Ilankai Tamil Sangam

23rd Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Sangam Celebrates 30th Anniversary

Sovereignty and Youth Advocacy as Themes

Somerset, NJ, USA November 10, 2007

What is commendable is that, inspite of the coordinated international haressment of Tamil activists, community leaders and members of charitable organizations, deep enthusiasm to overcome such barriers and demonstrate support and committment to secure a homeland for Eelam Tamils was even more palpable than usual. US-born youths' contribution to the human rights and humanitarian effort is an important facet of the struggle. Discussion on sovereignty and the emerging legal framework to redress greivances of marginalized populations generated much attention from the audience.

In a 15 hour non-stop program, ILankai Tamil Sangam of USA celebrated its 30th anniversary event in NJ on Nov. 10th. Appreciative thanks to both the hardworking organizors and the attendees. Participation of a broad spectrum of people, some travelling from as far away as Norway, Canada and Sri Lanka, as well as from many US states such as CA, AZ, MD and FL reflected the intense commitment to our community and its struggle - the struggle to stand up against the  “apartheid-like” oppression of Tamils in Sri Lanka.  What is commendable is that, inspite of the coordinated international haressment of Tamil activists, community leaders and members of charitable organizations, deep enthusiasm to overcome such barriers was even more palpable than usual.

The Sangam was primarily established in 1977 as a response to a racial pogrom against Sri Lankan Tamils with the express purpose of exposing the human rights situation of Tamils, while also providing a cultural meeting ground for Tamils in the USA.  The Sangam has steadfastly executed its commitment to both these goals through creative use of its finite resources. The cultural component of our AGM included a series of welcoming classical dances :

Sangam AGM 2007 Bharathanatyam

On the human rights side, a 3-minute stand-up respectful silence preceeds the opening of any Sangam event. The silence is dedicated to the Eelam Tamils persecuted by the genocidal policy of the Sri Lankan government :

Sangam AGM 2007 Moment of Silence

Following a social hour and breakfast (7:30 am), a tribute to Mr. Tamilchelvan was expressed through a song of dedication and an appreciative speech on his service to the Tamil community as a peace negotiator. At various times throughout the program flower petals were sprinkled on the portrait of Tamilchelvan and the 6 members of his staff who lost their lives - a customary Tamil way of showing reverence. 

Sangam AGM 2007 Tamilchelvan Memorial

The solemn beginning was replaced with a hopeful message delivered by a panel disussion on “Way Forward: Advocacy work in America & Attending Humanitarian needs in Tamil NorthEast.”  Several youths formed the panel – all of them were born and raised in US, and two of them were of American heritage. Several videos were shown on charitable work in Eelam. One of the panelists reinforcedSangam-AGM2007 the value of building and sustaining a relationship with US congressmen and senators on the issue of Eelam Tamils. 

Following the panel, an MD who became supportive of the Tamil struggle after witnessing the blatant disparity demonstrated by the SL government during the Tsunami recovery effort, gave an uplifitng speech about her dream for Tamil Eelam – along the line of Martin Luther King style oratory- where children can look up at the blue sky for stars and birds and not expecting Kfirs.

After Mr. Eelaventhan's (MP of NE) luncheon speech, a powerful movie (directed by Ms. Beate Arensted) on the life of two female freedom fighters was screened. The characters were real and the film was built in the backdrop of their family’s struggle for a dignified life under SL military domination. Needless to say, the movie was made without the cooperation of the SL state. The directress herself was a special guest at the event, and she offered to answer questions from the riverted viewers. She gave insights into “international” resistance that she herself had to overcome not only in securing funding for the movie, but also in releasing the movie to the world at large. This is an independent documentary which allows Tamils to speak in their own voices, a perspective that has been kept away for too long from world view.  Movies of this caliber that document the feelings and motivations of actors on the ground for the historic record make the task of demonizing the Tamil freedom movement that much more difficult. 

Sangam AGM 2007 Film directorMore information about the movie and directress could be found here.  Beate Arnestad received an award for Best International Feature-length Documentary at the Message to Man International Film Festival in June 2007. Currently she is making a film on the Rawandan genocide. Tamils certainly hope that she will not have to come back to make a film on Tamil genocide on that scale!  

Following the screening, the next panel on “Earned Sovereignty” spent more than an hour providing a legal framework on the concept of sovereignty. The audience, including Mr. Eelaventhan, asked many probing questions to the panelists. Karen Parker presented her view on how to disentangle the complex web that has been cast on the legitimate struggle to secure a homeland.  The “T” word (terrorism) has become an “elephant in the room”, she said, and therefore no fruitful discussion can take place until the elephant is purged from the room! 

The international community has indeed orchastrated this elephant into the room, and they have to purge it themselves for any meaningful discussion to take place – this is the Tamil position on the elephant.

Mr. V. Rudrakumar, a key member of the peace negotiations team, moderated the session. He interjected the important difference between “Earning” vs. “Regaining”  [Eelam’s] sovereignty.

 

The serious sessions of the day-long program were culminated by an hour-long evening social gathering prior to the dinner speeches, good food and light entertainment, which included dance, drama and popular music. The keynote speaker told us of the importance of memory for a destroyed community.

 

Sangam AGM Dinner

Sangam-AGN2007

Sangam AGM 2007 Anita Krishnan & Children

Light music concert by Ayngaran and Anita Krishnan