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Calling All Tamil Youth to Embrace Tamil Belongingness as a Distinct Community

Date: 08 January 2022
Source : Editorial Board, Tamil Writers Guild.

Calling All Tamil Youth to Embrace Tamil Belongingness as a Distinct Community

A close look at the nations of the world show that most managed to exist without any serious threat to their existence, and indeed, many have flourished. But for the unfortunate nations, it has been a struggle for survival, both to protect their land masses and their culture, language and heritage.

Again, when we look at those Europeans who emigrated far afield during the imperial and colonial wars during last few hundred years, most still remain with their distinctive cultures and languages as communities in their 'new' host countries, interestingly with their own quarters in a number of large cities.

One particular nation that Tamils could look at and learn about the survival instinct and how to continue to exist as a Tamil nation in exile or community in their host countries are Jewish people. They were not only unfortunate to be made stateless some 2000 years ago but also tortured and harassed, culminating in their mass extermination during the Nazi holocaust. But those who remained, survived by continuing to practice their language, culture, and more importantly their political economy wherever they went, whilst believing that they will return to their motherland one day.

When we look at the Tamils, their exile started some seventy years ago, with mass emigration of over one million Tamils starting from early 1980, whilst close to 250,000 died out of the four million Tamil nation in Sri Lanka. Yet, the community and national spirit amongst the first, second and third generations etc appear very bleak indeed. This is primarily caused by lack of passing of belongingness and the desire to exist as a Tamil race (as the Jews did) by their Tamil parents in the false belief that doing so either made them look as better citizens in their host country or helped their offspring's academic or career advance. This malady's dangerous consequences has come round in a circle to hurt and cause a sense of abandonment to those who cut ties with their root community, and to their off springs in the future.

For instance, whilst for centuries, most UK citizens lived in harmony, the Scottish are never accepted as English or vice versa, Welsh are not accepted as Irish or vice versa and same goes for Tamils. So where would these Tamils go to call themselves in 10 years or even 50 years? In fact, they will suffer mentally to find themselves without a sense of belongingness.

Even now in the UK, those Europeans who made this country their home after having started arriving here over the last few centuries, are continuing to practice their community life as Polish, Greeks, Lebanese and Armenians to name a few whilst being British when they are out and about in their other civil roles.

For the Diaspora and their offspring, it is not only imperative to maintain their belongingness as Tamils for the sake of the Tamil nationhood but also for them to be part of a community that will support and nurture them in time of need with its rich culture, traditions, food, ancient medicines and of course, for future companionship.

In this regard, for a nation, cultural identity is equally important along with the land and the language. Although we were under continuous subjugation for decades in Sri Lanka that prevented us from having cultural events like drama, music festivals, Bharatanatyam dance performances, Temple festivals etc, we have been free to do all of these in the West and are in abundance to watch and cherish such activities almost daily.

Back in Sri Lanka, the government's clear intention has been to remove Tamils from their historical land in the North-East., It is imperative that Tamils in Sri Lanka and all over the world safeguard their culture and language which have been under threat by the civil war and the ensuing exodus in order to rebuild the nation again. When they left their homes in the Jaffna peninsula and marched towards Wanni, again a lot of books and manuscripts were lost or looted which otherwise could have provided evidence of our past history.

During and after the Sri Lankan civil wars, when the Tamils left Sri Lanka for foreign shores, there were opportunities in the host countries to establish Tamil Schools where the language and cultural activities have been nurtured. Tamil students in all the UK universities established Tamil Student Unions with the objective of promoting Tamil culture. In order to embrace the lost Tamil spirit, there have been more musical events and dance Arangetrams in the UK and Canada than the similar events held in North-eastern Sri Lanka.

By organising the above mentioned Tamil cultural events and attending the Tamil Schools events, the university students and the youth in general will enhance their knowledge while appreciating the richness of the Tamil culture. The North and East of Sri Lanka had close ties with South India in language and music and In those good old days, music enthusiasts travelled unhindered to South India by train and ferry to participate and promote musical festivals.

For the youngsters who may not be aware about the intentional assaults on our cultural institutions in Sri Lanka, it's worth recalling the destruction of the Jaffna library. The Jaffna Public Library had been a repository of ancient Tamil Olai (Palm leaves) manuscripts and contained over 90,000 historical Tamil books. It was a prime centre for reading, learning and research and considered one of the best in South-East Asia that promoted Tamil culture and language. In 1981, the library was burnt down by Sri Lanka government's Sinhala elements stationed in Jaffna. This could arguably be called a monumental blunder in alienating the Tamils in the country's history.

Our younger generation may also be surprised to learn that before the independence of Ceylon in 1948, there were three kingdoms, viz Tamil, Kandyan and Kotte Kingdoms. There were also three official languages, viz English, Sinhala and Tamil. Eventually Sinhala was made the official Language and the use of Tamil was relegated to the backwoods. The Tamil leaders at that time struggled and failed to secure the reasonable use of a Tamil Language Act.

Despite the intentional destructions encountered, Tamil culture can continue to make progress and survive around the world, if not in its original country. For the time being, we steadfastly hope to make our culture and language come alive in every Tamil home until a Tamil nation is born. Looking at the bright side, Tamil schools are functioning in Europe and as far afield as New Zealand with Tamil cultural events, etc. So, all is not lost and there is a ray of hope, and we must take these to our heart to make it a passion to promote our Tamil cultural excellence amongst the current and future generations. This should become our mission, anticipating that having a nationhood maybe decades ahead.

In the meantime, our younger generation should gather the facts and understand the need for safeguarding the Tamil culture. They should take pleasure in organising Tamil cultural events with pride. Tamil is one of the few ancient languages in the world and is the only living classical language that is spoken in many countries.

The way forward for all of us is to embrace and promote the Tamil cultural activities. Our youngsters should be introduced to our culture. In our diverse society, we must keep our identity with pride. We don't have to move heaven and earth to safeguard our cultural identity - There is a saying, 'Be a Roman when in Rome.' Let's be British or Canadian or American or European whilst being a Tamil at home!

Tamil Writers Guild Editorial Board
London, U.K.

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Source: Tamil Writers Guild, London, UK
Date: 08 January 2022

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