by Virou Srilangarajah, Institute of Race Relations, London, March 21, 2019
The Tamil community has lost a valiant fighter.
Just one year after the passing of A. Sivanandan (Siva), the Tamil community suffered another devastating loss with the sudden death of human rights activist and community organiser Vairamuttu Varadakumar. Friends found him at his home last week, after he uncharacteristically had failed to attend several engagements.
Varadakumar (or ‘Varada’ to his friends and colleagues) was the long-time Executive Secretary of the London-based Tamil Information Centre (TIC), an independent community-based human rights organisation focussing mostly on the two largest minorities in Sri Lanka: Tamils and Muslims. TIC has, for the best part of four decades, fought racist and imperialist government policies – whether deportations of asylum seekers; the proscribing of the LTTE (‘Tamil Tigers’); or the use of the British SAS and some elements of its police undertaking training of a variety of oppressive Sri Lankan state forces.
Varadakumar came from the village of Manipay in Jaffna, the cultural capital of the Tamil North-East of Sri Lanka. After fleeing the emerging civil war, he arrived in the UK in the early 1980s and thrust himself into the urgent task of assisting fleeing Tamil refugees at the still-fledgling TIC. The organisation was instrumental in researching and documenting some of the most important and accurate stories and testimonies. Today, TIC is in possession of thousands of precious and original materials in its archives – a special responsibility given the destruction of the Jaffna Library in 1981 at the hands of a government-inspired Sinhalese mob.
In December 2015 TIC, with Varadakumar the driving force, gave Siva an award for his ‘dedicated contribution to civil rights and championing economic justice’ at its annual Human Rights Day community event in Merton, South London. When Siva passed away in January 2018, Varadakumar penned a lengthy tribute with some personal memories, reflections and observations. The admiration was reciprocated when Siva bequeathed his invaluable archive of books on imperialism, India and the Tamil struggle and Ceylonese/Sri Lankan history to TIC. These volumes will be known as the Sivanandan Collection, as part of TIC’s library in its Kingston-based premises.
Varadakumar’s final project was an ambitious exhibition to take place on the weekend of 18 and 19 May 2019 – the tenth-year anniversary of the Tamil Holocaust perpetrated by the Sri Lankan state on its citizens. He had been working diligently round the clock for the best part of a year on this,‘to showcase Tamil history, culture and heritage alongside the impact of the conflict through time and war. We have chosen to focus on the resilience and vitality of the community despite the exceptionally difficult circumstances.’
This event will now also become a space for celebrating him and what he has built at TIC and an opportunity to affirm our determination to continue his life’s work so as to truly honour his legacy. But to make it happen, the event still needs support.Please consider donating to the exhibition fundraising platform: gofundme.com/tamils-of-ilankai-museum.
The ‘Tamils of Eelam: A Timeless Heritage’ exhibition will take place on the weekend of May 18-19 in Tolworth Recreation Centre, Fuller’s way North, Surbiton KT6 7LQ. Entry is free.