Tamil Separatism and Commemorative Practices

  • Rachel Seoighe
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Compromise after Conflict book series (PSCAC)


This chapter uses the framework of collective memory to interrogate the manner in which the end of the war is being written into the constituent narrative of Tamil nationalism. Describing the historical development of the Tamil separatist movement and the LTTE’s nation-building project—with a particular focus on discourses of victimisation—this chapter acknowledges and explores the organisation’s reliance on commemorative rituals as cultural repertoires of resistance. In the context of the state’s attempted ideological domination of the Northeast, examples serve to illustrate how the suppression of Tamil memory practices and discourses of martyrdom in the post-war period is a central aspect of that domination. While describing the forms of commemoration relied upon by the Tamil people post-war, and the manner in which the state exercises violence and repressive practices to subjugate narratives that contest its official account of the End, it becomes clear that memory is an important site of contestation and power. Archival records of atrocity at the End are few and contested, primarily stored online in images and mobile phone videos archived by journalists, activists and human rights documentary sources. As it fades into the past, the End exists also in the individual and group memory of the Tamil survivors. Here, I make an argument for the effect that memory work can have on the forms of political agency that can now emerge, post-war, post-atrocity and without the LTTE.


  1. Agamben, G. (1999). Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive. New York: Zone Books.Google Scholar
  2. Amnesty International. (2012). Locked Away: Sri Lanka’s Security Detainees. London: Amnesty International.Google Scholar
  3. Anderson, B. (1983). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  4. Aradau, C., & van Munster, R. (2011). Politics of Catastrophe: Genealogies of the Unknown. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. Asian Human Rights Commission. (2011). Sri Lanka: Perpetrators of a Brutal Attack on a Student of Jaffna University Have Not Been Arrested. Asian Human Rights Commission News. Retrieved February 4, 2017, from
  6. Asian Human Rights Commission. (2012). Sri Lanka: The Clergy and Civil Society Condemn the Arrest and Unlawful Detention of Four Students from the University of Jaffna and Call for Their Immediate Release. Asian Human Rights Commission News. Retrieved February 4, 2017, from
  7. Asian Tribune. (2013). “People of My Country Should Have the Right to Live Freely,”—A Clarion Call by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Asian Tribune.
  8. Balasingham, A. (2004). War and Peace: Armed Struggle and Peace Efforts of Liberation Tigers. Mitcham: Fairmax.Google Scholar
  9. Bar-Tal, D. (2003). Collective Memory of Physical Violence: Its Contribution to the Culture of Violence. In The Role of Memory in Ethnic Conflict (pp. 77–93). London: Palgrave Macmillan. Retrieved February 5, 2017, from Scholar
  10. Bartholomeusz, T. J., & De Silva, C. R. (1998). Buddhist Fundamentalism and Identity in Sri Lanka. In T. J. Bartholomeusz & C. R. De Silva (Eds.), Buddhist Fundamentalism and Minority Identities in Sri Lanka. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  11. Bastin, R. (1997). The Authentic Inner Life: Complicity and Resistance in the Tamil Hindu Revival. In M. Roberts (Ed.), Sri Lanka: Collective Identities Revisited (pp. 385–438). Colombo: Marga Institute.Google Scholar
  12. BBC. (1991). Suicide Killers. BBC Inside Story Series.Google Scholar
  13. Bellah, R. N., et al. (1985). Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. Oakland: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  14. Brun, C. (2008). Birds of Freedom. Critical Asian Studies, 40(3), 399–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Butler, J. (2004). Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  16. Centre for Monitoring Election Violence. (2013). Final Report on Election Related Violence: Provincial Council Elections 2013, Northern Province. Colombo. Retrieved February 18, 2017, from
  17. Clarance, W. (2007). Ethnic Warfare in Sri Lanka and the UN Crisis. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  18. ColomboPage. (2013). Sri Lanka President Orders Release of Arrested Jaffna University Students. ColomboPage.Google Scholar
