Together Towards Tomorrow

“TOGETHER TOWARDS TOMORROW: Sri Lanka Tamil speaking diaspora Conference”, took place  at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, on 17  and 18 December 2016.

The conference brought together organisations, community groups and individuals involved in promoting human rights, social, economic, cultural initiatives in Northeast and upcountry in Ilankai to explore and discuss opportunities and strengths.

An important aim of this conference is to offer networking opportunities and foster debate among those who are actively involved in post-war reconstruction, development and reconciliation. Through your participation, you can help identify and develop issues that need to be explored further and act upon.

The speakers at the conference were:

Dr Sutha Nadarajah, SOAS, Dr Janroj Yilmaz Keles, Middlesex University, B A Kader, Political analyst, researcher and former Secretary General Upcountry People’s Front, M Fouzer, Political and social activist and writer, Megala Shanmugam, Human rights defender and former, Out-reach Manager for Home for Human Rights, Ilankai, S V Kirupakaran, Gen Secretary Tamil Centre for Human Rights (TCHR), Tu Senan, International Co-ordinator of Tamil Solidarity
Kulasegaram Geethartharan, Human rights lawyer, Cllr Paul Sathianesan,  Elayathambi Thayanantha, Head of Athavan TV, Yamuna Rajendran, Political & literary writer, A. Gowrikanthan, Political & Social Activist, Ms Rajeswary Balasubramaniam, Women’s rights Activist and writer, Dr. R. Cheran, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology, University of Windsor, Canada, Ms Prashanthy Sekaram, Germany, Rajani Iqbal, Dr Velautham Sarveswaran, Chair Assist (RR), Devan Kanthasamy, CEO Tamil Housing Association, V Sivalingam, Secretary, Education Development for Northern Province, Rajasingam Jayadevan, Chair, Eelapatheeswarar Rudran, Standing Committee of Tamil Speaking People (SCOT), V Ravi, General Secretary (BTF), Fr S J Emmanuel, President Global Tamil Forum, Professor M Sornarajah, President (ICPP), P.Manivannan MP, TGTE Minister for Human Rights and Action against Mass Attrocities and Genocide

Writing about the event  Victor Cherubim went on to say: Whenever Tamils meet we often have a cacophony of voices, but strange as it seems this gathering of Tamils living abroad, from the corners of Canada to Australia and meeting in London, were more of a contemplative gathering.

Issues were discussed, establishment of a framework for constructive action and needs assessment for Tamils living in Sri Lanka, was scrutinised in a plethora of ways with candour and caricature to arrive at a carillon call for a clear involvement of the role of the State and the role of the diaspora in conflict resolution and reconciliation.

Failed experiences, survival projects, the lack of political and social capital to the daunting humanitarian challenge and the limitations of international involvement were also on the agenda at this two day conference attended by more than 100 delegates.

Imagine listening to twenty eight speakers and you will understand the scale of the problem faced by Tamils abroad in sympathy or otherwise of their brethren in Sri Lanka. The excuse was “remembering the pathos or the pathetic state of affairs or the progress” taking place in their homeland for sake of an unknown future.

Change of perspective

Gone was the assigning of blame on the State and the government for all the ills of the Tamils, gone too was the hand of fate in the lives of the Tamils displaced by the near 30 year war.

In its place was seen and heard a change of perspective. This was noted in the pragmatic and studied approach of the many presentations, the theme of the conference, the participants from worldwide destinations and the public discussion after session and feedback.

Sustainability and dependability of future action

It was also noted the enormous bank of goodwill of the people other than in the North and East for the plight of the dispossessed Tamils and the unspoken feelings which have not been contemplated, rather capitalised. It was necessary to synthesise these approaches into a sustainable and dependable action for the future. A clear mechanism of action was mooted. It was to move from a charitable to a business model for sustainable development.

I was shocked when a speaker suggested that the idea of post war development of the North and the East of Sri Lanka was capacity building taking the participation of the military and armed services, as part and parcel also of any future development.

Private Public Partnership

Though not spelt out in defined projects, the way forward was for more private public partnership projects. The days of charitable giving for micro projects had passed and a dawn of a new era of thinking macro was the future.

The diaspora can be part of the solution by many ways, but poignantly through strategic leadership. Distance learning, testing market appetite for building retirement for Sri Lankans living abroad.

Providing micro-finance. It was noted that this was visible in the projects undertaken by the diaspora with Government assistance in the Eastern Province. Further there were too many organisations working piecemeal in the Northern Province with little to show. This problem it was hoped could be resolved as there was a very great need here for coordination and cooperation among the various organisations without duplication of projects, effort and funding. One motto for action was using the bank of energy and skills of the local people in the North and East for their betterment rather than imposing a “westernised” mindset of development by the diaspora. “Whatever you do, do it effectively” rang throughout the conference.

Dr. R.Cheran, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology, University of Windsor, Canada highlighted the fact that there we many UNESCO heritage sites in parts of Sri Lanka but not one in the North and the East. He did contest that heritage was a universal standard and not a national standard. World heritage sites are not simply belonging to one culture but belong to the entire human civilisation. He implied that he was no worried by this, but expected much to happen in the future.

The issues highlighted

Women and Gender was one of the hottest contested subjects of the conference. Rajes Bala, a Woman’s Rights Activist and writer stated: “Wherever there is poverty, there is women.” Women all over Sri Lanka and particularly, in the North and East have suffered the most. “When and where women’s voice is to be shut up, I get very angry, I then speak in English. When women wear trousers, then women are equal to men.”

Caste and religion have been intertwined with Tamils. Past Tamil sages such as Arumuga Navalar vs. Swami Vipulananda had voiced their respective opinions on each subject, but there cannot be real democracy for Tamils if there is discrimination.

The pendulum always gravitates to equilibrium in relationships said one speaker. Tamils in the homeland begin to take up their own responsibilities, in the role as breadwinners, as farmers, fisherman, from weaklings to being empowered. As the world is changing, so are Tamils views among the diaspora both as political and economic actors. Working with difference is the future.

The conference ended with the theme that there is no one way to be Tamil. (Victor Cherubim)

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