Razing of war monument in Jaffna an act of oppression: SL Tamils continue to condemn act

The Mullivaikkal memorial at the University of Jaffna to commemorate thousands of Lankan Tamils who died during the war was razed late on Friday night by officials.
(L) The Mullivaikkal war memorial at Jaffna University and (R) The demolition that took place on Friday night
(L) The Mullivaikkal war memorial at Jaffna University and (R) The demolition that took place on Friday night
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Days after the Mullivaikkal memorial in the University of Jaffna was razed to the ground, the Vice-Chancellor of the University Srisatkunarajah on Monday promised to reconstruct the memorial in its original place. The Vice-Chancellor of the University also laid a foundation stone in the university campus on Monday. 

The Mullivaikkal memorial was designed by the public and inaugurated at the University of Jaffna in 2019 to remember thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils who lost their lives during the last leg of the war. The memorial was demolished by the university authorities late on Friday night on the grounds that it was an unauthorised structure.The demolition triggered immediate protests both inside the country and outside, with the razing being viewed as an act to trigger the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. 

Protesting students went on a hunger strike in the university soon after the demolition while many others agitated, showing their opposition by shutting down shops and schools in the country’s north-east on Monday.  

A Sri Lankan Tamil refugee based in Europe, who requested anonymity, said, "This act is like an extension of the continued oppression on the minority community members in Sri Lanka. Recalling the deceased, writing about their memories and constructing memorials are part of our culture and it's our right too."

"Likewise, the memorial to remember the deceased in Mullivaikkal memorial is our right and we were able to console ourselves by seeing the memorial. However, the Sri Lankan government and Army has demolished the memorial at night like a warning to the people. This act also looks like a way to rob the people of their rights," she said. 

A resident of Jaffna alleged, "We are denied dignity in death and even our emotions are not respected while we are alive. The government is just killing the people again and again."

Meanwhile, Mahendran Thiruvarangan, a professor of Jaffna University, took to Facebook on Friday to condemn the demolition. “Demolishing, in the stealth of the night, a monument commemorating thousands of people who died during the last stages of the war cannot be justified under any circumstances. This is nothing but a high-handed, chauvinistic act by the state. It is another act that was done with the intention of erasing memories associated with the Tamils that expose the horrors unleashed on the community by Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism and its military apparatuses.” 

He also recalled that the previous Vice-Chancellor of the University R Vigneswaran, who served between May 2017 and May 2019, was allegedly removed from his post since he opposed demolishing the memorial. “It is worthwhile to remember that not clearing this monument was listed as one of the reasons for the removal of the previous Vice-Chancellor of the University of Jaffna in an affidavit submitted by the former Chairperson of the University Grants Commission to the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in 2019,” he wrote.

Former Head of Department of Law at Jaffna University K Guruparan also recalled on social media on January 8, “The previous V-C Vigneswaran was sacked because he didn't demolish the monument. I have concrete reasons to believe that one of the pre-conditions for the appointment of the new V-C by the incumbent President was demolition of this monument,” he alleged. 

The V-C of the University of Jaffna Srisatkunarajah  was appointed in August 2020. In an interview to The Hindu, Srisatkunarajah said that higher authorities - including the defence, intelligence, and education officials - had issued instructions for the demolition of the memorial.

Vaiko leads protest in TN 

Across the Palk Strait, political parties in Tamil Nadu condemned the demolition of the memorial.  On Monday, MDMK leader Vaiko, who served multiple prison terms for pro-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) speeches, organised a protest in front of Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission in Chennai.  The allies of MDMK including DMK, CPI, CPM, VCK and Tamizhaga Vazhvurimai Katchi also participated in the protest.

Vaiko said, “Tamils have united again, unable to forget the past incidents. So let’s stand for our blood relations with the feeling of brotherhood by forgetting political, caste and religious differences.”  

The protesters also attempted to besiege the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission, demanding the removal of the consulate from Chennai.They were later detained by the police. 

Speaking to India Today, Vaiko alleged, “Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission is the symbol of genocide of Tamils. So we say that the symbol should be removed from the capital of Tamil Nadu. This is the beginning and spark and it will soon evoke reaction from all parties fighting for Tamils all these years.”

On V-C permitting to reconstruct the memorial again on the same site, Vaiko said, “The V-C would not have expected this support; the North and Eastern parts of Sri Lanka are holding hartals. Hence, he has accepted to rebuild a memorial.” 

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and DMK President MK Stalin had also condemned the demolition of Mullivaikkal memorial in Jaffna University. The Chief Minister on Saturday took to Twitter to say that he was shocked by the demolition of the memorial in the middle of the night, which was raised to remember the students of the University and citizens who were brutally killed in the last stages of the war.

Slamming the incident, Stalin sought that the Indian government condemn the demolition. Tagging the Twitter handle of the Prime Minister, Stalin said, PMO should condemn the shocking incident and that Tamils across the world are expecting this.

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