16 June, 2021

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Obstruction On Tamils’ Memory & The Need Of Remembering Mullivaaikaal

By Rev. Jude Sutharshan Mahendren

Rev. Jude Sutharshan Mahendren

Sri Lanka ended its civil war on the 18th May 2009. Reconciliation has been understood as a better way for living together in a divided world and post-war Sri Lanka is expected to work for sustainable reconciliation. In working for reconciliation, we need to work on the past wrongs, healing painful experiences and memory as well as designing a new future. Those who have traveled through pain and suffering need to deal with their dangerous memories in order to have trust in the process of reconciliation and hope in this life and for a world filled with peace and justice. Dealing with the past involves a difficult process of reconciliation but there is no detour around it. Victors may argue that reconciliation is not about the past but the future. However, looking at the past could make sense to victims and it helps them to construct a better future without the toxicity of the past. Allowing communities to look at their past grants those who live with despair hope. Therefore, the past should be remembered in the right way. Any attempt to ignore or hide or suppress the memories of the suffering mass cannot bring any good. It will only create animosity.

Mullivaaikaal memory

Mullivaaikaal has become a symbolic representation of the end of the armed struggle and a huge human carnage was created ‘to end terrorism’. At the tenth anniversary of Mullivaaikaal in 2019, representatives of the civil society organizations from the 8 districts of North and East provinces elected a 16-member team (2 from each district) to observe the Mullivaaikaal remembrance in an orderly manner. It was also decided that the local people of Mullivaaikaal must be given preference in conducting memorials. However, in 2019, after the Easter bombing etc., since some civil leaders feared to take up leadership, the clergy spontaneously came forward to continue the task without fail.

Obstruction of memory

On the night of the 13th of May 2021 news broke out about the disturbances caused to the priests who came to Mullivaaikal for the memorial arrangements and the destruction of the peoples’ simple memorial and the disappearance of the newly prepared tablet which includes four resolutions adopted by those who gathered in Mullivaaikal in 2019 to commemorate the end of the war. It created shock waves everywhere. These actions showed that even a small cement structure in memory of Tamils cannot stand on this soil. While the victims of Easter bombings were allowed to have ceremonial memorials with the military security and former armed fighters from the Sinhala working classes were allowed to remember their brethren, the ethnic Tamils are not allowed to remember their fallen and disappeared persons in any peaceful manner. The attempts to control the memory of the people has created shock and a momentum of animosity rather than helping the people to come out of historical enmity. In the same region, there are many military memorials built and maintained very well, but the Tamil people are obstructed from remembering their dead and the disappeared.  Even their simple memorial structure has been destroyed. 

Last year, May 18, 2020, in the Northern Province, there were Tamil political and civil groups that organized remembrance events in different places in a small scale as per the health advisory issued in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. These efforts were obstructed by the state with the law-and-order mechanisms of the country. Many politicians and activists, who organized memorial observances, had to face threats. 11 persons from a Tamil political party, who were active in organizing memorials, were given a quarantine order under the Covid-19 situation by a court in Jaffna, and the next day it was lifted on appeal. The government, on the other hand, celebrated the war victory day formally without any consideration about the Covid 19 advisory. I witness a clear dichotomy on social media, where few of my Sinhala Christian clergy friends posted greetings to the military for ‘the national victory over terrorism’ while my Tamil friends shared memories of ‘Tamil genocide’.

Request to humane society

Dealing genuinely with the painful memories of the past helps minimizing long-term inter-ethnic animosities and creates trust and hope. Religious and cultural practices associated with grieving are vital for the ‘healing of memories.’ Healed memories will not give room for revenge. Denial or obstructions on remembrance events in any form leads to disaster, destructive behavior and loss of hope. The military war memorials and glorified narratives around them pose a threat to reconciliation and coexistence. They reflect a particular history, which claims victory to the state and portrays others as terrorists. This narrative of victory is used as political investment.  On the other hand, Tamil people try to remember their dead and disappeared through their simple acts of memorialization. Tamils understand their memory of war both as individuals and as a collective. They have become aware of the importance of memory when it is systematically obstructed. Remembrance is a human right and the Tamils who suffered the war firmly upholds this view. Allowing people to remember their dead ones and the tragedy they faced as a community is a humane act. A country that nourishes a humane society should allow its people to remember and accept the past as it is.

