Mark May 18 as ‘day of grief’, Tamils told

Wigneswaran asks Tamils to observe three minutes’ silence on the day Sri Lanka’s civil war ended

Tamils living in Sri Lanka and abroad should mark May 18 as a day of grief, Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran has said, ahead of ‘Remembrance Day’ being observed on Thursday.

He appealed to all Tamils to observe three minutes’ silence on the day Sri Lanka’s civil war ended eight summers ago. “The truth about the several thousand deaths in the war’s final offensive is yet to come out,” Mr. Wigneswaran said in a statement, making a case for an international probe into rights abuses.

Homage to victims

On Thursday, scores of Tamils will converge in Mullivaikkal village in Mullaitivu, along the north-eastern coast of the island, to pay homage to their relatives. During the last days of the battle, many civilians fled to this village after the government declared it safe. The UN estimates that 40,000 civilians died there in the final phase, but the government has disputed the figure.

The day, a troubling reminder of the State’s alleged human rights excesses, has remained controversial in Sri Lanka’s post-war years. From 2010, the Mahinda Rajapaksa government marked the day as ‘Victory Day’, celebrating the armed forces’ “victory” over the LTTE, but in 2015, President Maithripala Sirisena said it would henceforth be called ‘Remembrance Day’.

“It is with a lot of expectation that our people voted for this government but now, the hope is fading,” said S. Shritharan, Jaffna district parliamentarian, pointing to the government’s “continuing silence” on concerns over enforced disappearances and the release of political prisoners.

Urging India to intervene, “like it did in 1987” [during the Indo-Lanka Accord], the MP said nothing else would pressure the Sri Lankan government to act. On the commemoration, he said: “Whether it is 50 years or 100 years later, our people will still want to remember their relatives who were so brutally killed by the army.”

Some within Tamil society, however, question the nature of such a commemoration, even though they respect the need for families to remember their loved ones. Eight years after the war, the Tamil polity is yet to think in a constructive manner, said leftist politician Thirunavukkarasu Sritharan.

Focus on political gains

“Instead of focussing on reconstruction, they dwell solely on death and destruction, constantly projecting our resilient people as victims. It is unfortunate that the Tamil politicians use people’s grief for their own political gains,” said Mr. Sritharan, President of the Social Democratic Party of Tamils, as the Pathmanabha wing of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front, a militant group-turned political party, now calls itself.

“Thousands died in the final phase, but what about those who died earlier?… What about Tamils killing fellow Tamils? Are those internal killings not human rights violations?”

There is much to be done on the economic front that even Tamil politicians ignore, critics note. The island’s north and east are among the most backward areas, with high levels of poverty and rural unemployment. Mullaitivu recorded the highest Poverty Head Count Ratio in Sri Lanka, a 2016 Central Bank report said.

Blaming “bankrupt” Tamil nationalist politics, Mr. Sritharan said it had taken the community on the path of destruction.

“We have to now think about education, livelihoods and social security in the region. We need programmes for women-headed households. No point in going to the international community, things have to begin changing here, on the ground.”