Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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From: Maya Ranganathan, to tamilnation.org, Australia,  23 August 2004 "It was soon after I started my Ph D (at Monash University, Melbourne) in October 2000 on the subject of using the Internet for nation-building that I chanced upon tamilnation.org. You can imagine my delight. My argument was that the Internet was one of the most ideal tools for nation-building and I had discovered this website which I intended analysing in depth. But as luck would have it, tamilnation.org vanished without a trace soon after. For my PhD I ended up choosing other websites which were sadly not as comprehensive, interesting or as authoritative. I submitted my thesis in May 2004. Yesterday, I recalled the material on tamilnation.org on Tamils and the Sumerian civilisation during a discussion with a friend about similarities in Korean and Tamil grammar. We did a Google search and to my great surprise I found tamilnation.org was back! For me, it is a little too late. But then, better late than never. Welcome back and yes, I missed you!

Response by tamilnation.org: "Mikka Nanri. As you may recall from your own experience, writing is often a lonely business, and your 'welcome back' was welcome and gratifying. We watched the film Finding Forrester recently. A budding 16 year old author is advised:  'write from the heart, rewrite with your mind'.  Over the years, tamilnation.org has grown and taken shape, hopefully, by bringing heart and mind together and also by being ever mindful that none of us grow alone - we grow by interacting with our fellow beings and by endeavouring to relate to the essential goodness that is in each one of them. Again, many thanks - and God Bless."

Monash University, National Centre for Australian Studies Newsletter, May 2004 - Maya Ranganathan, PhD candidate with NCAS, is the recipient of a Monash Postgraduate Publications Award which will assist her to prepare articles for publication. Maya completed her Masters in Communication at the University of Madras, India, and has already received two Monash Graduate Scholarships. She has just completed her PhD thesis, 'Nurturing Nations on the Net: an exploration of nation-building on the Internet'. The thesis looks at political websites in South Asia, arguing that both nation-states and aspiring nation- states employ the Internet to reiterate the concept of 'nation' and 'nationality' among their members. Maya is also contributing to an upcoming Monash-Asia Institute publication on Singapore.


Nations & Nationalism

Nurturing the nation on the Net:
the selective presentation of culture in political websites

Maya Ranganathan
Courtesy: Global Media Journal, 5 November 2007

[see also Using the Internet to Extend Hegemony: A Study of Government Websites in India - Maya Ranganathan and NagaMallika.G and Potential of the Net to Construct and Convey Ethnic and National Identities: Comparison of the Use in the Sri Lankan Tamil and Kashmir Situations - Maya Ranganathan ]

About the author: Maya Ranganathan is currently teaching communication in the Manipal Institute of Communication. This article arises out of a PhD thesis passed by Monash University, Australia, in 2004. The author thanks the Monash Research Graduate School for financially supporting this article, Jenny Hocking of Monash University, Australia, for reading an earlier draft of the article and Paul James of RMIT University, Australia, for his guidance throughout the research project and the anonymous readers of GMJ.

 Abstract  Contrary to general projections that the Internet will lead to a larger integration of people, it is now seen that the medium tends to bind people into smaller and smaller communities by reiterating national identities (Ranganathan, 2004). Thus, the Net with some of its unique technological features like the ability to transgress boundaries, to provide extensive information through hyperlinks and provide instant interactivity has ironically contributed significantly to the resurgence of nationalism. Nationalism incorporates within itself cultural identities. The common social and cultural identities that people share have implicit political potential. Considering that it is indeed difficult to divide the nonpolitical from the parapolitical, this article deals with how cultural elements are chosen to further the national identity (Dahlgren, 2005). The article argues that nations embark on a planned and systematic selection and presentation of culture, which employs stigmatization or emulation of �threatening others� or both (Jaffrolet, 1993). While in earlier times, nations seldom had complete monopoly over media, in the present times the Internet provides the near-perfect tool to carefully construct and perpetuate identities. It is in this context that the article explores the way in which a carefully chosen culture is presented by political websites hosted by both �unofficial� and �official� nations in South Asia. The article argues that by emphasizing on certain cultural themes, nations bind people together into a community even as they effectively thwart a larger integration of people.


Initial studies on the nature of the medium of Internet have focused on the potential of the medium to integrate peoples by facilitating a better understanding of their different cultures (Bowers, 1988; Burnham, 1984; Zuboff, 1988). However, since integration incorporates differentiation, which may eventuate in fragmentation, the potential of Internet to fragment societies is under scrutiny now, particularly in the context of resurgence of nationalism.  Typically, the Internet assumes importance in the context of political communication.  The web can bring people together on common grounds, creating new politics and social relations by its ability to incorporate a whole range of texts, its ability to transgress physical distances efficiently and the facility it extends to the user to assume anonymity and indulge in identity play. The features of the medium can thus band people together into communities at the same time separating them effectively from other communities. It is this aspect that the article focuses on in the context of the presentation of culture.


