one put Sikh and Tamil Canadians in the same boat?
by Senthil Ratnasabapathy
Certainly, both communities
have a number of commonalities: coming from South Asia, both Sikhs and
Tamils like to see themselves hard-working, prosperous people struggling
hard to integrate into the Canadian society while retaining their distinct
Both communities have
been very passionate about their support for the separatist cause, spearheaded
by militant groups of their respective communities in the ‘homeland’.
In the Sikh case, it was the campaign for Khalistan, a separate state to
be established for the Sikhs in the state of Punjab in India, and for the
Tamils it is Tamil Eelam, a separate Tamil state in north-eastern Sri Lanka.
In the Sikh case, as
with the Tamils now, the support of the Diaspora is not restricted to the
reportedly millions of dollars that is collected in Canada and sent to
support the struggle. Members of both Sikh and Tamil communities
have given up their comfortable life in Canada to join the militant movements.
Sadly, even though they may claim to be fighting for lost or non-existent
democratic rights, these democratic rights often are forgotten when it
comes to internal debate. In the heat of the struggle, dissension
is punished, and those who have different views prefer to keep silent,
lest they be accused of being ‘traitors’.
Perhaps this is where
the similarities end. For one thing, the Sikhs have a much older
history in this country, and one could certainly say that it was their
struggle for equality that paved the way for a better treatment of Tamils,
who began arriving in Canada in big numbers only since the latter part
of the nineteen eighties.
The Sikhs want to be
seen as a community that puts Canadian issues, as well as its place in
the Canadian society, close to its heart. For Tamil Canadians, it
appears that what still makes their hearts beat is what happens in Sri
Lanka, particularly in the northern and eastern parts of that island, and
not the developments in Canada.
However, the call for
participation in their new society is strong in the Tamil community.
Recently, a message posted in a Tamil newsgroup urged “socially conservative
Tamils” to support Stockwell Day, and indeed, although on the whole Tamils
are Liberals, more than 1,000 Tamils became members of the Alliance and
voted for Tom Long for Alliance leader in the first ballot.
The Sikhs have followed
their path, but where will the Canadian Tamils end up? The next generation
might be less inclined to feel so close to Sri Lanka. The Tamil students
association of a well-known Ontario university used to be the hotbed of
separatist as well as linguistic nationalism in the early part of the nineties.
Now union members are more keen on ‘having fun’, and meeting the opposite
sex. Perhaps this is the omen of things to come?