By Dr. Kumar David
One of the most complicated and controversial questions today is the relationship between the Ceylon Tamil people living in the country and the nearly three-quarter of a million strong Ceylon Tamil diaspora. There are two extreme and wholly propagandist theories doing the rounds. The Sri Lanka government’s version is that the Tamils at home are content but the diaspora is populated by serial madmen intent on wrecking havoc. The other extreme is the overseas LTTE-rump which thinks it is the standard bearer of the views of the people at home who are too terrified and oppressed to speak up. Both are false but contain traces of truth; we need to explore the matter.
Let us set out from the social landscape framing the in-country Ceylon Tamils’ (hereafter icT) relationship to the diaspora. Family and financial bonds are close and strong; nearly every family in the diaspora is part of a breathing, living extended family whose icT portion may reside in Colombo, Jaffna or the east. Parents, brothers and sisters or other relatives living in the country generate not only strong emotional bonds but also two-way information and opinion flow processes. The link between the icT and the diaspora has not withered away, unlike the erosion between the descendents of European émigrés in the USA and their provenances. The Tamil exodus is much fresher, a more recent event less than 30 years old.
Financial dependence is considerable though no studies have quantified remittances from theTamil diaspora to their extended families. The total overseas worker remittance to Sri Lanka amounted to $4.2 billion in 2010 and repatriations from the considerable number of Tamil workers in the Middle East no doubt were included. However monies sent on personal acount from North America and Europe to less affluent family members of the icT are not counted under the remittance rubric. Be that as it may, even more important than financial dependence is that the diaspora is invariably committed to emigration sponsorship of young icT extended family members.
There are projects dear to the heart of Tamils for which enthusiastic diaspora support can be secured if the internal conditions were right. Key is education – the Tamil man’s proven means of empowerment. The challenge is not just rebuilding strong educational facilities but modernisation and technological upgrading to meet globalisation’s challenges. An example would be a university level engineering school in Jaffna. The diaspora would not only donate but also canvass grants from international (state) donors; qualified staff may move back to teach and research. It all depends on creating the right political climate, now sadly absent.
The point I am driving at is that the icT and the diaspora are not entities with a barrier between them. Within the family matrix feelings and opinions are shared and overlap. Concretely, I would make bold to assert that, for example, what Tamils think of the government is probably much the same in the icT and the diaspora-mass. I make special mention of the family matrix because I have been speaking, so far, of the organic and emotive family and social dimension, not the sharp discourse of politically active elements.
The political dimension
There are four central political issues that concern the Tamil people either in the icT or the diaspora, or both, and we need to examine the nuances in respect of each. First Thamil Eelam, second the political solution, third resettlement and economic development which I am lumping together, and fourth the alleged war crimes drama. I cannot deal with all four substantially in one short essay; hence I will hardly touch on the third. The first and the second should be taken together because if you are a genuine Eelam fan the political solution will not interest you, while Tamils who are keen on a political formula have decided that a separate state is infeasible.
I am convinced that there is no disconnect between the mass of the diaspora and the icT on the infeasibility of Eelam. After the obliteration of the LTTE, those who still dream of a separate state have dwindled to a small core of LTTE rump activists in the diaspora and almost nobody, even in the most confidential of private discussions, in the icT. Therefore the apparent disconnect between the diaspora and the icT on Eelam is a disconnect only with a small number of high profile LTTE-rump activists. (I do not use the term rump pejoratively, but only to denote the remnant active LTTE core in the diaspora after the defeat). I believe that the great majority in both the icT and the diaspora-mass think that a political solution is the way to go. Ask the TNA, ask the numerous Tamil movements in London and North America busy organising seminars and inviting participants from Lanka!
I make the assertion that ordinary Tamils in the diaspora are not serious about Eelam despite the so-called referenda which some diaspora organisations conducted in several European countries at which, I can’t remember but maybe 99.9% (sic), voted in favour of a separate state. Only a fraction of émigrés actually cast a vote and for those who did it was a bit of a lark. Both the diaspora-mass and the icT understand that the latter can take it all with a pinch of salt and not be constrained in searching for a political solution.
But there is a huge problem! It is evident 24 months after the end of the war that the government has no intention of embarking on a lasting solution to the ethnic problem. On this the great majority of icT and diaspora Tamils are agreed; it leaves them in a Catch-22 conundrum. Tamils know that the so-called negotiations with the TNA are a sham. The first step in reconciliation is agreement between the state and elected Tamil representatives on power sharing and that seems to be going nowhere. Devolution will open a flow of resources for reconstruction of the north and east, the likely return of professionals and skilled workers, and economic spill-over benefits for the western and less developed regions in the south, but the diaspora shows no enthusiasm for the reconstruction effort in the absence of a political solution. Movement of capital and manpower resources into the NE is probably less than 25% of the potential that an acceptable political solution could attract. Private, corporate and household resources for capital formation remain stunted in this impasse.
Though a considerable number of people have been released from detention centres and told to return to their former villages, in fact they remain displaced, either because they have been denied access to their homesteads or their former abodes are uninhabitable or demolished. In addition, due to the destruction caused by war they have lost their means of livelihood and no income generating opportunities have been created. Without basic amenities of life and livelihood, such as health and sanitary facilities, transport and education for their children, they are driven to desperation and near starvation. Above all, the failure to work out a framework actively involving the participation of local communities means resettlement initiatives are a top-down waste of time. Economic resources for substantial new employment creation are not provided and the diaspora will not enter to fill the vacuum so long as the local people are excluded from participation and decision making in resettlement and development.
The icT community has ben silent on the matter leaving all the running to the diaspora. Does this mean the icT population is indifferent or opposed to the diaspora’s exertions? My view is that nearly all Tamils (actually I have not met one who said otherwise) want an international investigation. For obvious reasons they have no confidence in any investigative panel that does not contain a strong and independent international component. The release of the UN Panel Report accusing the LTTE and the government of war crimes has brought the icT out of its shell to a degree and the communityis now somewhat bolder in its calls for an independent international inquiry. The diaspora for its part is euphoric about the UN Report but does not want LTTE atrocities investigated at all. Neither the icT nor the diaspora understand that in the case of persons now dead, a posthumous declaration of guilt needs to be entered for the sake of the historical record if guilt is proved before a proper tribunal.
The UN Security Council (SC), unanimously, that is including Russia and China, referredGaddafi to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation of war crimes. ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is on record that attacks on civilians is a crime against humanity that warrants a full investigation. The speed of the action is surprising, and in comparison with the scale of civilian casualties in Sri Lanka’s war, seems disproportionate. Reports place civilian deaths in Libya from air strikes, shelling and shooting by Gaddafi’s mercenaries in the thousands while sober critics allegesome tens of thousands of Tamil civilian casualties in the Vannie. The Libyan events therefore are likely to further energise the diaspora and no doubt there will be silent relish in the icT.
I have sought to examine the relationship between in-country Ceylon Tamils and the diaspora and have arrived at conclusions which are different from the statements of the government and the claims of remnant LTTE activists in the diaspora. I have argued that the diaspora-mass and the larger Tamil community at home overlap in their more mature and sober opinions. It is disappointing that this is not better appreciated by political commentators of all shades.