Independence day in Batticaloa

[TamilNet, Friday, 05 February 1999, 00:40 GMT]
"Some are celebrating the independence day happily, some are observing it under constraint and others who abhor it are boycotting," said Mr. A.K Pathmanathan, the Government Agent for Batticaloa, addressing a small gathering at the district secretariat in the morning of February 4 at the function to celebrate Sri Lanka's 51st year of independence from British rule.

The gathering comprised his deputy, Mr.S.Shanmugam, two department heads, seven minor officials and a lone Buddhist monk

The GA hoisted the Lion flag, Sri Lanka's national insignia, at 8.33 a.m. as the national anthem played from a hastily procured tape recorder - the Vipulaananda Music College that was requested to send a group of its pupils to sing the anthem had refused to come.

Batticaloa town was deserted this morning. Shops and businesses were closed.

The national flag fluttered desolately on storefronts. The Sri Lanka Army (SLA) distributed it with strict instructions that it be flown Wednesday. The army levied ten rupees from them for each flag.

A large Lion flag flew at the camp of the Razeek group, the military arm of the EPRLF.

None of the other Tamil paramilitary groups that assist the SLA hoisted the national flag today -"to show our people that we have not yet given up the fundamental principles for which we took up arms in the beginning" said a local leader of one of these armed groups.

Tamil politicians have traditionally shunned the Lion flag as a symbol of Sinhala Buddhist hegemony. (The Sinhalese consider themselves as the people of the Lion.)

None of the District's five members of Parliament turned up for the function at the Batticaloa Kachcheri this morning; nor did more than hundred government officials and heads of local government bodies who are customarily expected to be present at the event.

Speaking further at the Independence Day function this morning, the GA said

"Regional discrimination, ethnic and linguistic differences have given rise to a situation where a section of this country's people have to live in refugee camps and abroad."

"They have been undermined socially, economically and politically."

"We heard a few weeks ago that people have died in the Vanni. Of the 51 years since independence, the country has been under emergency rule for 34-35 years; and for 15 years people have lived amidst war."

"Our younger generation has not known peace; they have known only war. The people of this country lived in freedom and peace only for five to ten years since 1948. The economy has deteriorated since independence."

"The two powerful political parties of this country have worked with only their self interest in mind. When one is in power the other works against it, only to look after its self-interests. At no point did both parties come together for the common national interest."

"They have utilised the ethnic problem only to come to power. A community lives in frustration because of this. In truth, the problems and violence in this country are related to the question of rights."

"If all rights are assured then there won’t be any need to fight. It is the duty of the political leaders to obtain these rights. They should not look only for political profit. They should come forward to grant equal rights to everyone in this country" the Batticaloa GA said.

The function concluded around 10 a.m.

The SLA in Batticaloa had earlier told the Kachcheri (District Secretariat) that the independence day function should be held at its brigade headquarters.

The GA had categorically refused accept this on the ground that traditionally it has been held in the Kachcheri premises.

The SLA had later said that the function should be organised in the open space near the Buddhist temple that caters to its soldiers. The Kachcheri had rejected this as well.

Officials at the district secretariat said it would have been foolish to do so on a day when the town was sure to be deserted.


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