Diversity In The Diaspora (And Home)

Myself, dressed as Mahinda, representing South Asian races in a O/Level textbook. Literally, a walking contradiction

People ask about the Tamil diaspora as if they’re a monolithic unit. They’re not. The Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora has its share of crazies, its share of sanies and a much broader share of normal people just living their lives. It’s the same of people within Sri Lanka. Recently, I was reading the blog of a young diasporal who came back to Sri Lanka to visit (Serenstupidity). Her perspective is worth a read:

I’d like to stress how it is important not to base your perceptions on news reports. It is easy enough to believe that people in the country are all brainwashed and ridiculous. From my travels, I have gathered this is untrue. Citizens of Sri Lanka are just as stratified in their views as those in the diaspora. There are those who I’ve met, from Colombo intellectuals to villagers in the South, who are against the current administration. Then there are several of those I’ve met who genuinely believe that this must be the most amazing time for Tamil people to be free from war, and praise the president for “saving” Tamil people. There are also several who are completely politically apathetic. However you look at it, I hope people don’t brand Sri Lankans on the island as one monolithic group (Back In One Piece).

This is a crucial fact that a lot of people commenting on Sri Lanka miss. The rhetorical devices which are so convenient to use (Sinhala, Tamil, Tamil diaspora) don’t actually exist in any coherent form. They’re all full of contradictions and fundamentally misleading. How so? Here are a few contradictions:

Sinhala: This category includes Sinhala racists and people like me who, born Sinhala, don’t speak Sinhala or really participate in the culture. There is also a lot of Sinhala/Tamil mixing, even in the north. Sinhalese are a minority in Colombo.

Tamil: Abroad, this is thought to be a unitary race, represented by northern, Jaffna Tamils. In fact, around half of Tamils live in the south, the east is distinct from the north and even Jaffna Tamils are still heavily divided along caste lines. Tamils are also (usually) either Hindu or Christian, some speak English and home and some speak Tamil. Then there are up-country Tamils, descendants of labor imported by England, wanted and represented by basically no-one.

Tamil diaspora: There are like 900,000 people in the Tamil diaspora and they’re internally diverse. I know people who do a lot on the ground and talk about politics none. I know people who do nothing and talk a lot. I know those in between. I know people that aren’t involved at all, and I know people who are too involved with tech or art or whatever to care about politics at all.

So yeah. Sri Lankans are a bunch of different people. So are the diaspora. Race is only one thing that defines us, among many, and it’s not definitive. Personally, I thinking dividing suffering and rights based on race is like herding cats, or sculpting sand. If it takes you 30 years to do it, by then the demographics will have changed. Much simpler to focus on building a multi-ethnic society, based on equality for everybody.

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2011-07-18 21:53:28

You made it into a textbook! Way to go :D

2011-07-19 11:39:30

I have family friends who belongs to all three above and some Burger people as well and each and everyone of them have different ideals and ideas about SL. Most of them are much freer with us because we do not seem to belong to any of the above groups and tend to share or air their feelings and thoughts. You are right none of them will fit in any one basket. Neither do I.

2011-07-20 10:38:50

IMHO what matters is not the different groups of people who has different views. What matters is which group is running the show. I personally think its the wrong group running the show in both sides.

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