eelam

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M.I.A: 'I came from war...  I didn’t think I’d live past 25'
Rapper M.I.A. says she is surprised to be alive after a childhood marked by civil war — and never thought she would be old enough to become a mother herself. The star, 40, whose real name is Mathangi Arulpragasam, was born in Hounslow but moved to Sri Lanka with her parents when she was six months old. When war broke out between the government and Tamil rebels her father, who was involved in the Tamil separatist movement, remained in Sri Lanka while Arulpragasam and the rest of the family fled to India.

“I’m surprised I’m still alive, to be honest. I came from war. When I was growing up I didn’t really think I’d live beyond about 25.

“I never thought I would be old enough to drive or have a house or raise a child. Having to do it is really difficult.”

She acknowledged criticism of her work with the chain, saying: “I’m brown. So the first thing people will say is that brown people make the clothes in the factory — what are you doing repping the other side and not addressing this?”

But she said that, as a mainstream brand, H&M was “brave” for addressing the green issue.

Check Your Caste Privilege

By Sinthujan and Ram

The social, political, and economic arrangements of a society can place some people in a privileged position relative to others, particularly with respect to important goods, like institutional representation, economic resources, and even less tangible goods like “respect” and “welfare”. Since societal arrangements are not always brought into reflective awareness, it is unsurprising when even well meaning and well-intentioned members of privileged groups are unaware of how they may benefit from social arrangements relative to members of other groups. Many times have we experienced “upper-caste” Tamils unable and unwilling to recognize the privilege they hold vis-à-vis “lower-caste” Tamils in Sri Lanka and beyond. Sometimes they may well be aware of some of the difficulties faced by oppressed caste members. Sometimes they may even work for the betterment of other communities in the island, but this hardly ever translates into wider acknowledgment of the privilege centred around their “upper-caste” Tamil identity.

The denial of these privileges is widespread. Often we find “upper-caste” people relativising the inequalities felt by deprived caste Tamils, deflecting the undercurrent of casteism that produces systemic and sociocultural inequalities which continue to haunt the island and its diasporas.

This list attempts to highlight some of the privileges provided to “upper-caste” Tamils in Sri Lanka and beyond just because they are, yes, Tamils of “upper-caste” origin. Noting these privileges are not meant to antagonize or alienate people of privileged caste origin but rather raise awareness and self-consciousness about how caste identities indeed do play a role in the way they perceive, interact, and ultimately, politicize minorities on the island as well as its diasporas. It is also meant to show the extensive ways that caste identities can track inequalities in opportunity and welfare within a society and displacement. With this compilation we hope to ignite meaningful conversations and introspections into what it means to be a Tamil of “upper-caste” origin and ultimately what it means to not be of “upper-caste” origin in Sri Lanka and beyond.

Caste Privilege 

1) You don’t have to ever acknowledge your caste identity and its attendant privileges.

2) You can think that the invisibility of your caste identity speaks to the erasure of caste as a relevant social system of organisation and segregation.

3) You can think that not being aware of your caste stems from progressive education.

4) You think that not speaking about caste is an act against the caste system, and you do so without having to consider that silencing caste makes it more difficult to challenge the caste system and easier to recode, invisibilise and mainstream it.

5) You can talk about anti-casteism without ever having to name the social group that holds power and sway over every other caste group in the diasporas and homeland (here: Vellalar caste group).

6) You can think that to say that you are against caste already translates into social change.

7) You can claim that the caste system has become obliterate with time while simultaneously continuing to enjoy the fruits of century-old socially constructed inequalities and exclusion.

8) You are able to increasingly replace caste with class in your socio-economic analysis without acknowledging that the historic caste/class overlap, particularly in the homeland, continues through long-term structural effects to affect questions of access and opportunity even years, decades, and centuries later.

9) You can emphasise class over caste as a means to deflect from the importance of caste as a contemporary social marker.

10) You can deny the historic, contemporary, physical and social violence of casteism amongst island Tamils by pointing to the severity of the caste system in neighbouring India.

