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Searching for security

Illustration by Keera Ratnam / @wavesofcolour

Sri Lanka’s military and police forces launched yet another investigation into what they saw as a dangerous threat last week – a flower decoration created for a school sports competition. The reaction from the security forces to the decorative display was because it was of a particular flower; the red and yellow karthigaipoo that is a symbol of Tamil Eelam. Soldiers visited the school and the management was instructed to attend the police station for questioning, with statements even recorded from the principal. Despite what Sri Lanka claims, this is neither peaceful nor normal. 

The ongoing surveillance of the North-East and snuffing out of any expression of nationalist aspiration is not new to the Tamil people. For almost 15 years, tens of thousands of Sri Lankan soldiers have cemented their presence in the Tamil homeland. To date, it remains one of the most militarised places in the entire world. Armed with a military that is accused of committing genocide and has rewarded those who carried out massacres, Sri Lanka has built a suffocating surveillance state. Earlier this year, a 16-year-old Tamil boy was interrogated by police over a kite that was adorned with a map of Tamil Eelam at a festival in Mullaitivu. In November last year, the security forces attempted to prohibit Tamils from using the karthigai flower at commemorations. Even displaying the colours red and yellow or trying to light a lamp is enough for Sri Lanka to detain Tamils under the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). It is little wonder that Tamils continue to flee the island. There is still no peace. 

The Sri Lankan state has carefully constructed this pervasive environment over decades. The ongoing intimidation, arrests and torture are to ensure that Tamils live in perpetual fear, never daring to resist Sinhala rule. The fact that they remain defiant is a constant source of frustration for Colombo, part of the reason why almost all southern media outlets routinely ignore Tamil nationalist displays of resistance and the state’s brutal responses to them. The false narrative that the island is united, safe and a tourists’ tropical paradise is quickly unspun by the grim reality. 

It is no coincidence too that this recent investigation into a school decoration comes as Sri Lankan elections are on the horizon. As has been the case in previous years, the spectre of the LTTE will be raised and swiftly cracked down upon, as parties across the political spectrum whip up Sinhala nationalism ahead of the polls. The coming months threaten to bring even more pain for Eelam Tamils.

All this takes place despite the international community welcoming and even applauding initiatives by Sri Lanka, such as its new “reconciliation” mechanism, that international human rights organisations and Tamils themselves have widely panned. Reconciliation is not possible in this current climate and never will be until the military occupation is removed and justice for mass atrocities is finally delivered. Sri Lanka has proven that it will never allow this to happen and will continue to keep the Tamil people under its heel. It will only serve to bring further instability and violence. The factors that led to the armed conflict have not waned over the last 15 years. They have persisted and, in many ways, intensified. With every passing day, it is becoming more evident and increasingly recognised, that the only way to ensure security for the Tamil nation and its people is to allow them to express their political ambitions and determine their future. An internationally monitored independence referendum is the way forward.

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