- During MR’s regime, the Mullivaikkal Day was commemorated in low key
- Sinhala and English media completely indifferent about certain agitations led by Tamil political parties
- Northerners commemorate Tamils, Southerners commemorate members of the armed forces
At times, there is a huge difference between the choice of issues by the Tamil and the other two national language media. This disparity is evident in handling issues related to the rights of the Tamil people including their agitations, with Tamil media, particularly newspapers, giving wide coverage to those concerns, while Sinhala and English media are overlooking them totally.
It is surprising to note that Sinhala and English media have been completely indifferent about certain agitations led by Tamil political parties and other affiliated pressure groups and going on for months in the North. The successful two-month fast by a group demanding the return of their lands occupied by the security forces in Keppapilavu in the Mullaitivu District during the war was a best case on point.
There are still agitations by the Northern people demanding the release of the rest of their lands occupied by the army and navy. Another agitation is ongoing for several months over the release of the people detained under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and those who surrendered to the security forces during the war, some of whom, it is alleged, are being incarcerated for more than a decade even without a single charge.
People in the North have launched another struggle to inform the authorities of the fate of thousands of their loved ones who disappeared during the last phase of the war. They allege some of them had disappeared after being arrested by or having surrendered to the security forces. Hence, they call them ‘people made to disappear.’ Agitations on these issues have been taking place in the North every now and then, but in the recent past, they seem to overlap each other.
Tamil media, especially newspapers, carry news items, feature articles and pictures of these demonstrations, sometimes leading the front page. It is ironic and incomprehensible that Sinhala and English media, mainly those state-run, have been totally indifferent to these issues at a time when the government has formed several entities such as the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) under former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Reconciliation Task Force under Attorney Manouri Muttetuwegama, with a view to promote national reconciliation.
These facts on media behaviour would serve as a preamble to discuss the Mullivaikkal Commemoration Day which is gaining momentum within the Tamil political circle and the Tamil media lately. The event held on May 18 annually is claimed to be a symbol of the deaths of thousands of people during the last phase of the war. However, there are allegations that they commemorate the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran who is believed to have been killed on May 18 by the army on the banks of the Nandikkadal lagoon.
During the Rajapaksa regime, the Mullivaikkal Day was commemorated by certain extremist Tamil leaders like Northern Provincial Councillor and Prabhakaran’s cousin M.K. Sivajilingam in low key. A handful of people used to throng Mullivaikkal to light candles in memory of Prabhakaran and the slain LTTE cadres. However, with the environment reshaping to be more conducive under President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the commemorations are more openly performed with media publicity. Last year’s Mullivaikkal Day commemorations were attended by leading political figures in the North.
As the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) remembers their brethren who were killed in the two insurrections of 1971 and 1989/90 on two separate dates -- one on November 13, the day on which their leader Rohana Wijeweera was assassinated by the army -- the Tamil leaders too remember their slain brethren who were killed by the war on two separate dates -- one is the LTTE’s Maveerar Day or the Great Heroes Day which falls on November 27 and the other on May 18, the day on which Prabhakaran is believed to have been killed. However, Tamil leaders and the media are reluctant to accept that they commemorate the LTTE leader or its slain cadres, lest they might face the ire of the authorities.
It is however interesting to note that there have been no commemoration in the East, maybe due to the absence of such casualties like in the North, when the security forces recaptured it from the clutches of the LTTE in 2007. When the LTTE withdrew from the areas in the East, it had held one by one, it did not force the people in those areas to accompany them along with their valuables whereas the people of Wanni were forced to leave their homes and finally at least two hundred thousand ordinary Tamils were entrapped along with the LTTE in a small area in the littoral of the Mullaitivu District, when the final battles were fought in Pudumathalan.
Nevertheless, it is manifest that a majority of Tamils respect the LTTE while some of them venerate the outfit as it fought in their name and even blew them up in the fight for a separate Tamil State. Yet, it is unfortunate that many of them are blind to the fact that the organisation also used them as a human shield, leaving thousands of them dead and maimed, unlike what they did in the Eastern Province.
The civilian death toll in the final lap of the war is a highly controversial matter with people’s claims ranging from seven thousand to five hundred thousand, according to the political inclination and likings of each group. The government has claimed that the number is around 7,000, which was confirmed at a census conducted by the government in 2011. On the other hand, the Darusman Committee appointed by former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon put it as high as 40,000. The TNA, during the last Northern Provincial Council in 2013, said around 150,000 civilians were perished during the final war whereas some Tamil Nadu leaders prefer the figure to be 500,000.
Unfortunately, commemorating these people and those killed at the hands of the LTTE has been a highly controversial matter even eight years after the end of the war. Northern people commemorate only the Tamils while the Southerners commemorate only the members of the armed forces. The LLRC appointed by former President Rajapaksa had, in its report, an appropriate solution -- a common day of commemoration by both the people of the North and South.
The report in its last two paragraphs says, “Leaders of all sides should reach out to each other in humility and make a joint declaration, extending an apology to innocent citizens who fell victim to this conflict, as a result of the collective failure of the political leadership on all sides to prevent such a conflict from emerging. Religious leaders and civil society should work towards it and emphasise the healing impact it would have on the entire process of reconciliation.
“The Commission strongly recommends that a separate event be set apart on the National Day to express solidarity and empathy with all victims of the tragic conflict and pledge our collective commitment to ensure that there should never be such bloodletting in the country again. Based on testimonies it received the Commission feels that this commemorative gesture, on such a solemn occasion, and at a high political level, will provide the necessary impetus to the reconciliation process the nation as a whole is now poised to undertake.”
Unfortunately, the LLRC report is now gathering dust.