In Remembrance and Memory

Written By: Mathusan Mahalingam

Today marks the 4th year remembrance of May Massacre, the height of the genocidal onslaught on the Tamils carried out by the Sri-Lankan Government. Today, I think of the tens of thousands of innocent civilians bodies, I think of the tens of thousands of people who were displaced and forced into concentration-style camps, I think of the tens of thousands of children who were orphaned, and I think of the tens of thousands of people who were injured, and I think of the tens of thousands of girls who were raped. Years from now, when my children and their children learn about the events that happened in Mullivaykal in 2009, I want them to learn the truth.

“You speak about history, but one must correct history.” These were famous words spoken by Soviet Director Joseph Stalin. In an effort to “re-write” history and expunge history of the wrongdoings of Stalin’s terror, Stalin engaged in a systematic effort to erase the memory and evidence of the terror and killings he inflicted on his people by eliminating all physical evidence that was deemed inconvenient to his version of events. He sponsored a rewriting of historical texts to reflect an edited version of history in where he plays a central and heroic role – his version. Stalin’s example of re-writing textbooks, some of which are still used today highlight an important issue. When history is not recorded, when it is not safeguarded and preserved by those who lived it, it will, over time, be re-written and forgotten.

Forgetting, and erasing the memory of what happened is the final stage of a genocide. “Memorycide” a termed coined by Mirko Grmek, is something regimes engage in order to glorify their past and eliminate the “dark periods” of history, so that years later, a civilian remembers nothing. What is forgotten, there is no need for regimes to deny. Through this process, ethnic groups have been cleansed of the memory and knowledge of their own histories, languages and cultures. Following the physical destruction, cultural destruction and political destruction of a group, the only thing that remains is memory, and and that is targeted as the last victim. To completely annihilate a group of people, a regime must facilitate the banishment of recollection and expunge everyone of their memory and remembrance.

In order to reduce the intensity and truth of what happened, regimes engage in common discourses of genocidal denial. By reducing the truth of how many people were killed, by proclaiming everything was done in self-defense, but claiming those who died were not intentionally targeted, but denying what happened was genocide, and the worst of all, by painting a picture saying that they were the real victims.

When this is the case, we must engage in activities to safeguard the truth of what happened to our kin in Mullivaykal in May 2009 – otherwise, the successive Sinhalese Governments will re-write history. The truth of the genocide inflicted upon the tens of thousands of bodies will be buried with them otherwise. We all must not be guilty of forgetting our history. We must instead actively remember the sufferings of our people, preserve it for future generations and educate our peers about their plight.

The final stage of genocide is the destruction of memory, the denial of wrongdoing, and the burial of evidence. But, we must never forget, we must remember and pay remembrance and safeguard the truth and memory of what happened to Tamils in Mullivaykal.

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