Genocide, Resistance and the Politics of Remembrance

by Athithan Jayapalan, Journalists for a Democratic Society, November 27, 2013

The right to assembly, association and expression is deemed a threat to the state as they unwittingly acknowledge the collective will of the Tamil nation in rejecting Colombo’s sovereignty and embrace their national aspirations.

When various coordinated actions result in organized violence targeting a particular people with the intent of eradicating the foundations of their national identity, such as territorial, racial, linguistic, religious, economic, socio-cultural characteristics and the life, liberty and property of group members, in Rapahel Lemkin’s word, that amounts to genocide and nothing else. It is also a fact that it is state powers who inhibit the capacity to execute and sustain such multifaceted genocidal onslaught which targets an entire population.

As a response to the attack on life, liberty and property, the people subjected to state terrorism will be forced to defend themselves. When the state perpetrators legitimises such policies of structural annihilation by concealing the underlying genocidal intent with all possible means, pursuing democratic means to arrest such atrocities largely become futile. As the peaceful means of resistance go unheeded, people tend to take up arms as a last resort to achieve their rights including right to self-determination, sovereignty and national liberation. The fact of the matter is that when the existing nation-state system and its political and military leadership remain hell bent on institutionalizing the murderous policies to perpetuate genocide in the pursuit of creating a mono-ethnic oppressive nation-state, only few alternative solutions would be left to the victimised population. An oppressed people resorting to armed action does not happen due to an extreme obsession they have with violence or due to a weird fascination about the destructive power of arms as many would prefer to interpret. On the contrary, what governs their action is an extreme sense of frustration and endless desperation.

Likewise, in Sri Lanka, it was the decade old genocidal oppression of the Sinhala Buddhist state which eventually compelled the Tamils to fight back, first peacefully, and later violently. History illuminates the systematic nature and the institutionalized manner of the violence perpetuated against Tamils. Discriminatory laws, state aided colonization schemes, anti-Tamil pogroms and coercive counterinsurgency policies were coordinated to deprive Tamils of their rights, liberty, life and property. Those who resist using peaceful and democratic means were systematically persecuted by the Sri Lankan state, ensuring the closure of democratic venues for any opposition. The armed resistance was the logical and inevitable outcome of decades old state policies which  relied upon the methods of extreme violence and brute force.

Heroes Day and Repression

Today on the 27th of November, Tamils commemorate the young women and men who laid down their lives in the thousands to safeguard their national existence and bravely fought for national liberation and self-determination. Since May 2009, a military occupation has been entrenched in the Tamil homeland as there is no formidable force to thwart the ongoing genocidal onslaught. While every attempt has been made to wipe out any trace of armed resistance, the state has gone to the extent of desecrating over 25 large war cemeteries with over 20,000 tomb stones – including the destruction of two such places in Killinochchi district as recently as October 25th this year. These graveyards, which were maintained with utmost respect for decades were symbolic spaces where the people including the families and friends of those who laid down their lives could gather in order to remember, mourn and commemorate their dead. By denying even the symbolic means to console their collective pain while attempting to erase the memories of a  generation who fought for liberation, the state attempts to coerce the Tamils into submission and to annihilate their memories of the politics of resistance.

On Maaveerar Naal (Heroes Day) Tamils remember the courageous souls who embodied the national resistance. The state fearing the resilience of the spirit of resistance  sanctions repression to suppress it. The right to assembly, association and expression is deemed a threat to the state as they unwittingly acknowledge the collective will of the Tamil nation in rejecting Colombo’s sovereignty and embrace their national aspirations. Those who engage in activities of remembering and paying homage are intimidated, detained and some disappear while others have been murdered.

In order to evade international pressure, the state reiterated the content of the 6th amendment on the 25th of November, and thegovernment media announced “any attempt to promote or glorify the LTTE either directly or indirectly even under the cover of media freedom was illegal and violators would face prosecution in the courts of law.” Despite being outlawed, Tamils defy and practice what is their inalienable right to commemorate their daughters, sons, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters who fought for the well being of their nation. On the 26th of November TNA MP Sritharan delivered an evocative speech elucidating the oppressive nature of the state and commemorated the revolutionaries who fought. On the 27th of November daring the regime, Heroes Day was observed as elected members in the Northern province and the civil bodies, the students and the people lit candles, planted trees, observed silence, paid floral tributes and distributed posters commemorating the national resistance. The military forces subsequently in frustration initiated a terror campaign to deter the Tamils from organizing the acts of commemoration, and several incidents of violence have been reported. The courageous Jaffna university students who met violent repression from the army in 2012 on the same day, once again organized assemblies to commemorate their martyrs. Around the world, from Australia to Tamil Nadu, from the quiet streets of Bergen to the urban jungle of Toronto Tamils commemorate their martyrs. Such show of collective will demonstrates nothing but fortitude and unity in resistance to genocidal oppression.

Remembrance is a powerful means of mobilizing resistance and organizing solidarity when state repression is unfettered and rampant. In these times the occupying army conceives the acts of lighting candles, planting trees and ringing bells as threats to their oppressive regime. The fire, a symbol of homage is turned into the apex of resistance by both the oppressor and the oppressed. The Tamils are denied collectively the right to remember, mourn and commemorate amidst all the other forms of oppression they are subjected to.

In these difficult times, we remember the significance and the nobility of those who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of their people. A revolutionary salute to the martyred souls of the Tamil Liberation struggle, and in their spirit we shall pursue the inevitable struggle to liberate our lands, people and rights from the genocidal Sri Lankan State. In their spirit we will also advocate the revolutionary struggles across the world for national liberation, from the dense red jungles of central and eastern India to the snow covered mountains of Chechnya, from the savannahs of Ogaden, the golden rocky steppes and bountiful deserts of the Baloch lands to the green mountains and plains of the Kurdish homelands.


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

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