As the 2022 Indian Premier League auction came to a close this week, controversy erupted after reigning champions Chennai Super Kings purchased Sri Lankan army cricketer Maheesh Theekshana to join the Tamil Nadu-based franchise.
The hashtags #Boycott_ChennaiSuperKings and #DontNormaliseTamilGenocide began being shared on social media platforms as new spread of the Sri Lankan Army Corporal joining the team.
The 21-year-old has previously praised the Sri Lankan army, which has been accused of committing mass atrocities and genocide, for its involvement in cricket on the island.
“There are about 150 cricketers in the Army,” said Theekshana last year, praising the range of facilities available to soldiers to play cricket. “This shows how much support Army has given to uplift the game of cricket,” he added.
Theekshana also credited the war crimes accused head of the Sri Lankan army Shavendra Silva for helping him in his career, thanking him in an interview with the Sunday Observer last year.
In turn, the Sri Lankan army has also praised the young cricketer even posting an update on its official military website as Theekshana won a Man of the Match award when Sri Lankan played Namibia last year. “Army’s Outstanding Bowler Saves the Day,” read the headline.
Theekshana is part of the army’s infamous Gajaba Regiment, responsible for atrocities such as the Mirusuvil massacre.
File photograph: Soldiers from Sri Lanka's Gajaba Regiment
For fans of the Chennai Super Kings in Tamil Nadu and around the world, Theekshana’s inclusion in the based squad has caused insult and outrage. Fans pointed to Sri Lanka’s genocide of Eelam Tamils and the military’s numerous assaults and murder of Tamil Nadu fishermen.
Though another Sri Lankan cricketer Bhanuka Rajapaksa, a relative of the ruling Rajapaksa regime, has joined a different franchise it is Theekshana’s purchase with the Chennai Super Kings that has drawn the most ire.
“YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED TO ALLOW #GENOCIDESRILANKA REPRESENTING PLAYER INSIDE [Tamil Nadu], COUNTRY WHICH MASSACRED TENS & THOUSANDS OF OUR TAMILS, WITH STILL NO JUSTICE!,” tweeted one user.
“FROM THE BUDDHIST COUNTRY THAT HAS AN UNOFFICIAL POLICY OF TORTURING & KILLING TN FISHERMAN, RAPING AND TORTURING SRILANKAN TAMIL PROTESTORS, AND TAKING AWAY THE LANDS OF SL TAMILS TILL DATE,” said another.
With thousands of tweets and counting, the hashtag continues to trend on Twitter today.
Other users pointed to a previous policy of the Tamil Nadu government in 2013, when it banned all Indian Premier League matches involving Sri Lankan cricket players. Then Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha wrote a letter to the Indian prime minister explaining her actions and the overwhelming "anger" in the state at Sri Lanka's "barbaric acts" towards the Tamils.
“The Government of Tamil Nadu will permit IPL matches to be held in Tamil Nadu, only if the organizers provide an undertaking that no Sri Lankan players, umpires, officials or support staff would participate in these matches," she added at the time.
As hundreds of comments continued to be posted on line and the controversy continues to gain traction, the Chennai Super Kings have yet to formally respond.
This is not the first time that Sri Lankan cricketers have caused controversy in Tamil Nadu. In 2020, popular Kollywood actor Vijay Sethupathi faced widespread criticism after announcing that he was “honoured” to play the leading role in a film on the life of controversial Sri Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan.
Vijay Sethupathi dropped the project after Muralitharan asked him to pull out of the film in order to “avoid any problems to his acting career”.