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Sunday, 13 February 2011

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'Diaspora support, a must to rebuild Sri Lanka'

Rajeswari Subramanium, a Sri Lankan-born Tamil writer based in London migrated to UK in 1970 with her husband as a young bride.


Rajeswari Subramanium

A fearless activist who had always stood up against the LTTE's vicious campaigns targeting the young Tamils and a strong champion of the rights of innocents she had always been a keen follower of the happenings in her Motherland, Sri Lanka.

Her anti-LTTE activities invited wrath from clandestine 'Tiger paws' operating in Europe. She had been threatened and intimidated many a time but none of it has deterred her from engaging in what her heart desires - to promote peace and reconciliation; to see Sri Lanka prosper as one nation; to secure a better life for her war battered brethren in the North and the East.

An established writer with 16 books to her credit including two on medicine, Rajeswari holds a Masters in Medical anthropology. She is currently in Colombo taking part in diaspora development activities in the North of the country Rajeswari proudly says her eldest of three sons is married to a Sinhalese and stresses it is high time the 'outside-meddlers' retrieve their paws from the internal matters of her Motherland.

She had pioneered many moderate Tamil organizations in London until they were taken over by the LTTE operatives. Their latest effort, a Tamil literary conference which gathers anti LTTE progressive writers from the Europe, the West, India and Sri Lanka will be held in Paris on February 19 and 20. Rajeswari was interviewed by Sunday Observer last week. This is her voice speaking about the post war issues in Sri Lanka.

"The war is finished. We have to go forward and forget the past.Reconciliation must be achieved. Civil society as a whole must work together. The religious society, the journalists and writers should lead the path to reconciliation. It is our duty.

From January 6 to 9 we held an international Tamil writers' conference at the Tamil Sangam Hall here in Colombo. It was incredible.

We went on a procession along Galle Road. About 200 eminent people participated in the procession. Every evening there was a cultural show. It was such a colourful event organised after several years.

The grand finale on the final day of the festival which was held at the Ramakrishna Mission in Colombo was unbelievable. We had thousands of participants including people from countries like India, etc. The LTTE supporters all over the world criticised us for organizing this event in Sri Lanka. But we wanted to show the true picture of our country, the freedom that had always been there.

I feel sad about the disruption of Galle Literary Festival and the bad publicity that was generated by the withdrawal of eminent authors. LTTE supporters were behind it. They were trying to disseminate anti Sri Lankan feelings to taint the country's image.

Indian writers do not have a right to block the international authors from participating in that important festival here. We don't meddle with their things like that.

There are just a handful of people behind this campaign. We held the International Tamil Writers Festival in Colombo in January. We had many events, we danced and sang. If Tamil writers can organise such events here, what is preventing international writers from attending a reputed literary event in Sri Lanka?

Religious freedom

When I was travelling along Galle Road recently, my vehicle had to be stopped to make way for a procession organised by a Hindu Kovil to honour God Hanuman. This is Sri Lanka. You have the religious freedom and the freedom to maintain your ethnic identity in this country. You have no oppression on that.

Many diaspora people have begun individual development activities in the North and the East. A veterinarian Dr. Noel Nadesan who is currently domiciled in Australia is building a hospital in a very remote islet in the North - Elayathivu island off Kayts. The people there have to travel far to get even the most basic health facilities. Dr.Nadesan hails from Jaffna and wants to help the underprivileged in the area. A lot of work is still to be done to the infrastructure to clear out the memories of the bitter past. For instance the roads in Jaffna are in a terrible state. Our help is very vital in this area.There are a lot of privately funded development activities taking place in addition to the state-funded projects. All this hard work is expected to speed up reconciliation and return to peace. We want to help the people who suffered due to the conflict for such a long time, to help them lead normal lives.

Overseas protests and agitations will only help the LTTE cause. I don't think the minority of Tamil diaspora who help the LTTE have the best interests of these people in their mind.

The majority of diaspora wants peace in Sri Lanka. There are LTTE supporters who are instigating anti Sri Lanka activities. The Lawsuit in the US is one such propaganda stunt.

There are over one million Tamil diaspora overseas, mainly in English speaking States. A majority of them want to see normalcy returning to the North and the East but there is a small percentage who hold different opinions. Some are still traumatized by what happened in the past. I am traumatized too. I lost many of my relatives due to the war. But I have dedicated my life for peace and democracy. This voice will rise above the cries that disseminate hatred.

I don't think talk about war crimes will help our people who are keen to forget the past and try to rebuild their lives. We have to help our kith and kin stand on their own.People would not talk openly about violence in Jaffna. But there is fear about the situation there. People are scared to trust anybody.

We were updated on the progress of resettlement by Maj. Gen. Mahinda Hathurusinghe, Commander of the Security Forces in Jaffna. He said the Security Forces were gradually leaving High Security Zones in public places. We had an informal chat with him. We went to Jaffna to attend the book launch of Dr. Nadesan.

It was the Tamil translation of the celebrated book Animal Farm by George Orwell. We met Maj. Gen. Hathurusinghe on the sidelines of the event.

It is not a fearsome fear but a kind of uncertainty. There used to be LTTE cadres whom people feared but now there are no groups as such but people fear that there may be people who operate with a vengeance. Who would want to take revenge. It is a kind of a shadowy figure. There are so many rumours and gossips. I don't want to speculate on rumours and gossips. Overall people don't completely feel free. That is what I see as a woman.

On the other hand, I must admit that long drawn conflicts like Sri Lanka's need time for the ashes to settle down. For instance I am from England where the IRA War was a big problem at one time. Still there are things happening in Ireland.

Tsunami

In places like Jaffna where you get a big concentration of military presence, people's safety had to be evaluated on a different scale. These people have suffered a lot and we don't want to see them suffer any more.

I think the Security Forces are doing the best they can. I rushed to Sri Lanka soon after the Boxing Day tsunami. I lost one of my nieces in the disaster.

When I visited the tsunami camps in Batticaloa, I saw young military personnel cooking for the displaced people. One of my sisters-in-law was saved by a military person and he lost his life while doing that.

Every time a disaster strikes we get together as Sri Lankans. We help each other in a crisis. But when there is a war it's a war. That's what Armed Forces are trained for, to defeat terrorism.

In Ireland there was a war between Protestants and the Catholics. Although it was settled a long time back, the fear and suspicion of each other is still there.

Annual feasts

In Sri Lanka we have the diversity and a multicultural society. We have Hindu temples and Muslim mosques everywhere. We intermingle as a family.

The Hindu temples in the heart of Colombo have annual feasts with processions on the roads blocking the traffic and there has been no opposition to these festivals even during the height of the war.

That image has not been portrayed outside. One murder in Jaffna hit the headlines and provoked the diaspora. This has to be stopped.

People are trying to rebuild their lives and there are a lot of development activities taking place. Our contribution can make wonders to uplift the living conditions of people of the former war zone. They are our kith and kin.

I despised LTTE because they fattened their coffers with money earned on false promises, promises of an unrealistic and bloody dream. They still do that.

We believe there needs to be a special department for Diaspora liaison work. The government should look into this area urgently as time is running out fast with Tiger operatives striving to win back diaspora to resuscitate the LTTE."

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