14 December, 2019

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Sri Lanka Must Respect Memory Of War

By Malathi de Alwis –

Dr. Malathi de Alwis

It was heartening to hear President Mahinda Rajapakse identifying reconciliation and development as the priorities of his new government. However, it is crucial that both processes should unfold with the active involvement of Sri Lanka’s citizenry, rather than being imposed from above by an omnipotent state. We seem to already have plenty of intimations of the latter.

On 19 March 2010, Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror carried a brief article on its front page startlingly headlined, “Government to wipe out LTTE [Tamil Tiger] landmarks”. The rationale for this, according to the secretary to the ministry of tourism, George Michael, was that the “LTTE and the violence which affected the public during the war should be forgotten”. Fortified with such logic, the government has bulldozed all the LTTE cemeteries in the Wanni and is now proceeding to demolish the homes of Velupillai Prabhakaran and other LTTE leaders. A few weeks back, the Thileepan memorial near the Nallur temple was defaced with the collusion of the Sri Lankan army. While the homes of LTTE leaders will be replaced with hotels and resorts, according to the ministry, we have also witnessed the erection of several state-sponsored “victory monuments” to commemorate the defeat of the LTTE in the north.

I am dismayed by the government’s myopic and misguided understanding of memory, and its brutal disregard for the feelings and emotions of a people who have undergone unimaginable and innumerable horrors for the past three decades. The primary response to the war we endured should not be bulldozings and demolitions and exhortations to forget, but rather to ensure that we never again descend into that hellish abyss. To do this, we need to reflect on the circumstances that led to this war and make sure we do not repeat the mistakes made in previous decades.

In this regard, the UPFA government’s efforts to develop the neglected northern and eastern provinces and limited use of the Tamil language by government officials are steps in the right direction – but much more work needs to be done to offer parity of status to the minorities in this country.

Bulldozing cemeteries and demolishing homes in the name of development and the promotion of tourism will only further alienate the Tamil citizenry and stall any attempts at reconciliation. Such memorials, in particular, play a crucial role in all societies. They function as repositories of memory, suffering and grief, and often help to translate the unthinkable to the thinkable. While the LTTE undoubtedly appropriated these cemeteries and the rituals of mourning associated with the dead to promote and disseminate a violent form of Tamil nationalism, we must also remember that those buried there have fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, wives and husbands, sons and daughters. Bulldozing and obliterating these cemeteries not only deprives the kin of the dead a place to commune with their lost loved ones, but also displays a callous disregard for both the dead and the living. It is also a telling indictment of us as a nation that we do not have any memorials to the civilians who have died in this war, as well as in all the anti-Tamil and anti-Muslim riots that have taken place in this country.

On 21 February 2010, a group of academics at the University of Jaffna sent a letter to the director general of the department of archaeology appealing for his intercession in thwarting the further destruction of the heritage of Jaffna. They also alerted him to a variety of historic buildings, including temples, schools and presses, in Jaffna earmarked for demolition under the road development authority’s current programme of road expansion in the north.

This letter is reflective of broader debates carried out in Jaffna – in Tamil newspapers such as the Uthayan, Thinakkural and Valampuri – concerning the need to secure the cultural heritage of Jaffna in the face of the postwar development of the north. Personal appeals have also been made by the vice-chancellor at the University of Jaffna and a delegation from the All Ceylon Hindu Congress. Sadly, all appeals seem to have fallen on deaf ears: no reply has yet come from the director general, nor any invitation for further consultations with the governor or project funders.

The new government’s first step towards reconciliation should be the inclusion of Tamil and Muslim citizenry of the north in the formulation of a consensual and viable development plan for this war-torn region. And that plan must secure the integrity of its cultural and emotional heart.

This article was first published in The Guardian on Tuesday 4 May 2010.

*Malathi de Alwis is a socio-cultural anthropologist who has published extensively on issues of nationalism, militarism, humanitarianism and feminism in Sri Lanka. Her current work explores the politicisation of suffering and the memorialisation of grief in the wake of atrocity and disaster. 

Related posts;

Pictures: “Reminiscence Of Mullivaikaal Massacre And Eelam Tamil Martyrs Of India”

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Latest comments

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    They can never bulldoze the collective memories of the Tamils and the memories of people who believe in truth and justice…

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    WE SINHALESE MAY BULLDOZE AND DEMOLISH PLACES TO FORGET BAD MEMORIES, BUT THE INNOCENT TAMILS WILL TELL THE STORIES TO THEIR DESCENDENTS, OF THEIR STRUGGLE TO BE RECOGNISED AS AN EQUAL CITIZEN OF THEIR LAND OF BIRTH AND THEIR MOTHERLAND.
    WE COULD LEARN A LOT FROM OUR FELLOW TAMIL CITIZENS, REGARDING, PATIENCE, TOLLERANCE, WILLPOWER AND SHEER HARD WORK.

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      Could you, Desilva (a sinhalese) please use simple letters without ‘shouting’ in the web …. Your ideas, opinions are valueble to readers and should be respected irrespective of the size of the letters … Usage of big letters is annoying incase of mine, at least … Cheers!

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      De Silva, The Sinhalese and Tamils are the same. They both have lying and cunning blood thirsty leaderships that manipulate the masses. Neither needs to learn from the other, both can learn from their own past mistakes.

      The lesson both these sides can learn is that being patriotic to your side, and defending your blood thirsty leaders, while calling the other side evil, only leads to continued bloodshed and suffering on your own side! The sad reality is, most back in Sri Lanka have learnt this lesson, and want out. But the selfish leaderships and diaspora populations on both sides have too much to gain from maintaining an image of conflict and division in the country, so all effort continues to go into dividing and creating more conflict!

