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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > International Frame of Struggle for Tamil Eelam > United States & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Sri Lanka's Tamils & The International Community - R.Shanmugalingam
United States & the struggle for Tamil Eelam
Sri Lanka's Tamils & The International Community
I am grateful to Bill Jordan for this opportunity to place before The North County Coastal Forum of The World Affairs Council of San Diego, the sufferings of the Sri Lankan Tamils. I hope, more light on the situation in Sri Lanka will be shed here in the US and the world at large through you.
The recapture of Jaffna would have brought the end to the ethnic war in Sri Lanka sooner. The preemptive moves by successive Sri Lanka Governments to demonize Tamil freedom struggle as isolated terrorism has distanced freedom loving, human rights champions of the world from doing the right thing by the Tamils.Ill advised involvement of the US Government in Sri Lanka has prolonged and exacerbated the war.
Sri Lanka, the former Ceylon, another British colony, like many other states that became independent in the past fifty years is faced with immense challenges. However, because of the high percentage of the Sinhala people, around 70% of the population, in ethnically plural Sri Lanka, the Sinhala people have the advantage and the opportunity to elect governments that have protected only Sinhala interests by achieving hegemony.
Naturally, this advantage has deprived the other communities such as Muslims, the Tamils of Indian origin and indigenous Tamils who speak the Tamil Language, perhaps the oldest living language in the world.
Parliamentary democracy favors only the Sinhala constituency that can elect representatives to form governments without the need for participation of the other ethnic groups. Sinhala leaders, from one of the two major political parties, the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party or their off shoots form governments always.
Naturally, policies and programs are evolved to appease the Sinhala electorate. Even pacts giving concessions to the other major communities to assuage hardships caused by the so-called democratic enactments are invariably reneged. Tamils remain virtual non-participants in the democratic process the free world proudly advocates. Partisan performance by the Sri Lanka Governments resulted in the concept of a multi-racial polity that ceased to exist in Sri Lanka. Naturally, when multi-racial polity became a meaningless abstraction, the ballot gave way to bullets and dissipated the notion that "a centralized form of government assumed a homogeneous whole."
Sri Lankan Tamils have been subjected to irreconcilable discriminations both by direct and indirect governmental (A)acts which have reduced the Tamils to a political non-entity. Tamils failed to gain equality with the Sinhala people through democratic means, guaranteed in the Constitution bequeathed at independence by the British. A new constitution was unilaterally imposed in 1972, taking away the safeguards provided in the Soulbury Constitution.
It is very stylish for the non-affected, arm-chair sociologists, political scientists and psychologists to denounce ethnicity as an anachronistic identity. This may be true if governments embark on some form of 'confidence-building mechanisms.' It is not so in Sri Lanka. Quite to the contrary, successive Sri Lankan Governments embarked on confidence-trickstering mechanisms. It was very evident since independence. Beginning with the very first Act by the Ceylon Parliament, to wit The Citizenship Act of 1948, that disfranchised Tamils of Indian origin followed by the Sinhala only Act &c..
Once the awakening of Tamil pride hereto shelved but brought out to the forefront by the roar of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam - the LTTE - Sri Lankan Governments began to realize that all the Tamil speaking people whom I will collectively call Tamils are a people to reckon with. The thunder of their guns were more audible than that of the disgruntled politicians' murmur...
A glance at the recent past of Tamil renaissance will help to understand Tamil ethos that have both been the Tamil forte and failing. The Dravidian Association, founded by 'PERIYAR' laid the foundation for Tamil renaissance at a time when in India, development of Tamil did not attain a pace normally enjoyed by a free society. The antiquity and greatness of Tamil did not receive the desired recognition, as the influential elite of Tamil Nadu during the British Raj were religious fanatics, some of whom continue to block anything Tamil. Today, they aid and abet the Sri Lankan Governments' genocide policies and help give credibility to "Malicious disinformation" about Tamil Freedom fervor.
"PERIYAR" in Tamil means leader of great status, a profile reads:
Periyar in his 'iLygnarkaLukku azyppu' took to task those who pay lip service to anti-Arya rhetoric. I give my interpretation from his "Invitation to Youth":
When Periyar made Hindi fanatics withdraw from demanding official or national language status for Hindi as a link language, 'aRignar' C. N. Annadurai - (late leader of the current party in power the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or DMK in Tamil Nadu) 'anhnhA' - (elder brother) - wrote in his book 'perijAr oru cakAptam' (Periyar - an Epoch) and I give my interpretation as follows:
The dilemma of the Tamils is soaked in culture and aggravated by vulture politics, past and present. Until recently, Tamil Americans such as yours truly, were absorbed more in the self. However, an occasional Dollar contribution to anyone who claimed to espouse Tamil cause, was thought to absolve all sins committed by distancing from their roots back in the old country.
I am heartened to note, that the Tamils of the USA have started to come out of this bondage and to present the true Tamil predicament to the American people since international media coverage is lopsided and carried mostly the Sri Lankan Government "Press releases" that are mostly "malicious disinformation". These efforts have evidently started bearing fruits already .... (and) moved the Chairman of the House International Relations Committee Bernard Gilman to write to Madam Madeline Albright on 29 June 2000....
