Remembering the Dead
Photo courtesy of Kumanan
As a Catholic, I start November with All Souls Day remembering our departed loved ones; as a Tamil, November ends with remembering the Tamil militants who sacrificed their lives for a Tamil homeland.
I was born in Jaffna and survived through Eelam Wars 1 and 2. I witnessed the killing of our villagers by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in 1987 and the Air Force’s bombing of the Navaly church in 1995.
Before I was born, Inpam and Selvam were the first people to be arrested and murdered under Prevention of Terrorist Act. Selvam was a young man married to Inpam’s sister. He was not connected to terrorism but being a brother-in-law, he was also killed.
Before I was born, male students from our village opposed the government. The police raided their houses. Bala was one of those taken into custody and disappeared. Our village men and women joined different militant groups and sacrificed their lives.
As a Tamil, my birth was connected with death. Death became part of my life from a very young age. We slept under concrete slabs to escape the shells. We ran to the temple to escape the gunshots. We hid inside the bunkers to escape bombardment. We left our homes to escape interrogation. Before I reached puberty I was already tired of escaping death. So like other Tamil children, I too dreamt to lay down my life for my people; I believed that might be a meaningful death as a Tamil.
I was seven years old when Thileepan sacrificed his life while making demands from the IPKF with a hunger strike. We children placed his photo on the street and offered some flowers and lit a candle for him. From a very young age, I remembered our fallen fighters with pride. As Tamils we believed that sacrificing our lives for our land was the highest form of death, which brought pride to our families.
I was 10 years old when one of our relatives, Captain Charley, was killed. He was an artist and poet. His funeral was the only funeral I have attended with honour and pride. His body was garlanded with flowers. A band played at his funeral. His body was at the Kopay cemetery, which was later bulldozed and replaced with an Army camp.
November 21 to 28 was a week of memorials held to remember the fighters. The streets were decorated with red and yellow flags with special slogans. Loudspeakers echoed military songs. Decorated vehicles and tents carried photos of combatants. At midnight of November 27, oil lamps were lit. The memorial week ended with a speech by LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakaran.
In 2017 I had the opportunity to attend the commemoration day in front of the demolished Kopay cemetery and the Army camp. It was a heart moving event. Red and yellow balloons carried a burning lamp to the sky. Seeing Tamil men crying in public surprised me.
I also attended the commemoration event at the Jaffna University. In 1996 we had moved to Colombo and made it our home. I never heard or sang any Tamil liberation songs since that day. For the first time in almost 20 years, when I heard the songs I once sang, tears rolled from my eyes. I couldn’t hide my emotions. Sadness grabbed my heart. I cried for the fighters who were sons, daughters, brothers and sisters.
I mourned those who had sacrificed their lives for the liberation of the Tamil homeland. None of us came into this world with a gun. But our circumstances made us carry a gun. I hope that one day the world will forgive them for their terrorist acts and show mercy on their loved ones who still grieve for their loss. May we hope that through the compassion taught by Lord Buddha, the wounds of terrorism will be healed.
I remember all the lost lives during the war. May they all rest in peace. May they all attain Nirvana.