Will Diaspora Tamils protest liberate Eelam Tamils?
By Satheesan Kumaaran
Sep 20 (IL) The epicenter of the struggle of the Eelam Tamils for liberation has always been the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is now, however, the turn of Tamils living in the western world to take up the struggle, although the struggle has been in the hands of the Diaspora Tamils, the Tamils of Indian origin now have an obligation to raise their voices in favour of Eelam cause. It is imperative that the Tamil leadership in India become pro-active in guiding the Diaspora Tamils than just being reactive.
The southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu assumes significance in the Eelam due to the dominant role it played when the cause for a separate state in Sri Lanka started in the early 1980's. Moreover, Tamil militant leaders had once called Tamil Nadu their temporary residence, from which they carried out operations against the state armed forces in Sri Lanka.
With LTTE becoming the sole power in the military campaign for the Eelam liberation, other Tamil militant groups were weakened. Thereafter, the Sri Lankan Tamil leaders moved back to their own homeland, 'Tamil Eelam'. However, during their stay in Tamil Nadu, these ethnic leaders carried out successful protests against the Indian government for urging the Sri Lankan government to grant autonomy to Tamils. At the same time, the protests in India also caused the Eelam struggle to be heard throughout the world. Hence, Tamil Nadu assumed importance as during the beginning of the struggle, it was the only haven from which the Tamils of Sri Lanka could express their sufferings to the international community.
After 1983, hundreds of thousands of Tamils fled their homeland and sought asylum in many countries and especially in western world, more importantly in Canada and European countries. As a result, these Tamils are now bringing the sufferings of their brethren to light in the international forum. It is worth asking whether the peaceful protests carried out by the Diaspora Tamils will help bring freedom for their ethnic counterparts in Sri Lanka or serve to bolster the popularity of the individuals or the organizations that are behind the sponsorship of such events!
Tamils, like Jews, would do much if they were allowed to be free. Their success as an ethnic group would be ensured by their business prowess, as witnessed by the establishment of flourishing businesses, political prowess and scientific conquests. Instead, the Tamils are being oppressed by their conquerors.
The Dravidian race in the southern Indian states, especially the Tamils in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Puducherri, have been controlled by other forces, including the Europeans, who oppressed the Dravidians economically, socially, politically, and geographically. Had it been otherwise, the Empires of the Tamil will be heard around the world or at least in the countries in the Indian Ocean region. Evidence of such success is the Tamil Empire of the Cholan, which was once very influential throughout Southeast Asia and whose residents were once regarded the world's best navigators.
Despite their proven military successes, the Tamil kingdoms never attempted to occupy other civilizations. They had only spread their culture, language, religion, and arts, but, unlike the Europeans after the Middle-Ages, the Tamils did not conquer countries. Instead, the Tamils have always been viewed as hardworking and law-abiding citizens. This is evident when one surveys them in the countries where they settled after they spread around the world. The Tamils in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, South Africa, Singapore, Fiji, Madagascar, Mauritius, and other places have proven to be law-abiding and industrious citizens, who significantly contribute in terms of economical development to the countries in which they live.
An old Tamil adage states that the one who is knocking his or her head is a fool and the one who is bowing his or her head is also a fool. And so, the Tamils in northeast Sri Lanka challenged the discriminatory policies of the state, for which the Sinhala south only responded with violence. This resulted in the formation of many Tamil militant groups; and now, the Tamil Tigers are the sole representatives of the Tamils. The conflict in Sri Lanka also caused almost a million Tamils to flee their homes.
The Tamils, especially the Eelam Tamils who fled after 1983, became staunch supporters of the Tamil Tigers; this is because these Diaspora Tamils had experienced the violence of the Sri Lankan state armed forces. Most of the one-million Eelam Tamil settled in western countries exert considerable economic and political influence. As a result, the Tamils, especially those in England, Switzerland, Germany, France and Canada, are important to politicians, who are cognizant of Tamils' influence at the polls. For example, the Tamils in Canada decide the outcome of more than 12 races for Member of Parliament, out of a total of 302. The Tamils comprise dense settlements in Ontario and Quebec, and they are now spreading to other provinces, like Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia.
