Monday, February 28, 2011

People take up home gardening as a hobby & to keep occupied, save money, eat healthier food, relax& relieve stress& beautify yards/homes with plants.!

Home Garden: President’s Remedy for cheaper Vegetables
February 27, 2011, 8:47 pm

By.Dr. M. A. Mohamed Saleem & Arjuna Hulugalle
(The Mahatma Gandhi Centre, Colombo, Sri Lanka)

One million home gardens to force vegetable prices down and attain self-sufficiency is what President Mahinda Rajapaksa recently prescribed during one of his in-country tours, this time to Deyata Kirula at Buttala. What makes it sound a political gimmick is the pronouncement that "Government will establish one million gardens..." although all along everyone in this country should have internalized ‘home gardening culture’ as an important voluntary food security back up. "Home garden" is not a new concept. Labeled also as back-yard garden, pleasure garden, small-holder garden, nature living, home remedy garden etc. people all over the world grow plants of consumable and ornamental value near their homesteads but, nowhere it is a government ‘directed’ programme.

In this country anything perceived to have government backing is a windfall for many, and profiteering schemes go into action immediately with political patronage. Following President’s call we expect a proliferation of ‘home garden pushers’ posing as helpers to achieve government’s target of one million home gardens. There may even be suggestions for government subsidy on imported mineral fertilizers, hybrid seeds, garden tools etc. to entice people into home gardening.

We are reliably informed that already there are more than one million ‘home gardens’ in the country but, in most cases, they are in a state of neglect as people’s interests over time had changed. People take up home gardening as a hobby and to keep occupied, save money, eat healthier food, relax and relieve stress and beautify yards and homes with colourful plants. Home gardening is not a gender specific vocation but, in Sri Lanka, women take more interest in aesthetic home gardening while men get interested if gardening has commercial prospects. In the major metropolitan areas, interest in gardening is now increasing in spite of shrinking land space. In the rural areas, although every compound still has something growing there seems a waning interest for gardening and, whatever harvested from home compounds invariably comes from self propagated plants with little or no care. Produce from home gardens are seasonal and in surplus of domestic needs which cannot be stored or processed and therefore sold at rock bottom prices to middlemen. In the rural areas therefore, there is no incentive to increase production by proper gardening practices, and health considerations are not attractive enough as people live an active life and breathe clean air. Sharing from the home produce was used to strengthen societal bonds but, this is a vanishing practice as more people adopt the TV viewing culture that now fills most of the spare time (particularly of women) and it is now taken as priority past time than tendering plants.

Should Sri Lanka be a food importer: - For a cynic the President’s home gardening spurt at Buttala is a vote catching ploy to give people subsidies. Increasing living cost no doubt will be a hot issue for the voters, as someone’s monthly earning of ten thousand rupees is equated with 17 kilos of green chilies now priced at Rs600/kg. Recent unusual rains and floods in many areas of the country have caused vegetable shortages but, what cannot be understood is why Sri Lanka with all the favorable agro-climes continues to be a food importer. Food production is climate dependent, and therefore, year to year production and supply variations are not unnatural but, much more is desired to the manner by which the country’s food security is handled.

Government at various times had based food security on the need to maximize country’s capacity to grow whatever food crops possible. In this national ‘Grow More Food’ effort every citizen was urged to join in. Although grudgingly at the beginning, people came to adjust to the slogan "what we eat is what we produce" and, with it, there was also a national pride towards reaching self sufficiency but it fizzled out by open market policies of the succeeding governments which allowed imports to make up food short falls.

Food crises is real:- Food deficit countries can no more live in the illusion that food will continuously be cheap, and required amounts can be secured from the world market. Most traditional food exporters have been hit by natural disasters, and therefore, those countries are not in a surplus position to put food in the global market. In addition to traditional food importers, China, with its 1.4 billion people to feed and affected by the worst drought in 200 years will go to the open food market this year to make up for its domestic food deficits. Sri Lanka will be outcompeted in the global food markets, and it will be very vulnerable with unmet food demands unless measures are taken to increase its food production capacity locally.

Self reliance: - Since inception the Mahatma Gandhi Centre has been advocating food and energy self reliance as one of the principle pathways to empower people. The Mahatma Gandhi Centre is also of the view that unsustainable food production (and energy generating) measures can never lead to food (or energy) security. Economists argue that people are food insecure because they lack the means (cash) to buy food from the market. That may be true in situations of surplus global food stocks but not in today’s context where there is scarcity of food in the market.

The food (and energy) self reliance programme of the Mahatma Gandhi Centre rests on the following principles:- (1) Grower control of production means and management (b) Grower control product use and value additions (c) Grower control of marketing decisions. These principles are also strictly adhered to in the Home gardening encouraged by the Gandhi Centre.

Grower control of the means and management of production: - Chemical fertilizers, pesticides, weedicides etc, are imported and some are heavily subsidized. Various hybrid seed types are fast replacing the traditional and time-tested crop varieties. Unfortunately, the crop grower is not in control of any of these production inputs. Price, supply and access fluctuations of these inputs and their unreliability associated with health risks by continuous use make the whole production system unsustainable. The Mahatma Gandhi Centre encourages a system of production in which the grower is in control of all these. Research and field testing of growing techniques by the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reforms (MONLAR) using local resources (without artificial inputs) have proved that improved production benefits can be sustained for a number years. This method simulates a growth medium (of an aggressive forest cover) that holds in a natural equilibrium space, nutrient release to meet the varying requirements of plants growing in complex associations and safeguards against predators and diseases. In such a balanced crop growing situation, a number of varieties (cereal, pulses, vegetables, tubers, fruits, fibers etc) are included and different crops mature at different times, and therefore, it guarantees food of some kind throughout the year. Required nutrients to the various crops in the mixture is ensured through biological fixation (by leguminous plants in the mixture) and release of nutrients though enhanced bacterial decomposition of degradable waste products periodically recycled. Thus, chances for free nutrients moving out of the growing environment and be polluting the water bodies (as the case when chemicals are used) are negligible.

Grower control of use, processing and product marketing: - In the farming methods described above the grower has a number of crops to meet varying domestic needs. Therefore, the grower is not under compulsion to sell one crop to purchase another. What crops to grow, in what proportion and combination will entirely be under the control of the grower depending on the seed type saved from previous harvest and domestic needs for various commodities. This not only ensures balanced and good nutrition for the family but also gives the grower a better option of choice for processing or disposing the surplus.

Home Gardening:- The Mahatma Gandhi Centre considers Home Gardening as a major activity under its Food and Energy Self Reliance Programme, and therefore, any step that adds towards encouraging a home garden culture is welcome. Home gardening that the Mahatma Gandhi Centre advocates is based on the above principles but anticipated success from it boarders on the assumption that there will be an attitudinal change in this country to enthrone the food grower from his present status of a ‘poor or a peasant farmer’ - referred to and treated in that fashion by the ‘privileged’ consumer. This has contributed to a major social divide and mass rural to urban migration sparked by an aversion for any sort of land-based carrier development. The impending food crises is an opportunity to re-evaluate food policy of this country, which should lead to:- (a) all available free space be put to productive use: contribution even from home gardening can be enormous given that even at a barest average production of 20 kg/household/year of one or a combinations of crops 1 million home gardens will put an additional 20 million kilos on the table (b) everyone’s participation in growing something so that they will be both producers as well as consumers which will make farming a dignified profession for anyone (c) a food security system laid on a stronger and sustainable production base.

