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Unwarranted Prohibition

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The Tamil community in Britain was shocked and dismayed this week by the abrupt cancellation of its premier outdoor event, the ‘Tamil Sports Festival’ (TSF), and the suspension of a key event for the Hindus amongst them, the chariot festival of the Sri Murugan Temple in East Ham. In both cases, the relevant authorities are reported to have acted on undisclosed police advice. Thus the Tamil community’s sense of consternation has been heightened by a lack of clarity on what police concerns about “serious disorder both at the event and in the surrounding community” might be.

After all, both events are long-standing fixtures on the Tamil social scene, drawing visitors from across the UK and, more recently, from Europe. Only on one occasion – in 1999 - have the organisers of the Sports Festival stopped the event – and that, moreover, after a single spectator attempting to gain entry pulled a gun on another in a private dispute. That the local authorities which last week withdrew their support for the Sports Festival cited “a history of crime and disorder associated with similar events” is thus even more perplexing. Indeed, tens of thousands have attended the ever expanding TSF in past years. There has been negligible crime, particularly given the visible, but friendly, police presence as well as guards from a well-known private security firm. Indeed, the Metropolitan Police has even conducted recruitment fairs at these events, as has the London Fire Brigade.

There is speculation in the community that the police concerns stem from increasing violence amongst gangs of Tamil youth. This is an acknowledged problem and organisers of all events are conscious about such difficulties (indeed, the TSF’s organisers this year had again paid for extra police and private security after detailed planning discussions with local authorities). However, the solution to this problem is surely for British law enforcement authorities to work closely with the Tamil community in identifying and prosecuting these criminal elements. By way of comparison, the problem of football hooliganism in Britain has not been addressed by simply cancelling matches. Indeed, British police forces have quite rightly stressed the importance of community involvement in tackling crime. Whilst the police are justifiably seeking greater assistance from the Tamil community, the latter is in turn bewildered as to why British law enforcement authorities have not paid more attention to the increasing violence by Tamil gangs, both against each other and law abiding people.

Meanwhile, the drastic measure of cancelling the Tamil community’s leading events sends exactly the wrong signals to all concerned: that we are an inherently disorderly people with criminal tendencies. The cancellation of the TSF - and the abrupt and antagonistic manner it was affected - has disrupted relations built over the years by the Tamil community with local authorities, other communities and the Police itself. And it still leaves the problem of gang violence. Comprising successive waves of immigrants and refugees since the sixties, Britain’s Tamils, whilst maintaining close ties to their traditional homeland, form a law abiding and established community. They are actively seeking - and deserve - the support of the authorities and police in hosting their public events and living safely.

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