By Athithan Jayapalan –
The Sri Lankan victory at the T20 Cricket World Cup on 06.04.2014 was marked with an outburst of euphoria all around the Sri Lankan south. What can be observed during the celebrations is the heavy reproduction of major state symbols such as the Sri Lankan flag, and the national emblem, the Sinhala lion, and nationalist slogans. The notion and idea of the nation state is in effect legitimized, reproduced and perpetuated through the large public veneration of Sri Lanka. By evocating national feeling and solidarity centered on the state and its symbols, the public is embodying the national spirit which the nationalist discourse espouses. When the glorified state is involved in unfettered national oppression, the public also becomes dangerously implicated in legitimizing its actions. For the Sri Lankan state national public celebrations become intrinsic in empowering the state and perpetuating its national projects; a genocidal regime in the Tamil homeland in the North-East and a dictatorial rule in the Sinhala south.
Incidentally such triumphant moods in the south were also observable during the last war, reaching its zenith on 18.05.2009, upon the conclusion of the genocidal massacres at Mulluvaykal. As the war ravaged the north, entire Tamil villages were eradicated, and thousands of Tamil civilians were mercilessly slaughtered and maimed by the deliberate government bombardment. In contrast the south witnessed the ecstatic Sinhalese who took to the streets with the lion flag and chanted patriotic slogans cheering their armed forces in the war against the Tamils. For every Tamil village that burned, the south would embark upon a heightened carnival of festivities and rejoice. This was a historical point at which Sinhala chauvinism was manifest in its most crystallized form, with conquest, genocide and national subjugation being the crux of state ceremony, national identity, prestige and public veneration.
The annual 19th of May Victory Day staged by the state to mark its “victory over terrorism” has since 2009 been a national event which more blatantly displays the Sri Lankan public participation in the celebration of the state violence against Tamils. Aligned with state propaganda such public actions promote discourses and actions which brazenly deny genocide and silence Tamil grievances. Moreover it reaffirms the Sinhala nationalist ideology which denies Tamils nationhood, demonizes their resistance, suppresses their collective memories and represses Tamil demands for justice and equality. The lavish military parade draws large public attention and the subsequent display of military might annually revokes the lingering of a triumphant Sinhala chauvinism among the Sri Lankan citizens.
Thereby the relationship between the performances of a national sport team, the nation state, national consciousness and national oppression is manifold and vivid.
Moreover Sri Lankan cricket players have in the recent past been prominent in defending the state or in actively denying the brutalities of the state which Tamils as a collective have been subjected to. On 16.11.2013 in an interview given to Channel 4 during the CHOGM Sri Lankan cricketer Muttaiah Muralitharan responded to the Tamil protests against state enforced disappearances. He callously denied the pain and memories of the protesting family members and insisted that they were lying. Subsequently he exclaimed that the British PM is being misled on human rights violations on the island. Likewise during overseas tours Kumar Sangakkara is renowned to advocate the Rajapaksa government’s ‘achievements’ in the post war period and to corroborate the reconciliation and development discourse. During his visit to Kerala, former Sri Lankan cricketer Sanath Jayasuriya told reporters that ” There is no need for any international probe because we have our own judicial system and the process of law is going on…Our President Mahinda Rajapaksa has done a wonderful job and is doing everything possible to see that there is overall development in the country ” (1).
The outspoken Sri Lankan cricketers embody the intermeshed nature of the Sri Lankan national team and the Sri Lankan nation state. Such active efforts in denying the national oppression of Tamils, and in validating their nation state is nothing less of denying genocide and silencing the collective pain and suffering of Tamils.
Thereby in the true spirit of awarding the champions of the nation state, the government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) has announced its plan to orchestrate a lavish national celebration to mark the world cup championship.
International ambivalence strengthens chauvinism
While Sri Lankan citizens celebrated their triumph and rekindling of hope for their nation, the Tamils increasingly strangled by a hegemonic military occupation were bracing themselves against the recent intensification of state persecution. From just the 7th to the 27th of March, more than 44 Tamils have been unlawfully arrested or abducted (2). There are also reports of war time military restriction being re-employed in the North, such as the pass system requirement for fishermen to venture into the sea and deployment of frequent security checkpoints. The numbers of disappeared or unlawfully arrested Tamils are growing as more reports are coming out of the island documenting the state crackdown in the wake of the 25th session of the UNHRC. The targeted are predominantly Tamil activists, ex-LTTE cadres, witnesses and HR campaigners who can all implicate the Sri Lankan state in an international investigation into atrocities against Tamils.
On 07.04.2014, following the T20 victory, the GOSL External Affairs minister G.L. Peiris refuted even the crippled international pressure advocated in the UNHRC resolution. Minister Peiris defiantly stated “Where the government is required to do anything to support the investigation or to participate in it, the government will not do that….They will have to tell us what they want to do. But the clear policy decision had been taken that we do not associate ourself with the inquiry and we do not submit to the jurisdiction of the investigating committee,” (3).
It can be argued that such an outright refusal against the so called international community is also influenced by the recent performance of the Sri Lankan cricket team. Nonetheless, it is the reluctant stand by the western led section of the international community in taking punitive actions against the GOSL which provides the main incentive for such defiance. The western coalition of the international community advocates weak international pressure on the GOSL as seen in the US sponsored UNHRC resolution while the China-Russia axis, the Indian state and the Muslim states are all unconditionally supporting the Sri Lankan state. With such international impotence, widespread courting of the GOSL and authorization of an oppressive nation state, the atrocities against the Tamils will not be addressed let alone be resolved. Such an international dynamics imbue the Sri Lankan state, its national team and its patriotic citizenry with thoughts of supremacy, moral righteousness and emboldens their chauvinism which enhances the multifaceted oppression faced by Tamils.