Usually fighting oppression by an ethnic majority, they attempt to instill among the people the idea that they are a separate nation with a distinct language and/or religion and culture and that they have every right to govern themselves. In such cases, the distinct culture of the �nation�, it is feared, will fall victim to the nation-state�s efforts to obfuscate differences within the population. Certain sections of population remain �unimagined within the nation� leading to a clash of representations (Westwood and Phizacklea, 2000).


It is then that the people of the nation become or are made to become more conscious of their language, religion or ethnicity, whatever makes them different from the rest.  The Internet assumes importance in the case of �unofficial� nations as it is one of the most effective medium that can transgress geographical boundaries bypassing the jurisdiction of the nation-state. �Unofficial� nations are also largely dependent on the financial and moral support of their people to sustain the struggle for freedom and the Internet helps them stay in touch with the people within and outside the nation.

If �official� nations are taken to be nation-states in existence, accepted as a legitimate government by other nation-states, the media is an essential tool to further nation-building. �Official� nations have to constantly unite their peoples under a common culture by also instilling in them an identity that they can be proud of, essentially a process of homogenization, in which differences are blurred and similarities highlighted. In the process is incorporated the positioning of certain cultural elements as indicative or as part of the distinct national identity.


The use of Internet in this context assumes significance as by employing the medium, nations, whether �unofficial� or �official� are able to reach to and even retain the loyalties of members who have moved outside the physical area of the nation. Anderson used the term �long-distance nationalism� to explain the �paradoxical double movement of integration and disintegration� peculiar to our times (Anderson, 1998). Discussing migration, he pointed out how the communication revolution has changed the experience of the migrant. The same technology that helps the migrants stay in touch with their lands and people even after moving thousands of miles away and to draw cultural sustenance, also promoted �long-distance nationalism�. While this article does not get into the debate on the reasons for or the consequences of the resurgence of nationalism, it uses Anderson�s work to point out the important role that Internet can play in the realm of national identity creation.

�Culture� as part of national identity

This section elaborates the role �culture� plays in the creation and promotion of national identity. A common �culture� is one of the defining features of national identity. For instance, Calhoun, in his definition of a �nation� includes among other factors, culture , i.e., shared beliefs, values and common descent (Emphasis added) (Calhoun, 1998). 1 Stalin (cited in Alba, 1968) and Renan (1995) in their definitions of �nation� laid stress on the commonness among the people, in the past, present and future. If �nation� can be defined as an abstract community, a community of strangers, then the common heritage of memories and culture plays a significant part in the creation of national identity (James, 1996). Politics is not explicit but remains a potential in the airing of �the social and cultural topics� having to do with �common interests and/or collective identities (Dahlgren, 2005).�


With the boundaries between the nonpolitical and the parapolitical being blurred, it is indeed difficult to separate the cultural elements from the political elements of national identity. �Nation� is a lived abstraction, an �imagined community� although not a fiction (Anderson, 1991; James, 1996). It is both a practice and a carefully constructed concept � constructed with cultural, economical and often political images.


The process of nation-building, besides incorporating attempts at economic development of the nation, includes the process of moulding the culture to meet political objectives. The cultural identities created are linked to the political fate of the nation and hence culture plays a prominent role in the struggle of a nation for a distinct political identity. Most nation-states formed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries after throwing off the colonial yoke were an amalgamation of different ethnicities and languages that had been brought together under the one umbrella of an often painstakingly-created national culture.

Media has always played an important role in identity-formation, the �process of construction of meaning on the basis of a cultural attribute or related set of cultural attributes� (Beniger, 1986).  While media in general enables the member of the audience to situate herself/himself �physically, legally, socially as well as emotionally� within a nation, in the present trend of mass migrations where people move out of the physical boundaries of their homeland, the Internet gives them a means to make the legal, social and emotional �situation� possible (Billig, 1995).


For the stateless ethno-national Diasporas, �the web is a complex symbolic environment� (Bucy and Gregson, 2001). The Internet softens the agony of being excluded from his or her native land. From the viewpoint of the migrant, the Internet is used by people far more to �simulate communities� than for any other purpose (Poster, 1995).


Migrants most often possess a basic level of education and the requisite computer skills to use the Internet. Caught amidst people of a different culture, speaking a different language and perhaps in a land with a different political set-up, the Internet provides the �boxed in� migrant with a means of escaping into the familiar (Bakardjieva and Smith, 2001). Going online thus signifies a conscious seeking-out of the known, in this case the company of members of his/her ethnic community. Social and cultural alienation, coupled with �addiction, loneliness and escapism� lead the migrant to this virtual �third place�, which becomes an extension of one�s homeland (Webb, 2001; Oldenburg, 1991).

