Feature Article

'It is now the Tamil diaspora'

[TamilNet, Saturday, 06 September 2008, 07:02 GMT]
A conference on Sri Lankan diaspora that took place last week in Kuala Lumpur provided an opportunity to understand the broad perspectives of the Eezham Tamil diaspora, its universal aims and development agenda on one hand and to witness the subtle efforts by certain elements to nullify its identity and hijack its noble agenda to the diplomatic benefit of the Sri Lankan state on the other hand, according to a Malaysian Tamil scholar.

"The Colombo government and its abettors either believe or want others to believe that the course of military solution opted by them to end the Tamil crisis in Sri Lanka has become successful and very near its goal," the scholar told TamilNet.

"The image they try to create is that the political aspirations of Eezham Tamils will be silenced once and for all in a couple of months and thereafter the task is to only deal with a defeated people."

It is a well-known fact that one of the fundamental strengths of Eezham Tamils is the diaspora, without the involvement of which nothing decisive can take place in Sri Lanka.

The Eezham Tamil diaspora today is found spread in all the continents of the world and even conservative estimates place the number between one and a half and two million.

The very existence of this diaspora bound by a common Eezham Tamil identity and its networking is seen as one of the foremost challenges to those who want to uphold a united Sri Lanka by show of force. More over, this is largely a diaspora victimized by the Sri Lankan state and is hostile to it. The diaspora pricks the prying eyes concerned at the moment.

Meticulous efforts are being made for sometime now by Colombo, its international abettors and by other aspirants for united Sri Lanka to capture the soul and mind of this diaspora, not by straight forward means of meeting the Tamil aspirations but by intimidation, insinuation and by catering to the greed of certain affluent sections of the diaspora.

Impelled by the needs of the situation, the Eezham Tamil diaspora today, especially the new diaspora, is vigilant and vibrant.

A conference on Sri Lankan diaspora that took place last week in Kuala Lumpur provided an opportunity to understand the broad perspectives of the Eezham Tamil diaspora, its universal aims and development agenda on one hand and to witness the subtle efforts by certain elements to nullify its identity and hijack its noble agenda to the diplomatic benefit of the Sri Lankan state on the other hand, according to a Malaysian Tamil scholar.

The conference was organized by the Federation of Malaysian Sri Lankan Organisations (FOMSO) in Malaysia in collaboration with the Department of Indian Studies of the University of Malaya.

The federation and the term Sri Lanka found in this context are new to Malaysia, introduced only in 2003. As the eminent historian of Malaysia, Professor Emeritus Khoo Kay Kim rightly pointed out in his speech in the conference there were no Sri Lankans in Malaysia. They were Ceylonese or rather Jafanese (people from Jaffna) largely and a few Sinhalese. Today they are classified under the category of ‘Others’ in the Malaysian population, roughly numbering to 50,000 Tamils and 5000 Sinhalese.

For a long time the Ceylonese, predominantly Jaffna Tamils, were proud of their Ceylonese identity and refused to even identify themselves with the Indian Tamils of Malaysia. The recent forging of a federation of Ceylonese associations under the banner of Sri Lanka itself is considered to be a feat diplomatically favouring the Sri Lanka government. When the present day Eezham Tamils have rejected the State of Sri Lanka their five generations old diaspora has all of a sudden discovered Sri Lanka. It is said that many of the affluent members of this diaspora have business interests in Colombo.

The conference of the federation, ‘Sri Lankan Diaspora, the Way Forward’, conducted in the University of Malaya premises and its associated social gatherings were earnestly attended by the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in Malaysia. There was also an orchestrated group of attendees from Sri Lanka, thanks to the contacts of some among the organizers.

Dr. Jehan Perera
Dr. Jehan Perera addressing the conference in Malaysia
Malaysian Conference
Tan Sri Dr Khoo Kay Kim, a Malaysian historian and a Professor Emeritus at the University of Malaya, addressing the audience.
Malaysian Conference
K Kesavapany, former Singapore’s High Commissioner to Malaysia, currently the Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, delivers keynote address.
Malaysian Conference
The Chairman of the Organising Committee of the conference, A/P Datuk Dr. D. M. Thuraiappah
One of the speakers, Dr. Jehan Perera, an intellectual peace activist from Colombo, was quick to grasp the opportunity in appreciating the theme behind the unifying title of the conference. He later wrote to the United Press International that “if the Tamil diaspora wishes to come to the aid of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, they need to be prepared to engage constructively with the Sri Lankan state, and find ways to do so. It also means that the Tamil diaspora has to reconsider its separatist option and be prepared to accommodate itself to the reality that the LTTE's military force will not win peace, happiness and prosperity for the Tamil people in the homeland”.

A large section of the activists of the Ceylonese Tamil community, especially its younger generation boycotted the conference. The students of the Indian Studies Department also boycotted it. They were not happy about the theme and motives of the conference and the organizers.

Nevertheless, a meaningful gathering of scholars came from different parts of the world, covering potential and hitherto untouched issues related to Tamil diaspora such as its unique attributes, strategies of negotiating with the global community, statistics, directory, Tamil language teaching centre, a diaspora university, museum, cultural institutions, economy, youth issues, gender issues, employment opportunities, business opportunities etc. They were either not aware of the credibility of the organization or chose to use the forum to present the case of the Tamil diaspora to the Tamil diaspora. The pivotal point made by them was that the diaspora has to look after itself. Some of the profound ideological, practical and research points made by them have to be brought out through various other channels if they have to reach the attention of the diaspora to which actually they were meant for.

Some well-known Tamil diaspora scholars whose names were in the conference web display for a long time opted not to come.

Interesting issues were raised when it came to continuing similar discourses on the diaspora in future in different parts of the world. It was pointed out by most of the participants at a committee level that proceedings of such conferences will not be acceptable and will be viewed with suspicion by the predominant section of the diaspora, i.e., the Tamil diaspora, if the theme is going to be the ‘Sri Lankan diaspora’.

It has also been pointed out that conducting such conferences for the benefit of the Tamil diaspora, with the spontaneous participation of the diaspora is not possible in any part of the world where the Tamil diaspora live, if the name tag is Sri Lanka. The diaspora has the freedom to choose the term for its identity.

A point, said to be a practical issue, brought out by some of the participants was that the term ‘Tamil’ is not acceptable to any of the governments or universities facilitating such conferences. The next conference is scheduled to take place in Germany.

The diaspora has to first fight against such indiscriminate vilification and insult if it really exists in any universities or governments. But it is a lame excuse, showing only the lack of guts with the intellectuals to voice for justice with establishments, commented a participant behind the lines.

It seems at the moment there are nearly 20,000 Sri Lankan refugees, predominantly Tamils are living in Malaysia. Most of them are provided with UNHCR identity cards. But there is no provision for their livelihood as they can’t officially work. Many youngsters live in trying conditions and are being exploited for labour for meager or no payment at all. They ruin their prime youth for years now.

The Federation of Malaysian Sri Lankan Organisations (FOMSO) could have taken care of educating these youngsters or training them in vocational fields as a token of its grand plans for the diaspora, commented a conference delegate from the West after talking to a few of the UNHCR refugees.

Malaysian Conference
Don Seeman Jayantha Kalubowila, Administration Director of Sri Lanka Social Welfare Peace Foundation, addressing the Malasysian conference.
Malaysian Conference
A section of participants at a panel of the conference.


External Links:
UPI Asia Online: Reaching out to the Tamil diaspora


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