by Nillanthan Maha, November 25, 2023
[Translated from the original Tamil by Google Translate with help from the editor.]
This is the fifteenth Veterans Day since the end of the armed struggle. Over the past 15 years, there have been legal issues in the widespread popularization of commemorations such as Heroes’ Day. Fear cannot be completely eliminated. It is not just a legal issue, however, it is a problem of political leadership.
During the past 15 years, a situation has been observed where the decisions of the courts have largely determined the commemoration of LTTE-related memorials.
This time most courts in the north and in Batticaloa in the east have ruled in favor of memorialization. A lawyer pointed out a few years ago that there was a time when Tamil politicians, often lawyers themselves, might have contemplated a relatively permanent legal arrangement. People have the right to remember in accordance with Resolution 30/1 on Transitional Justice passed by the UN Human Rights Council in September 2015. There is also the right to create private or public memorials, which is addressed under compensatory justice, one of the four major pillars of transitional justice. The lawyer noted that when Ranil Wickremesinghe came up with the draft law for the office of compensation fund (Office of Reparations), Tamil politicians should have included some provision from the Tamil point of view regarding memorialization.
The lawyer also pointed out that if politicians had acted with such forethought, the situation of going to court every year could have been mostly avoided. However, in a country with a political tradition that does not fully implement the supreme law – the 13th Amendment – there is a question as to how much respect will be given to the legal arrangements created based on respecting the right to memory and history.
However, the above-mentioned lawyer questioned why when the Tamil National Alliance had acted as a partner of transitional justice and worked to protect democracy in South Sri Lanka, it had not acted proactively regarding the collective right of the Tamil people to remember.
It should be pointed out here that the Tamil legislators who are politicians have not acted in appropriate and effective ways not only in this matter, but also in any other matter related to remembrance, such as about the LTTE graveyards which have been converted into army camps.
After the Jaffna peninsula came fully under the control of the government in 1996, this conversion is a practice for the last 28 years. In the Jaffna peninsula, three memorial areas, namely Koppai, Kodikamam, Vadamaratchi and Ellangakulam were all converted into military bases. Likewise, after 2009, Vanni, Kilinochchi, the heroes’ resting places in Thera and Alankulam, Mulliyawela and Alampil in Mullai island also have military barracks. There are army camps at Thandiadi Memorial Site in Batticaloa and Echankulam Tuilumillam in Vavuniya. There are barracks in no less than nine Tuilumillas in all.
Desecration of the graves of the conquered is a practice not accepted in modern politics. Even in the time of the kings, King Duttagemunu built a memorial obelisk in Anuradhapura for the defeated Ellalan. Duttagemunu also ordered that those passing by should pay respect to it. That political honor that was maintained during the king’s time has not been maintained in the modern Sinhalese Buddhist politics of the island of Sri Lanka.
The victors building their barracks over the graves of the vanquished is an expression of a collective mentality that wants to punish the enemy even after death. It expresses a vengeful feeling of not allowing them to rest in peace, but trampling on their chests. It is a practice that defies all accepted morality in the world.
Recently, Ranil Wickramasinghe formed a group of experts to create a public memorial. The group organized a meeting at the Jaffna concert hall during Thileepan’s memorial days. The two Sinhalese experts who visited Jaffna were professors of aesthetics. They were asked how they could create a common memorial in a politico-military environment that dishonors the dead.
Tamil politicians have a responsibility to raise this issue as an issue both domestically and abroad. Have they done it for the last 15 years? Why was the issue not raised in the UN, especially during the period when the TNA acted as a partner for transitional justice? Not raised among other global human rights organizations? Recently Sritharan has spoken about this in the Parliament. In that speech he gave statistics related to this.
To what extent has the Tamil National People’s Front, which seeks to adopt the memorial days of the LTTE movement, shown interest in this matter? Most parties try to adopt the time when these heroes died. Most of the people in Tamil politics try to show themselves as the heirs of that past era. They try to show themselves as a continuation of the armed struggle. They are thinking about how they can bring the heroes’ memorials under their control, but have they been concerned in the above matter in a practical way?
Recently a protest was held in Vishwamadu Dera demanding the release of Duhilum house. A part of Attuilullam is still under the control of the army. It was right to fight to free it. But taking up the protest only a few weeks before Heroes’ Day shows the indolence of the rich Tamil politics.
This is similar to going and cleaning the tuilumillams or memorial obelisks before a particular day. That has mostly been happening for the last 15 years. Is it right to clean the memorials only in the month of November and make them holy places only in the month of November? Sacred memorials mean they should be maintained throughout the year. That is how they were maintained during the armed struggle. But how many tuilumillas are maintained like that now? Are there necessary structures and arrangements to maintain them? Similarly, how many structures are there to continuously care for the families of heroes, rehabilitated soldiers, amputees, war widows, war orphans, etc.?
It is not enough to call the parents of heroes during the month of heroes and give them saplings and help packages. They should be continuously assisted. Or suitable investments should be made in such a way that they can work and earn. Similarly in the case of families of heroes, rehabilitated soldiers, soldiers who have lost their limbs, war widows, war orphans, etc. But the structures for such assistance are not increased. Honoring or helping the martyrs, families of martyrs and victims of the struggle only during a certain period, only on a certain day or on a certain week is a political ritual. If it is said to do it faithfully with its sanctity, then it should be done continuously. Sanctity is continuity. It must be done continuously. That being said, the necessary structures should be created for it.
Crores of money are spent on the celebrations organized among the diaspora Tamils. For example, the amount given recently for Sid Siriram’s concert was huge. Twenty lakh Canadian dollars. A small drop of it would be enough to take care of the families of the heroes and the rehabilitated fighters. So Tamil politicians can’t give an excuse that they don’t have money. Coin can be taken from the outside if the appropriate structures are created in appropriate ways. Will the politicians who claim the right to memorial days, commemorations and memorials create structures in such a way as to maintain the sanctity of remembrance in this regard? If structures are made into non-partisan public structures it will be more appropriate.