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A week to remember the fallen freedom fighters

[Press Release, Sunday, 21 November 2010 09:41 No Comment]

By Satheesan Kumaaran

November is for remembering the Tamil freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of the rest of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, either guidedly or misguidedly. Various observances are covertly held in Sri Lanka and overtly abroad to commemorate their sacrifice for the Tamil cause. Their deaths symbolise the idealism that Tamil aspirations should be won at any cost. For the hundreds of thousands of Tamils both at home and abroad, the LTTE represented Tamil freedom from the yoke of Sri Lankan State terrorism.

The first ever Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s (LTTE) member to embrace death in battle was Sathiyanathan of Kambarmalai, in a northern village close to Valvettithurai. Sathiyanathan Alias Shankar, also known as Suresh, died on November 27, 1982. Seven years later on November 27, 1989, about six hundred LTTE cadres assembled at a secret venue in the Mullaitheevu district jungles of Nithikaikulam. The occasion was the newly proclaimed Great Heroes Day or Maaveerar Naal as it’s known in Tamil. This was the time when the Indian army was fighting the LTTE as a consequence of the cunning machinations of the then president, JR Jayewardene, setting one against the other even providing arms to the LTTE to fight the Indian army.

An important feature of the Great Heroes Day had been the ceremony where LTTE leader Pirapaharan, whose birthday, ironically, is November 26, paid homage to the fallen cadres. The centrepiece of this ceremony was his address to the Tamil people in his capacity as the Tamil Eelam National Leader. Since his speeches indicated the future course of the LTTE, this address was keenly scrutinized by observers of the Lankan ethnic conflict. Since last year, however, Tamils have had to honour their dead without their leader. The Sri Lankan government declared that Pirapaharan, along with his senior deputies, was killed during the final phase of the war which ended in May 2009.

Sri Lanka erect military bases on demolished LTTE cemeteries

The LTTE had established quite a number of cemeteries called “abodes” (Maaveerar Thuyilum Illangal) where the great heroes were laid out to slumber in neat rows of graves marked by single tombstones. A pavilion commemorating them collectively with names and relevant dates was also constructed.

Since the war’s end, the Sri Lankan military forces, when seizing territory from the LTTE, have demolished many of these resting places. In some places, coconut palms were planted on top of the graves and Police stations and military bases were erected on others. These actions have caused much resentment among the Tamils.

Besides being a barbaric act to defile the dead and wantonly desecrating their resting places with this barbarism clearly evidenced in the photographs internationally displayed on the execution of some of the LTTE cadres, the shameful and the sadistic treatment of women cadres and the massacre of civilians has also been politically counterproductive for Sri Lanka who professes to being a Buddhist nation observing compassion with the Tamil people, who on the whole gravely resent such activity. Even the diehard opponents of the LTTE amongst the Sri Lankan Tamils the world over do not subscribe to this. After all, these martyrs have their near and far relatives amongst the Tamils wherever they are. This desecration not only dishonors the dead, it hurts and angers the families and friends of the fallen family members. The most touching spectacle of the Great Heroes Day observance was the mass participation of family members at these cemeteries and memorial pavilions. Anyone who witnessed the Tamils paying homage to the dead cadres would be heart-broken.

Not only do the Tamils in Eelam commemorate the deaths of these fallen heroes, but also commemorations are observed in many cities of the world where substantial concentrations of the Tamil Diasporas live. Just as other nations celebrate their dead heroes, so do Tamils.

But, the Sri Lankan government is a government working in fear and under cover. They are doing everything possible to disturb such celebrations fearing that they may rekindle the ‘Tamil Eelam’ sentiment among Tamils who are now in a state of disillusionment, shock, and disarray after the fall of the Tamil freedom struggle in May last year.

