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British Tamil youth celebrate International Women’s Day

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Oru Kural, a UK-based voluntary organisation which promotes Tamil culture, hosted a creative showcase and networking event titled ‘Amplify Her’ on Thursday 7 March in London, to celebrate and empower young Tamil females and creatives.

Founders Ovea Vigneswaran, 22, studying Religion, Politics and Society at King’s College London, and Mathumithaa Yoganathan, 20, studying Social Science at University College London. spoke about the importance of the flagship event.

“We wanted to create a space to encourage people to defy conventions and pursue their passions, where difficult conversations could be had, and Tamil women could flourish and be unapologetic,” said Ovea .

Co-founder Yoganathan agreed. “Women sometimes feel like they lose their Tamil identity when growing up in the UK, but we wanted to show that you can embrace both," she added. “There is so much Tamil creative talent but it is often male dominated and women can be exploited at work. Many talented females we asked to perform tonight said ‘my parents would not approve’ and we wanted to change that.”

Nila Varman, the  23-year-old host of The Nila Extract, an award-winning radio show and podcast, also hosted the evening, and spoke of her pride in doing so. “It was an honour to present the event which amplified voices," Nila told the Tamil Guardian. "Tamil women are incredible and it was surreal to be in a room breaking boundaries with them.”

The lively evening was kicked off by performances from DJ and producer Nush, whose music goals are ‘representation, empowerment and activism’, and Shahan Parveen, who choreographed and performed a mix of folk, semi-classical and kuthuk style dance, in a piece that had been created just hours beforehand.

Themes of safety and internalised misogyny were reflected in song choices, with Nush commenting that as a young woman “there’s not a day I don’t feel unsafe” and whose song featured lyrics such as “I refused to be someone else’s target”.

It is a particularly poignant reminder on International Women’s Day of the challenges that women face, particularly Tamil women, who have suffered from widely documented sexual and gender-based violence in Sri Lanka. Statistics from the United Nations estimate that one in three women have been a victim of violence in their lives globally.

Other performances included a contemporary dance piece by Thushiga Karynanithy, 21 and 22-year-old singer Hayla, who performed an English-Tamil mix of Water and Unakkul Naane. 

Keynote speaker Pritt, an Eelam Tamil R&B artist, spoke of parental attempts to dissuade Tamil women from creative industries “came from a place of love and fear” but encouraged the audience to have conversations with families and break taboos.

“Being creative was at the forefront of everything that I did; it wasn’t a hobby,” said Pritt, a radio presenter on the BBC Asian Network.

Of the lack of representation of Tamil women in creative spaces she said “it put a fire in me". "I took criticisms to heart and used that pain, watched everyone thrive and thought that Tamil women should be up there too.”

The event concluded with fusion performances by Sugani who sang a mix of Tamil, R&B and Kuthu songs, and Saathana, who mixed western street, Afro and voguing dance with Bharatanatyam and Gaana.

The theme of all the performances was to encourage Tamil creatives to fight in a western-dominated industry to put Tamil female talent firmly in the sphere. 

Nisa Nami, 25, who attended the event said “whilst I’m not Tamil, I came to support my Tamil friends. I think the themes raised today reverberate through the wider South Asian community.”

The money raised through yesterday’s event, which also featured food, Henna and cake pop, will go to Oru Kural’s other projects, including their podcast and outreach work.

Gogul Pushpanathan, 21, head of outreach, highlighted the group’s ongoing goal. “We want to amplify the voices that aren’t heard within the Tamil community, whether it’s women, LGBT or other minorities.”

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