Tamils Nightly Vigil Continues in Federation Square, Melbourne
Melbourne’s Tamil community continues to protest against the ongoing genocide in Sri Lanka, which has seen thousands of Tamils locked up in camps, subjected to terrifying conditions by the Sri Lankan military, and often killed outright, while the Sri Lankan government works to block foreign media from entering. Earlier in the week, I reported on the existence of a protest group at Federation Square. Now, after seeing them there for the third night and talking to some of those involved, I’ve learnt much more about it.
The protestors have been gathering at Federation Square, every single weeknight, beginning around 5 and lasting until 6 or 7, for the past three weeks. Previous protests have gathered around Parliament and the State Library, but at these places, they were failing to attract much notice. Now they’ve found that at Federation Square, far more people can see them. Not only that, but they’re near the police station here, and in full public view – both of which make them safer from attacks by Sri Lankan ex-pat supporters of the genocidal regime. Recently there was an incident in which a group of pro-government Sri Lankans had been out drinking, and Tamil protestors were driving through the city on a pre-planned route. The government-supporters mobbed the Tamil cars and broadcast the incident on YouTube to make fun of them. Racism is a real issue for ethnic Tamils in the Sri Lankan community.
So they stand chanting slogans relating to Tamil independance, to stopping the genocide, and to the controversial resistance group the Tamil Tigers. This is a group controversial within the Tamil community; there have been internal disagreements about holding up the flag for the Tamil regions of Sri Lanka – a tiger on a red field (you can see it in the picture above) – because it’s derived from the Tamil Tigers flag. One of the reasons for the controversy is that when they were first forming, the Tamil Tigers engaged in some violent and self-destructive turf-wars with other resistance groups. But as one protestor explained to me, in the current state of things, the remnants of the Tigers are all that’s left: nobody else is even pretending to take up arms on the Tamils behalf.
Due to the exhausting nature of the campaign, they are not sure they can continue to hold nightly gatherings for much longer.
But even if the nightly vigil doesn’t continue, they intend to at least gather there every Friday night. Every Saturday, a protest is held in the city, usually beginning at Federation Square at about 11am, and moving to Parliament or to the State Library. Tomorrow, they are planning a human chain. On Sundays, they meet to revise their strategies, and we will see what happens from there. Their community has held hunger strikes and letter-writing campaigns, neither of which have moved the Australian Government to doing anything constructive at all for them.
The United Nations have refused to become involved in the Tamil’s plight, and the Western countries such as Australia, the USA and Britain have done little to place diplomatic pressure on the Sri Lankan regime. In fact, they have knowingly helped to create the problem. Until relatively recently, the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government have held an uneasy peace. It was the decision by countries (including Australia) to block aid to Tamil-held areas and to ostracise the Tamil Tigers as a “terrorist” group that gave the Sri Lankan government the motivation to invade the Tamil-held areas of the island nation, crush the Tigers, and begin a wave of military massacres, including the setting up of concentration camps, to brutalise the Tamil population.
We helped to create this disaster, and now we – or, should I say, our leaders, like Kevin Rudd – are turning our backs on the victims of the whole farcical “War on Terror”. A childish political fad for us has become a utterly real nightmare for them.
They have been joined by one of Melbournes often-ignored socialist groups, Socialist Alliance (they’re the ones that do Green Left Weekly), and various other members of the Melbournian community who don’t belong to any particular organisation (including one girl on her way home from school), who have often spontaneously joined in, to show their support and give them some safety in numbers. Tonight there was a Channel 7 van, making people hopeful that the media was starting to pay more attention to the issue – but it turned out they were just covering a gas leak down the street. Anyone is welcome to stand with them, and I certainly intend to in future. With the Australian Government and a fickle media awkwardly ignoring them, and the United Nations turning aside, change will only come from the ground up: through the actions and activism of people like those pictured above, and those who have come to stand with them.