ERASING THE EELAM VICTORY Part 18C Pt 4
Posted on December 14th, 2020

KAMALIKA PIERIS

LTTE burial grounds, cemeteries and memorials have been razed, complained the Tamil Separatist Movement. Tiger memorials, monuments constructed in honor of noted Tiger soldiers   were torn down as the Sri Lankan military advanced. Any sites that might build the legacy of the LTTE, cemeteries, the childhood home of Prabhakaran, Thileepan’s memorial were bulldozed and destroyed. All formal LTTE monuments scattered in and around Jaffna and beyond had been demolished by 2013.

Tamil Tigers had constructed vast gravesites known as Maaveerar thuyilum illam (great heroes’ resting places) that contained the bodies of former LTTE cadres killed in combat. these gravesites were regarded with a certain level of sacredness by Tiger supporters and  every year pilgrimages were conducted to honour the dead. Sri Lankan military systematically bulldozed these Tiger cemeteries. At first, army did not demolish the cemeteries properly, and LTTE was able to rebuild. The army then demolished the cemeteries thoroughly. Sinhalese meantime, wondered aloud why dedicated military cemeteries had not taken root in their part of the country.

Civil society activists   said the army built their new camps on top of these cemeteries. The new headquarters of the army’s 51st division stands on a large LTTE memorial/burial ground in Jaffna said the BBC in 2016.These utterances would have impressed gullible westerners. But it seems unlikely. Army camps are built in strategic locations, a cemetery will not be in a strategic location. Also the many highly publicized requests for the handing over of land used by army camps never spoke of LTTE cemeteries.

During the war these cemeteries were one of the few places where families could remember and honour their dead and missing. Their obliteration ‘deprives the kin of the dead a place to commune with their lost loved ones’’, said supporters. These cemeteries were spaces for mourning and remembrance for ordinary people. Interestingly, caste, so rigidly enforced in Jaffna, is forgotten.

The Tamil Separatist Movement is agitating over the cemeteries. The Chavakachcheri Pradeshiya sabha had passed a   resolution on 14.10.2013 calling for a reconstruction of LTTE cemeteries in the area coming under the NPC. It also decided to commemorate those who died fighting for the LTTE.

Reader critiqued Shanie (Lanka Nesiah) for expressing her concern over the demolition of LTTE cemeteries that is a sensitive issue which will hurt the feelings of the families of those killed. He says LTTE was a terrorist organization which has no concern for human life. The tombstones of the slain LTTE cadres were not erected by their family members. Also it is interesting that those who now talk of these cemeteries kept mum when the LTTE blew to pieces hundreds of people. Those persons have no tombstone to commemorate them.

The LTTE cemetery at Kanakapuram, near Kilinochchi was totally destroyed. The concrete gravestones and broken plaques with the details of the dead fighters are piled in a mound several metres high. Activists re-erected a few of the least damaged gravestones, but otherwise the site is unrecognizable as a cemetery.

In 2017, in the weeks leading up to May 18, members of civil society who were attempting to build a memorial for those who died at Mullivaikkaal were harassed by security forces. The community had submitted names of their loved ones who had been killed in Mullivaikkaal to be carved on the memorial. The police claimed that some of these names belonged to former LTTE combatants and that, as a result, the memorial was illegal.

Police obtained an injunction that prohibited the community from going forward with the memorial event. Civil society challenged the order in the Magistrate Court and was reported at the time to be pursuing a revision petition in the Vavuniya High Court on multiple grounds, including that: (1) it is legal to commemorate former combatants as individuals, and (2) the police should not determine what is considered an appropriate commemoration activity. 

For the Northern Tamils, who were denied memorialisation and grieving, post-war, physical memorialisation was necessary, not only as symbolic reparations, but also as a public space to grieve, said commentators.

 During public consultations of memorialisation held in the North during the Community Memorialisation Project, most participants cited the need for physical memorials as a reminder to future generations of the specific experiences of violent conflict as a minority community.

