A five-day march from the Eastern to the Northern Province in Sri Lanka, spanning over 400 km, saw political workers, students, religious leaders, family members of those missing from the civil war period all coming together. Touted to be one of the biggest protests in over a decade, the march that began on February 3 started as a demand for justice for the Tamils of the island but snowballed to focus on several issues.
The rally began in Pottuvil in the Eastern Province and made its way across all eight districts of the Tamil-dominated region, ending in Polikandy near Jaffna in the Northern Province. The locations were strategically planned as the 410-km route marked the farthest ends of the Tamil-dominated regions.
After he took part in the march, the special security provided to Sri Lankan Member of Parliament MA Sumanthiran was withdrawn. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) party MP had been provided security after multiple alleged attempts on his life.
Several courts had issued bans and injunctions on the march after police from various districts petitioned for the same. Magistrate Courts in Jaffna, Mannar, Kalunwanchikudy and Vavuniya had all issued injunctions on the basis of the COVID-19 situation as well as the police’s objection that the march intended to smear the Sri Lankan government’s image in front of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
The demonstrators had a list of 10 demands, including safety of Tamil farmers’ rights, release of Tamil political prisoners, withdrawal of military occupation from Tamil-dominated areas, increasing wages of Tamil plantation workers and end to the alleged targeting of journalists and civil society activists. The protesters also demanded that the Prevention of Terrorism Act be repealed and answers be given to the families of those who went missing during or after the civil war in the country. The Muslim organisations that joined the protest demanded an end to ‘forced cremations’ of Muslims who succumbed to COVID-19.
The stated intention of the protesters was to call the attention of the international community as well as the United Nations to their grievances and have the Sri Lankan government address them. Organisers alleged that the march, which was to be completed in four days, took five days due to disruptions by local police and government agents along the way.