  19. Daily Mirror. (2013a). JHU Makes Public Draft Bill to Repeal 13A. Daily Mirror.
  20. Daily Mirror. (2013b). Memorial Museum for Aranthalawa Massacre. Daily Mirror.Google Scholar
  21. Daniel, E. V. (1996). Charred Lullabies: Chapters in an Anthropography of Violence. Philadelphia: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. de Mel, N. (2007a). Between the War and the Sea: Critical Events, Contiguities and Feminist Work in Sri Lanka. Interventions, 9(2), 238–254. Retrieved February 5, 2017, from Scholar
  23. de Mel, N. (2007b). Militarizing Sri Lanka: Popular Culture, Memory and Narrative in the Sri Lankan Armed Conflict. London: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. de Silva, P. L. (1995). The Efficacy of “Combat Mode”: Organisation, Political Violence, Affect and Cognition in the Case of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. In P. Jeganathan & Q. Ismail (Eds.), Unmaking the Nation: The Politics of Identity & History in Modern Sri Lanka (pp. 174–187). Colombo: Social Scientists Association of Sri Lanka.Google Scholar
  25. Derges, J. (2013). Ritual and Recovery in Post-conflict Sri Lanka. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  26. DeVotta, N. (2004). Blowback: Linguistic Nationalism, Institutional Decay, and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Emmanuel, S. J. (2000). The Agonies and Aspirations of the Tamil National Struggle. Jaffna.Google Scholar
  28. Eng, D. L., & Kazanjian, D. (2003). Introduction: Mourning Remains. In D. L. Eng & D. Kazanjian (Eds.), Loss: The Politics of Mourning (p. 488). Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  29. Fanon, F. (1963). The Wretched of the Earth (C. Farrington, Ed. and Trans.). New York: Grove Press.Google Scholar
  30. Fein, H. (1979). Accouting for Genocide: National Response and Jewish Victimization During the Holocaust. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  31. Fernando, S. (2012). Repeal 13A Without Delay Says Gotabhaya: “Separatist Sentiment Still Strong”. The Island.
  32. Foucault, M. (1989). Film and Popular Memory. In Foucault Live. New York: Semiotext[e].Google Scholar
  33. Gibson, J. L. (2006). The Contributions of Truth to Reconciliation: Lessons from South Africa. The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 50(3), 409–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Gray, P., & Oliver, K. (2004). Introduction. In The Memory of Catastrophe (pp. 1–18). Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Groundviews. (2012). Updates on Ground Situation in Jaffna. Groundviews.
  36. Guruparan, K. (2013). Much Ado About Nothing: The Northern Provincial Councils, 13th Amendment and the Rationale for Demanding a Transitional Administration. Colombo Telegraph.
  37. Guruparan, K., & Rajamanoharan, S. (2013). Four Years on, Genocide Continues Off the Battlefield. OpenDemocracy.Google Scholar
  38. Halbwachs, M., & Coser, L. A. (Trans.). (1992). On Collective Memory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  39. Hamber, B., & Wilson, R. (2002). Symbolic Closure Through Memory, Reparation and Revenge in Post-conflict Societies. Journal of Human Rights, 1(1), 35–53. Retrieved February 18, 2017, from Scholar
  40. Imtiyaz, A. R. M., & Stavis, B. (2008). Ethno-Political Conflict in Sri Lanka. Journal of Third World Studies, 25(2), 135–152.Google Scholar
  41. Jayatilleka, D. (2013a). The Wigneswaran Factor: Sampanthan’s Master-Stroke. Sri Lanka Guardian.
  42. Jayatilleka, D. (2013b). Long War, Cold Peace: Conflict and Crisis in Sri Lanka. Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.Google Scholar
  43. Jeganathan, P. (1998). In the Shadow of Violence: “Tamilness”; and the Anthropology of Identity in Southern Sri Lanka. In T. J. Bartholomeusz & C. R. De Silva (Eds.), Buddhist Fundamentalism and Minority Identities in Sri Lanka. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  44. Jeganathan, P., & Ismail, Q. (Eds.). (1995). Unmaking the Nation: The Politics of Identity & History in Modern Sri Lanka. Colombo: Social Scientists Association of Sri Lanka.Google Scholar
  45. Jegatheeswaran, D., & Arulthas, M. (2017). “We Will Not Move from Here Until We Get Our Land Back”: From Inside the Pilavu Protest. Tamil Guardian.Google Scholar
  46. Jelin, E. (2003). State Repression and the Labors of Memory (J. Rein & M. Godoy-Anativia, Eds. & Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  47. Jeyaraj, D. B. S. (2013). Why and How Ex-SC Judge CV Wigneswaran Praised LTTE Leader Prabhakaran as a Great Hero.