11) You can oversimplify by saying that “untouchability”, as understood in the Indian context, never existed in Sri Lanka, therefore caste injustices “can’t have been as bad as in India”(although “untouchability” still existed on the island).

12) You can reduce oppression, inequalities and injustices felt by the Tamil people to those committed by the Sri Lankan state. 

13) You can be progressive enough to talk about intersectionality with regards to race, ethnicity, gender, class and sexuality while erasing the question of caste from your analysis.

14) You can become an authority on caste without ever having to acknowledge your own privileged caste background and its resulting limits and subjectivities.

15) You can question the “objectivity” of oppressed caste members’ activism, research and work on caste issues based on their own membership in stigmatized caste groups.

Education and Employment

16) You can think of your parent’s aspiration for your (future) job to be completely isolated from the century old caste traditions and aspirations they grew up with.

17) You often have better support mechanisms to access and complete higher education based on the historic proximity of privileged caste members to educational institutions.

18) You can face little or less pressure to perform well or outperform others in education and employement based on your caste identity and history.

19) You can deny that caste discrimination in the employment sector continues to exist amongst Tamils, particularly amongst diasporic communities.

20) You can normalize the casteist organisation of society according to occupational practices.

Migration & Diaspora

20) You can denounce the importance of anti-caste activism in diaspora because apparently “caste doesn’t exist anymore”

21) You can overlook that migration meant for many (upper) caste-Tamils the loss of secular status by losing their inherital socioeconomic privileges on arrival in diaspora and ritual purity by having crossed the Indian Ocean.

22) You can overlook that migration meant for many deprived caste Tamils the relative liberation from caste stratified societies and socioeconomic as well as sociocultural diktats.

23) You can claim that patterns of migration from Sri Lanka had no caste linkage.

24) You can claim that the remittance economy that links diasporas and the homeland today does not reflect caste patterns and allegiances.

25) You can deny that the remittance economy further amplifies social divisions and inequalities between different caste groups in the homeland.

25) You can claim that all refugees experienced flight and integration the same without acknowledging how questions of caste and class altered or limited some people’s choices, opportunities, and adaptabilities.

26) You can deny that caste assumptions and prejudices are recreated and projected in the Tamil vernacular onto new diasporic geographies.

27) You can think of the question of “what’s your ‘ur’(home)?” as an uncritical and sentimental reflection of curiosity/nostalgia without having to consider the socioeconomically profiling/castefying as well as social violence that is hidden behind questions of geographic belonging in Sri Lanka.

Individual Histories & Memories

28) You don’t have to hide your personal biographies or rewrite your own personal history in order to circumvent the possibility of experiencing discrimination.

29) You don’t have to constantly fear for your web of lies and social buffers to be discovered and revealed.

30) You can challenge the reinvention and rewriting of identities and social histories of deprived caste members in diaspora as you consider your history as socially incontestable and free of social stigma.

31) You can proudly attest to your history without having to care about the social consequences.

32) You can publicly remember and mourn your social position back home without ever having to acknowledge how your privileged caste background entitled and made you inherit your place in society.

33) You can remember your socioeconomic background without having to acknowledge how you benefited from caste inequalities, and how you were inherently embedded and complicit in the exploitation of “lower caste groups”.

Society & Culture

34) You don’t have to fear discrimination amongst larger groups of Tamils based on your caste background.

35) You don’t have to acknowledge that caste is as deeply embedded in Tamil language as it is embodied within and by Tamil culture as a whole.

36) You can deny that negative caste assumptions and associations are made in regards to skin complexion.

37) You can deny that aesthetics, particularly regarding women, in the Tamil community are based on a history of casteification of body and mind.

38) You can disregard the ways caste shapes aesthetic ideals by pointing to European colonialism.

39) You have normalized the social violence that lies underneath everyday relations between different caste groups, including in the diasporas.

40) You can hide casteist mentalities by coding caste-based languages to hide caste attributions and judgements made in regards to social behaviourism.

40) You are quick to challenge any caste group that assumes to hold equal power to your own caste group (here: Vellalar caste group).

