Right-side of the change — Part 2

By: Roy Ratnavel

Last year, I wrote a piece called ‘Right side of the change’ which caused indigestion among few in the Tamil community in Toronto. Which I expected. Some accused me of being a paid Sri Lankan agent. This accusation is a typical default-childish, small-minded position of those who resist change; and I am far too familiar with them. That much, at least hasn’t changed. Few — engaged me in a civilized manner, even though they didn’t agree. This is always welcomed. I received many emails of support as well, especially from young Tamils.

As I write this follow-up, I expect recrimination from some members of my community — and even certain friends of mine. Is it worth the risk of free speech? My advice to those who lack the means and maturity to manage within a pluralistic, democratic society, I suggest they grow a thick skin.

What I didn’t expect was the anti-Tamil elements’ audacity to use the article to score some points with those who are prone to ridicule, vilify pro-Eelam groups. They treasure this conceit for an obvious self-serving reason. This certainly was an unintended consequence of a well meaning article.

Thankfully, Tamils generally do not allow themselves to be swallowed by the weight of these simpletons who seek to bury six decades of structural issues of Sri Lanka by waxing eloquence about ‘reconciliation’ and planting trees in the North. These are not mean organizations. They are crazy organizations with mean ideas. We cannot allow our self-worth to be defined by such bullies.

The intention of my article, at least I hoped — at best will be a tidal wave of change to come, or spark a healthy debate. Sadly both are currently missing in our community. Many acknowledge this internally but no one is willing to say it publicly. Speaking an unpopular truth is a difficult, yet important, task. Tamil leaders, who do have long been on the endangered species list, must to our cost.

My view is that the only way you force people to change the system is by saying something publicly. My gripe was the direction we are taking our future Tamil generation right here in Canada and the devastating results it can produce.

A community is a living evolving organism, we don’t have to embrace all the changes that occur around us, but we better at least pay attention. How can we possibly strive to better ourselves as a community do great things with petty fights and glowing character flaws? My view is that if we expose our community’s humanness, flaws, and warts and all, we allow ourselves the chance to accomplish to achieve greatness. Devoid of that, is akin to being a collective ‘self-sabotage.’

It is incredibly important that we avoid descending into another period of intensive internal navel-gazing. Whether it is Illayaraja concert in Toronto or May Memorial or upcoming FeTNA 2013, it seems none can escape the wrath of some organization or group hell-bent on to vilify the other. This is another example of Tamils remarkable ability to injure ourselves.

They cast stones, and are so very far from blameless. These allegations represent more than yet another peek behind a false curtain of fraudulent righteousness. It is really shame when nonsense can substitute for fact, with impunity. Welcome to the train wreck called “Tamil Freedom Struggle.”

These organizations waste their energy on such meaningless things while tiring Tamils out under the guise of “fake patriotism” using our great heroes as the pawns in their silly chess game of dividing loyalty — disrespecting their sacrifices while pretend to ‘respect’ them. As a result fools rush in both sides of the aisle depending on their loyalty. But in both cases, Sri Lanka wins and Tamils lose.

Sine when does everything in Tamil community has to be political. It’s exhausting! Not everything has to be seen through the lens of politics. We live in a community full of amateur Tamil historians and professional skeptics. That seems to be the problem. The whole thing has gotten crazy. In our panic we lost sight of something very important. If only someone could step up and cut through all this political posturing, grandstanding and fear-mongering and remind us what Tamil freedom struggle is all about.

This is a case of mass delusion and stubbornness in a way that is shocking. Tamils need to put a period at the end of this long run-on-sentence of internal conflict. No community ever gains anything by loathing over imperfections of its lot in life or coming to a conclusion based on events that didn’t happen. It is not a hill worth dying on. Putting our money where our hearts are hasn’t been a good strategy for Tamils so far.

Such cult of orchestrated paranoia must evaporate in order for us to move forward. The tragic reality is that, otherwise our society will be doomed, in perpetuity, to frequent episodes of such senseless internal fights. And our response will forever be the now familiar mix of agony and hopelessness.