If people are left behind with a sense of victimhood by continuing oppression, this sense can become a barrier to peace efforts. Repressed memories of suffering can create and sustain conflicts. Imprisonment, torture, sexual violence, murders, disappearance of family members, cruel deaths, seeing speared human bodies, humiliation, hardships, abuse, economic ban, hate speech, discrimination, legal sanction for evil, omnipotence of evildoers, use of people as human shields, conscription of children to the war, forcible recruitment, assassination of people who hold alternative political views – all these are kept in people’s deep memory and have the potential to reactivate conflicts even after many generations. Often in human history, the perpetrators never accept what they do is harmful; instead, they make their own narrative of victory and force others to accept it. During a context of suppression of painful memories, no one can create hope for meaningful reconciliation. The negative examples such as repression of memory live longer in the collective memory of the people. Therefore, actions against peaceful memorials generate mistrust, animosity and hopelessness in the deep consciousness of the Tamil people. In the meantime, it is important for humane society to condemn such negative drives and foster the forces of sustainable peace in the country.

Can Religions help us?

Since I am a student of Christianity, I render some interpretations from Christian sources in reflecting upon the question of memory and reconciliation. I humbly expect people of other religions to do the same drawing upon narratives from their own faiths. In Christianity, remembrance is a sacrament, a holy act in worship. During Eucharist/Holy Communion, we remember the suffering and death of Christ. It reminds us of the suffering of victims in front of the omnipotence of the evil and the importance of building a non-violent, peaceful society. Furthermore, in the Eucharist, we witness the second coming of Christ, which points to the hope for the final victory of the victims and redemption of the victimizers. It doesn’t mean that God covers all the injustices up, but God’s genuine love encourages all of us to ‘repent and forgive and reconcile’ among us. Christ’s way of doing justice is not merely retributive. Christ helps individuals with broken humanity to be cured. Christ will embrace both the victim and the victimizer at the end and help them to restore relationships. This is the genuine love of Christ for humanity. Therefore, our sacred remembrance in Eucharist plays a vital role reminding us of the above truth.

Christ on the cross identifies himself with victims and therefore we are called to listen to or at least allow the victims to cry for hope. That would slowly allow the victims to heal themselves. Christ healed Himself as well as he is helping his victimizers to be healed. It is hard to resonate with such eschatological/final hope of reconciliation amidst the pressing questions of the current historical reality. As Christians, we are called to witness and work for the eschatological/final hope and the final victory of the Good.

In the context of suppression of memory, creating obstacles to memorialization becomes a spiritual problem too. When you stop me from remembering, you make me fight with God. I fight with God with questions like ‘Why did this happen to me?’ ’How come God allowed this to me?’ ’Do I ignore the memories of my loved ones who were killed unjustly and/or made to disappear and so on?’. My desperate cry will demand God to act on behalf of the cry of the victim. God cries louder and it becomes our responsibility to listen to the cry of God for justice. If you recognize my pain and allow me to remember, find truth and find consolation, that action will be considered a clear sign towards reconciliation. 

On the day of May 18th;

* We need to remember because we need to memorialize the memories of our loved ones.

* We need to remember because we need to know the truth (at least) about our loved ones.

* We need to remember because that is our duty to our loved ones. Remembering helps to re-member our loved ones.

* We need to remember because our memory protects us.

* We need to remember because victims’ memory serves as a shield that protect us from being exploited further.

* We need to remember because our memories of a dehumanized past will guard all of us against future atrocities.

* We need to remember because our memory can lead us all towards redemption. Those who do not remember the past are condemned to re-live it.

* We need to remember because we cannot forget and no one can do it.

Therefore, it is the duty of the all the religious and humane society to work seriously towards making steady progress towards healing and reconciliation by recognizing the right of memory of the Tamils.

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Latest comments

  • 28
    6

    Father you think the Crminal who gave orders to kill innocent people including children like Balachandran will allow remembering his party crimes.
    I think only answer join the south in finding a true leader and jointly we should chase these Murderers from politics and send them to electric chair in Haque

  • 25
    4

    Dear Rev. Jude
    Your article– sermon? — on the importance of remembering is deeply moving & I hope you are able to publish it more widely, in Sinhala as well.

    It is very sad that some people have sabotaged the preparations for tomorrow. We all of us have occasion to mourn and remember in our lives and expect this to be respected and supported by others, even if they hold different opinions.

    • 10
      0

      Oh dear, that got posted before I had finished.

  • 27
    6

    Rev.Father,
    It’s a timely message in memorium the war victims. I am afraid, your sober, saintly message may not penetrate the cranium of the criminals.

    • 4
      19

      Karikalan S. Navaratnam,
      You’d do better to temper your emotion. This is the hour for us to be sober.

  • 3
    18

    Sure go ahead and remember. but no parties no statues.

  • 20
    1

    Pride precedes destruction.

  • 13
    0

    One thing that Human beings are considered civilized because they remember their.

    • 1
      0

      Upali 1942,

      Thanks.

      Not only humans, but also animals and birds do so. Crows are the best example.

      I had a personal experience. It is a usual sight for cattle to come to the middle of the roads during nights, but allow vehicles to pass through.

      One day I was returning from Colomco to Trincomalee in a vehicle. Between Habarana and Trinco at about 9.00pm in the night, we saw a large number of cattle in the middle of the road blocking all traffic.

