Mr. Weeratunga, Secretary to the Pesident,
Prof. Tissa Vitarana, Chairman All Party Conference,
and distinguished participants from the Tamil diaspora who had worked tirelessly for the welfare of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka,
I wish to thank each and everyone of you for accepting our invitation and making this first conference a reality.
The future ahead of us is not going to be easy. Making peace, in fact, can be more difficult than making war. But a start has to be made somewhere and I hope this conference will be one of the many endeavours that will help to draw a road map for all our communities to co-exist in a non-violent environment.
The Tamils, more than any other community, have faced the brunt of violence in Sri Lanka. Whether it is under the IPKF, or the Sri Lankan Security forces or the LTTE it is the Tamil community that suffered the most.
Apart from that the Tamils are now facing a future almost without hope. the Sri Lankan government which finally decided to abandon all negotiations and launch a military offensive which has exposed the weakness of the LTTE as a political and military force The new ground realities has left us high and dry with no viable leadership to guide our way into the future. Our situation is worsened by the fact that we are not prepared to face the new realities. We are still stuck in the failed past. We know that going back into the past is not the way out and yet we are hoping against hope that the past that brought us to this current plight is going to save us.
This conference is about finding new ways to the future. We can longer make false promises to our people. We can do that only at great peril and loss of lives of our people. We in the diaspora can demonstrate, lobby, run radio and TV programs, and even finance and arm our favourite groups in Sri Lanka. We have been doing that for the past 30-od years. What have we achieved? And more importantly what more can we achieve by going down that same track? The path we have taken so far has blackened our image and reduced our credibility. We have failed to recognize that the international and national political climates have changed radically from the time we began our struggle. Whether we like it or not our political violence, which we like to consider as a freedom struggle, has been branded, as a terrorist movement. Terrorism has become a dirty word and sadly any terrorist act in any part of the world has an impact on our image too.
I am emphasizing this because we can’t go back to the violence that has failed. We must acknowledge that separatism and violence will not pay any dividends in the future. The current military situation, the stance taken by India, our regional super power, and the only power that can change our situation, the international community and the changed political climate in Sri Lanka will not help us to take up arms again or even raise the stakes to fight for separatism. Moreover, we can’t forever ask our people to make sacrifices when we know that there is no hope. If violence cannot produce the results then we have to seek peaceful alternatives. To do that we have to engage the Sri Lankan government.
Our primary mission here is to engage the Sri Lankan government. As we all know each time any party decides to engage the Sri Lankan government they are accused of being stooges of the government. Our Tamil leaders accused each other of being “collaborators” or “traitors to the Tamils” each time they engaged with the Sri Lankan government. Where has all that taken us?
We were also in habit of blaming the Sri Lankan government for all our failures. We never had the courage to look inward and examine our words and deeds
But I am not going into the past of the Tamils or Sinhalese. That phase is over. We also must give up the useless blame game. Our task is to face the future. And the future has to be tackled in two ways: 1) economically and 2) politically and I wish to emphasize NOT MILITARILY. The most practical way is to begin by tackling the welfare of our people. Economic development should be given priority over all other considerations. This is not to underestimate our political needs. That is a larger issue which involves all other communities which may take time and controversy. But he economic program can be undertaken almost immediately if we engage with the Sri Lankan government. This must take precedence over all other issues which also will help the political process in the long term..
Development programs will also help us to engage with the government constructively. All these years we have funded non-productive programs and achieved nothing. We have now an opportunity to serve our people in the most constructive way by funding and engaging in development work. I believe that the ultimate aim of our politics too is to enhance and develop the quality of life of our people. We have subjected our people to untold miseries with our politics. We must now engage in economic development. We in the diaspora have the resources and technical skills to help our people to rise again as a democratic political force if we help them to develop. If we fail we will lead them to further destruction, devastation and deaths. The choice before is simple: are we going to make our people live in peace, harmony and happiness or are we going to play the role of undertakers financing the expansion of cemeteries in the north and east?
The time has come to recognize that the future of our people is in peaceful co-existence where we work out differences non –violently. We must not forget that we began as Gandhians and we have not achieved anything by deviating from that non-violent path. The choice before us is to pick violence or non-violence, The lesson of the other communities is staring before us. The Muslims, for instance, have leaped ahead of us, even demographically, because they decided to engage the government through the democratic process.
I decided to go down the path of non-violence 32 years ago . I will continue to do so because violence will lead us to a tyranny which no one likes. I‘d rather maintain little dignity under a democratic system rather than lose all my freedom and dignity under a Tamil tyranny.
Let us all get together and begin our new journey to help pour people to regain their lost dignity, freedom and hopes. We have to start building all over again. We have to build a new environment of peace. We have take responsibility for our failures. We have to give hope to our people. And above all, we have to build a new Tamil leadership that can guide our people into the future. Our task is heavy. It is not easy. But we can make a beginning today.
Let me conclude by reciting the meaningful and relevant poem of Rabindranath Tagore who expressed very clearly the hopes of mankind :
Where the mind is without fear and head is high
Where knowledge is free