41) You can deny that your social surrounding is, with most likelihood, already caste gentrified.

Religion

42) Your religious identity isn’t challenged by Hinduism’s socially discriminatory practices.

43) You don’t have to question the extent of Brahmanism within Tamil Hindu culture and beliefs.

44) You can deflect from personal responsibilities in regards to caste-based inequalities by pointing to Brahmins as the gatekeeper of caste structures and hierarchies.

45) You can be quick to point to the lower secular status of Brahmins in regards to socioeconomic parameters in Sri Lanka (unlike India), without having to acknowledge that your secular superiority equals to greater responsibilities in regards to caste inequalities and violence.

46) You’re able to be religious without feeling the need to interrogate or critique Hinduism’s role in creating caste as a way organizing societies.

47) You can assume that anyone who converted to Christianity or another religion must be of deprived caste status.

48) You can say that discrimination in religious institutions have ceased to exist with the 1968 Temple Entry Movement. 

49) You can  locate discriminations in religious institution to Sri Lanka while being ignorant about the existence and importance of casteism in temples abroad. 

Marriage

50) You can say that caste doesn’t matter in diaspora while the majority of intra-communal marriages continue to be along caste-based lines.

51) You can say you don’t believe or care for caste but have no remorse over your family arranging marriage proposals according to caste-based lines.

52) You can claim that matrimonial sites and outlets’ insistence on caste doesn’t reflect the reality of marriages to be engineered according to caste ideology.

53) You can think the absence of the usage of the word “jaati/saathi” indicates to the erosion of the importance of caste as an ideology.

Intercaste Marriages 

54) You can arbitrarily judge or force someone from an inter-caste marriage to decide between caste identities

55) You can assume someone’s caste identity based on prejudicial viewpoints

56) You don’t have to deal with the consequences of being unaccepted amongst both privileged and oppressed castes.

57) You can challenge someone from an inter-caste marriage on their “authenticity” if they choose to identify with one identity over the other.

58) You can live a life without negotiating identities and histories based on caste fault lines.

Writing of History

59) You don’t have to question the writing of history of the people because your presence won’t be unsettled or threatened by the current and dominant upper-caste narrative.

60) You are more comfortable in remembering anti-Tamil violence that affected the centres of upper-caste, (upper) middle class, urban life than those of deprived caste, low class and rural background.

61) You can be sure to encounter narratives and other forms of expression that reflect a similar experience as yours/your family’s than one of caste-difference.

62) You can think the mainstream postcolonial history of Tamils in Sri Lanka vis-à-vis the Sinhalese’s national building project is reflective of the experience of all subgroups within the heterogenous Tamil community.

Politics

63) You can be certain that identity politics and politics of representation only matter in inter-ethnic relations, but not in intra-ethnic relations.

64) You can claim that we all suffered the same without acknowledging that deprived caste groups were disproportionally affected by war, violence, displacement and destitution.

65) You are quick to incorporate the injustices committed against Hill Tamils by the Sri Lankan state (i.e. 1949 Citizenship Act, Repatriation Act) into your narrative on oppression and genocide of Tamils of the island as a whole (yes, we concur IT IS a genocide), but fail to acknowledge the “upper-caste” “Ceylon Tamil’s” complicity in these legislations as well as forms of social ostracization and exclusion of Hill Tamils based on the social parameter of caste.

66) Some of you may acknowledge the preferential role and benefits enjoyed by the Tamil “upper-caste” society during British colonialism, but fail to acknowledge that not all Tamils were equally positioned during colonialism (and thereafter).

67) You can say that Tamil nationalism has successfully eradicated caste without ever attempting to enquire into the lived reality of deprived caste members today.

68) You can claim that the LTTE’s anti-caste politics were built upon a general social consensus instead of a socio-political and socio-economic diktat imposed upon society.

69) You can externalize the Hill Tamils on the national question (on the basis of caste) while failing to acknowledge their contribution to anti-Sri Lankan state resistance.

