Migration and Diasporas
This paper builds upon and updates earlier research conducted soon after the 2009 defeat of the LTTE. This work investigated the possibility of a trans-state Tamil diaspora encompassing Tamils of diverse state origins (Sri Lankan, Indian, Malaysian and Singaporean) in the UK.
Framed by Werbner’s (2002) conceptualization of diasporas as ‘aesthetic’ and ‘moral’ communities, this research found that identification with an ‘aesthetic’ diaspora (linguistic, religious and material) was expressed unproblematically by Tamils of diverse state origins – able to transcend differences in migration and settlement trajectories, and varied relationships with ‘the homeland’ experienced by national sub-groups within the UK’s Tamil population. However, the domain of diasporic political engagement - the ‘moral’ community – was subject to contestations; with the traumatic experience of war and exile bonding Sri Lankan Tamils while serving as a clear point of ‘othering’ from Tamils of different origins. Meanwhile, some of these ‘others’ too differentiated themselves, citing perceived ‘extreme’ nationalism among Sri Lankan Tamils and fear of association with the LTTE – proscribed as a terrorist organization in India and the UK. Others though, offered a contradictory narrative by claiming membership of a ‘community of suffering’ through evocations of symbolic Tamil victimhood or primordial understandings of ethnicity. Drawing on documentary and original empirical research, the paper reflects on the endurance or transformation of these contradictory narratives of pan-Tamil identity in the post-war decade – an era in which the dominance of the LTTE (a seeming limiter of pan-Tamil identification) has been supplanted with new transnational formations.