Feature Article

Politics of memorialisation discussed in Jaffna

[TamilNet, Friday, 15 May 2015, 23:44 GMT]
A Colombo-based Human Rights defender and an NGO researcher promoting ‘Sri Lanka’ reforms were proposing ‘space’ for ‘multiple narratives’ in the memorialisation process for an ‘inclusive’ Sinhala-Muslim-Tamil ‘Sri Lanka’ at a meeting held in Jaffna last Sunday. The activists from the South were advocating the right of memorialisation as part of a reparations of a reconciliation process as if the underlying genocidal conflict in the island had been resolved. The Tamil activists of the TCSF, defending the right of Eezham Tamils to mark their memorialisation as a collective right were also advocating a transformation within the Tamil nation, in order to accommodate space for various narratives within the mainstream Tamil nationalist discourse itself.

Such a process within the Tamil nation should be owned by the Eezham Tamils themselves strengthening their collective memorialisation of what should be remembered and passed on to the generations to come, the TCSF activists said.

Colombo-based Human Rights Defender, Ruki Fernando, who addressed the audience first, was giving examples of memorial events that he had witnessed in the past, obstructions of memorial events that were ‘non-tolerable’ by various actors and his observations on dark (black/grief) tourism. Mr Fernando raised the question of whether the people were remembering heroes or villains or whether there were blurred lines between these two. He concluded his address with the question of how to commemorate victims from different ethnic, religious groups, by different perpetrators. “Should we commemorate those who were engaged in abuses and violence, and if so, how should we do it,” Ruki Fernando asked adding that, for him, the lines were blurred on the question of discussing victims and perpetrators.

Attorney-at-Law Bhavani Fonseka, who is a senior researcher at Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternatives, was talking about how to move forward without becoming a hostage to the past. What happened in the past is a critical element in terms of reconciliation, she said. But, it is important not to be bogged down in the past that you forget that there are things that can happen in the future, she said.

Ms Fonseka was reiterating that there should be space for different narratives and that there should be a balance between the past and the future.

Bhavani Fonseka was particular about the ‘danger’ of a ‘single story’ narrative as outlined by the Nigerian author Chimamamanda Ngozi. The SL State was going there in the last 10 years, she said.

She was referring to the ‘new initiatives’ by former president Chandrika Kumaratunga such as the ‘effort’ of creating a Common Wall with the names of those perished regardless of their ‘ethnic’ background. Ms Fonseka was talking about the many pages of the LLRC, presidential commissions and looking at memorialisation as part of a larger reconciliation project.

Rev Fr Eili Rajan, a co-spokesperson of the TCSF, who identified the post-genocide period as the period for transitional justice. But, the so-called development activities of the current regime could not be categorised as part of the reparations, which are related to human rights, he said. The current regime is only applying a basic needs oriented development strategy as a ‘development tactics’ to deceive the Tamil people away from proper reparations, he said.

Fr Elil Rajan was touching on the role of the historiography in concealing the genocides, particularly how Western notions of historiography failed in addressing the past of the non-Western World. Elil Rajan, who is a visiting lecturer on Political Science at the Eastern University was stressing on alternative methods of documenting genocides and the need for media in addressing ‘the others’ who were ignored by the historians.

Discussing how the ‘war on terror’ paradigm brough by former US President George Bush was abetting the genocide against the Eezham Tamils in the island, Fr Elil Rajan referred to the notion of ‘counter counter-insurgency’ as described by assassinated Tamil journalist Sivaram Dharmeratnam.

Attorney-at-Law Guruparan Kumaravadivel, the other co-spokesperson of the TCSF said the modern Nation-states were able to foster their identity as political communities through their collective memorialisation. He was citing the American civil war in the shaping of the United States of America, the World War memories in shaping the German identity and the French revolution in the identity of France.

It is a false dichotomy to differentiate between private and public memorial events, Guruparan said.

The SL State, regardless of the regimes coming to power, has been opposed to memorialisation by Tamils as it wants to politically suppress the Tamils from being reminded upon their right to self-determination. That is why the SL State tolerates to some extent the individual and private memorialisation while being strictly opposed to Tamils' collective right to their memory, he said.

Guruparan described the differentiation between the collective memory as a collection of individual and private memorial events and as a collective event of a politicised community, was a divide-and-rule tactic of liberalism. Described it as a jigsaw puzzle, the lecturer in law at the University of Jaffna said it was possible to have achieve the needed inclusiveness and space for different narratives within the collective memorialisation of a politicised community.

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