70) You can conveniently divorce the history of Tamil resistance from its origin in anti-caste resistance.

71) You can deny that caste politics continue to be part and parcel of electoral politics in the homeland.

72) You can blame deprived caste members for, at times, deviating from the popular Tamil vote without acknowledging the common disregard most Tamil political parties have for deprived castes and their concerns.

73) You can call the TNA the representatives of the Tamil people without ever having to acknowledge that the TNA represents the old boys club of highly educated “upper-caste”, (urban) men who have more often than not inherited their positions of power from an ancestry of privilege.

74) You can be suspicious of the formation of caste allegiances and parties based on caste identity as it challenges the status quo of power relations.

75) You can be sure to find representation of your caste group in almost every meaningful and powerful avenue within the community.

76) You can easily deny that diasporic Tamil political organisations are reflective of an “upper-caste” demographic majority in diaspora.

77) You can deny that the caste background of representatives’of Tamil political organisations has an impact on the political and social position these political institutions take.

78) You think school alumni groups and village groups in diaspora aren’t drawing back on caste identities.

79) You can conveniently deprioritise caste as a social issue that needs less attention than does the national question.

80) You can accuse anyone who raises the question of caste as being a Sri Lankan state or Indian state stooge, thereby making them social and political outcasts.

Follow Sinthujan on Twitter via @varathas 

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bruuh this is dope.

our memories, our weapons



my mother always said that íf she wouldn’t have given birth to my brother, she would have joined the movement as well. she said it with such nonchalance, almost as if she was just telling me she’d have gone gardening.  the determination in her voice reassured me however that this wasn’t merely diasporic rhetoric; a manner of speech or proverb for exilées to shift their guilt of surviving. at first, i struggled to imagine her in camouflage. i took an image of her in her late teens, then the basketball team captain of her college, and put it next to those of female fighters of the time. she fit right in. there was no break whatsoever. they fit right here.  the lines were as precarious and blurry as were our fates. there was little difference between my mother and the young women on these, today, almost iconic images. only that my mother survived. she was here to tell stories.

my father always seemed less romantic about the movement. unless it was about the question of caste. years later, he would tell me, almost as if he was confessing to me, how his brother joined them in his early twenties. my father thought he was responsible; that he failed to protect him. i reacted confused at first. but suddenly it all seemed to make sense. my uncle’s alcoholism, poverty and late conversion to christianty. suddenly all of it made sense to me. he was not just a dalit man but also former fighter. he was not just a bad father and husband. he was also a man trying to control what lay outside of his control. everything seemed to finally come together. it finally also made sense that my female cousins were sent into the jungles – not to hide but fight. they were not just poor and landless dalit women born into a patriarchal and casteist society, but also the daughters of a surviving fighter. a man who saw no prospects but in taking up arms to defend ourselves. to resist was to regain control over our own fates.

they became fighters like i became a storyteller. life turned its tables in my favour. if it wasn’t for few fateful encounters and decisions; if it wasn’t for my parent’s struggles, i would have been them. and maybe they would have been me. when i tentatively asked my mother what we would have done had we not fled, had she not joined the movement, she said we’d have probably all been killed. like our dog jimmy. that’s how his story came to an end according to my 7-year-old mind. but maybe we wouldn’t have died like jimmy. abandoned by his owners and blown into pieces by early morning bomb showers. maybe we would have survived to remain just as disenfranchised as my cousins. maybe that’s more than just a maybe.

my cousin, born two years after me, is only one letter away from me. we both go by the same pet name of a holy river streaming down the swat district. her father, the retired fighter, named her after me. he tried to connect us across oceans, to balance fiscal inequalities and guilt trip us into emotional connectivity. like my aunt tried to connect caste differences when she named my oldest brother after my vellalar cousin. not to bridge geographic or economic oceans, but social ones. maybe that was something of a common practice back in the days; something people did without much afterthought: to re-name what remained disconnected.

