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What Are Tamils Protesting For?

I do not write this as a rhetorical question: What are the Tamils protesting for?

It’s clear what Tamils around the world are protesting against. They’re protesting against the outrageous actions of the Sri Lankan government, which has herded large numbers of Tamil civilians into a narrow strip of land, where many have been killed, and many others are suffering.

Beyond the cessation of this particular atrocity, however, what do the Tamils want?

I ask this because I visited the protest organized by Tamils in London today. Under a glowering statue of Winston Churchill, right next to the British Parliament, a group of perhaps one thousand assembled once again today, as they have for many days now. They have a permit to protest for the rest of this week, and assurances that they will be given new weekly permits for the foreseeable future.

tamils evacuation protest sign

Everyone at the protest I talked to said that they intended to keep demonstrating for as long as it takes to get their objectives met. But, what are those objectives?

On the one hand, I heard protesters describe a demand that there be an immediate cease fire. I read signs that proclaimed, “Tamils Demand Political Solution. Tamils Detest Military Solution.”

I also, however, heard Tamils praising the Tamil Tigers, a group that has been engaged in violent rebellion against the government of Sri Lanka for decades. I heard the chant, “Tamil Tigers! Freedom Fighters!” in more than one corner of the protest square.

tamil tigers freedom fighters

In addition to run-of-the-mill viollence, the Tamil Tigers have used child soldiers and suicide bombers to promote their cause. The Tigers have also been accused of attacks on civilian populations on Sri Lanka themselves.

I have sympathy for the Tamils suffering in Sri Lanka. My sympathy for the protest in London ends, however, when demonstrators use the attention gained by other people’s suffering to bring glory to the cause of violence.

I am sure than many of the Tamils protesting outside of Parliament support nonviolent means to the resolution of the conflict on Sri Lanka. Their efforts are being co-opted, though, by people who respect only the rights of civilians in their own group. In order to gain more attention worldwide, the Tamil protest movement needs to repudiate the Tamil Tigers as it protests violence by non-Tamils.

The movement also needs to clearly articulate its goals. Does it want peace, or does it want to win a war? Does it want freedom, or just an independent Tamil state? None of the Tamils I met who were protesting today was able to articulate a vision beyond the current atrocity.

3 comments to What Are Tamils Protesting For?

  • Nary

    Your rhetorical question has to be the most complicated yet the most basic. The question that is at the very heart of the problem that no one wants to think too much about. Let me try to at least define the problem.

    Imagine this really huge fish tank. Lots of fish swim around in it. Little ones as well as big ones. Then one day the big fish decided to attack the little fish, because the powerful big ones felt that the tank rightfully belonged to them. The little fish stuck it out for as long as they could. Then some of them decided to attack back. The entire water turned bloody. Now try to determine who is the terrorist in such a scenario!

    I think that I am not incorrect in saying that the ” other people’s suffering” was what brought about the violence in the first place. At least initially the Tigers enjoyed very widespread support among the Tamils, because they were the one constant voice that rose against Tamil oppression. The methods they chose to employ to bring about a solution to the Tamil problem became increasingly violent, BUT the successive Srilankan governments were in no way second to them.

    For Tamils, wanting to win a war has become the definition of peace. Freedom has come to mean a separate Tamil state.

    As to whether I think this should be the solution to the bloody fish tank, I have no idea. I think that is why East Timor is a separate state, and we Tamils- even after 2 decades of misery- are living in separate states, with no homeland in sight.

  • Nary

    Sorry, that should have read, “non rhetorical” question.

  • Sivar

    I escaped from Srilanka 26 years ago after the 1983 masacre in the capital where thousands killed promoted by state terrorism. Srilanka was my country where tamils been living over few thousand years. I lost basically everything family, friends, colleagues. Do you have an answer for me?
    I need my country back, my culture back, my ancient belives back, my peace back.

    Can the singalese goverment(thugs) give any of them back to me?
    what choices I have for me?
    Can I follow Gandhi’s ahimsa, fast to death, fight bach, beg for justice, beg for peace?
    Basically, I don’t know.. I want meaning for my life on this earth, my ancient beliefs, my culture, my generations of peace cultivated by parents, grand parents, great great parents and more…

    I hope you understand writer..

    Sivar

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