In 2019, civil society invented a new form of celebration, for the Mullivaikal ceremony on 18th of May, Mullivaikal kanji (porridge).  This simple rice porridge, they said, was consumed by hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the war in the north during its final few months. For some, it was all they had to eat. Over time, the kanji became increasingly watery and was often eaten without salt.

 On 18 May 2019 elderly mothers cooked and collectively ate Mullivaikal kanji with their families and local communities. Young people travelled by truck with kanji pots to serve the porridge in the streets and in public places in the Northern Province. Civil society groups asked people across Sri Lanka to eat Mullivaikal kanji for one meal on 18 May as an act of solidarity with the war dead, missing and disappeared, and their families, reported a foreign journalist.

The problem of what to do with the memorials to defeated armies, who were the originators of wars, is not confined to Sri Lanka. Nazi Germany and southern USA also had to face this issue.

In May 1946 once World War II had ended in defeat for the Nazis, the Allies jointly issued De-Nazification Directive 30, stating exactly what to do with Nazi monuments and memorials.

 It said: after the date of this directive, the planning, designing, erection, installation, posting or other display of any monument, memorial, poster, statue, edifice, street or highway name marker, emblem, tablet, or insignia which tends to  commemorate the Nazi Party, will be prohibited and declared illegal; also the reopening of military museums and exhibitions.

Every   such item must be completely destroyed and liquidated by 1 January 1947. All Nazi military museums and exhibitions must be closed and liquidated by 1 January 1947 throughout the entire German territory.

In 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) criminalized the display of swastikas; the symbol was also scraped and sometimes blown off of buildings. The federal state systematically destroyed statues and monuments, razed many Nazi architectural structures and buried executed military and civilian officials in mass, unmarked graves so that their resting grounds would not become Nazi shrines. Libraries were stripped of Nazi books and periodicals, fascist newspapers shuttered, and all physical vestiges of the old regime removed and destroyed.

 In the USA the story was different. When the American Civil War of 1861-65 ended the southern states were allowed to retain the memorials of their side of the war. These included statues of Confederate leaders and the Confederate flag.  Additional statues were put up between 1890s to 1930s, and again in the 1950s. They were placed prominently in town squares or courthouses  and became part of the landscape. Some Southern states passed state laws prohibiting the removal of these monuments.

 This is most unusual, observed analysts in 2017.  When armies are defeated on their own soil, particularly when those armies were fighting on racial grounds, they usually don’t get to keep their symbols and material culture.  But it was allowed in Southern US because there was a strong white supremacy, anti-Negro bias all over the country, north as well as south.

But from the 1960s, attitudes changed in the US and these statues started to come down. Either the Municipalities took them down or they were pulled down by the public. They said these monuments glorify white supremacy.

The Charleston church shooting (2015), and the killing of George Floyd (2020) led to a greater removal of Confederate memorials. There was also the Unite the Right rally  at Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. This   was the largest white nationalist rally in decades, following a plan to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee. Neo-Nazis and white nationalists protested.  It turned violent, one person died.

After the George Floyd killing of May 2020, there was a wave of removal of Confederate monuments. In Baltimore, Maryland, they were removed in the night, on the orders of the Mayor. An Alabama law prohibiting the removal of historical monuments was deliberately broken by the Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama.

The US government also responded. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines prohibited the display of the Confederate flag. In 2020, Pentagon   said that Confederate flag cannot be flown on US military properties. The U.S. Army said it would rename Fort Bragg and its other military bases named for Confederate heroes.

The wave of removals expanded beyond the United States to the removal of statues in England, Belgium and New Zealand. The public wanted statues of those who promoted the slave trade pulled down, also statues of Christopher Columbus, seen as a symbol of European colonialist exploitation. In London they wanted to pull down the statue of Winston Churchill. The statue was quickly wrapped up and barricaded, with police on standby. (Continued)

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