Flowers at a Hindu hall
The Hindu’s R.K. Radhakrishnan has a rather workaday article in Frontline until the end: “[The Indian Tamil MPs] carried back a fact that is not palatable in Tamil Nadu: that Tamil in Sri Lanka is a language; nothing more, nothing less. Tamils are not a race in Sri Lanka.” I’m not sure I’d put it that way, but like DBS Jeyaraj saying Sri Lankan Tamils are the 4th ethnicity in Sri Lanka, it makes a bit o sense.
As I discussed around the Jeyaraj article, Sri Lankan Tamils are broadly divided into those of extremely late (ancient) and colonial Indian origin (estate workers). Sinhalese are also of Indian origin via Vijaya, if you mythologically want to go there. Biologically we are all mixed and largely indistinguishable. Anyways, the one page news article view of Sri Lanka describes a nation of Sinhalese and Tamils, but this obscures the fact that Muslims may now be the biggest minority, and that Tamils are not a coherent group.
Broadly there’s the split between Estate Tamils and North Eastern Tamils. Then there’s the split between north and east. Then there’s the estimated 50% of Tamils who live in the south. Plus Christian Tamils, etc. And this doesn’t even begin to mention further sub-divisions based on class. It really isn’t a coherent race, and I personally don’t think race is the best way to understand or change Sri Lanka.
So, is Tamil just a language? Well, sorta. The thing is that Muslims and Tamils all over the island speak Tamil, among other languages. If they got together they’d be a formidable force (already a majority in Colombo), but they don’t. Tamil is a language, but not necessarily an identity. Which I think is true. This is why I think a broader civil rights movement is the only way out of the ‘ethnic conflict’ because the lines and sides in that conflict aren’t really clear. It’s too vague to actually be resolved whereas civil rights is something that appeals to all races and religions, etc. To all Sri Lankans essentially. In a world of shifting identity, the only one that makes sense to me is this island. There’s ocean all around, and if we don’t live together we don’t really have anywhere to go. So we should live together in peace.
Anyways, Radhakrishnan has the best report on the recent visit by Indian MPs to Sri Lanka. Worth a read.