Fahim and I were watching the news while we ate breakfast – this is a fairly usual thing for us. We get local news by local newscasters, CNN with an Asian emphasis, and Channel News Asia. This morning, we watched the local news.
The LTTE – aka Tamil Tigers – have had a rift lately between the North and the East. I’ve mentioned this before on – nope, I checked, and it doesn’t appear as though I have, I just thought about it.
Sometime around the time of the elections, the Northern LTTE and the Eastern LTTE decided to have a fight. The eastern tigers thought that the northern tigers weren’t protecting their interests.
But wait, they’re all Tamils, right? So don’t they want exactly the same thing?
Yeah. No. It doesn’t work quite that way.
See, Tamils came to this country in two separate waves. The Tamils from the north, or the Jaffna area, which was previously the Jaffna Kingdom, migrated over from about 300 BC to about 1200 AD and were already firmly established by the 14th century.
Then in the 19th century, more Tamils from India – the Tamil Nadu state (or is it province? I don’t know . . .) increased the Tamil population – they came over primarily to work on plantations – but these Tamils settled primarily in the east. And yes, distinctions are made here between the old settled Tamils and the new migrant Tamils. Hence the conflict between the northern and eastern Tamils.
Also called the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Indian Tamils. Never mind that they all came from the same place. Never mind that they all speak the same language. Never mind that, if you go back far enough, they share the same ancestry. Never mind that they’re all Hindu. Here, that doesn’t seem to count.
I think they’re all being dumb.
Back to original topic.
The Tamils in the north and the east were originally united under the Tamil Tigers, or LTTE, banner, but now they’re not. The northern Tamils have kicked the eastern Tamils out. There was bombing, shooting, and other forms of killing and violence going on between them after the election. I think it’s over, but I’m not really sure. I would hasten to add, though, that it may not be safe to travel in those areas. On the other hand, maybe it is. Give an hour and it can change, I’m thinking.
You know what the really funny thing is?
Try picking out a Tamil versus a Sinhalese person in a crowd. I can’t do it. I wondered if it was just me, being the pasty white foreigner. Statistics, after all, show that a person has a more difficult time distinguishing unique individuals in a crowd when they’re not of his own race. That’s a statistic used frequently in American criminal court systems – or so television would have us believe. White people have a hard time picking out the correct black person in a line up. What’s not so frequently mentioned is that black people have an equally hard time picking out the correct white person in a line up. Or latino person. Or Asian person. Or . . . But you get my drift. I hope.
So I thought maybe it was just me. So I asked. I asked Sinhalese people. I asked Tamil people. The universal response? Nope, there’s no way to distinguish one from another just by looking at them. They all look the same. Most Muslims, too, although there, with the women, you’ve got a lot of them covering their hair, so that’s a built in cheat.
Back when the war was in full swing, people would have to prove their ethnic background to avoid being beat up or otherwise brutalized. How to do that when physically, there’s nothing any different between a Sinhalese and a Tamil and a Muslim? Yeah, good question.