On Being Malaysian Tamil 9

UPDATE 28 JAN 2020: Court denies Gadek assemblyperson G Saminathan bail.

In a post titled Indian Vote: Entha Kabali? made before the Malaysian federal election in 2018, I wrote, . … “Whatever happens in the voting, it looks like it is indeed going to be close and, perhaps, the Indian vote is going to be important.” Further, I asked, ” … does the opposition look like they will treat us any different [from Barisan]? Just look at how they made unholy exaggerations and unfulfillable promises on the Stateless Indians issue … should they not be shown that the Indian vote, just like the vote of the other communities, has to be earned?”  While I was skeptical about the outcome for Indians, I did, as indicated in my post titled Kabali Da!, cast my lot with the new Malaysia promised by the Pakatan Harapan opposition led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Well, it came to pass that Mahathir and Harapan did win and, in the 2 years since, many have become disillusioned and dissatisfied with New Malaysia for their many unfulfilled promises. One such promise pertains to the Indian statelessness problem. Indeed, in this matter Harapan has been deeply disappointing. They promised a complete solution within 100 days, but their re-branded ‘Indian affairs’ body, the Malaysian Indian Transformation Unit (MITRA) has not solved the this problem as yet. As far as I can ascertain, the last statement issued by the minister responsible states that MITRA was still working “to outline a comprehensive solution to the stateless issue, in line with the PH government’s manifesto promise”.

Since then another issue has arisen to affect the Indian community at an equally deep symbolic level – the spate of LTTE related arrests and charges. I have discussed the apparent pervisity of these arrests and detentions under SOSMA of 12 Indians including 2 government MPs previously in this series (beginning with On Being a Malaysian Tamil 1) and the question I explore here is how one might understand the implications for the Harappan government visa vis the Indian vote. The perceived involvement of government, even if it is misplaced, will surely be detrimental to their ability to garner Indian votes in the next general elections

In principle the police act independently of the Attorney General’s Chambers and the Judiciary and the government is distant from the decisions of all these bodies. While the judiciary is independent by virtue of the separation of powers expected in Malaysia’s Westminster based legal system, the police and the AG’s chambers are extensions of the executive. They too, however, are expected to act independently of executive interference and without improper collusion with one another. If all is running as it should be in our nation’s governance, no blame can be laid at the feet of the Harappan government for these LTTE arrests, detentions, changes and for the eventual judicial outcomes, whatever they might turn out to be. However, the history of the relationships concerned in Malaysia is such that it will be very difficult for the people to believe in the integrity of the system, even if it were true.

There is no question that the majority of Malaysian Tamils, like most of their fellows throughout the world support the Elam struggle, regardless of their misgivings about the terror tactics of the LTTE. Certainly, most of us feel there was an equal amount of state terror being deployed by the Sri Lankan government in this conflict and that the Terrorist organization designation applied to the LTTE, however justified it might be, is ultimately a political assignation. Indeed, the evidence for this suggestion is the fact that the Tigers were not so designated in Malaysia till 2014, years after the war ended and all acts or terror had ceased. Given this fact and the fact that our Malaysian institutions of state are known for being questionably interdependent, it is going to be difficult for Harapan to win the hearts of the Indian community and, of course, this may have a bearing on their votes in the next elections.

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/508791

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2019/03/27/comprehensive-solution-on-the-issues-of-stateless-malaysians-says-minister/1737134

https://www.mitra.gov.my/about-us/mitra-background/

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/423372

On Being Malaysian Tamil 6

Despite my origins in Jaffna, I am far removed from the Tamils of Sri Lanka in my lived identity. I am a Malaysian first and, as a Malaysian, my ethnic identification is with the wider group of Malaysian Indians. Historically Ceylonese Tamils have tried to preserve a distinct identity as Malaysians and officially we are not classified as Indians. Nevertheless, I believe that it is appropriate and meaningful that, to the extent that the Indians will accept us, Ceylon Tamils should join Indian Tamils and be absorbed into the identity of ‘Malaysian Indian’. I do not renounce my Jaffna background. Rather, I feel it should be integrated into the wider Malaysian Indian mosaic. With my recent immigration to British Columbia, I am even further removed from my Sri Lankan Tamil identity.

The LTTE fought a vicious war for a Tamil homeland. They exchanged terror for terror with the Sri Lankan state actors and proxies,. They valiantly fought the mighty Indian army. They even set up and ran up a de facto state but in the end they seemed to have pitted themselves against the whole world. They were utterly defeated and now the ordinary Tamil people are picking up the pieces after an alleged genocide, under the demeaning conditions of a Sinhala occupation. Although I have relatives (my mother’s family) who were directly impacted by this war, I have generally lived my own life beyond the reach of the emotions raised by this communal tragedy. Nevertheless, I have followed the situation and when I reflect upon it closely, I feel the pain of my kith and kin!

