Sri Lanka And Its Diaspora: Misconceptions, Opportunities And A Survey

By Romesh Hettiarachchi

Romesh Hettiarachchi

It is not really newsworthy to suggest many Sri Lankans today are skeptical about “the Diaspora”.

For many Sri Lankans, “the Diaspora” is perceived to be exclusively Tamil and overwhelmingly supportive of the Tamil Tigers. This of course is not true. Many members in “the Diaspora” are Sinhalese and Muslim, vehemently opposing everything the Tamil Tigers stood for. Moreover rarely are criticisms of the Tamil Tigers by members of the “Tamil Diaspora” ever acknowledged by Sri Lankan intellectuals and media.

tamil-protest-306-cp-654723This of course is not the only misconception about “the Diaspora”. Some Sri Lankans think all members of “the Diaspora” are universally wealthy as if leaving the shores of Sri Lanka is a golden ticket for wealth and riches. Again not true. Sure, some members of the Diaspora, Tamil and otherwise, achieve financial and professional successes outside Sri Lanka. However significant populations of “the Diaspora” have encountered and continue to encounter significant challenges in employment and ensuring their children get a good education outside Sri Lanka. This is of course not new ; many members of the “Tamil Diaspora” encountered similar challenges after fleeing the discrimination and violence in Sri Lanka in the 70s and 80s.

Other Sri Lankans believe “the Diaspora” has no interest in allowing Sri Lankans to live together peacefully. This is only half true. Some members of “the Diaspora” are deeply invested in manufacturing clashes between the Tamil and the Sri Lankan communities. However rarely do Sri Lankans recognize that sometimes leaders in the Sri Lankan Diaspora are as complicit in manufacturing these conflicts as their Tamil Diaspora counterparts.

Tamil LondonMoreover it must be acknowledged that most obstacles when it comes to Sri Lankans living together peacefully after May 2009 have been internal i.e. the result of the strength of Sinhalese nationalism in Sri Lankan politics. This has been a significant challenge in the past and will likely continue to be a factor in the future. Therefore while Tamil nationalism may be a barrier to some reconciliation initiatives in Sri Lanka, any prospects of peace in Sri Lanka are likely significantly influenced by the effectiveness and strength of those opposing Sinhalese nationalism.

The Potential Role of the Diaspora in Sri Lankan Affairs post January 2015

These misconceptions demonstrate the inaccuracy of most generalizations about “The Diaspora”. The reality is each member of “The Diaspora” shares their own unique relationship with the people and communities in Sri Lanka. While for some, this relationship is simple and full of happiness, for others in the Diaspora, this relationship is complex and – at times – traumatic. Often the differences between these relationships run along communal lines.

Nevertheless, since January, it is safe to say most in the Diaspora are muddling through how to respond to what at least superficially seem to be new political developments in Sri Lanka. While some in the Diaspora continue their mission to invent collective identities for populations that are in fact diverse – terrorists, throhi, kalu suddha, privileged – others in the Diaspora are now ready to support Sri Lankans in living together and working together in more interesting ways than either politicians or community activists can either imagine or allow.

Understanding the Relationship between the Diasporas with Communities in Sri Lanka

To that end, a small group of professionals from the Sri Lankan and Tamil Diaspora from Australia, UK and Canada are exploring the relationship between members of the Diaspora and their counterparts in Sri Lanka through the use of an informal survey. This working group hopes to build on this understanding to create formal and informal mechanisms that leverage these relationships for the benefit of all Sri Lankans living across the island.

Who Designed the Survey? Who is Involved?

The working group is comprised of individuals who have extensive experience in attempting to build bridges between the Sri Lankan Diaspora and their Tamil counterparts. Most of us are Sri Lankan born professionals who are seeking means to give back to the communities we have come from. All those involved with developing the survey have volunteered their expertise and time.

Names! I want Names!

Sorry to disappoint, but the working group has chosen to remain anonymous at least until this period of exploration is completed. This is for two reasons:

  1. In the Diaspora, transparency about new initiatives has sometimes been interpreted as a license to criticize the initiative. Often times such criticism is simply a result of the perceived on the political and/or social baggage that those involved are perceived to carry.
  2. So instead of giving this opportunity to critics, those involved have made a decision to remain largely unidentified simply in order for the survey to speak for itself.

That said, if you want to help build this initiative, please complete the survey and email us separately at iwanttohelp@epicentre.ventures. While the working group comprises of many of the ethnic communities in Sri Lanka, we are specifically encouraging young female leaders in the Diaspora to contact us.

Are any Governments involved with the survey?

No. This survey has not been funded or supported by any government, not for profit or community group. We have no affiliation with, or have received any monies from any community group, government, political party or not for profit to develop this survey.

Why the distinction between the Sri Lankan and Tamil Diaspora?

While we are quite aware of the many Tamils who are comfortable calling themselves Sri Lankan, we are also recognize that there are many Tamil who are not. That is why for the purposes of this survey, members of the Tamil Diaspora are those of Tamil ethnicity, who live outside Sri Lanka, who do not call themselves Sri Lankan.

Is My Privacy Protected?

Given the complicated and conflicted history of Sri Lanka, reservations in filling the survey are not only expected but reasonable. This is why responses can be submitted anonymously. Participants are not required to provide their name or any other identifiable information linking them to their submission.

The survey has other precautions to protect the privacy/security of respondents:

  1. Most questions are optional.
  2. Although participants will have the opportunity to share their email address, the provision of the email address is not mandatory.
  3. If you choose to share your email address, you will be added to a mailing list that will help you keep updated with the progress of this initiative and obtain your assistance in building this initiative. However if no email address is provided, then the survey is anonymously.
  4. No email addresses will be shared with third party without prior consent. In other words no contact information of respondents will be given to local organizations or the government without the consent of the individual.
  5. While survey Results will be aggregated, at no time will individual survey results will be shared with third party without prior consent
  6. If after you submit the survey anonymously, you wish to be added to the mailing list, email info@picentre.ventures with the subject line “Mailing List”.

The survey will be open until June 15, 2015. After the survey closes, and if we receive more than 100 submissions, we will release a brief analysis of the aggregate survey results by August 31, 2015. While the survey is an informal and voluntary survey, we firmly believe the aggregate analysis of these results will be of interest to many in the Diaspora and in Sri Lanka.

Needless to say, this survey will not likely do justice to sheer diversity of the Sri Lankan and Tamil Diaspora experience. Remember this is an informal survey; an experiment which is only being conducted because no other local or international organization has chosen to do so. If you do want to let us know how badly we have done, please email info@epicentre.ventures .

So without further ado, go to http://survey.epicentre.ventures/ to complete the survey or alternatively click

 

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We are all meant to shine, as children do. It is not just in some of us; it is in all of us. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Willliamson

*Romesh Hettiarachchi is a lawyer and mediator in Toronto, Canada. For more information about this initiative, go to @epicentre_vntrs or email info@epicentre.ventures. For those interested in continuing these discussions, particularly those in Canada, visit the Kathae Kadai facebook forum.