Our World Realities Differ : Remembering May 2009

Written By: Mathusan Mahalingam 

Do a simple Google image search for ‘May’. What comes up? Beautiful flowers, clouds, sunshine and symbols that all point to a month of happiness.

May - World

Now search ‘May Massacre Tamils.’ See what comes up. See the difference? This is why the reality of the month of May differs for Tamils. May no longer is a happy month, a month of happiness and flowers, but rather it a month of mourning, loss and sadness.

May - Tamils

What is May Massacre?

Today marks the 5th year remembrance of May Massacre. 5 years ago during this time, the Sri-Lankan government engaged in a heightened program of genocide marked by murder, abductions, rape and denial of food and medicine to Tamils in Mullivaykal. This was a systematic program aimed at the physical destabilization and elimination of Tamils through murder and rape. Murdering able bodied men and boys is a way to prevent a community from fighting against genocide – it destabilizes the physical threat of a community to protect its rights, and that is why during May 2009, men were the primary targets when it came to killing. If you followed closely, men were targeted and ‘shipped’ off to different camps than women during May 2009, and this was a way of easily separating them and eliminating them.

Painting By: Keera Ratnam

Painting By: Keera Ratnam

Women have been targeted in genocide in another way; the destruction and degradation of their bodies have been used as an instrument of genocide.  Sri-Lanka used the rape of Tamil women as a tool of genocide. In many cultures, like the Tamil culture, women are the ones who bear the honor of their societies. Targeting their honor, and defiling a women’s body is a way in which perpetrators of genocide can terrorize a community. Raping women produces three outcomes perpetrators hope will happen. Firstly, it undermines the ability for the biological reproduction of a targeted group. If the perpetrators are of a different ethnicity, race, or tribe, then by raping the women of the targeted community, the biological reproduction of the targeted population is stilled.

Secondly, it degrades women and her community. When rape is used to intimidate, it silences people who may wish to speak out against atrocities. It also shames the community because a women’s honor, linked to her chastity, has been attacked. When women have been raped, they are shamed, and humiliated, making it easier to torture and kill them. It also shames the men, because they are seen as unable to protect their women. Guards and armies have chosen to use rape not only as a physical form of violence, but as an emotional form of violence. Immense emotional suffering and trauma are endured post-rape, by rape victims, their families and their communities.

Finally, rape isolates a woman and any future offspring from both her family and her community. Women who are impregnated through rape, often bear children of men who have caused them immense pain and suffering. The women who do bear these children are stigmatized, and the children born as a result of rape are stigmatized twice, for being born out of wedlock, and for being the children of the perpetrators of genocide. Sometimes, mothers and communities isolate these children, or leave their traditional homes in order to escape the stigmatization. This disperses a population, and creates a group of people who become delinked with their community.

What is the Death Toll?

According to records of the Sri-Lankan Government Agent offices of Mullaiththeevu and Ki’linochchi districts, the population of Vanni was 429,059 persons in October 2008. The total number of people who were admitted into Sri-Lankan Government control after May Massacre was 282,380, according to a UN update as of 10 July 2009. This means that 146,679 people have not been accounted for. The 146,679 people who have not been accounted, are likely to be victims of May Massacre. This number is in accordance with local estimates of the death toll in May 2009. These figures only reflect the death toll from May 2009, not the entire genocide that has been continuing for decades.

What Now?


Painting By: Keera Ratnam

The Sri-Lankan Government has banned any memorial or public commemorations of those Tamils who were killed during May 2009. Can you imagine, in a small island, over 146,000 were killed in less than a month and no commemoration is allowed? To put it in simple terms, can you imagine if all the students who attend York University, Ryerson University and all 3 campuses of University of Toronto were wiped out and we were not allow to remember it? That’s a whole lot of people to forget.

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 that is targeted as the last victim. To completely annihilate a group of people, a regime must facilitate the banishment of recollection and expunge every one of their memory and remembrance.

“You speak about history, but one must correct history.” These were famous words spoken by Soviet Dictator 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.

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. This is why holding public commemorations are important – because they not only bring a grieving community together, but they work to reignite and renew the commitment to finding a solution and bringing light to past injustices.

The Sri-Lankan Government will want to erase the memory of May 2009, but if we also forget, are we not also guilty? 

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