Vale Ram Subramaniam — tireless fighter for Tamil and human rights

October 12, 2012

Our dear friend and comrade PA (Ram) Subramaniam, a tireless and courageous supporter of Tamil freedom and the liberation of all humanity, died on the morning of October 4.

When PA called to advise us of his cancer diagnosis less than two months ago, he did so in a completely matter of fact way. There was not a hint of self-pity or regret. In fact there was a renewed impatience and urgency.

Having explained the diagnosis, he rebuffed any attempt to dwell on his situation and immediately turned discussion to the important topic we had been discussing with him for many months: What can we here in Australia do to secure the freedom and dignity of the Eelam Tamils?

Answering this question, in word and deed, should frame how we remember PA. We understand that PA was an active union member before leaving Sri Lanka and recall the words of the famous US union leader Joe Hill who declared before his death, "Don't mourn, organise".

Well of course we do mourn his loss, desperately so. But in so doing we recommit ourselves to our shared hope and dream of a world where all of humanity is free, including of course the Eelam Tamils.

We first met PA at a public meeting organised by Socialist Alliance in 2008. We later attended a Tamil community cultural event where we shared a table and dinner with PA and his wife, Rani. Their hospitality that night is where we developed a great fondness for them both and it laid the basis for projects we would work on with PA.

In 2009, PA and other Tamil solidarity activists organised a public rally on World Human Rights Day to draw public attention to the terrible and savage human rights abuses being inflicted on the Eelam Tamils by the Government of Sri Lanka. We then worked with him and others to ensure the horrendous record of the Government of Sri Lanka was highlighted during last year's CHOGM protest in Perth.

Before the protest, PA was visited at home by the special state security police who told him that associating the Tamil community with the protest would be bad for his cause. He rang us soon after and casually mentioned this unwanted advice.

We were absolutely furious at the interference in perfectly legitimate, legal and peaceful political expression, especially so because it was a blatant attempt to intimidate members of a migrant community. But it was water off a duck's back for PA. Of course the protest succeeded in exposing the record of the real criminals in the Rajapaksa regime to a wider audience.

In the past few years, our discussions increasingly revolved around the need to build in Australia a broad based movement in support of democracy, dignity and self-determination in Tamil Eelam and Sri Lanka. A movement that, in whatever modest way, could start to change Australian foreign policy to isolate the genocidal chauvinistic regime.

We drew a lot of inspiration from PA's deep identification with the struggles of all oppressed and dispossessed people. He was really inspired by the youthful Occupy movement. He was fond of saying that the Tamil people needed to understand that their struggle was part of the 99%.

By that he meant that just like the previous struggles against apartheid and war, the true allies of the Eelam Tamils would be the struggling workers, farmers and students of the world, not the wealthy fat cats and their slick politicians who feign concern for the Tamils' plight while aiding their oppressors.

While as deeply affected by the terrible events of 2009 as any Tamil would be, PA had no time for despair and pessimism, even in these darkest of times. It's a small satisfaction that PA lived to see the formation of our new campaign network Action for Human Rights in Tamil Eelam and Sri Lanka. Continuing its mission is one of the most important tributes we can make to this fine man.

Even though he could not attend our recent public meeting because of illness, without him neither the meeting or the founding of the network would have happened. Right to the end he was peppering us with ideas, writing opinion pieces for Tamilnet and circulating interesting articles for us all.

We are on leave in Europe right now and it is very painful for us not to have been able to say goodbye one more time before we left, and to not be with you all now. All our love goes out to Rani and the family, and to all who miss this caring and passionate man.

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