Tamils - a Nation without a State
- an estimated 300,000 Tamils live in Canada -
What can I do? - Sharing my thoughts with the Tamil Diaspora
by a Tamil Mother, Wife, Daughter and a Refugee in
28 January 2008
We are privileged to publish this article by
a Tamil Mother, Wife, Daughter and a Refugee in
During the many years that
has existed we have rarely received a more authentic, touching
and moving call for action from a Tamil in the Diaspora
to the Tamil Diaspora. We publish here an easily
downloadable and printable
PDF version of the article as well - because we truly
believe that every Tamil in the Diaspora will gain much
herself/himself by returning to read this article from time to
plight of our people has been steadily reaching newer levels of pain and
suffering. And, after being an observer with a hands-off approach, I decided to
do something about it. I became proactive - in small ways. As a mother of two
young children living in Ottawa, Canada and having many commitments, it was not
easy to change my inaction - but I did.
I firmly believe now, that if we all do our little part and
started working towards a common vision, that vision will and must
materialize. I realise there’s spiritual element to this as well,
and of course some people are skeptical when it comes to these
things. But I still wanted share my simple suggestions at the end of
this article, with other ordinary people who, like I used to be, are
a bit lost when it comes to how they can help.
It all began in
1983 for me. Following the
experience of the riots, I remember the first time my family
settled in Jaffna. I remember the 3 day ship journey to Jaffna, the
light blue waters of the KKS harbour and the village school where my
family was given bread and potato curry. How lovingly the senior
students – my people - served the food to us. How good the food
tasted, especially after being in a crowded ship for 3 days and
having experienced sea sickness.
Children are resilient and if
given the chance they bounce back. I soon forgot and overcame the
bad memories thanks to my people and Jaffna. I was just a little
girl and I was swept away by the simple beauty of my hometown
Chavakachcheri – the lush paddy fields, the tall palmyrahs, the
mango groves and the hot white sand that made me hop and jump when I
tried walking barefoot to the kovil close by.
Green Fields - Painting in oils by Jayalakshmi Satyendra
Jaffna healed me and my horrific memories of the riots. Jaffna saved
me in many ways. Jaffna taught me culture, the beauty in living
close to nature, the importance of an ecologically sustainable
living and embedded in me
deep spiritual beliefs.
I remember how the war started. Little by little and then all in a
rush. The many atrocities that happened. I remember the first time a
loved one got killed. I remember a friend who was arrested and
disappeared. I remember a childhood acquaintance who was later
gang-raped and murdered by Sri Lankan soldiers – became to be known
Krishanthy Kumarasamy case.
remember proudly waving at Indian soldiers
be terrified of them a few months afterwards. What a betrayal by
India! But more was to come. I remember how stupidly and naively I
voted for Chandrika Kumarutunga when I moved back to Colombo, having
just turned 18 and got voting rights, trusting the South to deliver
peace as they promised. Instead,
the war intensified under Chandrika’s regime and I lost a
beloved cousin of mine who had just entered University - her body
blown into pieces in one of the many aerial bombings by the Sri
Lankan Air Force in the North. How naïve I was in hoping that a
Sinhalese government would deliver peace to the Tamil people.
Then, now in a new millennium and in another country, I got
sadder and angrier as I read the latest news or heard from people
who visited Sri Lanka. I could almost feel
the terror that our people are experiencing on a daily basis -
It was almost palpable.
cannot trust our enemy one little bit nor should we let them get away
with what they have
done to us.
Let our fighters carry on with what they are doing but meanwhile, I
decided that I need to do my part – in whatever small ways I can.
we look at the Tamil Diaspora, some of us still lay our hopes on the
International Community - I am not saying it’s a bad thing
but it should not be the only thing. Some of us wait for some
sort of miracle to happen. Some of us feel absolutely hopeless and
pessimistic. Some of us feel tortured to live this way – reading the
news of our homeland, feeling angry and depressed – then only to get
distracted by trivial things in daily life.