Meanwhile the ongoing Malaysian LTTE fiasco seems quite perverse and unrelated to the Sri Lankan Tamil realities. So, I wonder, what does the LTTE signify in the Malaysian political scenario? Indian Tamils in Malaysia are mainly descendants of indentured labourers brought over to work in the rubber estates. Their fellows worked on tea estates in Sri Lanka. I must note, not without a sense of shame, that the Ceylon Tamils have set themselves apart from the estate Indians in Malaysia. In Sri Lanka we let the estate Indians down over the issue of citizenship in the early post-independence decades. Nevertheless, the Elam struggle has been a potent signifier and catalyst of a cogent Tamil identity within Dravidian politics of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Tamil ethno-nationalists, have hoisted the Elam flag as their own. Their sense of Dravidian pride was invested in the Elam struggle and, one could say that with the LTTE destroyed, they have stolen its fire for their own political engines.

Now, in Malaysia the Indians are a minority. One that is caught within the discriminations of a postcolonial communalism. They are diminished in political agency vis a vis the Malay majority and even the Chinese minority. They have been, in the last decades seeking catalysts for a vigorous political mobilization. For instance, the Hindraf agitation centred around Hindu identity and temple demolition. Perhaps the symbols of the LTTE play a similar moral boosting and formenting role in Malaysian Indian politics. The ethos of the LTTE may have had its origins in a just cause in Sri Lanka but its xtreme violence is disproportionate to the situation faced by Indians in Malaysia.

With regard to the 12 Malaysian Indians recently arrested and charged with terrorism related offences, while their allegedly excessive engagement with LTTE symbols might reasonably raise the government’s concern, there has as yet been no charge that clearly suggests a resurgent global LTTE. Nor is there any sign in the charges of a Malaysian based LTTE organization being set up. The possession of LTTE paraphernalia, the promotion of the defunkt LTTE cause on social media and the commemoration of dead LTTE heroes do not, in my view, suggest anything more than an entanglement with Tamil pride, Tamil sorrow and Tamil myth. The suggestion by the PDRM (police) of massive financial movements, which might by indicative of an imminent LTTE revival has not been actualized by way a related charge against even one of the 12 detainees. ,,, More in On Being a Malaysian Tamil 7

On Being Malaysian Tamil 5

12 Indian detainees wait for trial in Malaysian prisons on LTTE related charges under the ambit of SOSMA with draconian restrictions of their rights to a fair and open trial. Terrorism is a matter of legal definition and that the LTTE was not designated as a terrorist organization in Malaysia until 2014. Until this time, most Tamils in Malaysia as in the wider diaspora would have seen the LTTE as a violent separatist movement born of the exhaustion of peaceful and democratic negotiations with the majority Sinhalese. Velupillai Prabhakaran was doubtless identified as a ruthless leader but admired for his incomparable courage, determination and military prowess.

This admiration is a very different matter from believing that he and his Tigers were right in their methods and even their goals. I for one have always been against a violent struggle for Elam. I have feared that the goal of a Tamil nation on the island of Lanka, while being historically justified, may just be a vanity project for the diasporic community. An edifice that can only be built out of the blood and tears of those left behind. Even if the men and women of the armed movement of liberation may have been cognisant and willing, it is the civilians would have been unwittingly and unknowingly been made to pay. Further, the middle classes were the best equipped to exit the situation as expatriates and refugees, while the working classes and the poor did not have that choice. Offering material support form the safety of the international diaspora would, in my view, have meant foisting blood and sorrow upon those who had no agency. Ultimately, I could not see Elam a sustainable geopolitical entity. Even with all of Prabhakaran’s prowess, he could only deliver Elam as a temporary domain, as a stage in a South Asian game of thrones in which the real players were bigger than the Tamils and the Sinhalese – India, the US and China!

Although I have never supported the LTTE , I do see them as having taken up a valid stance among the options available to the Tamils in their time. Towards the end of the Elam war in 2009, with Tigers and civilians trapped on the beach at Mullivaikkal, I stood with a small crowd of Tamils outside the CBC offices in Vancouver trying to impress upon that estemend news agency, that they were obliged to report on the plight of Tamil civilians caught between the ruthless Tigers who were using them as a shield and the merciless SLA who seemed about to attack with genocidal abandon. News of his situation was, it seemed, being systematically suppressed. Amongst those with whom I stood in solidarity that day, as a member of the Tamil diaspora, were flag waving supporters of the LTTE. It was at that moment impossible for me to extricate the furtherment of the cause of Tamils from that of the Tigers.

