On the night of Friday, January 8, the Jaffna University administration bulldozed a war memorial dedicated to the thousands of Tamils killed by the Sri Lankan troops during the final phase of the civil war in Mullivaikkal district. The move triggered protests by the students and locals outside the university premises and also attracted widespread international condemnation.
Following a hunger strike launched by the students of Jaffna University and faced with massive protests by Tamil and Muslim organizations, S. Srisatkunarajah, the vice-chancellor of the university, agreed to rebuild the monument in the same place. The students called off their hunger strike on January 11 and laid the foundation stone along with the vice chancellor.
Following the demolition, Jaffna University Students Union had said in a statement that the government of Sri Lanka had been planning to remove the memorial monument for several years: “Currently our campus premises (are) under heavy armed control, and we are prevented from entering our university. We are afraid for our lives and we cordially request your help to prevent this situation,” the union added.
According to the former Head of Department of Law at University of Jaffna, K. Guruparan, vandalizing the memorial is a disappointing event: “The previous VC was sacked because he didn’t demolish the monument. I have concrete reasons to believe that one of the pre-conditions for appointment of the new VC by the incumbent President was demolition of this monument,” K. Guruparan tweeted.
Following the decision to rebuild the monument, the vice-chancellor said the construction would take place with approval from the concerned authorities.
Depicting hands that appeared coming out of water, the memorial was built in memory of civilians who lost their lives in the 2009 Mullivaikkal massacre in 2019.
Ever since Gotabaya Rajapaksa came to power in Sri Lanka in November 2019, there have been renewed concerns on the situation of minorities in the country. Gotabaya Rajapaksa was the defense secretary during the bloody conclusion to the civil war in the country in 2009, which led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Tamils, including at Mullivaikkal. His brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was the president at the time is currently the prime minister.