Even the US, Canadian, British, French, and Swiss governments are assumed to support the Tamils because the ruling governments do not want to see a community who, like the Jews, have many aspirations and talents oppressed. Thus these governments, however, want the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict to be resolved by peaceful means. Otherwise, the Tamils who settled in western countries will continue to have great influence in local politics. Therefore, in order to bring about a peaceful solution, these countries exert pressure on both parties in the conflict.
Many Sri Lankans feel that the conflict in Sri Lanka will not be solved through peaceful means because the Sinhala south has nothing to offer in fulfillment of the Tamils' demands. The Tamils, too, will not accept anything less than the power-sharing mechanism of confederation, as it is employed in Switzerland.
In this context, the Diaspora Tamils have a significant role to play in their adopted countries. They can help to bring liberation of their homeland in the same way the Diaspora Jews did theirs in 1948.
The Jews had then, with the backing of western powers, helped to create a sovereign Israel by donating huge sums of money and providing other supports. Now, it is the time for the Tamils in Sri Lanka, with a similar mindset to those who created Israel, will have to create their own nation, which will then become a great power in South Asia. No-one shall fear the creation of an independent Tamil Eelam on the island of Ilankai (Ceylon) because Tamil Eelam will become a hub for economic and cultural interactions not only in South Asia, but also throughout Asia.
The Diaspora Tamils must take their cues from the history of the Jews, from the ways in which the Jews created Israel, and from the economic, political, and cultural success of the Jewish community. And so, all Tamils around the world should come forth, with no aim to benefit themselves, to work actively for the betterment of Tamils in Sri Lanka and the creation of a sovereign Tamil Eelam, which would become an economic and cultural hub in south Asia, one where Tamils around the world could send their children to be educated free of charge and to learn Tamil culture and history.
The question remains unanswered -- are the activities of the Diaspora Tamils in lobbying their governments enough? It is disheartening that some groups within the Tamil communities located around the world serve only their own economic ends. Some have gained enormous benefits under the pretext that they are either members or supporters of the Tamil Tigers. Even some organizations that are registered with local governments as charitable organizations, but have not exerted much effort to raise the issue of the Eelam cause in the international forum. The bureaucrats, who remain in office far longer than the elected politicians, have not been educated about the just and fair struggle of the Eelam Tamils. The directors for Asian affairs, especially south Asian and Sri Lankan affairs, in many of these countries, excluding the United States and Britain, are not given proper explanations about the cause of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. These bureaucrats know little about the background of the Eelam Tamils. As a result, the officials who make decisions about the affairs of the Tamils of Sri Lanka often conclude on the basis of unfair and irrational opinions.
Another question which again still remains is whether the community organizations are doing something about this? Many Tamil organizations are said to be using the Tamil language media to get publicity within the Tamil community. The Tamil community already knows about their problems, and now it is for the international community that needs awareness about the problems faced by the Tamils back home. Hence, it is very much important that Tamil organizations restrain from using their influence within the Tamil Diaspora to use the plight of the Eelam Tamils to realize their selfish goals.
Diaspora Tamils should also keep in mind that over 68,000 Tamils and 18,000 Tamil Tigers had shed their blood in order to win Tamils, their rights. They also should stay away from warming themselves in the blood of their ethnic counterparts back home. No amount of money, political and economic benefits will absolve those individuals who try to use the genuine struggle of the Eelam Tamils for nefarious purposes. The Tamils back home feel they do not need any more people like Anandasangaree, Neelan Thiruchelvam, and Douglas Devananda in their community. All these individuals, except Thiruchelvam, vowed support for a separate Tamil Eelam for Tamils, but they all forsook the cause when successive Sri Lankan governments imposed political ransoms.