The technology enables the audiences to bookmark sites facilitating the periodic access of particular sites for specific information without much effort. Visiting a site becomes more like reading a favourite newspaper, an almost indispensable part of one�s daily routine. Although the objective is to learn of �news�, of what goes on within the geographical boundaries of one�s nation, in the term �news� is implicit political and cultural constructions. Habermas places discourse at the centre of democratic theory (1989a).


Media discourse constructs and nurtures communities, through identification and differentiation, inclusion and exclusion. Through carefully structured presentation of news and choice of photographs, audiences can be lulled into forgetting differences within the community and to instead develop a sense of oneness with the fellow-members. The constant reinforcement of the greatness of the community�s language, religion and/or culture has the potential to create a strong sense of distinct identity among the audience. The selective presentation of views can win support for the ideology and the means by which it is defended.


The Internet, thus, promotes the �social identification model� developed by psychologists John C.Turner and Henri Taffel which enables audiences to �perceive themselves as members of the same social category� and �behave in accordance with the norms� of the category (cited in Severin and Tankard, 2000).


Analyses and discussion


In the above context, I attempt in the following section to explore the ways in which culture is positioned by �unofficial� and �official� nations in South Asia. The two case studies of how Internet is employed by the unofficial Sri Lankan Tamil nation of Eelam and, the use of Internet by the official nations of India and Pakistan with relevance to Kashmir issue help one understand the way culture is positioned in different contexts. Thus five websites have been taken for the study. Tamilnet (http://www.tamilnet.com), Eelamweb ( http://www.eelamweb.com ) and TamilEelam Homepage ( http://www.eelam.com ) which is the official website of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), represent the unofficial nation of Eelam, while those of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir, Government of India (henceforth referred to as the Indian Government website) ( http://jammukashmir.nic.in ); the Government of Azad Jammu and Kashmir 2 (referred to as AJ&K website) showcase the way in which cultural identities are constructed by nations in conflict with each other.


Of the �three forms and origins of identity building� detailed by Beniger, at least two are in evidence in the websites. The Indian Government and the AJ&K websites are illustrative of the �legitimising identity�, that is �introduced by the dominant institutions of society to extend and rationalise their domination�; and the Sri Lankan websites illustrate the creation of �project identity � when social actors on the basis of whichever cultural materials are available to them, build a new identity that redefines their position in society� (Beniger, 1996).


The very fact that the nations employ the Internet for the mediation of culture makes a statement on the evolution of the nation into a community that adapts its past to suit the present. Thus the antiquity and the traditions of the nation are presented through modern technology. 3 It is also to be noted that most nations are also constrained to make a hyper real representation of the nation in cyberspace.


Apart from history, culture constitutes a major component of the nation�s identity. The flagging of the cultural identity is done either overtly through incorporation of a separate section entitled �culture� or covertly by interspersion of �culture� with �news� and other material on the website. The ways in which political websites position culture in the reiteration of national identity can be classified into the following broad categories:

The �overt� presentation of culture involves presenting the culture of the nation as a matter of pride as is done in the Indian Government website. The separate section on the cultural aspects of Kashmir under the headings �cultural heritage�, �tourist scenario� and �industrial scenario� lay out for the reader the �greatness� of the culture of the nation. The account on the nature and the accounts of the small and traditional industries are clearly efforts to make the members take pride in the uniqueness of their land. The textual account is further compounded by the use of technology of the Internet which allows for the use of pictures and mpg files. The choice of the pictures and visuals convey the glory of the place and the people. 4


For instance, the four mpg files titled �Tourism in J&K� 5 are not clear, but nevertheless give an idea of the scenic beauty of the region and the cultural practices that make the place a tourist attraction. �The potential integration of text, images, and sounds in the same system, interacting from multiple points in chosen time (real or delayed) along a global network, in conditions of open and affordable access� changes the way in which the message is conveyed (Castells, 2000).


The use of such �happy� pictures also helps the website underplay the turmoil in the region. Such pictures are accompanied by accounts of increase in tourists 6 which in itself is an indication of the return of normalcy of the region. �To stay in power the ruling class must not exercise economic and political power, but also ideological power 7 in and through the state apparatuses� (Laclau and Zizek, 1999). The pride in the cultural heritage of Kashmir conveyed in the Indian Government website is clear proof of the Government of India�s engagement in �the general process of production of meanings and ideas� through the Internet (Fiske, 1990).     


