A multi-tiered investigation of younger generation Tamil activism in London

  • Ahalya Balasunderam

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


In the early months of 2009, hundreds of thousands of diaspora Tamils were holding protests in major cities across the globe, as the scale and intensity of the armed conflict between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had reached an unprecedented level. What emerged during this time was the discernible presence of younger generation Tamils (individuals who were born and/or spent their formative years in Western countries) and a small number of studies have since been written on the phenomenon. However, the pejorative, ambiguous and deterministic counter-terrorism inspired concept of ‘radicalisation’ has been applied cursorily to younger generation Tamil activism. Moreover, since 2009, it is not clear what the strategies, contexts or motivations of this activism are – this, despite the ongoing ethnopolitical hostilities in Sri Lanka, the international community’s ‘post-war’ affiliations with the island and the Tamil diaspora’s known capabilities in shaping its political and economic affairs.
This study resolves unanswered questions and challenges the parochial and criminalising tendencies in existing scholarship, by providing an academic platform for younger generation Tamil activists in London; it utilises a social movement perspective and critical ethnographic methodology, to provide an in-depth and holistic understanding of the phenomenon. Subsequently, this study reveals the political claims of activists, which were linked to [macro-level] institutional and public discourses on terrorism, international human rights and transitional justice. It also unearths the [meso-level] issues, which activists experienced, whilst engaging with older generation-led (individuals who were born in Sri Lanka and relocated as adults) social movement organisations and the development of alternative organisational structures/community-focused social change strategies. Finally, it illuminates the motivations for engaging in activism, through the [micro-level] cognitive, emotional and moral understandings of activists and the 2 development of a collective Tamil identity; it also unveils the strategies for sustaining commitment to the Tamil struggle through the reinforcement of this collective ‘Tamil’ identity, which was held in opposition to the ‘Sri Lankan’ national identity. As such, this study demonstrates that younger generation Tamil activism was characterised by political heterogeneity and autonomy and collective ties to the Tamil people and homeland in Sri Lanka. As well as shedding light on an under-researched phenomenon, this study unfetters younger generation Tamil activists from criminalising discourses, underscores their potential in achieving social change and contributes more broadly to the field of diaspora politics, which has paid scant attention to younger generation activism.
Date of Award13 Nov 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorJohn Eade (Supervisor) & Aisha K. Gill (Supervisor)

Cite this

A multi-tiered investigation of younger generation Tamil activism in London
Balasunderam, A. (Author). 13 Nov 2018

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis