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Restructuring Tamil Admin. & Governance

| by Gaja Lakshmi Paramasivam

(October 12, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) This morning I received the following communication from the UN:


New York, Oct 11 2011 2:05PM

The first returns of Sri Lankan refugees by commercial ferry from India will start tomorrow, the United Nations announced today, marking the first time such repatriation is done by sea.

Thirty-seven people from 15 families will make the trip from the port of Tuticorin in India to Colombo in Sri Lanka as part of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) voluntary repatriation programme.

In May 2009, the long conflict between Government forces and the rebel separatist group the Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) came to an end. During the final phase of the war, about 276,000 people were displaced, with the majority fleeing to India.

Since then, many Sri Lankans have returned to their homes, but there are still a significant number awaiting repatriation. According to UNHCR, over 1,400 refugees have returned this year, compared to 2,054 last year.

Adrian Edwards, a spokesperson for UNHCR, told reporters in Geneva that this is the first time that refugee returns to Sri Lanka are being done by sea. He said this was of particular significance as many refugees have been waiting for ferry returns so they can take all of their possessions with them.

According to the Indian Government, 69,000 Sri Lankan refugees still live in 112 camps in the country's southern state of Tamil Nadu.’

File Photo
As a Tamil, I placed myself in the shoes of these returnees and felt the anxieties they must feel when returning home. Many of us with fairly secure ‘homes’ in the countries we have migrated to, also felt anxieties when we returned to Jaffna which is very different to the Jaffna we grew up in. The natural social structures of Jaffna society have changed dramatically. There is lack of influence of Public Administration in the daily lives of the People. As pointed out by Dr. Rajasingham Narendran in his article ‘Land registration in the North and East of Sri Lanka’, this may also be the case with other non-Tamil parts of Sri Lanka. But given that I am Tamil and Jaffna is my home – my belief helps me identify with the situation more than I would in a Sinhalese area.

Dr. Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, Principal Researcher, Point Pedro Institute of Development

Thambasetty, Puloly West, Point Pedro, Northern Province, Sri Lanka – currently working as Research Fellow at Global Terrorism Research Centre, at Monash University, also sent me an email regarding Dr. Sam Prince as follows: ‘Sam Prince is a doctor, Mexican food entrepreneur and philanthropist - and now he aims to eradicate one disease at a time. All this at just 26.’ (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-12-03/sam-prince/2363320) .

Since it came from a fellow Sri Lankan, I read the report. Until I came to the following part of the interview I thought Dr. Sam Prince was of Mexican origin: ‘DR SAM PRINCE: I was born in Dundee in Scotland. I was born there because my parents were studying in the UK. They came from Sri Lanka from very humble beginnings and got scholarships all the way to the UK.

Because of the civil war that was raging on in Sri Lanka, they decided to move to a safer part of the world and they chose Canberra.’

As per my reading, Dr. Sam’s parents are of Sinhalese origin. Dr. Sam says:

‘DR SAM PRINCE: When I think of my mum...I've been back to the school she was from. It was really a kind of a shanty building clad with coconut leaves and things like that. The reality is where she came from, from bare foot walking to a school that didn't have walls, and she was able to translate that basic, basic opportunity into five degrees, the highest level doing economics and statistical economics. It is just mind blowing to see how education can actually transform someone's life.

If education is given to the developing world, with no real agenda and that is the real important thing, without religious or political agenda, then I think it really is the great leveller that can bring people out of poverty.

People ultimately who haven't seen a computer before have got buckley's of going to higher education, so the E-magine Foundation works very, very closely in that gap and bridges that divide between those who have and have not seen technology.’

My question is ‘Is Dr. Sam Prince ‘giving’ or ‘sharing?’ Another way to ask that question is ‘Are the poor Sinhalese (who do have the power to elect Government), being “given” or are they drawing on their “rights” as a community?’

I ask these questions specifically because I myself was, despite my strong protests, listed as ‘Sri Lankan’ by Australian Authorities even for Legal purposes. But Dr. Sam Prince is naturally taken as Australian with Mexican flavor by the very ABC which failed to respond to my numerous communications regarding my experiences with the University of NSW. To my mind, Dr. Sam Prince’s family, despite their higher education, have assimilated instead of integrating and therefore have failed to pay their debt to Sri Lanka. It’s when we believe that we are Sri Lankans that we would share. I believe/d I am/was Sri Lankan. I believe/d I am/was Australian. For legal purposes I refused to allow the Police to reduce my status as per their assessment of Sri Lankans – especially poor looking Sri Lankans. I smiled when reading Dr. Sam’s account of ‘computer handouts’. I smiled recalling how I had to help a young White Australian Police Officer who said to me that I had more money in my wallet than he had in his – work the new finger-printing machine with new technology, so he could get his records about my fingerprints straight! Many workers in our Australian Hospital system use computers like the typists in Sri Lanka used typewriters during my time of employment in Sri Lanka. I trained many in the New South Wales Hospital system to use basic computer packages in their daily work. I share/d as an Australian here – the same way I share/d as a Sri Lankan in Sri Lanka.

If we do not feel that we are sharing, it is important to use Administrative structures, principles and laws common to both our countries – such as the UN or stay at ‘Business level’ where we work through costs and benefits.

This is also the problem faced by returnees to war damaged Jaffna without the hierarchical structures that helped us ‘include’ those we did not see, through our respective social positions which were strongly influenced by our work positions in Sri Lanka. Foreign agencies ‘handout’ monies without ensuring that there is in place a reliable system of distribution so that their current distribution would not upset the existing social hierarchy. The Re-registering of Land Titles which according to the Ministry is funded by World Bank comes after the horse has bolted – the social structures have been changed due to indiscriminate use of ‘foreign’ systems. Sometimes, these foreigners and their agents are ‘seen’ by the ordinary folks, to be more powerful than those who worked and sacrificed to develop hierarchical social structures through which our costs become investments when we pay our respects to our elders whose work we did not ‘see’.

Refugees returning home need to be facilitated to take their due positions in society – as per their current as well as past entitlements. Funding the structures and systems that would uphold these values needs to be given priority over distribution of funds and worse - expenditure to confirm current ownership of lands strongly influenced by physical possession. Sri Lanka needs this facility, to be a strong country working towards independence and self governance which is not the sole responsibility of the Government.

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