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Parvathi Amma

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Whilst Sri Lanka and its international allies labour to present an image of emerging 'post-conflict' normalcy - and even of 'reconciliation' in the offing - events in Jaffna this week made clear the country's future is exactly the reverse. The military's desecration of the ashes of LTTE leader Vellupillai Pirapaharan's mother, and its anxious, violent efforts in preceding days to prevent public mourning of her death underline not only the popular sentiment amongst Tamils, but the state's unshakable insecurity. In short, the seventy-year long antagonism between the Sinhala ethnocracy and the Tamil people will endure and grow. This is not a matter of ancient hatreds, but of state policy and the politics to come.

By desecrating Parvathi Amma's remains, the Sri Lankan military has  again demonstrated the extent to which the Sinhala sense of self rests on the ability to inflict pain and humiliation on the Tamils. The slaughter in the Vanni is celebrated as a heroic victory, the repression of the Tamil areas presented as necessary to pacify an implacably hostile population, and the state-sponsored colonisation of Tamil areas as an epic re-conquest of historic lands. While international community remains perplexed by Sri Lanka's conduct - or puts it down to a yet-to-be-fixed backwardness - the Tamils recognise the logic.

While the Tamils must bear the brute material reality of this oppression, it is such acts of barbarism that will come to define Sri Lanka on the international stage. Parvathi Amma's death was, understandably, of little interest to international media. But the desecration has been swiftly covered by several international newspapers. For all the money Colombo will plough into public relations in the years to come, its image will ultimately be framed by its own macabre violence and repression. The attendant themes of ethnic discrimination and unpunished war crimes will not end. The Diaspora will see to that.

Unlike her famous son, Parvathi Amma and her husband were never involved in politics. Yet, no sooner had the war ended, Sri Lanka arrested them both. There was no charge, of course. But this was, after all, another opportunity ripe with symbolism for the Sinhala polity to yet again demonstrate its domination over the Tamils. Only when her husband died in detention would Sri Lanka release Parvathi Amma. Yet Colombo fretted about this quiet and remarkable woman.

Despite its repeated self-congratulation over its military defeat of the LTTE, the Sinhala polity remains anxious and restive. Which is why when Parvathi Amma also passed away, the state began lashing out. When people in Jaffna put up black flags of mourning, the military tore them down. Troops leveled machine guns to bar Jaffna University's students from attending her funeral, and intimidated and videotaped those present. Politicians from Tamil Nadu who sought to attend were refused visas and deported. Ultimately, frustration over the palpable affection and respect the global Tamil community showed for Parvathi Amma (and it is indisputable why this is so) prompted the vile desecration of her remains.

This is Sri Lanka's future, as it has been the past. For the Sinhalese polity, international, as well as domestic, priorities will be driven solely by a need to keep the Tamils in a state of terror and dependence. See, for example, the refusal to allow international access, let alone rehabilitation, reconstruction or economic revival in the Tamil areas. Maintaining a state of repression in the Tamil areas will become an all consuming pre-occupation. Victory over the LTTE has not lessened an imprecise fear that continues to gnaw.

Paradoxically, it is Sri Lanka's repression that will help consolidate the Tamils' struggle amongst a new generation, both in the island and in the Diaspora. It was Sinhala majoritarianism, after all, that helped fashion a robust Tamil identity infused with a determination to withstand domination. In mourning Parvathi Amma, the Tamil nation again came together. The defiant Tamils who hung black flags in Jaffna, the university students who protested, the expatriate Tamils who attended public memorials and the Diaspora media which covered the funeral and programmes of commemoration acted as one.

Conversely, it is precisely because Sri Lanka has failed to cow the Tamils that bullying and displays of force at Parvathi Amma's funeral and the subsequent desecration of her remains became necessary. A much loved and respected woman was this week transformed into a figure of historical importance for the Tamil nation and a dignified symbol of our struggle. In her death, as in her life, Parvathi Amma has brought new strength and resolve to her people.

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