ERASING THE EELAM VICTORY PT 19F.
Posted on October 26th, 2021

KAMALIKA PIERIS

The army took care to remove all possible LTTE monuments once the Eelam war was over. They knew that otherwise these monuments would become shrines. The only LTTE ‘monuments’ at the time were the LTTE cemeteries such as the cemetery at Chaaty Beach near Jaffna.

The army bulldozed all of them. The Tamil Separatist Movement watched with dismay. They alleged that Thuyilum Illam7, a graveyard in honor of slain LTTE soldiers was destroyed and an army camp set up over it. I think this is most unlikely.  Thereafter court orders were obtained in 2014, banning events of remembrance and mourning in Jaffna.

However, the Yahapalana government which came to power in 2015 was very pro-Eelam and the Tamil Separatist Movement took the opportunity to erect memorials to the LTTE.   If JVP was free to remember its dead leaders, so should the Tamils, said TNA.

Ten years after the war, around 2019 the Tamil Separatist Movement started to put up memorials. The motive was political. Tamil Separatist Movement was planning to use Memorialisation as a political tool. One memorial was, predictably, put up at Mullivaikkal where the LTTE was defeated.

In September 2021 three persons including Jaffna District MP Sevarasa Gajendran were arrested for organizing a ceremony to commemorate former LTTE political wing leader Thileepan, in contravention of quarantine regulations. They were arrested when they were preparing for the commemoration at Thileepan’s statue in Nallur. They were told htat court had issued an order barring commemorations in the place. As they continued regardless, police arrested them. British All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils (APPGT) have expressed deep concern about this arrest, and urged the Foreign Secretary to raise it with her counterpart in Sri Lanka.

Three memorials to the Eelam war have been set up in the University of Jaffna premises. The Pongu Thamilmonument in the Arts Faculty,  Thileepan memorial in the science faculty  and a memorial to those who died at Mullavaikkal,  known as Mullavaikkal memorial”  on the grounds of the University. The Mullavaikkal monument was for those civilians who lost their lives in the last battle as they were trapped on the battlefield. These people needed a memorial and students believed that one set up within the university would be safer than one put up anywhere else.

In 2021, the Mullavaikkal memorial” came to public attention. Tamil people’s right to commemorate came under sharp focus when authorities at the University of Jaffna recently demolished a memorial on campus, built to remember those who died in the final phase of the war in 2009, announced the media.

The memorial had been approved by the previous Vice Chancellor.  Construction had begun in April 2018 and completed by February 2019, a decade after the LTTE was militarily defeated. Parts of the memorial had been pre-cast outside, brought into the campus and assembled. University Grants Commission   had issued a directive to halt the construction. This had been ignored.

In October 2020 Deputy Inspector General of Police (Jaffna) had sent Vice Chancellor Srisatkunarajah a ‘secret’ report, originating from the army, containing information from intelligence agencies. One in particular from the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) spoke about links between ‘pro LTTE’ students and activities related to the memorial. Also that the memorial was becoming the centre for different ceremonies linked to the LTTE during anniversaries and other events. The army had wanted the memorial demolished.Also the VC was told that no construction could take place in a university without the express permission of the University Grants Commission.

Whenever Vice Chancellor Srisatkunarajah interacted with military or Police seniors during conferences, the first issue to be raised was the Mullavaikkal memorial.” When would it be demolished?  Vice Chancellor was under heavy pressure to do so and this reached a peak in January 2021.  The VC had told the Hindu” newspaper later that that his demolition order was based on instructions from defence, intelligence, Education Ministry, everyone”.

The Vice Chancellor decided to demolish the monument. After consultations with engineers and others he decided that the demolition should take place after 10 p.m. on Friday January 8, 2021. Students were asked to leave the premises that night. The VC and his Registrar Viswanathan Kandeepan were on the premises.

 When a backhoe fixed with spotlights on the roof, began to demolish the memorial, residents at nearby Ramanathan Road and Parameshwara junction heard what they suspected was unusual activity within the campus. Soon the people, including students, turned up at the entrance and watched what was going on. The backhoe was loading the destroyed debris of the memorial and was later unloading it in a corner area.

As the night went on, there was hectic activity. Nine university students launched a hunger strike. By Saturday morning crowds had swelled. That included V. Mannivannan, a lawyer and Mayor of Jaffna. He hurriedly appeared for two persons taken into custody and obtained bail.

Police from Jaffna, Kopay, Manipay, and Atchuveli Police stations were deployed around the campus.  Army troops from the 521 Brigade in Kondavil and Special Task Force (STF) personnel of the Police were stationed at strategic points. They dispersed the crowds but more began coming in. the Army and the Police prevented damage being caused.

