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Sri Lanka: Rajani Thiranagama Commemoration focuses on Democratisation

25 September 2014

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For Immediate Release

24 September 2014

Following the assassination of Dr. Rajani Thiranagama on 21 September 1989 by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a well-attended commemoration and a peaceful march were held in Jaffna, in which large numbers of students, clergy, activists, both local and international, and ordinary people participated. Twenty-five years ago these events took place despite the very hostile and intimidating environment. After that, Rajani’s fellow activists, friends and family were not able to commemorate her memory in Jaffna, where she was born, raised, worked and eventually died, until this last weekend. This year, the Rajani Thiranagama Commemoration Committee believed the time was fitting to commemorate Rajani and others who stood for justice and democracy in Jaffna. Five years after the end of the war, we felt her legacy, and her prophetic words about the future of the Tamil community are particularly relevant and meaningful to a society that is still reflecting on the war, and grappling with its future.

Successful events and discussions

The main commemoration event was held on the morning of September 20th at Trimmer Hall, and a cultural event followed that afternoon at Veerasingam Hall in Jaffna. The events wound up with a seminar titled “A more just and democratic society” the following day at Trimmer Hall. The speeches, messages, and performances at the commemoration event ranged from those made by academics who had taught and been taught by Rajani in medical college to women who had received support from Rajani during times of crisis, family members, and left and human rights activists who had worked with her from her early years as a medical student. During the cultural event, several young performers and speakers born long after Rajani’s death, acted, sang and spoke about issues of democracy and social justice. The seminar made way for meaningful and engaging discussions on contemporary social issues. The public in Jaffna turned up in good numbers and spirit for all three events. More than a third of the participants were from other parts of the country, and there was a large presence of the academic community from various parts of the island.

Denial of university and public space

Although the events were organised as transparent and open democratic engagements, the Committee was compelled to make last minute changes to the programme and venue. The Committee had duly made all applications for permission to hold the planned events in good time, both at the University and the Jaffna Police station, and diligently pursued its applications and were assured that the events could be held by the officers responsible. Unfortunately, permission to hold these events in public spaces such as the Jaffna University and the Jaffna Public Library was arbitrarily rescinded at the last minute. Approval for a peaceful march, which was included in the initial programme of events, was cancelled all together. The events that eventually did take place were marked by a noticeable presence of the CID who diligently photographed the speakers as well as the participants. Even though surveillance cast a somewhat unpleasant shadow, the audience participated with enthusiasm and vigour.

The Rajani Thiranagama Commemoration Committee thanks the public for their display of solidarity. We are encouraged by those who made great efforts to be with all of us in Jaffna, and believe that efforts like these are important for democratisation in Jaffna.

On Behalf of the Rajani Thiranagama Commemoration Committee

Mr. Ahilan Kadirgamar

Rev. Fr. I. D. Dixon

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Dr. Sumathy Sivamohan