This is the translation of an article published in french for the website Cafégéo. The website invites in its rubric “Carte postale” contributors to give the analyse of a photography. The 2009 pro LTTE demonstration, hold on 24th May 2009 at Batu Caves in Malaysia, has been chosen as case study for this exercice.
(photography taken on May 24, 2009 at Batu Caves, Malaysia)
The choice of location is not insignificant. Batu Caves, with its large golden statue of the god Murugan, is one of the largest Hindu temple outside of India. It is from this holy place, located at 13 km from Kuala Lumpur, that Malaysian Tamils mobilise to condemn the genocide which affects those in Sri Lanka. Photographs of children and women victims of bombings echo the explicit banners denouncing, in Tamil and in English, the atrocities that were committed deliberately against civilians (“Stop genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka”, “Punish Sri Lankan State Terrorism”, “Your silence smacks of approval of genocide”). The organizers wish to attract the attention of Malaysian and international public opinion on the humanitarian catastrophe that touches the largest minority of that country. Indeed, the last phase of the conflict, which opposed the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE separatists (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), has cost the lives of 20,000 civilians. Furthermore, despite the proclamation of the victory of Colombo, 280,000 civilians still remain, after several months of fighting, locked up in overcrowded internment camps without any presence of international observers.
The Tamil Malaysian community also intends to press for his government to withdraw its support for the Sri Lankan government that seeks the support of a third of the countries to present a draft resolution, preventing the UN to open an investigation into the possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the last months of the conflict.
The portraits of the late separatists’ leader, V. Prabhakaran, and Tigers flags worn by the demonstrators leave no doubt about their commitment to the creation of an independent state for Tamils in Sri Lanka: the Tamil Eelam.
In contrast, leaders of some states are clearly presented as objective enemies of the separatist cause. Several banners caricature as devils Sri Lankan (President Rajapakse) and Indian (Indian Prime Minister M. Singh and Sonia Gandhi, President of the Congress Party and wife of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi assassinated by the LTTE) political leaders. The head of the Sri Lankan state is compared to Hitler and is presented as the primary reason for the Tamil genocide. While the demonstrators reproach the Indian leaders for supporting the Sri lankan government for its draft resolution, which prevents the opening of international and independent investigation against Rajapakse and his army. Posters calling for a boycott of products manufactured in these two countries also express the anger of the demonstrators (“Boycott ! Boycott !! Boycott !!! Air travels to India by Indian air lines, Tours to India, Relationship and Dealings with Indian High Commission”).
To compensate for the lack of support of a sovereign state, pro Eelam militants insist on the mobilisation of the trans-national Tamil community. Several posters present it as a single and integral entity. But the observation of certain banners quickly puts spotlight its artificial nature. One can thus read on certain of them « N°1 Tamils ennemis traitors» with the portraits of two characters. The first represents Karuna, former military leader of the LTTE for the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka who broke away and joined the Sri Lankan government. The second portrait represents M. Karunanidhi, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu (India), who is accused of having done nothing to force the Central Indian state to intervene to stop the military offensive of the Sri Lankan army. Enabling the massacre of Tamils as well as leading to the defeat of the Tigers. So despite the rhetoric of the demonstrators, the trans-national Tamil community is diverse and activists at the Batu Caves are not their spokesperson.
If this mobilisation is presented as a spontaneous reaction of the defense of human rights in favour of a civilian population in distress, the event is nonetheless a political instrument for the LTTE, which wants to assert its positions. For proof, many demonstrations were held across the world with the same slogans and the same staging. At Batu Caves, the pro LTTE Tamil trans-national movement gives a religious dimension to its political struggle. By organizing their protest in this sacred temple, Tigers have also called upon the faith of the faithful to believe, despite the military defeat, in the future birth of an other territory that has been sacralized, that of the Tamil Eelam. The latter would include the Northern and Eastern parts of the island, considered by the separatists as the historic homeland of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Thus the LTTE presents the obtaining of an independent state, not as the completion of the dream of the only Sri Lankan Tamils but as the one of the Tamil nation dispersed across the world.
Source of the french version:
Madavan D, 2010, Carte postale de Batu Caves in Cafégéo