Ilankai Tamil Sangam

23rd Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

We Send Them the Money

So don't complain, Part VII

by R. Cholan, January 17, 2008

But the fact is with all such activities we Tamil expatriates around the world are currently sending enormous sums of money to the GoSL. The GoSL gladly takes all of it, to pay for arms and ammunition to kill our kith and kin. This is disgraceful.

It is difficult for us, who spend only a few hundred dollars on such items, to imagine that collectively these activities add up to several billions of dollars. But, mind you there are eight-hundred-thousand of us expatriates out there, and even if one or two hundred thousand engage in such activities, it adds up to massive sums of money. This is simple math. You don’t need to be an economist to figure this out.

So Mahinda Rajapakse has abrogated yet another solemn pact with the Tamils for peace. And, we, the Tamil expatriates, keep sending his government billions of dollars every year with our spending habits. As I pointed out in Part I of this series, our grocery spending is the most grotesque.

There are those who ask why?

“Why boycott ONLY the Sri Lankan groceries?” Why not the other ways in which the Tamil expatriates are sending money to Sri Lanka? Good question.

Indeed, we Tamil expatriates do send billions of dollars to Sri Lanka in ways ‘other’ than with our ‘grocery-money’. There are those of us who buy Sri Lankan textiles in Department Stores like John Martins, Victoria’s Secret, Bella Italia, John Lewis, Bloomingdales, etc., in Australia, Canada, Europe and the US.

Then there are other Tamils who fly Sri Lankan Airlines (or its partner Emirates), and stay at the ‘tourist hotels’. While there, they buy Jewelry, Saris, Gems, textiles, Batik, etc. They also do things like eating-out with friends and families at pricey Colombo Restaurants. Astonishingly, many of them are those who sought ‘asylum’ in western countries, because it was ‘unsafe’ for them to be in Sri Lanka!

What is even more troubling is the big-ticket item of luxury apartments in Colombo. The wealthiest among us (fortunately, only a few) are buying flats in Colombo. I am not sure what motivates these rich Tamils to do this. As an ‘investment’, it is an obvious loser.

Their losses can be quite big, as many have already found out. Those who bought property in Sri Lanka in the nineties and sold ten years later have lost big sums. With the precipitous decline in the value of SL rupees, their losses have been substantial.

Remember, when less than Ten Sri Lankan rupees used to very easily fetch a US dollar, (in 1973 it was six Sri Lankan rupees to a dollar). At that time more in Indian rupees were needed for a dollar (it was eight Indian rupees to a US dollar). Now it takes 110+ SL Rupees (and stunningly a third of that amount in Indian Rupees) for that same one dollar. This is mindboggling. A decline of this magnitude in currency value alone can land these rich Tamil ‘investors’ in serious trouble. Add to this the unscrupulous builders violating building codes, there is a disaster waiting to happen. But, if these ‘investors’ want to commit Hara-Kiri, it is their business!

But the fact is with all such activities we Tamil expatriates around the world are currently sending enormous sums of money to the GoSL. The GoSL gladly takes all of it, to pay for arms and ammunition to kill our kith and kin. This is disgraceful.

It is difficult for us, who spend only a few hundred dollars on such items, to imagine that collectively these activities add up to several billions of dollars. But, mind you there are eight-hundred-thousand of us expatriates out there, and even if one or two hundred thousand engage in such activities, it adds up to massive sums of money. This is simple math. You don’t need to be an economist to figure this out.

If this is the case, then why single out the poorer amongst us, who spend a mere couple of hundred dollars a month on groceries. When other Tamils are giving so much more to the GoSL, why can’t I enjoy my simple pleasure of a measly Sri Lankan meal? You see, I only send a few dollars with my eating habits compared to them. Does this really matter?

Indeed, a fair question.

When Mahatma Gandhi decided on his now famous Salt March to Dondi (March 12, 1930), he too faced a similar dilemma. India had declared to be free on 26 January 1930, and nothing happened for a few months after that. The British Government simply ignored the declaration. Winston Churchill was bleating about how he was working so hard to “Save India from Gandhi!” Gandhi needed something that would invigorate the masses.

Under the British law, the production or sale of salt by anyone but the British government was a criminal offense punishable by law. But defying this law would have had minimal effect on the British economy. The tax on salt was miniscule, mere pennies. Not much different from the pennies we spend on things like Seeni Sambol and Katta Sambol.

Other areas of British trade with India were much more lucrative and much more vulnerable. A boycott of the British textiles, for example, bought by the affluent (but a smaller number of) Indians, would have had a greater economic impact. Gandhi did take on the British textile industry with his trademark handloom, but that came much later.

The brown-sahibs of India at that time were driving around in British automobiles, wearing British clothes and acting like their white masters, eating breakfast of Bacon & Eggs, with Forks & Spoons. As a side issue, the Indians (and Sri Lankans too) for some reason use spoons with forks, instead of knives! The brownies of India were also going to and fro from England in British schooners, hobnobbing with the British elite.

This ‘minority’ of Indians were spending enormous sums of money on such pursuits, not very different from the ‘minority of the wealthy Tamil expatriates’ of today. For Gandhi confronting any such activity would have caused greater harm to the British economy. Salt consumed by every Indian contributed so little to the British economy.

And yet, the Mahatma in his infinite wisdom decided on Salt.

Why?