Suffering, Protest, and Belonging in Sri Lanka’s Tamil Diaspora

Politics after a ceasefire

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Kitana Ananda. Source: CNN, 2019

by Kitana Ananda for Columbia University, 2016

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…My dissertation project explores how Sri Lankan Tamils, displaced and dispersed by over thirty years of political violence and war, form moral and political communities
as they remake their lives across the globe. My research examines, in particular, how these communities are formed as Tamil activists mobilized and protested war in Sri Lanka. As a 2002 ceasefire between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) disintegrated into total war in 2008-09, Tamil activists
mobilized thousands of diasporic Tamils to non-stop public protest in metropolitan cities
around the world. Through an ethnographic study of diasporic activisms, I discuss how
and why Tamils in Canada and India protested the war, soliciting their states, fellow
citizens and each other to “take immediate action” on behalf of a suffering people. I also
consider what forms of community and contestation were entailed by practices of Tamil
activism.
My argument proceeds as follows:
• I argue that the historical transformation of Tamil society through militancy and
migration, in response to decades of discrimination and violence, created a diasporic
politics that obliged Tamils living outside Sri Lanka to take action to end the war in
their homeland.
• This action was publicly organized during the ceasefire into two competing
tendencies: Those who supported the LTTE and its nationalist goals of a separate
Tamil state through a politics of protest, and those who opposed the LTTE, its
political goals, and/or militant actions through a politics of dissent.
• The politics and ethics of Tamil protest and dissent reveal internal social differences
among Tamils from Sri Lanka, along the lines of gender, caste, class, region, time of
migration, and legal status—differences that also complicate the “pro-LTTE” versus
“anti-LTTE” binary, which delineates Tamil activism in the diaspora. Activists’
attempts to negotiate these internal boundaries or repress differences in the name of
unity were central to the production of Tamil identity in diaspora.
• Notwithstanding the above differences, Tamils were socially and affectively oriented
to respond to the war, and the suffering it created among Tamils on the island. This
public engagement with wartime suffering has come to define what it means to be a
Tamil living outside Sri Lanka, even among those who generally stay away from the
domains of “politics” and the “political.”
• Ultimately, the contested practices of Tamil migration and activism I document here
have generated new forms of cultural citizenship and transnational belonging for
displaced and dispersed Tamils on the margins of liberal democratic polities. In other
words, transnational migration and activism are critical processes through which
Tamils have fashioned diaspora communities across the geopolitical borders of the
international system of nation-states…

TABLE OF CONTENTS
List of Charts, Graphs and Illustrations ii
Acknowledgements iv
Dedication ix
PART ONE: Sri Lanka’s War and the Making of a Tamil Diaspora, 1983-2009
Introduction: The Politics and Ethics of Tamil Displacement and Diaspora ……….. 3
Chapter One: Tamil Migrations and Diasporic Locations …………………………… 44
Chapter Two: Rise Up or Return? Tamil Activisms During the Ceasefire …………. 92
Chapter Three: “Our Historic Struggle”: Tamil Politics and Diaspora Histories ……. 131
PART TWO: “The Final War,” 2008-2009
Chapter Four: Mobilizing Diaspora: Activism and Community Under
Multiculturalism in Tamil Toronto …………………………………………………. 197
Chapter Five: Camp Life and Refugee Politics in Tamil India ……………………… 279
Chapter Six: Waiting to Leave: Migrant Non-Belonging in the City ………………. 340
Chapter Seven: Suffering Community: Tamil Protest and Dissent at the End of War 372
Conclusion: After the War…………………………………………………………… 443
Epilogue: Post-War Sri Lanka, Diaspora and the Tamil Refugee …………………… 452
BIBLIOGRAPHY …………………………………………………………………… 459

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