20 September, 2018

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Neelan: Twice The Victim Of Extremism

By Dharisha Bastians

Dharisha Bastians

“…we cannot glorify death whether in the battlefield or otherwise, we must celebrate life, and we are fiercely committed to protecting and securing the sanctity of life which is the most fundamental value without which all other rights and freedoms become meaningless…”

– Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam – Parliament of Sri Lanka 15 June 1999

Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam’s words, in an impassioned speech against the death penalty, inspired the brightly coloured peace mural at the Kynsey Road and Kynsey Terrace Junction in Colombo 08. Overcome with shock and grief at the brutal slaying of the erudite Tamil legislator on July 29, 1999, friends, family and well-wishers gathered at the site of his assassination and under the direction of veteran artist, Chandraguptha Thenuwara, helped to paint doves, flowers, olive branches and the words Secure Sanctity of Life, in Sinhala, Tamil and English on the asphalt.

Every year since on the anniversary of Tiruchelvam’s slaying, the mural has been touched up, its colours restored to its original vibrancy, with authorization from the Cinnamon Gardens Police. As suicide bombings by the LTTE claimed more and more lives in the capital Colombo, it became tradition for civil society to paint messages of peace and healing at the explosion sites. Most of these have been tarred over through the years, with the Neelan mural alone, standing the test of time.

Fast forward to August 2012. The narrative is well known by now. Over three successive days, groups of persons arrived once night had fallen, and not bothering to be discreet, proceeded to pour black oil like liquid and sand over the mural. The mission having failed on the first try, with the mural still being clearly visible the next morning, albeit its colours muted, the groups returned twice more, this time placing traffic cones around the painting before pouring tar over it. Eye witnesses have reported that there were two vehicles parked nearby, a white truck that had the sign ‘Road Markings’ across its windscreen, and a military white jeep allegedly with two military personnel in uniform seated inside. After the third attempt to obscure the mural, in which large industrial lights were allegedly used to illuminate the area, the Neelan mural has been almost entirely obliterated, with only the Sinhala translation of the phrase, Secure the Sanctity of Life now visible on Kynsey Road.

Undoubtedly, there will be cynics who subscribe to the ‘what has a painting on the road have to do with peace and reconciliation’ theory. In light of certain other acts of intolerance witnessed in the recent past, this seems a minor, easily fixable infraction by a petty group of persons, in no way representative of the majority perception of Dr. Tiruchelvam or his contribution to Sri Lankan politics.

Two things however, require us to view the defacement of the Tiruchelvam peace mural with great seriousness.

Firstly, the successive attempts to deface the memorial, before large groups of eye-witnesses, utilizing traffic cones that can only be obtained from the law enforcement or the municipality denotes that the act was perpetrated with a significant degree of impunity and perhaps, dare we say it, patronage. It also remains a mystery why there has been no reaction by the government to the incident, even by way of a customary promise to launch an investigation.

The second is one of even graver concern.

The Tiruchelvam mural may have been born of an outpouring of shock and sorrow. Its creators sought to make it an anti-dote to the brutality and violence that had taken the life of yet another Lankan statesman. It was, its creators hoped, a marker of a shared and tragic history. The mural was intended to keep memory alive, about a statesman hailing from the Tamil community and a man whose contribution had been acknowledged by the nation at large.

But in the end, it was a picture painted on a road, whose meaning few knew or understood. So the question must be asked, as to how profoundly intolerance of the other has pervaded the system, if this painting to honour a slain Tamil politician just had to be obliterated.

The mural had after all been in existence for some 13 years. Why was it so critical that it ceases to be in this particular point in time? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that memory is a powerful, poignant thing.

Seen as a traitor to the Tamil separatist cause, Neelan Tiruchelvam was assassinated by the terrorist group that was waging war against the state, another victim in a long list of eminent Tamil politicians that refused to believe violence and brutality best served the cause of the Tamil people. Today marks the seventh death anniversary of yet another learned Tamil statesman, also gunned down by the LTTE, Lakshman Kadirgamar, the finest Foreign Minister Sri Lanka has ever produced. As far as the Tigers were concerned, Tamil moderate intellectuals of the calibre of Kadirgamar and Tiruchelvam posed an equal or graver threat, as did Gotabhaya Rajapaksa or Sarath Fonseka. For separatism to prosper as an ideology, the Kadirgamars and Tiruchelvams had to be neutralized, for they refused to believe that Eelam was the way to have Tamil grievances addressed. They persisted in seeing the LTTE for the wayward renegades they were, with scant respect for human rights; even the rights of the Tamils they claimed to represent. For going against the grain and choosing a moderate path, Tiruchelvam, like Kadirgamar, six years later, paid the ultimate price. They are the unsung heroes of the Tamil struggle, men of learning that believed a person could be both Tamil and Sri Lankan at the same time, and retain dignity and identity nonetheless.

