On July 9, thousands of protestors stormed the residence of Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in what appeared to be the climax of months of protest over the economic crisis on the island. Photos and videos that quickly made headlines around the world showed demonstrators rummaging through his wardrobe, working out in his personal gym, and splashing around in his private pool. Less than three years after Rajapaksa won a commanding majority among the island’s Sinhalese, the unimaginable had happened - the Sinhala Buddhist strongman, whose war crimes aided rather than impeded his rise to power, was being forced out of office.
Yesterday was Tamil Genocide Day, a day of solemn remembrance and collective mourning. Across the Tamil homeland and around the world, millions commemorated their kith and kin who were deliberately and systematically massacred by the Sri Lankan state. This year, as flames were lit and flowers laid across the North-East, political turmoil continues to rage across the South. Whilst Colombo’s politicians tussle for power, international focus remains on whether Sri Lanka will be able to climb out of the crisis in which it has landed. May 18, more than any other day, served as a reminder that unless deep-rooted structural changes are enacted and the Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism confronted, it never will.
Sri Lanka is in crisis. Protests have spread across the South, demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. It marks a remarkable turnaround in popularity, with demonstrations from the same electorate that less than two years ago delivered Rajapaksa a two-thirds majority in parliament. The speed in which protests have spread and the fury in which they arose, have led the South to believe this is a moment of revolution that offers an opportunity for a definitive break from the island’s turbulent past. Tamils, however, are sceptical.
This week, after almost 2 years in detention, Hejaaz Hizbullah was finally allowed to walk out of Sri Lankan jail . It was a welcome sight. However, the lawyer is not yet a free man. Hizbullah was only released on bail and still has an uphill battle against charges that are widely seen as trumped up. Like so many other Muslims and Tamils across the island, he remains at risk of being imprisoned again under Sri Lanka’s notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The draconian legislation has been a key weapon in furthering the state's Sinhala-Buddhist authoritarianism since its inception decades ago. It must be repealed.
Last week China's ambassador to Sri Lanka made his first visit to the North-East, in an interesting venture to the Tamil homeland. Qi Zhenhong went to great lengths to ingratiate himself with the Tamil people. The ambassador's efforts ranged from visiting the historic Jaffna Library where he donated laptops and books, to speaking with Tamil fishermen in Mannar, and baring his chest whilst dressed as a traditional devotee at the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple. Faced with the turmoil of the Rajapaksas in the south of the island, Beijing seems to be on the lookout for new partners in the North-East...
Last week, the United States announced long-overdue travel restrictions on two more accused Sri Lankan war criminals. The move is a step in the right direction and will be welcomed across the globe by those who seek justice on the island. It serves as a reminder to the Sri Lankan regime that no matter how many years pass, such egregious crimes cannot, and will not, be forgotten or unaccounted for.
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.
This year marks 38 years since Black July: the anti-Tamil pogrom where thousands of Tamils were killed by brutal state-supported Sinhala mobs. It was a week of violence that saw Tamils murdered, tortured and displaced. It remains a premeditated and meticulously coordinated act of genocide. The remnants of this pogroms however, still reverberate across the island to this very day. Recent months in particular, carry concerning parallels to the period leading to 1983’s explosive violence, as Sri Lanka returns to patterns of the past with press suppression, arbitrary and racist detention, military occupation and unchecked state violence running devoid of consequence.
Across the North-East, a crackdown is in full effect. Despite a renewed international focus on the island’s human rights record following the passing of yet another UN resolution on Sri Lanka, the state has decided to respond by doubling down on its repression. The expansion of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), the proscription of hundreds of Tamil diaspora members and the brazen arrest of Jaffna Mayor Viswalingam Manivannan show that Colombo will not respond to calls for reform. These actions, whilst shrouded in the rhetoric of national security, lay bare the intentions of the Sri Lankan state, not only to block justice for genocide and mass atrocities but also to deny even the slightest degree of autonomy to Tamils.
Art by Sagi Thilipkumar A new wave of protest has erupted in the Tamil homeland as a monument dedicated to the tens of thousands massacred in Mullivaikkal was razed from the Jaffna University campus under the cover of night. Students and locals gathered outside the campus gates while Sri Lankan Special Task Force (STF) troops stood guard, blocking their entry and allowing the destruction to take place unhindered. Although many have been left reeling from the sheer cruelty of the destruction, this act is not one without precedent. In 2017, a priest and the community he served in Mullivaikkal...