Image courtesy: @murukku
On Wednesday evening, the Peel District School Board in Canada made a welcome reversal. It retracted a tweet that was sent out ‘clarifying’ their position on the Tamil genocide, following pressure from Sri Lanka’s foreign office. Peel has now acknowledged that it was wrong to do so and accepted that its actions “resulted in pain to Tamil students, their families and the Tamil staff,” whilst pledging to recognise and support efforts around Tamil genocide education going forward. The move is a promising gesture and marks a victory for activists in Canada, in the Tamil homeland and around the world in their fight for accountability and justice.
The Sri Lankan state has for decades actively monitored and attempted to snuff out any recognition of the atrocities it has carried out against the Tamil people. Indeed, Colombo’s reaction to the school board’s initial tweet was not unexpected, given how its embassies worldwide have lashed out at restaurants, travel quizzes and football teams. Peel’s “clarification” though, which it claims was due “fears about student safety”, was damaging. And as it later acknowledged, it is a “significant mistake to imply that perspectives on a genocide needed to be balanced”.
What was remarkable in the days that followed was the Tamil community’s mobilisation – particularly the organisation of several youth activists based in Canada. Within days social media platforms were swamped with viral campaigns, QR codes with e-mail templates and calls for Peel to clearly acknowledge that what happened to the Tamil people was genocide. Inboxes and feeds were full with calls for recognition from across the globe. The message was clear – genocide is part of the Tamil nation’s history, lived experience and its identity.
The organisers were also right to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and raise the issue of anti-Black racism within the school board. Tamils also marched alongside the Black community this week and highlighted how Black students continue to face discrimination and higher rates of suspension. The struggle for Tamil liberation is rooted in anti-racism, and it is especially important that at a time when the anti-Black violence of state institutions is being highlighted worldwide, Tamils continue to build respectful and meaningful solidarity.
Peel’s decision to meet with the Tamil community and its subsequent apology is important. As the school board also rightfully stated with its support for the Tamil Genocide Education Week Act, it has a responsibility to help “ensure the heinous acts of the Tamil Genocide are learned, remembered and never happen again”. The board has also pledged to appoint an advisory group of Tamil community stakeholders, as well as work towards eliminating anti-Black racism and other forms of discrimination. Whilst this is encouraging, this moment must be used to ensure concrete steps are followed.
Though this move marks just one small victory, it is a microcosm of the enduring struggle for freedom from oppression that is taking place around the world and across the Tamil homeland. Sri Lanka has shown that no matter how small, from a flame lit in the North-East to a school board in Canada, it will continue its attempts to quash any flicker of Tamil resistance. Indeed Colombo has shown it will deploy diplomatic coercion, intimidation and even violence. Yet, this campaign by activists in the diaspora and the continued defiance of Tamils in the homeland has shown, it has not and will not succeed in securing submission. As a new generation of activists have demonstrated once again, the struggle for liberation continues.