Great Heroes Day addresses set the tone for future Tamil freedom strategies

The annual Great Heroes Day address by the LTTE leader V. Pirapaharan has assumed considerable importance over the years. Since Pirapaharan was quite reclusive and shunned direct media exposure, the Great Heroes Day appearance had become one of those rare occasions where he interacted with the public. The speech is also considered to be something akin to a policy statement by the LTTE.

Tamil media, world media, and even the Sinhalese media would be glued to the speeches of the LTTE, which came on the concluding day of the Great Heroes Day (November 27th). Many foreign diplomats scheduled their personal agenda to accommodate after working hours speech, given from 5: 30 pm to 8: 30 p.m. The messages of the LTTE leader would be sent to the respective governments.

Since 2001, Mr. Pirapaharan repeatedly called on the Sri Lankan government to reciprocate peace talks and demanded the world community exert pressure upon the Sri Lankan government to fulfill the demands of the Tamils through peaceful means. This request was seen as rare because Pirapaharan never trusted the Sinhala government would ever solve the Tamil national question through peaceful means, as they never did since the Tamil political leadership stated their aspirations in the 1950s.

When the LTTE was facing defeat at the hands of the Sri Lankan armed forces, Pirapaharan delivered his Heroes’ Day speech on November 27, 2008, on the final day of the week-long celebrations to commemorate the martyred heroes. Rather than declaring war, he refrained from throwing strong words at the Sri Lankan armed forces and the government. Pirapaharan focussed mostly on calling on the international community and India to lift their ban on the LTTE and to help create an atmosphere of mutual friendship, since the LTTE did not pose a threat to any other country in the world.

In 2008, which was the last speech he gave before Sri Lankan military took control of the LTTE-held territories, Pirapaharan spoke more about peace, outlining the need for a peaceful settlement to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. He outlined the original circumstances that led to Tamil youths taking up arms against the Sri Lankan terrorist State consequent to the successive governments failing to address the grievances of Tamils through peaceful means from the time the country gained independence from Britain in 1948.

Since his last speech, nothing has changed. Sri Lanka claimed that they won over the LTTE, and freed the Tamils from LTTE terrorism. The government then said that the Tamils are no more a homogenous nation; rather they are part of Sri Lankan identity. It is a pity to note that the Sri Lankan and Indian governments once agreed to meet the Tamil militant leaders based on the principles that the Tamils were a unique nation with the necessary ingredients to be a nation. But now, Sinhalese leadership has flip-flopped in the belief that there is no threat from Tamils as they are now a weakened people on the throes of destruction.

Even the international community who demanded the LTTE silence their guns have now refrained from taking any action to bring the perpetrators of the genocidal war on the Tamils to justice.

Tamils all over the world are waiting to see how their freedom will be attained. In any event, until the Tamils’ political aspirations are met, it is impossible to put aside any possible resistance whether by violent or peaceful means. The Sri Lankan government had the opportunity to solve the Tamil national question peacefully instead of another bloody war which would further create tensions among two nations who exist on the island of Sri Lanka.

When the first Great Heroes Day was observed in 1989, there were only 1343 martyrs. The tally in 2000 was 16,591. In 2005, the figure was 17,903. So far until May last year, over 25,000 LTTE cadres have lost their lives for their beliefs. These dead souls should not be disrespected. These strong and faithful people stood guard for the Tamils, fighting for freedom and peace, providing hope for Tamils worldwide, and all they attained was martyrdom. Their dreams should not go wasted, their sacrifices should not be dishonored. These heroes died with one hope, one phrase on their lips, “Tamil Eelam.”

As the Tamils face cultural genocide and continuous military occupation with the Sri Lankan armed forces that surround the Tamils with guns pointing at them day and night in every corner of Tamil Eelam territory, this year’s Great Heroes Day celebrations is by all means a day in the struggle for the freedom of the Tamils. Tamils should set aside all petty differences. It is the time to keep the spirit of the martyrs in our souls to make their dreams reality.

(The author can be reached at e-mail: satheesan_kumaaran@yahoo.com)

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