It is deeply ironic that the same moderates espousing values of pluralism and tolerance that once posed such a threat to the LTTE’s extremism continue to be an irritant to unnamed extremist forces alive today.

But the fact remains that in a growing culture of intolerance and the perpetuation of bigoted, belligerent worldviews, it becomes impossible to acknowledge the heroism of Tamils such as Neelan Tiruchelvam. If the present day discourse holds true, then ‘to the victor go the spoils’, and Tamil heroes have little place in Sri Lanka’s post-conflict history.

In such an ethos, memory can be a dangerous thing – even when it is evoked through an innocuous, multi-hued painting on a city road.

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Latest comments

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    Thank you Dharisha, beautiful work. It is difficult for us to understand these ugly views and acts..

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      The defacing of a mural is to be condemned , but please do not forget that Neelan Thiruchlvam was a POLITICIAN first! Like all Sri Lankan politicians with a gift of speaking he was good at profiting from politics and a smooth operator, an operator none the less with an eye for the money, the power and the glory – just like the less polished widow – who controls with an iron fist the NOGs at Kynesy!

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    Neelan tried to bring justice to tamils through interaction with Chandrika Bandaranaike, even shielding her against adverse publicity,but failed.He was about to go away to USA when he was killed – by an LTTE suicide bomber.
    http://tamilnation.co/forum/sachisrikantha/070802neelan.htm

  • 0
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    Dharisha’

    It is so painful.The society has become deaf and blind.

  • 0
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    Dear Dharisha,

    Yours is a painful duty — to chronicle the acts of inhumanity. But — thank you from all of us who seek peace and reconciliation among all people.

    Patrick

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    We need a few Kadirgamars and Tiruchelvams from the Sinhalese side!

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      we certainly need kadirgamrs from minorities rather tribal minded communal politicians who are seeking exclusive rights…thiruchelvam was a just another tamil communal racist who were looking for same things as prabakaran but in a different way..we need national leaders kadir from minorities not tribals like thirus.

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    Poor article by a good author.
    Kadirgamar and Neelan were Tamils but were only heroes of the Sinhalese. Despite the LTTE being proscribed by India, and USA, The GOSL in 2002 initiated peace talks and a CFA with the LTTE which Kadirgamar sabotaged daily..

    So Kadirgamar was never a peace maker and I have no idea that he should be even considered a hero by the racist-chauvinist among the Sinhalese.

    What was his real contribution as the Foreign Minister from 1994-2001, and again 2004-2005? He was also considered a threat to the Rajapakses as President Chandrika with the support of the JVP nearly made him the PM in 2004.

    The same with Neelan. He did not leave Colombo after the 1983 riots, and he was quite kosher with the murderous UNP regime since he was friendly with JR and the other attorneys within the UNP. So he lost the little respect he had being Thiruchelvam’s son, and TULF MP among the Tamils. That is why no Tamil is mourning his death either, but Kadirgamar was really hated by the Tamils…

    That is the cold, harsh truth in case there is any confusion…

    Sinhalese can celebrate their heroes including these two Tamils, but the Sinhalese should allow the Tamils to mourn their own heroes, their deaths and lives. They should not be selecting the heroes of the Tamils.

    Karuna, Pillaiyan, KP, Varatharajaperumal, and Chandrahassan are the other Tamils who will be celebrated as heroes by the Sinhalese in the future….Good luck to all the media and their heroes.

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      Does everything have to be Sinhala vs Tamil? Kadir and Neelan had many identities..Tamil, Sri Lankan, moderate, liberal, pluralist. etc. All these identities can exit within Sri Lanka. The current regime’s either ‘with us or your are an LTTE’er’ mentality comes from not being able to fathom that an individual can have such different identities.

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        Ranjan Nanayakkara says:

        “Kadir and Neelan had many identities..Tamil, Sri Lankan, moderate, liberal, pluralist. etc. “

        Assuming you are a Sinhalese it seems you are learning albeit at a slow rate.

        I also assume you have borrowed a leaf from Amartya Sen’s Our Past and Present in which he discusses Identity, Truth and Choice. I quoted a paragraph under this subtitle elsewhere in this forum.

