defence of Nationalism" is the theme of my presentation. However, the
question, "The Dream : is it out of reach?" which Mr. Lee Kuan Yew is
supposed to have asked the Singapore Parliament recently in a totally
different context seems apt to what's going on in my mind. The Dream : is it
out of reach?
I wish to share with you in the context of all that has been said here
some concerns and personal experiences, my Tamil consciousness and how it
has been shaped and how and why my Tamil Nationalism is defensible. I live
in Australia like a million other Tamils of my background who live outside
of our homeland My position as a Tamil is that of someone who left home in
1977 which in itself is a significant year in my life.
The perspective I wish to share with you though is not that of a casual
observer of what is going on in my homeland but that of a Tamil whose views
have been moulded by the same post-Independent history of the island of Sri
Lanka. It is just that I belong to the large group of Tamils who chose the
path of flight rather than one of fight which many of the younger ones of my
generation have chosen having faced even harsher realities than most of us
I am trained in the Natural Sciences with strong exposure to objective
ways of knowing. Over the years, I have come to accept the limitations of
such objectivism in human affairs and I have learnt to accommodate
subjective ways of seeing reality in my search for identity and my "sense of
place". I say this as a preamble to stating my position because I believe
that we need to move beyond blinding objectivism and simplifying rationalism
in order to allow for multiple realities of people to be expressed and
enable us to embrace new possibilities for the future.
Dr. John Powers who spoke yesterday had trouble believing that the first
exposure many Tamils have had to Sinhalese people was when they came to
Colombo. My first exposure to Sinhala people was when I was very young in my
own village in the island of Karainagar, not because they lived amongst us
but because they were either khaki-clad policemen who were located on a
police post on the beach near our home. Or they were blue-and-white
uniformed navy men who moved about carrying guns even when they were
transporting drinking water in tankers on the main street of my village.
These were impressions of a Tamil child growing up in the 50's and the
degree of separation that existed even then between the two peoples.
My earliest image of the conflict was in 1958 when my father returned
home in a refugee boat alongside many others of the village - to narrate
their stories of survival and escape from the South. There were many, many
other impacts of the conflict on my life and my views - as there would be on
many who are gathered here today.
Our history, our Varalaru, is a personal view of history and as
Dr. Dagmar Hellman-Rajanayagam pointed out, is dominated by conflicts rather
than co-existence. The tragedy of the history of Sri Lanka is that there are
many histories but there is only one history that is known to the world, and
that too, as we heard from Mr. Ana Pararajasingham, is full of stories and
myths. The people who inhabit the island of Sri Lanka have many identities
but they have been forced to adopt one and suppress their own. The
single-minded push towards one Nationalism has brought to the people of the
island violence and destruction. Rev. Dr. Emmanuel described in his touching
speech the pain and suffering brought to the Tamil people by this denial of
their own nationalism by the Sinhala State. Mr.G.G. Ponnampalam,Jnr. gave us
an eloquent account of Sinhala intransigence associated with this denial.
In speaking about Nationalism I wish to dedicate a few moments to the
memory of a fellow-Tamil, a great Nationalist, a distinguished scholar and
former-Vice Chancellor of the University of Jaffna - Professor Alagaiah
Thurairajah who passed away two years ago leaving behind the unfinished task
of nation-building to all of us. It was Thurai who gave me the opportunity
to return to my homeland two years ago to visit the University of Jaffna,
the only University at that time that had functioned uninterrupted in the
previous 10 years anywhere in the island of Sri Lanka. It was during that
visit that I was able to witness the impressive and convincing structures of
the administration that were in place in the Tamil homeland. Development
efforts of organisations like TRO and TEEDOR in building a self-reliant
state in the face of sanctions and embargos.
And it was also on that visit that I made the confident crossing of the
Kilali Lagoon, the "Red Sea of the Tamils" as we have heard, pushing the
boat in which my aged mother who was then travelling not out of but towards
Jaffna. She had confidence in the life she was experiencing then. Today my
mother is out of the Peninsula and in Vanni and so are the thousands of
students and staff of Jaffna University. Apart from the interest of Prof
Schalk of Uppsala University, the University of Tromso in Norway, the most
northern university, also has an interest in the University of Jaffna.
The former Rector of the University of Tronso wrote this column two weeks
ago in the Norwegian Press. In this article entitled "The Forgotten War" the
Norwegian professor talks about how the University of Jaffna has been
prevented from fulfilling its educational and societal roles and pressed on
Universities in Norway and the Norwegian Government to demand the withdrawal
of armed forces from Jaffna and declaration of a ceasefire. He also
recommended that everyone read Mr. Vasantha Raja's book The Tamil Exodus
and Beyond for a good understanding and analysis of recent events and I
commend this book to all of you .
