Eelam Tamils, Together In Joy And Sorrow From Jaffna To London



During the 1983-2009 war and in the past 12 years, the Eelam Tamil diaspora (many of whom are war refugees) has been instrumental in the struggle to resist the Sinhalese ethnocratic violence of the Sri Lankan state. Written in the wake of the ousting of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, this text by Abinaya Nathan describes her growing up in the vibrant Eelam Tamil diaspora of North-West London, from the remote support to the Liberation Tigers to the last decade’s demonstrations.

As a diaspora, Eelam Tamils are said to be over a million strong globally. It is currently impossible to glean exact numbers since countries do not record Eelam Tamil as an ethnicity. Even in the United Kingdom, where our numbers are substantial (conservatively, 300,000 over 10 years ago, in 2011) there is no one reliable statistic since on ethnicity forms, we are “Asian Other,” the forgotten stepsiblings of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The only other estimate to go by is Sri Lanka as a country of birth, which would both include the far less numerous Sinhalese and other ethnicities from the island, as well as exclude second-generation Eelam Tamils born in the U.K. or in the European Union.

The U.K. was once seen as a final destination for only the most privileged Eelam Tamils who had the financial and social capital, i.e. through caste and class networks, to reach it. Hence it was also known as one of the biggest locations from which cash flowed to the liberation struggle at home. However, a steady stream of arrivals, particularly of asylum seekers throughout the war and post-war years, as well as a massive wave of Tamil migration from E.U. countries in the early 2000s, has rendered it one of the largest of Tamil hubs, representing a spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds. The spaces we have built here are as diverse as they are numerous: Tamil schools, old students associations, village associations, temples, churches, restaurants, university Tamil societies, sports leagues and teams, women’s groups, elders groups, advocacy and campaigning organizations, and too many charities to keep track of.