Sri Lankan Diaspora cosmetic failure is actually a cosmic failure

| by Janani Paramsothy

( February 17, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) There are a lot of horrifying effects associated with battered woman syndrome. One of these is their apparent expert ability to apply make-up in a way that covers up their bruises. Of course, one would not blame them for doing so; there are complex emotional and psychological factors at play here. What if someone else came and applied that make up for them though? This someone else would obviously have some knowledge that this woman was being abused, they can see the bruises, they know they have to cover it up. That someone else still proceeds to go ahead and hide from the rest of the world what the world would have probably seen otherwise. And although the world may ignore the victim in this case for an amount of time, even having seen the bruises, eventually they would have to act. In covering up the bruises of the victim, our third party make-up artist is preventing the end of the abuse. That person would surely be ethically and morally in the wrong. It seems to me that they have a duty to expose what they know and help that woman to get away from her abuser and into safety- not to cover up the abuser’s mistakes for him.
So when members of the so called ‘Sri Lankan Diaspora’ try to do the same in the case of Tamils, when they become the make-up artists for Sri Lanka, it is hard not to feel angry. Whether they like it or not, they are traitors. Not necessarily to the Tamils, or the ‘Tamil cause’ even, but to the very things they think, or would have us think, that they are trying to promote- good, moral values. Things like help to whoever needs it, acting on basic human decency without political motivation and generally being a Good Samaritan.
In a more forgiving mood, it does not had to be the case that a hatred of these Tamils is inevitable. It is possible to think they are just misguided, well meaning, utter idiots. If they truly cannot see how wrong they are, then surely they are to be pitied. However, in the absence of some mental abnormality, it is hard to see how someone can go so wrong.
Given the scale of what has happened, and the education and experience that most of these people appear to have, one would think they would at least do some basic research before diving head-first into something that may end up doing more harm than good.
The series on Groundviews “Longing and Belonging” features and promotes exactly this type of Diaspora.
The “diaspora is not a homogenous entity – it is a diverse group, with myriad perspectives, motivations and experiences” the articles tell us. This point is repeated again and again through each of the four articles and quite a few times in each of the accompanying videos.
Right.
Who claimed that the Diaspora was a homogenous entity? What is a homogenous entity? Who fits that category? Surely no one. Even my immediate family cannot be classed as a ‘homogenous entity’- we have myriad perspectives, motivations and experiences. Same goes for my closest group of friends. If people who are close, who have lived together, have grown up together, been subjected to the same circumstances and influences can all have different perspectives, motivations and experiences, how then can we expect something as big and as varied as a Diaspora spread out across the globe to be a ‘homogenous entity’? When have an entire people ever been that? It does make you question what the point to be made here is. I can find none of any substance.
It becomes clearer as you read on, that the motive behind highlighting the difference within the Diaspora, is to ensure that the reader can distinguish ‘good Diaspora’ from ‘bad Diaspora’. The aim of the entire exercise appears to be to discredit the Diaspora as we understand now. This would be the Diaspora that everyone from the Sri Lankan Government to the International Crisis Group do not know how to deal with. That Diaspora who has proved a nagging little problem that just will not go away. The ones you can’t bomb or intimidate and you certainly cannot seem to shut up no matter what manner of tactics are employed.
So this Diaspora that yearns for and fights for Tamil Eelam (bad in Groundviews world) is directly contrasted with this Diaspora in Mr. Arunasalam’s article. This would be the ‘Good Diaspora’. We- the bad, let us say the Eelam Diaspora- are portrayed, nay even openly proclaimed, as the vocal minority imposing our will upon and dictating our terms to the silent majority- the Sri Lankan ‘Good’ Diaspora.
So Mr. Arunasalam has four case studies and all of a sudden, he is able to speak up for the silent majority? Really?
When hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in 2009 to protest against what the government were doing and openly calling for Eelam, were these the vocal minority or the silent majority? When people came out in their thousands to vote in the Vadukoddai Resolution referendum, when they swamp Excel in London and other venues across the world each year on November 27th for Heroes Day, what do we call them?
Clearly they all seem pretty vocal. They are making their views known in every way in which they know how. Given the Tamil Diaspora are only a few million strong, I would say they pretty much make up the majority. There are more of us out there declaring ourselves as Eelam Diaspora as a percentage of the Tamil Diaspora altogether than the percentage of people who voted in the General Election in 2010 in Britain for the Conservatives. If that’s enough of a majority for this country to make David Cameron Prime Minister, I think this will be enough of a majority to safely call, ‘a majority’.