It is on these premises that the Mahatma Gandhi Centre recently conducted a home garden demonstration with the help of MONLAR. Gardening connotes the need of a land space, and it was demonstrated that even those with no access to land can grow food crops utilizing aerial space available if they are dwellers in high rise buildings. Any form of home gardening is also the most effective way to recycle any form biologically degradable materials as a useful nutrient source for plants, and therefore to minimize production cost. Those who have adopted home gardening recently are surprised by the reduction of garbage that had to be disposed than before.

End note: - The global crisis is real and the situation of the food-deficit poorer countries is very grim. Sri Lanka is a poor country but its food deficit is self inflicted as result of myopic policies. Sri Lanka has assorted climatic and soil conditions. It is also one of the few water sufficient countries. Thus, it has no excuse to be food importer and the country will remain so unless food production is considered a responsibility of all. Promotion of home garden by the Mahatma Gandhi Centre is a small effort in this direction, and in the future it intends to set up a free home garden advisory unit in collaboration with MONLAR. Home gardening is an opportunity for everyone, young and the old, to make this country food-secure. No one, even the legislators should be entitled to free or subsidized food coming out of someone else’s hard labour. Conventional wars are fought on ideological differences but the impeding food war cannot be stopped by finding an ideological confluence. Food security of a country is not a vote catching ploy. It is a serious strategy that needs cooperation of all.

(For information on the Mahatma Gandhi Centre please refer

The Centre can be contacted through email: or at + 94 112 501 82

/ 071 8280021 (Subash Ranasinghe, Administrative Officer).

Copyright © Upali Newspapers (Pvt) Ltd.

Norway is making an effort to tighten financial controls on Sri Lankan projects implemented through the government and NGOs.!!!

Norway tightens financial control over SL projects
February 27, 2011, 12:00 pm

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Norway is making an effort to tighten financial controls on Sri Lankan projects implemented through the government and NGOs.

A senior embassy spokesman says action to thwart mismanagement of funds and ensure better control of its development funds is high on their agenda .

According to the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), the total Norwegian development cooperation with Sri Lanka amounted to approximately NOK 2.5 billion during the period 1997-2009. Of this amount, about NOK 100 million had been spent on the peace process, including the Sri Lankan government (Secretariat for Coordinating Peace Process) and the LTTE (Peace Secretariat).

Among the other recipients of Norwegian funds are the National Peace Council, the Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Sri Lanka Press Council.

In the first phase (1997 to 1999), Sri Lanka and Norway agreed that the latter should support a negotiated settlement to the conflict. It was followed by the second bid in the period from 1999 to 2002, when Sri Lanka and the LTTE invited Norway to play the role of facilitator. The third phase (2002-2006) saw the parties to the CFA agreeing to explore a federal solution, and in the fourth phase between 2006 and 2009, Norway made a series of abortive attempts to revive the peace process.

The Island raised several issues with the Norwegian embassy including the ongoing evaluation of the failed peace processes, spearheaded by successive Norwegian administrations.

The Island: The Norwegian Embassy recently invited proposals for a Consultancy Assignment on ‘Advisory Service on Financial Management and Audit Issues of Development Projects’. Is this a new initiative and if so, what prompted the new Ambassador to tighten financial controls?

Have you already picked an agency? We understand there have been many shortcomings in projects earlier funded by Norway and at least one key recipient of Norwegian financial assistance was investigated for misappropriation of funds.

Norwegian embassy: The Consultancy Assignment has been going for more than three years. The purpose is to enhance the capacity of the embassy on evaluating audit and financial statements. The consultant should also do on the job training of the staff as well and assist the staff in evaluating budgets. It is not a position at the Embassy but a consultancy service that is provided from outside the Embassy as and when required. We are in the process of evaluating the applications. Nobody has been selected for the assignment so far.

The Island: What is the status of the ‘evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka 1997-2009?’ According to the tender document, regarding the ‘evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka 1997-2009,’ the draft of the final report was to be ready by Jan. 30. 2011. Is it ready?

In keeping with the tender document, will Sri Lanka receive a copy on March 7, 2011; for comments? Will you be releasing the final report in April this year?

NE: This is an independent evaluation commissioned by the Evaluation Department of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD). It was put out to international tender and awarded to a consortium lead by the Chr. Michelsen’s Institute, in Bergen, Norway. The final report is expected to be ready by May 2011. It will then eventually be published and available both in print and electronically from NORAD’s website (

The Island: We understand, the head of the inquiring team, Gunar Sorbo, had an opportunity to meet UNP leader in Oslo late last year. Did Sorbo meet or discuss the issue at least over the phone/Skype with any other Sri Lankan officials in Colombo, including former president CBK or the SL embassy in Oslo?

NE: The detailed work programme during the course of the evaluation is the sole responsibility of the evaluation team, and neither we nor the Evaluation Department in NORAD know the details of this at this point in time.

The Island: Norwegian tender document says Oslo spent approx. NOK 2.5 b from 1997-2009. Of this amount, NOK 100 m was allocated for activities directly connected with the peace process, including SLMM and Peace Secretariats of both parties. Has there been constant monitoring of spending and a breakdown of funds allocated?

NE: For Norway, work to prevent the mismanagement of funds is high on the agenda and efforts to ensure better control of our development funds have been intensified. Our projects are monitored financially to prevent corruption, irregularities and the misuse of funds. The projects are also followed up to see the objectives being fulfilled.

How the LTTE spent Norwegian funds received through its Peace Secretariat has not yet been revealed.

Sri Lanka recently rejected a move by Chr. Michelsen’s Institute to visit Colombo to meet some of those involved in the peace process.

Copyright © Upali Newspapers (Pvt) Ltd.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

We have to put in more effort to make the plantation TAMILS aware of their rights! They are trapped in a circle! They are in semi slavery.!!!

Sunday, 27 February 2011

A representative example of results achieved :

Sathyavani: Blossomed, yet rooted

Sathyavani plucking tea leaves

Line rooms in Queen’s Town estate

Komathi in a white saree as pre-school teacher

Prabath Kumara, Director, FIOH

"We have to put in more effort to make the plantation people aware of their rights. They are trapped in a circle. The very environment that they are in prevents them coming out from this fate. The plantation set-up keeps these people in semi slavery. In the villages though the people are poor, they have the sense of freedom in their minds. They at least 'enjoy' some sort of belongingness to their own community.

