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"Remember the dead, fight for the living" - Tamil Solidarity webinar commemorates Mullivaikkal

Tamil political organisation, Tamil Solidarity, held a webinar called “Mullivaikkal Day 2020” to commemorate the 11th anniversary of the Mullivaikkal massacre.

The webinar took place on May 17th at 5PM GMT and discussed; the social, political and economic consequences of COVID-19; the Sri Lankan government’s continued efforts to oppress minorities; importance of working class Tamils and ways in which Tamil speaking people can organise to help with the struggle in Sri Lanka and the UK.

Tamil Solidarity stressed their slogan “Remember the dead, fight for the living” and the need to address the urgent task of fighting for the living. It was co-ordinated by host and Tamil Solidarity Youth and Union coordinator, Saarankan.

Four speakers engaged in the conversation;

- Isai Priya, Tamil Solidarity (TS) National Chair

-  Mithilen (Tamil Freedom Coalition CC member)

- Samanthi, TS UCL Tamil Society President (PC)

- Hannah Sell, General Secretary of the Socialist Party

National chair of TS, Isai Priya, started the conversation during the webinar and discussed her first political involvement.

“2009 is a year that will not be forgotten. Personally, this was when I first became active in politics. The 2009 protests were the first protests I attended consciously,” she said.

Priya also spoke about the current political regime and ongoing TNA crisis. She reiterated the strong need to “fight against oppression and to build solidarity among trade unionists, activists and students and build an allyship between workers” to ultimately support Tamils right to self-determination.

“The pandemic exposes the indivision in the minorities. It is also important to hold discussions with leftists and socialists in Sri Lanka,” she added.

Tamil Freedom Coalition CC Member, Mithilan, joined the conversation from Toronto, Canada.

Mithilan discussed the effects and legacy of the protests in Canada and also the role of working class Tamils in the protests.

“Working class Tamils amassed in the protests, such as factory workers. Prior to 2009, there were three waves of Tamil migration – in the latters 80’s and in the 90’s. Since then there has been a class divide within the Tamil community, with the rise of the middle class. Political parties have destroyed and dismantled leftist voices to raise moderate voices,” he said.

“The pandemic is an unprecedented time and it has shown the importance of working class Tamils. This can be seen in jobs such as frontline workers, but it is important to not put the workers on a pedestal and actually pay them better wages. Greedy landlords are still demanding rent,” he added.

“The protests were just the start and not the end,” he concluded.

UCL Tamil Society President, Samanthi, shared her tributes for Mullivaikkal and the emotional toll it also has on diaspora Tamils.

Samanthi added her views on how the younger generation could better discuss and hold discussions on the history and plight of Tamils.

“A lot of my generation felt a lack of obligation to be a part of the struggle. However, we have to pay attention to the small achievements we have made in this. 11 years on and almost every young person knows what Maaverar Naal and May 18 stand for. This shows undeniably how important these remembrance days are to the diaspora,” said Samanthi.  

Samanthi highlighted the importance to use the protests as an example of how Tamils can effectively mobilise to evoke a reaction for the Tamil cause;

“The aim now to turn this traction into something practical as opposed to cementing our struggle as an emotional sentiment of the past. It is easy to forget about what May 18 marked and evoked here. As a diaspora, we held the longest large-scale protest in recent history outside parliament. As a minority group we caused a temporary shutdown of London’s political centre. These powerful moments of mobolity neeed to be recalled with just as much conviction as other details. We need to turn our attention to creating a productive space for us to learn with direction in mind. This means educating the diaspora not only with history but by mentality.” 

Samanthi also talked about ways to effectively use platforms and spaces to educate and hold conversations of our struggle and not to solely rely on ‘social media activism’;

“We have demonstrated that we can hold meaningful discourse but the content is something we are misguided on. Even during quarantine, this has happened among diaspora. I have seen the Sri Lankan flag usage discourse discussed across multiple social media platforms but I struggle to see why this is given the main attention. In the context of things, it is the tip of the iceberg. It proves we can have these conversations and we need to use it in a more productive direction. If the resources are not there, we are here to create them. We need question, queries, suggestions and constructive criticism and this is how we will grow. Organisations can be intimidating so we need to start this dialogue within our friendship circles and at home.”

General Secretary of the Socialist Party, Hannah Sell voiced her thoughts on the sombre but powerful mass movement of the Tamils and their struggle.

She recalled the “streets of London filled with socialists, trade unionists and working class Tamils, showing power in the anti-war movement”

Sell also highlighted the “chauvinism and dictatorial approach under the veil of COVID-19, where there is ramped up militarisation and freeing and pardoning of war criminals.”

She explored the effect of the lockdown on working class people and how the current government’s handling of the pandemic is unacceptable. Sell highlighted that Newham is one of the two poorest boroughs in London and has mass poverty, low-income job workers and as such the abundance of Tamils in the Newham area.

“The capitalist crisis is exacerbating people’s suffering along with the COVID-19 crisis. The capitalist system only serves a few and they are implementing socialist measures to save their system and bail out the few at the top. Fight for socialism and join a trade union,” she said.

At the end of the webinar, there was a question and answer session with the participants. Questions explored themes such as how the pandemic has disproportionately affected Tamils – in particular, working class Tamils and other minorities such as Hill country Tamils and the Muslim communities both in Sri Lanka and the UK.

There were also discussions that stated, despite the low deaths in Sri Lanka, that an impending economic crisis is expected post COVID-19. This will result in increased starvation, deaths, wage cuts and poverty, affecting the poorer, working-class Tamils with cases already being seen in districts such as Killinochchi.