Artwork by @houseofthulasi
With the lifting of pandemic restrictions in some parts of the world, today many Eelam Tamils will once again gather in their masses to commemorate Maaveerar Naal, the day of remembrance dedicated to the tens of thousands who laid down their lives in the Tamil liberation struggle. Meanwhile, a familiar cloud hangs over the Tamil homeland, as the Sri Lankan state continues its efforts to stamp out the lingering memory of those sacrifices from the very land on which they fell. But despite using every weapon in its arsenal to clamp down on commemorations - from court orders to vandalising monuments, to roadblocks and supposed COVID-19 regulations - the Sri Lankan state has and will continue to fail in its mission to eradicate the Tamil nation’s spirit of resistance. Tamil community leaders and politicians in several areas have successfully fought in the courts for their right to remember, but even in those parts of the homeland where Sri Lankan police have enforced bans on public commemorations, candles will be lit and garlands laid behind closed doors.
There can be no doubt over Sri Lanka’s trajectory since Gotabaya Rajapaksa assumed office in 2019. The state continues to ramp up militarisation in the Tamil homeland, and the inexplicably inflated defence budget continues to grow. Arbitrary arrests and prolonged detention, particularly of Tamils and Muslims, punctuate the economic-disaster induced tensions simmering island-wide. The elevation of soldiers and monks within government ranks continues, with even more accused war criminals promoted and notoriously racist Sinhala Buddhist clergymen with questionable credentials gifted senior roles.
As the island deteriorates, the international community’s feigned ignorance is becoming untenable. Although the recent decision by Police Scotland to discontinue their training of the Sri Lankan police is an example of the proactive action that can be taken, such actions cannot work in isolation and must be joined by similar moves and larger policy shifts globally. However, since the Rajapaksa regime re-emerged, there has been no such significant shift in policy. Western states in particular continue to pay lip service towards goals of reconciliation and justice whilst doing little to reach them. Indeed, whilst the US State Department was in talks with Tamils in Washington over accountability for mass atrocities last week, just a few hundred miles away in Kansas the US military lavishly honoured an accused Sri Lankan war criminal. Whilst the UK foreign office raised concerns over the deterioration of human rights in Sri Lanka, just weeks prior Britain’s foreign minister held talks on “strengthening security ties" with her Sri Lankan counterpart.
This is a far cry from the response of Tamils in the North-East who have continued to resist the state’s attacks head on, with notable mass mobilisations in the past year, as well as local resistance upsetting several attempts at land-grabbing and even coverups of police brutality. Tamil families of the disappeared, whose demands were undermined for years as they were lectured by international actors to place their faith in the now all but defunct Office for Missing Persons, have dismissed outright the government’s latest attempts to demobilise their protests with proposals for paltry compensation. But the hypocrisy of the international community is leading those involved in these struggles to a breaking point. Empty words with a lack of tangible consequences signal that even amidst Sri Lanka’s authoritarian slide, engagement can continue unhindered. For the Tamils, many of whom have long suffered the full ramifications of unhindered international support for Colombo for far too long, this is simple duplicity. It cannot continue.
These states must now back their words with action and choose where their priorities and interests lie - either in appeasing a state accused of mass atrocities and authoritarians who show scant regard for democracy, human rights, a free media and accountability, or in support of those working for justice and an enduring political solution to the island’s conflict. The Tamil people have long warned that without these, a lasting peace will not be forthcoming.
As the military raises an elite new special forces unit in the heart of the Vanni, the Sri Lankan state makes clearer each day that perpetual war on the Tamil nation is the status quo it intends to uphold. Regardless, the people of Tamil Eelam will continue to resist. From those in the diaspora, who have persevered and sought innovative ways to bring Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court to the families of the disappeared across the North-East, who continue to show unwavering determination in their struggle to find their loved ones. Across the homeland and around the world, the unyielding resolve to work towards liberation and the spark of resistance has not, and cannot, be extinguished. It is that same spark that will be commemorated today. It blazed through the tens of thousands who gave their lives towards the liberation of their people. And it still burns on today.