Only a rare few Tamils undertake the weight on their shoulders
and do more than their part in helping our homeland. They are the
dedicated people who though living abroad have not forgotten their
duty. These people of the Tamil Diaspora are true leaders and
beacons of hope.
However, most of us do nothing. I have friends
who simply sigh and change the topic or don’t talk about it anymore.
Even worse, I have friends who don’t even give it a second thought.
They like to believe that they have lots of rights in Canada. They
thrive in the small things of daily lives and happily chat in
English with their kids.
One part of our future generation is being utterly traumatised in
Sri Lanka, while the other part (or to be fair, the majority of
other part) is growing up oblivious to what’s happening to their
brethren back home.
So I put together a simple plan on how I (a
housewife and a mother) can change my habits, and then I acted on
it. It was a very liberating experience for me. Small things can
make a big difference. Hence, I share my thoughts with and for the
people who might have adopted a “hands-off” approach (like I did
before) or “looking the other way” approach.
Act 1 - Get in touch with the North East. Help
relatives and friends in North East.
Almost all of my close
relatives are living abroad. But I took some trouble to get
contact details of distant relatives in Sri Lanka. I contacted
my mother’s second cousin’s family in the North, whom I met only
once in my life when I visited them as a child. They were just
so happy that I remembered them and called. Now we are in touch
at least via mail. I called a long lost relative in Batticaloa.
For two decades, the people of the East have experienced the
worst of Sinhalese brutality in terms of large scale massacres.
This is due to geographical proximity as well other factors
which has made them more vulnerable. My relative in Batticaloa
was ecstatic that I called. As far as I am concerned, a two way
communication was helpful to both parties. I feel connected.
Also, sending a small amount of money goes a long way. In these
horrific times, they need all the help that they can get.
Initially, I felt ashamed that I didn’t contact these people
before. But better late than never.
Act 2 - Help the charities that do work in the North
About 5 years ago, I realised if I can afford to spend
$20 a month on McDonalds, I can sponsor a child. So I sponsored
this little girl through Foster Parents Plan. The country they
chose was Bangladesh. 5 years on, I still felt so happy of my
decision whenever I got a letter or picture from her. So later,
I started to donate to the orphanages in Vanni directly through
a friend who is personally involved with the orphanages. I
allocated a small percentage of my salary for this purpose. I
also started contributing in Tamil events and through Tamil
organizations using common sense and a bit of trust. In doing
so, I brushed aside a long felt concern - “I really need to know
how and where my money is going”. A quote from one of my
favourite writers comes to mind.
“You often say, ‘I would give, but only to the deserving’.
The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your
They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish” –
I felt that if we don’t give now (our time, money
and energy) to our people back at home, our culture and our
nationhood might perish eventually. Once I started giving my
time, money and energy in small ways, I felt more confident in
terms of futures results.
Act 3 -
Boycott Sri Lankan goods
Self explanatory - just check the
label of whatever you buy. For example, I stopped buying MD
brand that I used to use a lot.
Act 4 - Write to local MPs, NGOs and to the media.
Get details of your local MP and engage them. Write to them
regularly or schedule a fact to face meeting so that after a
while, they get to know you and a relationship can be formed. I
started writing to NGOs and the media, and was amazed at some of
the responses that I got. They really like to hear from ordinary
people. I feel that I doing my part educating people. This takes
maybe 1 or 2 hours of my time per week. And I do believe, if
many people start doing this, it could be a powerful factor.
Act 5 - Teach our children
language. Teach them the ancient and recent
This is a very important point for two reasons. The next
generation of children needs to be aware. They will have to
carry on the struggle of rebuilding our nation once we are no
longer here. Also, teaching our children our language and
history is not only beneficial for our people back home, but
for our children’s self concept, self image and identity
(regardless of age).
