Thirumalai Martyr Nadarajan

February 4th, is Sri Lanka’s Independence Day. On this day in 1957, Tamileelam boycotted Sri Lanka’s Independence Day in protest of the Sinhala Only Act. Thirumalai Nadarajan, a 22-year-old, was shot and killed by the Sri Lankan army when he attempted to replace a Sri Lankan flag with a black flag in peaceful protest. At the time of his death, National leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was only 3 years old. This marks the history of Sri Lanka before any Eelam Tamil took up arms for liberation.

In Thirukonamalai, Eelam Tamils wished to observe Independence Day as a day of mourning by flying black flags. Conversely, Sinhala genocidal settlers of Thirukonamali wanted to celebrate Independence Day by flying Srilankan flags. A compromise was reached: Tamil demonstrations would occur from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., while Sinhalese ones would take place from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Additionally, the Thirukonamai market, managed by the predominantly Tamil city council, was not to display any flags to avoid offending Sinhalese traders.

On Independence Day, thousands of Eelam Tamils marched to the city council office with black flags. Some demonstrators hoisted black flags on the town clocktower. A disturbance erupted at the marketplace when several Sinhalese traders violated the agreement and raised the national flag. Large crowds, including security forces, gathered at the market. Sinhala Traders were asked to remove the flags, but they refused, citing the presence of black flags on the clocktower. Despite the clocktower not being part of the market, they perceived the black flags there as a breach of the original agreement. A standoff ensued at the market entrance between Sinhala genocidal settlers and Eelam Tamils. Suddenly, two gunshots rang out. Nadarajan, a young Tamil man, was shot in the chest and bled to death. Several others were injured, including a man who lost his eyesight. The crowds in the marketplace grew restless, prompting the district judge to order them to disperse.

During the standoff at the marketplace entrance, it was revealed that a Sinhalese gunman had hidden behind a wall, firing at the Tamil crowd through an opening. A suspect named L. G. Manuel Silva was subsequently arrested. Nadarajan had no relatives in Thirukonamai, so his body was handed over to the Federal Party. The party kept his body at its office for visitation before taking it to the cemetery, accompanied by a mile-long crowd. His burial included a remembrance stone inscribed with “Nadarajan, one who gave his life to protect Tamils and their rights.”

Structural Genocide by Sinhalese on Eelam Tamil civilians had previously occurred in Thirukonamai as well. In February 1956, there were language riots in Thirukonamalai where Sinhala demonstrators dynamited Tamil houses, and fishing nets owned by Tamils were burned. In June of that year, Thirukonamalai (among many other areas) witnessed horror as six Tamil houses were burned.

An important note: the Tamil name for Trincomalee is Tirukonamalai and can be abbreviated to Tirumalai. For instance, the Federal Party’s protest march to Trincomalee was named Tirumalai Yathirai. Suthanthiren’s press report on the incident, as well as the tribute to Nadarajan, refers to him as Tirumalai Tiyāki Naṭarājaṉ, translating to “Tirumalai Martyr Nadarajan.” The syntax implies that Thirumalai was not the deceased’s name but rather the city where he met his fate.

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