, social distancing apparently went for a toss during the state sponsored National War Hero’s Day held in the Colombo suburbs a day later after the Mullivaikkal remembrance event, held to honour those armed forces that lost their lives during the war.

While the Mullivaikkal remembrance event was over in less than an hour, the Colombo celebrations went on for more than two hours.

It is worth noting that curfew does not exist during the daytime in the country except Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutura districts.




Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.