The discussion above makes it clear that websites propagating �official� nationalism use the technology of the Internet to not merely convey the distinct culture of the nation better, perhaps due to the machinery and men at their disposal but also to transmit a pride in the uniqueness of the land and the people by incorporating text, pictures and videos. This assumes special significance for the migrants who have moved away from the physical boundaries of the nation. The accounts create a sense of belonging and identification with the land of origin thus reinforcing the members� cultural identity.

2. �Culture� in the narration of news


In contrast to the above is the covert transmission of culture. Those websites that do not incorporate separate sections on culture, in this case, those of the Sri Lankan Tamils that propagate �unofficial� nationalism, the cultural aspects of the people and the nation can be gleaned from the news of the nation. This is especially true in the case of news websites.


For instance, perhaps in keeping with its image as a news website, Tamilnet neither has a special cultural section nor carries cultural motifs on its pages. However, it incorporates news on the cultural affairs of the nation reiterating implicitly in the process, its antiquity. If news is treated �as a genre whose function is reassurance as well as surveillance�, the news story about the revival of the historic chariot festival in Koneswaram temple, 8 is a reiteration of the cultural heritage of Tamil (Silverstone, 1994).


The revival not only suggests the return to normalcy of Eelam, but also makes a statement on the antiquity of Hindu religion, which majority of the Tamils follow, the nation�s culture, and the zeal with which the community has retained its cultural roots. The item makes reference to the newly-constructed ther (the Tamil term for chariot), the building of which was one of the first cultural activities undertaken in the region since the February 2001 ceasefire. The accompanying picture of the decked-up chariot strengthens the image. What is apparent here is cultural nationalism, �an aim to regenerate the national community by creating, preserving or strengthening a people�s cultural identity when it is felt to be lacking or threatened� (Castells, 2000).

    In news websites, pictures are used to convey the cultural aspects of the news more clearly. While the news report in Tamilnet entitled �Conference demonstrates women�s strength behind freedom struggle � Karuna�, 9 deals with the progress of the peace talks, the picture of women participating in a group dance dressed in traditional clothes, juxtaposed with that of a woman commander hoisting the Eelam flag indicates the aspirations of nation-building � an attempt at development which does not forget the cultural roots of the nation.


The reproduction of LTTE leader Pirabakaran�s Women�s International Day message of 1996 in Eelamweb 10 where he speaks about the equality of the sexes showcases the would-be nation�s centrality in social organisation, and its impact on every sphere of society which is typical of modernity. This is yet again evident in the news reports in Tamilnet titled �Bullock cart �buses� Mullaitivu school children� 11  and Moolai hospital struggles to get back on feet 12 and the news story on the need for renovation of the Eravur court buildings. 13 Tamilnet extensively covers development news and this is indicative of nation-building as �the process of nation-building and development is integrally linked and overlap in so many ways� (Gupta and Agarwal, 1996: 39).


Thus the reports on German assistance to contain malnutrition in Trincomalee and the sponsoring of a technical institute by the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation 14 are not only representation of the welfare state that seeks to enhance participation, �generally � civically, socially, politically, culturally� (Dahlgren, 1995: 139) but also an effort to project the people as belonging to a resilient community capable of braving all odds to put the nation on the path of progress. 15

The cultural ideology is conveyed through a careful selection of news. The AJ&K website, which has no separate section on culture, seeks to portray Kashmiri culture to be closest to that of Pakistan in the material on the website. Clearly, a small group of nationalists, in this case those who conceive and operate the   AJ&K website, are stoking the flames of nationalism by �emphasising the divide between �them� and �us�� helped �by the reticence of the majority who do not speak up� (Ladduwahetty, 1995: online).


Thus the Islamic identity of the people of Kashmir is repeatedly stressed in the material on the website in line with Smith�s assertion that �nationalism is primarily a cultural doctrine or, more accurately, a political ideology with a cultural doctrine at its centre� (1991: 74).


The other identities of the Kashmiris, which include a tolerant Islamic identity, are obliterated and the links between the Pakistanis and the Kashmiris alone highlighted. What is evident are ways of conceiving of �us� � the pro-Pakistanis who constitute a nation with a unique identity � and ways of conceiving of �them� � the foreigners, in this case all those who are not for union with Pakistan � as different. In the process of extending cultural hegemony, the enemy, that is the Indian Government, is �demonised� (Edelman cited in Billig, 1995: 91).


Where nations are engaged in a struggle with another nation, the �other� becomes the focal point of the discourse, and the community�s identity is based on the differences in the values and ideology between what Mitra called the �in-group� and the �out-group� (Mitra, 2001).

