Many Tamil families living in Sri Lanka’s north and east on Friday marked ‘Heroes Day’ — an annual commemoration of LTTE cadre who died in the civil war —by lighting lamps in the quiet confines of their homes, after the government obtained a court order banning the remembrance.
Petitioning different courts in the war-affected districts in the last week, Sri Lanka’s Attorney General Department sought prohibition orders on the commemoration. Government lawyers and police argued that such an event could lead to the “revival of the LTTE” or potentially cause disharmony among communities. In a submission — that drew wide criticism on social media — an inspector told the court: “we [the government] made it possible for those [referring to northern Tamils] who ate pittu and vadai those days to eat pizza now,” referring to the opening up of the area after the armed forces defeated the separatist LTTE in 2009.
Sinnathurai Maheswari, 83, whose son, an LTTE combatant, died in 1985 was among those who went to court to assert her right to remember. “But they have now said we can’t hold the remembrance. I just lit a lamp in front of his picture at our home and kept some fruits and biscuits in front of it,” she told The Hindu from Jaffna. “They say remembering our dead children might bring back the LTTE. How is that even possible now? Who is alive to revive it? The leader is dead, everyone is dead. In my case, I have no one to call my family, other than one other son who is ill and needs my care. All I have is the memory of my son who gave his life,” she said.
The LTTE began commemorating its fallen cadre on ‘Maveerar Naal’ [Heroes Day] in 1989 on November 27 – marking the day that a member, for the first time, died in combat in 1982. Since then, members and families have followed the practice of paying respects to the organisation’s dead combatants every year, gathering at their tomb stones, or at road junctions to remember them together.
According to Mullaitivu residents, a heavy police and army presence was seen across the district on Friday. “The more they prevent us from remembering, the more we will remember our heroes in our homes, within our families. They [the government] want to erase this history, but that will not happen,” said a resident, requesting not to be named fearing police questioning. His son died in 2008, at 21.
The issue dominated recent Parliamentary debates and political discourse in Sri Lanka, where the southern Sinhala polity considers remembering LTTE cadre as a way of legitimising a deadly separatist organisation they revile. In the Tamil-majority north and east, although some have been fiercely critical of the LTTE’s political choices, history of wiping out fellow militant groups and intolerance to dissent, the organisation continues to be revered.
Intervening in Parliament earlier this week, Jaffna legislator M.A. Sumanthiran asked the Rajapaksa administration: “Why are you so worried, why are you so scared of the dead? Is it because you put them to death in the most brutal manner violating all the international norms?” The Rajapaksa administration is widely credited for bringing the war to an end in 2009, but the armed forces are accused of grave human rights violations during the three decade-long war.
Pointing to the Sri Lankan government’s apparent double standards in the House, in allowing the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna [JVP or People’s Liberation Front], to commemorate its mostly Sinhalese cadre killed in two failed insurrections against the state, while seeking a ban on the remembrance of LTTE cadre, he said it was the “most unfortunate, most undignified act by the state”.