      My driver made many attempts to dislodge the cattle for the vehicle to pass through, but failed. The cattle look very sad but refused to give way .

      Then only we observed a cow bleeding profusely apparently, after being knocked down by a vehicle.

      i was really terrified thinking that the cattle might harm us for the killing of one of the herd. by one of the fellow traveler.

      But luckily for us, after some time the cattle gave way for our vehicle to pass through.

      It is a lesson for me to respect all living beings.

  • 5
    20

    “the ethnic Tamils are not allowed to remember their fallen and disappeared persons in any peaceful manner.”

    Because this kind of event will be turned into a propaganda stunt by interested parties. Look at Wigneswaran, he is actively promoting the ideology for a separate state. TNA is also doing it. TamilNet has been pushing this false narrative for more than 2 decades. If people want to grieve, that is one thing, but they have to first renounce terrorism/separatism and not use LTTE-affiliated symbols in regards to the memorials.

    • 0
      0

      “the ethnic Tamils are not allowed to remember their fallen and disappeared persons in any peaceful manner.”
      The very next day the celebration of victory over their weak adversaries was allowed to take place.
      This is a typical example of tyranny of the majority. One has to inhumane to behave like that.

  • 3
    16

    Can someone tell us why JRJ sealed Coachchi Kade church?

  • 3
    1

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  • 17
    3

    A touching appeal by Rev Jude S. Mahendren!

    The right to memorialize cannot be squashed. The memories imprinted in our minds and engraved in our hearts remain untarnished. These memories cannot be expunged. These memories empower our resolve for equitable rights and justice.

    The masses who granted impunity and availed unchecked power to the criminals evading justice have made possible this obstruction of Tamils’ memory as well the road to reconciliation. Clearly far more effort and engagement are needed to appeal to the citizenry at large which couple with the need to decimate the double-Paksa regime.

    Nonetheless, empathy towards all those who lost loved ones irrespective of ethnicity or side is key to opening our hearts and minds to reconciliation and doing right by each other.

  • 17
    5

    The Rajapakses by their actions are only justifying the Armed Revolt of the LTTE and their Terror tactics.

  • 9
    3

    “I will construct a massive memorial for my dead parents using the taxpayers’ money but I will not allow the Tamil people to light even an oil lamp in a tiny clay receptacle to remember their dead relatives.”
    Come on now, who said that?

  • 8
    0

    It appears that the Magistrate has amended the restraining order. I hope this will be sufficient for the ceremony to proceed as intended.

  • 3
    4

    MF, for an elderly Sri Lankan lady now domiciled in an Arab country, you have a good idea of our legal system.

    I suppose our loss is their( Arab country) gain !

    A more perspicacious follower of the Sri Lankan culture would not have gone for that name, by choice !

    • 2
      0

      Still at it, Deepthi — or is that, unlike mine — a pseudonym?
      ___
      So I’m domiciled in an Arab country, am I? Now how on earth did you come to that conclusion. I must say, you wdnt make a great detective.

      I have visited a few Muslim (not what might be called Arab) countries — Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan (where I climbed to the top of the great Bamiyan Buddha when it was still standing) in the company of a Buddhist, a Muslim & a Hindu. Stayed in Turkey several times, even performed on the stage there in an international drama festival as Portia in a University College, London, production of Julius Caesar. The setting for the play was incredible — the open courtyard of a castle, Rumeli Hisar, overlooking the Bosphorus! Stunning! We could see the Bosphorus from the “stage”. I made such warm friends there among the Turkish students that 10 years later I returned & was hosted by one of the families (with the 3 friends who accompanied me in Bamiyan.

      I dunno about a “good idea of (y)our legal system”. Would some years’ association with Senator S. Nadesan Q.C. (see Plato below if you dont know who he was) qualify me to claim that? Not only association, but even under physical attack in his company — Deepthi, were you in SL during the Referendum?

  • 7
    2

    S.Nadesan Q.C. once famously remarked in the 70s …..I DONT FIGHT CASES ANY LONGER. I FIGHT FOR ONLY CAUSES.

    Manel Fonseka too is a champion of causes!

    • 11
      2

      Many thought of end of war with LTTE is dawn for this island but in fact it is another opening of a war to the entire island. In the war with LTTE, the war was limited to North East but now the whole of Sri Lanka is in a war. It may appear look like a peace in the country because there is no bombs, shells, a gunshots but it is a militarised country and it became more towards dictatorship and people lost all their freedom. You can’t speak, you can’t protest, you can’t remember your lost ones, there is no rule of law, their is no judiciary, you can’t bury your dead body and even you can’t stop if this country is sold, even doctors and scientists can’t decide who to treat and what to treat.
      People were told 12 years ago that war is over, terrorism is over. Where are we? Open your conscience and tell with your heart is that you wanted at the end of war 12 years ago?