3. Demonising the �other�


Nations engaged in a struggle for transformation into a nation-state most often are �built upon points of differences rather than similarities� (Keleman and Smith, 2001). Thus, demonising of the other is a recourse adopted by nations in conflict. Both in the case of Sri Lankan Tamils and in the case of Pakistanis and Indians attempting to nurture a pro-Pakistani or pro-Indian identity among the Kashmiris, the identity is based on the perception of the others, those that are not us and do not belong to �our� nation. The delineation of the differences between the people of different nations, i.e., �us� and �them� takes the form of demonising of the �other�.


This is clearly illustrated in the AJ&K website where India is treated with utmost suspicion. The workings and the decisions of Indian leaders at the time of independence are dubbed �Hindu moves�; �Hindu� India is blamed for the cultural and economic onslaught �let loose in Kashmir�; and the imposition of Hindi in Kashmiri schools and the rechristening of roads and institutions with the names of Indian leaders are cited as examples of the imposition of Indian identity over the people of Kashmir by force. Since the Government of AJ&K argues for the annexation of Kashmir with Pakistan mainly on the basis of the religion practised by the members of the nation, the division between �us� and �them� is based on the differences in the religious beliefs of the members of the two nations. Thus, the Hindu domination of culture which is the underlying theme in the article �Jugular vein of Pakistan� on the AJ&K website works to strengthen the Islamic identity of the people. It is pointed out that when tourism was a flourishing industry before the threat of insurgency, the largely Hindu clientele adversely affected the Islamic culture of the Kashmiris. For example, guides adopted the Hindu way of greeting to get tips from tourists and were even reluctant to disclose their names for fear of their religious identity being known. A National Conference stalwart is reported to have said:


We had apprehended that by merger with Pakistan, Kashmir culture would be eroded under Punjab domination as the Punjabis are of aggressive temperament. But now we feel that Kashmiri culture was to go anyway and our Islamic character would undoubtedly have the Hindu impact.


Again, India�s attempt at integration of the Hindu and Muslim population in the state is perceived as an attempt to rob the Muslims of their special spiritual heritage. The teaching of Hindi in schools is taken as a means to push Urdu into oblivion so that �with the passage of time Urdu disappears and its elimination might cause a communication gap between the Kashmiris and Pakistanis�.


The Hindi inscriptions on the tombs of the Muslim saints and the assertion that they had an equal following among the Hindu and Muslim people, together with the camaraderie enjoyed by the Hindus and the Muslims in organising Hindu and Muslim festivals, are all looked at as efforts by India to dilute the Islamic culture among the Kashmiri Muslims. The transmission of these claims which �are true or valid for others as well as for ourselves� (Ess, 1994: 239), particularly the fear of cultural onslaught, is bound to appeal to the Islamic identity of the members of the nation.


The religious divide is extended also to the victims of violence. In the article �Battered bodies and shattered souls� 16 on the AJ&K website, which is a collection of the experiences of women and children narrated to the Indian People�s Tribunal on Environment and Human Rights based in Mumbai, India, the victims are all Muslims. The cross-section of Muslim women and children interviewed are portrayed as innocent victims of army atrocities: the formers� lives are engulfed by fear and gloom and insecurity.


The Indian army is accused of not merely physically repressing the Kashmiris but also of causing long lasting psychological damage. Women who were witnesses to the killing of their sons have become insane, it is alleged, and children who have been exposed to the army�s vulgar comments and gestures live in constant fear. The Indian Government is accused of changing social patterns as well. The website says that the basic right of free education does not exist in the region. Students miss out on lessons due to frequent searches and interrogations. Some lose their family members, others have to eke out a living in the absence of earning members and some have their homes destroyed in militant and army actions. The material on the website thus clearly reinforces the view that Hindu India is the oppressor and Islamic Kashmir the oppressed.

That the website takes �negative sustenance� from India (Akbar, 1985: 98) is evident from the various reports in the AJ&K website. The Indian Government is charged with upholding sectarian interests and statistics from the 1980s are cited to prove that non-Muslims and non-Kashmiris are favoured by the Indian Government in the granting of export licenses. India is accused of undermining the Kashmiri economy by imparting knowledge of carpet-weaving, embroidery and fruit cultivation (which the Kashmiris are known for) to the people in Himachal Pradesh, thus leading to shift of the industries to Himachal Pradesh from Kashmir. In the article �Kashmir: victim of conspiracy�, 17 India is charged with suppressing Kashmiri talents.