But we know how to resurrect hope. We are living it right here in Canada. After all, not too long ago we were a whole generation of men, women and helpless children, written up in Sri Lanka’s racial book of redundancy. Our search for better life started in earnest after tragic circumstances. Tamils of many generations, crossed many nations and oceans and made our way to Canada, leaving behind the country of our birth, soaked with the blood of siblings, parents and large extended families. The only collateral we had was the strong back and the hope of a better life. Since arriving, collectively our lives were rewired in Canada.

When we arrived, English was not our first language, but our hopes and dreams were recognizably Canadian. After escaping misery, after the arrival, after the acceptance by Canada and the struggle before us, there was the question; will we make it in such unfamiliar milieu? We exhausted adjectives to describe our fear and anxiety. With barely a glimpse of what laid ahead, we trusted the Canadian system of life — as the residual scars on our psyche still lingered. We felt sullen. Our country of origin left us abashed.

Those days were trying times even for an optimist. But we had to mentally get ready, adopt and overcome our tortured past to build a new life here far away from the horror we endured so the next generation could escape its morbid grasp. Holding back the overwhelming emotion while holding on to each other, we gained the gift of freedom and safety in Canada. This gift symbolized the healing of our broken souls.

Environment of freedom and safety, coupled with force of human will, produced a life of prosperity and advancement, resulting in enormous success in many facets of Tamil entrepreneurism, business disciplines, field of academic studies and more importantly in economic success; making us one of the successful immigrant groups in Canada.

We should be proud of what we have achieved and not be ashamed of what we have not. When the music stopped in May of 2009 and we found out the chair was gone. However, we can inspire and give hope to Tamils of future generations. But how? When we highlight individual and collective Tamil achievement, it can and will inspire young Tamils and proud to identify themselves as Tamils.

Often few among us are focused on the fact if someone can speak in Tamil or not. It is good to speak Tamil. But it is great to feel Tamil. Just because someone can speak Tamil fluently doesn’t mean they helped the Tamil cause frequently. I have met many third generation Tamils from South Africa who couldn’t speak Tamil but they were staunch Tamils. By no means am I suggesting people shouldn't teach Tamil to their kids, but I am suggesting that does not make them feel proud to be Tamils. A community’s strength is built on four pillars: Education, Economy, Politics and Media. Stronger these pillars are more influence the community will have in shaping a country. It is our responsibility to inspire young Tamils to achieve great heights to build those pillars stronger so that Tamils can continue to carry-on with our venerable cause to liberate those who are subjected to brutality in Sri Lanka. We can only do that if we unite and put ourselves on the right path. Our current path of “divided strategy” isn’t the way to get there.

At every May 18th remembrance, Tamils throughout the world should repeat the phrase “In every generation, Sri Lanka will rise against us.” Sadly, this particular truism manifested itself in the unspeakable genocide of our people since the independence in 1948. Today, the threat comes from our own actions which have vowed to destroy the Tamil people. I truly believe that a divided strategy by Tamil organizations and the misdirection of young Tamils represents the most serious threat to Tamils survival.

Our wish should become our collective words. Our words should become our action. Our collective action should become Tamil community’s goal, and that goal will become our destiny, which will help to reach our dream. But of course first part of making a dream into reality is to wake up.

Can we be united and more inclusive? Can we be true to our principles without being disrespectful to those who don’t agree with 100% of them? Is 50% friend, a 50% enemy?

Sometimes what divides us is revealed, all in a moment, to be small and petty. Our faith in each other, our love of freedom, our love for Eelam, our common creed should cut across whatever superficial differences there may be.

Let’s not fall into the trap of accepting an explanation for something just because it seems the most rational solution. There could be a less rational solution that fits the facts much better. The question is, are we ready for it?

Motives are notoriously hard to prove. So let’s focus on outcomes, not on motives. roy_ratnavel@hotmail.com

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