By Raj Subramaniam –
Four years have passed without seeing any progress in the lives of Tamils in our homeland. The International Community marks May 18, 2009, as the end of the war. But the war on Tamils has never ceased, as our people have been subjected to land grabbing, threats against freedom of expression, kidnappings, raping, and political impeachments. During the month of May in 2009, Tamils experienced some of the worst crimes perpetrated against them by the Sri Lankan government.
Under its ‘Liberating Vanni’ banner, the Sri Lankan government, with the assistance of twenty odd countries and their resources, conducted ‘nonstop’ war in what seems to be the most costly war of 21st century, a war that stole the lives of more than 100,000 Tamils. The only force that fought to safeguard the lives and land of the Tamils were brutally crushed and its leadership completely eradicated. And over the years, we had yet to see and hear about the brutal scenes of those last few days of the war, though Channel 4, HRW, and AI took great initiatives, and did their best to speak for the victims and recount their experiences.
Sadly, the International Community nearly completely abandoned Tamils during the war, and the Sri Lankan government denied Tamils access to foreign aid. Since then we have seen the International Community show little interest and little change in their direction towards the victims. As a Diaspora Tamil, I cannot completely forget and forgive what happened to my own people, especially during the last stage of the war waged by the Sri Lankan government.
Having hailed from Vanni, it is very close to my heart that the people had, for more than 50 years, been subjected to poverty, and never, never did they trade in their agriculture and forfeit their environment for making money. These who were put through this misery were not the average Tamils fortunate enough to be financially secure. The Tamils that I speak of were raped, looted, killed, tortured, and put into open prisons while the International Community continued to engage with the Sri Lankan government. During these tragic days in 2009, Tamils all over the world gathered in large numbers on the streets pleading for the International Community to get involved and stop the bloodbath.
Unfortunately, these efforts did not do anything to stop the war. The Sri Lankan government has taken very good advantage of the International Community’s one-sided approach to the Tamil issue. Peace talks were collapsed because of what the International Community did against the party involved in the talks. As a result, it encouraged the Sri Lankan government to pull out of the talks and concentrate on the war. Their own geopolitics and other private interests played a major role in deciding who were legal and who were illegal.
The last 30 years of Tamils’ struggle for independence did prevent multiple Mulliyavaikkal, and it did help save lives, contrary to what the International Community thought of the Tamil Tigers. The Tigers’ political aspirations and their dedication towards helping and saving their own mobilized and motivated many Diaspora Tamils under one umbrella. The Tigers were the glue that held the Diaspora together, because on the ground people had an upper hand, and they saw that there was passionate, authentic voices and leadership that could help them find the light. Our people had a de-facto state that gave them the faith and motivation to come together under one system, and this was why the Tamils gathered in thousands and thousands before 2009. Justice was served under our de-facto government while we witnessed illegal impeachment procedures happening in a democratic state against judges. Under the de-facto government, crime rates were lower and no women were raped. Even plastic bags were banned under the rule and the environment was protected under harsh law.
After 2009, we have seen so many Tamils in despair who seem to have lost hope. We see in others, and at times in ourselves, a lack of confidence, motivation, faith, and an inability to find justification to continue to be active in finding justice for Tamils. But why? The primary reason why Tamils may be disengaging from their commitment to Eelam may be the changes happening on the ground. The bloodbaths may be over, but we all know Tamils are still under attack in many ways. I do believe there is another reason why Tamils have lost hope and momentum. This reason seems to be the Diaspora’s inability to come together and collaborate for this common goal we all share. Of course we cannot expect all eggs to fit into one basket right away.
But the problem we face today is a problem that began after the fall of the Tigers, when members of the Diaspora thought it was their turn to take leadership, their turn to put their own ideas into action. They proposed working in 2-3 different groups for the same cause, a cause that was previously managed under one system. The challenge we face today is that the groups who have formed after 2009 in Diaspora communities are reluctant to compromise on finding one ‘working’ model that can help keep the support and momentum of the masses strong and intact for our Eelam cause.
The irony here is that when the Diaspora was under one system, there was absolutely no momentum from the International Community. It appears that very little momentum has generated after the genocide, and we the Diaspora are divided, and in this fragmentation we are effectively disturbing the efforts of trying to build and increase the momentum and put it to better use towards achieving our common goal. I am very saddened by the state of our Diaspora’s affairs today. It is very painful to see that some of our people have not been willing to give up their desire to control in order to formularize the effective working mechanism we need to have on a global scale.
As an activist, I have witnessed and learned the practical implications of putting teams together and finding common ground. Believe me, I know that it is easier said than done. Sure, we can continue to pour our frustrations and be disengaged with cause. We don’t have to spend any money, energy, or time for any of the activities or lobbying. And where will that get us? What justice will that bring? What, then, becomes of our cause and our dream?
When we become active, engaged, and most importantly, collaborative, we suddenly manage to see where the problems are and can address the issues firsthand, together. The unity I talk of is not to be perceived as ‘all under same umbrella’ model. It should be formulated in such a way that everyone is free to act independently, but collaboratively work together in ways that directly relate to our common goal. There is no doubt in my mind that we all want the same thing: justice for Tamils, international recognition of the Sri Lankan government’s genocide on Tamils, and for a homeland where Tamils never have to feel inferior, oppressed, silenced. It appears that at present, Tamils have no unified roadmap, no clear strategy and action plan that can take us to the end goal.
