Tamil Nationhood and Tamil diasporic identity

Request for a policy document

Dear political and coordinating organizations in the Tamil diaspora. This is a humble request for a policy document on Tamil nationhood and Tamil diasporic identity. You may ask how this request on a political policy document is related to archives, libraries, and museums, which are memory institutions to preserve history and heritage. 

Even if Tamils are native to either Northeast of Sri Lanka or Tamil Nadu in Southern India, in the migrated countries they have formed a new identity as a “Tamil diaspora”. Especially the Eelam Tamils who migrated as refugees due to the riots, massacres, and civil war since the 1980s. Tamil diaspora is a transnational community that consists of interrelations between Tamil diasporic communities in the various host countries as well as the homeland and the mainstream society in the host country.

The Tamil diasporic social structure is a product of the tremendous contributions of thousands and thousands of good-willing souls, their valuable time, resources, and volunteer work. The base created by the first generation of Tamils is being continued by the younger generation of Tamils.

From an archival perspective, an overall policy document on Tamil nationhood and Tamil diasporic identity for this transnational community is going missing, or maybe not available for the public. This is a fundamental document for all activities to protect, maintain, preserve common Tamil nationhood and Tamil diasporic identity according to the law and regulation of the host country. However, the majority of Tamil organisations in the diaspora have statutes and other management documents. Nevertheless, there is a lack of a document on overall policy giving some guidelines about Tamil nationhood and Tamil diasporic identity. Hence, the functions and activities of Tamil organisations in the diaspora produce administrative records and publications that become evidence for the existence and continuity of Tamil nationhood and the Tamil diasporic identity of this transnational community.

These records and publications become the means for acquisitions in archives, libraries, and museums. These repositories are memory institutions that preserve and disseminate materials as historical evidence, a source for knowledge and research. These materials, as a circular effect, can maintain the Tamil nationhood and Tamil diasporic identity and prevent distortion.

The act of protecting and preserving Tamil nationhood and diasporic identity is a challenging long-term project. In this long-term project, a written policy document will avoid unnecessary and time-consuming basic challenge in common understanding. Defined fundamental boundaries, values and principles will create a common understanding between various organisations. That will make the work more efficient to carry out the actual task rather than conflict solving regarding fundamental understanding. It will also pave the path to trust-building, collaboration and cooperation.

Diagram 1: An overall policy document on Tamil nationhood and diasporic identity guides all activities that produce records and publications that become historical evidence and source material for knowledge and research. That again will maintain an identity and prevent distortion.

History is a product of, among others, political activities of the past. Politics in Tamil is அரசியல்; araciyal. The Tamil word araciyal is put together by the components of அரசு (aracu) + இயல் (iyal), which means தேசபரிபாலன நெறி (tēca-paripālaṉa neṟi); national code of conduct (University of Madras, 1924-1936; சென்னைப் பல்கலைக்கழக தமிழ்ப் பேரகராதி, n.a.). Thus, an overall policy document on the national code of conduct for Tamil Nationhood and Tamil diasporic identity for this transnational community is missing or not available or facing obstacles to put into writing.

Tamil governance

Tamils, especially Eelam Tamils, commonly use the following phrase to express their state of diasporic life: “தமிழன் இல்லா நாடில்லை. தமிழனுக்கு என்றோர் நாடில்லை.”, which means «there is no country without Tamils, but Tamils have no country».

After the fall of the Jaffna Kingdom in Eelam (Sri Lanka) in 1619 (Britannica), the raise of Tamil governance took into shape as the de facto state of Tamil Eelam. The civil administrative organisations of Tamil Eelam («தமிழீழ சிவில் நிர்வாக அமைப்புகள்») were started to be built in Tamil Eelam from the end of the 1980s that lasted until May 2009 (Gemini, 2019; தமிழர் நலன்புரி மன்றம், 14.03.1987). The de facto state of Tamil Eelam developed a social structure to pick up the lost continuity of the Tamil rule since Sangam period that span from 600 BCE to 300 CE (Jesudasan, 2019), with division for justice (நீதித்துறை), division for finance (நிதித்துறை), police (காவல்துறை), military force (இராணுவப் படைகள்), division for education (கல்வித்துறை), division for foreign affairs (வெளிவிவகாரத்துறை), customs (சுங்கத்துறை), division for economic development (பொருண்மிய மேம்பாட்டுக் கழகம்) and many others to create a sustainable Tamil society in Tamil Eelam. To create such an organized de facto state order, it is obvious that they had commonly adopted law and order as well as management documents at various levels of administration. These documents are based on a commonly adapted overall policy to protect a “Tamil nationhood” in Tamil Eelam. As well as evaluate the functions and activities to serve and protect Tamil nationhood in Tamil Eelam. The records and publications produced by these organisations in the de facto state of Tamil Eelam are the remaining sources for various narratives of the Tamil social structure in Tamil Eelam from the 1980s to May 2009.

At this period, the overall policy for the de facto state of Tamil Eelam influenced the majority of Tamil diasporic communities in the various countries. It occupied the attention and efforts of the Tamil diaspora to contribute to a growing country. Therefore, they didn´t have time or necessity to adapt an overall policy for them as a transnational community. 

