Arumugam says older community leaders don’t understand new migrants’ needs
Founding president and Public Officer of Australia’s largest Tamil association, the Australian Tamil Association (ATA), Thiruvengadam Arumugam says that his five-year-old association has become the umbrella organisation of the Tamil community in Australia when no other organisation was capable of or interested in this role. According to Arumugam, previous Tamil associations were organised along regional and national interests, and were preoccupied with their own clannish cultural activities. Arumugam says that till recently it was rare to find Tamils from India, for example, speaking up against human rights violations against Tamils in Sri Lanka or supporting the cause of Tamil refugees in Australia.
Arumugam is one among many younger migrants who believe that the migrant communities of the 1970s and 1980s are of little use to the migrant communities of the last two decades. Arumugam says that older migrants were beneficiaries of greater state support and have had an easier time settling in Australia. According to Arumugam, today’s Tamil migrant in Australia is an entirely different migrant, with different skills and social expectations, and s/he faces a very different set of challenges in Australia.
Arumugam says that,in this context, it is important to be aware that the older associations and leaders of the community have little to offer newer migrants. He believes that leaders of the older and well-settled leaders of the Tamil community have lost touch with ground realities and were simply setting themselves up as spokespersons for the community with a view to enjoy political patronage and social status.
According to the last Australian census, there are more than 50,000 Tamils in Australia, representing 0.2% of the population. Arumugam says that his organisation, with a dozen other Tamil associations, played an active role in getting Tamils in Australia to come forward to get counted in the census. These numbers have helped the Tamil associations get four slots on prime time SBS radio.
Arumugam says that Tamil unity is an opportunity that previous generations of Tamil migrants in Australia were not interested in and it was high time the migrants who arrived in the last two decades changed that.He says that it is important to work for the welfare of the entire Tamil community in Australia, and not just for Indian or Malaysian or Sri Lankan Tamils. Arumugam is of the view that despite their widely different national or social origins a Tamil community able to work together would be in the interests of every Tamil and it is short-sighted for Tamils from Indian or Tamils from Sri Lanka or Malaysia or Africa not to want to work together as a community so they could realise the potential that only numbers can give in a democracy.
The Tamil community is spread all over Sydney, although, like other Indian communities, the western and north-western suburbs have the highest concentrations of Tamil speaking people. Arumugam says that most Tamils in Sydney are from Sri Lanka although Tamils from India form a huge chunk of the community.
Arumugam’s call for unity is nothing new for a south Asian association; Indian associations have always raised the banner of unity for a variety of reasons. It will be interesting to watch in the months and years ahead how this call for unity pans out in the day-to-day life and challenges of the Tamil community down under.