Malaysian Tamils Back the Cause of Eelam
By: Prof P. Ramasamy
|Long distance Tamil nationalism is certainly a crucial
factor behind the struggle for Tamil Eelam being waged by the LTTE. As
its leader Prabhakaran has said a number of times, the eventual creation
of Eelam would be testimony to the spirit and imagination of Tamil
Diaspora. This powerful statement by the LTTE has given the struggle for
Eelam an international basis. More than this, it has provided for both
material and intellectual support for the emancipation of Tamils long
accustomed to the Sinhala-state oppression. Among the Tamil Diaspora,
Malaysian Tamils figure prominently in sustaining the quest for Eelam.
Tamils in Malaysia, descendants of labourers brought by the British to work in the plantation, constitute about 10 percent of the total population, about 1.7 million. A very small section of the Tamil speaking population are descendants of those brought from Sri Lanka (Ceylon) by the British to fill in clerical and supervisory roles in the colonial administration. Today they are popularly known as Ceylonese or Jaffna Tamils.
Due to the Eelam war, more and more of them are identifying as Tamils. For a long time there was this gap between these two groups of Tamils on the basis of socio-economic differences. While the Ceylonese sought to distance themselves from the Indian Tamils on class lines, the latter disliked the former’s one time close association with the British.
Thanks to the Eelam war, the relationship between the two groups of Tamils has improved to some extent. Although class and status distinctions continue to prevail, some sense of ethnic solidarity has been built. Earlier the support for the Eelam cause was quite patchy. Members of the Ceylonese community provided material support on a clandestine basis, either individually or collectively.
However, with the entrance of Indian Tamils in support of the LTTE, the nature of support has become much open and to some extent formalised. The formation of various organisations such as the Tamil Relief Fund and others have contributed to a situation where support for Eelam has become more concreted and sustained.
Today the support for Eelam takes many forms, some known and some unknown. The more visible nature of support includes activities organised to gather funds, the holding of forums and meetings to provide publicity, the distribution of pamphlets and video cassettes, and others. Every year, during the famous Thaipusam festival in Kuala Lumpur that attracts thousands of pilgrims, a special place has been reserved by the temple officials for the collection of funds for Tamil refugees in Sri Lanka.
Tamils in Malaysia are fully behind the struggle for Eelam. The devious propaganda unleashed by the Sri Lankan Mission has not affected their support; on the contrary, the support is growing day by day. There are basically three principal reasons why Tamils are behind the Eelam cause. First, as an exploited group in Malaysia, the Tamils more than any other group, fully understand the plight of their brethren in Sri Lanka. And being a class that has nothing much to loose in a material sense, they are much bolder in their support for the cause unlike the middle-class Tamils.
It would not be wrong to say that Tamils, particularly the youth, have very high regards for the LTTE leadership in general and its Supremo Prabhakaran in particular. Tamils in Malaysia consider Prabhakaran as their hero; the presence of his pictures or portraits is becoming a common feature in the homes of Tamil youths. In the pro-LTTE demonstrations organised in Malaysia some years back, Prabhakaran pictures were displayed quite prominently so much so the police were quite upset.
Second, the socio-economic deprivation and the political marginalization have affected the performance of the Tamil community. Tamils, despite their sacrifice and hard work, have not been rewarded like the other ethnic groups. While the Malays are looked after by the government and the Chinese have a strong presence in the economy, Tamils largely being members of the working class have been robbed of their meaningful share. Not only have lost out economically to other ethnic groups, employment opportunities have been denied both in the public and private sector.
The pro-Malay policies of the government have discriminated against Tamils being meaningfully employed in the different sectors of the economy. Beyond this, Tamils are finding it difficult to erect places of worship and have curbs placed on their cultural activities. Their own leaders have not really championed their cause. Many of them by closely accommodating to the Malay elite have fundamentally neglected the welfare and well-being of the community. Thus, given this scenario, it is no wonder that Tamils longing for meaningful change have become quite radicalised. Their admiration of the LTTE have grown by leaps and bounds over the recent years. In fact, many of them secretly wish that they had a militant organisation to take up their cause.
Third and not the least, the selfless struggle waged by the LTTE, the utter dedication of its leaders, the disciplined nature of their performance and others have not been lost on the Tamil population in Malaysia. The role of LTTE has given Tamils here much pride and dignity as Tamils. In short, LTTE has been a fantastic morale booster to Tamils in Malaysia.
The LTTE leadership stands in stark contrast to the kind of Tamil leadership in Malaysia. Tamils leaders in Malaysia are not only corrupt but totally an indecent lost. Lacking the moral integrity and pride, these leaders have sold the community outright. By accommodating closely with their Malay patrons, they have become alienated from the rank and file. In fact, it will be a truism to state that Tamil political parties and organisations have not done anything for the betterment of the community from the time of political independence; but on the contrary, they have endorsed the racist policies of the Malay state.
About 75 percent of Tamils are members of the working class-both in the plantations and urban areas. Tamils share of the national equity is only about 1.5 percent; a share predominately held by rich Tamils who have no sense of solidarity with the working class.
All in all, Tamils have been neglected for about 100 years, and if such a neglect is not addressed in coming years, Tamils might think of some alternative plans to improve their lot. As one former Tamil politician remarked some years ago: “We Tamils may be poor, but we are not cowards”. In a recent cultural event held at one of the universities, a Tamil student leader remarked at the end of his speech in Tamil: “If the government is not going to address our educational and cultural grievances, then we will have choice but to plant the ....flag”.