After May 2009

After the fall of the de facto state of Tamil Eelam, there are various perspectives on “what is Tamil nationhood” and “what are the boundaries of Tamil Nationhood” in both diaspora and back home. However, still, an overall political policy is needed for fundamental principles and values in an administration. Politics as an art of state needs to clarify these boundaries.

What is the overall policy for the Tamil diasporic organisations to maintain Tamil nationhood and Tamil diasporic identity? What are the various perspectives among Tamils (diaspora and back home) about a Tamil diasporic identity, and Eelam Tamil identity in Sri Lanka? What are the various perspectives among Tamils (diaspora and back home) about a Tamil Nationhood? How is the policy of Tamil diaspora concerning Eelam Tamils back home? What is the buffer line for “acceptable” and “crossing the border” in the principles, values and activities concerning violation of the Tamil nationhood or Tamil diasporic identity in the diaspora or back home?

An overall policy document that describes discusses or defines such aspects will help the diaspora Tamil organisations to protect and preserve Tamil diasporic identity as well as Tamil nationhood with a common understanding.

The majority of Tamil diasporic organisations that was influenced and dependent on the policy created for the de facto state of Tamil Eelam face various challenges and obstacles in the absence of leadership or a central unified body after the fall of the politico-military leadership in Tamil Eelam in May 2009. Thus, there is scepticism about how political and coordinating organizations in the Tamil diaspora would be able to initiate a description for a common understanding of Tamil nationhood and Tamil diasporic identity. It is the nature of society to have various groups of people with different perspectives. For instance, “when the Tamil new year is” is an example of a debated question in Tamil society. Another is the confusion, misunderstanding and exchanged use of the terms “Tamil Eelam” and “Eelam”.

Even if there are logical and historical evidence on such concepts, it can be a hardship to come to a consensus when there is no unified leadership. However. since we don’t have a leadership or a central unified body, it doesn’t need to continue for future generations of Tamils. For example, the UN was formed after world war II. It is up to the manner of individuals to negotiate to form a central unified body with representatives from the Tamil diasporic communities in the various countries. It is also noteworthy to mention here that several attempts have been made to create a unified leadership body.

The administrative culture in the diaspora may be a factor in this challenge. Before the 1980s “team management culture» was practised in the activities in the Tamil diaspora. In Tamil Eelam from the late 1980s and onwards, when the de facto state of Tamil Eelam began to take shape, it integrated a structure of “team of teams” (குழுக்களின் குழு) (சேதுராமலிங்கம், 2020), while in the diaspora the culture of “coordinator” was introduced and evolved into a coordinator centric administration. But after May 2009, the “team management culture» has been slowly growing again.

Even if there is hardship in drafting an overall policy, there is a “team of teams” culture in other areas in the Tamil diaspora, such as education, health, entertainment and others. Thus, we should not forget that the Tamil diaspora has also created sample models that can be adopted in a political structure.

An suggestion for a process to draw a general policy document

Here are few words from the last days of Lt. Colonel Thileepan in his hunger strike in 1987.

“ஒன்றை பொதுவாக தமிழ் மக்கள் புரிந்து கொள்ள வேண்டும். இன்று உள்ள, இன்று எமக்கு ஏற்பட்டுள்ள இழி நிலையை, அடக்குமுறையை தமிழ் மக்கள் புரிந்து கொள்ள தவறினால் நாளை எமது வரலாறு மிக பரிதாபத்திற்குரியதாக இருக்கும். நாம் இன்று அடக்கி ஒடுக்கப்பட்டுக் கொண்டிருக்கின்றோம். எமது அடிப்படை உரிமைகள் படிப்படியாக பறிக்கப்பட்டுக் கொண்டிருக்கின்றது. இதை நீங்கள் ஒரு போதும் மறந்துவிடக் கூடாது.” – லெப். கேணல் திலீபன்

“One thing the Tamil people in general need to understand. In future, our history will be tragic if the Tamil people fail to understand the degrading and oppressive conditions we have today. We are oppressed today. Our fundamental rights are being gradually taken away. You must never forget this.” – Lt. Colonel Thileepan[1].

If we dismantle this quote to study an aspect of Tamil diasporic identity and Tamil nationhood:

  1. What is the “degrading and oppressive condition” (“இழி நிலை, அடக்குமுறை” ) of Tamils back home (not for Tamils in diaspora) over the years?
  2. Why are the Tamils repeatedly being oppressed back home (not for Tamils in diaspora)?
  3. What are the demands of “fundamental rights” of Tamils back home (not for Tamils in diaspora)?
  4. How can we prevent our history not becoming tragic in future? – This suddenly apply to both the diasporic Tamil community and Tamils back home.

There have been Tamil political organisations in both diasporas and back home, before, under and after the fall of the de facto state of Tamil Eelam. As long as they have a common understanding of Tamil nationhood and Tamil diasporic identity, it is not a problem that there are many political and coordinating organisations in the Tamil diaspora. As long as they have a common understanding, by forwarding the same and common purpose from all corners it will not be a weakness except as a strength and power.