  48. Jeyaraj, D. B. S. (2014). Anandhi Sasitharan the Vibrant Wife of Senior Tiger Leader Ezhilan. Ceylon Ananda. Retrieved February 18, 2017, from
  49. Jeyaraj, D. B. S. (2016) “Great Heroes Day” (Maaveerar Naal) Is a LTTE Event and Not a Tamil National Day of Mourning. D.B.S. Jeyaraj Blog.Google Scholar
  50. Kent, D. (2010). Onward Buddhist Soldiers: Preaching to the Sri Lankan Army. In Buddhist Warfare (pp. 157–178). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Khalili, L. (2007). Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine: The Politics of National Commemoration. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved February 5, 2017, from Scholar
  52. Kingsbury, D. (2012). Sri Lanka and the Responsibility to Protect: Politics, Ethnicity and Genocide. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  53. Kleinfeld, M. (2005). Destabilizing the Identity? Territory Nexus: Rights-Based Discourse in Sri Lanka?s New Political Geography. GeoJournal, 64(4), 287–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Knuth, R. (2006). Burning Books and Leveling Libraries: Extremist Violence and Cultural Destruction. Westport, CT: Praeger.Google Scholar
  55. Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. (2011). Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation. Colombo. Retrieved February 5, 2017, from
  56. Malathy, N. (2012). A Fleeting Moment in My Country: The Last Years of the LTTE De-facto State. Atlanta, GA: Clear Day Books.Google Scholar
  57. Manogaran, C. (1987). Ethnic Conflict and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.Google Scholar
  58. Nadarajah, S., & Sentas, V. (2013). The Politics of State Crime and Resistance—Self-Determination in Sri Lanka. In E. Stanley & J. McCulloch (Eds.), State Crime and Resistance (pp. 68–83). Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  59. Natali, C. (2008). Building Cemeteries, Constructing Identities: Funerary Practices and Nationalist Discourse Among the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka. Contemporary South Asia, 16(3), 287–301. Retrieved February 18, 2017, from Scholar
  60. National Peace Council. (2012). Deal with the Past Constructively. Lanka Standard.Google Scholar
  61. National Peace Council. (2013). Violent Prevention of Public Protest Violates Government’s Commitment to Basic Rights.
  62. Nesiah, V. (2003). Monumental History and the Politics of Memory: Public Space and the Jaffna Public Library. Lines Magazine. Retrieved February 17, 2017, from
  63. Olick, J. K., & Robbins, J. (1998). Social Memory Studies: From “Collective Memory” to the Historical Sociology of Mnemonic Practices. Annual Review of Sociology, 24, 105–140. Retrieved February 5, 2017, from Scholar
  64. Pennebaker, J. W., & Banasik, B. L. (1997). On the Creation and Maintenance of Collective Memories: History as Social Psychology. In J. W. Pennebaker, D. Paez, & B. Rimé (Eds.), Collective Memory of Political Events: Social Psychological Perspectives (pp. 3–19). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  65. Perera, S. (2010). Remembering and Contested Patriotism: Embodied Practices of the Sri Lankan Nation-State. In M. Thapan (Ed.), Contested Spaces: Citizenship and Belonging in Contemporary Times (pp. 21–46). India: Orient Black Swan.Google Scholar
  66. Perera, V. (2012). Vaporizing the Opponent: Lessons from War Graves. Journalists for Democracy Sri Lanka.
  67. Peris, V. (2001). Two Decades After the Burning Down of the Jaffna Library in Sri Lanka. World Socialist Web Site.
  68. Philipson, L. (2011). Whose War? Whose Peace? In J. Goodhand, J. Spencer, & B. Korf (Eds.), Conflict and Peacebuilding in Sri Lanka: Caught in the Peace Trap? (pp. 106–118). Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  69. Rasaratnam, M. (2006). Re-envisioning Sri Lanka’s Ethno-Nationalisms. In Envisioning New Trajectories for Peace in Sri Lanka. Zurich: Centre for Just Peace and Democracy (CJPD) in collaboration with the Berghof Foundation, Sri Lanka. Retrieved February 17, 2017, from
  70. Rasaratnam, M. (2016). Tamils and the Nation: India and Sri Lanka Compared. London: C. Hurst & Co.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Roht-Arriaza, N. (2004). Reparations in the Aftermath of Repression and Mass Violence. In E. Stover & H. M. Weinstein (Eds.), My Neighbor, My Enemy: Justice and Community in the Aftermath of Mass Atrocity (pp. 121–140). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  72. Rudrakumaran, V. (2012). Mullivaikal Has Transformed the Mode of Our Struggle—Prime Minister Rudrakumaran. Sangam USA.
