Students staged a sit in outside the campus gates overnight on Friday after authorities demolished a monument dedicated to the victims of Mullivaikal, the final theatre of battle in the civil war, where thousands of civilians perished in May 2019.
Police on the scene attempted to chase away the new Mayor of Jaffna, Visvalingam Mannivanan who had joined the students who were protesting against the demolition. Two student protestors were arrested on the scene by the police.
The bulldozers arrived under the cover of darkness and reduced the monument to a pile of rubble.
The monument was erected by the students in 2019 and reportedly sculpted by a student who lost his father when his family was trying to flee the fighting in the Government designated No Fire Zone.
Vice Chancellor of the Jaffna University Professor S. Srisatkunarajah said the monument could not be allowed to stand because permission had not been obtained for its erection on campus grounds from the relevant ministry. “We were told that things that were built illegally must be removed and they must be informed after. They said they found that out through investigation and that we could not keep this at the university,” the Vice Chancellor claimed.
However photos appeared on social media of the Vice Chancellor appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in August 2020 showing the monument to police and security forces personnel a few weeks before the demolition happened.
Former Head of Law at the Jaffna University, Dr K. Guruparan expressed concern on Twitter that the previous Vice Chancellor had been sacked for his refusal to remove the monument.
Activists viewed the demolition as the Government’s complete inability to tolerate remembrance and commemoration of the dead by minority Tamils.
Former Commissioner for the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Ambika Sathkunanathan, commenting on the demolition under the cover of night, tweeted “forced ‘forgetting makes people remember all the more”.
“Why are you so afraid of a memorial that remembers those that were killed during the war? Why do people’s loss, memories, pain, heartbreak & tears frighten you? Is it because you know that pain, tears & heartbreak are more powerful than weapons & force?” the formed Commissioner questioned on Twitter.
Former co-editor of the citizen journalism website Groundviews Amalini De Sayrah tweeted: Sending machines in the dark of the night to tear down a site of memory for Tamil people killed on the orders of these very same ‘leaders’ is disgraceful, racist, cruel – very on-brand for #SriLanka, constantly threatened by mourning for victims of its violence. #lka
(By Chinthika De Silva)