BY FRANCES BULATHSINGHALA
This article and interview is part of a series initiated to understand the experiences of large segments of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora who have never supported terrorism of the LTTE.
These Diaspora have made untold sacrifices for their birth country, Sri Lanka, to vanquish terror from its midst and have assisted in this regard in many diverse ways.
They have paid deeply for it, often with their lives, facing retaliatory murders by the LTTE.
The seriousness of the threats they face continue unabated today as they attempt to change the mindsets of the Tamil Diaspora and the Western Governments who sentimentalise terrorism of the LTTE.
In the past 12 years they have been staunchly committed to assisting peace, reconciliation and the economic prosperity of Sri Lanka.
The life experiences of these sections of patriotic Tamil Diaspora, the love they nurture for their birth country, the pain, sorrow as well as hopes for permanent peace and unity are often unknown and do not reach the hearts of the Sinhalese citizens of this nation.
Having featured one such anonymity based narration recently by a Sri Lankan expatriate in the US who fled the LTTE two decades ago after a family member was killed, who drew attention to issues of human smuggling into the United States, we feature this week the voice of a Sri Lankan origin Tamil patriot who is settled in Canada.
The life and work of this person will remind us to question and redefine the concept of patriotism which is in general instinctively attributed to the Sinhalese majority of the country.
It helps us to understand that the label of a ‘deshapremi’ – (a person who loves the country) that is generally appropriated by the Sinhalese community, is given genuine meaning only when a citizen of Sri Lanka whether the ethnicity is Sinhala, Tamil, Burgher or Muslim, solidly contributes to the wellbeing and security of the country and the people.
The narration below reminds us that while any person can shout out that they are ‘deshapremi’ that they will be judged not by their ethnicity, religion or their vociferousness but their actual actions and their real life sacrifices.
In featuring these narratives of patriotic Tamil expatriates, the names, locations and identifiable details will be avoided, given the magnitude of the threat by LTTE lobbyists. Among the atrocities that these patriots have faced included their vehicles being smashed up, their houses being robbed or burnt, assassination attempts, hijackings, acid attacks on their faces and tarnishing their reputation with the label ‘traitor’ which has even resulted in the breakup of their families.
The risk some Sri Lankan Tamils take braving all the above mentioned, towards the unity of their country, is something that Western nations who glorify the LTTE should take serious heed of.
The politicians of Western countries and their police seem oblivious to the countless numbers of LTTE witch-hunts that are taken against some Sri Lankan Tamils who strive to retain the cohesiveness of this small island.
Such serious persecution is part of the price that this interviewee, a white collar professional who has achieved high esteem in his career in Canada and globally, has faced for the past four decades.
Yet he continues to stand up for peace and unity and has not lost hope of changing hearts and minds of the misguided LTTE lobbyists, some of whom are very young and do not know the past facts.
A spiritually evolved person, this patriot has escaped every death threat and has continued to work towards changing persons who carried out these acts. He has proved over the years that this is possible.
Following is the interview:
Q: When did you leave Sri Lanka?
A: I left around 1976.
Q: Why did you leave?
A: It was a general sense of wanting to go forth to the world and re-discover the vast horizons of opportunity. Migration was happening in the first and second stages within Sri Lanka at that time – mostly of Burghers and some Tamils. I was part of that lot. I opted to do my higher studies abroad and moved to about three countries before I settled in the present one.
Q: You are now in Canada?
A: Yes. I have been living here for over three decades.
Q: What is your birth place?
A: I am from the North-East of Sri Lanka. I have lived in both the North and the East as a child and have parental connections in both these locations. However I was more connected to the East as a child.
Q: Have you travelled to other locations of Sri Lanka in your childhood?
A: I have travelled extensively. In South I have many memories. I had many friends. My father was an educator. I have travelled all over Sri Lanka with him. In the 50s and 60s he was one of the key patrons of a Southern Buddhist temple and was the closest friend to the senior most bhikku who headed it who was a highly venerated personality.
My father was one of the persons he trusted most and looked upon for any assistance in time of need. This is the Sri Lanka I remember and this is the Sri Lanka that I strive to restore.
Q: But you have been out of Sri Lanka for almost fifty years. How have you been involved in matters here during these years?
A: I cannot reveal some details as they are highly confidential. Let me just say this. I have been loyal to my country and an active participant in trying to restore some sanity to it.
I have understood well that there was injustice in the many riots that took place targeting the Tamils in Sri Lanka and some related policy level issues. However, I have never justified the cropping up of terrorism and terrorists. Because I took this stand from the earliest rising of terrorism to date I have faced enough misery but I have not wavered. There are many others like me.
In Canada there have been dozens of attempts on our lives.
When I came to Sri Lanka some 30 years ago I could not move freely in the land I grew up in to even drink a cup of tea outside because of the so called liberators of the Tamil people who have killed so many Tamils. I had to constantly watch over my shoulder. In Canada this fear is a way of life and during the Winter I never step out on to the snow for even a short walk. I know very well that these pro LTTE groups which are a vast network of gangs could trap me and get me somewhere to freeze in the snow and would not have any proof of their crime. They have got away with many such abominations.
My car has been tampered with. My house robbed countless times. There is nothing the Canadian police can do – when I say it is the LTTE – they ask me for proof. Where is the proof? They don’t send terrorist thugs from the local area. They send them from different far away areas in the country – identification is impossible. Anyway they are well versed in these crimes and never get caught. I am by now sick of applying for insurance for house robberies.