But, the plantation people though they have lived in Sri Lanka for generations, they still live as strangers and are alienated from other people. Hence we must involve ourselves more with these people to get them out of this trap. It is a very difficult task as these people have been in this situation for at least two centuries", said Prabath Kumara, the Director of Future in Our Hands (FIOH) a social action organisation working in Badulla.

Rightly so. the situation of the plantation people when compared to villagers and urbanites lag behind in every aspect of human and social life.

"I wanted to be an engineer, when I was at school and my sister Komathi wanted to be a teacher", said Sathyavani a 23-year-old employee at Queen's Town Estate, Badulla. Her father a watcher in the same estate died in 2002. Her mother is also an estate employee. She has two elder sisters and an elder brother who is married and lives elsewhere. Sathyavani lives with her mother and younger sister Komathi.

Sathyavani's family 17-year-old younger brother died after a prolonged illness in 2009. The family suffers from the trauma of this untimely demise.

The family lives in a line room provided by the estate. The room, in fact, the house of these workers is, in a double barack type of block consisting of twenty line rooms on both sides. The house is basically an 8' x 10' with a small 5' x 10' verandah, which is used as a kitchen. The 'house' has no windows, as all three sides are covered with the walls of the other houses. The 8' x 10' house is the place for everything.

Sathyavani's family is an average plantation family, with parents and six children. They all have to live, eat, study, sleep and do everything else in the 8' x 10' house. The total area is 25' x 15'.

"I studied at the estate school upto Grade 5 and went to Hali-Ela Tamil School in the town. I passed five subjects at the GCE O/L exam.

Then I went to work in a small factory in Colombo as we were faced with economic hardship. I had to come back to look after my younger brother who fell sick, as nobody was around. Sadly he died and my mother also fell sick. As she could not go to work every day, I decided to go to work on the estate although it was a very hard decision.

Our family was very depressed and we felt that all of our dreams were shattered. The situation was unbearable. We wonder how we survived".

"In 2007, Mydili Akka, (akka means 'sister' and used only for people who are very close to each other) from FIOH visited our house. Mydili akka was a Field Officer of FIOH. She sat with us and listened to our story. Nobody has ever listened to our plight before. By this time my brother was sick and we were faced with problems. She told us not feel desolated and advised us to form a Small Group (SG). So my sister Komathi and I formed a group with 10 others (8 women and 2 men) who live in our 'line'. Mydili akka instructed us to collect Rs. 20 from the 'members' of the group and gave us a 'pass book' to make entries of cash received. Together with Mydili akka formed 10 such groups were formed in our estate.

"We meet every month and participate in various training and awareness creation programs. Earlier we used to work round the clock. We couldn't find any spare time. But with the formation of the SGs, we were able to spare some time for community work. May be, that kind of thinking was not in our mindset earlier. We had different names for our 10 groups. It gave us a feeling that these groups were ours. We took decisions, though small ones in the beginning.

Mydili akka and the training given by FIOH encouraged us to take full control and the ownership of these groups. We decided to get all the 10 groups together and form an organisation with the guidance of FIOH. Then we formed the Integrated Community Organization (ICO) for our estate and we call it "Kalaimagal Makkal Abhivirudi Ameyppu". We were so happy. Most of the members were women.

Sathyavani (L), Komathi

I became the Secretary of our ICO in 2008. We discussed various issues related to our life, our future and the situation of the estate.

We were able to get lots of help from FIOH and from the other government organizations for the work in the estate. Earlier we didn't know that, such kind of helps could be taken from the government organizations.

The exposures and the awareness creation programs conducted by FIOH helped us to open our eyes. We decided to open a Pre School in the estate. My sister Komathi and Nalayini were selected on merit to be teachers of the Pre School. They underwent a thorough training under an instructress attached to the Education Department. I really felt very happy for two reasons. The first is that we got a Pre School for our Estate. The second is that my sister was able to be a teacher, and fulfil her childhood dream. I am also feeling very happy, as everyone is praising the performances and the standards maintained by the Pre School. There are about fifty children studying at the Pre School now".

"Normally I go with Mydili akka to visit other groups also. She trained us in my things, such as keeping accounts of the group's money, keeping minutes of the group meetings, how to conduct a meeting, how to speak in a meeting and so on. I often go to Badulla now to attend various meetings, discussions and training. There we used to meet lots of other people from other areas, villages and other estates. Earlier we do not know anybody outside of our own estate. Now, when we come to Badulla there were lots of people who we know. We now know even the government officers, as we have met them for getting some support for activities in our estate or as we met to make complains about the shortcomings of our estate. We meet even the Superintendent of our estate to 'discuss' various community problems and needs. They know what we do now and they listened to us and give whatever help they could. Earlier only the trade union leaders used to meet the Superintendent and we used to tell the trade union leaders of our problems. They all were men. Now because of the ICO we, most of us are women deal with the authorities".

"I used to reflect on my mother's life. She too was an estate worker. But she didn't have any of these opportunities. We remember she worked round the clock at home and in the estate. She hardly had gone out of the estate. I feel so sorry about her".

"One thing happened in my life, rather in my family, I never forget. That is the illness and the untimely demise of my younger brother. We all were in a state of shock. But, hundreds if not thousands of people were gathered around our house on the funeral day. The whole estate had not witness that size of gathering earlier. Even though we were very sad, we also realise the enormous support we get, just because of being with the people through SGs, ICOs an CLO. It was a tremendous strength, when we were really in need".

"Another thing happened. All the ICOs used to meet at the FIOH office and eventually had formed an apex body, the Cluster organisation (CLO). As there are many ICOs in this apex body, we call it The Planation Community Development Forum (PCDF). This is an unbelievable situation. All the money that FIOH got for the work of Small Groups, ICOs and CLO is now managed by us! We plan our work. The money is transferred to our (CLO/PCDF) bank account. In June this last (2010) I was elected by the representatives of ICOs as the Secretary of CLO. First of all I couldn't believe it. I remember the every second of this event and in a way I was surprised too. I along with the Treasurer and the Chairmen of the PCDF, who were from the different ICOs, authorise and sign the cheques to obtain money of the work. I was only an ordinary estate worker. Though I had dreams to come up with my education, the harsh realities that we were encountering made them shattered. I was literally confined to the estate earlier. I live, work and did everything in the estate itself. We had no much connection with the outside world. But everything was changed with the visit made by Mydili Akka to our home. The whole thing, when I reflected, a wonderful story. My sister Komathi and my mother too help and encourage me, as we have already witnessed the usefulness of such engagements".

Komathi, her sister intervenes and said, "My sister and I contributed to the expenses of our home and now we manage everything. We want our mother to feel 'free' of the affairs of our home. We go to town on the pay day and bring most of the food stuffs for the whole month. It cost about Rs. 5,000-6,000". How much you contribute? I asked a question, one should not suppose to ask though! "I give Rs. 2,000, and keep another 2,000 for my needs and save another 2,000. I get only 4,000-6,000 per month. I also save some money for another thing, she said. What is that for? I asked another unwanted question. First she smiled, and then took couple of seconds, with a deep sense of emotion, she said, "I have collected Rs. 25,000 so far and I am going to buy a ring of my sister for her wedding!

