This is an interview with a real live Tamilian
This reporter from the Huffington Post is asking me how Tamil people feel. I told her that Tamil people are not extinct and she can ask them directly. I forwarded to some friends, but if you’re Tamil then perhaps you could answer the questions in the comments below, or email her directly to go under your real name (which I recommend). I’ve posted the questions below and my responses (which are quite frankly, conjecture). If you are Tamil do explain how you feel. I see no reason to speak for people who can speak for themselves.
How are Srilankan Tamils responding to the crisis?
First off Sri Lankan is two words. And it is no longer a crisis per se.
Sri Lankan Tamils did not celebrate as much as Sinhalese and Muslims did. The few I’ve spoken to are grieving for friends and relatives in the North. They are basically keeping quiet. In private I think some do regret the LTTE losing. Many simply feel like there is no ‘balance’ now, no counterweight to the radical Sinhala elements in the state (no matter how terrible the LTTE was).
I’d say the response is generally quiet and discreet. The Sri Lankan Tamils I know are anxious for their own safety and they keep quiet. They do help with relief, but they do so very discreetly.
There is also a lot of disinformation and rumor among the Tamil story. I’ve heard the same rape story many times, it always ends with ‘they took the fair one’. Many think Prabhakaran escaped, I’ve heard that the government stored his brain, I’ve heard that Buddhist monks are hijacking relief shipments, etc. There’s a lot of rumor, but it’s hard to clear it up when there’s a vacuum of real information.
How are they helping their countrymen?
Discreetly. Tamils, quite frankly, have to be extra careful because even the hint of trouble can mean detention. There are serious terrorist threats, as a caveat. However, I know that some of the old Tamil families in Colombo are doing incredible amounts of work behind the scenes. I personally work with a lot of Tamils who coordinate huge amounts of aid, but they’ll never advertise it.
In the camps the local communities are helping out a lot with cooked food, etc. Organizations like Sarvodaya have had local village centers in the region for years and those people are helping out. In Colombo I see a lot of Tamil people involved in coordination, citizens groups, church collections, kovils, etc.
Many are quiet and discreet so it’s hard to tell on the surface.
How do they handle the emotional weight?
I don’t know. That’s a stupid question. I have no particular knowledge of the emotional state of Tamil people. It’s Sri Lanka. People deal with death and messed up stuff all the time. Tsunami, terrorism, war, whatever. We’re a hardy people. We deal.
What now for Tamils after demise of LTTE in Sri Lanka?
Up to a point they have to take whatever they get. However, the government has also called elections in Jaffna and Vavuniya. The IDPs aren’t registered anywhere so they won’t be able to vote for a while, but in time one hopes that moderate representatives can emerge. It will be easier without the LTTE killing them off, as they have for countless mayors, MPs, leaders, etc.
I do think that things are significantly better than 1983, but Tamils still don’t have equal rights. Now it’s mainly under terrorism laws other than explicitly racist ones. As the terrorism simmers down hopefully emergency will be loosened and everyone can enjoy full rights as Sri Lankans.
Of course, the state could simply crush and neuter Tamil political activity and keep them surrounded by troops in the north and constantly checked in the South. I don’t know. I hope and work for the best.
What are their expectations from international community?
Again, I’m not Tamil and I have no particular knowledge of internal states beyond my own. Nobody here expects the IC to come in here and carve out Tamil Eelam or anything. I think that is a particular arrogance of the west. Most of the International Community actually supports Sri Lanka and the government. If you look at the recent UNHRC vote, China and India and most of the global south voted to commend the victory and support Sri Lanka in establishing rights for all.
The ‘punishment’ resolution was actually backed by a minority of the world’s population. I think it’s a particular arrogance of the west to think that they are the international community. The geopolitics have shifted and India and China (and most of the worlds population, by extension) are supporting the Sri Lankan state in whatever it does.
What are their concerns and what solution they are looking for?
Again, I can’t speak for Tamils, but I have spoken to some. The ones in the camps want to be reunited with their families and to go home. The ones in the south want to travel without checkpoints, not have their homes searched, feel like they are protected.
Many say that if Mahinda does what he says in his speech (protect Tamils as his duty, not treat anyone as ‘minorities’) then they would be happy. When I asked some guys if they think Mahinda can do it they shrugged and smile.
I think most Tamils just want to know that they and their families will be safe. That they won’t end up in jail or stuck in camps. I don’t know what the solution is, but I think we need a few months to see. The war is still winding down and we won’t know until people resettle.
I don’t think people are necessarily looking for a separate state, because over 50% of Tamils live and work in the South. I do think they want equal protection. The solution, I believe, is strengthening our own democracy and improving our government by participation. I don’t know if most Tamils here have the same hope, or faith.