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Tamils talk about their reluctant protest

Feb 5th, 2009 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

SHANDRA does not want to protest.

Like most Tamils living in New Zealand, he is scared his family remaining in Sri Lanka will be punished – or just disappear – if he talks in public about the escalating civil war.

Shandra with daughters Shamanthi (L, 11) and Mythili (14) and wife Balakumari

Shandra with daughters Shamanthi (L, 11) and Mythili (14) and wife Balakumari

But this week, despite their fears, more than 120 of Wellington’s Tamil community took to the streets to ask for support for people back home.

They began with whispered chants in Queens Wharf.

But by the time they had walked down Lambton Quay to Parliament, men, women and children were shouting together: “Sri Lanka – stop killing Tamils.”

Shandra came to New Zealand 12 years ago, fleeing the bloody conflict which has raged between the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers for more than 25 years.

The 46-year-old father of three tried to sail to India, but was stopped and held at gun-point for hours, while the Sri Lankan navy searched the boat in vain for Tamil Tiger fighters.

He has 28 family members – sisters, brothers, nephews, nieces, and cousins – still living in Puthukudirupu, in the middle of some of the worst fighting.

“I didn’t hear any message from them,” he says grimly.  “We cannot eat, we are very worried.”

Tamil protestors leave Queens Wharf

Tamil protestors leave Queens Wharf

Mani Maniparathy, a business management consultant, came to New Zealand 20 years ago. 

He was at Wednesday’s protest because he says in government-run camps families are separated, sexual violence is common, and many Tamils have just disappeared.

“We are talking about the normal people,” he says.  “Political settlement is far away, we can talk about it another day.”

The Tamil Society usually runs sports days, cultural events and Tamil classes, so children will hold onto their parent’s language.

They stepped in to organise the protests in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch on Sri Lankan Independence Day, because of the family connections back home. 

Society president Ram Sri Ramaratnam compares the situation to Kosovo and Bosnia, and says unless United Nations monitored safe havens are set up, many Tamils will disappear.

Secretary Siva Naguleswaran agrees, and says more than 200,000 Tamil people are trapped in war zones.

Secretary Siva Naguleswaran with son Keeran, 2.

Secretary Siva Naguleswaran with son Keeran, 2.

“Each time we think it cannot get any worse, it does.”

“The UN and NGOs [non-governmental organisations] need to be given full access to trapped civilians.  There needs to be an immediate cease-fire.”

Green MP Keith Locke, Labour MP Grant Robertson and United Future MP Peter Dunne met the protestors on the steps of Parliament, and accepted letters asking the New Zealand Government to support setting up safe havens for Tamil civilians.

An official from the Foreign Office accepted a letter on behalf of Murray McCully, Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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is a student journo who loves to write. Her interests, apart from media slavery, include social justice, music, sports and gardening. Preferably a combination of all four. She doesn't know yet what she wants to be when she grows up.
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