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‘We are the Tigers,’ roars despairing Tamil diaspora
Times of India, 24 May 2009
You buried me in my land. O’ Enemy! Where will you bury my land?’ The words of Sri Lankan Tamil poet Kasi Anandan could speak for the country’s nearly one-million strong Tamil diaspora. The LTTE may have given up arms, but the diaspora has not surrendered.
Be it London, Toronto or Washington, the diaspora’s rage is growing with every report on the unfolding humanitarian crisis, the large-scale detentions and disappearances. “There is bitterness about the killing and maiming of civilians. There is a belief among Tamils that they will continue to suffer limits to their freedom of movement, of assembly, in the country,” says Canada-based Lankan Tamil poet Thiru Sambandar (name changed on request).
The diaspora is scattered across North America, Europe, India and Australasia. Most Sri Lankan Tamils migrated in the mid-80s as a direct or indirect result of the civil war in their island home. The diaspora is largely seen to have been instrumental in funding the LTTE’s armed struggle against the Sri Lankan state and army.
Now, the Tigers are gone and the diaspora is in despair. Sambandar says, “There is hope in the sense that morning comes after the long, dark night. And in the morning, birds will sing because nature deems their song necessary. We can join their songs with words of love and forgiveness. We can try to turn the other cheek but we become angry before the scenes of jubilation, before the announcing of a national holiday to mark this ‘victory’.”
The high Tamil casualties in the war have fuelled expat anger. “They celebrated after killing so many people,” says Suren Surendiren, spokesperson of the British Tamils’ Forum. On Saturday, Samy Vellu, the Tamil chief of Malaysian Indian Congress, said Sri Lankan leaders should be tried for war crimes .
Many blame India for the crisis. Even Sinhala leader Vickramabahu Karunaratna, general secretary of the Nava Sama Samaja Party and president of Sri Lanka’s New Left Front agrees “India was conducting the war but he also suggests the slender possibility “of a united solution”.
The Tamil diaspora doesn’t share that hope. Anandi Suriyaprakasan is former senior producer of the BBC’s Tamil Service and has interviewed the late LTTE chief V Prabhakaran three times. She says, “The Lanka government will destroy the concept of a Tamil homeland. They will have planned Sinhala colonization of these areas, as President J Jayawardene did in Trincomalee (in the 1980s).” She believes that India can make or break the Tamil dream. “If India can force the Sri Lankan government to give Tamils their legitimate rights and devolution of power, then there will be peace.”
Who will lead the peace? No one knows where, how or when to find the Tamil movement’s new leadership. Many believe this rudderlessness is dangerous because it may radicalize younger Tamils abroad. One of the diaspora’s most famous faces, singer Maya Arulpragasam aka M.I.A, has already told her 32,000-strong fan club on the social networking website, Twitter, that “the war in Sri Lanka is not against the LTTE, but against the Tamil people.” M.I.A.’s words count. TIME magazine recently named her one of the world’s 100 most influential people, alongside Barack Obama and Penelope Cruz. Suriyaprakasam notes that the 47-day-old protest against the Lankan crisis in London’s Parliament Square is mainly made up of young Tamils who insist “We are the Tigers”.
Will the Tamil movement be radicalized once again? Yes and no, says a London-based researcher of Sinhala-Tamil parentage, who didn’t want to be named. “The mentality of armed struggle will not go away soon. That guerrilla type of set-up would exist. Whether Tamils will take up arms again also depends on how the government solves the issue of detentions.”
But Ahilan Kadirgamar, New York spokesman of the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum believes the end of the war is the end of the armed struggle. “The only way forward is through a political process.” In little-expressed public criticism of the diaspora he says, “It played a very negative role in fanning the flames of war over the last two decades. There needs to be deep self-reflection and self-criticism before the diaspora can play a constructive role.”
Sambandar sums it up: “The reasons for the conflict have not gone away; they have only become exacerbated. There is no chance for reconciliation within the current framework symbolized by the prejudiced flag with its prominent lion roaring over a few minority stripes.”