Tamil Eelam is a proposed independent state in north and east Sri Lanka.
The Tamils are an ethnic group, traditionally from southern India and northern Sri Lanka. They have been dubbed by one BBC film maker as the ‘last surviving classical civilisation on Earth’ because the Tamil mainstream has preserved many cultural elements from their past.
Eelam is the Tamil word for Sri Lanka, so Tamil Eelam is literally ‘Tamil Sri Lanka’, a proposed state for the Tamil minority who occupy Sri Lanka, and feel that independence from the rest of Sri Lanka, which is mostly inhabited by people of Sinhalese ethnicity, would benefit them.
Between 1983 and 2009, a civil war was fought in Sri Lanka between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – more commonly known as the ‘Tamil Tigers’. It was a long and violent war, resulting in the deaths of over 100,000 people and the displacement of many more.
Roughly 75% of the population of Sri Lanka are Sinhalese. After independence from Britain in 1948, a series of increasingly anti-Tamil laws came into effect from a government dominated by Sinhalese people. Tamils were required to get higher test scores togain entrance to certain institutions than Sinhalese people, for example. Originally, it was proposed that English should be replaced as the official language of Sri Lanka by Sinhala and Tamil, but when the law came to pass only Sinhala became the official language. Many Tamil civil servants were forced to resign their posts as they were not fluent in Sinhala. Tamils from India found it almost impossible to get Sri Lankan citizenship, despite living in Sri Lanka since before independence.
With these and other official forms of discrimination against the Tamils in effect, the Tamil youth began to form armed militias and take part in acts of violence against the state. The biggest of these, the Tamil Tigers wanted to form an independent state. Eventually this violence escalated into a civil war which raged for nearly 25 years. A ceasefire was in effect between 2002 and 2009, but was broken when government forces moved their offensive north in early 2009. The Tamil Tigers admitted defeat in May 2009 and Tamil political parties dropped their call for independence in favour of a federal solution.
For the tactics they deployed, the Tamil Tigers were denounced as a terrorist organisation by many western powers, including the US, UK and EU as well as Sri Lanka and India. They described themselves as freedom fighters looking for the right to self determination, and point to the questionable human rights record of the Sri Lankan government as hypocrisy.
Third World Cup
The Tamil Eelam National Football Team was formed in 2012, to represent the Tamil diaspora across the world. There are around 76,000,000 Tamils worldwide – mostly in India and Sri Lanka, but with significant populations in the UK, Canada and France, where they get most of their players from.
They took part in the VIVA World Cup in 2012 (a forerunner to the ConIFA World Cup) and then the 2014 ConIFA World Football Cup. The polite way of describing their performances on the pitch at these tournaments is to day they had ‘mixed results’. They’ll be hoping to build on that experience and make a more concerted effort to get out of their group in the 2018 edition.