Michael Roberts, 11 April 2010
On 12 February 2008 as the Sri Lankan and Indian cricketers were preparing to engage in battle at the Manuka Oval in Canberra a ‘swarm’ of red-shirted Tamils descended on the grounds. These personnel all wore matching shirts with the words “Where is Humanity” and “Voice of Tamils.” These were second-generation Tamils and 160 had travelled up from Sydney to join local Tamils from Canberra and a few who had journeyed from Melbourne to express their political sentiments while enjoying the match.
They were stopped at the gate and had to negotiate their entry; it would seem that two were denied entry and that they dispensed with banners and “agreed not to fly “Tamil flags.”  Once inside they assembled near the scoreboard, a vantage point that maximised the attention they would secure. There they proceeded to bajau in the Sri Lankan manner born, that is, to make merry with song and dance to the beat of drums, while spicing bodily enthusiasm with shout.
Their explicit intent was to call attention to the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka. “We are doing this because we believe that Tamils in Sri Lanka are discriminated against and poorly treated. They are subjected to injustice in every possible walk of life and this has to change,” said one Adrian Francis in speaking to yahoo.com. He added: “This is a peaceful way to draw attention…. We are not against the country. We are very happy to see Muttiah Muralitharan representing Sri Lanka and doing so well. We connect with him and are here to cheer for Sri Lanka apart from making our point” (as quoted in Rajakulendran 2008).
While Francis and one news item cited by the Tamil Canadian indicated that these Tamils were supporting the Sri Lankan cricket team, young Vikram Sambasivam was quite adamant: “How can I [support Sri Lanka] when they do what they do to my people?” (Rajkulendran 2008). Sambasivam’s strong reservation is in line with my own conjecture: namely, that a considerable proportion of the Sri Lankan Tamil migrants who are attentive to the cricket scene cheer for any side that is opposing Sri Lanka. I lack inside knowledge however and I suspect that even a Tamil insider would be hard put to essay a confident estimate about the degree to which cricketing Tamils abroad cheer for their homeland team.
On this occasion at Manuka Oval however, it would seem that there was some vociferous support for the Sri Lankan side as they proceeded to beat India in a rain-shortened match with Dilshan playing a critical role. In the result there was a modicum of fellowship between Tamil and Sinhalese supporters of the Sri Lankan side. One of those who joined the Tamil cluster was a moderate Sinhalese whom I shall refer to as SM. SM sent a short email circular about this event to friends:
“They [the Tamil cluster] all were enthusiastically cheering for the Sri Lankan cricket team waving Sri Lankan flags, and some were playing drums. I wish those Tamils could have joined with us, Sinhalese, to make a much more vibrant noise in unison to support the Sri Lankan cricket team. Such a dream is unrealistic at present, because we have brought to this country many wounds and ill-feelings emanating from the prolonged ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and have passed them to our second generation. What is lacking is a process of healing and reconciliation.”
This circular drew two hostile retorts from extreme Sinhalese, but also a few illuminating responses from moderate Tamils whose names were not – appropriately — disclosed to me by SM. These conversations between ordinary people are of some consequence for our understanding of migrant sentiments in a situation of conflict.
One from Tamil A stressed that, like his parents, he was still “on the fence about the concept of the civil war in Sri Lanka,” before proceeding to express his thoughts thus:
“I had mixed feelings towards your email, because as you, I wanted all Sri Lankan’s Cheering together in unity, however from a Tamil point of view – what better platform to get the message of the Tamils across to the international community, especially a generally naive Australia. This protest more than any other has brought the plight of the Tamil people into the Australian media spotlight. People took notice and for once the “the voice of the Tamils” was heard. Much like you had wished that the Tamils had joined the Sinhalese, I wished that the Sinhalese had joined the Tamils — a subtle difference in wording maybe, but the implications for reconciliation would have been extraordinary.”
He added: “I wore my Sri Lankan flag with pride, I wore my Voice of the Tamils flag with pride and not only did I visit the Tamil group, but spent the majority of the day with my Sinhalese friends. I tried to convince my Sinhalese friends to join the Tamil group, but not one of them was willing. I find this hard to understand, mainly because at every other game I have no choice but to join in with the Sinhalese, the one time they had the opportunity to join us – they chose not to. I agree that such a dream is unrealistic at the moment; I agree that a lot of bitterness and hatred has been passed onto the second generation and I agree that there is a severe lack of forgiveness and reconciliation.”
This private testimony sent to SM is of significance because of its empirical information and its presentation of innermost sentiments. Two other communications to SM from other moderate Tamils sustain the evidence that the support for the Sri Lankan cricket side among the Tamils was split and that the Sinhalese and Tamils at the ground were mostly apart. Tamil C was quite emphatic: “these kids were carrying the message for the voiceless Tamils in the North and East of Sri Lanka. None of them waved the Sri Lankan flag, because they do not have any alegians (sic) to that flag because they all know what their Fathers and Mothers experienced under that flag. That is why they created their own flag to wave and that is why they were behaving like that in Canberra.”
Thus we have a few basic facts:
- With aforethought a body of second-generation Tamils with some interest in cricket entered the Manuka Oval in Canberra as spectators to voice the grievances of Sri Lankan Tamils under the liberal catch cry of service to humanity.
