Socialist Aotearoa editor Joe Carolan talked to Nirupa George, the Media Liaison officer for the Tamil Youth Organisation New Zealand
I would say I really became involved after I visited Sri Lanka in 2003- my extended family still live there- I never really had a chance to get to know my extended family due to limited contact due to the war, so really my motivation is not because I have family there but because all Tamils are my kith and kin.
Is there a big Tamil community here in NZ?
There is a relatively large community- in total, over 5000 in NZ, and of that 3000 in Auckland.
How do you see yourself politically?
Politically, I do not lean right, I am left wing and I support any oppressed people.
How did the present conflict in Sri Lanka begin?
The conflict began, in essence with the divide and rule policy of the British colonialist that built up a racial divide between the two races, Tamil and Sinhalese.
Yes exactly, and after they left, they left the government in the hands of the Sinhalese who then embarked on an oppressive regime.
There was government job discrimination, where Tamils weren't given jobs for being Tamil.
Then legislative discrimination, such as in education- in 1972 there was standardisation against Tamil students for Uni entrance, and they made over 1 million Tamils stateless by revoking their citizenship via statute- they also made Sinhalese the only official language. This was all of course before they got into the genocide of Tamils- this was the so called 'lawful' discrimination- used to fuel hatred.
Sri Lanka was once famous throughout the world for having a large, revolutionary socialist party that united Tamil and Singhalese workers. How did this give way to racism and Singhalese chauvinism?
Those who advocated for the rights of Tamils were killed and murdered
Unions and activists were brutally shut down, and such activities, were done by the government, but were used as propaganda to incite racial hatred.
It seems there was a strategy in Sri Lanka to divert the anger of the working class away from revolutionary socialism and into nationalist chauvinism.
Yes, because they are well aware that socialism will unite the people, so they divide and rule.
Is there much of a Sinhalese community here in Aotearoa? Are they racist towards you?
There is a community here, and they are not openly racist. But we have it on good authority they oppose the self determination of the Tamil on a political level.
Is there a divide within the Sinhalese people, and opposition to their murderous government?
Hardly, none that we have seen. We have never had the Sinhalese community here support us in opposing the Sri Lankan government.
What were the events and oppressions that led to the armed struggle of the Tamil people? Was there a specific event in the 70s, like Bloody Sunday in Ireland?
They shut down peaceful marches and protests. In 1974, the Tamil world conference was disturbed and many Tamil academics where murdered, and in 1977 there was a large riots in which many Tamils were systematically murdered., and on top of that, the killings of Tamil leaders who advocated for Tamil rights.
What is the current situation in Sri Lanka and what is it like for the Tamil people there?
The current situation in SL is that the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) have set up 'safety zones', areas which they claim civilians are safe in. But the truth of it is that these safety zones are actually open prisons were Tamils are trapped and then murdered by continued shelling and artillery attacks.
The so called 'safety zones' are just elaborate fronts to give the international community the impression that the SLA is protecting the civilians, but really they are orchestrating a mass murder campaign.
We know that at least over 400 people have died in the last week or so but it is almost impossible to confirm exact numbers as there are no independent Media in the area as the government won't allow them in. There are also no NGO groups in the area so a lot of the government atrocities are going unquestioned.
Is that why civilians are now fleeing with the fighters into the jungles, leaving ghost towns behind them?
Yes, because the SLA has a long and recorded history of killing Tamils so people do not trust them, and they have been proven right by all the killings that have happened recently. They are safer with the LTTE so they would rather go live in the jungle with fighters who look after them.
What is the history of the LTTE?
The LTTE has always advocated for the rights of the Tamil people- they have protected the Tamil people, especially after events like the tsunami. They provided food, aid, medical help, shelter and so forth when the government abandoned us.
And they are opposed by powerful international forces as well as the SLA?
Yes, all countries have a vested interest, for example India and the USA.
They will gain much from the LTTE being defeated as the north and east of SL has many resources such as deep water harbours that are essential for easy trade in that area
Would an independent Tamil state be a threat to them?
Yes, because the Tamil state will not be a puppet to foreign powers as the interest of the Tamil people will come first. Also they know if the LTTE prevail, it will send a message of hope to other freedom movements, and they don't want that eg- US with Palestine and India with its freedom movement groups
If the LTTE are militarily defeated, the resistance of the Tamil people will continue against an SLA occupation of their land?
Of course, because the LTTE are essentially the people- so until you kill off every single Tamil, the LTTE will never actually be defeated. As long as the Tamil people are oppressed, our resistance will continue
What can we do here in Aotearoa in solidarity with the Tamil people?
Most importantly, raise awareness, because so many people don't know due to lack of media reporting.
Also talk to your local MP and write to the foreign minister. And join us on Feb 4th to show the government that you support us- urge the govt to condemn the Sri Lankan government's genocide.
Urge NZ to help Norway push for peace, and to stop cricket tours of Sri Lanka or the Sri Lankan team visiting.
Do you have much faith in Western governments aiding the Tamil people, really? The same people who support the USA, Israel etc?
I personally have lost a lot of faith, but I remain hopeful.
Where is the demo on Wednesday Feb 4th?
At Aotea Sq, starting at 3PM-7PM a march at 5PM, also there are protests in Welly and Christchurch.
Socialist Aotearoa support the right of the Tamil people for national liberation. We will be there.
Thank you, your support means a lot to the Tamil community at this very distressing time
Our community is crushed because so many people have lost their relatives