NEW DELHI: Outrage has mounted in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu after a memorial to Tamils who lost their lives in a civil war was demolished in northern Sri Lanka last week.
The monument at the University of Jaffna was built in 2019 in memory of Tamils who perished in the 26-year conflict between Sri Lanka’s government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from 1983-2009, which claimed an estimated 100,000 lives.
Tamils, who are of the same ethnic group as residents of Tamil Nadu, constitute 12 percent of Sri Lanka’s population. Their situation in Sri Lanka plays a major role in New Delhi-Colombo relations.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswamion condemned the monument demolition as causing “great pain to the Tamils of the world,” while regional parties held a protest on Monday in the state’s capital Chennai, in front of the Sri Lankan deputy commissioner’s office. On the same day, the Sri Lankan government promised to rebuild the monument.
“You cannot undo the damage already done. Colombo had to retract after international pressure,” Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) leader Mallai Sathya told Arab News.
“We feel the demolition is an attack on the memory of the Tamils who lost so many of their dear and near ones in the war against the Sri Lankan government,” he said.
The Sri Lankan government, under Gotabaya Rajapaksa, which derives its political support from the majority Sinhala community, had earlier referred to the memorial as “glorification of the separatist LTTE.”
Tamil politicians in India see the monument demolition as jeopardizing the integration of the Tamil community into Sri Lankan society.
“If the Sri Lankan government was really keen on the integration of the Tamils in mainstream society, they should not have allowed the demolition of the war memorial,” Saravanan Annadurai, spokesman for the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party, told Arab News after Monday’s protest.
“A fragile peace is prevailing in Sri Lanka and this kind of majoritarian act shakes the confidence of the local Tamils in the government in Colombo,” he said, adding that the “plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka is a sensitive issue” for Tamil Nadu.
The memorial destruction is seen as polarizing in Colombo as well.
“This was a polarizing action, and it will make the Tamil people all the more upset with the government,” said Colombo-based Jehan Perera, the head of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka. As the demolition incident took place two days after Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar’s visit to Colombo, Perera told Arab News it was a “slap in the face” to India.
During his visit, the Indian minister urged Sri Lankan authorities to transfer some power to Tamils in Sri Lanka’s Tamil-dominated regions.
As Tamil Nadu will hold a regional election in April, India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been trying to show it “cares” for Tamils, Perera said.
“The BJP wanted to impress upon the people in Tamil Nadu that they care. After this incident, India now has to show they are serious about the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.”
However, Chennai-based political analyst N. Sathiya Moorthy says that by restoring the war memorial, the Colombo government is trying to convey the message that it was not behind its destruction.
“The demolition came a day after Jaishankar’s three-day visit to Colombo, and would have carried a message of its own, had it not been for the restoration only two days later,” Moorthy said.
“The issue has triggered a revival of the Sri Lankan Tamil ethnic discourse in Tamil Nadu where assembly polls are due soon,” he added.
Despite the promised restoration of the monument, commentators see the incident as something likely to have repercussions.
Dr. Gulbin Sultana of the Delhi-based Manohar Parrikar Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses told Arab News that as long as the grievances of the Tamils of Sri Lanka are not addressed by the Sri Lankan government, “the issue will continue to act as irritant in India-Sri Lanka bilateral relations.