Ilankai Tamil Sangam

23rd Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

We Send Them the Money

So Don't Complain, Part VI

by R. Cholan

[U]nderstanding the reasons for the reluctance and accepting the status quo are two different matters. This change must happen for the welfare of our kith and kin back home. We Tamil expatriates are spending a billion dollars each and every year on Sri Lankan groceries, providing the funds to the GoSL to kill our people. This needs to stop.

Reluctance to change, however, doesn’t make our business people our adversaries. They are the wealth-makers of our community and their entrepreneurship must be respected and treasured.

Part I of the series

The summer of 1986 saw a sensational story of one hundred and fifty five Sri Lankan Tamil refugees (146 men, 4 women and 5 children) arriving in Canada in two life-boats. When the story unraveled, it was revealed that they came from Sri Lanka via Germany on a German ship, Aurigae flying the Honduras flag, and were cast-off 10 miles from the Canadian coast in two life-boats. Canada graciously took all of them in as refugees, and decided not to prosecute the ship’s Captain, Wolfgang Bindel, who reportedly made $350,000 on this deal.

A few years later a Canadian newspaper published a follow-up story on these 155 refugees – a wonderful, heart-warming tale of how these ‘boat-people’ became successful citizens of Canada. I was proud to no end. For the next few months I walked around telling everyone who cared to listen, how we Tamil people are the most resilient in the world!

Eight hundred thousand Tamils have made it out of Sri Lanka to flee persecution since then. Tens of thousands took the hazardous way-out like this group, some taking even more dangerous escape-routes. Regardless of the manner of escape, a good number of them have established themselves in successful businesses around the world, and I am extremely proud of them.

A dispiriting aspect of this success story, however, is that many of these refugees now seem to have forgotten why they left Sri Lanka in the first place.

It was ‘July-83’ that triggered the mass exodus. In July ’83, Tamils were dragged out of their homes, women raped, men, women and children murdered, and their houses looted and/or burnt. The GoSL, which sponsored this pogrom, used common thugs to do its bidding at that time.

Fast forward twenty-five years from July ’83, and now the GoSL employs a massive army (the largest per capita in the world) to do the same thing to the Tamils, albeit on a much larger scale and spending huge sums of money in the process. Sri Lanka has absolutely no reason for such a huge army, except to crush the Tamil uprising for basic rights.

Concurrently (and paradoxically), the very Tamils who fled the persecution are now doing business with Sri Lanka, providing the GoSL money (in foreign exchange) to destroy their kith and kin, who they left behind.

How Absurd and Bizarre!

Since I started this series [4 Nov 2007], I have found that there are hundreds of Tamils from around the world who have also found this state of affairs appalling. Many have contacted me, and I have heard about others through the grapevine. Some are now beginning to take action. A Tamil blog at www.yarl.com is a good example. Facebook.com has a page on the subject, with enthusiastic youngsters participating, pledging to each other and urging others to ‘influence their parents.’ Many, I understand, are in the works. See below for two videos on YouTube.

While I am encouraged by this sudden surge in interest, I must add a word of caution. The businesses that sell Sri Lankan groceries to us are not our ‘enemies.’ This is quite important. They are one of us and we need to work together with them. And this endeavor is not that hard. As I have mentioned in Part II, ‘Sri Lanka is not the only place on this planet that can produce the food items that titillate our taste buds.’ There are easy alternatives and options.

However, commercial enterprises that have developed a successful ‘Business Model’ will be resistant to change. This is understandable. It takes time, effort and resources to change. Some changes may reduce profits, although I doubt it in this case. Furthermore, why should they change if: “It is working fine already!” An American would say: “IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT!”

It is difficult to argue with success, and the resistance to change is understandable. But understanding the reasons for the reluctance and accepting the status quo are two different matters. This change must happen for the welfare of our kith and kin back home. We Tamil expatriates are spending a billion dollars each and every year on Sri Lankan groceries, providing the funds to the GoSL to kill our people. This needs to stop.

Reluctance to change, however, doesn’t make our business people our adversaries. They are the wealth-makers of our community and their entrepreneurship must be respected and treasured. It is also to the credit of these businesses that many of them, if not all, have shared their wealth with the rest of us on many community projects. This is worth remembering. Calling them names (thurohihal, as one person did in an email to me) is not an option. It is divisive and counterproductive and in the end we will all be losers.

I am also cognizant of the fact that the Tamil businesses who bring Sri Lankan groceries to us are not a monolithic group. They are individuals with distinct interests and needs. The life situation of each of them is different from others – family, children, financial station, etc. Some operate low-margin businesses and cannot afford any losses. Each person can encounter different sets of difficulties if they were to jump in headlong in this campaign.

All I ask of our business people is to recognize the need for the boycott. We need to stem the flow of foreign funds to the murderous GoSL. This is of utmost importance - a sine qua non. If you do recognize this need, then take some baby-steps towards the goal. You don’t have to plunge in headlong!

Sell a few products “not made in Sri Lanka or with Sri Lankan ingredients”, identified separately from the Sri Lankan exports so that your customers can see the difference.

The aim is to boycott Sri Lanka. It is not a boycott of Tamil businesses.

Continued...Part VII

-O-

Videos: “Will you give money to kill your brother or sister?”

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cJLD-P0hPQ
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGw_QT_LaTI&feature=related