Ilankai Tamil Sangam
17th Year on the Web
Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA
We Send Them the Money
So Don't Complain, Part II
by R. Cholan
For over a year now, I have been discussing with my buddies how the Tamil expatriate grocery-habits are funding the GoSL’s war against the Tamils, and along the way I have heard a few voices of dissent. Let me deal with these dissensions first, before I go on to present to you an idea on how we, the eight-hundred-thousand-strong expatriate community, can make a difference.
The naysayers have said many things to me.
The most repulsive to me is that “Tamils will not stop buying Sri Lankan Tamil food, no matter what”. As to how, or why, any Tamil person with a modicum of conscience (knowing that the GoSL uses our foreign-exchange to kill our people), could buy any Sri Lankan export item is simply astounding! If this is the kind of stuff that we Tamils are made of, then so be it.
Others have said that “the foreign-money we spend on Sri Lankan food is a drop-in-the-bucket compared to what GoSL earns in other exports”. True. But the moral issue here is not about how much GoSL earns by way of its exports; It is about how we Tamils are funding the GoSL to kill our own kinsfolk. Non-Tamil foreigners buying Sri Lankan tailored T-Shirts are not funding the slaughter of their own kind. We Tamils do, with our grocery-money.
“If we boycott Sri Lankan groceries we will economically hurt our own people” (the traders, manufacturers and growers) – is another concern. I must concede, to some extent this is true also. But, I am not advocating hurting anybody’s business interests; only to work with it. There is a solution to this dilemma, but before I get to it I wish for us to consider another moral question.
Is it immoral to hurt the Cannabis growing ‘businesses’ in Afghanistan, or the Coke producers of Columbia, just because it harms their ‘businesses’ economically? There is another dimension to this moral issue, and that is the fact that the ‘growers’ (as opposed to the ‘middlemen’) in Afghanistan and Columbia are considered ‘poor’. If we don’t buy their products these ‘poor’ farmers will starve to death!
The fact is Coke and Cannabis harms real living people, and so does our grocery money. One cannot have a moral dilemma or quandary on this matter.
How about the poor farmers in the northeast?
Does anyone know how much of their produce gets into the groceries we buy abroad? My guess is: not much. Jaffna peninsula is isolated; Vanni produce cannot get past the army checkpoints; and agriculture in the east is at a virtual standstill due to the massive displacements. The largest beneficiaries of this grocery-export-enterprise of Sri Lanka are the farmers, manufacturers and exporters based in the south. Perhaps, a little economic pain is needed to prod them to urge the GoSL to change its ways!
An age-old cliché is: if there are no ‘buyers’, there won’t be ‘sellers’. The inference here is that if there are no western (affluent) ‘buyers’ of Cannabis and Coke, the Afghanis and Columbians won’t be manufacturing them.
In the Sri Lankan context, this means that if the Tamil expatriates are not there to buy the Sri Lankan products, the manufactures and sellers won’t be there either. I am not saying this to blame anyone; there is enough of this blame-stuff to go around already. Let us look at what we can do.
Fortunately, the gap between the Tamil providers and consumers is much closer than that between the growers and buyers of Cannabis and Coke. Consumers of Cannabis and Coke don’t really know their providers, at least not as much as we know our providers. Our task is therefore much easier. We know each other well and we can work together.
As I have said before I am not here to hurt anyone’s business interests. Nor do I want to subject the Tamil taste-buds to any deprivation. The only thing I ask is not to provide foreign-exchange to GoSL to purchase arms to kill our kith and kin.
The solution is rather simple, if only we Tamils can get our heads together and also put in a little effort.
Sri Lanka is not the only place on this planet that can produce the food items that titillate our taste buds. In fact, we can buy the stuff (chilies, coriander and all other spices that we love so much) a lot cheaper elsewhere – in places like India and South America.
I am told that many of our businesses already buy some of their needs in places other than Sri Lanka. I don’t know if they do this for ‘ideological’ or ‘economic’ reasons. Regardless of their reasons, I salute the efforts of those who do.
Can products similar to the MD brand Seeni Sambol, Katta Sambol, Pineapple Jam, etc, be manufactured elsewhere? Sure. People in the food business in South India and elsewhere will line up if we can show them that there is money to be made. I would rather if one of our businesspersons undertakes it. There is plenty of money to be had – it is a billion dollar industry.
Only, the manufacturers need to come up with products with labels that say:
“CONTAINS NO INGREDIENTS FROM SRI LANKA”
We need to make a statement, and what better way than this label on ALL the groceries that we sell and buy.
We cannot continue, year after year, to send the GoSL foreign-exchange to buy arms to kill our people – It is repulsive, shameful and insane.