Tamils speak out on Oppression Day

February 10, 2023
Tamil Oppression Day rally outside the Sri Lankan High Commission. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

The Australian Tamil community and supporters rallied outside the Sri Lankan High Commission on February 4 to mark the 75th anniversary of Tamil Oppression Day, when Sri Lanka gained independence from the British Empire.

The protest was organised by the Tamil Refugee Council, and contingents travelled from Sydney and Melbourne. They chanted “Eelam! Freedom!” and “Stop, Stop genocide!” while also condemning the Sri Lankan government’s continuing genocide of Tamil people in their historic homeland in Eelam, in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

For Tamil people, this date marks the beginning of years of oppression by the then newly-independent government, controlled by the Sinhalese ethnic group, which launched a campaign of discrimination, backed by armed force and anti-Tamil pogroms.

Renuga Inpakumar, a leader of the Tamil Refugee Council and organiser of the protest told Green Left that February 4 “represents the day that power was handed from one oppressor to another”.

Since 1948, Tamils have been “targeted” by economic blockades on Tamil majority areas and “horrific pogroms”.

“Our own land Tamil Eelam has been targeted since 1948. Our own land has been used to promote Sinhala chauvinism to remove our identity.”

She said the Tamil Council’s mission is “to ensure that there is an understanding that Eelam Tamils will not stop until there is accountability of the ongoing genocide”.

Since 2011 the Tamil Refugee Council has been amplifying the “voices for refugees and witnesses of genocide”, Inpakumar said.

“We are calling on the Sri Lankan government to give our land back,” she continued. “We want Tamil Eelam … given back to the rightful owners.

“We want an acknowledgment of the ongoing genocide since 1948 and also the Sri Lankan state leaders and individuals responsible for war crimes and genocidal acts must be tried for their crimes.”

Inpakumar said Sri Lanka continues to promote the false idea that the island is “safe” and that “no genocide is being committed”. This allows the Australian government to prioritise resources and relations with Sri Lanka.

Tamil community leaders, refugee activists and eyewitness accounts from survivors addressed the protest. At one point, it was interrupted by guests leaving the High Commission’s Independence Day celebration that physically confronted the rally and shouted Sinhalese nationalist slogans.

Refugee campaigner and Professor Emeritus of Politics and International Relations at the Australian National University John Minns said nine out of 10 Tamil asylum applications are denied because the government will not acknowledge the Sri Lankan government’s campaign of genocide against them.

He said Canberra is complicit in the war on the Tamils because it wants the Sri Lankan government to support the US-led campaign to contain China.

Marathon spoke about the parallels between the Tamil struggle and that of First Nations peoples. “There can be no justice on stolen land,” he said, calling for “Treaty now!”. He said the Tamil movement was raising four demands: an end to the 75-year genocide of Tamil people; an end to legal discrimination against Tamils in Sri Lanka; justice for those “disappeared” by government violence; and freedom for Tamil Eelam.

Rita, a survivor of the Sri Lankan Army and Sinhalese militias’ violence, spoke about organising with the families of victims of Sri Lankan Army violence and called for justice for them.

Iyngaran spoke about the more recent multi-ethnic coalitions in Sri Lanka which have joined together to challenge government corruption. He called on Sinhalese people in Sri Lanka to show solidarity with the Tamil people.

Manoharan, a refugee, recounting his experience and the difficulties he has faced since arriving in Australia in Tamil.

The Tamil Refugee Council is campaigning for Australia's government to end its aid to Sri Lanka and provide “not just Tamil refugees but all refugees, permanent protection. The Australian Government should not deport Tamil refugees back to danger.”

She called on people to “attend our rallies, stand alongside Eelam Tamils through their pain and resistance and help amplify our voice”.

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