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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Recently a group of members of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) comprised of 17 medical professionals from the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, the United States, France, Germany, Norway and Bahrain, over the course of nine days.

Provided assistance including medical, dental and ophthalmological treatment to the communities affected by the floods (about 780 patients) sheltered in villages, relief camps, a children’s home and an orphanage in the Districts of Kalutara and Matara, of the Western and Southern Provinces respectively. The doctors who voluntarily gave their services also donated 300 spectacles. Spokesman of the GTF, Suren Surendiran spoke to the Nation regarding the GTF’s engagement with the country, their view of the present state of affairs in the country, and about what they felt was the best way forward for Sri Lanka

Q : Representatives of the GTF along with the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement conducted an assistance programme for flood affected victims in the South. While this is commendable, this however raises a question. Locally, the GTF who are lumped in with all the other disparate, polemically opposed, ideological factions within the Tamil Diaspora, has a negative, pro-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam connotation, specially among the Sinhalese. In light of the various efforts by local Tamil politicians to create an understanding among the Sinhalese in relation to reconciliation, is this an attempt to change the popular attitude with regard to how the GTF is perceived?  

First of all this initiative is not about the GTF as an institution. This was a rapid humanitarian response to the needs of desperate people of our country of origin. One of the objectives is also to build bridges between the Tamil and Sinhala communities, and to unite the communities through health and healing. This initiative is also particularly to demonstrate the Tamil Diaspora’s willingness to bring their capacity and capability to help build trust between the communities.

The goals of this initiative were to improve mutual relationships, humanize the other and signal positive intentions. The aim is also to work towards  helping build trust by addressing more convenient problems which are however important day- to-day issues, which in turn would allow the parties to address the root causes of the conflicts through dialogue and negotiations.

This is an important, critical first step in a fresh bottom-up, inclusive, people-to-people reconciliation initiative carried out by the GTF in partnership with the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement. The very fact that the beneficiaries responded positively saying that, “Tamil Diaspora doctors and dentists came to our village and did a great service” in a Sinhala Buddhist village in the deep South bears testament to this.

Q : Does the GTF hold strong nationalistic or separatist views?

Neither adjective describes the GTF’s vision for Sri Lanka. The GTF seeks a lasting peace in Sri Lanka, based on justice, reconciliation and a negotiated political settlement.
However, just for clarity, being nationalists does not mean being separatists.

Q : Is there a split within the Tamil Diaspora?

Most democratic, vibrant and dynamic societies will hold multiple views which are healthy and is something that we encourage. The Tamil Diaspora is not any different.

Q : What is being done by the GTF to mould the perception of the youngsters who were not born in Sri Lanka but were born to Sri Lankan Tamil parents, regarding the conflict which they experienced through the eyes and ears of their parents, relatives and friends, the current situation in the country and their future role in shaping Sri Lanka?  

The majority of Tamil Diaspora youth are well educated and well informed of how successful societies and democracies function as most of them live in such countries and within such societies. Like you said, they have learnt the history of the conflict through their parents’ experiences in Sri Lanka. Thanks to the social media, which is effective and efficient, they are well informed of the current ground reality too. For an example, I am sure that most youth will agree with the position the GTF takes, which is that Sri Lanka belongs to all and there cannot be superior or inferior Sri Lankans. All should be equal and that equality must be reflected in the constitution of the country.

Q : What does the GTF make of the country’s present situation?

If I have to describe it in a word, unfortunately I will have to say, ‘disappointing’. Most Sri Lankans feel generally let down by this Government as several of their manifesto commitments have not been implemented.

This Government came to power claiming to clean up the corruption and mismanagement that prevailed during the previous regime and bring to justice those who abused their authority in various ways. Unfortunately, neither have they been able to prosecute anyone successfully nor have they been able to run a Government without various major corruption charges being levelled against them.

The record over the past several months is reflected in the disappointment and despair that these communities feel at present.

However, the overall trajectory remains in the right direction but, just!

Q : What is the state of reconciliation in the country?

Reconciliation efforts are not very strategic or systematic but very haphazard. Distrust between the communities remains and is potentially on the increase with the kinds of religious violence we have seen in the recent past and the lack of the enforcement of law and order.

Q : Is the GTF satisfied with the Tamil political representation (the Tamil National Alliance {TNA} and the Tamil Progressive Alliance)?

Tamil people in Sri Lanka have democratically elected the TNA to lead them to achieve their just aspirations. The GTF stands by that mandate given by the people in supporting the elected representation of our people.

Q : Does the GTF plan to contest at any future national level elections in Sri Lanka?

The GTF is a Tamil Diaspora organization. Like I said earlier, we stand shoulder to shoulder with the democratically elected representation of our people in Sri Lanka.

Q : Do you currently work with the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) or intend to in the future?

We do proactively and constructively engage with the current GoSL.

Q : Previously, TNA MP President’s Counsel M.A. Sumanthiran told us during an interview that if a solution to the national issue were to be brought in via a proposed new Constitution, they would guarantee Diaspora investment in the country for purposes of development. What do you make of this statement? What is the investment (not solely monetary) the Diaspora is willing to make for the country? And what do you make of the present state of affairs with regard to the constitutional reforms process and the role of the Diaspora in it?

As the GTF, we submitted our proposals to the 19-Member Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reforms headed by Attorney-at-Law Lal Wijenayake. The full submission is available on the GTF’s website. I would encourage all to read this proposal to appreciate that the GTF too believes in an undivided Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan  Tamil Diaspora is approximately a million people  scattered around the world. It is generally believed that our joint earning capacity is equal or greater than the total Sri Lankan Gross Domestic Product.

There are thousands of Tamil health professionals, engineers, scientists, bankers, accountants, social workers, economists, teachers, technicians, mechanics, artists etc.
Over 85% of the second and third generation Tamil children go to universities around the world.

There are numerous ways the Tamil Diaspora can support in building a peaceful and successful Sri Lanka. Economic and social empowerment is fundamentally important for any community to succeed and particularly a war affected community to revive. Even small scale investments with a view of creating jobs in the North and the East will help revive the community.

There are so many men, women and children who are disabled due to the war. General healthcare in rural Sri Lanka, particularly in the North and the East is very poor. There are many who are traumatized by their experiences during and after the war. There is always a need for health related projects to be implemented to address some of these needs.
Diaspora children have a wealth of foreign languages related skills too that could be shared.

Creating and strengthening civil society movements is another very important endeavour, to help them build capacity and capabilities by way of training, sharing technological advances and expertise. It is these home grown sustainable groups who will and can be the foundation for social revival. When I say civil society movements, I mean genuine non-political civil society groups, rather than devious groups claiming to be civil society groups who have hidden political agendas.

Q : What do you make of the work done or the lack of it, whichever way you see it, by the Northern Provincial Council and elsewhere the proposition of a merger of the North and the East?

Let the people who voted be the judge of that. As for the merger of the North and the East, the right to merge any two Provinces must be a decision that the Provinces should be given, by the Constitution.


The Nation