Now the aspiration of the Tamils living around the world as refugees is now to build a world Tamil community free from traitors and power-hungry individuals, as the latter cannot carry anything with them when they die.
At this point, it is worth noting what Alexander the Great said just before he died. Alexander told his commanders that after his death, he wanted his hands to be left outside the casket, so that the public could see that he was not carrying away anything after he died. The gesture also means that Alexander the Great made a terrible mistake by trying to conquer so many countries, including modern-day Iran and Pakistan. The Diaspora Tamils, when they look at history, should learn what past, rapacious conquerors faced.
Tamils around the world should join together to eradicate the sufferings of their brethren back home. Unscrupulous individuals should not be allowed to operate freely within civilized nation-states, and the common masses should be made known of these individuals.
Tamils around the world have contributed immensely to the struggle led by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. When the Eelam Tamils were in peril, the Tamils of India extended their friendly hands. They helped to bring the sufferings of the Eelam Tamils to the international arena. They stood for the just and fair struggle led by the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Now, it is the turn of the Diaspora Tamils. The Tamils spread across the globe should do their duty for their motherland. No Diaspora Tamils need take up arms to protect the Eelam Tamils. They should, instead, actively lobby their governments. Organizations registered as charities in other countries should lead the Diaspora Tamils onto the true path. Another important consideration to keep in mind is that the Diaspora Tamils are taking part in awakening rallies and meetings, all designed to show their solidarity and to seek support from the people and governments of their adopted countries. For example, members of the European Tamil Diaspora protest in front of the legislatures of their adopted countries and in front of the United Nations office in Geneva every year.
Canadian Tamils also take active part, but their demands have fallen on the deaf ears of the Canadian government. Numbering only 300,000, Canadian Tamils are less able to make their demands heard; in addition, many individual Tamils in the country serve their own ends rather than those of their ethnic counterparts back home. Many of these individuals do not even want to talk to Canadian bureaucrats and policy makers because they fear they might be prosecuted. Indian Tamil leaders like Nedumaran, Vaiko and Suba Veerapandian, to name just a few, spent years in jails for voicing their support for the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Those Diaspora Tamils who harbour sinister motives do not want that to happen to them; instead, they seek popularity and a decent income.
Another example is the participation of American Diaspora Tamils. The Eelam Tamil population numbers over 50,000. They are doing very little in the way of bringing the sufferings of their brethren to the attention of the American administration and American policy makers. A very disappointing event occurred in front of the Capitol Building, in Washington, D.C., on July 23, 2007; nearly 1,000 participants took part in a rally organized to urge the legislators, the Administration, and the people of the United States to support the struggle led by the LTTE. The participants demanded the United States recognize the Tamils' right to self-determination from the hegemonic Sinhala state.
The messages sent were clear, but the rally was disappointing because the participation of the Diaspora Tamils was lacking. In the end, according to the organizers, the event proved significant because American Tamil organizations had not, in the past, drawn crowds as large in the Capitol. It was only the participation of the American Diaspora Tamils that was insufficient. Several reasons can be cited for why these American Diaspora Tamils do not participate in such events. One reason is that the American Tamils left Sri Lanka primarily in search of greener pastures. Many of them were professionals back home and entered the United States to find better job and, thereby, escape the holocausts experienced by the Tamils who fled the island after 1983.
Regardless of when and where the Tamils are living, every Tamil has a duty to support the Tamils in the homeland. This does not mean that one should be concerned only about people of one's own ethnic group. Whenever an injustice occurs, everyone should stand up to support the just cause. However, one should serve first one's family, secondly one's neighbours, thirdly one's community, fourthly one's country, and finally other people of the world. Hence, all Tamils should first support those Tamils whose family members are being killed in broad daylight and whose neighbours are being raped and looted by colonial armed forces.
Furthermore, Tamils around the world should advocate for collective support from the international community and urge foreign governments to take part directly, rather than being mere spectators. Winning rights for the people in the north and east of Sri Lanka is now in the hands of all these Tamils.
(The author can be reached at e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)