K.A. Jayasinghe Perera, Senior Program Officer of FIOH said, "Plantation Community is an important economic indicator in Sri Lankan economy. But, they have been kept out of mainstream or there was no mechanism to include them into the mainstream of society. As a result for 180 years socially, culturally, economically they are somewhat backward. The situation of widows, women, school going children and school left-out youths do have lot of grievances. FIOH had been always sympathetic in looking at their problems and try to answer in a sustainable manner.

This is a unique initiative by Future In Our Hands development fund (FIOH) and first in this kind in the Plantation Sector. FIOH, with this initiative has taken steps to hand over all the responsibilities, the ownership, decision-making authority, and the available funds to the Plantation Community Development Forum. The 'beneficiaries' of the Plantation Project have now become the owners and the implementers of the program. FIOH is helping them in 'capacity building' and remain as mentor. This initiative will certainly helps to take the so-called 'target group' or beneficiaries in the plantations to new heights.

Compiled by: Lalith Abeysinghe, Senior Civil Activist, Development Consultant and former Coordinator, Sathyodaya, Kandy.


[ The real situation of the plantation people]

The plantation people of Sri Lanka came from southern India in the 1820s to work mainly in the tea plantations. By 1931 there were 693,000 such people. They were used to clear the then thick virgin jungles and to turn them to beautiful tea plantations. They laboured immensely for the development of the tea industry, bearing the unfavourable environment and harsh weather conditions.

Immediately after the country gained independence in 1948, the then government brought the Citizenship Act and denied citizenship to the plantation people who couldn’t prove their citizenship. They became ‘stateless’ and lost all benefits that a citizen could enjoy including voting rights.

The Sirima-Shasthri Pact signed in 1964 by the Prime Ministers of Ceylon and India decided the fate of 975,000 stateless people with 300,000 and 525,000 for Ceylon and India respectively. The balance 150,000 were subjected to a separate agreement. The whole processes of repatriation of the Indians and to offer citizenship to the others was expected to be completed within 15 years. The armed conflict began between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the forces disrupting this process. As a result, the Sri Lankan Government offered citizenship to the balance Indian in Sri Lanka in 1982, though the paper work had yet to be completed.


The plantation workers (about 1,050,000) record the worst social indicators in the country. The literacy rate, infant mortality rate, the lifespan, the malnutrition rate, passes at GCE O/L, A/L and the University Entrances examinations of the plantation people are the worst figures in the country. The ownership of land is the lowest among the plantation community. The wages of the plantation workers are the lowest as well in the country.

The plantation people were subjected to violent racial attacks at many times as a result of the ethnic tension which prevailed in the country, though they were not a party to the claim of a separate state by LTTE.

After even over a century the majority of them still remain plantation labourers. Most of them are confined to the tea estates where they live and work. They still work in semi slavery conditions and efforts taken to improve their situation by various groups including social action groups and trade unions have been of little avail.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

The story of Sri Lanka would have been similar to Cyprus if Prabaharan had allied with India, cooperated with IPKF & formed the N-E Provincial Govt.!!

JVP should revisit its stand on the national question - Somawansa: Inspired challenge or accidental remark?
February 19, 2011, 4:02 pm

Kumar David

The most significant event at the opening session of the JVP’s Sixth Congress on 10 February was Somawansa’s reference to federalism. To be absolutely fair - I was present at the ceremony - let me report the incident precisely. Previously the delegate of a left party from Cyprus described their strategy in that unhappily divided island which was a stand for a united Cyprus on the basis of a federal system; that is federalism for the Greek and Turkish communities in a reunited country. Somawansa’s was a wrap-up talk thanking the invited delegates, but one matter he singled out for special comment was the Cypriot’s remarks. He was speaking in Sinhala and a fair translation would be as follows: "There are two types of federalism; that which encourages separation and that which promotes unity. We salute you and we strongly support you in your efforts to have a federal system for the purpose of uniting your country".

This was a no passing remark

There is no question; this was no passing remark confined to Cyprus, something more is cooking. There was no reason to single out the Cypriot’s statement and make comments that can clearly be read the way I am reading them here. Not only did I raise my eyebrows but I looked around and noticed many others too had picked up their ears; a lady next to me leaned over: "This is significant and I am glad he made the distinction". The assembled JVP delegates clapped and I think most realised that a new concept has been injected into the discourse. The role of a leader is to lead, to push the party forward to new ideas when the time is ripe and I hope this is what Somawansa was intending to do. Was he challenging his party to move forward or was it a trivial remark? We have to wait and see.

Am I reading too much into the incident? Well yes it is possible, this was only the ceremonial part; the closed sessions of the party conference, the real meat of the day was starting in the afternoon. Did the JVP Congress revisit the national question and take a fresh look? I may be attributing too much significance to the incident because, subjectively, I am keen to see the change. If the strongest left party in the country, fighting against autocracy, is moving forward on the national question as well, it is a matter of great importance.

There will be an internal struggle and it will proceed at two levels, the tactical and the strategic. The former will revolve around concern that while the JVP will not pick up Tamil votes by adopting a new position it will lose Sinhalese support. The strategic issue concerns the basic position of a party which calls itself left, revolutionary, Marxist and internationalist, on the national question. Or in practical rather than ideological language: What is the JVP’s formula for national integration and solving the Tamil question?

Tamils are unlikely to vote for the JVP in large numbers unless it reaches an understanding with Tamil political parties to facilitate tactical voting in some electorates in putative constituency based electorates of the future. The JVP has only itself to blame for alienating the Tamil community by the way it behaved throughout the war. Its anti-LTTE venom showed no sympathy for the underlying oppression that created the LTTE in the first place. Its lexicon was obsessed with words like "terrorist" and alongside Gotabhaya it was the principal cheerleader for the racist war. To this day the JVP will not countenance any inquiry into war crimes. It refuses to vote against the Emergency in parliament and it is these Emergency Laws that keep thousands of Tamil youth illegally incarcerated without charge or trial. In short, the Tamils can find little comfort in JVP politics thus far.

A majority of Tamils are unlikely to vote for the JVP for another reason as well, as they did not for the LSSP in the post-independence decade. The Tamil community has a narrow outlook and blinkered mindset originating in social and ideological antecedents, but it would take too long to discuss this topic in any depth today. The point is that the part of the tactical objection concerning the shortfall of Tamil votes for the JVP is correct.

The other portion of the tactical argument is not correct. The core Sinhalese vote that the JVP draws will not desert it if it goes forward to enunciate a principled position on the national question. The JVP is not a racist entity and has not gone around slaughtering Tamils as the SLFP and UNP habitually do. It has however played the chauvinist card in the hope of gaining votes, but the tactic has backfired. Despite a bloodcurdling anti-LTTE campaign it has been left empty handed by Rajapaksa’s war victory and its cadres are bewildered by the outcome. The truth is that supporting devolution will not erode the party’s Sinhalese base; racist sections of the electorate will not support a left party in any case.

