Diaspora must embrace new Reality

This sane advice given to Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora around the world by the Strategy and Security expert, Mr. R S Vasan of Chennai, through his article in the new Indian Express on June 3, 2009, deserves to be be read carefully also by sympathizers, well-wishers and friends of Sri Lankan Tamils around the world, whether they are themselves Tamil, South Asian or neither.

 Partha Desikan

Diaspora must embrace new Reality

R S Vasan
First Published : 03 Jun 2009 01:10:00 AM IST
Last Updated : 03 Jun 2009 01:35:09 AM IST

The Tamil diaspora around the world is coming to terms with the defeat of LTTE and the death of Prabhakaran. For good or bad, Prabhakaran continues to live in their memories. The loss of the leader perceived as Thalaivar, Sooryadevan, the saviour of the persecuted Tamils and the creator of Tamil Eelam has not been easy to digest given the decades of struggle.

Many of the Tamils who moved out of Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu before 1983 belonged to the upper strata and pursued medical, engineering and other lucrative professions in the West. Those who left post-1983 found it easy to settle down in the host countries. The ethnic war made it easy to get visas and other concessions in the chosen country.

The diaspora is estimated between 7,00,000 and 8,00,000. It is not that all of them are supportive of the LTTE. Many were angered with the ways of the LTTE, which extracted its pound of flesh from everyone irrespective of their affiliations. Once identified as a Tamil, it was just a matter of being on the roll call of the LTTE. Many LTTE operatives became money collectors, fundraisers and extortionists. There have been firsthand accounts of how the LTTE did not spare any diaspora Tamil from extortion. Where there was resistance, it was settled by threats to family members and property. Both the silent and the strident community had to live together and bear the abuse by the LTTE supporters.

The funds required for creating and maintaining the military, procurement of arms and ammunition, building of luxurious bunkers/swimming pools for the leaders were enormous. The LTTE had no problems with funds, as it was able to hoodwink/threaten the diaspora to support its activities. Some estimates put the annual collections between $300 and $400 million. Other than finance, the help of diaspora was required for opinion-forming in the host country, for passing on technology innovations and for furthering the war effort.

Having got used to the ways of the West, it was very unlikely that even a minuscule percentage would return to Sri Lanka even if Eelam became a reality or full devolution was given to the North and the East. The diaspora was ridiculed by Prabhakaran as a ‘condemned generation’ that deserted the cause and the country. Ironically, the LTTE in the final stages of the war had to turn to this group for bringing pressure through the host governments to stop the war.

Prabhakaran was only looking at the military solution and shunned political options. While these were not the best, if accepted as interim solutions, it would have saved the lives of tens of thousands. The UNICEF indicted the LTTE for recruiting people below the age of 14. This was one of the reasons for many of the Tamils to flee the war-torn areas. Their escape would mean a better chance of safety, education and decent living for their children in the West or even in India.

The final stages of the war saw increased activity from the diaspora, spurred by the LTTE to mobilise demonstrations and hold rallies highlighting the human right abuses by the Lankan army. The LTTE and the diaspora appeared to have forgotten the violent terrorist activities of the LTTE that killed at will. It did not matter if the targets were civilians, Tamils opposed to Prabhakaran, political leaders or military targets. But the fact that some of the nations did give in to the pressure and even tried to save the LTTE from death throes demonstrates the lobbying power of the diaspora.

Even after the defeat of the LTTE, the diaspora has continued to target the Lankan government and tried hard to get the UNHRC to pass resolutions to condemn Colombo. However, due to many reasons including the majority perception that it was an internal matter and that the LTTE was a proscribed terrorist group and to secure the safety of its citizens, the resolution was defeated. The perception that the West itself has skeletons in its human rights cupboard and selectively applies double standards on such issues also shaped the way council members reacted to the resolution.

The continued efforts of the diaspora to target the Lankan government and the hate campaign would only result in bitterness and strained relations between the two communities. While the battle has ended, it should not be waged in the streets of the host countries and in cyberspace. For every act of the Tamil groups demonstrating in the host countries, the pro-government groups are staging counter demonstrations. The patience of the host countries also would run out as many of the demonstrations have gone beyond what is permitted by the law. Instances similar to stoning of Indian, Sri Lankan and Chinese embassies in some countries would only dilute whatever little sympathy that exists.

The diaspora is in a position to play a crucial and responsible role in the rebuilding of the North and the East where opportunities abound. There is an urgent need for the Tamils to see reason and stop funding the pro-LTTE/terrorist groups anywhere in the world. There is already competition for the CEO’s post in the LTTE Enterprise, which has access to all the power and comforts. The diaspora would need to ensure that any sinister plans by the alternative leadership espousing the so-called Eelam cause are defeated. Only then can they prevent the meaningless war in perpetuity and hope to bring peace to the suffering kith and kin back home.

The Tamil diaspora needs to work towards reconciliation. They also need to work through the established contacts in the West to ensure that President Mahinda Rajapaksa does not back out on the promises related to devolution. Mahinda ought to know that any reneging on the promises would lead to the rise of Tamil militancy yet again nullifying all the gains for his country.

(The author is Head, Strategy and Security Studies, Centre for Asian Studies, Chennai).

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