Dokumentary, Switzerland 1995. 35mm, colour, 80 min.
Video film produced by Erich Schmid & Jean Jacques Vaucher
Video Beta SP/VHS copies/colour/32 minutes
This is a real life video-story of the death of a young Tamil who lived his adult life in the shadow of racism and xenophobia
On a warm summer night in 1990 a young 25 year old Tamil refugee and asylum seeker from Tamil Eelam, Jeevan, was walking through the precinct of a suburb of north west Zurich when he was suddenly subjected to racist abuse and then violently assaulted by a drunken Swiss lout. Jeevan never survived this attack. On the following day death, which he had miraculously and successfully evaded in 7 years of brutal and bloody war in his home town of Jaffna, finally claimed him while he lay in a coma in the hospital.
The outraged Tamil refugee community in Switzerland and their Swiss friends protested and demonstrated against this wanton racist murder. Their protest helped to expose the tragic irony of this poignant episode: what all the forces of racism and xenophobia failed to achieve in Sri Lanka was carried out in a single chance encounter with a white racist 7,000 miles away, where Jeevan had sought refuge. Racism knows no frontiers and is no stranger even in the freest and most democratic of countries.
Jeevan's relatives and parents, true to their Hindu tradition were desperate to bring his body home to Jaffna for cremation but even this formality was not permitted because of the heavy aerial and artillery bombardment of the town of Jaffna and routes to the North by the Sri Lankan armed forces.
The trauma of his relatives and friends was further intensified by the decision of the Swiss authorities to forcibly deport to Jaffna so-called undesirable Tamil refugees at the same time.
So Jeevan was cremated in Zurich and his ashes, at the request of his relatives and with the gracious assistance of an aid agency, was taken in an urn by a journalist – Erich Schmid – from Zurich to Jaffna.
Schmid's trip to Jaffna with urn in one arm and video cam-recorder in the other followed the same route, but in reverse, taken by Jeevan in his perilous escape from Jaffna, years before, to Colombo and then Zurich. For Schmid too it was no less perilous, being constantly threatened by aerial attacks and artillery fire as well as facing the uncertainty of the many army check points and witnessing the despair and agony of never-ending lines of refugees fleeing headlong to escape the military operations.
Yet despite the trials and tribulations of his journey Schmid did reach the comparative safety of Jaffna and under the protection of the Tamil Tigers was able to meet Jeevan's mother and present her son's ashes to her.