For all intents and purposes the LTTE ceased to exist with the Mullivaikkal massacre by the victorious SLA. It can not be denied that to Tamils across the world, even to those who find the their methods despicable and their project erroneous, the Tigers and their leader are champions of the Tamil race. They are the latest signifiers in an ancient stream of heroes and conquerors that flows through the heart of the Tamil identity. While they will not be forgotten as myth they are gone as an organization, and so, even though I make no assumption about the guilt or innocence of the 12 Malaysian Indians, I must note that in charging them with possessing printed literature and propagating the LTTE on social media, the onus is on the state to show that these men were furthering the organizational agenda of the LTTE rather than celebrating the myth . Further the state is obliged to prove that the organization still exists and/or that these men were involved in actually trying to revive an entity that is contiguous with the LTTE that was extinguished in 2009. … More in On Being a Malaysian Tamil 6

On Being Malaysian Tamil 1

I am a Malaysian of Jaffna Tamil extraction. My late father was a Seremban born Malaysian but my Mother, also now deceased, was a Jaffna girl. Just as the Malays of the peninsular index the notion of a homeland with the term Tanah Melayu, the Tamils of Jaffna use the term Elam. Unlike the Indians and Chinese populations of Malaysia, the majority of whom came under the auspices of the British, the Tamils of Sri Lanka are the descendants of the subjects of ancient Tamil Kingdoms. As such, they have a sense of attachment and entitlement to the land commonly found in those who have occupied and ruled for centuries. Neither the majority Sinhalese nor the minority Tamils are beholden to any compromise or ‘social contract’ that colours the way minorities belong in Malaysia. I have observed the consequent violent Elam struggle from afar. I have experienced it vicariously through news of grandparents and aunties caught in the crossfire between the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam)and the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force), teenage cousins in being sent away to India and Canada as they reached their teenage years for fear of being killed by the SLA (Sri Lankan Army) or Forcibly recruited by the Tigers …. and there are many other such family situations that I have experienced vicariously, scenarios whose trauma I have felt through my mother’s emotional responses.

My father was a pragmatist and a dove, “Minority Tamils need to compromise with the Sinhala majority! Given the demographics of post-colonial Sri Lanka, armed struggle is futile ,” I can imagine him encapsulating his position. My mother however, was a Tigress at heart! Metaphorically speaking,that is! “They have taken away our language and now they will push us into to the sea!” She could not stand the injustices, indignities and the cruelties experienced by the Tamils and once the war had begun she was emotionally behind “our boys and girls” fighting with the LTTE! You have to recall that the LTTE was not designated as a terrorist organization in Malaysia at the time of this war of independence. (It is much later in 2014 that the designation was given, long after the war had been lost and the LTTE decimated in 2009). And my mother’s openly emotional allegiance meant serious arguments with my father. Although, I was more interested in questions of race, nationality and justice in my own Malaysian milieu, I absorbed all the contrasting positions and sentiments … more in On Being a Malaysian Tamil 2

Jingkli Nona

The next photo-event  of the Koboi Project will be a series of street performances at the sites of various monuments to Portuguese marine adventure and imperialism in Belem, Lisbon. The performances will take place in the 2nd week of July 2018. For more information please visit https://koboibalikkampung.wixsite.com/nuntengporta

Jingli Nona is a song from a dance form know as Branyo. It epitomizes the Malacca Portuguese (Kristang) language, music and culture  … In 1511, a Portuguese fleet under the command of Alfonso de Albuquerque assaulted Malacca and annexed the Malacca sezurinty. The Portuguese then ruled Malacca for the next 130 years and in this time, to facilitate settlement, the Portuguese Crown granted freeman status and exemption from taxes to Portuguese men who married Malaccan women. According to a citation in a paper by Razaleigh Muhamat Kawangit 200 such marriages were recorded by 1604. The contemporary Kristang are their descendants. They form a small but fundamental component of Modern Malaysian society.

Listen all the way to end of the video and you will hear the Malay Joget rhythm come forth … of course, the influence goes the other way too. Interestingly, I am familiar with this song from my own Malaysian childhood. My parents grew up in Sri Lanka, and there they imbibed the Sri Lankan Portuguese musical form known as the Baila. I remember singing a version of this tune as a child, even before hearing the Kristang version.

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Razaleigh_Muhamat_Kawangit/publication/301822512_Social_Integration_of_Kristang_People_in_Malaysia/links/5729d9bb08ae057b0a076189/Social-Integration-of-Kristang-People-in-Malaysia.pdf