21 September, 2018

Blog

The GTF Comes Out Of The Shadows: What’s New In The Tamil Diaspora?

By Kumar David

Prof Kumar David

It is to be expected that the obliteration of the LTTE would transform all Tamil polity. Armed militancy has ceased in Lanka (except the hallucinatory hypocrisy of the Defence Ministry when cracking down on rights and freedoms), and the TNA has surfaced as the main political representative of the Ceylon Tamils. (Ceylon is used here to exclude Muslims and Upcountry Tamils and the generic Tamil hereafter refers to Ceylon Tamils). The status quo was slower to change in the diaspora and remained murky, but a recent visit to London permitted me a closer view. What I had hoped would be nostalgic nightly pub crawls with old buddies, turned into seminars at the School of Oriental & African Studies and King’s College (not university events but venues reserved by student societies), on Modalities of Emergent Dictatorship in Lanka & the National Question, and Great Power Balances in the Indian Ocean, respectively. I was also an observer at the GTF Convention in the House of Commons, and moreover had the opportunity to interact with diaspora youth – mainly Tamils, but a few Sinhalese as well. It was good experience; but no more of my doings; this essay is on political trends in the Tamil diaspora, principally in London, but extrapolation to the rest of the UK and Europe would be reasonable.

There is uncertainty, flux, and thirdly a distinct emergent trend which I will discuss anon. Uncertainty is lodged in the mind of the relatively small part of the diaspora which remains loyal to the LTTE agenda – that is, to the concept of Thamil Eelam as a separate state of the Tamils in the island of Lanka. I would not venture a guess how large or small this sector is, but at my meetings only three or four people intervened such that it signalled them out as carriers of this ideology. The mood of pro-Eelam folk (LTTE loyalists and non-LTTE) was that Tamils would never get a fair deal from the Sinhalese majority; hence they would be better off in a state of their own. However, I did not meet a single person who argued that the Tamils should start again from where the LTTE left off. That is, a return to the armed struggle was deemed futile by implication; but when asked by what other realistic means Eelam could be reached, the replies were prevarications and irrelevancies.

In the past rich diaspora Tamils would pontificate for a separate state and contribute to LTTE funds, but carefully educated their sons and daughters as doctors, accountants and engineers. In LTTE times there was cannon fodder, children of the poor, of farmers and fishermen, mobilised on the ground, through whom this class could ejaculate its pent up nationalist frustrations while remaining ensconced in material comforts of Western prosperity. Sans the LTTE, sans the “boys”, sans children of the Tamil poor to feed to the guns of the Sinhala state, this option has dried up.

The flux in the middle

It is my reading that the majority of Tamils in the diaspora are no longer bearers of LTTE ideology hence it is false to use the term LTTE-rump as though it reflected the general mood of adults or youth. There is indeed intense, even passionate commitment to what can be called “the Tamil cause”; but equally, there is realisation that armed struggle and civil-war have failed and acceptance that Thamil Eelam is now a daydream unless delivered by Washington-cum-Delhi; or issues from a great movement of global Dravidians. But diaspora Tamils are not raving lunatics like Weerawansa; they know that Washington and Delhi may be usable for enforcing human rights or political solutions, but are not standard-bearers of Thamil Eelam. Or imagine Tamil Nadu and Malaysian Tamils exchanging their present positions for an irredentist Eldorado of global Dravidianism. Heck, they must sniff crack-cocaine before it comes to that!

To put it simply, the large mass of diaspora Tamils have bitter personal experiences, are angry about the carnage in the Vannie, and determined to oppose oppression of the minority, and hence will help defeat Rajapakse siblings and state. However, apart from negative sentiments of rage, alienation and injustice, they don’t quite know what positive strategy to pursue. If Eelam is a bit of a stretch and if the Sinhala racist state is the enemy’, but if wary of democratic (and hopefully socialist) alliances with Sinhalese, Muslim and Christian progressives, where does that leave them? Much confused you might think – well not quite. The diaspora is not in stasis but in reflexive movement out of miasma and into some light; the mist is clearing and I prefer to look at the positive side.

The Tamil diaspora is in flux. It is letting go of the past but has not yet found a future. The agency which should have been a point of resonance, the left, is dead; the dead-left in Rajapakse’s pocket is despised. Smaller left parties are noticed, but at the bottom of the radar screen; none are significant. Unfortunately, more in the diaspora than in the Tamil community at home, the JVP is perceived as alien, not overtly racist but with nothing to offer; a predicament for which the JVP is itself 101% to blame! There is grudging acceptance that with the Tigers buried the TNA is the only game in town for the Tamils. All this may be platitudinous for some readers, but this shift of allegiance is gelling only slowly in diaspora minds.

