By Raj Subramaniam –
Seven years have passed since the Tamil community in Sri Lanka lost everything in their fight to unchain 500 years of slavery under the command of foreigners who ruled over the Tamils and enforced their alien laws upon them. It was only after several non-violent efforts that Tamil turned to a campaign of armed resistance for self-defense.
Today, society has awoken to the atrocities carried out by ISIS in the Middle East. If only they had opened their eyes to the crimes of Sri Lanka against the Tamils while they transpired. The cause of the conflict in Sri Lanka was primarily Buddhist chauvinism. Whatever crimes ISIS has perpetrated against the innocent citizenry of Iraq and Syria runs parallel to the terrible actions on the island of the religious extremists against the Tamils.
As I do every year, I wanted to take this opportunity to write this article, to assess the state of the community and further empower our future generations to strive for better. Criticism against one’s own state is integral to moving forward and developing ourselves in the eyes of others.
The Eelam Tamil community can only empower itself through our own realization of the fact that we lost the war. My recent visit to the island taught me an important lesson. The people are self-deprecating, living with the mindset that they “lost” and their situation will never ameliorate. Meanwhile, the Government brags that it was and remains victorious. Sadly, this atmosphere had led the Tamils to coalesce behind the government, who allows them access to illicit alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs being imported from Kerala. While the Navy often busies itself with causing trouble for helpless fishermen, trying to find fish to feed their families on the shores, they turn a blind-eye to the smugglers operating between Kerala and Jaffna.
Rather than carry out another genocide against the Tamils, the government has orchestrated a plan to punish those who survived by reviving backwards social issues and playing our leaders like pawns on a chessboard. They have revived casteism and regionalism to the point where they have become daily issues in the island’s cities and towns. The plague of casteism has prevented the citizenry from doing their daily work, not wanting to be seen by their peers of the aristocracy. Innovation and the drive for excellence have run out of fuel, living the bulk of the community idle. These social evils have manifested themselves not only in Sri Lanka but amongst members of the Tamil diaspora as well.
When Eelam was under Tamil control, we stood shoulder-to-shoulder, united for a common cause. I may agree to some extend that the armed resistance ultimately failed to eradicate these societal evils in their entirety. While they were temporarily suppressed by arms, they have since remerged as a significant threat to our community as a whole. Temporary solutions are never the answer, as proved by the aforementioned and the reserved quota system that continues to prevail in India. As Tamils, there should be a sense that we each belong to one nation, perhaps it is only wishful thinking.
I wish to use this article as a platform to discuss some issues that I have found to be of importance. Their resolution will eventually guide us down a path towards greater success. For the reader, this is written with the Tamil community as its intended audience. My apologies to those who may be irked by criticism expressed and to those non-Tamil readers who may find certain ideas confusing or inapplicable.
Mental slavery/Inferior complexity
Tamils have developed an inferiority complex thanks to over 500 years of persecution and ongoing slavery at the hands of foreigners. Our oppressors treated us cruelly, guided only by their machinations and the ideas of what would be best for themselves. We were taught that anyone who was dark-sinned was inherently evil and would be bring about nothing but malice for society. This became abundantly clear after the last battle of the resistance campaign in May 2009.
While our people were slaughtered by the majority Singhalese, the international community turned a blind eye to the suffering of the Tamils. Perhaps there is some truth to the notion that the Singhalese carried out their atrocities as proxies of certain global superpowers. The NGOs which are currently running to the aid of Syrian refugees could not have cared less about our plight. We were crammed onto freight ships or herded into jails, rather than receive the humanitarian aid that we craved.
As a result we were faced with the same psychological after-effects as the Black Africans and Jews, who had faced similar sufferings and hardships after their wars.
A prime example of arose recently in a conversation between two friends of mine. One of these friends happened to be enduring a medical condition from which some spots of his skin turned white. The other friend remarked that he would now finally be recognized and trusted by his fellow Tamils. This is clearly indicative of an inferior complex held by members of our community. Today, Tamil stores are even selling special creams that are advertised to help whiten ones skin. Unfortunately, it is a sure sign that we are living with very low-levels of self-esteem.
Furthermore, when we hear a white man speak Tamil, we find it as unfathomable as a man on Mars. We don’t see them as our equals but rather as our colonial masters. As long as we continue to live with this mindset, we will never be able to rise as a mainstream community.
I have always dreamed that one day our leaders would carry themselves like those of the Jewish people and the State of Israel – leading with a dream and vision. While our Jewish friends have suffered the Holocaust and endured hundreds of years of hardship, they have persevered to become among the most successful people in the world. The difference lies in how our respective communities have approached the task of working with the grassroots. As Jews have formed a tight-knit community, reliant on strong relationships and trust, the Tamils have divided themselves for millions of pointless reasons. We gather in November to pay tribute to those fallen during the war, yet we feel uncomfortable in the company of our fellow community members. Our minds have been poisoned to the extent that rather than set out to improve the lives of our fellow Tamils, we are bent on destroying other and ruining their success. We were brought together artificially for a period of time that has since expired! We never matured to the point where we could grow and uplift each other on our own. Although continued mourning is necessary, we must move forward and rebuild ourselves.
Diaspora community and Tamil organizations
There is a traditional Tibetan saying that goes “Tragedy should be utilized a source of strength”. The tragedy suffered by the Tamil people of Sri Lanka in May 2009 has done very little to help coerce our ego-centric leaders into coming out of their shells and working together. Even in the diaspora, the leaders of various organizations continue to fight over petty personal issues, thus weakening both the unity that is supposed to hold our community together. Rather than stand behind each other to encourage strength, our community has only become more factionalized. The blunders of these foolish “leaders” only helped the Sri Lankan regime get away with their campaign of genocide. It is reasonable to assume that the events of May 2009 would have helped us find a common platform, unfortunately, I believe that it did the reverse.
