By Jehan Perera –
President Maithripala Sirisena is reported to be seeking to build relations with the Tamil Diaspora while in London to participate in the Commonwealth Day celebrations as chair of the Commonwealth. Along with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, the president is expected to meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron to explore ways and means of securing the support of the Diaspora groups. This signals a paradigm shift in the approach of the government towards a group that is important to Sri Lanka’s future wellbeing.
The Tamil Diaspora is generally portrayed in Sri Lanka as being hostile to the country and seeking its division. During the war funding and weaponry came to the LTTE from abroad which contributed to their becoming a formidable military force and a threat to the unity of the country and to the lives of its citizens. When the LTTE’s defeat became imminent the Tamil Diaspora actions in mobilizing in huge protests in the Western countries against the Sri Lankan government in the final stage of the war showed that they could take on the LTTE’s cause to themselves. However, after the presidential election that saw the unseating of President Mahinda Rajapaksa there are increasingly close ties between the new government and the TNA, which represents the mainstream Tamil polity within the country. This is causing a change in the Tamil Diaspora in a manner that bodes well for national reconciliation. It is better to have the friendship of the Tamil Diaspora than its enmity.
The new government has very reason to be grateful to the Tamil voters. The huge majorities for President Maithripala Sirisena that were notched up in the northern and eastern electorates where the Tamil and Muslim voters predominate made the difference between victory and defeat for the president. During his recent visit to Jaffna, President Sirisena made his gratitude known through the words he spoke. He said, “Everyone should work in a spirit of brotherhood irrespective of differences. The task of bringing together the minds of the people cannot be achieved only through physical development. It is this government’s hope to bridge the North and South through friendship and understanding.”
President Sirisena showed his gratitude in visiting Jaffna despite negative signals that came from the Northern Province after the presidential elections. The resolution accusing successive Sri Lankan governments of practicing genocide against the Tamils that was passed by the Northern Provincial Council a mere three weeks before the President’s visit to Jaffna was not in keeping with the improvement in relations between the TNA and the government. Nor did it correspond with the positive changes that have been taking place on the ground in the north and east. The most important of these is the lifting of the fear of arbitrary arrest and disappearance by government forces. The mismatch between the improvement in ground realities and the resolution on genocide by the Northern Provincial Council indicated a Tamil Diaspora hand.
The Tamil Diaspora is a factor in Sri Lanka’s life that cannot be ignored or marginalized. There are about a million Tamils who live outside Sri Lanka which is about a third of the entire Tamil population living within Sri Lanka. They are bound to Sri Lanka as their relatives continue to live in it and they are also bound to their memories of injustices that drove them out. Many have overcome their initial adversity and prospered in the merit-based systems of Western countries. Some amongst the Tamil Diaspora have become political leaders in the countries to which they emigrated. They have gained a place for themselves in politics by championing the cause of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. With their money, influence and education, they have been able to bend some of the Tamil politicians in Sri Lanka to their will.
During the period of the war and in the post-war period of the Rajapaksa presidency, the Tamil Diaspora was unified in opposing the Sri Lankan state and its agents. In the post-war period they joined hands with international human rights groups to lobby for an international probe into war crimes committed in the last phase of the war that saw the defeat of the LTTE. In retaliation, the former government of President Rajapaksa banned most of theTamil Diaspora organizations as being terrorist. However, the election of President Sirisena and his appointment of a new government headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has seen a significant shift taking place within the Tamil Diaspora. Some of its leading members, such as Fr S J Emmanuel and Suren Surenthiran of the Global Tamil Forum have come out in support of the policy of constructive engagement with the government being followed by the present TNA leadership.
In a recent statement Fr Emmanuel has said, with self-critical insight, that “The blame for the present situation of the country or of the Tamils cannot be placed only on the Sinhalese people and their leaders alone. As I explained above, we have inherited a system of government initiated by leaders from all communities. Unfortunately it has brought us all to this plight. The present regime change is a unique chance to examine our foundations and do all that is possible for a better future. Hence, we who are either victims on the ground or diaspora-stake holders, are called to make careful and responsible moves, not upsetting the international concern for our cause, not giving the new regime to effect some fundamental changes to our governance, and not weakening the unity of our current Tamil leadership when prudence and wise collaboration are the needs of this hour.”
