Tamils and the Nation: India and Sri Lanka Compared

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Tamils and the Nation: India and Sri Lanka Compared
Madurika Rasaratnam

Why are relations between politically mobilized ethnic identities and the nation-state sometimes peaceful and at other times fraught and violent? This book sets out a novel answer to this key puzzle in world politics through a detailed comparative study of the starkly divergent trajectories of the “Tamil question” in India and Sri Lanka from the colonial era to the present day. Whilst Tamil and national identities have peaceably harmonized in India, in Sri Lanka, these have come into escalating and violent contradiction, leading to three decades of armed conflict and simmering antagonism since the civil war’s brutal end in 2009.

The book links these differing outcomes that emerged from similar starting conditions and comparable historical conditions to distinct and contingent patterns of political contestation and mobilization in the two states. Indian patterns of political mobilization and contestation produced a nation-state inclusive of the Tamils, whilst in Sri Lanka, a different pattern of politics produced a hierarchical Sinhala Buddhist nation state hostile to Tamils and their claims.

The analyses situate these dynamics within changing international contexts and set out how these once largely separate patterns of national-Tamil politics, and Tamil diaspora mobilization, are increasingly interwoven in the post-war internationalization of Sri Lanka’s ethnic crisis. The processes of national identity are therefore central to the analysis of ethnic conflict and have implications for its management.

Part One
1 The Origins
2 Becoming National
3 Becoming National
4 Tamils in the Nation
5 Nations Apart
Part Two
6 Sri Lanka’s Civil War
7 Sri Lanka’s Civil War
8 Tamil Nationalism Today
Keywords: EthnicityNationalismNation-stateIndiaSri LankaTamilSinhala BuddhistCivil warEthnic conflictNational identity


Grounds exist for separate Tamil nation demand’

27th December 2010

MARAIMALAI NAGAR: In a dramatic assertion Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi president Thol. Thirumavalavan on Sunday said the reasons for demanding a separate nation for Tamils hold good even now as was put forth by DMK founder Arignar Anna when the late leader gave up the demand for separate Dravida Naadu four decades ago.  Taking a cue from the US, he sought a separate flag for each State government in India, besides our country being rechristened as the United States of India.

“I am not demanding a separate nation for Tamil people. But, there are enough reasons to make such a demand,”  Thirumavalavan said citing the popular quote of Anna Durai.  Questioning the federal system, he said that the present arrangement was not an equitable system of power-sharing. “It is only a coalition government,” he said while speaking at the Tamils Sovereignty conference organised by the party at Maraimalai Nagar near Chengalpattu in Kancheepuram district. 

He said that real sovereignty meant unbridled powers to the State government on a whole lot of issues. Reminding the DMK style of politics of the 1950’s he demanded complete decentralisation of powers enabling the States to take a call on various issues including education and land rights.  Stating that several vital powers were vested with the Centre, the VCK leader demanded that the concurrent list of the constitution be shifted to the State list. “When Tamils were butchered in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu fishermen were killed by the  Lankan forces, the State government was helpless as the real power to act vested with the Union government,” he substantiated his argument.  Resolutions to revoke LTTE ban: VCK has sought the world nations including India and the US to revoke the ban on Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam — a banned terrorist organisation in several countries. 

A resolution to this effect was adopted at the Tamils Sovereignty Conference.  Pointing out that LTTE fought only against the Sri Lankan defence forces and did not wage a war against the innocent Sinhalese community, the resolution said the organisation (LTTE) was indeed a revolutionary movement.  The conference also urged the TN government to release the convicts involved in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who are languishing in jails for many years including Nalini and Perarivalan.

Also, those accused in the Coimbatore blast case must be released on similar lines.  Arguing that economic sanctions must be imposed on Sri Lanka in the backdrop of attacks on Tamil fishermen hailing from Southern Tamil Nadu, the party categorically demanded the Centre to get back Katchchateevu from the neighbouring island nation.  The party also stressed the need for bringing total prohibition to Tamil Nadu. Underscoring that the policies of the State government have darkened the future of youngsters, who are becoming alcoholics at a young age, the resolution appealed to Chief Minister M Karunanidhi to close down all TASMAC liquor shops.

Additional reading …


The fall and rise of the Tamil Nation by V.Navaratnam former MP



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Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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