Mullivaikkal. There are many words pertaining to the Tamil Eelam independence struggle that have meanings far beyond their functional ones. Mullivaikkal is among the foremost of these.
Mullivaikkal is a more than just a place. A sandy strip of land along the beautiful Tamil Eelam coastline, Mullivaikkal bore witness to one of the most seminal moments in the history of the Tamil people. It was here that the Tamil identity was targeted for annihilation like never before in our history.
Today the forgotten slippers and children’s toys, left behind as the Tamil people fled the genocidal bombardment of the Sri Lankan army, still litter the soft sand of Mullivaikkal beach. Their presence is a testament to the arrogance of the Sri Lankan security forces who are confident in the ability of the Sinhalese-dominated government to shield them from any investigations into their conduct.
Mullivaikkal is more than just a place. It is a moment in time that stands still in the heart of every Tamil around the world. Here was where the Sri Lankan state backed by the Sinhala electorate totally, and unflinchingly, displayed its true intent towards the Eelam Tamil people for the entire world to see.
Their aim was to destroy the idea of Tamil liberation by way of physically annihilating all those who stood firmly behind it. To destroy the egalitarian ideals that the Tamil people fought for and the society they created. One in which women stood shoulder to shoulder with men. One in which women ruled as administrators and fought as freedom fighters. One in which women did not ever have to worry about sexual violence .
While the Sri Lankan army and Sinhalese civilians used rape as a weapon of war against Tamil fighters and civilians alike, the Tamil people stuck unflinchingly to their own ideals and never returned the sexual violence aimed at their own ranks . It was Tamil Eelam, the de-facto state created by them, which remained the only place where women could walk freely in the entirety of South Asia during its existence.
The other great evil of South Asian societies, the caste system, was “literally abolished” in areas under their control – the LTTE are the only group in South Asian history to have had such success in doing so . In fact, the inclusive nature of the Tamil independence movement was enshrined in the 1976 Vaddukoddai resolution, which formed the ideological basis for the armed struggle for Tamil Eelam and seriously addressed caste as an important issue.
This is a pertinent fact for Tamils all over the world to understand, especially in light of a new class of Sinhala and Tamil ‘liberals’ who attempt to undermine the Tamil national struggle by manipulating the patriarchy and caste-consciousness that has returned to Tamil society for their own agenda. It should come as no surprise that these two issues have acutely re-emerged since the defeat of the LTTE and Tamil society coming under the control of the Sinhalese-dominated government.
Their excuse is that Tamil national aspirations should be put on the back burner until issues of caste and patriarchy are broken down, if not totally discarded. It is important for Tamils worldwide to understand that it was precisely the Tamil Eelam national liberation struggle that addressed and broke down these barriers in the first place, while simultaneously fighting Sinhala state oppression.
It is the process of national struggle that breaks down these two forms of internal oppressions. The external struggle for independence of the Tamil people and the internal struggle for social justice within Tamil society can never be mutually exclusive. The two are inextricably linked.
As Tamil Eelam symbolises more than just an independent homeland for the Tamil people, Mullivaikkal symbolises more than just the genocidal massacre of the Tamils of Vanni.
Mullivaikkal was the Sri Lankan state’s attempt to crush the will of the Tamil people, to destroy our identity, our hopes, our dreams, our aspirations and our future.
While the allegations of the LTTE not allowing some civilians to leave their shrinking control cannot be ignored, the vast majority of Tamils chose to remain in Tamil-held territory. They were passionate supporters of Tamil independence and the vision of an independent, egalitarian Tamil nation as articulated by the Vellupillai Pirabakaran and the LTTE. They knew what was in store for them on the Sri Lankan side.
By May 16th only the strongest and most dedicated supporters of Tamil nationalism remained in LTTE-controlled areas. On May 16th, the LTTE decided to “silence their guns to remove the last excuse the Sri Lankan army had to attack Tamils” and ceased firing . With no threats to Sri Lankan soldiers, one would have expected a siege-like situation to prevail, eventually ending in the orderly surrender of LTTE cadres and their civilian supporters as supplies ran out.
What happened next is perhaps the most important lesson to take from Mullivaikkal for it reveals the ultimate reality about the Sri Lankan state.
On May 16th 2009, the Sri Lankan armed forces increased their firepower to maximum extent launching a full artillery barrage and aerial bombardment on a foe that had laid down its arms and the unarmed Tamil civilians that far outnumbered the fighters. Almost all of the most committed and principled supporters of the ideals of Tamil nationalism were physically destroyed in a matter of days. Thousands of people, from multiple generations who had continuously and consistently supported the Tamil Eelam independence movement more strongly than anyone else were killed in cold blood. Their collective voices had been silenced in an instant.
So too was the idea of an independent Tamil nation, or so the Sri Lankan state wanted it to be.
That the Sri Lankan state is founded upon the subjugation of the Tamil nation and its colonisation by the Sinhalese nation is the point that the world, including unfortunately some Tamils who support counter-productive reconciliation initiatives, fail to grasp. Attempts at reconciliation that do not address the national aspirations of the Eelam Tamil people or the issues of justice, accountability and power-sharing on an equitable nation-to-nation basis are doomed to fail, as all repeatedly have since 2009. The Sri Lankan state’s actions at Mullivaikkal were more than just the systematic and planned genocide of the Tamil people.
Mullivaikkal was the attempted destruction of the Tamil will to freedom.
