When I visited Jaffna recently, like all those returning home after years away I too sensed feelings of nostalgia welling up inside. This was my first visit in six years, and almost 25 since I had last lived in Jaffna, as an 11-year-old. The opening lines are by A E Manoharan, the Tamil pop star and baila singer who took Jaffna by storm in the 1970s – a time when, in my mind, Manoharan was more popular than the youthful leaders of the militant movements who would emerge soon enough. I have vague memories of going to an open-air Manoharan concert, sitting on the bicycle bar as one of my relatives rode us to where we could hear the loudspeakers. Incidentally, Manoharan composed “Ilangai enpathu”, with its reference to the palmyra fruit, two decades before rights activist Rajani Thiranagama and her colleagues would write The Broken Palmyra, for which she would be murdered.
The waves of boat people in October 2008 made headline news in Australia. So did “Alex” of the Jaya Lestari. The Australian media stirred the pot: they ran with both the hares and hounds. They catered to the sympathy for these people among Australians of liberal disposition who regard all asylum-seekers as victims of intolerable situations. In the same breadth they promoted opposition to illegal migrants by underlining the surge in numbers of these “queue-jumpers.”
Alex is at the heart of this conundrum. He also underlines the “double act” performed quite deliberately by some arms of the media. Investigative reporters at Merak, where the Jaya Lestari is berthed, chose initially to present his voice without probing deeper. Alex became the face of the poor persecuted Sri Lankan Tamil people fleeing their homeland, victims of persecution. The details attached to this message included: (a) they had embarked in Malaysia and were heading for Australia; (b) passages could have cost as much as 15,000$; (c) Alex himself, as befitting his Canadian accent, had been educated abroad, but was deploying a pseudonym because his wife and children would be in danger from the Sri Lankan government.
This essay was also presented by the LANKA GUARDIAN web site: seehttp://www.srilankaguardian.org/ on 19 November 2009. The Editor of that site chose to highlight the following segment within: “Some Tamil people were caught in a pincer between the Sinhala-dominatedgovernment devil on the one hand and the Tiger demon on the other. Significantly, whether fleeing from one or the other, or, more generally,the crucible of war, many chose Tamil-speaking Tamilnadu as their destination. This critical pool of migrants has not been consideredseriously within the present debate in Australia.”
In recent months illegal migrants from Sri Lanka have been at the centre of turbulent debate in Australia. While the main focus has been on Sri Lankan Tamils that of a few Sinhalese boat people has gone under the radar. Among them were 12 Karava Catholic fishermen from the Negombo area who landed on the West Australian coast in November 2008. They expressed fears of bodily harm from both the government and the Tigers, a claim accepted blithely by human rights advocates (Weekend Australian 17-18 Oct. 2009). This tale together with that of little Brindha, the little Tamil girl highlighted on Australian television, informed my conviction that some migrants from all ethnic groups who take the illegal path indulge in “white lies”. But note this verdict did not lead me to the conclusion that they should automatically be rejected by Australia.
Thuppahi's Blog · This web site presents the interventions of MICHAEL ROBERTS in the public realm with reference to Sri Lankan political affairs. It will embrace the politics of cricket as well. ROBERTS was educated at St. Aloysius College in Galle and the universities of Peradeniya and Oxford. He taught History at Peradeniya University and Anthropology at Adelaide university. He is now retired and lives in Adelaide.