By Malinda Seneviratne –
Eelamist sections of the Tamil Diaspora, including of course its Sri Lankan component, naturally subscribe to the unsubstantiated claims of the North and East being the exclusive traditional homelands of Tamil people. Land-grabbing, resource-base-enhancing politics often plays with myths and legends, turning the imagined into fact and spreading the bad news around. This is par for the course of communal politics. To date, not a single Eelamist would dare put on the table anything of substance to buttress land-claim and indeed their anti-Sinhala, anti-Buddhist cheering squad, overt and covert, are given to deleting the history factor from the political equation for reasons that do not require elaboration.
It will take time for those who purchased the traditional homeland myth to acknowledge that they were taken for suckers because of the emotional investment involved, the bucks that were sent with little to show by way of investment-return, the debts owed to the notion on account of finding real estate in greener pastures and the flowering of career paths. There will be a natural period of transition from fantasy to reality. This is why the end of the LTTE sparked so much of protest in Western capitals. It had the dressing of outrage but the body that self-righteous anger covered was made up of disappointment, denial and the nagging suspicion of being gullible.
Sooner or later, Eelamists, i.e. those who actually believed the myths tossed around as fact and those who regardless of claim-legitimacy aspired to an ethnic enclave that could be transformed into a nation state, will have to come to terms with certain realities: a) history does not support the claim, b) the archaeological evidence rebels against exclusivity, c) demographic patterns including communal-composition, pull and push of economic and social realities render untenable the vision of a ‘gated’ Tamil community, and d) it is simply not feasible politically and Prabhakaran’s failure even under conditions most favourable for secession should be sobering.
Quo Vadis ‘traditional homeland’ then? I can think of three places where the ‘traditional homeland’ thesis did have substance and tangibility. The first was the relevant Diaspora. In that rarified and un-moored place, the notion had natural currency on account of the natural angst for lost familiarity and abandoned home. ‘Diaspora’ was common ground and one that was fertile for myth-planting. Magnificent edifices of ‘past’ and ‘future’ were duly constructed and happily and hopefully inhabited and indulged. Hence the horror and disbelief at the nothingness that the deflated LTTE balloon yielded on terra firma. In Sri Lanka, this particular traditional homeland is looked at with increasing suspicion by the principal recipients of tragedy, the Tamil civilians in the North and East as well as those who gullibly believed Prabhakaran was invincible and would deliver a nation, by hook or by crook. In time, Diasporic Disbeblief will give way to acknowledgment of reality and the retirement of fantasy.
The there is Cyber Space. This is so seamless and without forbidding that fantasy had a free reign. Networks were established. They grew. The growers and the growing did not realize that cyber-networks don’t necessarily transform or nurture on-the-ground communities. It confers a sense of participation and community, allows for dreaming but, like cybersex, is not the same thing as the real article. The truth is that Eelam had a better footing in virtual reality than on reality. The end of the war pulled the rug on the virtual and the ‘traditional homeland’ in cyberspace fell hard on its real behind. The dreamers and fanatics will continue to play. The realists and intelligent will move on to other games or to real life or both.
The third ‘traditional homeland’ is of course Tamil Nadu. India deftly resolved the problem of possible irritants flowing from incipient nationalism from the South by fostering secessionist moves in Sri Lanka, happily arming, training and funding terrorists. It gave the nation-wanting Tamil Nationalist in Tamil Nadu something to dream about, without being taxed for fantasy. Sooner or later, Tamil Nationalism will revert to its true and logical traditional homeland, Tamil Nadu, i.e. in terms of solid claim, favourable demographic pattern and greater political feasibility.
Where does all this leave the Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalist and Tamil Nationalism vis-à-vis the idea of ‘traditional homeland’? I believe that the three ‘traditional homelands’ can be considered spaces and that their intersection, metaphorically and pragmatically makes for a fourth ‘traditional homeland’ for the Tamil community and one which has logical residence right here in Sri Lanka.
Tamil Nationalism could see the territoriality of ‘homeland’ as a metaphor and not land-fact. There are histories that play into ‘other’ homelands and these include spin-offs from pandering to the homeland idea that proved and will prove to be untenable. The divide-and-rule policy of the British which saw accessibility to education extremely skewed in favour of the Tamil community (in terms of percentages, not absolute numbers, the latter fact being the source of the 50-50 claim) helped produce large numbers of educated and professional persons. Resource-lack fed the communal need to seek betterment through education. Conflict, regardless of ontology, saw people to relocating overseas and this, even if spurred by not-so-genuine claims of political harassment, and the thus relocated once again saw education as the pathway to better futures, especially in technical fields.
Eelamism and reasonable hope of actually turning fiction into something tangible spurred, as mentioned above, the proliferation of cyber-Eelamists. The propaganda machine of the LTTE was comprehensive and effective. What they lacked on the ground by way of collective, community and faith, they compensated for in cyber-networks.
Tamils in Tamil Nadu haven’t shown the same enthusiasm for secession that their counterparts in Sri Lanka did. That shows how successful the Indian Central Government has been in dealing with a potentially explosive problem. Instead, Tamil Nadu decided to up their collective regional competencies.
The intersection of these ‘homelands’ points to a peculiar and fortuitous coming together of interests that can create the 4th ‘traditional homeland’ alluded to above. It is non-territorial but could have a land-base somewhere in the so-called traditional homelands, if preferred. The Tamil Community is ideally placed, given resources, communal solidarities, anxieties regarding security and future legitimate or otherwise, and acquired competencies, to create a ‘traditional homeland’ in the form of an IT hub of immense potential. That would be employing ‘comparative advantage’ in meaningful, life-affirming, community-developing ways that are also politically feasible and moreover capable of stamping communal presence in the larger polity of Sri Lanka.
It is time to give fantasy a rest and to employ the acquisitions that fantasizing demanded to better and more fruitful use. There’s a traditional homeland waiting to be created. It won’t have a flag or an anthem. It won’t need either. It will, however, give far more self-determination to Tamils, as individuals and as a collective, than anything that Prabhakaran promised.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com