Nationalist struggles have a long history and the Nation-State has become
the main form of political organisation. What do we mean by the term
"nation"? A Nation is a group of people from the same region of origin who
share a common history. They may share a common culture, tradition and
language and all of this is true of the Tamils. In common speech, "nation"
is sometimes used as a synonym for "state". A State is in fact the main
political authority within a clearly defined territory. When we link the two
as a Nation-State which we also call a country, which then in theory we
assume that everyone living there belongs to the same nation; but in
practice this is not always the case - as the Tamil nation currently being
seen as living within the State of Sri Lanka.
There are at present 185 nation-states and at least 15 of these have been
created since 1990 mainly with the fall of Communism. Nationalism is the
ideology that holds the nation and the state together with an attachment to
one's homeland. Political theorists and philosophers have been critical of
the idea of nationalism, particularly nationalism based on ethnicity and
common ancestry. They argue that Western nationalism based upon a common
territory is compatible with a liberal state whereas Eastern nationalism ,
often based on ethnicity, inevitably leads to authoritarianism and cultural
repression. And so the Western version of it is considered good, acceptable
; if it is Eastern it is invariably not acceptable. I spent three months in
Norway and nationalism exudes from every Norwegian in all aspects of his
life. Everything about it seemed positive to me.
I would like to quote from Horace Davis
 who said, "When used for
murder the hammer is no doubt a weapon; when used for building a house it is
a constructive tool. Nationalism as a vindicator of a particular culture is
morally neutral; considered as a movement against national oppression it has
a positive moral content; considered as a vehicle of aggression it is
Writers and political scientists also argue that globalisation and
supra-national capitalism will inevitably overtake nationalism and lead to
globalism cleansed of all national differences. They give the example of the
European union as an example of development in this direction. We all know
that no trans-European national identity has as yet emerged. David Miller
, an Oxford Fellow, in a recently published book proposes nationality
as a preferred and defensible term which encompasses national identity as a
part of one's identity.
In this sense someone from the Tamil nation is a Tamil not because he or
she speaks Tamil but because Tamil is their nationality . Having a national
identity of course does not exclude one having collective identities of
other kinds. And this may be of some relevance to Tamils living outside
their homeland. A person's national allegiance does not always have to be a
single object so that Miller argues a person can identify themselves as both
"Jamaican" and "British" or for that matter we can say that a person
belonging to the Tamil nation and living in Australia could have a
collective identity of a Tamil and an Australian. That is where the next
step of one's nationality comes in which brings in the political dimension.
For Tamils to assert their Tamil nationality the nationhood of Tamils has
to be accepted. And secondly, Tamils are a national community occupying a
particular territory in Sri Lanka - their claims to political
self-determination have to be acknowledged as well. And institutional
structure that enables them to decide collectively matters that concern
primarily their community need should be in place, the essence of the right
to self-determination. Historically the sovereign state has been the main
vehicle through which the claims to national self-determination has been
realised and this is not an accident. Nevertheless people like Miller and
others argue that self-determination can be realised in other ways.
Historically every nation has a good claim to a state of its own and this
has been the vehicle of self-determination . The assumption of nationhood
and the quest for self-determination are merely two sides of a same coin .
I would like to refer to a recent paper by Francis Boyle and his
arguments from a legal perspective under International Law of the rights of
Tamils to self-determination and why the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
are a National Liberation Movement under International Law and not a
terrorist organisation. The Tamils share racial characteristics, religion
and language of their own. The Tamils still live and occupy their historic
homeland which is the strongest argument anyone has to the right to
The importance of people living on their land: these are
objective criteria and subjective criteria . Do the people themselves feel
that they are a group of people living on their historic homeland with the
right of self-determination? Certainly after all the atrocities and the
Human Rights violations that have been inflicted on the Tamil people for
quite some time it seems too clear to me that is the way the Tamil people
feel subjectively. They must have the right of self-determination because
under International Law, pro-active self-determination is the only way a
people can protect themselves from annihilation. This has been proven true
in other conflicts around the world.
The rights of national self-determination must be recognised in order to
ensure the existence of the people. Tamil people are a people with the right
of self determination within the meaning of the UN Charter, the two UN
Covenants and certainly Article 1 Para. 4 of the Geneva Protocol 1. That is
the most important criteria for being recognised, not as a group of
terrorists and criminals, but as a National Liberation Movement with the
right to use force in self-defence of their people and always in a manner
consistent with the laws and customs of warfare.
