One thousand Tamils gathered in Federation Square on July 5 for Pongu Thamil (Tamil upsurge). The event included traditional Tamil dancing, music and speeches on the Tamil people's struggle for self-determination in Sri Lanka.
Mahenda Rajah, president of the Eelam Tamil Association of Victoria, outlined the Tamil minority's oppression. "The first act of discrimination was the disenfranchising of 1 million Tamils", he said, referring to the 1948 decision to deny citizenship rights to Tamil plantation workers born in Sri Lanka, but whose ancestors had come from India.
Rajah described the state-sponsored "colonisation" schemes, where Sinhalese settlers were placed in traditionally Tamil areas with the aim of making Tamils a minority. He told of the decision to make Sinhala the sole official language of Sri Lanka, and described other state measures that discriminate against Tamils in "employment, economy, education and every other area of life".
Peaceful protests have been met by violent repression. Rajah said: "Tamils have been subjected to intimidation, torture, rape, unlawful imprisonment ... There have also been cases of targeted killings of Tamil members of parliament, journalists, human rights activists, religious and community leaders, and civilians who speak out against the human rights violations of the Sri Lankan government and armed forces."
Referring to the formation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Rajah said, "Tamils were forced to defend themselves" against the violence. The LTTE had been willing to negotiate with the Sri Lankan government and a peace agreement was signed in February 2002, but the government later withdrew from it.
Rajah urged people to "support us to achieve a lasting negotiated political solution" that would "establish a recognised homeland for the Tamils with full autonomy".
Other speakers at the Pongu Thamil included Bishop Hilton Deakin, retired Uniting Church minister Richard Wootton, Tamil radio broadcaster Anthony Gration, aid worker Jason Thomas, Margarita Windisch from the Socialist Alliance and Green Left Weekly, and visiting Tamil National Alliance MP Sivagilinga.