However, there is work to be done if the JVP is to make a shift on the national question. It will have to undertake a massive education and consciousness building exercise starting with its own cadres. This certainly can be done since these cadres are the cream of the politically conscious mass Sinhala youth and intelligentsia. Furthermore, the benefits which will flow to society at large from such an effort will go beyond the confines of the party boundary.

The JVP and the national question

The deeper strategic question is the JVP’s concept of a nation state. Although Marxist in name, the JVP will have nothing to do with self-determination and the right to secession for minority nations. Forget it, let that matter blow over; I am not going to quarrel about it here as it serves no practical purpose at this time. But why not self-administration in Tamil areas, why not devolution to distinct communities, why not autonomy, and for that matter why not federalism? What blocks the JVP from moving forward at this level?

The roadblock at this level is the JVP’s own history, its ingrained habit of opposing devolution. It has caught a tiger by the tail and does not know how to let go. It was a bitter opponent of the Indo-Lanka Accord, the Thirteenth Amendment, and linking the North-East. This habit hangs heavy, the past weighs down like a colossal ball and chain on the present.

How is the JVP to explain this past to the nation and to its own cadre if it now accepts devolution of power? It knows perfectly well that if the nation state in Lanka is to be unified it must be on the basis of power sharing between communities; but how to escape from its blunder of excessive Sinhala nationalism in the past? It is not the national question per se but this tangential conundrum that will shackle the JVP if it attempts a review of fundamentals.

In the prison years and the period prior to the 1982 presidential elections the JVP did move to a Marxist position; it even tentatively accepted self-determination. The leadership will have to revisit this period and open up this history for internal discussion if it is serious about addressing the national question afresh. We have to wait and see if the leadership has the intention and stamina to take up these fundamental questions.

There is also cynicism in the media that the JVP is simply biding its time till the government makes concessions to the Tamils, awaiting an opportunity to unleash a deluge of communalism. I think these prophets of gloom are wrong, but it is up to the JVP to prove it by making a clear declaration debunking these doubts and suspicions.

Cyprus and Sri Lanka

The story of Sri Lanka would have been similar to Cyprus if Prabaharan had allied with India, cooperated with the IPKF and formed the N-E Provincial Government in 1987. Thereafter the Thamil Eelam strategy would have been to consolidate separatism with Indian protection. Not for the first time, nor the last, he blew it and therefore the political history of the two islands is different.

Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960 but the Muslim Turks (18%) felt unfairly treated by the majority Christian Greeks (77%) and started governing themselves with a degree of self-asserted autonomy from 1964 onwards. Trust the colonels to screw things up! After the Greek military coup in 1967, the colonels in Athens attempted, in 1974, to overthrow Archbishop Makarios using military units in Nicosia. They were angered that Makarios was sporting a degree of independence from their jackboot. The attempt not only failed and led to the demise of the military junta in Greece, but it also triggered a Turkish invasion of the island. For the last 36 years Cyprus has been home to two physically separate self-governing entities; the Greek Republic of Cyprus in the south has international recognition thanks to continuity with a pre-invasion past while the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (Turkish Eelam!) is recognised only by Turkey. Both sides have agreed to reunification on a federal basis but negotiations always break down on specifics. The minority Turkish north wants a great deal of sovereignty approaching confederation, the majority Greek south prefers a strong central government. Hopes of agreement are getting nowhere.

Somawansa has spoken of two types of federalism; that which promotes unity and that which produces separation. The real lesson of Cyprus is the third version which he failed to mention; federalism that forestalls division. Had the Greek Cypriot majority, uninterrupted by thick-headed Greek mainland military brass, offered the Turkish community the right to manage its affairs in the areas of its majority domicile, the rapture of Cyprus could have been forestalled. The JVP now has an opportunity to learn from this idiocy.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

South Africa does not have Boat people wishing to Migrate to other Countries! Can we not learn some Lessons on Reconciliation from Mandela’s S.AFRICA!

What will become of us without barbarians?
February 18, 2011, 6:33 pm


by Shanie

"What does this sudden uneasiness mean, and this confusion? (How grave the faces have become!) Why are the streets and squares rapidly emptying,and why is everyone going back home so lost in thought?

Because it is night and the barbarians have not come.And some men have arrived from the frontiers and they say that the barbarians don’t exist any longer.

And now, what will become of us without barbarians? They were a kind of solution.

- Constantine P Cavafy (1863-1933)

Over the past fortnight, we had two of our most distinguished diplomats of recent times deliver two powerful public lectures. Last week, this column commented on a lecture by Jayantha Dhanapala where he spoke on how an energised civil society could promote good governance. Earlier this week, H. M. G. S. Palihakkara delivered the Prof. J. E. Jayasuriya Memorial Lecture and spoke about the challenges facing Sri Lanka following the end of the LTTE insurgency. Those who were privileged to listen to the addresses, heard these two distinguished citizens of Sri Lanka focus on different aspects, one domestic and the other international, of what is required for Sri Lanka’s polity to deliver on good governance. Criticisms were veiled in diplomatisque but there was the usual LTTE-bashing. After all, as the Greek poet wrote, what will become of us without the LTTE, even if they do not now exist? They were a kind of solution to all our other problems. So the LTTE needs to be fed to us regularly through our media to re-create a phantom from the past so that our present self-made woes can be pushed to the background.

Palihakkara served our country’s Foreign Service for over thirty years, ending up as Foreign Secretary and later as Head of our Permanent Mission to the United Nations. In all these roles, he was required internationally to be the public face of the Government of Sri Lanka and to present its actions in the best possible light. In his retirement, he was appointed to serve on the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). This was a more independent role where he, along with the other Commissioners, was required to listen and sift evidence led before the LLRC, make his own independent judgements and to collectively report, and if necessary present a dissentient report, making recommendations to the President for implementation. It was a role different from his previous one as a public servant and it may have been a pity that various civil society actors, both here and abroad, did not recognise this distinction and pre-judged the role of the LLRC.

Diplomacy, Palihakkara told the large audience at the SLFI which perhaps represented a fair cross-section of Sri Lanka’s intelligentsia, is about dealing with people whom you disagree with or agree to disagree. It is not a zero-sum game of cultivating one set of friends at the expense of the others. Diplomacy is about securing common ground where none seems to exist. Such a common ground, apart from obvious investment and economic benefits, also creates a favourable image of the country as a civilised and pluralist society where peaceful dissent is seen as an enriching experience and ‘an exciting democratic challenge and not an act of treachery or treason’. Our sovereignty, he said, was best protected in this way rather than by sloganeering it.