        I am still skeptical about stupid Tamils and stupid Sinhalese learning outside their own self centered parochial world view.

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      Donald,
      As you says;
      Traitors to mankind Like Donald J Gnanakone,Charles Gnanakone,S V J Chelvaayakham ,V Pirapaharan,TamizSelvam, Sri Sabarathnam,Selvarajah Yogachandran [kutti], Karuna, Pillaiyan, KP, Varatharajaperumal, and Chandrahassan,will never ever be celebrated as heroes by the Tamils or Sinhalese , now or in the future.

      all of you betrayed to humanity, Specially to Sri Lankan Tamils.
      You people Misguided them to Horrorful end.
      and you and your lot have become SHYLOCKS OF Sri lanka.
      [even many of you are living in borrowed, unwelcomed lands].

      But Still you are dreaming About a Utopian Tamil Eezham.
      and tell you the truth,
      You Know that, Sri Lankan tamils do not want a Tamil Eezham,
      what they want is live in peace, in their mother land.
      they dont mind it sri lanka, or Tamil Eezham.
      Let Them Live.
      you are not apart of them.

      “your dream also ,you will never ever carve out a separate Tamil from Sri Lanka.”
      anyway Have a Try with Karunanidhi and Vaiko to do some thing in South india.
      But I doubt it.

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      Donald,
      As you says;
      Traitors to mankind Like Donald J Gnanakone,Charles Gnanakone,S V J Chelvaayakham ,V Pirapaharan,TamizSelvam, Sri Sabarathnam,Selvarajah Yogachandran [kutti], Karuna, Pillaiyan, KP, Varatharajaperumal, and Chandrahassan,will never ever be celebrated as heroes by the Tamils or Sinhalese , now or in the future.

      all of you betrayed to humanity, Specially to Sri Lankan Tamils.
      You people Misguided them to Horrorful end.
      and you and your lot have become SHYLOCKS OF Sri lanka.
      [even many of you are living in borrowed, unwelcomed lands].

      But Still you are dreaming About a Utopian Tamil Eezham.
      and tell you the truth,
      You Know that, Sri Lankan tamils do not want a Tamil Eezham,
      what they want is live in peace, in their mother land.
      they dont mind it sri lanka, or Tamil Eezham.
      Let Them Live.
      you are not apart of them.

      “your dream also ,you will never ever carve out a separate TamilEezham from Sri Lanka.”
      anyway Have a Try with Karunanidhi and Vaiko to do some thing in South india.
      But I doubt it.

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        You Know that, Sri Lankan tamils do not want a Tamil Eezham,
        what they want is live in peace & DIGNITY, in their mother land.
        they dont mind it sri lanka, or Tamil Eezham.
        Let Them Live WITH DIGNITY.

        Thought ……… adding these few words will makes your argument very convincing.!!!

        :-)

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      Donald J Gnanakone

      confirms:

      “That is why no Tamil is mourning his death either, but Kadirgamar was really hated by the Tamils…”

      Hence your justification for the assasination both men.

      How do you know Tamils hated both men?

      Have you taken an opinion poll among the Tamils who live in and ouside the island? If so how confident are you that your poll is error/bias free?

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    Yes, I have. On a worldwide basis..

    How many Tamils are singing the praises of Neelan or Lakshman in public or private. Even the UNP is ignoring them.

    Compare that with the 5 Tamil MP’s who were assassinated by the Rajapakse regime. See the Lasantha assassination and pouring of grief…

    Many claim that he is a hero for the Sinhalese because he had the LTTE banned in many countries. I have clarified it in another “Kadirgamar Post” what his so called contributions were.

    The investigations are incomplete of who committed the murders although from the first minute the GOSL and media blamed the LTTE. But in Lasantha’s murder the GOSL is blamed but which section is in doubt. Meanwhile, an innocent suspect was killed in jail, and his heart was blamed for his death.

    I never supported State terrorism nor racism. If some nut case accused me of a traitor to their state terrorist, which I was never part of, I am proud of it. I have supported the peaceful end to the Tamil-Sinhala conflict via the CFA and talks, which Kadirgamar sabotaged. The CFA was not creating Eelam and LTTE was prepared to consider the other options by signing the CFA and negotiating.

    There is no harm in any one having dreams. Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore did. Any many countries separated and lived prosperously. Europe another example. I never wrote propagating Eellam, and it was TULF and TNA who did that and they are sitting in Parliament..Calling for Justice and equality is not separation, but foreign aid, and the budget funds need to be shared in a fair manner.