The tourism industry suffered owing to the presence of security agencies; foreign investments were not allowed into the region; public work programs were not implemented; basic infrastructure like power generation and transport did not exist; natural resources were exploited; and �grand plans� remained only on paper. The language used is of special significance here.  The website charges India with being �haughty in its dealings� and �disparaging� of Kashmir culture, �determined to take unfair economic advantage, intent on forcing its culture and standards upon us and relegating us to an inferior status�. India is projected as an external power clearly out to colonise the people of Kashmir. The argument of the website thus comes through: that Kashmir has to be annexed with Pakistan. Here, the Internet functions as a site for �communicative reason� (Habermas, 1989b), where arguments are used to convey a particular claim. The building up of arguments is aimed at swaying the user to the point of view of the website.


Yet another way in which the cultural identity is transmitted is through projection of a distinct leader of the nation, who may or may not be the political leader of the nation. However, since the websites chosen for the study are political in nature, the leader of the nation is most often a political figure, rather than cultural. However, political is implicit in the cultural.


The projection of a leader indicates the potential of the nation to exist as a recognised nation-state among the world of nations and is apparent in the discourse of �unofficial� nations. The separate section on Eelam �national leader� Pirabakaran, who is the founder leader of the LTTE, whose name carries the prefix �Hon� 18 in Eelamweb , further reinforces the reality of Eelam among the audience. The segment contains the picture of a smiling Pirabakaran and links to his Heroes Day messages, historical speeches and quotes from his speeches, as well as interviews he had granted to the press until 1995.


Not only is the nation�s leader projected, but also the rationale behind the struggle is explained through a reproduction of his quotations or �reflections� which are chosen in such a way as to answer all the criticisms made against him. For instance, in answer to the criticism from implied readers that the LTTE does not respect life, Pirabakaran is quoted as saying: �I understand the dignity of a life, but our right is much more dignified than life, our freedom and our self-respect�. 19 In answer to the question of how much support he enjoys among his people, he is quoted as saying: �the Liberation Tigers are not different from the people. The Liberation Tigers is a people movement. The people are the Tigers.�

A eulogistic account of Pirabakaran is constructed through the words of others who have come into contact with the leader, India�s former foreign secretary J.N.Dixit, among others. This ploy is used in the FAQ section in Eelamweb as well. 20 Answers to questions are framed in the words of those who have spoken and written about the LTTE and the movement. Quoting from an interview granted by Pirabakaran, it is said that the envisaged system of governance for Eelam is a democracy. If �a nation is a people who have hold of a state or who have developed quasi-developmental capabilities for forming, supporting and enforcing a common will,� then the Sri Lankan Tamils are well on their way to forming that state (Oomen, 1997: 14). This message comes through clearly in the websites.

An adjunct to the projection of a leader is the undermining of leaders of the �other� nation which is in evidence in the Indian Government and the AJ&K websites. The historical personality of Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, held in high regard by the AJ&K website is treated with little respect in the Indian Government website. Sheik Abdullah, the founder of the political party National Conference in Kashmir, is quoted as having told the UN Security Council in 1948 in the section �Historical perspective� that Kashmiris were not taken in by Jinnah even prior to Independence. shapeimage_10.png


Under the sub-heading �the Story Behind� in the section entitled �Historical perspective�, Jinnah is accused of harbouring plans to grab Kashmir (something of which Pakistan accuses India and its leaders). 21 It says:


He had once boastfully declared that �Kashmir is a blank cheque in my pocket�.


In a clear attempt to denounce the Father of Pakistan, Jinnah, the discourse in the Indian Government website recounts that Jinnah had warned of dire consequences should Kashmir fail to accede to Pakistan. Jinnah�s animosity to the National Conference expressed in the AJ&K website is attributed to his failure to woo Sheik Mohammad Abdullah, whom the Indian Government website calls the undisputed leader of Kashmir�(Emphasis added).

Sheik is referred to as the Sher-I-Kashmir (Lion of Kashmir) in the Indian Government website. The National Conference, the political party he founded which was for allegiance with India, is treated with respect. The section �Historical Perspective� 22 states, �The Kashmiris led by a towering personality, the Sher-I-Kashmir Sheik Mohammad Abdullah, rose against the autocracy.� Abdullah is ranked along with the Indian national leaders Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi in fighting for the freedom of the land. The National Conference is portrayed as enjoying the full confidence of the people and having played a pivotal role in securing freedom for the Kashmiris. The section reiterates that the


National Conference headed by Sheik Abdullah, had become a mass movement and a force to reckon with. It broke the barriers of region and religion and became a popular and secular voice of the people of the State whose collective yearning was freedom from autocracy and the establishment of a popular rule.

