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Tamils - a Nation without a State
United Kingdom -
Geetha Maheshwaran Reflects
21 June 2009
As the truth is gradually filtering out about what has been happening in Sri Lanka over the past few months, many of the Tamil devotees at our Wimbledon Hindu Temple have become severely affected. Many are gradually receiving confirmation that family and loved ones have been killed or injured, others are still trying to break through a wall of silence to get verification or to even try and send help, food and medicines to friends and family there. And the press have started sending pictures and reports of increasing numbers of civilian casualities and circumstances in the camps.
So we, as a Temple, decided we needed to do something to help our devotees to cope emotionally with all that was happening. We contacted the Tamil Health Organisation in the UK and organised a day to train volunteers within the community to act as emotional support for the distressed. And it was amazing. Doctors and counsellors offered to come from all over London to help in the session and within just a few days, we had 50 volunteers who wanted to be trained!
The young lady who taught us throughout the day was a living example of what a counsellor should be. She took us through the basics and encouraged us to fmd the answers to the questions that we ourselves raised.
Meera had that special quality of leading by example, by empowering us all to recognise our own strengths and abilities and also opened our eyes to the fact that all of us had been traumatised, to a greater or lesser extent, by what has been happening in Sri Lanka.
Our sense of powerlessness and frustration could manifest itself in something as innocuous as being irritated by our family, arguing more or even, bizarrely, kicking the TV because we couldn't fmd our car keys! It made us all realise that we need to be aware that the pain and anguish that someone is feeling inside may not necessarily be expressed by them logically.
That we may
need to look behind the shouting or the bizarre behaviour to see the sadness and
distress inside and learn to respond with empathy as well as a sympathetic ear
to truly help them. And so, with the acknowledgement that pain and suffering is
part and parcel of life, we resolved to do what we could to help others, to help
them to find their own answers to their questions in life.
Many of you will have heard reports in the press about the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka between the Singhalese government and the Tamil Tigers. And although I was born and brought up here in the UK, my parents are from Sri Lanka, as are many of the devotees who come to our Temple.
So it was with increasing concern and horror that we heard reports about the huge number of Tamil civilians being killed and injured, particularly since the beginning of this year. The Tamil community was so concerned, that mass protests and marches took place all over the world to raise awareness of what was happening in what has been termed "A war without witnesses".
In April, a march was organized in central London and, for the first time in my life, I decided that I needed to go and be part of this public protest. We took our 13 year old son, who felt passionately that he needed to go and support his fellow Tamils in Sri Lanka, and I was moved to tears to see the sheer number of people, of all ages and from all walks of life, walking and chanting together in unity to make their voices heard. It felt so good to be able to do something, however small.
My only sadness was felt after the event when � from what I could see - little was heard about the march on the main TV channels, radio or newspapers! On a rainy Saturday afternoon, large numbers went into central London to protest peacefully - with dignity and with respect for the authorities and for other people's property. Perhaps because the police were fantastic, no banks were broken into, no people assaulted, the march was deemed of limited newsworthiness - a sad reflection on today's society!
But it made me appreciate that, whatever else is going on, we are so lucky to be in a country where freedom of speech and the right to protest is allowed and where the press need not be afraid to report the truth. It made me realize that we all have a role to play to highlight injustice in the world, and a moral duty to help the weak and vulnerable and, with the faith and hope that our efforts will make a difference, I know that truth and justice will eventually prevail.