The Vice Chancellor initially had taken a firm stance. He told students that the Mullaivaikal memorial” had been built without obtaining approval. But around 3 a.m. the Vice Chancellor changed his position. He turned up before the fasting students with a bowl of rice porridge and declared let us lay a new foundation stone in the morning for a new memorial.” He accompanied the students to the demolished site where they laid flowers. The Vice Chancellor then recited a stanza from Tiruvasagam, a song for Lord Shiva.

On Monday morning VC announced I have received orders from the Government to resolve this issue amicably. Authorities wanted him to diffuse the situation”. This has caused some issues in Tamil Nadu as well.  I have written to the UGC. We are going to put some stones as a symbolic ceremony. The construction of the monument will commence with proper approval.  UGC Chairman and Jaffna University Vice Chancellor had been in touch with each other till the wee hours of Monday, said the media.  

VC told the students that they would be allowed to re-erect the memorial.  A symbolic foundation stone was laid that Monday morning, using stones from the demolished memorial. Students demanded that the VC himself lay the foundation stone. As the rains were continuing the VC wanted to put it off, but the students demanded that he do as they said despite rain. The VC bowed to pressure and laid a foundation stone amidst rain and the students ended their agitation.  

The media pointed out that placing stones to resemble a foundation, also raised an issue. It could be argued that this act, to diffuse a situation,” has been carried out without any formal approval.Minister Wimal Weerawansa condemned the Vice Chancellor for allowing the laying of a foundation stone for a new memorial. On the following Friday, holes were dug to lay concrete to begin erection of a new monument.  

The Presidential Secretariat had not known of the event. Officials had hurriedly telephoned Vice Chancellor to ask who gave instructions” for the demolition I explained the situation in detail to an official of the President’s office,” Prof. Srisatkunarajah told the Sunday Times.

India’s High Commissioner Gopal Baglay had told Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa that the demolition of Mullaivaikal memorial” could lead to protests erupting in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Premier Rajapaksa went into action promptly said the media.  The Vice Chancellor was informed that Tamil Nadu is boiling.”  Media observed that hereafter the Vice Chancellor of Jaffna University would have to be mindful of issues in Tamil Nadu” in the conduct of his official duties.

The demolition of this monument received much local attention.  Local television stations gave wide coverage and the entire peninsula was aroused”.   Tamil newspapers ran banner headlines in black about the incident. The Jaffna Municipal Council adopted a resolution condemning the removal of the memorial. It called for the re-construction of it in the same place.

The Tamil National Alliance called for a hartal.  All shops, offices, and other establishments in Jaffna and in many key towns in the east, closed. Both Tamils and Muslims participated, a new feature, commented the media. National Peace Council said this was the only public monument to those Tamil civilians who perished in the last stages of the war. There is a need to rebuilt this soon.

The demolition also received international attention.          The destruction and desecration of the Mullivaikal Memorial Monuments on the eve of the Annual Remembrance Day is one of the most barbaric acts any decent human being can contemplate, announced the Global Tamil Forum.

In Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami said he was shocked” to hear about the demolition of a memorial that was dedicated to the war dead. Viduthalai Chiruthai Pulikal (VCP) party leader Thol Thirumavalan declared in Chennai he would join Vaiko Gopalsamy’s Marumalartchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam to protest outside the Sri Lanka Deputy High Commissioner’s office in Chennai. We demand that the Sri Lankan government reconstruct the memorial inside the campus,” he said. There were also other groups planning protests in Tamil Nadu, he added.

Speaking in the UK House of Commons, Siobhan McDonaugh, Labour MP for Mitcham, and Morden, called for the British government to move a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on the memorial demolition saying it was a denial of religious freedom. She is known for espousing the cause of Tamils who form a sizeable number in her constituency.

In Canada, mayor of Brampton promised to build a monument to commemorate the lives lost in the Sri Lankan civil war, since the Jaffna University memorial had been torn down. Brampton City Council unanimously voted to build their own memorial. Brampton Tamil Association president Benat Mariyanayagam says this was a significant step not only for Tamil people in Canada, all Tamils abroad. The monument will be funded by the local Tamil community.

In February 2021 the media reported that undergraduates of the Jaffna University had unveiled the new memorial. The monument is in memory of those who had been killed at Mullaivaikkal, in 2009 during the final days of the war between the LTTE and the security forces. They were innocent civilians who got trapped on the battlefield, they said.

That is incorrect. These civilians were not residents of Mullavaikkal to start with, to get trapped there. And because of this, they were   not eligible for protection under International Humanitarian Law either.

 This monument is celebrating a group of   persons who willingly left their homes and travelled miles into Mullavaikkal to help the LTTE win the war. They went there holding their land deeds, clearly hoping to return home.  The LTTE were engaged in high treason and these civilians were complicit.  Governments do not permit the memorialisation of high treason.

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