Sri Lanka buckle under Tamil-Muslim solidarity to restore demolished memorial

What was illegal on the dead of the night of 8th January in the north of Sri Lanka became legal following the dawn of 11th January when two stones for reconstruction were symbolically laid at the place where once a bulldozed monument for war dead stood.

International outcry coupled with the solidarity shown by the Tamils and Muslims in the north and east in observing a Hartal to protest the demolition of the ‘Mullaivaikkal memorial monument’ in the Jaffna University, along with the perseverance of Tamil undergraduates forced the authorities to legitimise the monument what was once their eyesore.

In exemplary solidarity, the Tamils and Muslims came together in bringing the entire North and East of the nation to a standstill heeding a call by the students of the Jaffna University.

The Vice-Chancellor Sivakolundu Srisatkunarajahh who had earlier said that ‘the monument is illegal and which should not be there’ went forward to conduct a modest ceremony to legalise it by symbolically applying holy ash and placing two stones picked up from the ruins with flowers atop it, amidst prayers and utmost reverence in ankle-deep water as a first step towards the reconstruction of the monument. Incessant downpour overnight resulted in water logging in the campus.

He told the police officers stationed within the campus on his way to the dedication ceremony that he has been ordered by the government to handle the situation amicably.

“I wrote to the UGC. In Tamil Nadu, there was a huge backlash. Sampanthan is going to the Indian embassy today. This is happening with proper approval. Two stones were symbolically placed at the spot to placate the students and conveying to them their demand is accepted. No building now, that will be done later. There will be a ceremony for blessings,” the VC told the Officer in Charge of the Kopai police station, which was caught on camera.

No reaction has come so far from either the UGC or its Chairman Professor Sampath Amarathunge who earlier described the monument as “an impediment to the unity of the North and South”.

End of drama

“By having this illegal monument, I have to keep on answering to questions from intelligence and security forces,” Vice-Chancellor Srisatkunarajah told journalists.

“That is a waste of time. As an academic, once I saw that all sensitivities are connected to this, I thought to end this all in a better way by making it a legal monument. By god’s grace, that drama was staged in such a way and ended in this manner,” he further added.

The claim the monument was illegal was rejected outright by protesting students. One of their leaders Masaniah Tharsikan addressing the media after ending their hunger strike said, “In 2018, permission was sought and obtained by the students from the University management and erected at a place indicated by the University.”

He says the monument was erected to remember the people who died during the war and with a good intention that the Tamil society should not face such a catastrophe in the future.

Expressing confidence in the VC he said the students would stand by him if he faces any issues with regard to the erection of the monument and support him. Tharsikan also pointed out the earlier VC was removed because of the monument issue.

Head of the Jaffna University Students Union L. Anushan said their primary demand was the monument to be rebuilt and the foundation stone laid for that.

“The first step has been achieved. We have suspended the protest, but it will continue and the format may change. The Hartal was also to protest the presence of the military and the police inside the campus and the intelligence unit intimidating us.

Students say the unity shown now by the society and political parties is of paramount importance in the future as well.

The Ceylon Teachers Union has voiced their strong disapproval of the demolition.

A statement signed by its Secretary General, Joseph Stalin says, “The CTU strongly condemns and expresses its disgust for this violation of democratic rights and acting in a manner that creates problems.

“This is an action that is highly disturbing to Tamils who live in suffering due to the loss of their loved ones in war.”

In his statement, he has strongly condemned the move to mobilise military power to further aggravate the sorrow of the Tamils.



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.