I see two solutions to bring justice to Tamils. The first, is getting the International Community’s attention by coordinating global boycotting efforts against Sri Lanka. The second, is working together, utilizing our resources to bring international monitors to conduct a more thorough genocide inquiry and the referendum. Our roadmap, strategy, and action plan should be drafted based on these two primary objectives. Boycott campaigns and protests will bring awareness and will help consumers realize that when they purchase items manufactured in Sri Lanka, they are funding a country of oppressors. If we can effectively link the companies that use Sri Lanka to manufacture their goods with the atrocities of past and present, this may get the attention not only of the consumer, but of the companies themselves. Every one of the hearts and minds we win through a boycott campaign and through our human rights activities should be seen as a great step forward towards achieving our goal!
Based on past efforts and their lack of real results, I do believe that the Diaspora needs to move away from ‘event-based’ activities and stop providing opportunities for repeat performers to dance and sing songs for the events. We do not want our stages to be exploited by the same people for the wrong reasons. Our efforts should not be wasted by repeating event after event and gaining absolutely no progress towards our common goal. While repeated programs with dances, songs, and dramas celebrate our rich culture and history, these events are not too helpful from a strategic perspective, especially when there are only limited resources available to move our cause forward. Organizers should be more focused on how to transform attendees of these events into activists who can contribute to carrying forward our action plan.
If we want to see a major shift in our global efforts, our strategy must change immediately. Now is the time to regain focus. Now is the time for us to come together in a new progressive way. We need to create a single roadmap, formulate a realistic plan of action, re-strategize, and reposition ourselves. From this will emerge a blueprint and it should be our ‘bible’. Once all these are done, teams need to figure out how to divide the workload, exchange ideas, give and receive constructive criticism, and work in collaboration. We need a central communication stream in order that everyone stays on the same page, so that no one is excluded or loses sight of this blueprint.
How do we get the teams to work collaboratively? It really is a very simple approach. At the start of each year, only one meeting should be held with all teams present where they develop their plans for the coming year, keeping our established blueprint in mind. The board calendar needs to be prepared by teams by sitting together, and moderated by few. While discussions take place, some may not agree with events or activities, but they can propose ideas and inform the rest of the teams about other items where collaboration may be achieved. It is better if we are able to have open dialogue and reach some agreement with few items rather than expecting for a perfect agreement and walking away with unspoken dissatisfaction. Teams need to be prepared to listen with an open mind, and compromise in some areas.
Issues & Moving Forward
What often puzzles me is the amount of money, energy, and resources spent on unproductive events and activities that are at the expenses of donors. Our donors should not financially back events that have no value added based on evidence from prior events that are similar or identical. It is essential that we learn to redirect organizations towards pragmatic activities that are a part of the general roadmap. We learn what is effective by trying new strategies, and by assessing their effectiveness in mobilizing activists and getting the attention of our target audiences. If something proves ineffective, we need to come together, regroup, and discuss our failures. But we must also be sure to acknowledge our successes and those who contributed to making them successful.
How are the decisions made, and who decides what needs be done? What type of transparency system is in place–or should be in place–that makes everyone aware of how they reach their decisions? It is safe to say that we need to open more doors towards educating, guiding, and engaging the Diaspora on a global scale and inform the people on the ground on our decision making model. While trying to engage the International Community, we should have very transparent organizations that can be accountable for both local governments and the people that they represent. Being open will help a great deal with carrying forward the objectives easily and without any hurdles.
If organizations in the Diaspora try to mobilize efforts behind closed doors, this can lead to a lot of unexpected incidents and will result in causing much more damage to Tamils and their cause. How democratically are the ideas endorsed and supported? How are we integrating democracy at every level of our operation? We must not fail to adapt democracy and accountability into our operational strategy drafted off the roadmap.
It is a sad reality that we are at this current state with very little progress. If we continue to operate this way, we will never make progress. If we continue to operate using the ‘old model’, this will only empower the Sri Lankan government and show our weaknesses. People will continue to move away and eventually organizations will be forced to drop their action plans due to inadequate support. Do we need another 10 organizations popping up out of nowhere in the next few years and trying to join the race? No. Because we should all be on the same team, not competing against each other! Do we see light from here today with how we currently operate? It is a very dim light in the distance, but we must move forward in order to see it, in order for us to reach that light. If the Diaspora is not properly engaged and informed, they will not be motivated to invest their support for the cause and will not be able to help with implementing steps in the blueprint.
Four years have passed and it is not easy to digest that we the Diaspora have not developed an effective mechanism to safeguard Tamils. Our failures, lack of structure, and ignorance have only helped the oppressive Sri Lankan government. They do not feel our strength or that we have the power to produce positive change and liberation for Tamils. We must never forget the lives lost in the genocide, those on the ground who fought for Eelam, and those who are still victims of the Sri Lankan government’s oppression.
On this day today, we must make a promise to ourselves and each other that we will do everything to immediately stop divisive politics and get back into working together on a common platform. If we fail to do so, we will certainly create an easy path for the Sri Lankan government to continue with their agenda against our own people in the land that is ours. We the Tamils must focus on the blueprint, and do everything legally, peacefully, and with respect to the laws of the countries we live in. Let us set our egos aside to achieve our goals. This is not about you or me. It is about our nation. The priority is our nation. Let us prepare ourselves in deeds and words against violence, and prepare ourselves to take a non-violent, yet meaningful path towards our common goals: Tamil Eelam and bringing the true criminals to justice.
*Raj Subramaniam –Twitter: ilango74