Keling Maya: Post-traditional Media, Malaysian Cyberspace and Me, presented at the Aliran Semasa Symposium, 2013, at the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur.
According to a report in FMT, on 18 January 2020, hundreds of people rallied to call for the release 12 Malaysian Tamils detained under the draconian Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA) for alleged links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). This gathering commemorated 100 days of detention for the 12 men who were arrested under the, commonly called Sosma.
The article also claims that the gathering called on Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and the Pakatan Harapan Cabinet to release the men and abolish Sosma in keeping with their manifesto promise. I would like to note that, while Harapan promised to abolish some laws SOSMA was not one of these. Indeed, the widely held notion that Harapan promised to abolish SOSMA is incorrect. Here is what Promise 27 of the Harapan Manifesto said on the matter –
…. The Pakatan Harapan Government will also abolish draconian provisions in the following Acts:
• Penal Code 1997 especially on peaceful assembly and activities
harmful to democracy
• Communications and Multimedia Act 1998
• Security Offences (special measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA)
• Peaceful Assembly Act 2012
• Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) 2015″
So what exactly the people can hold the Harapan government to, depends on an interpretation of the phrase ‘draconian measures.’ In this regard, the manifesto itself states that a Harapan government would “ensure an effective check and balance” by revoking “all clauses that prevent the Court from reviewing decisions of the Government or the laws introduced by the Government.” I suggest that the provisions of SOSMA that allow for police detention without bail before trial are just such ‘draconian measures’, as they grant licence to the agents of the executive to incarce suspects outside of the ambit of judicial review.
In fact, as reported in Bernama, on Nov 29, the High Court ruled that this portion of SOSMA is unconstitutional “because it divests from the courts the judicial discretionary power to evaluate whether or not to grant or refuse bail.” These are the provisions that can be misused, and will be seen to be misused even when they are used with good intent. In the interest of all accused persons and for the good name of the Malaysian judicial process, these provisions must be revoked immediately.
As I have suggested before, the 12 Malaysian Tamils are being held on the basis of charges that, at best, seem to defy logic. As they sit out their 100th day in prison, and while their appeals for bail to work slowly through the courts system, there is, as yet, no credible sign that the LTTE exists. At worst, these charges are based on guile and malice. As Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy, is reported to have said on behalf of his organization, “We feel that these arrests are politically motivated.” Please see On Being Malaysian Tamil 7
So what makes Prabhakaran and the LTTE meaningful, beyond their obvious significance to the Ceylon Tamils of Malaysia, to the wider group of Malaysian Tamils. Is it that the Tigers said NO to abject racial discrimination and marginalization? Is it because they fought as Tamil nationalists and triumphed against incredible odds. Is it because they carved an autonomous Tamil domain out of the Sinhala state? Is it because they did this, ultimately, without the patronage of colonial or neo-colonial masters? Is it because they created a short but impactful ‘Elam‘ era in modern history? Whatever it is that is so appealing, it all ended with their defeat in 2009
So why do some Indian Tamils and Diaspora Tamils still have such a passion for the after-image of a long vanished LTTE, when the Sri Lankan Tamils have themselves moved on and are looking for new political solutions to the desperate situation for Tamils in Sri Lanka. The one word answer is Maanam. Or in Bahasa Melayu … Maruah. Yes, pride or dignity or that great Asian tradition of giving or saving ‘face.’ That’s what, and perhaps, this is all, the LTTE and their leader Prabhakaran mean to the global Tamil diaspora today. This Maanam is connected with many complex issues issues that were central to the lost Elam regime – issues of caste abolishment, Dravidianism, socialism, feminism and ethno-nationalism. Some of these issues are powerful currency in the vibrant and emotional political theatre of the Tamil motherland, Tamil Nadu. Charismatic figures like Senthamizhan Semaan, whose party Naam Tamilar Katchi plays on deeply ethnocentric themes, exploit and revivify the symbolism of the defunct LTTE. This brings us to the Malaysian connection. Malaysian Tamils of Indian origin seem to have invested in LTTE symbols as a means to uplift their Maanam in the face of Malaysian communalism. The Indians are without doubt amongst the losers in the Malaysian social arrangement. It is in this light that I, from the perspective of a Jaffna Tamil, see the wider Malaysian Indian communities’ passionate and heartfelt engagement with symbols and the cause of Elam.
Tomorrow, on 29 december, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur will give its decision on whether to allow the bail application of Gadek state assemblyman, G Saminathan, one of the 12 detainees charged with LTTE involvement and detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012. The LTTE has was defined as a terrorist outfit under Malaysia law in 2014. It is reasonable to understand this definition as applying to participants in the organization before its demise who are still at large. In fact, there have been a few arrests of such alleged LTTE members in Malaysia before and after 2014. If it can not be shown that the LTTE terrorist organization continues to exist or that it is presently being revived, those caught in possession of LTTE symbols, those caught in acts of LTTE commemoration, and those caught in the act of distributing LTTE symbols can not not rightly be deemed to be engaging with terror related activities. They are more appropriately seen as being engaged in the remembrance of symbols associated with a historical organization that has been associated with terrorism. Such actors are more appropriately understood as being involved with the myth of the LTTE, the dream of Thamil Elam and the quest for Maanam at home, not a mission of terrorism.
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The LTTE seems to be defunct as an operational entity. As I noted in the previous post, the European Court of Justice has ruled that the LTTE should be removed from the EU’s terrorism list. Nevertheless, the EU seems to have maintained that the LTTE on the said list. One might reasonably speculate that the reasoning behind this is that the fact that the organization is inert does not mean that it can not be revived. This is also probably why this defunct organization remains on terror list in 32 countries across the world including Malaysia where the LTTE was not even proscribed as a terrorist organization until 2014, a full 5 years after the end of the Elam war.
In connection with the possible LTTE revival, there seems to be a US State Department report in 2018 noted: “Despite its military defeat at the hands of the Sri Lankan government in 2009, the LTTE’s international network of sympathizers and financial support has persisted.” Indeed, it is conceivable that when the LTTE went down in 2009, the organization had large sums of money dispersed across the world in the hands of unidentified operatives or trustees. It is possible that some such funds are still out there in the hands operatives faithful who, true to the LTTE cause, might be biding their time, waiting to reinvest in armed struggle.
In this light, I took the suggestion, made by the Malaysian Police, soon after the recent SOSMA arrests for LTTE related activities, that there were significant financial transactions in involved, very concerning indeed. It was the only aspect of the initially insinuated allegations against the detainees that I found worthy of serious consideration. Promotion of a proscribed organization that no longer exists seemed trivial and merely symbolic, compared in being involved in financial transactions aimed at actually reviving that organization. So far, however, no such charge has been laid against any of the 12 detainees and I wait anxiously to hear of further charges. Perhaps there will be something coming up that might justify the use of SOSMA and the hysteria generated around these developments, not least by the Police themselves in the manner of the arrests were made and shared with the media.. … More in On Being a Malaysian Tamil 5
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