Sri Lanka’s Independence Day is a 'black day' as rights are still denied
by Melani Manel Perera

The authorities celebrated the event yesterday in Colombo with an impressive military parade. “I am the leader you have been looking for,” said President Rajapaksa. However, in the north, east and south people marched and protested against violence and abuses. Farmers go on a hunger strike. Protesters waved black flags to mourn on this day.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lankans celebrated the country’s 73rd Independence Day yesterday, but in two different, if not opposite ways; on the one hand, the government led official celebrations in the capital Colombo, lionising the nation and its power in an imposing military parade; on the other, ordinary Sri Lankans, in the north, east and south, Sinhalese and Tamils, held a “black day” because of the “lack of true freedom” for all citizens, especially the weakest groups and marginalised minorities.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa used the occasion to try to boost his leadership and hold on the country. In his address to the people, he said that he follows the teachings and doctrines of the Buddha in leading the country and did not shy away from stressing that he is “a Sinhalese leader, and a Buddhist”. “I am the leader you have been looking for. In Sri Lanka there is no room for extremism.”

Such words are contradicted by the suffering and fears of ordinary Sri Lankans who are still facing harsh realities due to the long-standing issues that have dragged on since the end of the civil war (against the Tamils in the north) and that a fragile peace has not been able to resolve in a lasting way.

This explains why many protests took place in the north, east and south of the island, with protesters united by the common demand for greater rights and freedoms. In the Northern and Eastern provinces people held protest rallies. One started in Pottuvil and ended today in Jaffna; another ends tomorrow stop in Polihandy, in the north.

For many this is a way to show that Independence Day remains a “black day” in the country's history. Protests saw the participation of Tamil political organisations and parties, NGOs and civil society groups, not to mention landless people and the relatives of people who went missing during the country’s civil war.

Everyone is demanding justice, equal rights and an end to marginalisation, violence, and abuses while hoping for the intervention of the United Nations and international human rights organisations.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Rev Marimuttu Sathivel, a Colombo-based Anglican minister, supported the “Black Day” and the reasons for the protest. He says he stands with the Tamils, who have not yet received or benefited from “freedom”.

By various means, political leaders want to keep the north and east divided from the rest of the country, but people in those areas actually know very well how to live peacefully and have understood that if they want to achieve something, they must unite and act together. This is why they organised a march, to show themselves united and be heard “as one voice”.

Protesters presented a list of 11 demands to government leaders. They include an end to the land grab and expropriation against Tamils; a stop to the conversion of traditional Tamil places into Sinhalese areas with the destruction of Hindu temples replaced with Buddhist places of worship; an end to the continuous militarisation of Tamil areas 10 years after the end of the civil war; an end to the policy of demographic change designed to weaken local ethnic groups; a stop to cremating Muslims who died from COVID-19 in violation of their traditions; a stop to the violent expropriations of Tamil farmland and the killing of livestock; and end to years of jailing political prisoners without trial.

People still complain about the lack of freedom and rights. For this reason, farmers in Walsapugala and Sooriyawewa, Southern Province, began an 18-day hunger strike based on the principle of passive resistance (Sathaygraha), waving black flags on Independence Day. In their view, “Instead of looking after us, the rulers take away our freedom”.