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Honouring origins through cricket

Through cricket, a refugee is carving a space for his origins to be honoured while bringing minority communities together.

The creation of a cricket team is opening up a pathway for minority communities to come together and share their stories.

Through cricket, a refugee is carving a space for his origins to be honoured while bringing minority communities together.

Understanding the plight of a refugee, from leaving a war torn country to making a home in new foreign land, doesn’t necessarily come easy to Australians. We enjoy our freedom without a second thought and don’t blink at the sight of many different cultures living side by side in relative harmony. Despite initially not loving cricket, Tamil Eelam refugee Kaliyugan Pathmanathan created a cricket team last year in honour of where he comes from, to help bring positive discussion around a culture that isn’t widely understood while bringing minority communities together.

“It’s very hard to understand each other, we have different perspectives, different imaginations, languages and religions,” Kaliyugan explains. “The Tamil community in Perth is around 3,000 to 4,000 people, but because we’re in a foreign land, you need the connection to come together. When we started it was just us, with me watching and taking pictures, but six or seven months later suddenly there was a crowd! The Tamil community in Perth came together and hooked into the idea because we love cricket!”                                                                            

However, for Kaliyugan it wasn’t the cricket aspect that made him determined to create the team.

“Because I grew up mostly in Germany, I’m German inside so I love table tennis and soccer,” Kaliyugan says, laughing. “But I strongly wanted to do something for the people back home because I have a guilty conscience that I am here, safe and free. I’m interested in building solidarity beyond our suffering because there are minorities everywhere; it’s not just us. Everyone is a minority, so what if you make the whole world your home? We are human and we connect through this - Tamil Eelam represents that.”

It seems others agree, with the support for Tamil Eelam Cricket going far beyond the Tamil community.

“I was very lucky that there were so many people here that said it was a great idea and jumped on board to help,” Kaliyugan says. “I have a business coach who is a mentor and volunteers his time to be a board member but he’s just one of the people who volunteers – we have academics, refugee advocates, students helping with the organization. People from all walks of life with no connection to Tamil Eelam, and maybe they don’t even understand, but they still help and that’s the best part of it. There are so many different people from different countries.”

There is good reason for many not understanding Tamil Eelam, with the term previously shrouded in political connotations due to the influence of the Tamil Tigers. However, through the cricket team, and the love and the support generated by it, the term is having a rebirth of sorts.

“I wasn’t interested in changing history or rewriting it, no, I am all about love,” Kaliyugan says. “I want people to be able to say ‘I am from Tamil Eelam’ with pride, without any fear, but with just happiness and love. Playing for a team called Tamil Eelam cricket normalises the term and at the moment it’s being purified.”

Through the power of & with support reaching out from unexpected places and the simple joy of a game of cricket, a minority community is evolving and gently urging others to come together without prejudice and instead, open hearts and a sense of global community.

Understanding a refugee – Kaliyugan hasn’t spent longer than seven years in the one place. The first six years of Kaliyguan’s life were spent in Sri Lanka where people are typically Singhalese Buddhists (around 80 percent) or Tamil Hindus (before civil war about 20 percent, but now they are considered diasporas with only around 13 percent remaining in their homeland), before Kaliyugan’s family were forced to flee their small farming village home as war erupted around them. Eventually they found asylum in Germany where they spent seven years enjoying the European culture and its freedom of expression until the Sri Lankan Government declared it safe and they were forced to return home. It wasn’t safe for long and soon, Kaliyugan found himself on the move again. After brief stints in Singapore and Malaysia, he was on a boat bound for Australia. He spent 17 months in detention, before he was granted the overwhelming relief of being released and he now lives in Perth where he hopes to stay for perhaps a little longer than seven years.

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