There has been a lack of efforts by our leaders in nurturing democracy, transparency and accountability in the Tamil organizations of the diaspora. Rather than bring about real change, they choose to play politics behind closed doors. They make decisions based on their own self-interest and proceed without any form of public consultation. The desire for wealth and influence has corrupted these individuals. The future generations should be able to look at these folks as mentors and role-models, not crooks and egotists.
If leaders continue to occupy their current positions and keep the status quo, absolutely nothing will change. They say that the real leaders are born from vacuum. When we continue to hoodwink Tamils with incompetent leadership, we are effectively barring a new line of thinkers from taking over and guiding our community towards a brighter future. The backroom leaders and old-school dinosaurs of the main Tamil organizations must take a que and honour those fallen by stepping down and opening the doors for our new people to pursue leadership roles that will help them make a real impact in the lives of other Tamilians.
Tamils and mainstream politics
While it is good to see Tamil community involved in mainstream politics, we must be reminded that the Canadian electoral system must not be used for our community to advocate the issues of back home. We should educate our politicians about our cause and concern, but contribute to the discussion on issues of domestic importance. We must work with our elected officials to improve our ridings and the lives of our fellow constituents.
Our diaspora and community organizations must endorse candidates based on their values. We must follow a specific criteria for evaluating all candidates. We must not endorse someone because of their pandering to different factions of the community, but instead look at their genuine concern for their community and the issues affecting those who call it their home.
When it comes to members of community choosing to stand for elections, I sometimes see through their façades that it is only because of selfish reasons that they are choosing to do so. Our candidates must embrace professionalism and ethics! On the other hand, some old-timers are actively discouraging the youngsters from getting involved in the political arena. It is disheartening to those who profess their support for democracy and freedom to block the ideas of our most valuable assets – the youth. We need to raise our voices and end this kind of intimidation politics in all political parties. We need to win the hearts and minds of our representatives by showing them one bad seed is not the true portrait of our entire community. We must reengage on the terms of transparency and trust. We serve better when we work together!
International community and Tamils
Tamils are becoming more adaptive, seldom seeking to alter the essential fabric of their adopted homes. They live liberally and mostly adjust to suit the systems that are in place. As a Tamil, I am proud if this and consider it one of our strongest traits. We are born-capitalists with progressive conservative values and never seek to harm the land where we have found asylum. The international community needs to ensure that our struggle included the same armed resistance as those undertaken by countries such as South Africa, Israel, Kosovo, and East Timor. The African National Congress’ struggle is the same as that of the Tamils. The international community should consider allowing people to continue advocating for control of their own destiny, albeit peacefully. We can now longer allow international pressure to perpetuate 500 years of enslaving our hearts and souls. We have endured so much pain and suffering that now is the time to unchain ourselves from its bondage.
Tamil people must come out of their shells of individualism and integrate themselves in the broader community.
Are we only going to gather at one place on May 18 and November 27th to cry for those lost or are we going to find other ways to uplift and empower each other? Continued morning isn’t the answer. I want my community to start building plans, roadmaps and start working towards our cause together. It is time that we get to the ground of Eelam and understand what is exactly needed. Today, economically weaken society yet they lack of political leadership who can lead them from front. It is time we use our efforts to mobilize the people on the ground to rebuild their lives through economically, then physically and politically. Unless we interfere into their economic empowerment, we have no moral obligation to interfering into deciding their political destiny. Foremost is to get them under one umbrella maybe by newly created organization, Tamil People’s council. This is where TPC can play greater role by centralizing the efforts of diaspora groups and the people on the ground. If they able to provide list of people needed help and diaspora team can send support via one channel. While, doing the rebuilding our people can start thinking about political destiny their lives and the lost freedom. It is how we can get them think and allow them grow bigger and become part of one family again. We must with diaspora efforts invest in rebuilding our education system in Eelam. Rebuilding our universities is of utmost importance. Therefore, let us fund the establishment of a university in the East of Eelam as soon as possible. Education will be the tool to raise a generation that can carry our voices and speak for us on the world stage.
Let us all support maternal health and provide the care necessary to helping all Mothers raise healthy, happy children. A centre in the North and East provide services related to nutrition support will help these women in carrying out their duties. After all, it takes a village to raise a child!
A scholarship system supported by the diaspora will allow the poor to continue their educations. TPC ought to have a financial wing to help guide the applicants in these obtaining scholarships.
We must engage our youth in the North and East through physical activities and organized sports – Cricket, Field Hockey, Soccer, etc. We must reestablish their physical and mental strength by providing them platforms to embrace their own talent. Training together will help foist unity and brotherhood.
Human rights must be monitored on a constant basis to support the people who continue to live in Eelam. Vigilance is of the utmost importance!
My desire is to build a support system where all Tamilians can seek help and raise their self-esteem. It is the result of living under the shadow of slavery for so long that we have lost our will to rise again. Let us invest in a Tamil Support System (TSS) to help shed our complexities and divisions that plagues us. We must teach our youngsters to respect all jobs and careers whatever their own might be – we all depend on each other and idleness is not an option if we wish to become economically sustainable.
Once all these systems start to run their gears, we will have the right morale to coalesce under one banner and express our political aspiration, peacefully. The unity must start today. When you meet a fellow Tamil, I urge you to greet them. Do not think that their sole purpose is to threaten your own existence. Let us leave behind our differences and approach them with a fresh mind. If possible, hug them and greet them with “we shall meet again in Tamil Eelam”