Jaffna University students embarked on their final preparations for Maaveerar Naal, the Tamil national remembrance day for fallen fighters, today.
Red and yellow flags marking Tamil national colours where hung across the campus, with the university's Maaveerar monument receiving fresh coats of paint and a newly constructed entrance gate.
The miniature entrance gate which was newly erected for this year's event, resembles the towering entrance gates of the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cemeteries, which were bulldozed by Sri Lankan forces at the end of the armed conflict.
Faculties across the university helped with the preparations throughout the day with the arts students directing and making the final arrangements.
“Even if we get no jobs after graduating with this hopeless situation in the North, at least we can use our inspiration to better these memorial events,” one student from the arts faculty said as he directed another painting a section of the wall.
Vinthan, a 2nd year law student who was present during the preparations for Maaveerar Naal at Jaffna University spoke on why remembrance was importance to him:
As well as being former LTTE cadres, these people were also our brothers, sisters, uncles or neighbours. They were all people from our community that went to fight for the rights of the Tamil people. Whoever they were and whoever was against them, they ultimately fought for our rights. For this we remember them.
Vinthan further added that the North-East was not even given equal rights in remembering their war-dead,
“When you look at Sri Lanka as a whole; the Sinhalese JVP also had their own militant movement, that fought against the government for an ideology they believed in. After the JVP militant resurrection was defeated, they were allowed to form a political party and their cadres were allowed to be remembered as heroes by those that want to.
If Sri Lanka allows the JVP to be remembered in such way, why aren’t Tamil people allowed to remember their war dead in the same way? Tamil people were only fighting to secure equal rights on the island.”
Commenting on the intimidation of those that sought to remember the war dead, Vinthan, said,
“Until 2015, we really struggled to hold Maaveerar Naal due to intense intimidation from the government. It was impossible to do so. But even now there is still intimidation however there is more space to be able to hold these remembrance events. Before they would call us out in public meetings, take our names and scare us. Now it is done through court orders, and criminalising events with LTTE organisational symbols. However if the events are just to remember people that died there is more space. If the government changes, we are sure this space will easily be taken away from us.”
Vinthan noted that the conditions that caused the separatist movement still remained today,
“Before 2015 the state was directly oppressing and undermining the Tamil people. Now it is still happening but in a less obvious way. The same circumstances that caused Tamils to pick up arms are still present today.”
Speaking about land appropriation, and highlighting the duplicitous nature of government land releases, he said,
“Even the lands that are given back to the Tamils are barren lands with no infrastructure that are also now unliveable because they have been occupied for so long. The state is the one that erased and occupied those lands so they should be giving adequate support to make them liveable again. At the same time the state sponsors people from the south and subsidises them to migrate and live in the North.”
He spoke of his experiences with engaging Sinhalese students from the south who were now being encouraged to attend and study in Jaffna University,
“After the war ended there have been more Sinhalese students coming to the Jaffna University to study. When they (Sinhalese) speak about the Tamil armed struggle and our remembrance of it they initially said we are remembering a terrorist movement. However when asked, many of them did not know why the Tamil armed struggle started. So when we hold Maaveerar Naal in Jaffna university we explain to them why the LTTE started and what happened before that, and all the non-violent struggles the Tamils went through for equal rights. They are more understanding after listening to us. That is one thing that comes from holding these events in Jaffna University, at least some of the Sinhala people will get to see and understand our motivations and experience.”
As well as families of those that lost loved ones during the armed conflict, Vinthan is one of many young Tamils that will be attending the remembrance events across the North-East.