Tamil nationalism is the ideology which asserts that the Tamil people constitute a nation and promotes the cultural unity of Tamil people.
Sri Lankan state violence, persecution, and discrimination from the 1940s to 70s pushed Eelam Tamil leadership to answer the Tamil national question, manoeuvring through a maze of democratic and diplomatic methods in an attempt to achieve only a basic level of autonomy for the Tamil people. For 30 years, the Sri Lankan state’s response to these methods was one of sheer brutality and repression. The failure of the ahimsa and democratic movement further induced Tamils to reject the racism of the Sri Lankan state, leading to the rise of Tamil armed resistance movements in the 1970s designed to defend the very existence of the Eelam nation.
The militarisation of the Sinhala-Tamil conflict in Sri Lanka began in the 1970s when attempts to reconcile by peaceful means the Tamils’ claim for basic individual and collective rights with the Sinhalese need to allay their chronic sense of insecurity finally failed. Since then the struggle has intensified, erupting successively in the burning of the Jaffna Public Library with its irreplaceable cultural treasures on 31 May 1981, the anti-Tamil pogrom in July 1983, and the army’s assault on Jaffna in October 1995. The point of no return to the status quo ante has long ago been passed.
Tamil nationalism developed and hardened in the face of Sinhalese ‘hegemonism’ and as a response to their victimization. In this view, the oppressive and discriminatory policies of political parties dominated by the Sinhalese generated a ‘defensive Tamil nationalism’ that initially sought a federal system as a protective device and then demanded a separate state in their ‘traditional homelands’ after the oppressive ratchets were tightened. A body of people who wished to find their place within the island polity was driven to such a position by Sinhala ‘exclusivism’. A separate state of Eelam is the only path to peace.
Shortly after the island’s independence from Britain, the Sri Lankan government passed the Citizenship Act of 1948, which made more than a million Tamils of Indian origin stateless. The government also passed a Sinhala Only Act, which severely threatened the status of Tamil as a minority language, as well as hindering the social mobility of Tamil speakers. In addition, the government also initiated the state-sponsored colonization schemes , with the aim of lessening the numerical presence of minorities as well as monopolizing traditionally shared economic activities such as agriculture and fisheries, which have been part of the livelihood of Sri Lankan Tamils since time immemorial.
The Tamil-speaking people in Ceylon constitute a nation distinct from that of the Singhalese by every fundamental test of nationhood, firstly that of a separate historical past in the island at least as ancient and as glorious as that of the Sinhalese secondly, by the fact of their being a linguistic entity entirely different from that of the Sinhalese…and finally, by reason of their territorial habitation of definite areas which constitute over one-third of this Island
After 2009, the survivors of genocide ended up in government-sponsored refugee camps. Conditions in these camps were deplorable, with reports of many human rights violations. Thousands of Tamil people had gone missing after settling into these camps. Family members recall seeing loved ones with them one moment, vanishing the next. Families of the disappeared have been continuously protesting in Sri Lanka, demanding justice.
The state of Sri Lanka is unable to provide the support needed for a war-torn population; this responsibility inevitably fell on the shoulders of the diaspora. They shouldered the immediate call for mutual aid, raised money, created infrastructure around education and different economic empowerment schemes.
The physical act of war may have ended, but a war against the Tamil nation has not. The Tamil nation remains under siege by Sri Lankan Forces; military bases now occupy traditional Tamil lands. In addition, there is the ongoing destruction of traditional Tamil religious institutions, graveyards, and memorials by state-sponsored organizations. The occupation has led to the rise in the colonization of traditional Tamil areas by the Sinhala people. Tamil areas are under constant surveillance, forcing arbitrary arrests and prolonged detention without judicial oversight, emboldened by draconian terrorism laws. The Sri Lankan state routinely arrests students and activists, who face torture and death.
Kumarathasan Rasingam – Secretary, Tamil Canadian Elders for Human Rights Org.