Meeting the post-conflict challenges

There are several challenges facing Sri Lankan society. It is nearly two years since the conflict ended on the ground and it seems a pity that we have to be reminded by Dhanapala and Palihakkara of these challenges after so many months. It is true that some progress has been made. An LLRC was appointed and tits report should be sent to the President soon. But let us hope that its report and recommendations will be released, publicly discussed and implemented. Some of the ‘High Security Zones’ have been vacated and re-opened to the civilians, though it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that the vacated land is cleared and made fit for civilian return. The road from Maviddapuram Temple to Keerimalai, which was once a flourishing residential area, now resembles the Yala Centre Road with thick overgrowth on both sides of the road. Civilian administration, albeit on a limited scale, has been returned to all administrative districts, even though the military presence is all pervading. The military imposed registration of persons in Jaffna district seems a clumsy effort that will impede genuine reconciliation. Instead, a co-ordinated civilian census of the population, overdue for nearly three decades, even though taking longer to conclude, would have achieved the same purpose with less resentment.

These measures at restoring a semblance of normalcy, however small, are certainly welcome. But it is now nearly two years since the end of the conflict, and much more can and needs to done. Infra-structure development, the restoration of the road and railway network is painfully slow. The new bridge and causeway at Sangupiddy was opened by the President last month amidst much publicity. But vehicular traffic cannot still use the bridge as the roads on either side of the causeway are not motorable. Apart from the Jaffna-Point Pedro Road which is now being re-laid by the Chinese, none of the other main highways, including the Jaffna-Kandy A9, are up to scratch.

Human Rights and the Rule of Law

Sri Lanka has come under immense pressure to allow an independent investigation on accountability issues particularly during the final months of the conflict. The LLRC, of which Palihakkara is a member, had a limited mandate but it did well to receive representations from a wide range of affected citizens. But Palihakkara’s comments at the lecture on this are very valid: "It is important to show that the nation after emerging from an injurious and costly conflict, still retains the strength of character and the political will to introspectively look at its own track record and see if we had gone wrong somewhere and if we had, what remedial measures can we, as a civilised society undertake and what course corrections need to be made."

Palihakkara also made the point that our leaders must not claim to be infallible. We are quite liable to have made mistakes and we must have the humility to self-examine where we have gone wrong. He was also very clear that the rule of law should prevail. Permitting armed groups to operate in government-controlled areas undermines the rule of law. The Government and its security agencies must have the monopoly of the use of force within the country’s borders. When a government is unable or unwilling to exercise that authority, certain crimes will go unpunished, certain offenders will enjoy impunity and certain investigations will waver.

According to Palihakkara, Sri Lanka had ‘a diplomatic profile quite disproportionate to its geographic or demographic attributes and military or economic clout. As a resurgent nation brimming with hope following the elimination of a terrorist menace, we should look forward to asserting our sovereignty... We can do so most effectively when we are at peace with ourselves and when we invest our military gains in sustainable political and socio-economic processes. Harmonising our multi-ethnic and multi-religious society without pandering to elements of polarisation is the way forward in this regard.’

He also referred to the human rights issues raised by various parties, both here and abroad. It was not prudent to say that these problems are not unique to us and point the finger at other countries. It may be good political rhetoric for local consumption but in the long-run it will militate against our political, economic and commercial interests. It must be noted that many of the core human rights values are embedded in Lord Buddha’s Sutra Pitaka. We should follow them as they constitute a great Bill of Rights, pre-dating and perhaps surpassing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights!

Towards Reconciliation

Palihakkara also referred to the activities of the Sri Lanka diaspora. To refer to these migrants of various types as the diaspora is really a misnomer. But be that as it may, Palihakkara felt that there was a need to engage this expatriate community in a constructive way. Although Palihakkara did not refer the Sinhala expatriate community, it is clear that extremist elements among the Tamil and Sinhala expatriate communities are both working to an agenda that presents Sri Lanka as a polarised nation. The government must not seek the easy way out by pandering to the whims of one section of the expatriate community. It should engage only the pluralist elements within this community. It should also discourage the expatriate community fracturing itself into political groupings supporting one party or the other at home. The government can win the support of the pluralist (and perhaps the vast majority) elements of the expatriate community by engaging them in genuine development work that goes beyond political, regional or ethnic differences.

Our foreign relations must be guided by a broadly bipartisan approach and led by professionals in our Foreign Service. Our country requires healing at this point of time. Rhetoric and sloganeering must give way to bringing about a consensual and democratic society. Archbishop Desmond Tutu headed South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. At the end of that process, he said: "We have been wounded but we are being healed. It is possible even with our past of suffering, anguish, alienation and violence to become one people, reconciled, healed, caring, compassionate and ready to share as we put our past behind us." It is towards that end, that all South Africans sing their National Anthem in four languages. Despite their past violent history, a government of vision led by that redoubtable Nelson Mandela has ensured that all South Africans take pride in their country. South Africa does not have boat people wishing to migrate to other countries. Can we not learn some lessons on reconciliation from Mandela’s South Africa?


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Civil Society and Democratic Rights and Liberties..!!!

Civil Society and Democratic Rights and Liberties
February 11, 2011, 12:00 pm

"We shall have to repent in this generation not so much for the evil deeds of the wicked people, but for the appalling silence of the good people."
– Martin Luther King

"A strong civil society promotes responsible citizenship and makes democratic forms of government work. A weak civil society supports authoritarian rule, which keeps society weak."

- Kofi Annan

The Citizen's Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) is one of the few civil society organisations in Sri Lanka which has consistently stood up for civil rights and good governance in our country. Earlier this week, CIMOGG sponsored a public lecture by Jayantha Dhanapala at the auditorium of the Organisation of Professional Associations on energising the civil society in Sri Lanka. In his lecture, Dhanapala contended that civil society had an important role to play but was not doing enough, even though there were mechanisms available that allowed for civil society to intervene in promoting good governance.

Dhanapala argued that Sri Lanka had traditionally been a closely integrated society with inbuilt social security systems that helped less fortunate relatives and friends. A bereavement in a neighbour’s family, the financial distress of a friend or accommodation for a poor or elderly relative met with spontaneously generous responses even among the poorest. Our society’s responses to the tsunami and now to the floods have been exemplary. Likewise the concept of shramadana and voluntary work in public projects has been a traditional feature embedded in our culture for centuries. It is but a step from this charitable concern for our fellow citizens and constructive community action to civic, non-partisan involvement in issues that impact on the welfare of our society as a whole and our rights as citizens.

Dhanapala then went on to examine what he thought were the reasons for the civil society not being more effective in the good governance of our country. He thought the reason lay firstly, in the confusion between non-governmental-organizations or NGOs and civil society. Secondly, there was a conviction that civil society and NGOs are both concepts imported from the West and financed by foreign sources which invariably work against the sovereignty of our country and our national interest. Thirdly, there was such a heavy politicization of society over six decades of the practice of partisan politics that every participant in public life and every opinion expressed is viewed through the prism of party politics. We no longer appreciate the fact that honest men and women can disagree and that dissent is a necessary feature in democratic society. Successive governments have adopted the posture that "If you are not for us; you are against us".