A matter of some disappointment to me is that while there is, obviously, interest in a national democratic programme, it is difficult to engage diaspora youth in socio-economics. Try and you run into a stone wall or blank heads. Am I asking for too much? Give it time, they’ve hardly got over the LTTE delusion, maybe that’s enough for a decade. Only young people who return to Lanka and soil their hands in real issues can appreciate that ivory tower exclusively-nationalist thought is sterile. Even contributions from afar to a national democratic programme will be off the mark; I refer to the writing of a new constitution, economic strategy and the IMF, and social issues (health, education and women). Since the majority of youth will not return, acclimatised as they are to a new ethos, their main contribution will be engendering international pressure for democracy in general and minority rights in particular; still valuable.

The GTF Convention

The Global Tamil Forum’s convention at the House of Commons at the end of February was more a grand event than a conference where perspectives are debated and future programmes thrashed out. In what it set out to do, it was a great success and established two gains. Firstly it displayed that the British political establishment (Tories, Labour and the Lib-Dems) were willing to throw their weight behind a political solution and that they unanimously backed a call for reconciliation as per LLRC recommendations, accountability and independent investigation. The ANC added its voice as did Eric Solheim, Yasmin Sooka and Gordon Weise. The second achievement is that it added to the pressure building on GoSL at the UNHRC sessions in Geneva. GoSL is boxed in and under intense international pressure complicating its domestic putrefaction – impeachment travesty, Divineguma charade, senior ministers abusing the law with impunity on behalf of their progeny; a rotten catamaran long overdue to sink. These are two signal achievements of the GTF convention.

An initiative that did not work out well was the intention of inviting about two dozen progressive Sinhalese activists, leftists and journalists as a first step in building multi-ethnic mobilisation. In the end there were no more than four or five Sinhalese and no one high profile made a presentation. Never mind, these are early days and a start has to be made. People intending to return to the Island are concerned about bullying by state and chauvinists, and rightly so given the Rajapakse government’s rampant abuse of power against opponents. Second, and perhaps more important, the GTF had done little preparatory spade work. The organisation and its programme are unknown in Lanka; how can a Sinhalese participate in a convention on a very tricky issue without transparency on the nature of the host. If a large Sinhalese contingent was to participate, the programme agenda should also have been circulated and discussed in advance.

One criticism that does not trouble me at all is the charge that the GTF includes people who were once sympathisers or supporters of the LTTE. Any Tamil political organisation today will include plenty of ex-LTTE people. How can it be otherwise given the LTTE’s pervasive influence and energy for thirty years in both the diaspora and at home? Even the Rajapakse regime includes a strong contingent of ex-LTTE cadres; vide Karuna, Pilleyan, KP and paramilitaries who remain armed to this day. Douglas, though not ex-LTTE, also belongs to the tradition of armed Tamils. Every organisation, in which Tamils are present, now and well into the future, will contain former LTTErs. It is time to be plain about this and lay to rest this bogey which state, military and chauvinists use to marginalise Tamil political activity. I believe that the GTF, like the TNA and all Tamil political and non-political organisations, surely contains previous LTTE sympathisers and supporters. That’s fine by me; what’s important is the organisation’s current and future programme.

My assessment is that the GTF leadership has an understanding of the political dynamics outlined in this essay, is receptive to a genuine political solution and accepts the TNA as the on-the-ground leader, is thinking along programmatic lines including alliances in the South, and is desirous of progressive alliances with radical, democratic and leftist Sinhalese and Muslim movements. In respect of the last matter its practices are still in embryo, but will develop. The leadership often looks over its shoulder at the support base which spreads over a spectrum of maturity. Practice more than preaching will help the base to mature. I am of the view that the GTF is a forward-thinking diaspora Tamil political entity and it would be productive for activists of all communities in Lanka to relate to it, ignoring the shrieks that this suggestion will evoke from racist and chauvinist quarters and unavoidable intimidation by the Rajapakse state.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 0
    0

    An extremely fine exposition that is graphic, true and correct and above all patently honest. The change was coming and a few sensed it. 2009 was too stunning for objective study or dispassionate response. Yet the beginning of fresh thinking was in evidence as early as 2010. After 3 years of creative gestation it is overt now.

    The speed with which they have moved that is veering from romantic unrealism to achievable pragmatism is a tribute to their mental resilience. For the Tamils this is the most adorable response from the Diaspora. Now they will move together with resident Tamils and move in step with the TNA, the acknowledged leadership. Mr. Sampanthan has displayed his quality as leader by being the very progenitor of this correct position.

