By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
The remembrance event for the war dead held in Mullivaikkal on 18 May this year was attended by an unprecedented number of 5,000 people. The event, mainly organized by the student union of the University of Jaffna, however, received much criticism from various segments in the Tamil political sphere.
Most of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) members who participated in the event claimed they were sidelined by the students and only Chief Minister of the Northern Province, C.V. Wigneswaran, was given prominence. TNA Leader R. Sampanthan, on the other hand, was in Trincomalee to attend a commemorative event there.
A number of youth from the East who came for the event also said they felt that they were terribly let down by the organizers. It was also alleged that the Jaffna University students had reprimanded them for participating.
A youth from the East, in a YouTube video, has warned the public about the ‘attitude’ adopted by the Jaffna University students and alleges that they are ‘gaining power and it is not at all fun’.
Another youth has said that the North is monopolizing the ‘war victimhood’, forgetting that the people in the East too suffered a great deal during the war, and scores of Eastern youth lost their lives and limbs on the battlefield. However, they feel ignored by the Tamil politicians and people of the North altogether.
A number of Southern politicians also criticized the Jaffna youth for holding the remembrance event in a ‘well defined militant style’.
However, the Northerners, especially the university students, said that they wanted the international community to know that the Tamils are still waiting for justice and the remembrance say is the only day for the people of the North to express it wholeheartedly and this year they held it without any political interference.
Sri Lanka’s National University Teachers’ Association (NUTA) also filed a complaint against Jaffna University authorities for allowing students to take part in the Mullivaikkal event accusing that the students acted like the unofficial private Army of the Chief Minister, who they allege is a ‘crafty racist politician’.
NUTA Secretary Channa Jayasumana described the students as ‘misguided youths’ and said they should be thankful to their political leadership and the Security Forces that ended the armed conflict.
He also said neither the Chief Minister nor a single member in his family had studied in the North. “He is sending the intelligent youth of the North and East to the dungeons while his family members are safe abroad or in Colombo.
NUTA also said that the recent incidents paint an unsavoury picture about the Jaffna University students among the majority of Sinhala and Muslim people in the country.
“We also observe that greedy politicians are pushing the misguided youth to another reckless programme and they are abandoning the golden opportunities presented to them by the people of Sri Lanka and that they hope the officials will seriously discuss this matter with senior responsible academics and offer guidance to the students and teach them reconciliation and harmony.”
In the meantime, C.M. Wigneswaran told this paper that the general population was fully involved in the remembrance event. “Shops were closed, some fasted and others went to temples to conduct poojas for the departed.
The students kept order and Police were informed and the organizers could not have given the task of keeping order to the Police in such an emotionally charged environment,” the CM said.
He added that most who died in Mullivaikkal were civilians and not members of the LTTE. “It’s the highly esteemed Northern youth who commemorated their dead and I had hardly anything to do with their decision. They themselves asked to commemorate jointly,” he said.
Then he questioned the NUTA: “Why should I study in the North to feel for the dead?” He also charged at the NUTA saying reconciliation is only possible if the basic causes for the conflict are attended to and invited the NUTA to come over and meet him first.
President of the Jaffna University student union, Krishnarajah Krishnameenan (27), who is a final year Art student, meanwhile said, “There was no political connotation to the memorial event as it was coordinated by 28 other organizations including the civil societies that work closely with the Northern Provincial Council. He admits that they wanted to ‘help’ the event to be well organized and pressurized the NPC to make use of the student body this time.
They had held several meetings to convince the CM and the Chairman of ITAK C.V.K Sivagnanam to approve their intention to organize the event so that it will be purely a people’s event without political interpretation.
“We have heard the criticisms and the mockery of the events held in the past. It is highly unethical because death is emotional, and if emotions are mocked, giving it a political twist, it’s not bearable. That is why we wanted to coordinate the event with the NPC this time,” Krishnameenan said.
However, NPC Opposition Leader S. Thavarasa, NPC member M.K. Sivajilingam and many others were not in favour of the university students organizing the event keeping the politicians aside.
Thavarasa in a letter to the NPC stated that he contributed Rs 7,000 to the NPC thinking that the NPC is organizing the event but sadly it was not so hence, he wanted his money back. He added that he was sidelined even after donating the money. Sivajilingam said politicians did not ‘fall from the skies’ and they have the right to participate in the event.
In an interview with Ceylon Today, Jaffna University student leader Krishnarajah Krishnameenan responded to the criticisms levelled against the student body.
Following are excerpts:
Q Why was it that only the CM led the event and not the TNA that represents the Northerners?
A: It was an open invitation and no one was personally invited. We wanted the CM as he heads the NPC and his plea to the world and our plea as common people are the same. He never twisted his words on promising a political solution for us. He is still standing by it genuinely.
His apolitical background may be his weak point, but he is at least hearing people’s plea without giving the usual political twist like the others do. Why should not he lead it? Can you explain? He also enjoyed the right of free speech and is willing to work with us.
Q Why is NPC member Sivajilingam angry?
