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 III
by R. Cholan
In the late seventies, the USSR was preventing the Jews from leaving Russia, and many of my friends in the West wondered why the GoSL was letting so many Tamils (potential dissidents) leave Sri Lanka after the 1983 Anti-Tamil Pogrom.
The stupidity of the GoSL decision to let us to leave became evident to the Sinhala leadership only when the Tamils who left Sri Lanka regrouped in the West, Australia and in other places, to fight back. Indeed, we Tamil expatriates have fought admirably well so far.
Since then the GoSL has spent millions to nullify this ‘EXPATRIATE-EFFECT’ (remember Kadirgamar’s jaunts to plead with foreign governments). Although the GoSL has been successful to a degree, after the many millions spent, we the expatriate Tamils are still a terrific force.
There are eight-hundred-thousand of us around the world (not counting the support from Tamil Nadu), and if we can all work together we can do a lot more.
The soft underbelly of Sri Lanka is its dependence on the ‘export-economy’, which we can meet head-on in so many different fronts. What Sri Lanka earns from its textile-exports alone amounts to forty-percent (40%) of its foreign exchange earnings; a substantially significant sum, and also a very vulnerable target for us, if only we can convince our non-Tamil friends in the West not to buy.
Our Western (primarily white) next-door-neighbors are quite sensitive to such matters as ‘human rights’, and the task of convincing them not to buy Sri Lankan products is, in fact, quite easy. My own friends here in the US understand this rather well, and now many don’t believe what they read even in the New York Times anymore.
Taking on the economic weaknesses of an ‘evil-nation’ such as Sri Lanka is a relatively easy task in the west, and is also an effective strategy, as was shown in the case of Apartheid South Africa. But before we go salivating about a similar success with the ‘Apartheid Sri Lanka’, we need to answer one question.
Can we, in all honesty, ask our ‘Non-Tamil-Friends’ in our neighborhoods not to buy Sri Lankan products, when we ourselves buy Sri Lankan-made groceries for our own consumption?
Charity begins at home, they say. If we are to harness the might and power of our ‘diaspora-strength’ with our Non-Tamil friends, we need to ask ourselves the following question first, and answer it honestly.
Is pleasing our taste-buds so important that we are willing to send a percentage of our hard-earned dollars (or even pennies) to a murderous regime that kills our kith and kin?
That I need to even ask this question is painful to me.
Personally, I don’t have any close relatives in Sri Lanka, but I am sure there are those in the diaspora who do. Do they, when they buy a Sri Lankan-exported item, ever think about how - with each of their purchases - they are funding the murder of their relatives and friends back home?
Before we go any further down this road, we need to understand the basics of our grocery-spending-habits clearly.
We, the expatriates around the world, spend over a billion dollars on our Sri Lankan Grocery purchases. A substantial portion of this sum goes to pay the businesspeople based in Sri Lanka, both Tamil and Sinhalese. The amount transmitted to Sri Lanka to pay these businesses (exporters, manufacturers, and growers) is converted into SL rupees by the Sri Lanka Central Bank (GoSL), which holds these sums as foreign-exchange. It is this pool of dollars which the GoSL uses to purchase the warplanes, warships and ammo to kill Tamils. They don’t manufacture any of these items there – they need foreign-exchange to buy them overseas.
I can’t be any clearer than this.
Our grocery-money helps the GoSL to kill our own people, period. Each one of us, in the eight-hundred-thousand strong diaspora, needs to know and understand this fully and comprehensively. Not just a few of us, but all of us.
It is only then, we as a cohesive group can go forward.
That some expatriate Tamils send foreign-currency to the GoSL by other means is another matter. We do, indeed, need to tackle this problem of their remittances for Sri Lankan Airlines tickets, cheap textiles, and luxury flats in Colombo, etc. But, these are a miniscule minority of the affluent amongst us. We do need to shame them also and we shall get to them in due time.
The prime issue of the moment is the ‘grocery-money’. It is not even the quantity (a billion dollars in grocery-money is not a small sum, however); it is a matter of principle. The GoSL earns a lot more with its textile exports and tourism, but this is not the issue.
We don’t have the moral authority to tell others not to buy Sri Lankan, as long as the majority of us keep buying Sri Lanka exported groceries, and continue funding the Sri Lankan war-machine in the process.
What I am trying to achieve here is not to hurt businesses of the successful entrepreneurs amongst us; it is for us to unite and find ways not to help the GoSL to kill our people. I think we can do it.
We gained a lot from the stupidity of the GoSL, which helped create the strong Tamil Diaspora. The achievements of the Tamil Diaspora in the cause of Thamileelam so far have been impressive, and I am proud to have been part of it.
But we cannot go forward, if we keep on sending our grocery-money to the GoSL, to help it kill our people.