Tamils - a Nation without a State
- an estimated 1,060,000 Tamils live in Malaysia -
Malaysian Tamils Back the Cause of Eelam
Prof P. Ramasamy
Tamils in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
against Tamil civilians being killed by Sri Lanka
Long distance Tamil nationalism is certainly a
crucial factor behind the struggle for Tamil Eelam being waged by
the LTTE. As its leader Prabhakaran has said a number of times, the
eventual creation of Eelam would be testimony to the spirit and
imagination of Tamil Diaspora. This powerful statement by the LTTE
has given the struggle for Eelam an international basis. More than
this, it has provided for both material and intellectual support for
the emancipation of Tamils long accustomed to the Sinhala-state
oppression. Among the Tamil Diaspora, Malaysian Tamils figure
prominently in sustaining the quest for Eelam.
Tamils in Malaysia, descendants of labourers brought by the
British to work in the plantation, constitute about 10 percent of
the total population, about 1.7 million. A very small section of the
Tamil speaking population are descendants of those brought from Sri
Lanka (Ceylon) by the British to fill in clerical and supervisory
roles in the colonial administration. Today they are popularly known
as Ceylonese or Jaffna Tamils.
Due to the Eelam war, more and more of them are identifying as
Tamils. For a long time there was this gap between these two groups
of Tamils on the basis of socio-economic differences. While the
Ceylonese sought to distance themselves from the Indian Tamils on
class lines, the latter disliked the former’s one time close
association with the British.
Thanks to the Eelam war, the relationship between the two groups
of Tamils has improved to some extent. Although class and status
distinctions continue to prevail, some sense of ethnic solidarity
has been built. Earlier the support for the Eelam cause was quite
patchy. Members of the Ceylonese community provided material support
on a clandestine basis, either individually or collectively.
However, with the entrance of Indian Tamils in support of the
LTTE, the nature of support has become much open and to some extent
formalised. The formation of various organisations such as the Tamil
Relief Fund and others have contributed to a situation where support
for Eelam has become more concreted and sustained.
Today the support for Eelam takes many forms, some known and some
unknown. The more visible nature of support includes activities
organised to gather funds, the holding of forums and meetings to
provide publicity, the distribution of pamphlets and video
cassettes, and others. Every year, during the famous Thaipusam
festival in Kuala Lumpur that attracts thousands of pilgrims, a
special place has been reserved by the temple officials for the
collection of funds for Tamil refugees in Sri Lanka.
Tamils in Malaysia are fully behind the struggle for Eelam. The
devious propaganda unleashed by the Sri Lankan Mission has not
affected their support; on the contrary, the support is growing day
by day. There are basically three principal reasons why Tamils are
behind the Eelam cause. First, as an exploited group in Malaysia,
the Tamils more than any other group, fully understand the plight of
their brethren in Sri Lanka. And being a class that has nothing much
to loose in a material sense, they are much bolder in their support
for the cause unlike the middle-class Tamils.
It would not be wrong to say that Tamils, particularly the youth,
have very high regards for the LTTE leadership in general and its
Supremo Prabhakaran in particular. Tamils in Malaysia consider
Prabhakaran as their hero; the presence of his pictures or portraits
is becoming a common feature in the homes of Tamil youths. In the
pro-LTTE demonstrations organised in Malaysia some years back,
Prabhakaran pictures were displayed quite prominently so much so the
police were quite upset.
Second, the socio-economic deprivation and the political
marginalization have affected the performance of the Tamil
community. Tamils, despite their sacrifice and hard work, have not
been rewarded like the other ethnic groups. While the Malays are
looked after by the government and the Chinese have a strong
presence in the economy, Tamils largely being members of the working
class have been robbed of their meaningful share. Not only have lost
out economically to other ethnic groups, employment opportunities
have been denied both in the public and private sector.
The pro-Malay policies of the government have discriminated
against Tamils being meaningfully employed in the different sectors
of the economy. Beyond this, Tamils are finding it difficult to
erect places of worship and have curbs placed on their cultural
activities. Their own leaders have not really championed their
cause. Many of them by closely accommodating to the Malay elite have
fundamentally neglected the welfare and well-being of the community.
Thus, given this scenario, it is no wonder that Tamils longing for
meaningful change have become quite radicalised. Their admiration of
the LTTE have grown by leaps and bounds over the recent years. In
fact, many of them secretly wish that they had a militant
organisation to take up their cause.
Third and not the least, the selfless struggle waged by the LTTE,
the utter dedication of its leaders, the disciplined nature of their
performance and others have not been lost on the Tamil population in
Malaysia. The role of LTTE has given Tamils here much pride and
dignity as Tamils. In short, LTTE has been a fantastic morale
booster to Tamils in Malaysia.
The LTTE leadership stands in stark contrast to the kind of Tamil
leadership in Malaysia. Tamils leaders in Malaysia are not only
corrupt but totally an indecent lost. Lacking the moral integrity
and pride, these leaders have sold the community outright. By
accommodating closely with their Malay patrons, they have become
alienated from the rank and file. In fact, it will be a truism to
state that Tamil political parties and organisations have not done
anything for the betterment of the community from the time of
political independence; but on the contrary, they have endorsed the
racist policies of the Malay state.
About 75 percent of Tamils are members of the working class-both
in the plantations and urban areas. Tamils share of the national
equity is only about 1.5 percent; a share predominately held by rich
Tamils who have no sense of solidarity with the working class.
All in all, Tamils have been neglected for about 100 years, and
if such a neglect is not addressed in coming years, Tamils might
think of some alternative plans to improve their lot. As one former
Tamil politician remarked some years ago: “We Tamils may be poor,
but we are not cowards”. In a recent cultural event held at one of
the universities, a Tamil student leader remarked at the end of his
speech in Tamil: “If the government is not going to address our
educational and cultural grievances, then we will have choice but to
plant the ....flag”.