Chairman Gilman's view on the Press on Sri Lanka, my friends should make you take a second look at the information you get from the US and world media on Sri Lanka, particularly the type of brush and paint used to tarnish Tamil Freedom war as terrorism.
It is this disgusting 'terrorism' phenomenon that has hastily compelled the US Government to include the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in the list of International Terrorists. This is where American public opinion becomes vital to free Tamils away from all the malevolent, undemocratic, turncoat governments of Sri Lanka. Once the stigma that was very cleverly painted by Sinhala leaders like the late J. R. Jeyawardene, is obliterated, Tamils will be seen for the victims, they are, and not as the perpetrators of violence. Tamil Americans cannot adequately handle the extent to which we should address this issue. ... in the name of humanity and democracy, Tamils urge you to help to get the US State Department remove the LTTE from the list of Terrorist organisations.
Most Tamils, who experienced dispossession and displacement from their homes and work places in Sri Lanka after the worst race riots in 1983, have found refuge in countries of Europe and places such as, India, Australia, Canada, etc.
I am a little disturbed by the indifference of the US Department of Immigration and naturalization - INS towards Tamil refugees. I am aware of the trauma a family who came to the US from Africa on completion of their contractual obligations in 1985. That family is still awaiting their "Green Card" as they have no other place to go.
I am sure you can imagine, as some of you have personally experienced or some in your families have gone through such trauma this family and other families in such situations are going through. Perhaps such miseries are endured in the belief that the Gilmans and Capuanos of America are representing American values. But as you all know, isolated actions still leave the situation desolate. It is vigorous propaganda that will register with the powers that be. They are in power only at the pleasure of their constituencies. Needless to say, the Tamil constituency is totally ineffective in its native soil and virtually non-existent in the US on matters government and therefore needs your help.
Tamil Eelam National Leader, Velupillai Pirabaharan has defined Tamil position, thus :
I ask you Ladies and Gentlemen, is this the candor of a terrorist? I am sure, as much as you will say NO to terrorism, you will say YES to The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as the only true Tamil Freedom Fighters for Tamil Eelam. Thank you.
by Ramalingam Shanmugalingam on Audience Responses
Partly I think my accent that is totally strange to many and some of the terms or words are new to them. I have found more than three syllables words are not the proverbial American Pie. Particularly Tamil names with more than three syllables without any accent on one or more syllables is a disappointment to most Americans and given to imagined names that even the owners of the name may not recognize it. I know of people who have told me that they had to practice a lot before saying my name in public.
I overcome this by using a board to write them. Since I am neither an orator nor a public speaker of merit and with my progressing capacity to forget the immediate past, a written document as a backup has compensated for my meandering thoughts in extempore escapades.
Before the main event, a lady asked me, "Why don't Tamils go back to India where you came from?" I was not surprised but I felt bad about the Tamils' inability and refusal to educate Americans about the Tamils. If the USA kept away from the affairs of the 'tiny tot' in the world map, then our indifference would be understandable ... but that is not so. The US has a big say and influence on the war in Sri Lanka. ...
I use the board to explain the term Tamils, as defined in my text and other words such as Sinhalas, etc..
The question of who came first was left unanswered by placing importance to the present than on prehistoric phenomena. The current dangerous situation that can lead to the elimination of Tamils, if no steps are taken to stop the war, was emphasized. There was unanimity in the need to stop the war.
I started my talk by reading the following quotation:
I was able to move the question time towards a discussion with a view to getting some feedback ... In order to safeguard their privacy, I regret I cannot give out names in public. One Professor who taught in the Colombo University and a frequent visitor to Sri Lanka is very much concerned and would like Tamil Americans to take measures to educate the American public. He said, "the disease of the Bandaranayake government was to emphasize the separateness in order to get elected and then you reap the result in trying to govern We have gone a long way to make the Blacks make a real part of the citizenry and make them feel welcome. The government of Sri Lanka has gone a different way. Instead the Tamils are systematically pushed out much more like the Blacks were treated in the South."
One of the participants was sympathetic to the Tamil cause but was unhappy about the slaying of political leaders alleged to be the work of the LTTE...
At this stage, I read a couple of passages from the book, "Broken Promises" by M. Thirunavukkarasu about what Banda said in 1928 (Page 10) and Colvin predicted in October 1955. (Page 28) A few wanted to know how they could obtain copies...
There was an Indian gentleman, who according to the Chairman, Bill Jordan was planning to retire in Sri Lanka but decided instead to settle down in San Diego. He was deeply moved by the deterioration of conditions and was concerned as to how; a small country can be further divided as two separate states. This was also a general concern. I had to ask, for the sake of economic or other reasons, was it necessary for one to sacrifice or demean oneself to subservience? Countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong even smaller than Tamil Eelam have done extremely well & c.
I showed them the map in the front cover of "Broken Promises" showing Tamil Eelam. Before the three separate kingdoms were brought under one for administrative convenience by the British in 1833, Tamil land comprised of the areas marked as Tamil territory plus all the land from East to West including Chilaw. But Tamil leadership has donated that part of Tamil land to the Sinhalas and claimed only those areas that belonged to Tamils during the transfer of power from the British to the Sinhalas.