A story on Burmese Tamil refugees who were displaced to Manipur, India, following a coup in the 1960s that led to race riots against ‘Indians’. Hundreds of Jaffna Tamils, who were brought to Burma as part of the British colonial apparatus, were also affected and returned to Ceylon in the wake of the violence. They are remembered as Rangun Tamils.
“When they reached the border crossing, Burmese soldiers prevented them from entering the country. The Tamils settled in Moreh hoping one day to return to their homeland – but those dreams have never been fulfilled.”
A Myanmar monk accused of inciting violence against Muslims and a hardline Buddhist group in Sri Lanka said on Tuesday they would work together to rally other Buddhist groups and defend their faith against militant Islamists.
Just like in Burma, the recent years have seen the unrest between the Buddhist majority and the Muslim minority on the upswing in Sri Lanka. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, general secretary of the Sri Lankan ultra-nationalist Buddhist organisation Bodu Bala Sena (BBS)—Sinhalese for Buddhist Power Force—actually claims to perceive an international Islamic conspiracy that aims at marginalising the Buddhists in Sri Lanka. He believes his organisation can unite all the Buddhists of the island and turn them into a nationalist force, thus countering this ‘foreseen’ Islamic threat. He has been widely accused of being the mastermind of many anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka and gained notoriety for publicly avowing his racist inclinations.
Former Sri Lankan Ambassador to the UN Dayan Jayatilake insists that the government is not taking concrete measures to curb the activities of extremist Sinhalese Buddhists in the country. “Everybody talks about the role of the Buddhist clergy in mobilising the mobs. And yet I don’t see sufficient robust efforts being made by the government or even voicing critique of such organisations as the BBS. Rioters and looters have been rounded up but nobody really knows how the investigations are proceeding.”
“People of Indian origin make up of roughly 2% of Myanmar’s 55-million population, but the experiences of Tamil people – who comprise the largest group – have veered from one extreme to the other in the past 200 years. After independence in 1948, the introduction of land reforms, the imposition of the Burmese language and the decision to give preferential treatment to the majority Burmese community pushed Tamils down in the social hierarchy. They are now trying to revive their language and culture by opening new schools.”
Myanmar also used to be home to a seizable Ceylon Tamil population of whom many later returned after independence as refugees to Jaffna and other parts of North and East.