Tamil activists speak out for rights here and in Sri Lanka

October 7, 2021
Tamil refugee and activist Kalyani Inpakumar. Photo: Kalyani Inpakumar/Twitter

Tamil refugees and activists Kalyani Inpakumar and Renuga Inpakumar, who fled the Sinhalese war, are campaigning for the rights of Tamil refugees in Australia, which includes raising awareness about the ongoing persecution of Tamils in Sri Lanka. They are members of the Tamil Refugee Council (TRC) and have spoken at protests here. They spoke to Green Left’s Rachel Evans about the ongoing human rights tragedy.

Why did you have to leave Sri Lanka?

Thousands of Tamils were killed by Sinhala mobs, backed by the United National Party (UNP) government and its forces in 1983, in the July Pogrom. That’s when I [Kalyani] left.

The armed mobs used electoral rolls to target Tamil homes and businesses. There were reports of mobs chasing Tamils down the street with knives and burning them alive. The mobs massacred more than 3000 Tamils and hundreds of women were raped. 

Sinhala inmates, assisted by prison guards, gouged out the eyes of Tamil political prisoners, slaughtering 37 prisoners on July 25 that year. Another 18 prisoners were killed two days later.

“Black July” was not the first time Tamils had been targeted and killed by Sinhala mobs. In 1956, they killed more than 150 Tamils in the Eastern Province. Two years later, more than 300 Tamils were killed in widespread riots. Anti-Tamil riots continued when the UNP government came to power in 1977, as the ruling party encouraged it and oversaw the violence in Jaffna.

We first fled to Chennai, India, and eventually arrived in Australia in 1990 when I was 21. My family became separated, escaping to various parts of the world. I lost touch with all of my friends, but I have been able to slowly make contact thanks to social media.

How were Tamil refugees treated? 

When I [Kalyani] arrived here, we were able to gain permanent residency, allowing us to unite with our family members and for our children to have equal opportunity when it came to education. Now, there are no permanent visas for refugees and children are unable to attend university as local students.

How has the situation changed in Tamil Eelam?

The situation has worsened since I left. In 2009, the first of a series of extreme attacks was executed against the Tamil people.

The Sri Lankan government deemed an area of Tamil Eelam a no-fire zone and encouraged Tamils to gather there to be safe from the government’s bombing campaign. However, once people had gathered there, the government began repeatedly bombing the area, killing thousands. 

Tamil land in the Northern and Eastern provinces has been taken, and the government has tortured and assaulted many Tamils.

The International Truth and Justice Project Torture report, released on September 10, shows that Tamil people are still being tortured and raped by government forces. Sri Lanka also has the second highest rate of missing people, with “white van” abductions of Tamils taking place under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1979. Many Tamils have spent years searching for family members who have been disappeared.

How would you characterise the struggle for Tamil Eelam?

Since 1948, it has been a fight for self-determination against the chauvinistic and racist Sri Lankan government. It is a fight to get back our own motherland, and to be able to live by our own rules and culture.

The colonisation of Tamil Eelam land by the government is a deliberate attempt to eliminate Tamil culture and ethnically cleanse the land. The government has demolished schools, and Hindu and Catholic sites, and stolen land to prevent Tamil culture from being able to flourish..  

What kind of work are you involved in in the Tamil Refugee Council?

The TRC is the voice of Tamil refugees in Australia. It engages in media liaison, individual advocacy, educational work and campaigns for the rights of individuals and the community. The TRC has regular meetings and discussions that have been able to mobilise the community and organise protests.

The TRC is also involved in the fight for Tamil people in detention centres here. It is putting pressure on the government to provide permanent visas for Tamils languishing in limbo on precarious temporary visas. Tamils have a fear of being deported back to danger in Sri Lanka.

You have also been involved in the campaign to give the Muruguppan family safety.

Yes, the campaign is focussed on ensuring the family are allowed back home to Biloela, as well as to raise  awareness of the danger for Tamils in Sri Lanka. We are encouraging people to contact their local MPs  to support the campaign.

How can we assist the Tamil people’s fight for justice?

The best way is to listen to our stories. Hear our explanations of what has occurred and what still continues to occur. People should also attend and organise rallies in their communities, or online, and continue to put pressure on the government.

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