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    Why the need now to republish this article written/published in The Guardian on Tuesday 4 May 2010.Is there a sinister move to “STAB SRI LANKA IN THE BACK” by some academics who want to reap the academic benefits available for so-called supportive anti-Sri Lanka professionals in the Western or North American capitals in the form of Research Scholars, Visiting Scholars, Visiting Professors and other form of academic tenure which can lead them to get permanent residency in those capitals where the immigration laws have been tightened so much that it is nearly impossible for such academia to come and lead the prosperous life they are dreaming in this countries. The ONLY way is to do what they are doing – “STAB SRI LANKA IN THE BACK” in the present context.A list of many such academics could be listed since 1971 and specially after 1983, some who have even returned to Sri Lanka holding on the their foreign citizenship in today’s peacetime to indulge damage to the Nation, while pretending to show that they are defending minority rights, freedom of expression and or HR.
    The Tamil people, Tamil Sri Lankans, the Indian Tamils of the Up-country Tamils, the Muslims or the patriotic Sinhalese did NOT harm or HURT the Tamils. It was a few mixture of these Sri Lankan citizens lead by the power thirst Politicians who were the cause of all these aggression created since 1914 to 2009. 11956,1971,1972, 1983, 1990 and the Mavilaru incident lead to the final so-called battle between the LTTE terror outfit and the defenders of the nation, the Security Forces. The cleansing of symbols of terror caused by the LTTE, NOT the TAMILS is a right of a PEACEFUL NATION. If COLOMBO TELEGRAPH respects Freedom of Expression, you will definitely publish this comment. If not it will not appear in this space.
    Noor Nizam – Professional Analyst – Canada.

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      This so-called Professional Analyst asks; Why the need now to republish this article written/published in The Guardian on Tuesday 4 May 2010.?

      See the relationship; This article says; //On 19 March 2010, Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror carried a brief article on its front page startlingly headlined, “Government to wipe out LTTE [Tamil Tiger] landmarks”. The rationale for this, according to the secretary to the ministry of tourism, George Michael, was that the “LTTE and the violence which affected the public during the war should be forgotten”. Fortified with such logic, the government has bulldozed all the LTTE cemeteries in the Wanni and is now proceeding to demolish the homes of Velupillai Prabhakaran and other LTTE leaders. A few weeks back, the Thileepan memorial near the Nallur temple was defaced with the collusion of the Sri Lankan army. While the homes of LTTE leaders will be replaced with hotels and resorts, according to the ministry, we have also witnessed the erection of several state-sponsored “victory monuments” to commemorate the defeat of the LTTE in the north.//

      See what is happening now?
      Second Update: Defacing Of ‘Sanctity Of Life’ Mural On Kynsey Terrace
      Read ; https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/defacing-of-sanctity-of-life-mural-on-kynsey-terrace/

      Neelan: Twice The Victim Of Extremism
      Read ; https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/neelan-twice-the-victim-of-extremism/

      And finally ;
      Pictures: “Reminiscence Of Mullivaikaal Massacre And Eelam Tamil Martyrs Of India”
      Read; https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/pictures-reminiscence-of-mullivaikaal-massacre-and-eelam-tamil-martyrs-of-india/

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      Noor Nizam lives in multicultural Canada where all citizns have equal privileges and rights, but does not want to admit to massacres by successive SL governments’ armed forces in sri lanka.He blames “politicians”!!!
      http://nesohr.org/hrr/?show=all
      Read this in full,Mr.Nizam.Will you dare show this to your colleagues in Canada?
      LTTE were tamils, who took up arms after these massacres,and who died in the ‘eelam wars’
      He also forgets ‘disappearance’ of school children arrested by the army in embilipitiya long ago,& murder of young tamils by villagers in bindunuwewa while police looked on.
      Desecration,demolition of burial sites & temples,stealing of deities,& defacement of cultural & religious artifacts,is the hallmark of barbarians.
      Even Mahatma Ghandi’s statues in jaffna were desecrated.
      Stating the truth of the activities of the government via the “archaelogy department”,is NOT betrayal(‘stabbing in the back’).
      Academics sufficiently knowledgeable are in demand anywhere.Many such tamils,including professionals are in Canada including the President of the richest university there.

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    The MAIN THEME of my comment was – IS THERE A SINISTER MOVE TO ” STAB SRI LANKA IN THE BACK BY SOME ACADEMICS…” ? So, all this is to prove that there a sinister move to “STAB SRI LANKA IN THE BACK” by some academics who want to reap the academic benefits available for so-called supportive anti-Sri Lanka professionals in the Western or North American capitals in the form of Research Scholars, Visiting Scholars, Visiting Professors and other form of academic tenure which can lead them to get permanent residency in those capitals where the immigration laws have been tightened so much that it is nearly impossible for such academia to come and lead the prosperous life they are dreaming in this countries.The cleansing of symbols of terror caused by the LTTE, NOT the TAMILS is a right of a PEACEFUL NATION
    Professional Analyst – Canada.

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    Do you know any built monuments to rememember confederate side of the civil war of USA. Nothing! Because they are separatist like Tamil terror group. We should help our innocent Tamil friends to understand that wested interests
    of the bogus Tamil movement.One day they will be forgotten like US confedarate armies.

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    The US dumped Osama Bin Laden’s body in an undisclosed location in the sea and encouraged the Pakistan army to demolish the house where Bin Laden lived. So that both don’t become monuments for celebration of terrorism. I suppose Sri Lanka is taking a leaf out of the American gospel of fighting terrorism. Hope the Guardian will carry an article on this issue of America’s demolition of Islamic Terrorism monuments.

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