Like any other flower bulb, the gloriosa lily grows and blooms on its own every time it falls. So, it will grow in all corners of the world. Therefore, Diaspora Tamil administrative structures need to adapt their administrative culture and structure to the social changes.

The common understanding, however, differ based on the approach and mindset of people in the organisations. One kind of approach and mindset is «they cannot manage to accomplish to protect or preserve Tamil nationhood, we do it.» And the other kind of mindset and approach is «yes, they have another perspective and approach. Yes, they did their best, but we would like to try something new to protect or preserve Tamil nationhood. However, we are open for cooperation and collaboration».

The essence in both approach and mindset is the protection and preservation of Tamil nationhood. But one of them encourages cooperation, collaboration and solidarity. The risk is that the younger generation of leadership might unconsciously adopt the opposite approach and mindset because they were met by leadership with domination and segregation culture.

A team of teams function

A team can be formed with the primary political and coordinating bodies in the Tamil diasporic community in the different countries. It should represent the Tamil diasporic communities in various countries. The team can gather ideas and perspectives from the public and diaspora Tamil organisations to draw a draft of a policy document. Then the team can draw a policy document for Tamil nationhood and diasporic Tamil identity based on historical documents and the collected social data. That draft should cover various aspects and perspectives to face diversity in the Tamil diaspora. But a common policy suggestion for the next 5-10 years should be put forward. The drafted policy document should be made available to Tamil organisations in the second and third-tier circles of society and the public of the Tamil diaspora. It will allow them to give feedback on the draft. The finalized policy document should be adapted collectively and commonly by the team. This document should be reviewed and revised every period of 5-10 years.

This is a process that involves many stages and will take few years to put the policy into writing. The best will be if this process being carries out by both the first and second generation of Tamils. But in case of this being a challenging and sensitive process for the first generation of Tamil leadership, the younger generation needs to be ready to have an open approach and mindset when they take over the relay stick.

Such a policy document is vital for the present and future generations. This is also a fundamental document to protect and maintain the history, solidarity and identity of Tamil nationhood and Tamil diasporic identity. Otherwise, a policy of Tamil nationhood and Tamil diasporic identity will be distorted when it is rested solely on the shoulders of individuals and passed on as oral tradition. Both the first and second generations of Tamils need to adopt a written policy manner to pass on the cooperation and collaboration values to the future generations. Otherwise, history will repeat for the present young generation of leadership.

Graphics: Team of teams

Archive

An overall policy document for Tamil nationhood and Tamil diasporic identity is fundamental to set some boundaries. It will be the fundamental document to provide some guidelines about «Tamil nationhood» and «Tamil diasporic identity» for any local Tamil organisation in a country. Thus, processes and activities in any Tamil organisation produce administrative records and publications that document the existence and continuity of Tamil nationhood and Tamil diasporic identity. Without an overall policy document, the Tamil diaspora will be socially disabled by functioning as small islands. Such a state of this transnational community will affect the solidarity in the identity of the Tamil diaspora.

An overall policy document will ease any Tamil organisation, regardless of political or non-political or any individual from the public to function without worries about violating or being ignorant in the “Tamil Nationhood” and “Tamil diasporic identity”. That will strengthen the society and give the confidence to function independently knowing the boundaries and having a common understanding.

A common understanding will build and maintain relationships with respect for diversity. It will empower to manage and encounter challenges. It will pave a path for new solutions and activities to protect and preserve Tamil nationhood and Tamil diasporic identity with the respect to the law and regulation of the host country.


Endnote

[1] Lt. Colonel Thileepan was known as Tiyāka tīpam Tilīpaṉ; தியாக தீபம் திலீபன், meaning light of sacrifice. He was a person who sacrificed his life in a hungerstrike by making non-violent humanitarian demands. He was on a hungerstrike from 15th-26th September 1987 when the Indian government refused to act on the pledges given to the Tamils under the Indo-Lanka Accord. On 13th September 1987, Tiyāka Tīpam Thileepan (தியாக தீபம் திலீபன்) put forward five demands  to the Indian government following the signing of the Indo-Lanka accord in July 1987:

  1. All Tamils detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act should be released.
  2. The colonization by Sinhalese in Tamil areas under the guise of rehabilitation should be stopped.
  3. All such rehabilitation should be stopped until an interim government is formed.
  4. The Sri Lankan government should stop opening new Police stations and camps in the Northeastern province.
  5. The Sri Lankan army and Police should withdraw from schools in Tamil villages and the weapons given by the Sri Lankan government to “homeguards” should be withdrawn under the supervision of the Indian army.

A red thread in the oppressive situations of Tamils can be seen from the Vaddukoddai Resolution adopted on 14th May 1976 by the Tamil political party, Tamil United Liberation Front and in the Pottuvil to Polikandy – march for justice, known as P2P in February 2021. This is an example of narrative drawn out of historical materials.


Bibliography

புதுப்பிப்பு│Update: 04.10.2021

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: