Remembering those killed in the war

M S M Ayub (Daily Mirror)

“For the first time in seven years, events of Maveerar Day for the commemoration of the valiant militants who sacrificed their lives in the Tamil Eelam struggle were held in public and in full swing yesterday with emotional fervour.”

This was how the SudarOli, one of the Tamil dailys published in Colombo started to explain in its front page lead story, the remembrance of LTTE cadres who died in their fight for a separate Tamil State, by their relatives in the North and the East on November 27, under the headline “The Tamil motherland rises up, the abodes where the great heroes slumber were lit up, people wail at the places where there were graves.”

The story continues; “Although the abodes where the great heroes slumber had been destroyed by the armed forces, most places where there were such abodes had been lit up at 6.05 last evening. …No efforts had been made after 2009 to commemorate the great heroes who laid down their lives for the liberation of the Tamil Eelam soil so openly. Earlier armed forces and the intelligence services had been vigilant in a manner that nobody could enter the abodes where the great heroes slumbered, and army camps had been built on some such abodes.”

The commemoration of LTTE cadres killed in the war had been so public this year for the first time, as has been reported in this news item as well as many other news items and features in the Tamil media, the coverage of the commemorations by the Tamil media was also so emotional and daring, with Tamil newspapers this year carrying full page pictorials and front page lead stories on the event, for the first time. However, the coverage by the Sinhala and English newspapers was totally different in that, some newspapers totally ignored the events, while some others reported as if they were insignificant.

Some politicians in the South such as the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya leader Udaya Gammanpila had demanded that those who commemorated the LTTE be arrested, while some others recognized the right of the relatives of those killed in the war to commemorate their loved ones. However, each politician’s stance on the matter seems to have based on his constituency or the political surroundings.

Northern politicians including those who had been branded by the LTTE as traitors, such as EPDP leader Douglas Devananda were totally defending the commemorations on the day declared as the Maveerar Day, by the outfit decimated by the armed forces. The Tamil leaders in the south such as National Integration Minister Mano Ganesan and Rehabilitation and Hindu Religious Affairs Minister D.M. Swaminathan cautiously approved the commemorations. They were of the opinion that people should commemorate their loved ones without commemorating the LTTE.

Despite the Northern Provincial Council representing the northern Tamils adopting controversial resolutions in the past years, such as the one calling for an international investigation into the war crimes allegedly committed by the security forces and one claiming that genocide of Tamils had taken place in Sri Lanka, it did not dare to formally commemorate the LTTE cadres. When a motion to that effect was presented in the council, its Chairman C.V.K.Sivagnanam, who was once in 1987 the choice of the LTTE for an interim administration for the North and the East, declined it on the grounds that the situation in the country was not conducive.

The reason seems to be that the Maveerar Day and the Maveerar Week were declared by the LTTE, an entity that was proscribed by the Sri Lankan government. The Maveerar Naal had been announced by the LTTE during its heyday to mark the death anniversary of Shanker, its first cadre to be killed on November 27, 1982 and later the Maveerar Varam, a whole week was declared to be commemorated, covering Shanker’s death anniversary as well as the birthday of the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, on November 26. On the other hand,they were declared for the purpose of commemorating the LTTE cadres who were killed during a war against the government. Hence, to commemorate them by a provincial council might amount to espousing secessionism as happened to the first and only Northern and Eastern Provincial Council in 1990.

It was a resolution moved by Chief Minister Varadharaja Perumal in the Northern and the Eastern Provincial Council on March 1, 1990 that was used by President Ranasinghe Premadasa to dissolve the council. The resolution provided for the conversion of the council into a constitutional assembly for a separate state, if the government of President Premadasa failed to meet his 19 demands, and it was interpreted as espousing separatism in order to dissolve the council. Therefore Sivagnanam’s concerns were apparently valid.

Being a highly sensitive issue for the North as well as the South, the commemoration of the LTTE cadres on days specified by the LTTE itself is, no doubt, a tricky matter for both the North and the South. Despite the motive and the modus operandi of those killed during clashes with the security forces being unlawful and in most cases inhuman, each man or woman was a beloved son, a daughter, a father, a mother, a brother or a sister of people still living. The right of those relatives to remember the dead in their personal capacity is inalienable.

Tamil leaders justify these commemorations, comparing them with the remembrance by the JVP of those killed during their two insurrections, which had never been an issue. However, the JVP is not a banned organization nor is its ultimate political goal, the socialism proscribed in the country as secessionism. The southern rebels too had to observe their commemorations secretly when they were hunted down by the security forces.

Despite the humanitarian side of the commemoration of LTTE cadres by their relatives being acceptable, the possible political ramifications of rhetoric by the Tamil leaders during those commemorations, might have an adverse impact on the Tamil people in particular, and on the country in general. It is a common practice to glorify the sacrifices of those killed in the war which is acceptable, but this might in turn be seen in the eyes of the present day young generation as a justification of the separatist goal of the LTTE as well.

A separate Tamil State within the territory of Sri Lanka would never be a reality, so long as India fears that Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka would be contagious to its southern most Tamil State, Tamil Nadu.Therefore the commemoration of the people killed in the war including the members of the LTTE, and the breathing of new life to the disastrous political ends should be clearly identified and differentiated by the Tamil leaders.

However, those who were killed in the war, irrespective of them being the LTTE cadres or the members of the armed forces, were human beings. Hence, can there be a situation where the northern and southern people would be commemorating the LTTE cadres as well as the members of the armed forces together? As a measure towards the reconciliation in its true spirit, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in the concluding paragraph of its report had this to suggest;

“The Commission strongly recommends that a separate event be set apart on the National Day to express solidarity and empathy with all victims of the tragic conflict, and pledge our collective commitment to ensure that there should never be such blood-letting in the country again. Based on testimonies it received, the Commission feels that this commemorative gesture, on such a solemn occasion, and at a high political level, will provide the necessary impetus to the reconciliation process the nation as a whole is now poised to undertake.”

But would a southerner come forward to commemorate an LTTE cadre and vice versa? It seems to be an extremely remote reality for the moment. So does the true reconciliation.This points that Sri Lanka has a long way to go in its efforts towards reconciliation.

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