The TNA leadership has taken unusually accommodative positions that have shown their goodwill towards the new government, such as attending the Independence Day celebrations for the first time in four decades. The election of the new President with the support of Tamil votes and the good relationship between the TNA and government offers an opportunity for a healing of relations between the Tamil Diaspora and Sri Lanka. The Tamil Diaspora has talent, wealth and international connections that can make a great contribution to Sri Lanka’s development if they are utilized for constructive purposes. The Tamil Diaspora is too large, too influential internationally and has too many links with the Tamils living in Sri Lanka for it to be kept out of Sri Lanka. It is much better to have them as an ally, and as part of the larger Sri Lankan community, than to try to exclude them as a hostile or enemy force.
There are already efforts by members of the Tamil Diaspora to assist in the process of reconciliation that includes the people living within the country as well as those living outside. One such initiative titled “Write to Reconcile” is by the internationally acclaimed novelist Shyam Selvadurai. Although based in Canada since 1984, he has kept his links with Sri Lanka alive and for the past three years has been working with prospective young novelists in Sri Lanka. They come from all three communities, and also from the Diaspora. They work under Shyam’s tutelage to learn the basics of writing a prize winning story and also gain exposure to the different perspectives of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims and to visit each other’s areas and become friends and colleagues. His work brings together young people from the different ethnic communities to exchange ideas and learn from one another in a structured environment.
What is especially noteworthy about Shyam’s work is that it is the Tamil Diaspora that is reaching out to promote reconciliation within Sri Lanka. This positive linkage between the Tamil Diaspora and Sri Lanka spans the generations. Shyam Selvadurai’s constructive work for Sri Lanka pre-existed him in his father, DDN, the great Sri Lankan tennis coach who also played for Sri Lanka’s national team. Although the family emigrated to Canada after the July 1983 anti-Tamil riots destroyed their home and nearly took their lives, he has been returning to Sri Lanka to coach local talent and is now facilitating the building of tennis courts in the schools of Jaffna. The contribution of the Selvadurai family can become one of hundreds or thousands of similar initiatives that build capacity and reintegrate Sri Lankans living within the country and abroad. There is a Tamil Diaspora that suffered and left the country, but continues to love it and wants to return to improve life in the country of their birth and kin.
Thamilan / March 9, 2015
Good to see a Singhalese gentleman write about the Tamil Diaspora in a positive way.
Amarasiri / March 9, 2015
Jehan Perera –
RE: Tamil Diaspora Is Becoming Part Of Larger Sri Lankan Community
Tamil Diaspora Is Getting Common Sense , as Opposed to Mootal Sense.
Is this the Evolution of Tamil Diaspora? Was Charles Darwin Right on the Theory of Evolution?
Will the Sinhala Modayas evolve as well? Will the Para-Sinhala Dravidians from South India in the Land of Native Veddah Aethho, evolve just like theie Para Dravidian Tamils?
Prem / March 9, 2015
Sri Lanka state sponsored terrorism killed over one hundred thousand Tamil civilians and now Sri Lanka larger community? What kind of justice is this?
Vanguard / March 9, 2015
“It is much better to have them as an ally, and as part of the larger Sri Lankan community, than to try to exclude them as a hostile or enemy force”
Is this what they want to be an ally?
Your writing has become strangely uninspired as of late – are you self-censoring?
Afzal / March 9, 2015
From what I read and hear objectives of Tamil diaspora is disconnected with aspirations of Tamils living Sri Lanka. J. Perera is not sincere with his thoughts.
There is no need to overly appraise the Tamil voters, what they did was like the rest of the country is to vote out a dictatorial ruler where every one with some sort of intelligence could see that if we let MARA continue we will be digging our own grave.
