It has been more than a year since the Tamil Tigers were militarily defeated. But their global support amongst the tamil diaspora is still strong. These days I have been working in Waitrose and there are many Sri Lankan Tamils working with me. And this has given me a great oppurtunity to know, what they think of Sri Lanka. Last week I spoke to this Tamil person (Mathu), who has been in the UK for over a decade, about the war and the tigers. His version of the war is more flawed and biased than that of Rupavahini’s.
Following is an extract of my conversation:
“Why did the war start?”, he asked me.
“Because of misunderstanding between the communities?”, I answered very vaguely.
Mathu- “Who lived in Sri Lanka first?”
Me- “Why does it matter?. I know there are Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims living today”
Mathu- “No, the Tamils lived first and the Sinhalese came in later. Its like you have been living in your home for along time and your visitor comes and kicks you.?”
Me- “But, now the war is over and there is no point in us trying to talk about that”.
Mathu- “No!!!! the war is not over, there is a slight pause and we will start again very soon”
Me- “But what do you think about LTTE child soldiers?”
Mathu- “They do not recruit children. Its just government propaganda.”
Me- “But once saw with my own eyes, UNICEF handing children recruited by the LTTE back to their parents”
Mathu- “We are a liberation movement and we have less people to recruit from than the Army. So we have to use our own people and their children”
I didn’t think it was worth talking to him any more, although he wanted to continue. But, I started to wonder if he represents the view of the entire Tamil diaspora, blindly supporting a group which has been branded as a terrorist organization and thinking that the war in Sri Lanka is not yet over. Back in Sri Lanka, Tamils hardly support the LTTE (or atleast Tamils in Colombo generally don’t) and many would not even think of Sri Lanka divided into two. But when we are talking about reconciliation and power sharing as a “permamnent solution” for the conflict, I really doubt if these Tamil diaspora will ever be satisfied even if these are implemented. All they seem to want is a seperate state.
But then I thought, “who cares about the diaspora? We are a sovereign state. We can solve our own problems and develop ourselves”. It sounded nice, but is not practical. We Sri Lankans cannot afford to turn a blind eye on events happening outside our borders. These guys have been funding the tigers for ages and they are still willing to sacrifice a part of their income to restart the war and it is a definite threat for our national security and our future.
So what can be done? I don’t think they could all be satisfied overnight. But many of them could be made to feel better about the conditions of their families and friends back at home. As a first step, the government must encourage the diaspora to visit Sri Lanka. There is fear amongst many of them that paramilitary forces aligned with the government could abduct them when they visit their homes, for ransom. They were referring to several incidents of abduction of Tamil men, who returned home. Most of these, I think, are just fiction. But, we cannot deny that this never happens. Once, they visit Sri Lanka and understand the reality better, I’m sure their hostility towards there own country would have changed at least slightly. Then the government should encourage them to invest in Sri Lanka, rather than waste their wealth in a defunct organization and this will definitely give a big boost to our economy. The benefits of having a Tamil diaspora, feeling “Sri Lankan” are innumerable and we cannot afford to neglect them.