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