On the Ousting of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Image via New York Times

I’ve come to realize what we’ve been told to call a “civil war” is actually decades of state-sanctioned violence and systemic oppression of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka.

I already take issue with the fact that so much of our reporting on low-income countries that currently find themselves in a state of turmoil, corruption, etc — which often gets them labelled as uncivilized by Western media — erases the fact that the current state of affairs in these countries directly correlates to the occupation of their land by European colonizers. I don’t like that we already leave this out, but I acknowledge it takes a certain level of self-awareness to report like this and most, if not all, European colonizers and settler-colonial states, continue to choose not to do the work.

People often act like if the Tigers just politely asked the government for the liberation of Tamils that it would have been granted.

In 2009 the international community largely ignored (which means they knew what was going on) the rapidly escalating violence in Sri Lanka. Tamils today often reference the Mullivaikkal massacre when speaking of this time period. I’m oversimplifying, but the Sri Lankan government took an aggressive approach to exterminate the Tamil Tigers, or LTTE, an organization that formed in response to the state-sanctioned violence and discrimination experienced by Tamils since the independence of Sri Lanka in 1948.

The government declared regions no-fire zone and urged civilians to take refuge there before bombing those very regions.

The events in 2009 were an opportunity for the government to exterminate Tamil civilians under the guise of finding and charging the Tamil Tigers. The government bombed hospitals, captured and executed the 12-year son of the LTTE leader, they stripped civilians and soldiers when they were captured and then executed them when they were naked and blindfolded, soldiers raped women and children and bombed civilian bunkers. 300 000 people were in displacement camps, which at the time was the largest in the world. Most infamously, the government declared regions a no-fire zone and encouraged civilians to move there for safety before bombing these very regions. Entire multi-generational families were wiped out, children orphaned, hundreds of thousands injured, and people are still missing to this day.

Seeing Gotabaya be forced to flee has been oddly cathartic, and yet, still a poor substitution for the justice our community deserves.

My father said something interesting to me yesterday, in a rare voicing of a reflection of his experience in the 1983 riots. He said he was happy Rajapaksa had to flee his home as protestors took over it. He said he was happy that Rajapaksa had to have that fear, however brief, that so many Tamils have experienced in Sri Lanka to this day. The fear for your family’s safety, your belongings, your home, your dignity, and personal safety. The terror and trauma that creates in your heart.

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Samanta Krishnapillai

Samanta Krishnapillai

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Founder, Executive Director and Editor in Chief at On Canada Project | @samkrish_ | she/her