The multiple waves of migration of Tamils from Sri Lanka, since post-independence in 1948, both internally as well as internationally, fragmented and dispersed the community even further. In 1981 non-Indian Tamils amounted to 1,900,000 out of which 200,000 Tamils or 14% of all displaced, entered Europe seeking political asylum. Switzerland is important since it had the largest relative Tamil population in Europe amounting to 42,000 in the late 1980s. It is notable that the initial groups of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka began to arrive in Switzerland in 1980 even before the Black July Pogrom. In 1983 approximately 7,000 Tamils left from Sri Lanka towards the West with Germany recording the largest number of asylum applications. Germany was the first port of call for asylum seekers heading towards Switzerland, largely attracted by better social welfare prospects. The Tamil diaspora as of 2010, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG) is estimated at one million with around 60, 000 in Germany, between 40 – 50,000 in France and 47,000 in Switzerland,
The Black July Pogrom, apart from it bearing immense political significance is one occurrence that has left an unforgettable mark on the psyche of the Tamils at large. In the diasporic context, it continues to be used as a constant example that is symbolic of the disintegration of hopes and the severance of relations between the minority Tamils and the majority Sinhalese. While this has been an overpowering sentiment, there have also been victims of the pogrom who were able to understand that the real issue was indeed the Government’s complicity against a section of its own people and not a racially purported incident stemming from within the Sinhalese masses.
The project recorded perspectives of the 83’ pogrom by the Sri Lankan diaspora living in Switzerland & France; stories from those who arrived after the Pogrom; who were either directly or indirectly affected and/or having family/ friends who were affected by it. In terms of including Sinhalese and Muslim voices from the diaspora and their reflections on the incident/violence we were able to only obtain a minimum of one each. Most of whom we approached failed to re-call the incident or were not keen to share their views. In terms of capturing the sentiments of the ‘youth diaspora’ there was once again a lack of knowledge, or a lack of interest in sharing views from those who were aware of the incident, which is something that is worth taking note of. Some of the practical difficulties faced during the project were scheduling appointments with contacts due to the short project span as well as the process of story-telling itself where people found it difficult to focus on the event and thoughts around it. Interestingly, the diaspora focus related to the event seemed to be overpowered by the prison massacre and our attempt through this project to focus on a variety of perspectives was received with interest.
The project collected and edited ten photo-montage stories and two video stories, including the stories of five women. Each story is accompanied by a text summary.
For detailed descriptions of these video productions, please click here.