A: We don’t know. He is a man who also fights for people’s rights but maybe he felt that he was not given prominence at the event. We did not want to invite anyone personally. Not even the media. Basically no one was invited. It was a public announcement.
It’s for the public and he should have participated standing with the rest in the crowd. We invited people from the East and nearly 2,000 attended. About 400 Eastern University students came too. None fussed so much like some of the Tamil politicians, racists, and the nationalists in the South.
Q Eastern youth claim they were marginalized at the event. Some videos are going viral on social media?
A: We did not treat them so. We wanted them to be a part of the organizing. It was the ones who did not attend the event, out of hatred, have done this. I cannot speak for them. We did care about them.
Q What is the purpose of university student organizing it?
A: If it was politicians who hosted it, it would have been politically accepted and criticized and the people’s genuine participation will be lost.
We wanted to see what they would do if the students take over the event this time. Even then, the Southern nationalists are criticizing it and this is what we wanted to expose. They cannot tolerate Tamils and don’t approve any of their actions. This is what we want the international community to know; that we, with the people’s consent hosted the event and still it has been politicized by the South who are lamenting and accusing the students of ‘acting like the unofficial private Army’.
Q NUTA filed a complaint against Jaffna University authorities about using the students for the event. What have you to say?
A: We are not politicians and the event was held with the blessings of likeminded politicians and it was people centred. Even some members of the JVP came to Mullivaikkal.
The Sinhala students of the university also respected the event we organized at the campus premises. They solemnly stood among others at the memorial. The Army personnel served refreshments to the people who returned from Mullivaikkal.
All those ‘gangs’ came up there and took part silently. We also feel many have realized that crimes were committed against us because they are also posting some comments in favour of the Tamils on social media. These are welcome signs but the politicians are creating disparity among us. There are many from the South who took to social media to back us. If all of these people have approved it, then why worry about the people who criticized us?
Q The CM declared 18 May as Genocide Day. Do you approve of it?
A: Well, if you hear what the people say, that is what it derives to be. We believe the government has not really taken to study the accountability issue because the structural ethnic cleansing will be highlighted.
Q Everyone gathered at the memorial event would tell the story of how the war ended. Who can deny it? Not even the CM could. The ‘kotiya enawa’ mindset should be changed. This is how the children were threatened to eat the food served by their parents in the South.
Q But this will tarnish the reconciliation process and the South has already become uncertain because of the youth participation. Also, there is a fear amongst many that Rajapaksa regime will come back to power taking the country back to the dark era. What is your take on it?
A: Reconciliation is about acceptance. What has happened here is that the politicians are creating these doubts in the minds of the people. We read stories that we had sidelined the moderate Tamil politicians and that the CM is a war mongering racist etc.
We were shocked why the prominent leaders of the TNA did not participate at the event held in Mullivaikkal. We fear that they are not happy about not giving them prominence.
However, they had their own events elsewhere, so that is not our problem. They should have participated at the main event and it’s sad.
This projected the disunity amongst the Tamils too. They owe us an answer because this split among Tamil politicians is only going to harm the unity of the people of the North and the East. We showed how united the Tamils are.
Q There are also allegations that the CM is a Tamil nationalist and fighting the South without attending to his duties of developing the Northern Province. Are you all ignorant about it?
A: We are not doing politics. That is to be sorted out by the NPC. We cannot say he did not do anything as the CM.
There are good projects he has undertaken such as poverty alleviation, employment, rural economy boost and supporting war widows etc. His grievance is that attention should be given first to the burning national questions before talking about development and other things. Reach people through their hearts is what he has been telling and we are aware of it.
Q Do you all want him as the CM again?
A: I don’t know. A leader is someone who listens to people and respect their feelings and wellbeing. People here are dealing with their emotions, an impact due to the war. So let us wait and see.
Q Did he initially refuse to do this Mullivaikkal event?
A: Yes. It was we who convinced him and the rest that we wanted to organize it.
Q The military personnel were serving the people with refreshments and food while returning from Mullivaikkal.
How do you describe that gesture?
A: We cannot read their minds. Maybe they were genuine and felt sad too. Maybe they were sort of feeling bad that all these happened. Many said maybe they are ‘repenting’ (Paava Mannippu). It was a mixed feeling yet we respect them for what they did. We are citizens of this country too and any goodwill gesture cannot be mocked.
Q S. Thavarasa accused the NPC of letting you organize the event and now urges to refund his contribution. Your views?
A: That is his personal vendetta against the NPC, but it’s very sad to see the reactions such as this from Tamil politicians. Tamil politicians need to adjust and see beyond politics. We the students will try our best to see that they all work in unity.
That would be the next step. Students are neutral. We are not blinded by politics. We have held awareness protests on repealing of the PTA and protested against water pollution in Chunnakam.
We also met and held discussions with President Maithripala Sirisena. If there is a fear of Rajapaksas regaining power, the international community will watch over the developments here. Any regime comes to power they will have to respond to the international community.