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Eezham Tamils should register their identity in UK Census 2011

[TamilNet, Friday, 11 March 2011 09:46 No Comment]

UK National Statistics has circulated forms to all residents in UK to take census for 2011. “What is your ethnic group” is Question 16 of the form. 16 C is for people of Asian/ Asian British background. Under that Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Chinese are mentioned by name. Others have to specifically write in their ethnic background under the column “Any Other Asian Background.” Whether citizens of UK or just residents, Tamils originating from the island called Sri Lanka today, should write in their ethnic identity as Eezham Tamils. Apart from all contemporary politics, Eezham is the oldest ethnic identity claimed for at least 2000 years by Tamils hailing from the island, as testified by literature and inscriptions. Equally important is answering Question 18 that Tamil is their main language.

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A householder, who migrated from the island to today’s Tamil Nadu 2000 years ago and issued inscription in Tamil, identified himself as Eezha-kudumpikan in the Thirupparangkun’ram Tamil Brahmi inscription, dated to first century BCE/ CE.

A Changkam Tamil poet of the dawn of the Common Era from the island was called Eezhaththup-poothan-theavanaar, while even foodstuff coming from the island was known as Eezhaththu-u’navu in another Changkam Tamil literature, Paddinappaalai.

Eezham is a word standing for the entire island, and Eezham Tamil is the appropriate ethnic identity for Tamils who have their ancestry in the island and want to linguistically differentiate their ethnic identity evolved in the island.

The term in no way offends any other ethnicity in the island or go contrary to the identification of the island as a geographical entity. In fact, it is a cognate of the usage of E’lu or He’la by which the Sinhala ethnicity that evolved in the island too identifies itself.

The Muslims of the island also could identify them as Eezham Muslims (indicating that they are Muslims, belong to the entire island, linguistically use Tamil but at the same time different from Tamil identity if they want to claim so).

Sri Lanka (not Lanka/ Ilangkai) is a term conceived only in the 20th century and was made official in the 1972 constitution by political forces that denied the pluralism of nations and ethnicities in the island.

Eezham Tamils as a nation in the island have rejected the constitution itself, along with the Sri Lanka identity, through the democratic process of ballot in 1975 (KKS by-election specifically on the issue) and in 1977 general elections in which they endorsed the Vaddukkoaddai Resolution.

But, ‘state sovereignty’ upheld by international establishments force the Eezham Tamils to carry an imposed identity in official identifications. The Eezham identity of geographical and cultural connotations, having democratic endorsement in politics too, has been even vilified in recent times by some establishments that attempt to put a ‘terrorist’ tag onto it.

Identity comes in two ways, self claimed and imposed: how one wants to call oneself and how others call one by imposing an identity.

When there is space for one to indicate one’s wishes about identity, the space has to be made use of. Otherwise one will only concede to the imposed identity and associated psychological subservience intended by one’s oppressors.

It should be noted that Question 16 in the UK census form is not asking for one’s national identity. The question is on the ethnic group. But the questionnaire is misleading by coming out with some lead examples such as Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Chinese.

These are not in fact ethnic groups, and the examples should not condition the ethnicities to confuse their cherished identities with that of the national identities either imposed or accepted. It would be ideal for Tamils coming from Tamil Nadu and other countries such as Malaysia, Singapore etc to skip the Indian column and to go for the ‘other’ column, writing in as Indian Tamil, Malaysian Tamil etc., or as Tamil in general, depending on their preference.

Even the Question 15 on national identity in the census form, by its phrasing “How would you describe your national identity” and by listing, English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, British and Other (asking to write in), implies that there is space to express one’s aspired national identity too. British Eezham Tamils should explore how this could be made use of in relation to perspectives that dynamically evolve in the UK. There are possibilities that Eezham Tamil citizens of UK could claim even their national identity as British Eezham Tamils under question 15 of the confidential document.

Question 18 of the census form is “What is your main language” and under that English and other (to write in) are mentioned.

The Australian Eezham Tamils made a big blunder in the past by saying in the census forms that they ‘speak English at home’. They lost the cultural facilities, lost the political clouts and above all sent wrong signal to their own posterity on the language that should be used at home.

The Eezham Tamils, estimated to be living in large numbers in the UK, should never make that mistake. Their main language should always be asserted as Tamil. This is particularly important to Tamil identity, as unlike many other identities that are based on religion, race, geography etc., the Tamil identity solely depends on the language.

The posterity will search for its genealogy one day and proper identity in proper terminology has to be set by the present generation.

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