Sri Lanka: Tamils brave military intimidation to observe ‘Maaveerar Naal’

By Siva Parameswaran

Come November, the Sri Lankan Military establishment and Police go into extra oppressive mode and all out to ensure that Tamils are intimidated and their right to remember their kith and kin is scuttled during the ‘Maaveerar Naal’ (Great Heroes Day) observation.

This year too, in yet another oppressive act the Sri Lankan Police tore down the red and yellow flags, and forcefully removed the banner erected in connection with the solemn observation to remember those who lost their lives for their homeland.

War-affected Tamils who were making arrangements for the ‘lighting of the lamp event’ for a week starting from Sunday 20th November, had come under repeated threats while being filmed by the intimidating military, police and the state intelligence sleuths.

The latest disruption happened on Sunday (27) in the Mulliyavalai war cemetery in Mullaitivu where the flags were hoisted. Since the incident, videos of the Police crackdown have gone viral on social media.

Mullaitivu district bore the brunt of the final battle with the LTTE where Tamils were boxed into a small strip of land that came under heavy shelling and aeriel bombardment by state armed forces.

The Vadduvakkal bridge stands as a silent testimony to those who walked over it and handed over to the military only to go missing.

Adding insult to injury, over 26 war cemeteries in the north-east of the island, known as 'Great Heroes Resting Homes' (Maaveerar Thuyilum Illam), with more than 20,000 head stones were razed to ground using bulldozers by Sri Lanka's armed forces at the end of the war in 2009.

In Jaffna, Koppai cemetery with 1832 head-stones was razed to the ground before constructing Jaffna Security Forces Headquarters on the site of the cemetery while Ellalankulam cemetery with 795 head-stones was demolished and turned into a military base making it difficult for families to reach the resting places where their near and dear were interned.

However, the Tamils braving all odds observed the solemn occasion by lighting lamps in memory of those who lost their lives fighting for their homeland.

Whilst the ‘heroes day’ passed off in a peaceful manner the day was observed amidst a quest for answers for the victims of enforced disappearance or who either surrendered or handed over to the Sri Lankan Military before they disappear.

This year's solemn tributes to the ‘Maaveerarkal’ were led by the elders in particular women. Infants and children also joined their parents and grandparents in remembering the fallen ones of their families.

Tributes for the war dead were paid across the globe from Australia across Europe to America by the diaspora Tamils.

The repeated police and military disruptions happened in many other areas, where even the Kaarthikai (Gloriosa flower) a native flora was an eyesore for the state security officials. Commonly referred to as ‘Flame Lily’ this species also native to Sri Lanka blossoms to its peak in the month of November. The Lily is brightly coloured red at the stem and in yellow at the top.

The pandals decorated with the Kaarthikai flower - a native species- for the occasion to pay tribute the war dead at the Mullaitivu beach front was unacceptable to the police and was pulled down along with the flags and arches.

The UN has recognised the ‘Right to remember’ as a basic right and denying it could be considered as a serious human rights violation. A special rapporteur to the UN Agnes Callamard in her report to the UN General Assembly said:

“Mass graves are places of evidence crucial to effective pursuit of formal justice”.

“They hold the remains of those denied identity in death. They are spaces of intimate sorrow for loved ones. And, they are places of public record - proof that heinous events took place which must never be forgotten.”

While the Tamils in the North & East observed the ‘Maaveerar Naal’ the South of the island nation and the mainstream media remained indifferent to the pain and anguish suffered by the families and friends of those who lost their lives during the war.

Videos: S. Thavaseelan



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