    Diaspora descent to mother earth many were wishing and a few were sensing. KD has seen the descent and is sharing his experience. Anyone with a sense of historical perspective will not be blown off his feet and will be conscious of the tasks ahead and the attendant perils. Tamils should be thankful to KD for giving correct directions as well.

  • 0
    0

    It is gratifying to note that people like CHANAKYAN has assessed the truth of the exposition by KD well.I am entirely in conformity with the contention that the leadership of the GTF is realistic in the understanding of the political dynamics involed like Mr.Sampanthan the leader of the TNA about the importance of forging progressive alliances with all democratically inclined secular political groups in SL.To this end relentless untiring efforts have to be made to forge such alliances to bring about a radical change in the political landscape of the country.I think this can easily be achieved if the GTF can morph as a Global Lankan Diaspora organisation to achieve the end of bringing democracy and the rule of law in the island country.

  • 0
    0

    Wider Sinhalese participation in the resurgence of Tamil nationalist movement is extremely important as you KD has pointed out.

    The Sinhala participants must come from sections of the media, Buddhist clergy, trade unionists form the south and plantation areas, ex-security forces commanders who are opposed to the regime, legal fraternity,human rights activists, university teachers, student union leaders,women’s rights activists, film makers, singers,writers, and most importantly former/current leading members of leftist/Trotskyites/Stalinist/Maoist political parties.

    These layers are beginning to understand the progressive role of the international community (as represented by US, EU , Norway etc)in world affairs mainly in other parts of the world such as Syria, Mali etc.No reason to be concerned about Weerawansa’s demagogy anymore. The GTF’s tasks/Sinhala poor’s demands cannot be achieved by handing over the job to local bourgeoisie and it could be only achieved with the assistance of the international working class ie the international community. I am looking forward to hear that Diaspora Tamil youth are focusing their efforts in this direction.

  • 0
    0

    The Tamil diaspora was born from the ashes of 83, now 30 years, and 3 years after the end of the war. For 27 years it supported the LTTE and now it has to come to terms with the new realities. What is required in Sri Lanka is justice and reconcilliation for the tamil, sinhalese and muslim people. Any other agenda will only create problems and suffering for all.

    Hence the GTF and other diaspora organisations should unite and evolve a broader strategy of reconcilliation and coexistance. They should forge alliances with the TNA and other political parties to further this cause. Their strength and maturity by virtue of their new western democratic tradition will stand in good stead and benefit the people of their motherland.

  • 0
    0

    Professor no one need to be apologitic about Ex LTTers. Any one who is not LTTEr can not be sincere about the motives of safeguarding Tamils. Even Gordon Weiss must have been an LTTE sympathiser eventhough he started as an anti LTTE person whne came to Sri Lanka. Before 2009 May any Tamil Sympathiser would be a LTTE sympathiser.
    IF Middle Class Professor and his aristocratic comrades – NM and Colvin – could have lead the Working Class what is wrong with Tamil diaspora living in the material comfort of West providing financial support for LTTE. I am not equating Professor to people like Tissa Vithrana. The old were to some extent sincere. But I am not sure what they did in 1970-77 however much Professor has tried to justify was the right thing.
    NO Tamil including LTTE wanted and independent State they wanted self respect for the Tamils. Which they did not recieve from the 1948. Not that they received before 1948. But it was a foreign rule not self rule. I stil remember, when Professor Spoke amongst the Old left agianst Standardisation of teh 1970 in the central committee meeting of LSSP, he was told that he is speaking against it because he is a Tamil. He might have turnaround and laughed at the ignorance of the person who said that, fact remains that even the old left was not willing accept the injustice to the Tamils. Separate state was a strategy not mission or vision. As time changes based on the reality strategy and tactics may change. What is clear is in the changed world after 9/11 armed struggle may not be the best tactics except when the arms are given by western nations. as in Libya and elswhere in teh Middle east.
    But it is still a doubtful whether a unitary state would give an opportunity for the Tamils as equal citizens in Sri Lanka. It could not happen even when the old left shared power. The Leaders abandoned their policy of equality of Tamils to taste power before they die. Whatever reasons Professor may say, that is what it appears to an ordinary Tamil like me.
    Now so much have happened, Sinhala people still supported Mahinda because he crushed Tamil Liebration movement. They were not bothered about the grivenaces of Tamils and the atrocities committed to Tamil civilains to crush LTTE.Under these circumstances will they give self respect to Tamils is a big question mark. As professor rightly said will Washinton-Dlehi will want to support a separate state. Professors organisation dominated by ‘genuine’ leaders could not convince the sinhala community. Can GTF or any other organisation could ever do that.

