Ilankai Tamil Sangam

24th Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

This is a Setback Only

Tamil struggle hasn’t been crushed

by Dr. Sam Pari, Lanka News Web, January 3, 2010

Absence of war is not peace. The Tamil Struggle for Freedom and Equality may have suffered a set back, but is far from being crushed. It will revive in its own ways in due course unless the root causes of the issues are addressed.  The weakening of the LTTE is a very complex issue and has been caused by a number of factors, including the involvement of some key international players who are in geopolitical rivalry in the Indian Ocean.

Interviewed by Sunanda Deshapriya. Dr. Pari is spokesperson for the Australian Tamil Congress

Dr. Sam Pari
Dr. Sam Pari

As a human rights and Tamil rights activist where do you place yourself, in the context of present political situation in SL?  Before that, how do you characterize the political situation in SL today. Any personal experiences re developing situation?

In the current political situation, two men who could be indicted for war crimes have drawn swords at each other while clamouring for the highest position in the State. From the Tamils’ point of view there is absolutely no choice between the two. It is extremely difficult to say as to who could be worse.  In this context, we would like to acknowledge the principle-based position adopted by Dr. Vikramabahu Karunaratne, with a programme recognising the Tamil homeland in the North and East, its right to self-determination and autonomy as solution for the Tamil National question.  His policies on economy also confirm that he intends to do good for all peoples of the island. The Sri Lankan public and media should give as much importance to him as the other protagonists.

From the Human Rights point of view, hardly anything has changed and if at all things have only worsened. Arrests, detentions and even disappearances are continuing even though some of these are carried out on the sly.

How do you look at post war political developments in Sri Lanka? The defeat of the LTTE - what were the main reasons?

Unless there is a paradigm shift in the South with regards to sharing of political power with the Tamils and other minorities there is not going to be any major change in the political landscape of the country. Absence of war is not peace. The Tamil Struggle for Freedom and Equality may have suffered a set back, but is far from being crushed. It will revive in its own ways in due course unless the root causes of the issues are addressed. The weakening of the LTTE is a very complex issue and has been caused by a number of factors, including the involvement of some key international players who are in geopolitical rivalry in the Indian Ocean.

You have been away for a long time; looking from afar what is your relationship with Sri Lanka, where do you consider home today? How do you think of influencing politics in Sri Lanka? As a Diaspora?

I consider Australia as my home, but that does not compel me to forget my roots. Coming to Australia was not a choice. I was forced to leave my land  of birth and I am grateful for the liberty I enjoy in Australia. It is the same with many compatriots of the Diapora. The Tamil people in the island of Sri Lanka are under severe oppression. They have no freedom of expression. The Diaspora, most of whom live in democratic countries of the West, are in a position to give free expression to the genuine grievances and aspirations of the people in the traditional Tamil homeland. Even some key international players are recognising the Tamil Diaspora’s role in resolving the decades old conflict in the island of Sri Lanka. Our positive and determined stand will give strength to our people and their representatives back home.  The Tamil Diaspora is politicised in many ways. We left with a lot of pain and our decision to leave was politically motivated, making us stake holders of the problem as well as the solution. Our sincere hope is that this will lead to a negotiated, peaceful resolution to the conflict and will eventually lead to genuine reconciliation amongst all communities occupying the island of Sri Lanka.

Do women play any significant role in Diaspora politics?  does Dispora groups encourage female leadership?

Of course! In the recently formed Australian Tamil Congress, there are several women playing an active role. Tamil women have been in the forefront of Tamil campaigns for decades. The inspiration for today's Tamil women comes from back home where our women have shown to break through social barriers whether it be their participation in the Tamil Struggle for Freedom or defying the community's beliefs in the caste system and rituals such as dowry. The Tamil woman, through the struggle for freedom, was able to break the shackles of feudalism.

What are the social divisions exists in Tamil Diaspora in the post war situation?

The Tamil Diaspora are part of a democratic system, and this strengthens our dynamics. There is open and healthy debating of various issues but the overwhelming majority of over 90% of the Diaspora shares the same views that reflect the political aspirations of Tamils of North-East Sri Lanka. There are no social divisions. However, as with all communities and social settings, there is a small minority with a difference of opinion to the majority.

Sri Lanka went thru dramatic political and military changes in recent years, if I ask you for future political scenarios – how do you look at from afar…

Sri Lanka has built up a military that is far out of proportion to its population. Therefore, this only reflects an increase in militarisation of the society which is neither good for democracy nor good for social welfare. In addition, a former military commander with no political background and who does not answer to any political party is contesting for the highest position.  We also see the continuation of family rule; this time, in fact, total abuse of power by a single family.  All these pose severe set-backs to genuine participatory democracy, rule of law and press-freedom.  The Sri Lankan State should be reformed, with a new constitution that will allow for genuine democracy to flourish and to allow for all communities to be equal stakeholders in the running of the country.  Any solution to the ethnic problem will be possible only in a situation where all can express their aspirations in a fear-free environment.

You from North/Jaffna/Killinochchi, what do you think of XXXX. today – when were you there last? How do you look at recent Tamil political developments/ or second generation Diaspora  what are your feelings on Sri Lanka? Where is home for you? How do you look at your identity?

I have not been to the North and East since the current government was elected. I see the North and East as a land under occupation. A land where the inhabitants enjoy no freedom in any phase of their daily living. I believe the second generation Tamil Diaspora have the same feeling as I do - that true reconciliation comes when Tamil grievances are acknowledged and genuine attempts are made to address the Tamil people's legitimate concerns of oppression.

I see myself as a Tamil Australian. Someone who is proud to be Tamil and proud to be Australian.

What is your message to Sinhala people at this juncture?

We have nothing against the Sinhalese people and we never had any ill will towards the Sinhala community. We recognise the existence and history of the Sinhala nation in the island of Sri Lanka, and we also acknowledge the sufferings of the Sinhalese due to the war.  All we expect from the Sinhala people is a reciprocation of these sentiments, and the acknowledgement of the ethnic oppression and immeasurable sufferings faced by the Tamils.

We expect the Sinhalese to be realistic and generous in supporting serious political reforms in the country, which will allow Tamils and other minorities to live with dignity, equality and peace, and also to allow these communities to manage and prosper in their traditional homeland without enforced erosion of their ethnic identity. There is a golden opportunity now in the post-war scenario to settle this once and for all, and we hope all communities in Sri Lanka will rise to meet this challenge. No one wants the whole agony to be repeated. We stress that a military solution can never resolve a complex political and ethnic conflict of the type afflicted Sri Lanka. The Oppressor is the same for the Sinhala oppressed people as for the Tamil people.