Kamala Harris’ Brahmin Tamil Roots: Ominous Portents for Sri Lanka?

Daya Gamage, in  Asian Tribune and Elanka.com  where the title runs thus: “Kamala Harris: Tamil Iyer Brahmin US VP for Sri Lanka Tamil reparation?”

As Joe Biden becomes the U.S. 46th president of the United States, Kamala Devi Harris will be sworn in as the Vice President on January 20 next year.

She is of South India’s Tamil Iyer Brahmin heritage. To date she has proudly retained her South Indian heritage – maintaining a certain level of the Tamil tongue – that could extend her vice-presidential reach to the South Asian region. Having a senior staffer of Sri Lankan Tamil-heritage, there is strong possibility that the Biden White House could add Sri Lanka’s ‘national issues’ or ‘ethnic issues’ as one of the US foreign policy planks  – once again – in the form of ‘Tamil reparation’.

Having had many conversations with those who are knowledgeable [about] Ms. Harris’ political outlook, I gained reports [on] the composition of her immediate top staff members [and an] in-depth study of Ms. Harris’ ethnic heritage. [I also obtained information on] the foreign policy planks of the Biden-Harris administration toward the Indo-Pacific region in which Sri Lanka is considered a vital ‘real estate’ (for the US) as declared by a senior State Department official early this year.

Vice President Kamala Devi Harris’ Tamil Iyer Brahmin roots could play a pivotal role in the new administration’s approach toward Sri Lanka’s national issues. Knowledgeable of the working of Senator Harris’ Washington office, one of my contacts confirmed that, as much as the Sri Lankan Tamil exodus to Tamil Nadu during the Tamil pogrom in 1983, she was, to some extent, aware of Sri Lanka’s ‘national issues’.

Her Tamil Iyer Brahmin heritage has retained throughout her life due to her mother’s strong influence. Ms. Harris’ and her extended family’s fight for civil rights can be a strong influence in her trajectory toward issues surrounding ethnicity in Sri Lanka well supported by her Sri Lankan-American top administrative person whose parents – Tamils from Jaffna –migrated to the U.S. during 1980s Tamil pogrom.

Sri Lankans living in their motherland and domiciled in foreign countries should take note of Kamala Devi Harris’ senior staff appointment to her Washington senate office who could end up in U.S. vice presidential office: her chief of staff Rohini Lakshmi Ravindran Kosoglu of Sri Lankan-Tamil origin, [was] invited by Senator Harris herself to be her deputy chief of staff in November 2016.

It should be noted here that when Hillary Clinton was US Secretary of State during and immediately after the Eelam War IV, her outlook toward Sri Lanka was shaped by those who were Americans of Sri Lankan Tamil heritage and by the influence of the Tamil Diaspora.

Her father Dr. Wijeyedevendram Ravindran has been a practicing emergency room physician for well over 35 years at the Community Medical Center in Tom River, New Jersey; he was from Jaffna and had his primary and secondary education in a leading private school in Colombo and higher medical education in a university in Sri Lanka’s capital city of Colombo. He and his wife immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1980s.

It needs to be mentioned here that Kamala Harris’ mother’s civil-rights activism starting in Berkeley, California in the 1960s—[and this work] was often mentioned in [Harris’s] speeches during her presidential campaign as an important influence on her. She points to her mother’s and grandfather’s support for civil rights in both countries as an important part of her heritage that made her want to enter public life.

“I come from a family of fighters,” Kamala Harris said in a speech at a Democratic Party campaign event last year.

Vice President-elect Kamala Devi Harris’ mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris who migrated to the United States in 1958, retained ties to her Indian homeland and had made regular visits to India, with her daughter, throughout her life. Kamala’s grandfather, P.V. Gopalan, used to share his thoughts on civil rights and democracy with Kamala Harris during family trips to the southern Indian city of Chennai, Tamil Nadu.

And her mother always considered her Iyer Brahmin heritage as pivotal to her life and her two daughters. The pinnacle of the caste structure of her native Tamil Nadu. Iyer is the title given to the caste of Hindu Brahmin. The complex politics of that region have caused many Tamil Brahmins to seek their fortunes elsewhere, including Silicon Valley in California.

Iyer is a caste of Hindu Brahmin communities of Tamil origin. Iyers fall under the Pancha Dravida Brahmin  sub-classification of India’s Brahmin community and share many customs and traditions with other Brahmins. [The] overwhelming majority of Iyers continue to thrive in Tamil Nadu. Tamil is the mother tongue of most Iyers residing in India and elsewhere. It is not a surprising that Kamala Devi Harris speaks Tamil although not very fluently..

Brahmins are an important constituent of the Sri Lankan Tamil minority. The Tamil Brahmins are believed to have played a historic role in the formation of the Jaffna Kingdom.

Knowledgeable of the working of Senator Harris’ Washington office, a contact confirmed to me that, as much as the Sri Lankan Tamil exodus to Tamil Nadu during the Tamil pogrom in 1983, she was, to some extent, aware of Sri Lanka’s ‘national issues’.

Given her Tamil Iyer Brahmin heritage, and her [possession of] ‘some’ knowledge of Sri Lanka gained from her senior staffer of Sri Lankan Tamil origin …. in her vice presidential office, one could safely project [that] – given the U.S. military expansion in the Indo-Pacific region with US-India cementing their military pacts in the final week of October 2020– Sri Lanka could be one of the policy planks in Biden-Harris’ overall policy deliberations.  ACSA, SOFA and MCC could play a significant role tied to Sri Lanka’s ‘national issue’ and the question of ‘Tamil reparation’.

……. It is advisable for the Mahinda-Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration to give some thought to a new foreign policy approach – before Biden and Harris take office on 20 January 2021.

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