Control Of Memory and the Condemnation of Memorials

On one hand the “normalcy” of Colombo is unsettled in favor of the otherwise redundant “night races”, for which the heart of commuter-traffic – not to mention the budget – is appropriated in a bid to realize a favorite’s dream. Then, on the other hand, you beat and assault a collective spirit whose dreams and aspirations have been fatally retarded; and for whom solace has been made a luxury item for which they have to pay dearly.

The attack on the Jaffna University students by the Police and Military cannot be justified under the “threat to national security” Theory. The nation is past that and so are we: that blatant act which has drawn criticism from many quarters has to go down as a prototype for the lack of consideration and empathy the Northern civilian receives at the hand of the ruling elite of this country, as well as by the military vanguard that is on the payroll to satisfy the rulers’ needs. While the “defense” of the assault was trained along the vague and anomalous “security” aspect, some extremists had even gone to the extent of defining the commemorative service in question as an attempt at celebrating the “Mahaveer Day”; which, at the helm of the LTTE’s reign, was a chief ceremony.

Memory is a crucial variable in human traffic and in the construction, retention and extension of history. We collect our days and times as “memories” and we store the visuals – be they moments of happiness or pain – as an ever-growing account in our “memory bank”. Memorials for the fallen, in spite of creed or faith, are among the chief monuments on which we bank our grief. Similarly, commemoration ceremonies are often sought after as outlets of strain and anxiety; and as means of carrying ahead the memory of one lost, a group ceased, a cause defeated etc. Commemoration has ritualistic as well as political and ideological implications – there is little doubt about that. But, in a country which on paper claims to be on the path to rightful reconciliation one cannot disregard the emotional and psychological dimensions accommodated by a symbolic act as what was disrupted in Jaffna.

If ever there is reconciliation seen in relation to the assault and its TID-aftermath, it is seen in the many of the South who condemned the act as brutal and unacceptable. The prompt response of agents such as the Inter University Students’ Federation regarding the issue was exemplary even though where the scales of power and authority are tilted such words of concern cannot go beyond a point. Other commentators, including politicians and critics had voiced their dissent, but the shocked sympathizer has long since become a redundancy in the direction of issues as such.

Armed barrage against the UoJ engineered commemoration of the slain

Armed barrage against the UoJ engineered commemoration of the slain

The facilitation of grief and sorrow is mandatory in a re-socialization process of a community as disrupted and ruptured as the North is. One should not shun this outlet for a community for which a space for proper grieving is long overdue, by propping up the peppermint of “national security”. In the month of November, barely a month before, the JVP and the Frontline Socialist Party – two parties which share a common parent – had a much more accentuated series of activities in their “Il Maha Viru Samaruva”: a remembrance of the fallen during the unsuccessful coup for power in 1988-89. A second memorial platform is shared in April, to give meaning to the lost and slain during the 1971 insurgency.

While these ceremonies of meaningful commemoration are facilitated in the South, the Northern right to grieve and remember is thwarted. Is it because the latter is by a Tamil majority, held in a site freshly “won” through a lusty battle? The sad truth is, in this thrust of “lessons unlearnt”, the ruling elite and its proxies are alienating the Tamil communities and the youth of the North more and more. This sidelining is none the less significant to the general attitude and policy they simultaneously showcase for the world to see, as this potential “threat to security” is pronounced in a landmass that is under the virtual control of the military, the carder-civilian ratio being 1:5.

Colombo night races at the economic hub of Colombo

Colombo night races at the economic hub of Colombo

The scant disregard for memory has been no new item in the perpetrator either. In the immediate months that followed the military crushing of the LTTE in 2009, cemeteries and commemorative tombs of slain LTTE carders were turned over and bulldozed. As unjustifiable such insensitivity and lack of human regard is, let us excuse that passage as being a possible spur caused by the euphoria of victory. Since the proclamation made by Dutugemunu regarding Elara’s body is sanitized mythology, the basic human impulse in destroying the resting places of the “enemy” can be understood and conceptualized. But, three years later, with all that has been said, done and passed since, one has to be more learned in “humanization”: and that relates to the military, too.

On one hand the “normalcy” of Colombo is unsettled in favor of the otherwise redundant “night races”, for which the heart of commuter-traffic – not to mention the budget – is appropriated in a bid to realize a favorite’s dream. Then, on the other hand, you beat and assault a collective spirit whose dreams and aspirations have been fatally retarded; and for whom solace has been made a luxury item for which they have to pay dearly. Such contradictions and ambivalences should be avoided as much as possible One’s aim should be to strategize reconciliation in a way it is meaningful to the people and the communities that are deeply affected by the lack of “peace” and “normalcy”.

[Written for the Nation]

 

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