  73. Sabaratnam, T. (2010). Sri Lankan Struggle, Chapter 2: Origin of Racial Conflict. Ilankai Tamil Sangam. Retrieved February 17, 2017, from
  74. Samaranayake, G. (1991). Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka and Prospects of Management: An Empirical Inquiry. Terrorism and Political Violence, 3(2), 75–87. Retrieved February 8, 2017, from Scholar
  75. Satkunanathan, A. (2012). Whose Nation? Power, Agency, Gender and Tamil Nationalism. In A. Welikala (Ed.), Sri Lankan Republic at 40: Reflections on Constitutional History, Theory and Practice. Colombo: Centre for Policy Alternatives.Google Scholar
  76. Schääuble, M. (2011). How History Takes Place: Sacralized Landscapes in the Croatian-Bosnian Border Region. History and Memory, 23(1), 23–61. Retrieved February 18, 2017, from Scholar
  77. Schalk, P. (1997). Resistance and Martyrdom in the Process of State-Formation in Tamililam. In J. Pettrigrew (Ed.), Martyrdom and Political Resistance (pp. 61–84). Amsterdam: V. U. Press.Google Scholar
  78. Schramm, K. (2011). Introduction: Landscapes of Violence: Memory and Sacred Space. History and Memory, 23(1), 5–22. Retrieved February 18, 2017, from Scholar
  79. Senewiratne, B. (2016). Tamils in the North-East Protest at Last. Colombo Telegraph.Google Scholar
  80. Seoighe, R. (2015). Discourses of Victimization in Sri Lanka’s Civil War: Collective Memory, Legitimacy and Agency. Social and Legal Studies, 25(3), 355–380.Google Scholar
  81. Seoighe, R. (2016). Inscribing the Victor’s Land: Nationalistic Authorship in Sri Lanka’s Post-war Northeast. Conflict, Security and Development, 16(5), 443–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Shastri, A. (2004). The Economy in a Time of Intense Civil War: Sri Lanka, 1994–2000. In D. Winslow & M. D. Woost (Eds.), Economy, Culture, and Civil War in Sri Lanka (pp. 73–94). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  83. Smith, A. D. (1986). The Ethnic Origins of Nations. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  84. Smith, A. D. (1999). Myths and Memories of the Nation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  85. Somasundaram, D. (2010). Parallel Governments: Living Between Terror and Counter Terror in Northern Lanka (1982–2009). Journal of Asian and African Studies, 45(5), 568–583. Retrieved February 17, 2017, from Scholar
  86. Tambiah, S. J. (1986). Sri Lanka: Ethnic Fratricide and the Dismantling of Democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  87. Tamil Guardian. (2013). “I Look Beyond Seats and Positions”—Ananthy Sasitharan. Tamil Guardian.Google Scholar
  88. Tamil Guardian. (2014). Rehabilitation Threat to Silence Human Rights Activists—Ananthy Sasitharan. Tamil Guardian.
  89. Tamil Guardian. (2016). Tamils Mark Maaveerar Naal 2016 Worldwide. Tamil Guardian.Google Scholar
  90. Tamil National Alliance. (2013). Full Text: TNA’s Northern Provincial Council Election Manifesto—2013.Google Scholar
  91. Tamilnet. (2012). Political Parties Protest Against SL Military Land Grab in Vanni. Tamilnet.Google Scholar
  92. Tamilnet. (2013). Allow People to Give Way to Their Emotions, Wigneswaran Warns Colombo on Heroes Day. Tamilnet.Google Scholar
  93. Tamilnet. (2014). Muslims Protest Against Land Grab in Pulmoaddai. Tamilnet.Google Scholar
  94. Tamils Against Genocide. (2010). Annual Report 2010. London: Tamils Against Genocide.Google Scholar
  95. Tamils Against Genocide. (2013). Silencing the Press: An Analysis of Violence Against the Media in Sri Lanka. London: Tamils Against Genocide.Google Scholar
  96. Thiranagama, S. (2012). In My Mother’s House: Civil War in Sri Lanka. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  97. Thiranagama, S. (2013). Claiming the State: Postwar Reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development, 4(1), 93–116. Retrieved February 4, 2017, from Scholar
  98. University Teachers for Human Rights-Jaffna. (2007). From Welikade to Mutur and Pottuvil: A Generation of Moral Denudation and the Rise of Heroes with Feet of Clay. Jaffna. Retrieved February 5, 2017, from
  99. Varatharajah, S. (2015). Sri Lanka: Narrating Violence and Trauma. Warscapes.
  100. Watchdog. (2012). The death of Freedom of Assembly, Expression and Religion in the North of Sri Lanka. Groundviews.Google Scholar
  101. Whall, H. J. (1995). The Right to Self-Determination: The Sri Lankan Tamil National Question. London: Tamil Information Centre.Google Scholar
  102. Wickramasinghe, N. (2009). After the War: A New Patriotism in Sri Lanka? The Journal of Asian Studies, 68(4), 1045–1054.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  103. Wigneswaran, C. V. (2014). On Safeguarding Security and Sovereignty. Colombo Telegraph.
  104. Wilson, A. J. (2000). Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism: Its Origins and Development in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Vancouver: UBC Press.Google Scholar
  105. Winter, J. M. (1998). Sites of Memory, Sites Of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  106. Winter, J. M., & Sivan, E. (1999). Setting the Framework. In J. M. Winter & E. Sivan (Eds.), War and Remembrance in the Twentieth Century (pp. 6–39). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachel Seoighe
    • 1
  1. 1.Middlesex University, UKLondonUK

Personalised recommendations