Act 6 - Don’t imagine the worse or NOT try something
out because of an assumption.
I have a friend who says with gloom “even if Tamil Eelam
materialises it’ll be a bad state. We will destroy ourselves”.
Would you give a 10 months old child a can of coke just because
“he’s going to be doing that anyway when he is 18” (I actually
heard a father say that and I feel sorry for both him and the
kid!). This kind of logic is flawed. We can’t give up on things
by imagining a bad future. You nurture and nourish a plant so
that it’ll be bear good fruits. We’ll just have to heal with
love and hope.
Act 7 - Think collectively and truly
identify with North East as Tamil Eelam.
We need to think
collectively and truly identify with North East as Tamil Eelam.
Our thoughts and actions stemming from this identity will have
far reaching consequences. Freedom is ours to take - not
something that we need to ask from somebody else. Once we start
believing in Tamil Eelam, it will materialize. Meanwhile, I feel
better when I introduce myself as a “Tamil from the North East
of Sri Lanka now referred to as Tamil Eelam by us” – a rather
long winded answer to the simple question “where are you
originally from?” But I still feel good saying it. I used to say
can relate to what is said here. We have been there!
Nowadays, when asked 'where are you from?' , we simply reply
that we are from Tamil Eelam. Some do not ask anything more.
But many do ask: "So where is that?". We reply "It is in the
NorthEast of Sri Lanka." And if they if they go
further, we say "It is a defacto state but as you perhaps
know, an armed conflict is going on - and the state has not
yet received international recognition."
We might have a few dilemmas. For example, we might not have
a flag and song that is recognised by others. Recently, the
Principal of my daughter’s school had a bright new idea. In
order to reflect the cultural diversity at the local school, he
wanted to display the different flags of the different nations
the children’s families were coming from. It was an extremely
nice thought! But I did not feel like giving the Sri Lankan flag
nor could I give our flag with the Tiger emblem on it since it
may not be perceived as a national flag. I felt really troubled
and at the end had to tell the Principal that we didn’t want any
representation by flags. So we do have road blocks in this area
and we need to work on that but I still rather identify with our
unborn nation than to be identified with Sri Lanka - even for
formalities. This was an important psychic change.
- Positive visualisation
Positive visualisation is not just
day dreaming or just hoping, but actually visualising the final
goal in mind so that we can work towards it. I have practiced
this in my personal life with good results. Once I drew a
picture of a goal that I wanted (a seemingly impossible goal at
that time), put it in my study room, and every day reflected on
it for couple of minutes. This clarified things in my mind. This
helped and kept me in focus on what I wanted to achieve and what
needs to be done on a daily basis - all the small steps that I
had to do in order to achieve this big goal.
Nowadays, I also visualise visiting my hometown (now the home
of a big army camp) and see what has to be done from my part in
order to achieve this. This last point (positive visualisation)
kind of encompasses all of the above points:
Visualise -> Get Proactive -> Act
I visualise my family
visiting my mother’s cousin’s family in Jaffna and having lunch
with them. I visualise my kids playing together with theirs!
This may seem a bit far fetched but I truly believe that the
Universe will respond to my thoughts as well as my actions. I
believe we can create our own future if we really want to. We
just have to start off this process by being proactive first.
The rest will follow.
Some skeptics might call me a dreamer. But I rather dream than
despair. I rather believe than be cynical. I rather pray and plead
to the Universe, than to turn the other way and pretend everything
is fine - as the Tamil saying goes “Prayers that are said for the
common good always work”. I rather act and consequently feel good
about myself for the small yet powerful deeds that I am doing in
helping out my people. It’s all worth it in the end.
ourselves have through these many years drawn strength from
Mahatma Gandhi’s remark that ‘Whatever you do may be
insignificant, but it is important that you do it.’ In the end
our commitment, our integrity and our determination to serve is
all that each one of us can bring to a struggle for freedom from
oppressive alien rule.