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Home > Library > Nations & Nationalism > Life on the Outside : The Tamil Diaspora and Long-Distance Nationalism - Oivind Fuglerud
TAMIL NATION LIBRARY: Nations & Nationalism
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[see also Tamil Refugees and Asylum Seekers]
from the conclusion:
"....Exile is not primarily a geographical location, it is a state of mind through which one becomes what one has left behind. In the Tamil case many actually become what they have fled from. Between the extremes of the warrior and the victim the refugee must carry out his 'bricolage', assemble the pieces and carry on. For many this life project takes the form of internalised martyrdom, the fight for Eelam being replaced by a longing for Eelam which grows into a constant part of the personality and becomes a counterweight, the counterweight, to the vicissitudes of exile. What is characteristic of the Tamil exile situation, therefore, is a blurring of 'here' and 'there'; the dismembering of social networks, the re-membering of an imaginary homeland, the attachment of an imagined community to an imagined place. It is that from which they are excluded which makes them not only 'refugees' but ' Tamil refugees'.
This process of repetition is assisted by aspects of LTTE's activity abroad. In Norway the LTTE - under a more neutral name - organise the two most important annual functions, the Suthanthira Takam ('Thirst for Freedom') in August and the Mavirar Nal ('Heroes' Day') in November, both open to all members of the Tamil community and celebrated in all parts of the world. As one may guess from the names, they are both dedicated to the freedom struggle; Mavirar Nal specifically celebrating the dead martyrs...
In Oslo, where the majority of Tamils live in Norway, the annual March celebration of the LTTE organised Annai Poopathi school for children is the third annual function. Annai Poopathi was a Tamil woman living in eastern Sri Lanka who, during the IPKF period, fasted to death as a protest against the army's presence and who is now honoured as a martyr by the organisation. The school itself provides teaching in Tamil language and lessons in dance and song within the framework of LTTE's political ideology. On the day of the celebration the children give speeches and perform cultural activities containing powerful nationalist messages for a larger Tamil audience.
Within the Tamil exile community itself the different approaches to the Sri Lankan crises may be illustrated by two episodes. In the latter part of 1993 I attended a conference organised by one of the Tamil non-LTTE groups in Oslo. The subject of the meeting was 'Human Rights in Sri Lanka'; five or six members of the group, who had all been living in Norway for a long time, attended the meeting and had invited representatives of Norwegian humanitarian organisations, human rights groups, ministries, etc. who were offered copious amounts of food and drink. The situation in Sri Lanka was presented in an academic way with equal emphasis on human rights violations by the two sides involved in the conflict, the individual's right to life and freedom of speech being at the centre of the discussions.
Only a few days later the Mavirar Nal was celebrated, bringing together about 7000 Tamils in a noisy crowd and without a single European in the audience. Here no mention was made of individual rights but instead there were music, dramatic performances and speeches on oppression, freedom struggle, martyrdom and collective destiny. The point I wish to emphasise is that the majority of people present at this latter festival are normally not what I would call 'LTTE-people' but people by whom the historical consciousness of this organisation is sought in order to provide meaning to their own marginal existence in Norway.
The grand narrative of revolutionary nationalism is adapted, by refugees who accept it, to provide a genesis of the diaspora....'When the atrocities of the Sinhalese terrorists increased, to protect our lives we fled...' This explanation goes beyond scientific history and represents a 'mythico-history'. Not because it is untrue but because the Tamils as a people are here heroised and placed within a more encompassing moral ordering of the world where relationships and processes are reinterpreted within a dichotomy of good and evil...."