A parallel is seen in the AJ&K website which systematically undermines the credibility of the Indian leaders and builds up the image of Jinnah as a selfless leader of the Muslims. It alleges that India�s former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru warned Lord Mountbatten of trouble if �any attempt is made to put Kashmir into the Pakistan constituent assembly� and asserts that the Indian national leaders Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Kriplani visited Kashmir to persuade the Maharaja to accede to India. 23  Sheikh Abdullah eulogised by the Indian Government website is discredited in the accounts in the AJ&K website. He is charged with disregarding the restrictions imposed on the granting of state residency, thus causing unfavourable demographic changes. The website quotes the Sheik�s political rival, Mehboob Beg, to support its assertion that domicile certificates were issued without consideration causing the proportion of non-Muslims in the state to rise. It repeats yet another political rival, the Congress I�s allegation that the Sheik owned real estate in all parts of India. A virtual chargesheet is made against the Sheik who is regarded very highly by India, and the impression sought to be created is that the Sheik favoured annexation of Kashmir with India and did so, more owing to personal considerations than due to political commitments. Such accounts are evidences of the attempts by the governments to transmit �certain preconceptions, assumptions, notions and beliefs� to purposively �structure the view of the world among certain groups in a specific society� (Kellner, 1998: 44). shapeimage_11.png

5. The nation and its people as �unique�    


In established nations, i.e., �official� nations, especially those which swear by democracy, the people supposedly reign supreme. Websites purveying �official� nationalism steer away from projecting an individual leader and devote attention to projecting the nation and the people as unique. �Unofficial� nations, presently laboring under oppression, draw upon the past to instil a similar pride in the members of the nation. The supremacy of the Tamils, their culture and nation is constantly naturalised through the narrative in the Eelam websites. The paper �Tamil Eelam demand in International Law� in the Tamil Eelam homepage 24 quotes Chelvanayakam, one of the Tamil leaders, to point out that throughout history, the Tamils had lived as sovereign people and had contributed to the freedom struggle in the hope of regaining their sovereignty. What it seeks to portray is the superiority of the Tamils in the past. The paper reproduces an excerpt from C. Suntheralingam�s booklet �Eela Tamil struggle for independence�:


In the history of Ceylon �the Eela Tamils never lost their kingdom entirely, except for two short periods of 16 and 6 years, while for much longer periods Tamil kings have ruled over all Ceylon��


Such accounts instil pride in the Tamils while at the same time calling for a show of their �worth and their valour� by joining in the struggle for Eelam and restoring dharma (rightness) to the land. This links the national and religious, a coupling noted by Anderson (1991). The reproduction of the resolution passed by the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) headed by Chelvanayakam states:


The first national convention of the Tamil Liberation Front, meeting at Pannakam (Vaddukodai constituency) hereby declares that the Tamils of Ceylon, by virtue of their great language, their religions, their separate culture and heritage, their history of independence existence as a separate state over a distinct territory for several centuries [Emphasis added] �.,


The reproduction of the above lines further reiterates that the �greatness� is not all lost. Although oppressed by a dominant power, the Tamils are shown to have great potential and it is this feature that is sought to be invoked by the accounts of the past glory of the Tamils. Thus, the reproduction of �the speeches of national leaders and the pamphlets, programs and other documents� is indicative of the �nature of the mass instinct to which the propagandist appeals� (Connor, 1994: 76). The mass instinct is shaped by culture.

The distinct cultural identity of the nation is also transmitted through reiteration of certain images specific to the nation. Eelamweb contains in its masthead (repeated in every page of the website) the Tiger flag and a message from the leader which is either his philosophy or a quotation from his speech. The maps of Eelam are detailed with places of historic and cultural interest printed in bold. There is a special feature that details what happened �on this day� in history. The images of Eelam �flag� the nation every time the audiences access the website (Billig, 1995). What is in evidence is nationalism �as a doctrine of the will� exalting the cultural group by emphasising its exclusiveness and superiority (Kedourie cited in Smith, 2000: 1606). 



The above discussion establishes that political websites, those of �unofficial� and �official� nations employ �a process of ideological manipulation, indoctrination and control� to convey �the established order and dominant ideologies� to the members of the nation (Kellner, 1998: 44). Although the transmission of shared perceptions, values and goals are geared for political aims, �culture� plays a major role in the process. �Culture� itself is positioned and presented in a way as to make the people of the nation take pride in it, and perpetuate it even amidst great hardships, immaterial of whether they live within or outside the physical area occupied by the nation.


The perpetuation of culture takes different forms online. Either through separate sections that lay down the culture of the nation or by interspersing cultural elements in news and other material dealing with the nation, the people of the nation are made more conscious of their cultural and political identities.


The accounts of the nation, its people and its history coupled with the threat of the cultural onslaught by the �other� is bound to make the national identity, of which cultural identity is a part, more pronounced. This heightened consciousness could effectively hamper larger integration of the peoples. Members of a nation, wherever they are, could thus be made to carry their national identities in their minds, preventing them from integrating with other nations, even when they are living in it, thus leading to the �long-distance nationalism� that Anderson spoke of (1998: 74).