Dhanapala then went to expand on the mechanisms that were available to the civil society to intervene to ensure good governance – the Ombudsman, the Parliamentary Committee for High Posts and public interest litigation. But this columnist is not convinced that these mechanisms provide effective protection of democratic rights and liberties. As far as the Ombudsman is concerned, we are aware that certain individual cases of injustice have been redressed by appeal to the Ombudsman. But it seems unlikely that the Ombudsman will be able to put right general abuse of power by individuals and agencies of the political establishment. It also appears that the Parliamentary Committee for High Posts is largely ineffective and/or non-functional. Public interest litigation is costly and probably will prove ineffective in the current highly politicised environment. Dhanapala hints at the more effective role that has been played and could be played by organisations like the Civil Rights Movement, which since 1971, has been committed to the protection and promotion of the civil rights and liberties of the people at all times.


Although Dhanapala does not refer to it, another organisation which, like the Civil Rights Movement, has consistently over the years focussed on the trampling of people's rights by various actors on the political scene and called for a restoration of these rights has been the University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR). It was formed in 1988 on the initiative of three academics of the University of Jaffna – Drs Rajini Thiranagama, Rajan Hoole and K Sritharan. Writing in 2001 in his 'Sri Lanka – The Arrogance of Power', Rajan Hoole states that their intention in founding the UTHR was, in the wake of the Indian Army's advance in Jaffna at that time, not to let the Indian Army or any other power sort out the future of the people. "We must act not by pushing ourselves to heroic mantles but by creating an institutional framework, whereby the attitudes of different individuals will find their rightful place and so help the community to determine its own future. It was within this organisational framework that any attack on the rights and dignity of the people could be resisted firmly."

Hoole continues, "It was a remarkable experiment in the University of Jaffna. It required patient and exhausting political work, talking to people and persuading them to take on responsibility. Rajini (Thiranagama) and Sritharan were at the forefront of this effort. Its strength was that no individual was unduly exposed, because a large number of people from the Vice Chancellor to the students and non-academic staff were part of the effort. The LTTE found this self-assertion on the part of the University striking at the very heart of its totalitarian claims. It set about identifying individuals to put an end to the University's activism and murdered Rajini on 21st September 1989."

Dhanapala concluded his lecture by stating that the concept of the ruler ruling in harmony with the people was an ancient one. 'Gandhi’s civil disobedience campaign that forced the British Raj to quit India, the Filipino people’s power that toppled the Marcos regime and what we have seen in Tahrir Square in Cairo is civil society in action when that harmony is out of joint. In democracies people do not abdicate their role between elections. Governments do not have a monopoly over the interpretation and implementation of the aspirations of the people and the national interest. Engaging with civil society is not an option for Governments. It is a necessity.'

Violence is counter-productive

Kandiah Kanthasamy was a lawyer and human rights activist in Jaffna who was abducted and presumably killed by one of the many militant groups then operating in Jaffna in 1988. In a lecture to commemorate that sad event, Regi Siriwardena stated: "I think everything we have gone through in the last decade confirms the wisdom of those who ruled out assassination as a legitimate method of pursuing liberation of any kind. You may start by killing unpopular politicians or oppressive agents of the State, and claim that their killing is just retribution for their crimes, and perhaps few people will shed tears for the victims. But once you have started on this slippery slope, there is no possibility of stopping anywhere." And Siriwardena goes on to state that this self-conviction that only you are right will lead to killing anyone who who is an obstacle in your way, all those who disagree with you, labelling them as traitors who needed to be eliminated.

In the course of the same lecture, Siriwardena also referred to the manner in which peaceful Tamil satyagrahis protesting against the Sinhala Only Bill in 1956 had been attacked by thugs while the Police looked on. In the late 1970s, striking and picketing workers and demonstrating university students were attacked by thugs, sometimes with extreme brutality. What was the thinking, asked Siriwardena, behind those in power when they dealt in this manner with minority satyagrahis, workers and students. Perhaps they said to themselves, "We'll teach them a lesson they won't forget!" But the lesson learnt was one very different from the one intended. By crushing democratic and peaceful opposition, it promoted the belief that that the only effective weapon against a State ready to resort to violence was counter-violence. Thus, both in the North and South, State violence actually promoted extremism and strengthened those whose methods of dissent were the AK-47 and the T-56.

Recent events give one the uneasy feeling that we have come a full circle and are now on the verge of going through the same cycle once more. It is now nearly two years since the crushing of the Tamil insurgency and there has been no evidence of any LTTE activities since then. There have been incidents of violence, white van abductions, etc in the North and East and the people of the area know that this has not been by any ex- or pro-LTTE elements, despite tendentious reporting to that effect. The violence in the south has been by elements who, the people believe, can similarly be controlled by the State agencies. It is the government's duty to restore and safeguard the democratic rights and and liberties of the people. That is the only way the ordinary man and woman can live without fear. And it is the civil society's duty to stand up and fight for the restoration and protection of those democratic rights and liberties.

Copyright © Upali Newspapers (Pvt) Ltd.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Paris's Tamils thrive despite defeat at home..!!!

Paris's Tamils thrive despite defeat at home
The celebration of Ganesh, Paris

WikiMedia Commons
By Amanda Morrow

It’s often mistakenly called “Little Bombay”, but the lively neighbourhood that stretches from the rue du Faubourg-St-Denis north to La Chapelle is actually home to Paris’s Tamil community. The air is often fragrant in this quarter – where a colourful mismatch of shops sells everything from silks to spices. This façade, however, masks the painful reality behind the area’s birth.

It began back in 1983 when Paris got its first ever Tamil boutique - opened by a refugee fleeing the violent civil war in Sri Lanka. The independence fight waged that same year by the LTTE, or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, went on to last three decades and claim some 80,000 lives.

So with a foothold in Paris, and thanks to a systematic period of asylum facilitated by the French Office for the Protection of Refugees, “Little Jaffna” sprung to life in the city’s north. It flourished during the 80s and 90s, incorporating everything from fabric shops and beauty salons, to restaurants, grocers, schools and Hindu temples.

For Raja, a former Tamil Tiger fighter who escaped to Paris 20 years ago and now manages a French restaurant, the conflict in his homeland made life there impossible. “I joined the LTTE in 1983 and was with them until 1988, when I went to India and bought my ticket to France” he says.
“All I could think about was leaving – with all of the political problems and the problems with the Sri Lankan army.”

Sri Lanka’s war is officially over, with the LTTE separatists suffering an annihilating defeat in May 2009 during a year-long offensive by the Sri Lankan army. As in many expatriate Tamil communities, Tamils in Paris staged huge protests against the bloody tactics used by the army, and the lack of interference by the international community.

It’s left a bitter taste for Raja, who insists the cause has not died. From his Paris apartment, he’s still dreaming of a Tamil Eelam homeland. “The war may be finished – but we have to remember why we began it in the first place,” he says. “We were demanding our independence.”

