Can we be free in a system that oppresses us?
For decades Tamil’s have been marred by oppression and violence. May 18, 2009 marked the final day of the “war” in Sri Lanka; a day that often brings emotions of hopelessness and despair. Estimates have the death tolls over 100,000. The amount of people displaced, imprisoned or missing is something that no agency has been able to give a tangible answer to. The island has thousands of outstanding unsolved cases of disappearance.
I was on the streets in 2009.
The Tamil community took to the streets across the Diaspora in a non-stop protest, in hopes that some form of intervention would arrive to stop the genocide the State of Sri Lanka was so brutally executing. With the death tolls rising, Tamils with little hope Chanted, Marched, Screamed, Cried and Prayed for a stop to the genocide. It was EVERYWHERE, Internet, print media, TV, news, radio, talk shows EVERYWHERE. Yet no one blinked an eye.
Now I see you coming out to memorial rallies and speaking, for what? So you can use our communities’ events to deal with your regret. Or do you think that we are victims, in hopes to carry out your strategic influence? Would we really forget? Events like this are not only to mourn the loss of countless lives but reminders of the historic resistance, and ongoing resistance. Where were you when the voices were still alive? I never forgot when no one listened, I never forgot the cold looks I would get, and I will never forget your true motives.
I along with a few other protestors, were on the streets day and night, weeks on end. Only going home after a few days to shower, and back to the streets we went. A strong, united Tamil community took care of what we forgot about, ourselves. Whenever I was hungry, cold, sick, tired, the Tamil community united together to assure that no one was alone. Community members arrived with food, tea, sleeping bags, and blankets to keep us warm. Youth came together to take on leadership roles throughout the protests. We had media liaisons, police liaisons, marshals, security, organizers, and strategic planners. We had each other. The more we chanted the more we were forgotten. We lost our way and our voice.
Days progressed and my hope started to diminish into a sense of hopelessness. It will forever mark a time and place where no matter what we did no one was willing to take action. I remember speaking to Canadian Members of Parliament years later who regretted their decision of not coming out and speaking to our community in fears of voter backlash and backlash from their respected parties. Now I see you coming out to memorial rallies and speaking, for what? So you can use our communities’ events to deal with your regret. Or do you think that we are victims, in hopes to carry out your strategic influence? Would we really forget? Events like this are not only to mourn the loss of countless lives but reminders of the historic resistance, and ongoing resistance. Where were you when the voices were still alive? I never forgot when no one listened, I never forgot the cold looks I would get, and I will never forget your true motives.
Since 2009 there have been a plethora of different organizations that have been created to overcome the enormous vacuum the defeat of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) created. The diaspora was immediately given the task to rebuild a nation, rebuild fractured lives.
Today the Tamil Community in the North and East of Sri Lanka is faced with many unique and long standing problems. Political Prisoners are detained, Occupation, militarization is still ongoing. Freedom of assembly or speech is in many cases is not permitted. Land grabs – many historical Tamil sites are being colonized by the Sri Lankan state. Towns and streets are being renamed to Sinhala names. Poverty, Sexual Violence, Mental Health, Drug Abuse, Housing, Education, Employment, Disappearances, are all issues that need a viable solution. Not a solution of victim hood, reconciliation or accountability. A political solution is required to address all of these issues, but the question remains, is a political solution possible when dealing with a failed state? Is a political solution possible when the structural genocide of Tamils is still ongoing?
How do you walk down the streets when you are constantly living in fear?
These questions all need answers.
In the midst of all these questions, I have the longing to go to the homeland and fact find on my own. Many Diaspora Tamils go on vacations to Sri Lanka, only to return to say “Everything’s changed, everything’s better now, the people are happy”. All who look through the façade of tourism.
I want to go back, but whenever I express this wish I’m met with loved ones telling me I shouldn’t go back because of fears of the Sri Lankan state not allowing me in, fears of being detained, and fears of my family in Sri Lanka being targeted. The same state that tells the world that the war is over and accountability and reconciliation are the path they embark on.
Why am I barred from exploring my homeland? Why am I denied access to a place where my ancestors reigned for centuries?
Although our community is often represented as successful, the model minority, we are still faced with issues that are and will be ignored. The Diaspora deals with, poverty, education, community housing, health, immigration (unable to get citizen ship because of the need to get police clearance from the Sri Lankan state), gang violence, mental health, drug abuse, sexual violence, sexism and misogyny.
So we look to the leaders in our communities, organizations to voice our concerns.
We have organizations across the Diaspora doing what they believe is right. Organizations are undertaking work that affects the daily lives of Tamils in the North and East of Sri Lanka, and those organizations need to be applauded. You are doing amazing and real work.
But some organizations work against the best interest of the Tamil Community. Community leaders have been committing sexual violence, and many are guilty of sexism and misogyny. They continue to ignore the mental health issues the Diaspora faces. Grassroots organizations which are meant for the people are now political puppets for political parties.
You will be called out.
The Tamil Community involves itself in the political sphere in a comedic way. Organizations state they are unbiased, yet many people are seen high-jacking organizations and their members so they can advance their political agenda.
I’m not trying to say lobby work or engaging in the political realm is a bad thing, not at all. In fact I think great progressive leaders are needed to be in those realms. It’s when Kumar and Theban (who are real Estate agents) think they can run for a political party we become a joke to our community, and the ones watching us.
When did Kumar or Theban actually engage in issues of their respected communities, have any of them done work in Canada with grassroots organizations? Have they done any type of Solidarity work? Do any of them know what the real issues each member of their constituency need? How can you? When you ignore the issues Diaspora Tamils face.
Questions all around,
In the next few weeks, this blog will be a place to voice issues that are uncomfortable to many. A voice for the voiceless.