    • 0
      0

      Raja – please do not resurrect the LTTE. If the LTTE is resurrected there will not be any Tamils left in SL. If Prabaharan had been alive, the GTF could not have ever conducted a conference of this nature and magnitude. When he was alive only he could talk about Tamil grievances, no one else or one had to get permission from him to talk about Tamil grievances!! I very well know how TNA MPs were ridiculed by Anton B’singham during his Maveerar Day speech in London – utterly disgusting. I am glad Prabaharan is no more. Only now the world hears the pain and suffering of Tamils in Sri Lanka from organisations such as GTF. Only now big troubles gather pace for Mahinda. Mahinda must be now cursing his military for killing Prabaharan…..!!!!!!

      Prof KD has given an excellent account what GTF has achieved and stood for since 2009 as an un-oppressed organisation [by Prabaharan…..!!!]

      • 0
        0

        If not for LTTE there would have been no Tamil in SL now. WIth LTTE gone, I do not think there will any Tamils in Island in 10-20 Years Time. In North east, tamils will be marginalised by sinhala colonization.,Old will die of natural cause, The whole middle class will migrate. those who can not migrate will die of State Terrorism by the sinhala army governers and sinhala district secretaries. with the provincial government doing everything in sinhala, balance will become sinhala speaking.Yes there will be real peace on the completion of geneocide started in 1956 by throwing small children to the boliing tar barrels (read Emergency ’58 by Tarchi Vitachi). It was slowed down by LTTE. Now the real peace will be achived in a accelarated pace and will completed in 10-15 Years

        • 0
          0

          Raj
          Any Eelam Liberation organisation that is banned by India, UK followed by Europe, Canada and the US should have become an outcast for Tamils. Tamils should have rejected the LTTE. This is where you got it completely wrong. Please grow up, grow up fast.

          • 0
            0

            Should have rejected LTTE and got anihilated much earlier to acheive peace. LTTE got banned in US because of an Idiot called Bush who could not differentiate between Liberation movement and Terrorist movment.

  • 0
    0

    very well said sir, nandri

  • 0
    0

    Washington – Delhi axis is a tricky business. India in a quandrary

    Washington want Delhi in their fold in reaching out to the diaspora needs.
    Delhi wants to appease Tamil Nadu as well as want to maintain a unitary India. Wasington is holding Delhi to ransom soothing the diaspora with the West.

    Diaspora playing around with tamil Nadu political jokers with $$$
    untill GTF strike a cord with the new Vatican.

    Professors attempting to show their intelect with various formulas which the Ceylon Tamils living in Sri Lanka are not intersted.

  • 0
    0

    Prof. Kumar David has discerned desirable thinking in the GTF, through his interactions. He however also says its practices are embryonic. I have personally advocated the thinking Prof. David discerns and can only hope that it takes form and shape soon. It is already considerably late. It is a fragile process, considering the ‘ looking over the shoulder’ factor he mentions. It has to navigate crocodile infested waters. I wish GTF good luck, despite having serious reservations yet.

    Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

  • 0
    0

    The international sympathy is for the victims of the abuses, especially those hit by the institutional players. So it is natural to denounce the crimes against the Tamils. For the same reasons, it should be condemned the conduct of the LTTE. But the Tamil community is too obsessed with revenge rather than justice.
    If the diaspora wants to look sincere, it should speak more clearly about LTTE crimes. I don’t see in those environments a solid culture to promote human rights and justice.

    • 0
      0

      This is very true. It seems in the Tamil psychology, if one can really be so general (as expressed in the talk and actions of their leaders and indeed the vast majority of Tamil films coming from India), is based on revenge rather than reconciliation. I think that until we get some sense of balance in all this, that a sense of brotherhood will not return to the island easily. The Tamils outside of Sri Lanka, and indeed those inside intent of regime change as the only way forward (a big mistake) will need to acknowledge the true genocide perpetrated by the LTTE against the Tamils (from intelligentsia to the peasant) and the rest of the island, before they will be trusted and taken seriously. The Tamils and well as the rest of the island’s populace need this. It was never a one-side situation. The LTTE were given far more chances than any western government has ever given an adversary, to call it a day. They are the bad guys, and distance should be made between the LTTE and the average Tamil.

  • 0
    0

    A very good analysis
    of a kind that was long overdue. All international Tamil activity goes under those of the LTTE rump according to the Sinhala chauvinists. What is not realised is the reason for the emergence of the Ltte. Actually the the genesis of the Diaspora began in the early 60s with the discrimination followed by university standardisation and the like. Bensen

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 300 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically shut off on articles after 10 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.