November 10, 2005

Tamils keep an aloof distance in Grigny, France

By Rashmee Roshan Lall/TNN

Grigny: The grass verges are still charred from Sunday’s fearful rioting on the grim streets of Grigny, 30 km south of Paris. Police helicopters still whirr in the skies above and the CRS, France's elite riot police, are out in force.
For Grigny, the unlovely suburb some call the Eelam of France because it is home to the largest concentration of Indians from the former French colony of Pondicherry, is still on edge. This was where nine godawful nights of urban unrest erupted on Sunday in an explosion of anger unparalleled anywhere else so far, with gunshots fired at two policemen.
But on Tuesday, with whispers that an unofficial curfew would be enforced from midnight, it was clear the town’s changing mood had nothing to do with the several thousand Tamils packed into the ugly high-rise ghettos around. Though they live cheek by jowl with the poor disaffected beur or North African-Arab immigrant, the Tamils might almost live on a different planet.
Nods Gunasekharan, who left Pondicherry for France 12 years ago and now runs a small grocery shop in downtown Grigny, We Tamils are not involved in this fight. It is the beur and they are angry with the government. If anything, say Grigny’s Tamils, the beur have explicitly assured they will be unharmed. Says Gunasekharan, When I started closing my shop early after the trouble began, the Algerians came and said, Why are you doing that? Nothing will happen to you.
It is not an unlikely brotherhood of beur and brown that keeps Grigny’s Tamil safe and unharmed. It is just that Grigny’s Tamils a huge, if unremarkable community are uninvolved in local affairs. Explains Gunasekharan, We Tamils are no match for the Algerians, physically.
But surely that can hardly explain why the Tamils manifestly lead separate lives from the rest of France?
There is absolutely no political involvement by the estimated 100,000 Pondicherry Indians in the life of France, laments Rajaram, an urbane professional manager who left Chennai for Paris 20 years ago and now runs his own company to outsource work from France to India.
Though many of the Tamils arrived in France nearly half-a-century ago, they might almost still be in India, he says, displaying little interest in life here and still preferring to read magazines from home such as Kumudam and Rani, watch Sun TV or Jaya TV.

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