Indian outrage over Tamil war memorial demolition

This undated photograph received on January 11, 2021 shows a general view of a war memorial in the Jaffna University before it was demolished, in Jaffna. (AFP)
This undated photograph received on January 11, 2021 shows a general view of a war memorial in the Jaffna University before it was demolished, in Jaffna. (AFP)
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Updated 14 January 2021

Indian outrage over Tamil war memorial demolition

Indian outrage over Tamil war memorial demolition
  • Demolition took place two days after Indian FM’s visit to Colombo

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.


  • After protests in India, Sri Lankan government promises 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.

New migrant caravan leaves Honduras in pursuit of American dream

New migrant caravan leaves Honduras in pursuit of American dream
Updated 16 January 2021

New migrant caravan leaves Honduras in pursuit of American dream

New migrant caravan leaves Honduras in pursuit of American dream
  • The 3,000 or so migrants plan to walk thousands of kilometers through Central America
  • Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras have an agreement with the US to stop north-bound migratory flows

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras: Some 3,000 people left Honduras on foot Friday in the latest migrant caravan hoping to find a welcome, and a better life, in the US under President-elect Joe Biden.
Seeking to escape poverty, unemployment, gang and drug violence and the aftermath of two devastating hurricanes, the migrants plan to walk thousands of kilometers through Central America.
But they will have to overcome a rash of travel restrictions in Guatemala and Mexico long before they even make it to the American border.
The quest is likely to end in heartbreak for many, with American authorities already having warned off the group that includes people of all ages and some entire families.
“I want to work for my house and a car, to work and live a dignified life with my family,” said Melvin Fernandez, a taxi driver from the Caribbean port city of La Ceiba in Honduras, who set off on the long journey with his wife and three children, aged 10, 15 and 22.
Most of the group set off shortly after 4 a.m. (1000 GMT) from the transport terminal of San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second-largest city, headed for Agua Caliente on the Guatemalan border some 260 km (162 miles) away.
The migrants walked along side roads wearing backpacks, some holding the Honduras flag, many with small children in their arms, and most with facemasks to protect against the coronavirus.
The migrants say they hope to catch lifts from passing motorists or truckers or, failing that, walk the entire way.
To enter Guatemala, the first country on their route, however, the migrants will have to show travel documents and a negative coronavirus test — requirements that not all of them meet.
“We are leaving with a broken heart, because in my case, I leave my family, my husband and my three children behind,” 36-year-old Jessenia Ramirez told AFP.
“We are going in search of a better future, a job so we can send a few cents back home. We are trusting in God to open our path, Biden is supposed to give work opportunities to those who are there (on American soil).”
The travelers are hopeful that Biden, who takes over the US presidency on Wednesday, will be more flexible than his predecessor Donald Trump.
Biden has promised “a fair and humane immigration system” and pledged aid to tackle the root causes of poverty and violence that drive Central Americans to the United States.
But Mark Morgan, acting Commissioner of the US Customs and Border Protection, warned the group last week not to “waste your time and money.”
The US commitment to the “rule of law and public health” is not affected by the change in administration, he said in a statement.
More than a dozen caravans, some with thousands of migrants, have set off from Honduras since October 2018.
But all have run up against thousands of US border guards and soldiers under Trump, who has characterized immigrants from Mexico as “rapists” who were “bringing drugs” and other criminal activity to the United States.
Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras have an agreement with the United States to stop north-bound migratory flows from the south of the continent.
Honduras has mobilized 7,000 police officers to supervise the latest caravan on its journey to the Guatemalan border.
Guatemala declared seven departments in a state of “alert,” giving security forces the authority to “forcibly dissolve” any type of public groupings.
On Friday, officials said they had already returned about 100 Hondurans who began the trip from San Pedro Sula on Thursday and entered Guatemala illegally, without Covid tests. Another 600-odd migrants who arrived at the border were prevented from entering, Guatemalan police reported.
Hundreds of police and soldiers manned three border crossings to stop the caravan. Many wore gas masks and carried shields and truncheons.
On the Honduran side, in the town of El Florido, there were signs of desperation.
“We will not move until they let us cross. We will stage a hunger strike,” said Dania Hinestrosa, 23, waiting with her young daughter.
“We have no work or food. That is why I am traveling to the United States,” she said.
Mexican authorities said late Thursday that 500 immigration officers were being deployed to the Guatemalan border in anticipation of the caravan’s arrival.
But the migrants are keeping the end goal in sight.
Among them, 28-year-old Eduardo Lanza said he dreamed of living in a country where people of different sexual orientations can live with dignity, “respect... and a job opportunity.”
Norma Pineda, 51, said last year’s hurricanes left her “on the street.”
“We are leaving because here is no work, no state support, we need food, clothes...” she told AFP.