The craft of belonging: exploring the resettlement experiences of young Tamil survivors of Sri Lanka’s civil war in Australia
AffiliationSchool of Historical and Philosophical Studies
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusThis item is embargoed and will be available on 2021-09-03.
© 2019 Niroshini Kandasamy
Belonging and memory, shaped by social and political conditions of civil war and forced migration, are the central themes of this thesis. I explore the life stories of thirty-six young Tamil people who arrived in Australia in the 1980s and 1990s at the height of Sri Lanka’s civil war. The thesis demonstrates that life story, in its depth and richness of human experiences, is useful for examining Tamil people’s constructions of belonging over their life course: escaping civil war and persecution, rebuilding a sense of home in a new land, and reconstructing connections to the homeland in a post-war context. They do not simply choose to belong or not belong. Instead, young Tamils craft strategies and coping mechanisms that emphasise ongoing processes of belonging, against social and governmental structures that reinforced their marginalisation. In doing so, their resettlement experiences complicate scholarly assumptions of the ‘successful’ Sri Lankan Tamil migrant in Australia. The study collects insights into how young Tamils skilfully challenged their marginalised status, as subjects who have fled persecution in the homeland and as migrants of colour in the new land, thus articulating multiple ways of belonging in a multicultural Australia that is closely guarded by white Australians. It enables Tamil people to give meaning to their lives and explore and challenge their histories and cultures which have been repressed in Australian society. The analysis shows that belonging, as personal and political, was crafted by Sri Lankan and Australian nation-states through political projects that undermined Tamil people’s persecution in the homeland and claims to refugee status. Against state crafts however exist the memories, both individual and collective, of Tamil people that reinstate their persecution, thus providing evidence of the enduring memories of war in resettlement. In rebuilding a sense of home in Australia, Tamils remember the continuities of homeland practices, such as religion and language, that reproduced their belongingness across lands, albeit in fragmented ways. At the same time, they recalled experiences of intergenerational tensions, racialised school spaces, and intra-community struggles that unravelled a key tension in their lives: to what extent did the homeland in civil war affect their resettlement experiences and which social and political conditions shaped them? The thesis focuses on how Tamils remembered growing up in Australia. Remembering, I demonstrate, is key to understanding processes of belonging and is always under construction. Hardships of forced migration and resettlement were central in young Tamil people’s lives, they use these memories to craft belonging, in which their agency defines the essence of being displaced as young forced migrants. The memories form part of a broader story of how one group of migrants’ determination, strength and resilience has generated insights into the enduring past – and serves as a reminder of the complexity of resettlement amidst the estrangement of forced migration as a young person.
KeywordsTamil, memory, multiculturalism, Sri Lanka, civil war, Australian history
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