However an opportunity has been presented for all parties to work towards peace. The point is will the Tamil diaspora take up that challenge shedding petty politics. Who has the credibility to come forward as representatives of Tamil diaspora ?
Javi. / March 9, 2015
agony in abattoir arfat/afzal,
sihala-muslim combo pick pocket coconut heads,
the sloth the wicked siren that no right thinking Lankan should listen to.
you are fit to be sent `into` the hallal abbatior by BBS- lauda car bal hair split for SISI
cholan / March 9, 2015
Tamils never change their Thoppi when ever suitable .for few bones .this is the difference..by the way what is your mother tongue ???? Tamil yes? Where ever you live in SL your people speak Tamil ..all you are converted Tamil Hindus….Why on earth you can’t change to Arabic ?
By the way before the arrival of Portugese there were no muslims in North-East of SL do you know this ???
cholan / March 9, 2015
Why only SL Tamil diaspora ?????? Tamil are living in many countries for generations all over the world …South Africa alone has got one million Indians majority of them are Tamils and well educated …..Mauritius Tamil people have more sympathy towards SL Tamils ….
As long as SL Tamil problem remains with military threat .. Sinhalese can’t sleep ….they will have to live with fear from cradle to grave for coming generations.
The country will soon divided between Greater China and the West ….what will these card board patriots will do then except run and hdd under bed with their wives???
When Vietnam was occupied 100s of ordinary Vietnam citizens and monks self immolate themselves in front of US embassy …he he he when this country was occupied by IPKF all these Sinhala patriots were hiding under bed …now writing here …what a joke?
Native Vedda / March 9, 2015
“As long as SL Tamil problem remains with military threat .. Sinhalese can’t sleep ….they will have to live with fear from cradle to grave for coming generations.”
So its a “Tamil Problem” after all.
The solution to the problem is that both stupid Tamils and stupid Sinhalese should acquire nuclear arsenals, keep each other awake day and night.
Don’t you think its a brilliant idea?
MOHAMED MARZOOK / March 9, 2015
THE FORMER GOVT. WITHOUT ANY DEFINITION PORTRAYED ALL THE EXPATRIATE TAMILS AS ANTI-SR LANKANS. DIALOGUES, ENGAGEMENTS, RELATIONSHIP AND A CREATION OF AN ENVIRONMENT OF UNDERSTANDING COULD GO A LONG WAY IN BUILDING UP TRUST. THE PRESENT GOVT’S. APPROACH IS REALISTIC AND POSITIVE RESULTS ARE SEEN.
Native Vedda / March 9, 2015
“When Vietnam was occupied 100s of ordinary Vietnam citizens and monks self immolate themselves in front of US embassy “
Will you ever see the difference between self immolation and suicide bombings? Since you are a Tiger Thamil you are blind to see the difference.
cholan / March 9, 2015
Even your monks were sacred to protest against IPKF…..he he he Vietnam monks in100s burn themselves and died in front of US embassy in Saigon…..No guts ????? This has nothing to do with suicide bombers after all for this also one need guts …Why couldn’t your cardboard Sinhala patriots jump among IPKF soldiers as human bomb ???…Malayali -Sinhalease can only talk and write…..no guts at all…except attacking defenseless Tamil while Sinhala security look other side…SUNDAY SILL MONDAY KILL
Javi. / March 9, 2015
sue you side akken!! better poda porriki
no bastard won a war by dying for his homeland but by killing the other bastard-
booming voice of general patton- hiroshima.
hole in One was a coward to the core from slave stock that he threatned even offshore families with deat if they did not commit sucide –
His son too obeyed him piously- son shot himself! Bazooka!!!
COWARD WHO RAN A MORTUARY BECAUSE HE SHOT ALFI, DURIAPPA> -puta madre cabeza..go jump into sharks mouth.
cholan / March 10, 2015
The so called war was won because of the help from poverty India plus 36 countries ….using banned chemical weapons ..coward were unable to fight face to face….for 30 years when they heard their names these cardboard patriots urinate ….now talking big about their borrowed..artificial ..fake victory …..