years before, my mother was banished for marrying a dalit man, while i was banished from knowing my name twin. today, i hardly remember her face. one image, however, remained burnt in my memory. dressed in a brown batik dress, she tightly held her father from the back of a bicycle. she could have easily merged and become one with the brown soil beneath her wheel. her long and thick braided hair is all i am left to remember. her dark brown face remains blurry in my memory. almost like a ghost. i can’t recall if she smiled, but i convinced myself that she did – a smiling ghost. years later, she was to run into the jungles. as did her little sister, my youngest cousin, soon after. maybe she wore that brown batik dress when she did. maybe.

our lives read today like books or movies to outsiders.our voices live through the hearsay of others. we have become storytellers who stopped telling stories. we have become accustomed to dominant writers and speakers of history. people who don’t look as dark brown as us.

unlike my parents, i belong to a generation that yearns to memorise. a generation that looks just as much back as we look ahead. i collect the stories my cousins weren’t allowed to collect; the remains of our lives and an entire people. those we are told to forget, those that have been criminalised by others, and ourselves.

i remember to not forget. i remember to resist. 
their arms were, after all, also mine.

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I still die after hearing this song.. Kutti hari is too sick!

The difference between  the Sinhalese and Tamils' visits back home

Sinhalese visit Sri Lanka regularly to enjoy relaxing beaches, resorts, joyful family reunions, food, international job opportunities and internships, and exotic adventures to the war-devestated north.

Tamils are lucky if we scrap enough money to travel to our ancestral homes just to tend to our sick and say tearful goodbyes to our dying.

Diasporic Sinhalese have a future with Sri Lanka.

Tamils don’t have hope beyond the horizon.

Kurru Kurru (feat. Teejay)
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The Tamil Muslims of the North: Complicating Tamil eelam

One grievance that has been grossly overlooked is the expulsion of Tamil Muslims in Northern Province by the LTTE in October 1990. The Northern Tamil Muslims were forced to abandon their homes and businesses with just a few hours of notice. They had to make a long journey on foot with many children dying on the journey. While they were initially allowed to bring some goods, such as gold, clothes, and land deeds with them, the LTTE confiscated much of this at various checkpoints. The expelled Tamil Muslims arrived at the refugee camps in areas such as Puttalam with just the ripped clothes on their back. The expulsion of Tamil Muslims was a critical point in history. My uncle recalled that 10 years later, he encountered one of his neighbours, who was previously a shop keeper, begging on the streets. Indeed, many expelled Tamil Muslims were living in refugee camps even 15 years after the incident. 

Previous to their expulsion, Tamil Muslims lived peacefully with other Tamils in the Northern Province. Some even joined the movement for the Tamil cause. They were neighbours and friends and other Tamils grieved their expulsion – however, no one intervened or resisted the LTTE on behalf of the Muslims. The LTTE brought in cadres from the east to enforce the expulsion as the leaders themselves knew that their own cadres had relationships with the Tamil Muslims.

While the LTTE apologized for the expulsion, there continues to be long-lasting impacts. It is clear that the expulsion was an act of ethnic cleansing as the LTTE sought to homogenize the North by expelling the Muslims. Like other Tamils of the North, Tamil Muslims saw themselves as connected to their ur, or the ancestral village. One’s ur is inherited from their parents (often mother). The ur is a community that Tamils are connected to across time and space. However, the LTTE’s expulsion of the Northern Tamil Muslims, as well as the LTTE’s confiscation of Tamil Muslim’s family jewelry and other inheritable goods, was an attempt to physically and symbolically sever the Tamil Muslims from the Tamil nation. In doing so, we see that the Tamil Nation, or Tamil Eelam, as envisioned by the LTTE, did not include the Tamil Muslims. 

Tamil Muslims do have a right to their ancestral lands – they were unjustly expelled from their communities. There is much talk about reconciliation between Tamils and the Sinhalese – but often, the grievances of Tamil Muslims are ignored and forgotten as Tamil Muslims necessarily complicate calls for Tamil Eelam as well as both Tamil and Sri Lankan Nationalism.

Source:
Sharika Thiranagama's In My Mother’s House Civil War in Sri Lanka.