This truth is borne out by the actions of the Sri Lankan armed forces in the months leading up to Mullivaikkal. Puthukudyiruppu, Vallipuram and Putumattalan hospitals reduced to rubble among others. Hundreds of civilians, many of them children, buried under the debris of these sites that were deliberately and repeatedly hit by the Sri Lankan Air Force. Schools and day care centres bombed. People queuing for scraps of food blown to pieces as they waited with their children. Piles of bodies bearing the marks of chemical weapons and cluster bombs. Thousands of Tamils disappeared upon surrendering to Sri Lankan forces and thousands more disappeared in deliberately under-supplied internment camps. Thousands more still were repeatedly raped and tortured before being executed at point-blank range, the fate that befell Isaipriya Akka and Balachandran, the 12-year old son of our national leader.
The message from the Sri Lankan state to the Tamil people was clear – give up on your idea of a Tamil nation or die.
Despite this, what the Sri Lankan state desired has failed.
On Friday 18th May, thousands of Tamils throughout occupied Tamil Eelam will mark the 9th anniversary of the Mullivaikkal massacre. The memories of the sight of bloodied bodies strewn among the rubble of blown-up hospitals in the ‘no fire zones’ still burn brightly in their minds. Many of those will be people who suffered directly at the hands of the Sri Lankan state’s calculated genocide and have lost loved ones to it. Many others, particularly those in the Jaffna, Trincomalee and Batticaloa regions, will be people who continue to feel an inconsolable sense of loss by the deliberate massacre of thousands of their kith and kin.
Commemoration events have already begun. Five days ago, members of the municipal council of the Eastern city of Batticaloa paid their respects to those who perished at Mullivaikal . The next day, remembrance events were held at the Northern towns of Mirusuvil, Chemmani and Mulliyavalai , all of which bore witness to mass rapes, disappearances and murders committed by Sri Lankan soldiers against Tamil civilians throughout the war [7, 8]. This North-East unity is a testament to the enduring sense of nationhood that the Eelam Tamil people feel.
Perhaps most striking of the initiatives taken by our people in the homeland is that led by the students of Jaffna University. As a diaspora Tamil student, their actions are particularly inspiring and emotive to me. Here is an English translation of the statement, provided by the Tamil Diplomat, put out by the Jaffna University Students Federation (JUSF) :
“We are nearing the 9th anniversary of the ultimate human disaster at Mullivaikkal. May 18th is with its historical importance as a day when the Eelam Tamil race remembers the injustices perpetrated against it and the consequent sorrows, demand justice from the world and rising in conviction to continue the struggle for justice. Rally to remember the Mullivaikkal disaster.”
In recent years, the students of Jaffna University have carried the beacon of hope in continuing the struggle of the Tamil people for independence. They have bravely fought off attempts by violent Sinhalese students attempting to impose their Sinhalese-Buddhist culture over Tamil ceremonies in the university and have continued to remember the fallen heroes of the Tamil struggle on Maveerar Naal. They even refused to allow the Mullivaikkal commemorations be presided over by the Northern Provincial Council as they believe that this was a disaster that befell the entire Tamil nation, including the people of the East .
That defiant resistance, the enduring desire for freedom is burning brightly among the Tamils of the homeland. On the morning of April 23rd the people of Iranaitheevu, a small island off the Kilinochchi coastline, got into their boats and sailed to their ancestral home, occupied by the Sri Lankan navy. They had been forcefully displaced to the mainland since 1992. With the resistance to the Sinhala state destroyed, Sri Lanka has been aggressively colonising the Tamil homeland with Sinhalese settlers in an attempt to permanently destroy the ability of the Tamil people to exist as a nation.
Three days later the Sri Lankan state accepted defeat in Iranaitheevu and allowed the villagers to return to their ancestral lands. It was one of the most daring acts in recent history against a naval force that has massacred thousands of unarmed Tamil civilians with impunity before.
There are many more stories of Tamils resisting and defying the occupying state of Sri Lanka. Our past is filled with brave young men and women sacrificing their lives for the freedom of their people. They defied the odds and beat back a numerically superior and better-armed enemy, re-writing the rules of warfare as they went along .
Our present is filled with mothers and fathers fighting to know the whereabouts of their disappeared children, of fellow Tamil civilians fighting for justice on behalf of them and of the full cross-section of Eelam Tamil society remembering the sacrifices of our fallen heroes. And in an occupation such as Sri Lanka’s, where those who attempt to recognise the sacrifices of selfless Tamil warriors are violently threatened by Sri Lankan state forces, remembering is resistance.
Mullivaikkal symbolises the enduring principle of self-determination of the Tamil people and the refusal of the Eelam Tamil people to abandon it.
It was here that tens of thousands of Tamil lives were remorselessly extinguished by the army of the Sinhalese people. It was here that tangible Tamil sovereignty, won back through the selfless sacrifice of thousands of maveerar, was destroyed in order to continue the Sinhala colonisation of the Eelam Tamil homeland.
And it is here that on May 18th, thousands of Tamils will gather to remember their kin and to resist Sri Lanka’s brazenly false narratives of a humanitarian operation to save Tamil civilians in 2009.
On the 9th anniversary of Mullivaikkal, I encourage you to reflect deeply on what Mullivaikkal means to you personally as a diaspora Tamil.
I encourage you to remember not just the fact that tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were senselessly massacred and that still more remain unaccounted for to date.
I urge you to recognise the idea that they died for. The idea of an independent Tamil nation. And that idea lives on today.
“You can kill a man but you can’t kill an idea” – Medgar Evers.