Image: Police baricades Jaffna University after demolising the memorial for war dead. ( Photo- Pragas Gnanapragasam tweeter)
In yet another act of systematic racism and repression, the Government of Sri Lanka has ordered the destruction of the Mullivaikkal Memorial, a commemoration of the thousands of Tamil civilians killed in the last stages of the war in Sri Lanka. The monument was designed and erected by Tamil students from the University of Jaffna, in 2019. Photographs capture bulldozers carrying out the destruction in the dark of night, within the University premises, on the 8th of January.
This is hardly the first time this, and previous Sinhala majoritarian Governments have clamped down on the Tamil community’s right to memorialise the dead, however, the timing of this particular move by the Government is particularly noteworthy. It comes at a time when the Government’s popularity is seemingly at an all time low, due to the mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic in Sri Lanka, in the lead up to a Provincial Council Election. Successive governments have instigated racial violence amongst the people, as it has served as an ideal distraction from gross government failure to adequately provide for, and protect citizens.
For decades, since Independence, ethnic and religious communities have been pitted against one another, resulting in fostering suspicion, and even hatred between communities. Effectively, this has prevented the Sinhala Buddhist majority community in particular, from ever uniting with minority communities, to hold governments accountable to the people.
This modus operandi is neither new, nor groundbreaking. ‘Divide and Rule’ was an extremely effective policy used by British colonisers to control and suppress native communities from rising up against the Crown. Our ‘Brown Sahib’ leaders, having learnt well from their White masters, were fast on their heels to continue the colonial legacy, in the decades that followed. However, what facist leaders in particular, fail to realise is that, over time, people will start to pushback and resist against brutal violence and repression.It is only a matter of time.
In the past year, the Rajapaksa government has failed on most of its election promises, and most significantly, to secure the well being of the people that brought them into power.
Migrant workers who even paid for their travel back to Sri Lanka to vote for this Government, are now stranded1 in the Middle East, without jobs, accommodation or food, having to resort to sex work to feed themseves. Some have lived for months in public parks, in the middle of a global pandemic, and rely on private donors to return to their home country.
Free Trade Zone (FTZ) workers, a majority of whom also voted for this Government, faced a similar fate, having been subject to forced quarantine at unsanitary military run centres2, multiple rounds of 14-day mandatory quarantine, not provided with rations, without wages nor any assurance of work in the future. Most of them have not been home to see their families in months, as they’re unable to afford PCR tests or a loss of work for the 14-day quarantine they’d have to undergo during their visit home.
Street vendors in Moratuwa having received no meaningful financial or social security in the context of the pandemic, were evicted from trading on the street, causing loss to their livelihood and had their produce destroyed.3 Safari jeep drivers4, struck badly by the loss of income due to the shutdown of tourism, having not been provided with any financial security solution, are currently in quarantine due to the Government’s mismanaged ‘tourism bubble’ that brought them into contact with Ukranian tourists, some of whom tested positive for COVID. Broadly speaking, where is the social security and welfare package that meaningfully responds to people in the context of this pandemic?
It comes as no surprise that the Government is desperately in need of a ‘distraction’ to regain the favour of their constituents, who are struggling to survive through this pandemic. The forced cremation of Muslim5 and Christian victims of COVID, the destruction of the Mullivaikkal memorial in the North, the arrest and prolonged detention without charge of Muslims under the PTA6 and ICCPR7 under the pretext of obtaining justice for victims of the Easter Sunday Attacks, are in fact deliberately racist moves to keep people from truly seeing that it is the state that is failing them all.
How much longer will we choose to be blind to oppressive powers whose very existence depends on us, the people, remaining divided? Isn’t our moment of realisation long overdue? What will bring us to our tipping-point?
We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the recent anti-minority actions by way of the mandatory cremation policy and the destruction of the Tamil memorial monument within the Jaffna University. We recognize these actions as part of a systemic attempt by governments to define our society and our futures by bitter divisiveness and polarisation.
The Liberation Movement calls on the people of Sri Lanka to awaken to our stark reality and stand together to resist this fascist politics that has torn us apart for too long. We call on the people to recognize and reject such divisive measures that governments use to come into, and remain in power. We strongly appeal to the people of Sri Lanka, to oppose any State instigated racism and terror, and hold the government accountable to us, the people.
1 ‘Our country has forgotten us’ – http://www.ft.lk/opinion/Our-country-has-forgotten-us/14-710918
2 Situation Of Garment Factory Workers In Katunayake – Covid-19 – https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/situation-of-garment-factory-workers-in-katunayake-covid-19/
3 [Video] Heated Situation Breaks Out At Street Vendors Protest Opposite Moratuwa MC Building: Call For Lifting Of Ban On Trade Activities – https://asianmirror.lk/news/item/32665-video-heated-situation-breaks-out-at-street-vendors-protest-opposite-moratuwa-mc-building-call-for-lifting-of-ban-on-trade-activities
4 ආණ්ඩුව ගේන්න කඩේ ගිය අපිට දැන් රෙදි නැතුව යන්න වෙලා තියෙන්නේ- සංචාරකයන් යාල සෆාරි අරන් ගිය රියදුරන් – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRdCL5iB-v0&feature=youtu.be
5 Distressing cremation of Muslim COVID-19 victims – http://www.ft.lk/opinion/Distressing-cremation-of-Muslim-COVID-19-victims/14-708520
6 PTA: Terrorising Sri Lanka for 42 years – Socio-economic and psychological impact on families of PTA detainees following the Easter Sunday Attacks – https://twitter.com/lstlanka/status/1328605000436772866?s=19 & Justice for Hejaaz – https://twitter.com/Justice4Hejaaz
7 Arrest of Mannar poet under PTA: Academics, writers and activists cry foul
-http://www.ft.lk/news/Arrest-of-Mannar-poet-under-PTA-Academics-writers-and-activists-cry-foul/56-711244 & Ramzy Razeek released on bail after 5 months of Sri Lankan detention – https://www.tamilguardian.com/content/ramzy-razeek-released-bail-after-5-months-sri-lankan-detention
12th January, 2021.