Protests are being held by a large number of Tamils outside Jaffna University in Sri Lanka. The protests were held against the demolition of the Mullivaikkal Memorial which was built to mark the massacre of thousands of Eelam Tamils in Mullivaikkal village, carried out by the Sri Lankan government, in 2009. The monument was unveiled in 2019 and was built by locals, many of whom had lost their families in 2009.
At 8:45 pm on Friday, a bulldozer started the demolition inside the campus, following which several Tamil students gathered outside the campus. The news spread and more students and locals joined, with slogans of asking the VC to come out and speak to the protesters being chanted. With the increased numbers, came an increase in the military presence at the gate, currently blocking the entry of students into the campus. Even the newly elected mayor of Jaffna, V. Mannivannan had joined the gathering and received orders from police officers to leave the site.
The Vice-Chancellor has refused any talks with the students, however, in a statement to the press he mentioned that the monument must be taken down, with the protests against the demolition being a result of “over-enthusiastic” students, who needed to be “dealt with”. So far two students have been arrested. In addition, reports from Tamil Guardian, show journalists covering the issue, being assaulted by police and plainclothes personnel. In a tweet put up by the former head of the Department of Law, K Guruparan, he mentions how the previous VC was terminated as he had refused to demolish the monument. He goes on to mention that demolishing the monument might have been a precondition to selecting the next VC.
The protests and slogans continued despite a strong Sri Lanka Task Force (STF) presence. Slogans such as: “we need to speak to the VC”, “ Military get out” and “don’t sell, don’t sell, don’t sell Tamil Eelam”, are being chanted by those attending the sit-in. Thol.Thirumavalavan, leader of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) condemned the demolition, calling it an attempt to destroy the liberation struggle of Tamils, by Sinhala racist forces. Canadian politicians have also condemned the demolition with MP Ananda Sangaree linking the event to a “vicious cycle of erasure and annihilation of Tamil Identities, experiences, and history on the Island”.
About the Massacre of Srilankan Tamils
The massacre was carried out by the Rajapaksa Government in an attempt to snuff out the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) movement in the country. The LTTE was a militant secessionist group, part of the Tamil people’s resistance towards state-sponsored Sinhalese language and cultural hegemony, racial discrimination, encroachments and colonisation of Tamil land. The 1970s saw the assertion of reconstructing the separate Tamil Eelam State, composed of the northern and eastern provinces of the country. Following this, the 80s saw guerilla groups take up arms in support of the movement, and an even more vicious attack on Tamil people, in the name of ending the civil war was carried out by the Sri Lankan governments. The Mullivaikal Massacre is said to be the final phase of the war, whereby the Rajapaksa government is said to have engineered the bombing and military attack on several thousand Tamil civilians in the village. On May 18th 2009, the government announced the end of the war, after the execution of LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran in Nandikadal Lagoon on the edge of Mullivaikkal village.
Evidence of the Sri Lankan armed forces’ war crimes against Tamil people has stacked up considerably over the years. In pursuit of victory in war, they have been accused of bombing churches, temples, camps, hospitals etc which were housing Tamil refugees. While figures of casualties have not been exacted, reports on the ground as well as from human rights and aid agencies have maintained that thousands of Tamils have lost their lives, with many ending up in internment camps in the north.
Attacks on Memorialisation
Memorialisation of the liberation struggle by Tamils has been repeatedly attacked and halted by the government over the years with the recent ban on celebrating Maaveerar Naal, and previous years attacks on congregations celebrating the event, being prime examples. In an online event, marking the 11th anniversary of the massacre, attorney Nadarajan Kandeepan explains this crackdown on memorialisation. He mentions that the “right to memory” of the people is under attack by means of arrests, threats and surveillance. Such an attack not only evades memorialisation but also is an attempt to cover up war crimes and the history of genocide.