What does the Vijay Sethupathi fiasco tell us about Tamil Nationalism?

The recent controversy over actor Vijay Sethupathi’s announcement that he would be playing Muttiah Muralitharan in the Sri Lankan cricketer’s biopic escalated rapidly. No sooner did Sethupathi tweet that he was ‘honoured’ to be part of the film than a barrage of opposition began to pour in, with the actor seemingly forced into withdrawing from the project just days later. Though Muralitharan is a person who used to elicit the wrath of Eelam Tamils on account of his long-standing support for Sinhala-Budddhist extremists, the incident became a cause célèbre not just in these quarters, but also across Tamil Nadu. The episode throws the limelight upon the growing sway of Tamil nationalism in Tamil Nadu and the deep solidarity with the Eelam struggle, particularly amongst the youth of the state. Tamil nationalism, across the global Tamil community, has considerable strength. Whilst this bodes well for the ideology in the political sphere, the episode also gave rise to certain questions from the counter-opposition. It is asked, what is wrong with making an apolitical film that charts the growth of Muralitharan’s cricketing career? The problem lies centrally with Muralitharan himself. Over the years, he has gone on to give ringing endorsements to those that led the massacre of the very people to whom the film is intended to be peddled. It should have sounded crass to the makers. It would have been impossible the portray the man without his politics.

Murali's tainted legacy

Sri Lanka’s famed cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan has always been a controversial figure. With tens of thousands around the globe airing their discontent over a Kollywood biopic to be made on the athlete, he has once more been pushed into the spotlight and sparked larger conversations over his legacy, Sri Lankan identity, and how sports and politics on the island are intrinsically entwined. As an athlete, Muralitharan broke several records. His unusual bowling action, which brought him fans as well as detractors, made him an international sensation. He toured the world, shrugging off the ‘chucker’ chants and abuse, to become the most successful bowler in test history. Despite his impressive record, he was never appointed captain of the national team - a fact simply accepted by many as simply part of the immovable everyday racism that all Tamils in Sri Lanka have to endure. Regardless, the fact that he was a Malayaga Tamil on a Sri Lankan team dominated by Sinhalese, won him fans. And though there was a small sense of pride that Muralitharan was the Sri Lankan cricket team’s lead wicket-taker, for many Eelam Tamils his rise to fame was coupled with a deep discomfort.

Tamil Journalists' safety remains in peril - Newsletter, 19 October 2020

Last Monday, Tamil Guardian correspondents Kanapathipillai Kumanan and Shanmugan Thavaseelan were brutally assaulted and hospitalised after working on an important story investigating illegal deforestation in Mullaitivu. Despite their perseverance and courage to continue their work in the face of the incessant scrutiny and intimidation over the years, this latest act of violence – one of the most violent encounters so far this year - adds to the deepening sense of fear and concern for press freedom across the Tamil homeland. The assault has sparked widespread concern - with statements of...

Journalists should never have to work in fear - A statement on the attack of our colleagues

On Monday the 12th of October, two Tamil Guardian correspondents were assaulted and hospitalised in a brutal attack in Mullaitivu. Our two colleagues, Kanapathipillai Kumanan and Shanmugan Thavaseelan, were working on an important story on illegal deforestation when they were set upon and attacked with iron rods. The vicious attack left them both with injuries that required hospital treatment. Both journalists had the evidence they had gathered deleted and money stolen. This assault of our colleagues is yet another blatant attack on the freedom of the Tamil press. It remains completely unacceptable and must be urgently addressed.

Why Australia needs a permanent war crimes investigation unit – Rawan Arraf

Writing in the Australian paper, The Age, Rawan Arraf, Director of the Australian Centre for International Justice, argues that Australia needs a “dedicated and permanent program” to investigate and prosecute war criminals in Australia. This call follows Australia’s Brereton inquiry, an inquiry lead by Major-General Paul Brereton, who has been investigating unlawful killings by Australia’s Special Air Force, since 2016. The inquiry has thus far investigated more than 55 incidents of alleged unlawful killings and cruel treatment of Afghan civilians and captured combatants. Australia’s Federal...

Resisting the crackdown - Newsletter, 5 October 2020

Last week, Tamils across the North-East carried out a hartal , the most widespread protest to take place since Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa came into power, demonstrating against Colombo’s ongoing campaign to ban commemorations of those who gave their lives for Tamil rights. Sri Lankan police ordered businesses across the homeland to re-open, but traders defied the orders, signaling their discontent with the regime. Whilst surveillance and intimidation are not novel techniques used by the governing powers on the island, security forces have recently intensified their crackdown...

The rising cost of dowry

Writing in “The Caravan”, Amita Arudpragasam, highlights how increasing militarisation, war loss, and social pressures are increasing the burden on “Tamil women [...] to marry at any cost, which usually means an expensive dowry”

Only lip service - Indian Express Editorial

The Indian Express said talks of implementing the 13th Amendment, as discussed between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, is a “charade that isn’t going anywhere” in its editorial last week, as it criticised the “lip service” that both governments pay to resolve the Tamil national question. During the meeting, Modi pushed Sri Lanka to take forwards “the process of reconciliation with the implementation of the 13th Amendment” to which the Sri Lankan PM responded noncommittally maintaining that Sri Lanka would “work towards realising the...

‘International actors facilitated the entrenchment of impunity in Sri Lanka’

Eleven years since Mullivaikal, the end of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict in which tens of thousands of Tamils were massacred by the military at the behest of the state authorities, Sri Lanka is no closer to delivering transitional justice to the Tamil people or bringing war criminals to justice, writes Professor Kate Cronin-Furman, in the Foreign Affairs magazine. “In its rush to celebrate Sirisena’s election as the dawn of a new democratic era in Sri Lanka, international actors facilitated the entrenchment of impunity and squandered a chance to protect vulnerable people,” writes Cronin-Furman. Whilst the previous government led by Sirisena put up a veneer of commitment towards ensuring accountability, the current Rajapaksa administration with their “unassailable mandate for their Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist politics and militaristic governing style spells disaster for human rights in Sri Lanka,” she adds.

Authoritarianism is on the rise in Sri Lanka – Abarna Selvarajah and Brannavy Jeyasundaram

Writing in Jacobin, Abarna Selvarajah and Brannavy Jeyasundara highlight the growing authoritarianism in Sri Lanka as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa plans to bring forwards a 20 th amendment to the constitution which will “expands the role of the presidential office and scales back constitutional checks and balances on executive powers”. The proposed amendment, which has been fiercely criticised, is aimed to replace the existing 19 th amendment, “which limits presidential powers by imposing term limits, [eliminates] presidential immunity from prosecution, and [requires] parliamentary oversight...

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