CR de Silva’s Appraisal & Report on Amarasingam’s Study of Tamil Activists in Canada

Chandra R. de Silva:  “Report on Amarnath Amarasingam’s Pain, Pride and Politics: Sri Lankan Tamil Activism in Canada being a Reader’s Confidential Review of a Book Mss sent in response toa request from the publishers …. a book that has since appeared in print as  under the imprint of the University of Georgia Press (2015)

Although the emergence of diasporic communities is not a new phenomenon, the increasing mobility of peoples and the revolution in telecommunications in recent times has made this emergence increasingly important, both to the host countries and to the original ‘homelands.’ The work under review is an examination of diasporic politics based on a case study of Sri Lankan Tamils in Canada, with particular focus on activism between December 2008 and May 2009. The author has two objectives. One is to give a scholarly analysis of reactions of diasporic Tamils in Canada at a time when the separatist Tamil movement was being crushed by the Sri Lankan armed forces. The second and related objective is to examine and revise currently accepted analytical frameworks relating to diasporic communities. The result is an excellent volume that makes a valuable contribution to the understanding of a particular diasporic group while making a useful contribution to the theoretical literature in the area.

The first chapter of the book is a good summary of the origins of the civil war in Sri Lanka. It is a difficult chapter to write because of the various divergent and contested accounts of the origins of the conflict. The author has performed well in providing readers with a careful, balanced account based on good secondary sources. This chapter provides necessary background information for those who might not be familiar with the historical events in Sri Lanka and also gives a clear description of events in Sri Lanka in 2008-09 which precipitated the Tamil diasporic reaction that is at the heart of this volume.

Chapter 2 is an excellent study of the way in which changes in Canadian immigration policy influenced the constitution of the Tamil diasporic community in that country. While there are good general surveys of Canadian asylum and immigration policies, this is a first rate analysis of the examination of such policies on the formation of a diasporic community. The author uses the case study to illustrate how the that the composition of a diaporic community is influenced by immigration policies of the host country as well as the events in the original ‘homeland.’

The study of the reaction of the Canadian Tamil community to events in Sri Lanka discussed in Chapter 3 provides significant original contributions to knowledge. The author, being a Tamil living in Canada and an academic, was well placed to interview a number of key figures in the protests and is thus able to provide a picture of the motivations for, the complexity of, and the divisions within, the Tamil protest movements in Canada. He clearly recognizes and explains the ways in which the Canadian political structure and political context facilitated and limited the protests. The chapter deals with a number of issues that go beyond the specific case of the Tamils in Canada. For example, he deals with the extent to which participation in a protest arises out of multiple motivations but could also eventually lead to enhanced community awareness and organization building. Throughout the volume, theoretical discussions are well linked to and illustrated by empirical data.

The next chapter on internal rivalries and the emergence of new leadership structures among diasporic Tamils in Canada and elsewhere after 2009 deals with developments in the diasporic Tamil community worldwide within the context of the difficulties of developing a professional leadership after the death of a charismatic leader. The chapter uses the case study to deal well with some theoretical issues relating to the transfer of leadership.

The last chapter deals with the construction of a ‘hybrid identity’ among immigrants when they try to balance feelings of loyalty to the new country of which immigrants are citizens with concerns about the land of origin. The author skillfully uses interview data to illustrate the ways in which individuals and groups deal with such issues.

In summary, this is a well written, well organized survey of the reaction of the Tamil diasporic community to the military defeat of the separatist movement in Sri Lanka in 2008-09. It is based on a balanced reading of secondary sources and a great deal of new material obtained through interviews. It is clearly written and easy to read. Because it deals with some theoretical issues relating to diasporic communities, it should be of interest to scholars and administrators who are interested in the wider field. I do not see this work as a prescribed text for a course (except one dealing specifically with the subject) but it should be part of the recommended reading for graduate courses on diasporic studies and on South Asian studies. For this reason, I expect it to sell well among university libraries. There will also be a market in the Tamil diasporic community.

Fervour displayed during Tamil demonstrations in Toronto in 2009 (see Pic No. 135 in Tamil Person and State, Pictorial)


Tamil Guardian 2009 “Diaspora Tamils protest, fast in increasing numbers; call for ceasefire,” 15 April 2009,

Roberts, Michael 2011 “People of Righteousness march on Sri Lanka,” The Island, 22 June 2011 and

Roberts, Michael 2011 “Amnesty International reveals its Flawed Tunnel-Vision in Sri Lanka in 2009,” 10 Aug. 2011,

Roberts, Michael 2011 “Sheridan challenges Jegan’s Attempt to universalize Rights and McClelland trumps it,” 26 October 2011,

Roberts, Michael 2011 “Incorrigible Watchdogs of the Human Rights World,” 24 October 2011,

Roberts, Michael 2012 “Inspirations: Hero Figures and Hitler in Young Pirapaharan’s Thinking,” Colombo Telegraph, 12 February 2012, http://thuppahi. velupillai-pirapaharan-veera-maranam/… rep. in TPS: Essays, 2014: 69-89.

Roberts, Michael 2014 “Generating Calamity, 2008-2014: An Overview of Tamil Nationalist Operations and Their Marvels,” 10 April 2014,

Roberts, Michael 2014Truth Journalism? Marie Colvin hoist on her own Petard,” 5 November 2014,

Roberts, Michael 2014 Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.

Roberts, Michael 2015 “Targeting Sri Lanka by playing ball with Tamil Extremism,” 24 July 2015,

Roberts, Michael 2015 “A Drama in Four Acts: A Drama in Four Acts: Dishonest Reportage by Amnesty International and Aussie Journalists remains Unmasked,” 2 September 2015,


Leave a comment

Filed under accountability, asylum-seekers, atrocities, authoritarian regimes, centre-periphery relations, communal relations, cultural transmission, discrimination, disparagement, education, Eelam, ethnicity, foreign policy, heritage, historical interpretation, human rights, Indian Ocean politics, legal issues, life stories, LTTE, nationalism, patriotism, politIcal discourse, power politics, prabhakaran, press freedom, propaganda, Rajapaksa regime, refugees, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, slanted reportage, sri lankan society, Tamil migration, tamil refugees, terrorism, the imaginary and the real, truth as casualty of war, unusual people, vengeance, war reportage, world events & processes

Leave a Reply