- Since the report on this incident was sent to Tamil Canadian website by Victor Rajakulendran, Secretary of Australasian Federation of Tamil Associations, one can conclude that the LTTE had a hand in the protest because the AFTA was widely considered to be one of its arms in Australia.
- The Tamil cluster worked as a cricket-cheer party enjoying the occasion and some of them cheered for Sri Lanka, while other supported India.
- A few Sinhalese at the grounds were ready to join their bajau activity, but the large majority kept their distance – thereby underlining the ongoing political divide.
Photo from Tamil Canadian
The reluctance of most Sinhalese (and Burghers and others of Sri Lankan parentage) to join the red-shirted Tamil cluster at the scoreboard end of the Oval is not surprising. Though the Tamil protest group had carefully avoided any display of Tiger emblems or flags, nor even attired themselves in the LTTE colour code of red and gold, any Sri Lankan, even an imbecile, would have interpreted the political protest as an advocacy of LTTE goals. The Tamil-cum-LTTE venture, however, was directed at a less knowledgeable Australian cricketing audience.
Rajakulendran’s precise description (2008) of their attire and message makes this clear: “These youth first gathered outside the ground sporting bright red T-shirts, with an Eelam map and ‘Voice of Tamils’ written across the map and ‘Where is humanity?’ written at the bottom of the map waving red flags carrying the same slogans.”
The map depicting the limits of the so-called “Tamil homelands,” and that segment of the island alone, compounded as it was by the red colour, said it all: the personnel in the cheering party were advocates of a separate state named Tamilīlam within Sri Lanka (Eelam as this goal is presented in popular usage). In responding to MS and Tamil A’s messages in favour of reconciliation, another gentleman, whom I shall identify as Sinhala A, put it pithily: “Good sentiment, I agree with you but do you condone the picture of the divided Sri L on their tee shirts? I certainly don’t, that in my opinion is going too far.”
Those Tamil organisations who arranged for this political statement at Manuka Oval, of course, were not addressing Sinhalese and other Sri Lankans in possession of contextual knowledge. They were targeting the Australian public: “what better platform to get the message of the Tamils across to the international community, especially a generally naive Australia” as Tamil A noted.
Their grievances were therefore wrapped up cannily in the abstract image of humanity trampled upon. They were, by implication, fighting for their just rights. The problem here is that they did not disclose the Tamil Tiger hand behind their activity, that is, their political allegiances. The further problem lies in the fact that their stress on “humanity” glossed over the rights trampled over by the LTTE. As much as the various governments of Sri Lanka, the LTTE too committed atrocities in the twenty years of warfare. Moreover, on the authority provided by Rajan Hoole and UTHR one can note that by early 2008 the LTTE had itself been responsible for the deaths of roughly 7000-7250 Tamils.
In overview, therefore, the cunning slogans and colours deployed by the Voice of Tamils outfit amounted to an exercise in bad faith, that is, an act of duplicity.
De Silva, K. M. The ‘traditional homelands’ of the Tamils, revd 2nd edn. Kandy: ICES, 1995.
Peiris, G. H. “An appraisal of the concept of a traditional homeland,” Ethnic Studies Report, 1991, vol. 9: 13-39.
Peiris, G. H. ‘An appraisal of the concept of a traditional homeland in Sri Lanka’, Island, 24 March 1999, from internet, 1999.
Rajakulendran, Victor “Australian Tamil Youth raise their voice for the suffering Tamils of Sri Lanka,” http://www.tamilcanadian.com/page.php?cat=421&id=5412, 14 February 2008.
Roberts, M. 2005 Narrating Tamil nationalism: subjectivities & issues, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.
UTHR 2001 Sri Lanka. The arrogance of power. Myths, decadence and murder, Nugegoda: Wasala Publications for University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna).
 Rajakulendran 2008.
 As reported by Peter Lalor in the Australian and referenced in Rajakulendran 2008.
 Rajakulendran 2008. However, see Figure 2 where a red flag can be seen prominently. This is not a LTTE flag and has clearly been fashioned to suit the tactics of the moment – like the shirts.
 As indicated by Rajakulendran 2008.
 Email circular to me from SM dated mid-February 2008. this contains messages from a number of his friends, mostly Tamil [to judge from the content] but including on whom I presumed to be Sinhalese (see fn. 8).
 Emphasised by SM in his email.
 Note that at cricket matches in Australia all the Sri Lankan fans do not cluster in one mass. There may be one substantial body in one area or several large clusters, but some Lankan supporters prefer to watch on their own or with a few friends.
 Re the fallacious constitution of the boundaries of Northern and Eastern Provinces units arbitrarily drawn up in British times, as the natural habitat of age-old Tamil settlements, see Perirs 1991 and 19999; KM de Silva 1985 and Roberts 2005: 16-17. Despite the documentation in sch studies, the concept has taken firm hold in Tamil thinking by dint of constant repetition.
 Email message sent to SM.
 “[In] my book of 2001, I estimated Tamil civilians killed by the LTTE until then as 7000. I suppose one could add another 1000 to cover the subsequent period” (Email Note from Rajan Hoole, 6 Nov. 2009). His reference is to UTHR 2001.