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Pongal in Westminster - British Tamils celebrate Thai Pongal

British Tamils gathered in London on Monday for an evening filled with an array of performances to celebrate Thai Pongal and mark Tamil Heritage Month. 

Guests filled the iconic Church House in Westminster, which hosted the first UN Security Council in 1946, to watch dance and musical performances depicting the richness of Tamil culture and to hear from British parliamentarians who praised the Tamil community for their contributions to the UK. 

The 'Voice of Freedom' group opened the event by playing the Parai, an ancient Tamil instrument. 

This was followed by a moment of silence dedicated to the tens of thousands of Tamils who have sacrificed their lives in the struggle for liberation. 

'Welcome Dance' - a dance performance to welcome guests and depict the richness of the Tamil language 

Speaking at the event, Elliot Colburn, MP for Carshalton and Wallington and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils (APPGT) thanked the Tamil community who work in the NHS and public sector for going “above and beyond” in their work. He also told the crowd that it is a time for “sombre reflection” as justice and accountability for the Tamil genocide have been “denied for too long.”

"We [the APPGT] stand firm in our dedication to ensuring that the voices of those affected are heard, and we are actively working towards creating awareness and advocating for justice on both national and international platforms," Colburn wrote in his Thai Pongal message included in the event programme. 

"Your resilience, hard work, and cultural vibrancy are integral to the diverse tapestry of our society," he added. 

'Vayal Uraanukku Vanakkam' - A dance saluting the Sun, farmers and the cattle for a bountiful harvest. 

Thangam Debbonaire, MP for Bristol West and Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: 

"Looking around I can see we have a living impression of the remarkable contribution of our Tamil community, in the NHS, to the British industry and politics."

"We Tamil people enrich this country in so many ways," she added. 

"I've been proud to be possibly the first person of Tamil origin in Parliament," Debbonaire said. 

"I am also really aware of the ongoing struggles of Tamil people. I remember just down this road in 2009, when Tamils held one of the longest recorded protests outside Parliament - calling for action to stop the massacres committed by Sri Lanka against the Tamil people."

Debbonaire went on to reaffirm the Labour Party's position:

"Labour in Opposition will continue to push this government to act on their responsibility to ensure that the Sri Lankan government no long delays justice, accountability and reconcilation. If Labour becomes the government after the general election, then we will with work with you and with our international partners, Tamils for Labour, with Tamil communities everywhere to bring that peace and political stability." 

Richard Holden MP for North West Durham and Conservative Party Chairman said Tamil Heritage Month is "a time to honour and celebrate the richness of Tamil cultural heritage, one that has flourished over centuries and transcended geographical boundaries."

"Pongal embodies – unity, gratitude, and resilience. These are the very qualities that have seen us through challenging times, reminding us that we are stronger together.

These values also resonate profoundly within the British Tamil community, especially in the context of seeking justice for historical injustices. The Tamil community's unwavering commitment to pursuing justice is a testament to the indomitable spirit that Pongal embodies," Holden said. 

Catherine West, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green and Shadow Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, said Labour has been working closely with the foreign policy community “to see some justice done and live up to the aspirations of the UN resolutions on the tragedy of the conflict in Sri Lanka."

She added that "progress has been very slowly for the justice we need to see for Tamils." 

Students from Arunothayam Tamil school recited verse and prose from the Thirukkural, a ancient Tamil text which consists of 1,330 couplets.

Bob Blackman for Harrow East MP said that it is time for Sri Lanka to own up to what happened at the end of the armed conflict, that Tamils get closure for what happened to their forcibly disappeared relatives and “that power is devolved from Colombo to the Tamil homeland.”

Barry Gardiner, said that justice and accountability won't become a reality until politicians "insist that the international prosecution at the International Criminal Court takes place because we know the war crimes that happened, the crimes against humanity and the genocide against the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. It won't happen unless politicians apply sanctions against Sri Lankan political and military leaders." 

Gareth Thomas, MP for Harrow West,  said there is a “continuing need for justice for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.” He went on to add that the “only accountability for the terrible human rights abuses was when Sri Lanka lost its trade concessions through GSP+.”

Theresa Villiers MP for Chipping Barnet  said the Pongal event was a “great opportunity for the friends of Tamils in Parliament to express our support to the Tamil community and pay tribute to the enormous contribution they’ve made to UK society.”

“It’s a source of great sadness to me that we’ve seen no accountability for the war crimes committed against Tamils,” Villiers added. 

Virendra Sharma, MP for Ealing Southall said that the “campaign for justice is ongoing” and added that it is “important to educate the younger generation about our culture and what our forefathers suffered and why we’re still fighting for those rights.”

In his speech Paul Scully, MP for Sutton and Cheam, noted that London Assembly declared January as Tamil Heritage Month in 2022 and that it is a time to celebrate Tamil, the oldest living language. He went on to highlight the contributions Tamils have made to the NHS, business and politics in the UK.

James Murray, MP for Ealing North wished everyone a happy Thai Pongal and noted that since being elected in 2019, he has met with his Tamil constituents who have repeatedly explained the importance of justice, accountability and building peace and stability.

Dean Russell MP for Watford told the crowd that the Tamil community bring their "rich culture" to the UK and the Conservative Party will always support the Tamil community, particularly in their fight for justice.

The event was an initiative by the British Tamil Alliance in association with the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils. The event was supported by British Tamil Conservatives, International Centre for Prevention and Prosecution of Genocide, Tamil Education Development Council, Tamil Information Centre, Tamils for Labour, Tamil Students Initiative, Tamil Youth Organisation UK, Transational Government of Tamil Eelam and the World Tamils Historical Society, 

Tamil Heritage Month was introduced to London in 2022 by the London Assembly and is being marked by boroughs across the UK with significant Tamil communities.



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