Against colonial domination: Clearly there is a historical
situation where Britain as a colonial occupying power took two pre-existing
states - the Sinhala state and the Tamil state and forcibly merged them and
proceeded to exercise its colonial control of the island of Ceylon by means
of a unified state. When the British decided to leave they set up a unified
state under the control of the Sinhalese to continue this type of colonial
occupation of the Tamils that had existed before this. So the requirement of
colonial domination is also fulfilled.
Alien occupation: We do know today that the Sinhala Army
occupies the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka and they treat the Tamils as if they
were an alien race of people, not as full-fledged citizens of Sri Lanka with
all the rights that the Sinhalese have themselves. So the third requirement
for self-determination is fulfilled.
Against a racist regime: If you study the history of the
conflict, racism and racist practices that have been inflicted by the Sri
Lankan Government on the Tamil people have been in violation of the
International Convention against all forms of racial discrimination.
Therefore the fourth requirement is also fulfilled.
The four requirements have been fulfilled with respect to Sri Lanka by
the struggle of the Tamil people and the LTTE. For that reason they qualify
for Article 1, Para. 4 of the Geneva Protocol. What that means is that the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam must be treated as if it were an army , not
as if it were some terrorist or common criminals, within the meaning of
international law and practice. These are Francis Boyle's deliberations on
the right to self-determination of a people.
The Indian author Sumantra Bose
 wrote that what was clearly
required in Sri Lanka was the will and the sanity to recognise that there is
nothing inviolable or sacrosanct about the Constitution of extant juridical
states. That all forms of unitary or centralised authority are social and
political constructions. There must be a realisation that the recognition of
state-society relations is fundamental to lasting peace and justice.
Scholars and policy makers must address themselves to the task of
accommodating these multiple identities by advancing creative flexible ideas
of dispersed, diffused sovereignties, build institutional frameworks that
would give distinct national formations a sense of belonging and bestow on
them power to actively negotiate terms on which to forge larger equal
economic and political unions. It is necessary to totally rethink our
understanding of state and nation and creatively reconceptualise the notion
of sovereignty to accommodate both.
Sumantra Bose argued further that the most efficacious solution would
transform Sri Lanka into a voluntary confederation of two equal and
essentially sovereign peoples. Sathasivam Krishnakumar, known affectionately
to all of us as "Kittu", repeatedly expressed this idea of "confederal"
resolution, negotiated in a trusting civilised manner rather than a bloody
and acrimonious partition. A cautious and international intervention might
contribute something towards this end, and that is the theme we heard this
morning. Bose quoted from an LTTE publication of 1988 which said that the
Tamil National Movement cannot be snuffed out. It can be reasoned with. I
think this position of the Tamils still remains open.
I like to echo the words of Adrian Wijemanne
, the sympathiser and ardent
supporter of the Tamil cause, in relation to the role of the Tamil diaspora.
"In many wars of Independence the national diaspora had played an important
part. The classic examples are the Jewish and Irish diaspora, both of which
contributed towards the establishment of an independent state for each of
their nations and continued to participate in the work of nation-building.
Both followed a near identical course. First, their moral logistical and
financial support for their emerging states locked in war. Then the clear
explication to their host nations," ( in our case Australia and the
international community)" for the reasons for the war of independence. Next
the long and patient endeavour to influence public understanding and secure
media support for the struggle of the compatriots back home. And then
finally, when the time is right in securing the sponsorship of host states
for the international recognition of emergent state."
It is a long road but as members of the Tamil diaspora it is our moral
obligation and duty to tread this well-worn road to freedom for the Tamil
nation. We have spoken a lot about peace here, but we dream not of just
peace, but Peace with Justice. Peace and Justice. I would like to close by
reading a translation of a poem by Subramaniam Barathi, a poet of
revolutionary Tamil nationalism in colonial India at the turn of the
In our land
we can longer be slaves,
We are no longer afraid.
On this earth
injustice multiplies with
To the Motherland we sacrifice
continue to die,
sobbing silently to
Or is Life so sweet
we dare not risk it
rebirth in freedom? . . .
Is it a sin to love Freedom
until Death ?
Is it a crime to end
Is there hatred in that?
We have learnt
that the only way is unity
we have learnt well.
We will no longer be surprised,
by your cruelty.
Our will is unshakeable.
If you slice my flesh
will you lose your fear of us?
your hunger for revenge?
Will you gain your purpose?
When my corpse is burnt
my heart will not melt.
for there is
my life desire:
1 Horace B. Davis:Towards a Marxist Theory of Nationalism,Monthly
Review Press, London 1979 page 3
2 David Miller On Nationality, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1995
Sumantra Bose: States, Nations, Sovereignty, 1994
4 Adrian Wijemanne in Hot Spring May 1996
5 Translated in Ludden 973: 274-75) quoted by S.Bose, cited above.