Whither the Tamil Diaspora? Part-1

The traditional idea or meaning of “diaspora” is often construed in terms of a catastrophic dispersion of a group of people. Their scattering mostly resulted from a cataclysmic event that had traumatized the group as a whole, thereby creating the central historical experience of victimhood at the hands of a cruel oppressor. You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to recollect that the events that took place during the Black July of 1983 is the one that triggered the mass of exodus Eelam Tamils. However, the notion of Eelam Tamil diaspora has been widened as a metaphoric designation to include groups who have migrated, before and after 1983, for trade, economic, labor and family unification reasons and also as political refugees.

Our friends and families in the Tamil homeland are still carrying the burden of the struggle that we lost militarily in 2009. This burden has manifested in the form of military surveillance, a population of war widows and orphans, sexual violence against Tamil women and acts of cultural and linguistic destruction. In spite of all the hardships they are facing, it is inappropriate for us to think of our fellow Tamils in Eelam as victims. We need to treat them as survivors, actively re-building their lives and communities. We should have a dialogue and develop narratives that will make it so. Every time when I look at the enduring conflict still faced by the Eelam Tamils, I always think that I’d found the beginning. But in each case I found another beginning that came before it. Similarly, there was an ending that seems like no ending at all.

In this postmodern world, Tamil diasporic identities have become de-territorialized, constructed and deconstructed in a flexible and situational way. Ideas of home and the stronger inflection of homeland have not been a universal and powerfully binding discourse, particularly within the more affluent groups within our diaspora. In spite of the three decades old civil war and the brutality that took place in May, 2009, I am not sure whether the Tamil diaspora retains a collective memory of “our original homeland” based on a sense of distinctness and common history. We, as a unified diaspora, do not seem to be committed to the maintenance, restoration, safety and prosperity and seem to discontinue in various ways to relate to that “homeland”. The links between the various host lands and homeland are becoming more tenuous. Life in the diaspora is sufficiently attractive and emotionally and physically secure not to prompt a connected identification with the Tamil homeland. The harder notion of homeland has now yielded to softer notions of a “found home” within the diaspora and to “virtual homes” in the Hindu temples and local Tamil schools perhaps augmented by occasional visits to Sri Lanka.

I would like to ask the following questions in the most humble manner to all my friends and colleagues within our transnational communities by starting with the simplest one.

-First, will we ever mobilize and construct a diasporic consciousness to unify and coalesce behind a special purpose to help re-building the Eelam Tamil community defeated by a brutal regime and abandoned by the international community, specifically by India in spite of the large Tamil population?

-Second, can we construct frames of memories that allude to ideas like “roots” and “home” and the importance of history, which can then feed into the collective imagination of the diaspora?

-Third, what can be done to disseminate a diasporic discourse and foster a diasporic imagery with a single purpose of re-building and re-energizing our helpless brethren living as virtual hostages in the homeland we left voluntarily or involuntarily?

While asking these questions, I want to strongly emphasize that I do not expect nor want the Eelam Tamil diaspora to behave as a single, endogamous ethnic group with a fixed mindset of origin and political aspirations wholly focused in our place of origin. On a positive note, I am optimistic that we can coalesce as a diaspora behind a purpose that excites all of us. We just did that- we all voted for Jessica Jude in the wild card round of the Super Singer competition and made her the overwhelming winner. Can we all unite along the same lines to help the war widows and the orphans and the homeless which may be less exciting but will be much more rewarding.

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