    We all saw what the Hambantota Horas did after the Tsunami, or the past 7 years in Hambantota. Funds belong to all the people not to be spent on wasteful projects in one region after 260,000 homes were destroyed in the NE by the GOSL.

    The fact is there are irreconcilable differences between the 2 races and it is getting worse, in the last 3 years despite the end to the violence and defeat of the LTTE. MOD budget exceeds 2.2 Billion dollars an increase of 25% since 2009.. Why??? It is an absolute waste.

    The gap between the two races need to be bridged instead of widened, and Mahinda Chintana is nothing but a racist-chauvinistic thought process implemented by the military and the government including draconian laws.

    There lies the problem….

    • 0
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      Donald Gnanakone states:

      “I never supported State terrorism nor racism.”

      Did you support LTTE’s terrorism?

      Dis you or do you justify LTTE’s terrorism?

      You say:

      “The gap between the two races need to be bridged instead of widened”

      What did you do to stop the LTTE from ethnically cleansing the Tamil speaking Muslims of the North?

      Do you still believe LTTE’s ethnic cleansing of Tamil spaeking Muslims was/is justified?

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    Donald,
    “””Yes, I have. On a worldwide basis””.
    HA HA HA Donald that is in DIASAPORA opinion poll.
    not in Sri Lanka.
    not in North Or East of Sri Lanka.
    Because you are not in that grass root level and no have lived with them, But we are.
    we are living among them, and we feel their pulse like ours.
    We dont want your charity and the Sri lankan thamils also do not want any charity from any body.
    they know how to bring up, govern their families and society.
    First to your knowledge, We do not admire Mahinda or his Chintahanaya.

    That is a Rubbish program to cheat sri lankans as well as foreign governments.
    We are not boot likers to any politicians and not extremists also.
    We do not approve all these politicians doing.
    All those apposition JVP, UNP,Congress, SLMP ,this Pee, That PEES and so called socialists are also misguiding our people.Most of them have Hidden agendas like you.
    AND NOT AFRAID TO TELL A SPADE A SPADE EITHER.
    What Tamil-Sinhala conflict????.
    There is nothing Tamil-Sinhala conflict in Sri lanka.
    Tamil-Sinhala conflict is an imposed plague to win votes for some looters and criminals called Politicians .
    fools a fallen to the trap and get / got hurt.
    I have lost so many relatives and friends to this war.and so many Tamil neighbours and friends.
    So I feel very sad and angry. every body is preaching Fair Justice, Law and order, equality and later cheat and vanish.
    You know that what Selvarajah Yogachandran [kuttimany] wanted when he was in jail.
    It Is said that he wanted to eliminate Thmby, Pirapaharan.
    IF,
    I mean If That Happened,the fate of sri lanka may be different.
    {I do not Approve any Killings, any time.}
    That is why i wrote;
    Traitors to mankind Like Donald J Gnanakone,Charles Gnanakone,S V J Chelvaayakham ,V Pirapaharan,TamizSelvam, Sri Sabarathnam,Selvarajah Yogachandran [kutti], Karuna, Pillaiyan, KP, Varatharajaperumal, and Chandrahassan,will never ever be celebrated as heroes by the Tamils or Sinhalese , now or in the future.
    See Ground views; Jayasena and Rajakulendran: Heroes of a Lesser God
    28 Jul, 2012 by mr Channa Wickremesekera.

    they are so many unsung Heroes, and they are our Heroes. but no body care.
    Ganesan Nimalaruban did no die of heart attacks, but of heart failures due to better treatments of Government goons and maggots.
    Nimalaruban was dead before he was admitted to hospital at Ragama and Mariyadas Dilrukshan was died chained to his hospital bed.
    We cry for them,
    we do not know that they are Innocent or not, but they were in custody of government and not armed.
    The government and Police deny they was subject to torture as they treated them like to Kudu Duminda.
    The reality is greediness of mankind and not respecting of humanity.
    there lies the problem.

    I pray Neelan Tiruchelvam,Lakshman Kadirgamar,Ganesan Nimalaruban,Mariyadas Dilrukshan and all who died because of this unwanted war may attained bliss of NIRVANA.

  • 0
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    Some of these comments are confusing, only reason for Neelan’s death was a violent behaviour of extremism. Neelan was very much against the violence, having a different opinion is a fundamental right of freedom, question is which side these commentators are?

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