Jaffna fears remembering Tamil war dead


    Six years after the end of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war, Jaffna in the northern Tamil heartlands is returning to normal. But do the city's residents feel free to remember their war dead? The BBC's Priyath Liyanage in Jaffna finds out.

    News of the suicide of the young student reached Jaffna households early on Thursday, a reminder of the days when death no longer shocked anyone here.

    Senthuran Rajeswaran was 18.

    Before he jumped in front of the train, he is alleged to have written a letter appealing to the "good governance" of President Maithripala Sirisena and his administration.

    Police said the letter found in the young man's house demanded the release of all political prisoners.



    Six years after the end of the civil war that killed at least 100,000 people, Jaffna seems to be on a slow and steady ascent towards freedom and normality.

    "There is freedom compared to what we had before," one Tamil academic tells me.

    "But if you compare us to Colombo, we can't say that we are liberated."

    Neither he nor any of the others quoted in this article wanted to be named, for example, illustrating the fear that still exists.


    Ahead of the first Maaveerar Naal, or Martyrs' Day, since the new government took office earlier this year, things do look much better than a few years ago.

    27 November is the day the Tamil Tigers designated as one of remembrance for their comrades killed in battle.

    War ended in May 2009 with the total defeat of the rebels.

    Their violent campaign to secure a separate Tamil homeland was ruthlessly crushed by then President Rajapaksa's military campaign.

    Now Jaffna is free from the huge billboards carrying the omnipresent war hero president's image - and people say things are looking up.

    "The Rajapaksa regime continued the pressure on Tamil people. There were no efforts for a dialogue; so they needed to make their presence felt," another Jaffna resident says.

    "The new government has established a better dialogue with the north."

    The change in government in Colombo has improved the lives of Tamil people - but still there is apprehension.

    A music shop owner said, "we are free to come and go, but people are afraid to play a song to commemorate the dead".

    Another Jaffna resident said: "With the change in government, we feel that we have less intimidation, but the freedom we have is individual.

    "We can remember the victims of war in private, but no-one is brave enough to organise a mass meeting."

    Despite these concerns, some university students did demonstrate in support of the demands of the student who died.



    Meanwhile, thousands of Tamils around the world are commemorating their dead relatives this week.

    In Jaffna however, that remains out of bounds.

    "We can organise an event to commemorate the war dead - it is not illegal," a musician who had lost two of his children in shell attacks in 2009 told me.

    But, suddenly whispering, he says "it is a dangerous thing to do".