Tamil diaspora struggles to maintain identity

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Sunil Amrith, professor in Harvard University, addresses the audience during a lecture in the city on Thurday.

CHENNAI: Despite contributing heavily to the making of modern world, Tamil diaspora is struggling hard to retain its identity and existence across the world especially in countries like Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Myanmar and Fiji. This was stated by Sunil Amrith, Mehra Family, professor of South Asian Studies and professor of History at Harvard University, and joint director of the Harvard Center for History and Economics.  The expert on diaspora studies was delivering a lecture on “Global TamilScapes” at Loyola College here.

Almost 28 million migrated from South India to Southeast Asian countries and they live in hellish conditions, he said. “Tamil migrant labourers played an essential role in the development of global capitalism and their contributions in Southeast Asia is immense. There must be steps to ensure inter-cultural interactions exploiting avenues of globalisation,’’ he added. He also recalled that the Tamil diasporic modernity was shaped in continuous dialogues and engagements with Chinese, Malay, and European ideas.

Amrith, author of the book Crossing The Bengal which narrates Tamil migration from South India to Southeast Asia said the Tamil diasporic studies assume importance as they will provide strong ideological base to massive political ongoing struggles involving the diaspora across the world. Migrants in countries like Sri Lanka are in conflict with given situations and circumstances, he said. Such studies will strengthen the notion of Tamil identity, especially because Tamil diasporic studies have been neglected in Indian disaporic studies and global diasporic studies dominated by European and Chinese migrations,’’ he said.

“After the independence in Sri Lanka, the newly formed government denied citizenship to Tamil migrants by creating a division between citizens by descent and citizens by registration”, he said. This excluded majority of Tamil migrants from citizenship rights as no documentary proof for the number of generations they have worked and lived in these plantations were available. Among the 80,000 Tamils who applied for citizenship, only 16 per cent has got it and new forms of discriminations evolved.

The programme was jointly organised by Centre for Diaspora Studies (CDS),  Manonmaniam Sundaranar University (MSU), in partnership with Loyola Institute of Social Sciences Training and Research and Department of Journalism and Communication, Madras University.

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