Symbolic Violence Most Nīca, Wholly Foul – the Defacement of the Neelan Tiruchelvam Memorial Mural

Michael Roberts

This picture speaks volumes, but it will be even more horrendous to those who see the tarred vandalism in the raw so to speak. The indelible painted epitaph- on-road at the corner of Rosmead Place and Kynsey Road, the spot where an LTTE suicide bomber blasted the car in which Neelan Tiruchelvam was travelling to work late in July 1999, served as a reminder of the horrors of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. As it happens, late July also marks the awful moment in the past where Sinhala chauvinist thugs, some state functionaries and others part of the populace assaulted, killed and terrorized so many Tamils in the southern parts of the island in the year 1983 – an act of punishment, or “teaching those #!!* Tamils a lesson” that was quite the contrary and wholly counter-productive.

This act of defacement, therefore, is a symbolic strike-back of some kind: meaningful symbolic violence.  The perpetrators, one presumes, were sending a message. A message to whom? The message can only be read if we know who the defacers were.

In surmise it would seem that they are Sinhala chauvinists of an extreme kind, nīca minissu. If valid, this conjecture means that they were thumbing their noses at, and seeking to demean, all those who commemorate the pogrom of July 1983 as a disastrous moment in Sri Lanka’s history, one that all Sri Lankans, especially Sri Lankan patriots, must never forget.

One institution that invariably marks that event, as well as Neelan’s killing, is the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) whose offices are at that particular corner, via Kynsey Terrace which leads off that spot. This was, so to speak, Neelan’s second home. And Neelan was a man, I stress, many, including this writer, would die for.

Also see
·        Roberts, “Studying Collective Consciousness over Time in Sri Lanka: Questions for Post-Orientalism, Part I,”
·        Roberts, “Visual Evidence I: Vitality, Value and Pitfall – Borella Junction, 24/25 July 1983,”
·        Roberts, “Emotion and the Person in Nationalist Studies,”  21 May 2012, a reprint,
·        Roberts, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of a Pogrom: Southern Lanka, July 1983,”
·        Roberts, “Inspirations: Hero Figures and Hitler in Young Pirapāharan’s Thinking,”
·        Ben Bavinck, “Pirapāharan as uncompromising killer prone to vengeance: testimonies from the Jaffna heartland, 1989-91,”

* Roberts, “Self-Immolation,” in Fire and Storm. Essays in Sri Lankan Politics, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2010 pp. 123-30.


Filed under communal relations, cultural transmission, disparagement, historical interpretation, life stories, LTTE, patriotism, politIcal discourse, power politics, prabhakaran, Sinhala-Tamil Relations

4 responses to “Symbolic Violence Most Nīca, Wholly Foul – the Defacement of the Neelan Tiruchelvam Memorial Mural

  1. Good post! We will be linking to this great article on our website.
    Keep up the great writing.

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