Feature Article

The Symbols Affair

[TamilNet, Saturday, 21 June 2008, 13:41 GMT]
Tamil diaspora quarters lament the inability or unwillingness of the International Community to read the diaspora public opinion. They feel that Tamil Nationalism has to be differentiated from the issues between the International Community and the LTTE and no power should dictate or exert insinuating pressure on what the Tamils should aspire for and what not. According to them, in the guise of protecting the diaspora from intimidation of terrorism, the IC is intimidating the Tamil national sentiments and such approaches in the name of the international system are not going to bring in any credibility to the powers involved.

This happened some years ago in a country where members from all communities of Sri Lanka were employed in considerable numbers as expatriate workers.

The Sri Lankan High Commissioner, who was a Tamil, strived hard with many innovative ways to bring all communities together for programmes organized by the High Commission.

Due to his efforts, many Tamils who usually avoid visiting Sri Lankan High Commission other than official requirements thought of attending the Independence Day functions that year.

When the occasion came to sing the national anthem, along with Sinhalese who were singing the anthem in Sinhala, a Tamil lady joined singing the Tamil version of the anthem.

Almost all of the Sinhala participants were not even aware of the fact that the national anthem has an official Tamil version for the use of the Tamil people, and it was in regular use in the Tamil areas and in Tamil schools.

As early as in 1945, when the anthem was composed, there existed a parallel Tamil version. The way the country coursed through, the national anthem lost all its credibility with Tamils and the fact that the Tamil version has a statutory status became lost to the Sinhala memory.

Most of the Sinhala participants at the function thought that the lady had sung an LTTE song and she had the guts to do so because the High Commissioner was a Tamil.

It became a big issue of protest and the High Commissioner had to convene a reconciliatory meeting. The Sinhalese were not prepared to accept the parallel status of the versions and demanded apology from the lady. One among them, ignorant of the fact that the Indian national anthem is in Bengali language, even argued why can’t the Sri Lankan Tamils sing the anthem in Sinhala when all Indians sing theirs in Hindi.

Such intolerance, which many feel was the root cause for the failure of the Sri Lankan state, and the Tamils to seek their own nationalism and symbols.

The issue of symbols seems to have now come to the streets of Europe, involving world governments.

The four-coloured flag with the tiger emblem, which has widely been adopted as the Tamil National flag by the Eezham Tamils since 1990, has become a serious irritant to Sinhala protestors carrying the Lion Flag of Sri Lanka to show their opposition to rallies organized by Tamils in Europe.

Protest in London against Rajapaksa
The Lion flag of the Sri Lankan state and an umbrella in lieu of the four-coloured Eezham flag contest for space in the streets of London during a protest / welcome rally for the visit of Mahinda Rajapaksa, on 10 June, 2008.
The Lion Flag of the Sri Lankan state is seen as a symbol of oppression by the Eezham Tamils. They rejected it long back for the explicit communal symbolism in it. Even at the time of independence it had been pointed out that the lion in the flag, taken as a symbol of the Sinhala people according to their myths, holding a sword against minorities represented by the colour stripes in the flag, was a deliberately designed insult to the minorities.

The Sinhala Buddhists also have another flag for their cultural identity, known as the Buddhist flag, which was designed a century ago by a group of people in Sri Lanka.

The Tamil National Flag, described as symbolizing the political, social and cultural aspirations of the Tamils of Sri Lanka was declared in 1990 by the LTTE, at a time when it was not banned by any government. The Tamil National Flag was also differentiated from the LTTE flag by having no legend on it. The Flag soon got into wide use with the masses and became a symbol of their nationalist aspirations.

Tamileelam flag in York University
The display of Lion flag and Eezham flag in the Multi-Cultural Week celebrations at the York university Canada in February, 2008.
Thamizh Eezham flag in ICC Cricket World Cup
The show of Thamizh Eezham flag by a diaspora Tamil activist, at the ICC Cricket World Cup Super Eight match between Australia and Sri Lanka, in April, 2007.
Tamileelam umbrella
The official frown against Tamil National flag makes activists to opt for Eezham umbrellas.
Citing the ban on the LTTE, and encouraged by the attitude of some governments, the Sinhala protesters now demand a ban on the Tamil National Flag with the police of EU countries, seeing it an opportunity of dismembering Tamil nationalism.

What surprises the Tamil circles in Europe is the ready connivance of the police of some of the EU countries with the demand of the Sinhala protestors.

In Italy the police, citing Sinhala protestors, requested the Pongku Thamizh organisors to bring down the Tamil National Flag, which had been already hoisted. The Italian police have reportedly told the Tamil activists that they are under severe pressure from some quarters to take action against them.

The arrest of around 30 Tamil activists in Italy is seen as a repercussion to defiance and to discourage Tamil Nationalist programmes in future.

In France, it is said that the Pongku Thamizh organizers were asked by the authorities not to hoist the Tamil National Flag.

The timing of the ban on the World Tamil Movement (WTM) in Canada is also seen by the Tamil circles as a pre-emptive move to prevent holding Pongku Thamizh rally.

The uniformity in the overreaction of certain countries has made many to suspect a single hand behind, pressurizing them.

It is not merely a flag affair.

It is said that the Sri Lankan government has become oversensitive to any demonstration of overwhelming Tamil diaspora support to Tamil Nationalism as it may jeopardize the claims it makes to impress the International Community.

It is also said that now it has embarked upon a global programme to erase out Tamil Nationalism and cultural identity of the Tamil diaspora by targeting their cultural institutions, symbols and media by pressurizing governments and commercial establishments.

A South Asian power is also actively involved in assisting the Sri Lanka government in this venture. Its veteran intelligence officers, who had long connections with the Sri Lankan affairs, were seen recently in potential world capitals, trying to organize Tamil groups to dissuade them from the goals of Eezham Tamil Nationalism.

The diaspora is viewed as the vanguard of Tamil Nationalism and it has become the target of all antagonists concerned, according to a leading diaspora journalist.

Pongku Thamizh, Paris
Attire is the flag. Pongku Thamizh participants in Paris, France, in June 2008.
What is lamented in the Tamil diaspora quarters is the inability or unwillingness of the International Community to read the diaspora public opinion. They feel that Tamil Nationalism has to be differentiated from the issues between the International Community and the LTTE and no power should dictate or exert insinuating pressure on what the Tamils should aspire for and what not.

The Pongku Thamizh rallies and show of flags involve spontaneous and voluntary participation of people who are under no compulsion or intimidation to do so, said diaspora Tamil circles.

According to them, in the guise of protecting the diaspora from the 'intimidation of terrorism', the IC is intimidating the Tamil national sentiments and such approaches in the name of the international system are not going to bring in any credibility to the powers involved.

Today it is not weapons or terrorism that brings down empires, but it is the loss of credibility with people that does the job. One can already see how the money of a great power got halved in no time, said a political analyst.

Pongku Thamizh, Italy, 2008
The Pongku Thamizh marchers carrying Eezham flag in Milan, Italy, in June, 2008.


Italy, Pongku Thamizh
The Sinhala protestors to Pongku Thamizh, holding the Lion flag in Milan, Italy, in June 2008


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10.06.08   Rival London demonstrations as Rajapaksa meets Commonwealth ..
18.04.07   Tamileelam flag on pitch prompts paper’s ire
26.11.05   Rules guide on use of Tamileelam National flag published
15.02.05   "Tiger flag is Tamil nation’s flag" – Mannar Bishop

 

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