Selvan, a refugee from the 1980s, returns to help rebuild the foundations of Tamil culture

"My dad’s place in Sri Lanka is very rural - my grandparents were farmers. Me and my Dad went back to Sri Lanka and our old place was completely demolished, including the village school. We built it up again and now it’s an afternoon school for children and a Hare Krishna temple, we have 84 coming there to study. When it rains they are still living in huts! We cannot wait for the government to rebuild the North of Sri Lanka, that might take years and many children are without education."

Is the Tamil language on the state syllabus?

"Yes, but their nearest school is very far and they aren’t taught Tamil there. Some of the schools are still teaching Tamil but the government is enforcing Sinhalese there as the main language. If you go to any university you will realise that some subjects are only delivered in Sinhala or English. Tamil is neglected."

Is it difficult to get a job without speaking Sinhalese?

"If you go to any government institution or within the financial sector, they will give preference to the people that speak Sinhala"

Is there a threat of the Tamil language dying out in Sri Lanka?

"They’re trying to, but I don’t think that will happen because the Tamil population outside of Sri Lanka is huge. But in Sri Lanka, maybe."


The Sri Lankan Tamils have been systematically oppressed by the Sinhalese majority government since 1948. Education and the Tamil language becomes a form of cultural resistance when the Tamil population is continually disadvantaged, and continually depletes. 

Many refugees from Sri Lanka’s Civil war refocus their efforts towards establishing Tamil culture in their places of asylum. The North of Sri Lanka is a site to be capitalised on, tourist and real-estate investments initiated by the military complicate the return of exiled Tamils, and deplete the marginal governmental incentive to rebuild the basic infrastructure that was shelled over 7 years ago. Selvan’s charity, family lead and, until now, funded, is a source of hope for many of Sri Lanka’s most disadvantaged.

After negotiating tirelessly with locals MPs and gaining approval from the region’s military commander, Sinnathurai Children Foundation became a registered charity. Its legal legitimation became a crucial step towards the government’s recognition of the needs of its Tamil minority, and may encourage others to fight for a reclamation of lost land and livelihoods through the cultural empowerment of education.


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