Opinion Article

Kudos to wider Tamil identity

[TamilNet, Sunday, 10 February 2008, 21:39 GMT]
The decision of Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which enabled Razeen Mohamed Imam becoming a national list member of the Sri Lanka parliament last Wednesday, is received with wide appreciation from different sections of the Tamil-speaking people, including the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress. The 60-years-old lawyer Mr. Razeen Mohamed hails from Jaffna and is a member of the Ilankai Thamizh Arasuk Kadchi (the Federal Party started by the late S.J.V Chelvanayakam) for more than 30 years. He was also earlier a member of the Jaffna Municipal Council, elected through a Federal Party ticket.

TNA MP R.M. Imam
TNA MP R.M. Imam
There was a time when Muslims, especially the Muslims of North and East, were an integral part of the Tamil politics and political parties, forging a common Tamil identity.

On the last occasion when free and fair elections took place in the pre-war North and East of Sri Lanka in 1977, and when the people of this region categorically and overwhelmingly franchised self determination of Tamils based on the Vaddukkoaddai declaration of Tamil United Liberation Front, Muslims of the region were a part and party to it.

The spontaneous participation, contribution and sacrifices of the Muslim youth for a common Tamil cause, as members of various Tamil militant groups in the 70s and 80s are very well known.

Misinterpretation of Tamil nationalism by sections of militancy and Tamil speaking people, conspiracy of the successive governments of Sri Lanka and inability to resolve certain ground situations especially in the East, contributed to the alienation of Muslims and culminated in the eviction of them, numbering between 15 and 20 thousand from Jaffna and other northern districts in 1990.

The regrets signaled from the side of the LTTE and the statement made by Rauff Hakeem, the leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, that“ LTTE leader V. Pirapaharan has agreed to invite all displaced Muslims to return to their own places in the North and East”, after his meeting with the latter in 2002, are a consolation.

According to reports Mr. Razeen Mohamed has expressed his determination to work for the resettlement of the displaced Muslims back in their homes in Jaffna.

The ball is now in the court of the Sri Lanka government, which not only controls Jaffna but has also converted the Muslim quarters of Jaffna into one of the High Security Zones for the exclusive use of its occupying Army. In this case the Army is sitting on a general interim order of the Sri Lanka judiciary, favouring resettlement of willing people in the High Security Zones.

Tamil is traditionally the mother tongue of the vast majority of the Muslims in Sri Lanka other than the Malays. Their origins in Sri Lanka are parallel and are closely linked to the Tamil Muslims of the Coromandal Coast and of the Malabar Coast, which was part of the ancient Tamil country at the time of the advent of Islam.

In fact, Islam reached this part of South Asia as early as in the times of the Prophet. One of the earliest mosques according to tradition was built at Thiru-vagnchaik-ka’lam, the capital Vagnchi of the Cheras, and was patronized by Chearamaan Perumaa’l, a king and saint of the Tamil-Chaiva traditions.

Unlike most of the identities, the Tamil identity is not pivotal of ethnicity, religion or geography. Based on a classical language, the primary focus of Tamil identity, as seen from the times of its inception reflected in the Changkam literature, is Tamil language (Thamzh koo’rum nal ulaku — Tamil 'speaking' world).

Among all the South Asian languages, being classical as well as modern, only Tamil has the rare distinction of serving the medium for all the major religions of the world – Buddhism, Jainism, Brahmanical and non-Brahmanical schools of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and even Atheism. Tamil language and identity became enriched in the process.

Identity is an issue of complexity. A person or a community may cherish more than one identity at a time. Which one of the criteria for identity is to be primarily focused may differ from time to time.

Those who think that the Tamil identity of Sri Lanka is primarily linked only to the Chaiva / Hindu identity do not see the fact that for the priestly echelons of their religion, Brahmin identity comes first and Tamil is only a secondary identity. This doesn’t belittle the reverent acceptance of Tamil Brahmins or contributions and commitment of them to the Tamil cause and identity.

When we witness the elite of Jaffna, who became the Ceylonese of Malaysia and Singapore, forsaking the use of Tamil language even inside their homes within three generations of migration, the Aiyangkaar Brahmins, for whom Aiyangkaar is the primary identity, have preserved the use of Tamil and contributed to it for eight hundred years, wherever they have migrated ever since their persecution from the Tamil country by the Chola empire.

If for the Muslims of Sri Lanka Islam is the primary identity, it should be accepted with respect. The universality and secular parameters of Tamil identity are such that the stand of Muslims is in no way needs to be a contradiction for them and others to forge a wider identity of Tamil speaking people.


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