Groundviews

Is the Tamil Diaspora Against Unity in Sri Lanka?

“The great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.”

– Oliver Wendell Holmes

The Tamil Diaspora is a diverse ethnic group. Amongst it, the majority are strongly connected to their kith and kin in the island of Sri Lanka.

Arguably, the Tamil Diaspora is also a very powerful body. It reflects the aspirations and the grievances of the Tamil people in the island of Sri Lanka who continue to live under severe suppression, in an open prison. Considering the Sri Lankan state’s oppression of the Tamil people on the ground, the interaction between them and the Tamil Diaspora, though invisible, is very efficient and effective.

Since May 2009’s Tamil genocide, the role of the Tamil Diaspora has reshaped to rebuild the lives, and social, economic, cultural and political structures of their beloved ones.

This is no easy task, given a powerful section of the Tamil Diaspora chooses not to send any financial contributions to their loved ones through the Sri Lankan government, the very agent which carried out the genocidal war against the Tamil nation and one which is accelerating the Sinhalisation process under the banner of ’development‘ and ’reconstruction‘.

Furthermore, while no genuine attempts are being made by the Sri Lankan state for a political solution to the Tamil national question, the Tamil Diaspora views engagement with the Sri Lankan state as legitimising Sri Lanka’s genocide against the Tamil nation and permitting its time-buying strategy to continue the structural genocide of the Tamil people.

Yet, the Tamil Diaspora continues through other means to empower their brethren. Keeping in mind the safety, security, survival and well-being of the Tamil people, these approaches and methods used to rebuild the Tamil people’s lives in their nation cannot be further elaborated on.

Despite the many positive interventions by them, on many occasions, these are neglected and the Tamil Diaspora purposely labelled as spoilers by the Sri Lankan state and a section of the International Community.

I have co-authored a paper[1] and written an article[2] about the Tamil Diaspora in the past two years. Two very recent developments have made me once again see the need to record the observations from the Tamil Diaspora’s point of view.

I wish to note firstly that I am completely opposed to all forms of racist and hateful actions being carried out against the Muslim people by Sinhala Buddhist chauvinists such as the Bodu Bala Sena. This is similar to the position I have taken when the Sinhala state executed atrocities against the Tamil nation. I support all anti-racist campaigns. My Sinhala, Muslim and Tamil friends are also aware of this.

Photo credit: Colombo Telegraph

Having clarified this, a photograph from the recently held “Rally for Unity” event where former Sri Lankan diplomat Dr. Dayan Jayatillake was present, provoked my thoughts. Dr. Jayatillake was Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva during and after the war in 2009. When a special session, requested by Germany on behalf of 17 member states, at the UN Human Rights Council in late May that year attempted through a resolution to bring accountability to grave human rights violations committed during the final stages of the war, it was defeated under the leadership of Dr. Jayatillake. In essence, Dr. Jayatillake misled and deceived a section of the international community, justifying the Sri Lanka state’s violation of International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law. Now, he no longer holds a diplomatic post. Yet, to date he has neither apologised for his past wrong-doings nor acknowledged the mass atrocities carried out by the Sri Lankan state he once represented. While his participation at “Hate Has No Place in Sri Lanka – Rally For Unity”  may have been appreciated or welcomed if his attendance had followed an acceptance of past wrong doings, in light of his unwillingness to do so, it not only allows his actions to be criticised but also makes the intention of the rally questionable.

My second disturbing observation is that of Sri Lanka’s former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka’s attendance at the World Press Freedom Day celebrations in Colombo on 3 May 2013. Sarath Fonseka is an alleged war criminal. There are also reports which implicate his involvement in the assassinations of several journalists, in particular the murder of prominent journalist Lasantha Wickramatunga.

Photo credit : Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai 

The idea of a man involved in the very activities which suppress and obstruct freedom of expression, being allowed to participate in an event that celebrates media freedom, is more than simply ironic. Far more ominous though is the fact that he was invited to light candles while Sandya Eknalygoda, wife of cartoonist Prageeth Eknalygoda who disappeared in January 2010, was not invited to do so despite her presence at the event.

These types of disturbing trends not only demotivate like-minded people but question the aim of legitimate causes. Personally, I hope my Sri Lankan brothers and sisters take this into consideration.

Yet, when these genuine concerns were also raised by members of the Tamil Diaspora, they were seen as acts of stirring disharmony.

The Tamil Diaspora also originated from the island. The large majority have at least one family member or relative residing in the island. The members of the Tamil Diaspora are also against hate; they too love peace. They are not against unity and as long there are genuine efforts to create a just and peaceful environment in the island they will support, if not at least appreciate it, along with their struggle for justice for their brethren.

This is a lesson I have learnt from the Tamil Diaspora throughout the last four years.

Of course there are shortcomings in the Tamil Diaspora, as in all other communities, that need to be overcome swiftly. Yet, that does not justify referring to them as spoilers.

A section of the International Community once saw the LTTE as the problem to resolving the conflict, believing the Sri Lanka state that elimination of the LTTE would create a space for a political solution and national reconciliation. However, evolving developments are clear evidence that past assumptions were incorrect. The same section of the International Community and the Sri Lankan state now see the Tamil Diaspora as trouble-makers.

The false lesson once taught by the Sri Lankan state has today forced all stakeholders of the ethno-political conflict of Sri Lanka to endure the consequences. Now exists a new opportunity to either fall into another trap laid out by the Sri Lankan state or to utilise the opportunity for course correction.

The world has already learnt a bitter lesson from Sri Lanka. The question now is: Will the concerned actors grab the opportunity and walk in the right direction? If yes, the Tamil Diaspora will march alongside with them.


[1] http://www.berghof-peacesupport.org/publications/SL_Diaspora_Papers_Senthan-Balasundram.pdf

[2] http://groundviews.org/2011/02/18/the-tamil-diaspora-and-the-future-of-the-tamil-struggle/