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Appendix 1 - Template for analysis

(1) Structure of the homepage and whether it contains

  • Flag/ insignia/ motto/ slogan

  • Dominant colours used and what they may indicate

  • Picture of leaders if any

  • Cultural motifs, if any

  • Any reference to 'we' and 'they', an indication of who the website is about, by and for who

  • Map of the land area central to the group

(2) Presentation of culture as part of news

  • How often is the news updated?

  • What constitutes news?

  • Is the news one-sided or is there an attempt to present the other side?

  • Are links provided to other news sources, even those inimical?

  • Analysis of 'us' and 'them', 'we' and 'they'

Semiotics was employed to discern the cultural frame within which the discourse is made. Hence, the structure of the homepage was a significant aspect of study. The 'framing of items', the verbal and visual material employed to convey the message and the hierarchical structuring of material were taken as important cues that indicate the process of structuring the nation in the discourse in the website. Given the interactive and dynamic nature of the technology, the insignias, colours, cultural motifs and accompanying sounds constitute the process of political socialisation which involves the transmission of societal traditions, values and beliefs to people so that they can function appropriately as citizens of the nation.

The treatment of 'news' was an important unit of analysis. 'News' itself, besides the angle in which it is presented, indicates the strategy adopted to 'realise' the nation. As the websites taken for study are those that contain information that are generally not the staple of other media of communication, the issue of whether the 'dominant' dominates in the website too, or is reversed, was thought to be of particular relevance to the employment of the website as a voice for the dispossessed.


  1. The other factors are a clear boundary or territory and population, indivisibility, �sovereignty, or an aspiration to sovereignty, ascending notion of legitimacy�, a belief that the government was a result of popular will, a �popular participation in collective affairs�.

  2. Azad Jammu and Kashmir translating to Free Jammu and Kashmir, although an autonomous entity, is funded by the Government of Pakistan and professes political and cultural affiliation with Pakistan. The website is registered in Pakistan and incorporates links to the Pakistan Government and news sources. It is hence treated as part of the Government of Pakistan.

  3. This has also led to the debate that Internet is not always a post modern tool and that most often it is used to extend the real to the virtual. Thus, virtual space reflects the power relations in the real world. Viewed at from the modernist perspective, cyber space, at least in the realm of political communication, merely extends the real to the virtual.

  4. http://jammukashmir.nic.in/culture/welcome.html accessed on July 27, 2003.

  5. http://jammukashmir.nic.in/tourism/welcome.html accessed on July 27, 2003.

  6. http://jammukashmir.nic.in/normalcy/welcome.html accessed on April 1, 2003.

  7. I use Fiske�s definition of ideology with particular reference to media: �The reader and the text together produce the preferred meaning, and in this collaboration the reader is constituted as someone with a particular set of relationships to the dominant value system and to the rest of the society. This is ideology at work� (1990: 165).

  8. http://news.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=8636 accessed on March 31, 2003.

  9. http://news.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=8634 accessed on March 31, 2003.

  10. http://www.eelamweb.com/leader/messages/women/1996/ accessed on March 31, 2003.

  11. http://news.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=8631 accessed on March 31, 2003.

  12. http://news.tamilnet.com/art.html?artid=8870&catid=13 accessed on April 29, 2003.

  13. http://news.tamilnet.com/art.html?artid=8817&catid=13 accessed on April 19, 2003.

  14. http://news.tamilnet.com/art.html?artid=8877&catid=13 accessed on April 29, 2003.

  15. This is evident in the media coverage of people recovering from great tragedies. Thus almost all the reports in Indian media that followed the tsunami in December 2004 and the torrential rains in Maharashtra and Gujarat in July-August 2005 focussed on the undying spirit of the people, who rose against great tragedy to rebuild lives.

  16. http://www.klc.org.pk/klc/pumphlet/batterd-bod.html accessed on March 30, 2003.

  17. http://www.klc.org.pk/klc/pumphlet/victim.htm accessed on March 30, 2003.

  18. http://www.eelamweb.com/leader/messages/heroesday/ accessed on March 31, 2003.

  19. http://www.eelamweb.com/leader/quotes accessed on March 31, 2003.

  20. http://www.eelamweb.com/faq accessed on March 31, 2003.

  21. http://jammukashmir.nic.in/profile/jkhist.htm accessed on April 1, 2003.

  22. http://jammukashmir.nic.in/profile/jkhist.htm accessed on April 1, 2003.

  23. http://www.klc.org.pk/klc/pumphlet/Jugularvein2web.htm accessed on April 1, 2003.

  24. http://www.eelam.com/introduction/eelam_demand.html accessed on March 31, 2003.


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