The recently concluded visit of Dr. S. Jaishankar, the Minister of External Affairs of India to the island of Sri Lanka from January 5th to 7th 2021, was of great interest to the Tamils world over. The Indian Prime Minister had earlier given a very clear call to the Sri Lankan authorities to fully respect and implement the 13th amendment. Last year, the elections to the Provincial councils were due and as the COVID pandemic set it, the Sri Lankan state conveniently postponed it indefinitely.
Since then, the President and Prime Minister have given enough clues that the 13th Amendment would be scrapped, and if that happens it would be a major embarrassment to the Narendra Modi government and India. Dr. S. Jaishankar had met Tamil leaders and assured them that India would emphasize on the implementation of the 13th Amendment. During the meeting with the Prime Minister and President, the Indian External Affairs Minister is understood to have very clearly stated the importance of the 13th Amendment and the need to fulfill the political aspiration of the aggrieved Tamils in Sri Lanka. Both the Rajapaksa brothers have been non-committal and non-serious about the Indian concern and have their own ways of functioning sending a clear signal to India that they are the ones who would chose the destiny of the people of Sri Lanka and they do not need any advice from a big neighbor.
What happened the next day was a very clear message that the Indian authorities should not be continuing their bon-homie with the Eelam Tamil politicians and should not be meddling with the affairs of Sri Lanka. In a bizarre move on 8th January, the Sri Lankan government authorities in connivance with the state appointed Vice Chancellor of the University, moved a bulldozer inside the Jaffna University campus and completely destroyed the Mullivaikal memorial which was uncalled for at this juncture.
Amidst the given crisis situation and the turn of unexpected events happening overnight, students had gathered outside of the university to protest against the destruction of a memorial space bound with innumerable memories and emotions attached to it. While I strictly condemn against this irrational decision taken by authorities in Sri Lanka, the gathering of the students and their democratic protests portrayed the strength of democratic processes. With continued suppression against Tamils even years after the armed struggle, clearly depicts the need to protect Tamils’ right to self-determination in Sri Lanka.
Quickly reacting to the news, Tamil Nadu and Diaspora Tamils worldwide had responded with immediate condemnation of the issue on social media, by speaking to authorities in their host countries, and through drive-in demonstrations. It is in times of such crises that we get to see the strength and unity of Tamils.
Tamils world over remember those who laid down their lives in Mullivaikal during the May 2009 genocide by the Sri Lankan armed forces. The most important days commemorating the memories of the Eelam wars is November 27th and May 18th. January 8th has no significance; it only seems to be a parting message to Dr. S. Jaishankar who left the island on the 7th of January.
The demolition of this memorial located inside the Jaffna University campus is a direct assault on the democratic fundamental right of the students to memorialize the victims of the genocide. Moreover, it is in a historical Tamil area and would cause no threat to the interests of any Sinhalese. There are thousands of war memorials of the Sinhala soldiers and the JVP members spread across the country, why do the Tamils have to bear the step motherly treatment when the war was over more than 11 years ago?
Memorializing the dead is a universal need, both from the perspective of the person who is memorialized to that of those who do the memorializing. This is in keeping with two basic human needs, the desire to remember, and to be remembered. Memorialization is a basic human right for all people, we Tamils are also a people with the world’s oldest history, language and culture, then why deny this right to us? What’s the response of the International community and the UN?
This demolition of the memorial clearly brings back the memories of the burning down of the Jaffna Library in 1981 which housed the treasure of Tamil literature. It was this assault on the Tamil culture that hurt the Tamils most and aggravated the armed struggle for an independent Tamil Eelam. How long would the Tamils have to bear these insults and step motherly treatments?
There has been no official condemnation of this incident by the Indian authorities though the Chief Minister and other important Tamil leaders have condemned the incident. The silence of the Indian authorities must be watched carefully as this incident is a direct message to the Indian authorities that their Minister of External Affairs or the Indian Prime Minister cannot interfere with what Sri Lanka now perceives as an internal matter.
Now that the threat of a Tamil armed struggle is no more in the air, the Sri Lankans do not need the ground level support of the Indians. The Rajapaksa brothers have established a very special bond with the Chinese and believe that the Chinese would help them in any imbroglio.
It remains to be seen if India will once again remain a mute spectator to the onslaught of the Sri Lankan authorities on the legitimate rights of the Tamils, or will take up the issue and support a just cause seeking equality, justice and dignity for the Tamils as the elections in Tamil Nadu is nearing! With Sri Lanka’s clear messages of refusal to comply with any of the past recommendations, The UN should refer Sri Lanka to the ICC, and international powers including India and America should join hands to conduct a referendum to allow Tamils in Sri Lanka to democratically choose their political destiny.
*The Author is a Member of the TGTE and seeks a peaceful political solution to the Tamil Right to Self Determination.