Tomorrow if Chinese troops landed here took protect their investments all these jokers will run under bed and close their doors …he he he…
Javi. / March 10, 2015
why are you hardup for a ticket to work afghan security?
hunting for isis at syria??
just lets know there are reputed agencies on line run by coalition–…are you a prospective bin larden tamil??
Jazz / March 9, 2015
Sinhalese people would have no issues whatsoever if the Tamil Diaspora changes their attitude and engages constructively with Sri Lanka. Infact, the Sinhalese would welcome all Sri Lankan diaspora to return if they so desire and contribute towards the development of their country of birth.
Recent history has demonstrated the good intentions of the Sinhalese because as you are aware, there are several former members of the LTTE who are engaged in Sri lankan politics and are in parliament. I must add that their safety has never been an issue. So, I don’t see why the diaspora tamil people cannot return.
But, I think they should resolve to put the past behind for the sake of the future and strive to find solutions to their problems within a democratic framework. Personally, I would prefer if the tamil people take ownership of the whole of Sri lanka as their nation rather than just the north and east. Especially in present day context where tamil people are residing in most parts of the country. Secondly, I would like to see tamil politicians get involved in formulating national policies. For some reason, they have restricted their political activity in parliament to issues of the north and the east only. That sends the wrong message to the rest of the country. So, a little change of attitude on their part would go a long way in changing the attitudes and perceptions of the sinhalese as well.
Anpu / March 10, 2015
“I would prefer if the tamil people take ownership of the whole of Sri lanka as their nation rather than just the north and east.”
That is exactly what we did for a long time even after independence in 1948. After independence, successive Sri Lankan govts of all shades cheated the Tamils.
Javi. / March 10, 2015
the hardest part about milking a mouse is getting the bucket underneath it! you couldn’t so `hole in one` kicked them out.
Jazz / March 10, 2015
We can interpret history for another quarter of a century. But, at some point in time, we need to move forward. I believe that point in time has arrived because quite frankly this is the best opportunity for tamils to find solutions to their grievances with the present Sri Lankan leadership. All other options are bad options.So, let’s be pragmatic and realistic about what can and cannot be achieved.
Javi. / March 9, 2015
“”Since you are a Tiger Thamil you are blind to see the difference. “”
15 ton loader ISIS or sim1 tamil tiger??
i don’t have to visit or wait for an answer.
Ram / March 10, 2015
As evidenced by the LTTE terrorist flag taking centre stage at today’s protests organized by the BTF among others.
Richard Kaz / March 10, 2015
“The new government has very reason to be grateful to the Tamil voters.”
Then the new government needs to start showing that by its actions, not words. The push for the new government to switch the war crimes inquiry from an international one to a domestic one is a huge let down for the Tamils and Jehan Perera who many Tamils see as a genuine moderate needs to recognise that. This action by the new government is the reason many Tamil moderates remain suspicious of the them.
Given the history of the Sri Lankan state to whitewash any inquiry or commission of investigation into state violence against Tamils, a domestic investigation can never be trusted. The reason there were repeated state sponsored anti-Tamil pogroms in the past was because no one was held accountable for any of them. Simple logic is that, if criminals are not held accountable for their actions, they are then free to commit crimes again in the future.
Alex Jude / March 10, 2015
“The blame for the present situation of the country or of the Tamils cannot be placed only on the Sinhalese people and their leaders alone. As I explained above, we have inherited a system of government initiated by leaders from all communities. Unfortunately it has brought us all to this plight. The present regime change is a unique chance to examine our foundations and do all that is possible for a better future. Hence, we who are either victims on the ground or diaspora-stake holders, are called to make careful and responsible moves, not upsetting the international concern for our cause, not giving the new regime to effect some fundamental changes to our governance, and not weakening the unity of our current Tamil leadership when prudence and wise collaboration are the needs of this hour.”
Well said Fr Emmanuel and well quoted Jehan!