    • 3
      0

      Plato, I have some letters from Nadesan which I cherish dearly.

      And it was his quick thinking that whisked me away from an MP’s gun pointing thru a car window straight at my face. An MP that JR promoted to the post of Deputy Minister (Home Guards) as reward for his campaign of intimidation on 22/12/82. I later compiled a 100-paged report on that distortion of democracy (published abroad, only, alas).

      • 1
        0

        Plato,
        The pseudonym I was forced to assume for that was “Priya Samarakone”. Maybe Deepthi would find that more “Sinhalised”. Priya was the daughter of one of SL’s hyper nationalists & Samarakone (respelt?) the surname of your national anthem’s composer.
        So what with the national flower and the national anthem, Deepthi, I am bending over backwards to fit in with your culture!

        • 2
          0

          Dear Manel Fonseka,

          No doubt, your daughter too has inherited that indomitable spirit of fighting for a cause!
          I would not say anything more; Not sure whether you would approve of exposure.

          About SL; A staunch Christian, never applied and filled in those forms to take Silk, was essentially an introvert at college. Much senior to me and was in the boarding though his parents were living somewhere in colombo. His dad of-course was SC Judge.
          I am not too sure whether his ultra nationalism was to make headway with a political and Legal career.

          • 2
            0

            Plato, I’m mystified. Who is this staunch Christian you refer to? And what is SL short for? In my post it was Sri Lanka.

            And my daughter — how do you know about her? Where have u met her? She’s hardly ever been to Sri Lanka.

            • 1
              0

              Manel,

              I think Plato is referring to the late S.L. Gunasekara.

              • 0
                0

                Thank you, Agnos. I wonder what made him refer to SLG.

            • 0
              0

              Manel Fonseka.

              I have gone off on a Tangent, with respect to SL.
              My comment related to late S.L. Gunasekera, the Nationalist Lawyer.

              Again I mistakenly thought Bavani who appeared as a Junior counsel in the Port City hearing in the Supreme Court is a daughter.

              No doubt both the above assumptions has caused you concern and I do regret the misinterpretation.

              • 1
                0

                Ah, I think I understand now. No, the nationalist father of Priya was F R Jayasuriya who, I believe, fasted in the steps of your parliament with some other guy, demanding the immediate imposition of Sinhala Only.

                I wonder what he did when his daughter Priya went and married and Englishman & settled down in Emgland! I met her there with her husband. It didnt seem likely that she wd teach her children her father’s lingo. Btw I’m told he was an Economist lecturer in the SL univ. What tragic times people like him bequeathed yr country.

                • 0
                  1

                  Manel
                  Children rebel.
                  It seems an irony of fate, especially when children do what a parent with utterly parochial views most dislikes.
                  It happens in innocuous contexts too; and a parent who accepts the child as an independent entity is rarely offended.
                  But a parent with a narrow outlook would take such a thing as an affront that cannot be forgiven.
                  It is the pain caused by the lack of forgiveness that is the punishment.

  • 2
    1

    The petty mindedness of the Rajapakse Family is displayed in the obstruction of Tamils’ memory of war killings. How can some one removed from his or her mind the attack he or she suffered due to shelling by Army, Navy and Airforce on civilians? How can a person forget losing a family member in the war. Can anyone, let it be Rajapakse Family, Army or any Government take away from the hearts of those who suffered the suffering. NO. So why this petty mindedness.

    Unfortunately, the Lord Buddha’s teaching following Buddhist Monks, Christ’s teaching following Cardinal are no where to be seen discussing this topic of Government cruelty.

    What a sad state of affairs!

  • 2
    1

    Apparently Basil gone to USA for treatment what exactly tell us of our.standers,our head has to hide his US passport,soorawanss wife had double passport,

  • 2
    1

    “MF” has played “Portia” in “Julius Caesar” ! Not Brutus in Merchant of Venice !

    He says he has many warm hearted friends in Turkey. They are all warm hearted , Turks, Afgans, Saudis, Iranian- This partisanship is comic , not keeping with an academic mind.

    • 1
      0

      Yes, Portia in “Julius Caesar”, the wife of Brutus. Clearly yr familiarity with the bard is limited.

      And how do you extrapolate
      “They are all warm-hearted” from my “made …warm friends AMONG the Turkish studemts”?
      That wdnt stand up in a court of law, DS, not even in your own country — tho I must say 4 years imprisonment for contempt of court doesnt do yr judges any credit.

  • 0
    0

    Thank you, Agnos. I wonder what made him refer to SLG.

    • 0
      1

      Manel,

      I think Plato momentarily confused your reference to Sri Lanka as SL, with SL Gunasekara. Perhaps he was thinking of lawyers in reference to your work with Nadesan Q.C.

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