26 September, 2020

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

By Romesh Hettiarachchi

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.

This 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.

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Latest comments

  • 2
    4

    Romesh Hettiarachchi,

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

    Thank you for initiating the survey. Please publish it widely in the Social Media, Facebook , Twitter and others. More responses you get, it will be close to the truth of the survey.

    1. “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.”

    Why? LTTE Criticism of LTTE by Tamils not acknowledged?

    2. “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.”

    Why? Self interest?

    3. “Moreover 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. “

    “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.:

    Yes. The Paraseshis, the Paras, Para-Sinhala and Para-Tamil going after each other in the Land of Native Veddah Aethho.

    Let us see what the Paras, the Diaspora-pasras think about the conflict between the paras, in the land of native Veddah Aethho.

    • 3
      0

      The above attempt for reconciliation appears to be a noble one but when you read between the lines, there seems to be a hidden agenda. Though transparency is a must, names of conveners of this project is being withheld.

      Again, the author has taken a wrong foot forward in the process of his attempt of reconciliation, when he says Tamil nationalism may be a barrier to any such initiatives taken in Srilanka, which is not quite the truth.

      Since Independence, it is Sinhala Nationalism that was a barrier to peace in Srilanka and till it is so. Tamil nationalists demanded only their legitimate rights and did never try to impose injustice on Sinhalese.

      Please be informed that there cannot be reconciliation without justice, and as long as Sinhalese or government of Srilanka does not grant justice to Tamils according to international norms,there will be no peace.

      Since you are a Canadian, please impress upon the Sinhalese and government of Srilanka, in their attempts for peace, to take the Canadian model of dealing with French nationalism carried out in a civilized manner.

      • 1
        0

        What is the underlying cause of the conflict in Sri Lanka, not just Sinhala nationalism but Sinhala majoritarianism that insists on telling Tamils how to lead their lives, that refuses any level of devolution of power to Tamils to manage their own affairs. If the so-called ‘moderate’ Sinhalese do not understand this, no amount of surveys are going to help resolve the conflict.

  • 2
    1

    Privacy & withholding information is not the norm in Sri Lanka today.
    Weliamuna will feel quite huffed about it.

  • 4
    2

    YOU PEOPLE A NEITHER HERE OR THERE. NO WHERE.

  • 4
    2

    You have mentioned “Indian Tamil” under the community column in your survey. Please note that there is no Indian Tamil. All are Tamils. If you continue to refer as Indian Tamils then you should refer others as Malaya Malays, Arab Muslims, Thinnaveli ( South India) Muslims, Africa Kaffirs, North Indian Sinhalese and South Indian Tamils. Only Veddas will fit into Ceylon community. Other two native communities Yakkas and Nagas were chased out from the island of Ceylon by Buddha according to Mahavamsa.

    I believe you will correct the mistake soon.

  • 3
    2

    One shit English newspaper called National Daily ..like to say SRI LANKAN TAMIL and SRI LANKAN for Sinhalease..whenever print news about Tamils ……..

  • 1
    1

    Daispora Mania!

  • 4
    1

    “Moreover 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.”

    Sri Lankans never lived peacefully togther since SWRD’s Sinhala only policy. That’s when the Sinhala Nationalism and counter Tamil Nationalism started.

    There was a golden chance after May 2009 to bring all Sri Lankans together.That was sqaunderd Rajapakse Nepotism piggy backing on Sinhala nationalism.

    So your ascertion that ” Tamil nationalism may be a barrier to some reconciliation initiatives in Sri Lanka” is load of bullshit coming form a Sinhala Nationalist.

    • 0
      0

      I think what he (the author) is saying is that since 2009 Sinhala nationalism has been the primary obstacle to reconciliation in Sri Lanka. I think I agree with that point.

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