This will then present the conundrum of a vocal majority. Gasp.
It would be interesting to hear what qualifies Mr Arunasalam and his case studies to come to the conclusion that only a few in the Diaspora are committed to the idea of a sovereign state while the rest wish to work with the government and sell their souls. If there is some real empirical evidence, they should really make it openly available. Even those Tamils abroad whom I have met who have been avidly anti-LTTE have always been disgusted in the government and would never even consider working with them.
The articles however, do not share this sentiment. They portray working with the government as some achievement worthy of winning the Nobel Peace Prize. This is because “the government have done a lot” apparently. Of course they have. Just not anything good.
They are also no longer ‘distracted’ from what they are doing. I agree with this also. What they are doing is genocide. What was distracting them was their only opposition- the LTTE. Now that this opposition does not exist, they can just steamroll through with their plans of extermination.
Leaving aside for a minute those working hand in hand with Rajapaksa Family Limited, we can turn to those engaging in charity that has nothing to do with the government. The typical case is presented by ‘Longing and Belonging’ itself- the ‘charming young family’ in Nallur. Their ‘giving back’ is demonstrated by clips of the two girls surrounded by small children, throwing out food like merry fairy-tale creatures frolicking in a meadow. Cute. These ‘gap-yah’ style gestures are not even worthy of derision. These attempts at change are only cosmetic, if even that. Providing food for a day or a week will not solve the side issue of poverty and hunger, let alone any of the bigger fundamental issues at stake. We all know it will never work unless we instigate some form of fundamental structural change. If handing out food in Nallur will solve the problems in Sri Lanka, it would have been solved a very long time ago.
The series appears to be all about returning and reconnecting with the ‘homeland’, but what is the homeland? The concept has become so mangled in ‘Longing and Belonging’ that it is hard to see what exactly they are reconnecting with. If they are reconnecting with Sri Lanka, that is a little bit of an oxymoron. Sri Lanka cannot be a homeland to the Tamils, no matter how much any of us may wish it to be (just to be clear- I don’t). If they are reconnecting with Tamil Eelam, then they are failing. Abysmally. Their attempt at doing so has been gone about the wrong way entirely.
Projects such as these appear to have been funded by sources whose fundamental aim appears to be the disempowerment of the Eelam Tamils through the promotion of projects of a miniscule minority of ‘Sri Lankan Tamil’ elite in the name of ‘charity’. For example, Mr Arunasalam himself is funded by International Alert and the American Centre in Colombo. Furthermore the projects appear to provide the cloak of legitimacy to the genocidal Sri Lankan state by strengthening the ‘reconciliation’ paradigm set by it. Cosmetic failure. Just because you have attempted to make pretty what is ugly and bloody, it does not stop becoming ugly and bloody. Reconciliation within an unitary Sri Lankan state is just no longer possible.
Apparently we, the Eelam Diaspora, need to learn the hard truths and live up to our share of the responsibility for the ‘devastation in the North’. Where does our responsibility come into this? We had a responsibility to protest. We did. We had a responsibility to highlight to the world what was going on. We did. We had a responsibility to make sure our people on the ground were capable of defending themselves when it came down to it. We tried our best. There is nothing more that we as a Diaspora could have done to prevent devastation in Tamil Eelam.
Individuals and organisations genuinely seeking to help those in the homeland should not be carried away by such deliberately misleading initiatives as the ones set out by Mr Arunasakam. Our duty is to strengthen the struggle for sovereignty- this will lead to real long term, lasting progress, and not become involves in such condescending acts of ‘charity’ working with the very same people who reduced our people to a state of penury, and helping to mask their crimes while we are at it.
I believe it is the ‘Sri Lankan’ Diaspora who is now walking forwards into potentially dangerous territory with blindfolds stubbornly on. They, like the make-up artist in our battered woman example, have a responsibility to highlight to the world what is actually happening. Not what they wish would be happening if we were all living in a utopian fairy-tale world. This whole thing is a doomed to fail exercise from the start. Time they learnt that hard truth and started living up to their responsibility for the on-going devastation in the Tamil Homeland.

Janani Paramsothy is a Law Student at University College London
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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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