Most Parisian Tamils support the Tigers, says Raja, using the present tense. While the Tigers may have been defeated on Sri Lankan soil, their international network is far-reaching, and seems to have remained at least partially intact.
According to Sri Lanka’s ambassador to France, Dayan Jayatilleka, the LTTE network has broken into three or four large factions around the world. Although there isn’t any single unifying leader, he tells RFI, it’s possible there are members attempting to put the cell structure back together and reignite the armed struggle.

“I can’t take a head count on how many Tamils in Paris support the war, but it seems to me that the politically active and preponderant element of the Tamil diaspora – the more mobilised and active element – seems comfortable demonstrating under the flag of the LTTE,” he says.

“But I am not sure if they represent the bulk of the Tamil community in Paris, or only an active minority.”

What’s missing, says Jayatilleka, is an opposition movement from within Paris’s Tamil community. “Something that says, ‘No we don’t feel comfortable with the flag of the LTTE with its 32 bullets and its crossed rifles’,” he says.

Even here in Little Jaffna, where the women are dressed in colourful saris, the pavements are alight with market stalls and the sounds of Hindi music spill from the shops, it’s difficult to extract the politics from everyday life.
France’s 100,000-strong Tamil population – the majority of whom have chosen to call this quarter home – are Tamil foremost, and French second. It’s a sense of identity perhaps cemented by their ethnic minority status back in Sri Lanka, where the Sinhalese majority controls the army.

In a Sri Lankan beauty shop on the rue Perdonnet, a young woman, Anusha, who is Sinhalese and has been in Paris for 10 years, is having her hair done by a Tamil staff member. She says a depressed economy and lack of opportunity led many Sri Lankans to leave – regardless of their ethnic background.

These days Anusha sings and dances for Sri Lankan community shows in Paris.

“I am very much active in the Sri Lankan community, but my friends are not only Sri Lankan,” she says. “They are all nationalities: American, German, Dutch.”

Anusha is happy to chat about her life, friends and roots, adding that she visits Sri Lanka as often as possible. “Now the war is over, Tamils and Sinhalese live like a family,” she adds.
She is unperturbed when asked if active members of the LTTE still operate around Paris, but as she tries to answer, the conversation is suddenly ended by the hairdresser, who hurriedly pushes me out the door.

Fundraising for the LTTE, deemed a terrorist organisation in many countries, has been a sensitive subject in France since the April 2007 arrest of several members of its network on charges of extorting money from members of the Tamil community.

Before the arrests were made, the subject was investigated by journalist Nandita Vij, who works for RFI's sister station, France 24 television. Vij, who is of Indian origin, visited the Paris offices of the now defunct Tamil Coordinating Committee (TCC), which was later raided by French counter-terrorism police.

“The organisation that was collecting funds was working as an NGO that was helping out the refugees back in Sri Lanka,” Vij explains. “So their pretext was that they were collecting money for tsunami victims or for the rehabilitation of the Tamil community.”
While some people were at first happy to trump up money for the cause back home, Vij says that the younger generation eventually became less committed to the cause, and at this point were forced to give money.

“If they didn’t, they were threatened," says Vij. “Sometimes it was their family back in Sri Lanka who was at risk, or else they were harassed here in Paris – and at times beaten up outside their house.”

After her story went to air in 2006, Vij herself became a victim of harassment by TCC members who, even today, have not backed down on their campaign of intimidation.


Even here in Little Jaffna, where the women are dressed in colourful saris, the pavements are alight with market stalls and the sounds of Hindi music spill from the shops, it’s difficult to extract the politics from everyday life

“I am still under threat – I cannot go back to Gare du Nord for one, because people recognise me,” she says. “The harassment still hasn’t stopped, so I can’t even go and shop in the area for Indian groceries anymore.”
Despite the war in Sri Lanka, the extortion arrests in Paris, and the unfulfilled dream of a free Tamil state, the residents of Little Jaffna, and the streets that splinter off around it, have deftly carved out a lifestyle through which they can celebrate the riches of their culture.

There are Tamil newspapers, a radio station and Tamil language schools, while the annual Chariot Procession, a tribute to the Hindu elephant god Ganesha Chathurthi, has become a popular fixture each September for Parisians and tourists alike.

For Raja, memories of the war he fought are never far, but he's happy with his new life, which he says is one of integration for his French-born children, who are able to enjoy the best of both worlds.

“Here in France, my children take Tamil language classes – they learn to write Tamil, and they learn about our culture,” Raja says. “Then every year in June, there is an exam for all the children and they get tested.”

While integrating is much easier for Tamil children who go to school in France, older Tamils often struggle with language and culture barriers. As a result of Sri Lanka’s British colonial past, many are fluent English speakers, and come to France without knowing a word of French.

This means employment opportunities are restricted, with many Tamils unable to find work that corresponds with their qualifications back home. Among this group is Hamad, who works at the Silk Palace general store on the rue du Faubourg-St-Denis.
Ironically he comes from Pondicherry, in the south of India, once a lone French colony. Despite the French connection, Hamad says all of his education was in English. “Although I speak some French, it’s not been sufficient to get a good job, that’s why I’ve been working in a shop for the past eight years,” he says.

“Although none of my family is here, as they don’t speak French, I see a lot of Tamils every day, as most of our customers are Tamil. Sometimes I also attend the functions organised by the Tamil cultural associations.”

So now that the war in Sri Lanka has been declared over – with images of Tamil chief Vellupillai Prabhakaran’s bullet-ridden corpse being beamed round the world – are Paris’s Tamils considering a return to the homeland?

Not a chance says Raja, who points out that there is a strong suspicion among the greater Tamil diaspora that the Sri Lankan army fabricated Prabhakaran’s death.

“Personally I believe that he is lost now – but a lot of people think he is still alive because, in the past, there were often army announcements that he was dead, and then he would appear,” Raja says.

“These days there are two LTTE groups – those who say Prabhakaran is there, and those who say that Prabhakaran is not.”

While the separatist movement in Sri Lanka has been defeated, Raja says the suffering of Tamils continues – despite what he calls government propaganda that depicts Sri Lankan soldiers delivering relief supplies to Tamils displaced during the war.

“Even now people over there are living in fear. It’s not war, but they’re afraid because there is still a lot of violence,” he says. “For families where there is no husband, the women are often raped by the army. None of that has finished.”

Over at the Sri Lankan embassy in Paris, ambassador Jayatilleka says the numbers of people applying to return are encouraging – and that most Tamils on the ground in Sri Lanka have abandoned the secessionist struggle.

“I would say that quite a few want to go back, and the numbers that are coming in from other parts of the world such as Australia and Canada clearly demonstrate that a large number do want to, Jayatilleka says.

“I don’t know if this is simply for a visit, or if it is to relocate back to the parts of the island where they came from. But, yes, there has been a lot of movement, and no one is saying, ‘We don’t want to have anything to do with the place’.”

Regardless of any gravitation back to the homeland, here in Little Jaffna, where shop signs are decorated with the Tamils’ distinctive script, and where the Tamil community is entrenched alongside its Indian, Bangladeshi and Turkish counterparts, it’s hard to imagine this area looking any different.