For the first time in decades there will be no mass gatherings across the world today, as Eelam Tamils commemorate Maaveerar Naal. In the Tamil homeland, the return of the Rajapaksas has plunged the North-East back into a familiar repression. Many will be marking the day in secret, fearing the threat of Sri Lankan military reprisals. Pandemic restrictions around the world have also meant that the well-established large scale events held by the diaspora have been moved to virtual spaces. This relative absence of public display, however, does not detract from the solemnity of this day. Instead, the will to overcome these obstacles and commemorate the sacrifices demonstrates the tenacity of the Tamil nation.
This Maaveerar Naal is particularly significant, not just because it is taking place in the midst of a global pandemic. It comes as the most ardently Sinhala chauvinist regime in the island’s history fortifies its rule. As Gotabaya Rajapaksa marked one year since assuming presidency last week he showed no signs of restraint, choosing to speak on safeguarding the Sinhala race, increasing security and preserving Buddhist heritage. Rajapaksa, who conducted massacres during his previous tenure as defence secretary, has been explicit in his building of a militarised and absolute Sinhala Buddhist state. Democracy and human rights have been treated with particular disdain. Senior government leaders have trashed reconciliation and declared that devolution will never happen. For even those in the international community, it is impossible to ignore the slide into authoritarianism. Any engagement that does not actively seek to push back against Sri Lanka’s oppression is tantamount to complicity.
In the face of Rajapaksa rule, however, there is inspiration to be found in the Tamil homeland. There is strength to be drawn from inside the tarpaulin tents across the North-East, where Tamil women continue to be on the frontline in demanding justice for the disappeared. There is resilience to be found from Tamil journalists and human rights defenders who still bravely report and highlight the abuses people are subjected to. There is hope in the dedicated lobbying of activists in capitals around the world who ensure the Tamil national question remains on the global agenda. And there is promise in the Tamil youth, in the diaspora and particularly those in the homeland, who have taken to social media and other platforms to voice against injustice. It is that spirit of resistance that the Tamil nation continues to be driven by. And it will be firmly on display today as, despite military intimidation and Sri Lankan court orders, there will still be attempts to lay garlands on the destroyed tombstones of fallen warriors.
Almost 12 years since the zenith of Sri Lanka’s genocide, the Tamil nation today stands stronger, more united and more diverse. An increasingly dynamic diaspora, spread across generations and continents, acts in concerted step with Tamils on the island who have been at the forefront of resisting the state’s racism. Whilst Sinhala chauvinism has become more rabid, more intent on occupying and colonising and more brazen in its efforts to create a supremacist state, the Tamil nation has resisted and grown. This contestation is played out not least in the cemeteries where martyred Tamil cadres were laid to rest. Irrespective of caste, gender or religion, tens of thousands who fought for freedom in the face of genocide, were buried beside each other. And whilst the Sri Lankan state continues in its attempts to destroy their graves, memories and ambitions, the Tamil people have shown they will resist, rebuild and expand.
The candles being lit, heads bowed and tears wept around the world today are testament to why Sri Lanka’s project of supremacism will ultimately fail. Despite decades of genocide and military occupation, the Tamil nation refuses to submit. From the mobile phone screens of the diaspora teenager to the silent lamp lit by a grandmother in Kilinochchi. The Tamil nation and the Maaveerar that seeded it, remain an unstoppable force.
Artwork by Keera Ratnam (@wavesofcolour)