Yesterday I joined hundreds of thousands of Tamils across the world — in the UK, France, Germany Switzerland, America and India — to remember those who died in the 26-year struggle for our independence. It was day of haunting sadness.
The day is called "Maaveerar Naal". Veerar in Tamil means "warrior or hero". Maa means "great". Naal means "day".
It is held each year on 27 November, the date the first Tamil Tiger, Shankar, died in combat in 1982. I was two years old.
Alongside 2000 Tamils at a park in Silverwater in Sydney’s west, I wept for the 40,000 Tamils that were massacred by the Sri Lankan Government in 2009. I paid my respects to those who sacrificed their lives for my freedom.
I remembered the months of paralysing fear my family went through while my father was in the former conflict zone. I went to bed each night petrified of waking up to news he had been killed in an aerial attack by Sri Lankan Kfir jets or drones.
I honoured my dearest friend K, and the hours of laughter we shared together. A night I will never forget is when we sat under monsoon stars in Tamil Eelam in 2006, talking about life and love, war and peace till 4am in the morning. He kept the electricity generator running for me, even though it would have cost him more than he could afford because he knew I was scared of the dark. He died fighting for my identity.
The Sri Lankan Government is on a witchhunt to silence anyone that dares speak out about the atrocities committed against the Tamils. I have the honour of being on their list. This has only strengthened my resolve.
When people ask me where I am from, I say "I am Tamil". I am not a Sri Lankan. A regime that has brutalised, terrorised and murdered, does not speak in my name.
The Mahavamsa, the great chronicle of Sri Lanka, is interpreted by the country’s rulers as "proving" that Sri Lanka is a Sinhalese Buddhist island. It can equally be read as the story of how the Sinhalese and Tamils founded the country together. In the story, the Tamil King Elara ruled with equal justice and was accepted by both communities.
As a diaspora Tamil I have struggled to understand my privileged place in the west. There is nothing I want that I can’t have. But since I first returned to Sri Lanka in 2002, I have had no peace of mind.
At the age of 22 I came face to face with the horrors of war: orphaned children; adults and children who had lost their arms, legs and eyesight; Tamil women who had been raped by the Sri Lankan army; men who had been tortured. The memories are endless and terrifying.
How do I reconcile my fortunate life with these stories? How do I explain to my western friends the pain and suffering I have witnessed? How do I not let their pain become a part of me?
I feel incredibly lost in post-war Sri Lanka as do many other diaspora Tamils. What is our role now?
Two and a half years ago genocide was committed against the Tamils of Sri Lanka and the entire international community did nothing to stop it.
The horrifying images of war crimes and crimes against humanity shown in Channel Four’s ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ were a stark wake up call to the world. The broader understanding and perception of the Tamil struggle is shifting.
UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, our former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser have come out strongly in favour of an independent war crimes tribunal for Sri Lanka. As has the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts, Amnesty International, International Crisis Group, and Human Rights Watch.
Shamefully our Prime Minister and Foreign Minister won’t add their voice to this call for an independent investigation.
I don’t know if there will ever be an independent war crimes tribunal for Sri Lanka. But the Arab Spring has shown the world that anything is possible. Hope must continue in some form.
The war no longer defines me. But the struggle forever will. I am a Tamil and with that comes a responsibility. A responsibility to myself, to my father, to K and to the Maveerars to honour the sacrifices and strength of my ancestors: "Because you died, we continue to live".