They excel in breaking into houses. Even worse than these are what they do within our society. Every single temple and ashram has been alerted against so called traitors – that is us – these places are asked not to admit us. We cannot carry out our usual social interactions.
My relatives have been threatened to not associate me and the label traitor affixed on to me to the extent that my children never identified who their parents were, in school and in university.
Q: You are saying that you stood up for a united Sri Lanka and did not support terrorism and that you were hounded for that by pro LTTE lobbyists?
A: Yes. I not only ideologically objected to LTTE terrorism and their post war ruination of Sri Lanka’s image but also attempted to thwart it every way I could, using every powerful connection I had in Canada. I have worked very hard to educate the Canadian political authorities of the terrorism that took place in Sri Lanka and to counter the so called genocide allegation.
I have also at the same time tried to change the minds of LTTE supporters. My strength has been my spirituality. I trust and believe in God/power of the universal truth. My intentions have been pure. I have changed many hardcore LTTE supporters to become aware of their mistake. These persons are now loyal Sri Lankans.
However, if I recognise in the slightest manner that they are a security threat I have never hesitated to alert the Sri Lankan authourities who I work very closely with. The relevant Sri Lankans know I have high standards in loyalty, integrity and trust.
Q: You are a Hindu?
A: Yes, but I believe spirituality has no religious label. God has no label. The universal reality has no label. It is one truth. One karma.
I am very close to the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka and also to the Buddhist clergy. I was brought up by the Catholic Jesuits of the North-East of my home country Sri Lanka.
In Canada I have personally helped to build Buddhist temples and meditation centres. Spirituality should bring people together. We have in the Hindu culture the Surya Namaskar where the Sun is worshipped. The sun gives light. I believe that all human beings should be like the sun; providing light to people to shine. Following is the motto I live by. “Love all. Serve all. Help ever. Hurt never.”
Q: Do you think it is possible to change the views of people who have been brainwashed by the LTTE?
A: Yes. The Sri Lankan Government’s rehabilitation program of those who carried out terrorism is a good example.
Q: Are you convinced with this rehabilitation program?
A: Yes. The answer is obvious. The entire fighting force of the LTTE was put through a rehabilitation that sought to provide them with proper life opportunity. I have provided whatever support I could for this.
Today I know that because of this step by Sri Lanka that the children of these former cadres –a new generation – is growing up totally free and secure within their families. I know there are economical issues and we have been helping towards this end as much as possible.
Q: Do you think Sri Lanka has been appreciated enough globally for this record making pardon of an entire terrorist fighting force?
Q: Do you think it is possible to raise awareness among the Tamil Diaspora about the needs of these people and unite the Tamil Diaspora and the Sinhala Diaspora as well?
A: Yes. This was attempted by people like me but there is so much more to be done. It is hard because there are people benefitting by racism and keeping racism alive. This is done primarily for financial benefit by many of the LTTE lobbyists and in the guise of fund raising for a cause’ they are minting money.
There are also those who are doing all this out of misguided conviction. Some of these include the youngsters who do not have any connection with Sri Lanka or the North and protesting for so-called Tamil Ealam is a non-introspected conviction.
It is also seen as an international human rights fashion to support these protests – such as every time a Sri Lanka official visits a Western country.
Q: What are the views of your children in the contexts we are speaking of?
A: They do not know any of these issues of Sri Lanka as they were born and brought up in Canada. However, I would like them to identify with and strive for supporting a united Sri Lanka – the country that my parents grew up in and loved. Most of the new generation are different- They do not like petty ethnic or race based identification – they have their own way of thinking. My children are like this. They do not believe in differences between human beings and respect everybody.
Q: What is your message for the Sinhalese community, a vast majority of whom who does not know all what patriots such as you have done for Sri Lanka?
A: My message to my Sinhala brothers and sisters is this: Talk to us. Listen to us. Hear what we have gone through for our country. You will not believe some of these things. But it is true. Please understand that the LTTE’s terrorism could not have been defeated without our support. There is such a thing as a Sri Lankan Tamil patriot.
Support policies that will help unity and prosperity of our country.
I am now speaking to my Sinhala brothers and sisters in Canada. Admit people like us into your social groups and into your patriotism focused networks– not as token gestures wrapped in suspicion but in trust.
We tried to join you but we have not been made to feel welcome.
Please try and change this. Please know that there are many thousands of Sri Lankan Diaspora Tamils that you could trust. Include us in your mission for Sri Lanka. On few occasions I have requested for membership in these groups but that has been denied.
Q: Do you think it will be possible to take at least some minor steps to unite the Tamil and Sinhala Diaspora in Canada before the Geneva sessions next year?
A: Yes. There should be initiatives like a community dialogue forum between the three communities (Tamil/Muslims/ Sinhalese) especially among youngsters. This will create the opportunity for exchanging information and perspectives and developing solutions to issues of interest to the communities as well as the country as a whole.
During the Summer school holidays, Sri Lankan Government officials along with the Canadian Heritage ministry could do a joint venture visit of American intercultural exchange programs.
Also, we should initiate a dialogue with our older population of the Sri Lankan Diaspora. This is vital.
People like me belong to this category. According to the Canadian media there are around 300, 000 Sri Lankan Diaspora of all three main communities – Sinhala, Tamil and Muslims living in all 10 provinces and three territories in Canada.