The Tamil ‘Nakba Day’: Significance Of May 18th
Two years back, on the 18th of May, Sri Lanka supposedly ended its ‘war on terror.’ The LTTE was crushed finally, the government announced. The nation is united, the ruling party declared. Lankan President Rajapaksa used words like ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’ to define the army’s victory. The day, May 18th, meant to the Sinhalese nationalists there restoration of order and peace. For Tamils, it meant something else. The final penetrative act of the army that provided an orgasmic psychological release for the repressed anxieties of Sinhala majoritarians, was read by the Tamils as rape of their homeland. An occupying army rapes. By its very presence. The guns, the boots, the uniform, the gaze are all penetrative. It strips, observes, humiliates, abuses and scars permanently. May 18th is a scar for the Tamils.
A scar provides memory of a wound. It can never be ignored. A people who are torn must always go back to their scars and reconstruct their past. The memories of a collective injury on a community defines it. More importantly, it defines and identifies who needs to be fought against, those who have the power to re-inflict the injury. The day when the scar is remembered gains new significance in the concerned community’s calendar. It becomes a day to unite, to express political and communitarian solidarity and have an idea of the future. Even if the past appears to fade and even if the future appears bleak, the psychic pain that the recollection of the scar gives to the community, gives it the strength to endure more and struggle ahead.
The Day of Catastrophe or Nakba Day commemorated by the Palestinians on May 15th, remembering their brutal ouster in 1949 from their homeland by the Israelis, is an apt example. Palestinians in their territory and abroad have made it a point to remember this day with symbolic political actions, protests or agitations. The memory of that past, that collective inheritance of a trauma from history, then, becomes a weapon for the present. As Latin American writer Eduardo Galeano said, “the revelation of what we are implies the denunciation of those who stop us from being what we can become.”
18th of May is a revelation for the Tamils. It tells them that a government that slaughtered 40,000 civilians to ensure unity, will only give the subjugated population the peace of the graveyard. 18th of May tells them that Tamils, at the end of the day, are third grade citizens in a country that would never provide them justice within its framework. May 18th is the Nakba Day of the Tamils. They need to mould it into a weapon, as a day to remember who they are, how they got there and what they need to become.
And it appears that efforts are being taken in this direction. Tamil students of Jaffna university, defying threats from the occupying military, observed a remembrance of the massacre. The Tamil diaspora has staged protests at places throughout the world. In Tamil Nadu, various political parties and activists have held public meetings at many places to explain the symbolic meaning of the day to the people.
We need to remember the 18th of May. We need to remember it for those who survived the war and are languishing in prisons and camps. We need to remember it for those who died fighting against overwhelming odds for Tamil Eelam, not a mere strip of land, but an idea of hope and love. We need to remember the 18th of May for freedom and justice, so that these words do not lose their meaning and land up in the mouths of tyrants and despots.