Your Boats and Our Aid
| by Gajalakshmi Paramasivam
( February 25, 2013, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) Today I received advice regarding Sri Lankan cricketer Muthiah Muralitharan’s message to Sri Lankan Diaspora in Australia. In essence the message says ‘'Don't be sorry' campaign will target ethnic communities in Australia who often encourage other family members to use people smugglers to help them reach Australia. For his part Sri Lankan Cricket’s big boss Muralitharan says ‘In recent years, hundreds of people have lost their lives making the journey to Australia by sea. If you want to travel, do it the right way, the safe way. Don’t be sorry’
Tamils as traders are known to have used the sea for a living. There is a Tamil saying ‘Thirai Kadal Ohdiyum Thiraviyam Thedu’ (Travel the waters to seek Treasures). Hence it is understandable that Australian Tamils would naturally influence those who have faith in them to go across by boats especially to make a living. Combined with Second Australians whose ancestors came by boat to Australia – the intuitive message from Australian Tamils would be – from the Tamil side - ‘come even by boat’ if you want to make a living’ and from the Australian side ‘come to Australia if you are classified as a criminal in your own country’. These are natural heritages that we inherit from our respective ancestors. They communicate naturally to urge those who are genuinely seeking to cross the seas for the above reasons. That’s the karma that both groups carry – over many generations. If Minister Brendan O’Connor were truly connected to his Australian ancestors he would appreciate that this heritage cannot be overridden by quick fixes – however smart they may seem.
Just today, a young Jaffna Tamil – Mr. Samuel Hensman was paying tribute to one of our community elders – Mr. Subramaniam – an Accountant whose advice is to ‘Work Hard instead of working Smart’. As a Sri Lankan Tamil – my advice to Murali is ‘Work Hard instead of working Smart’. Murali’s advice to Sri Lankan Diaspora confirm that Murali is trying to act smart for immediate results rather than working hard for real and lasting improvement. At a recent seminar, we Tamils shared that Communication happens at three levels: through the (1) Physically shown (2) Mentally known (3) Felt in our hearts. Murali’s message to be genuine – needs to be at level (3). It is at level (1).
Leaving aside our ancestry, if we look at the issue as per our current reality – such a call as this would strongly influence the Tamil Diaspora to move away from Murali. As quoted above, Murali says ‘‘In recent years, hundreds of people have lost their lives making the journey to Australia by sea. If you want to travel, do it the right way, the safe way. Don’t be sorry’
What is the right way Murali? If the boats are carrying convicts and that is the reason why the Australian Government does not want them – then the Australian Government need to be ‘transparent’ about it. If you are speaking as a Sri Lankan and as an official representative of Sri Lanka – you have the mandate to uphold the official stand in this regard. So long as you hold an official position you have the responsibility not to contradict the Sri Lankan Government through your individual opinions – especially in public.
If the Sri Lankan Government considered these disenfranchised Tamils to be criminals / needing rehabilitation – it would be happy for them to escape nations with greater capacity to ‘reform’ the criminals. If they were so concerned about them being Sri Lankans worth saving – their concerns would be expressed by those at grassroots levels. Such is not the case. To those at grassroots level – the problem after LTTE is lack of job opportunities. When these folks ‘see’ funds from outside Sri Lanka – they naturally would seek to travel to the origin and get a greater share. Murali’s support for the Australian Government which claims that ‘'Don't be sorry' campaign will target ethnic communities in Australia who often encourage other family members to use people smugglers to help them reach Australia’ is the parallel of saying at Government level ‘Civilian protests often target Ethnicity driven governments in Sri Lanka which often encourage donor governments in Australia using the smart way to buy ‘status’ without paying the real price’
To the extent Australian Government donated aid to Sri Lanka, without first requiring the Sri Lankan Government to practice Equal Opportunity principles and laws accepted at the Global level – the Australian Government has earned a share of the Sri Lankan government’s fall in status. Free money to Sri Lankan Government invokes free human resource from that level – the level from which rebels recruited. As stated above in relation to communication – our return karma happens at three levels: (1) the immediate environment for locals (2) the calculated mental environments for intellectuals and (3) the global environment for the genuine investor. One who comes by boat may be more deserving of Australian resource sharing than one who comes by air - the smart one with all the right certificates.
The question we Australians need to ask is – which path has our Government earned for us? – the smart copying path or the rough hard path through which they have walked before us and cleared the obstacles. It is due to this that Hindus pray to elephant Lord Ganesh – at the beginning of a project. The mighty elephant with a deep memory clears the obstacles for us – the ordinary followers.
In an email advice re another article in the Australian I am advised that the Sri Lankan Consul General for New South Wales and Queensland – Mr. Bandula Jayasekara has stated that ‘NGOs should back off from Sri Lanka’
Is Murali not acting as a Sri Lankan NGO in Australia? The Consul General needs to first discipline Sri Lankans who speak out of turn. Besides, unlike Murali who is using his subjective power – Sri Lankan style – to influence – NGOs often are the only bodies through whom war victims learn about Objective Measures of work and Accountability. NGOs often have this requirement to satisfy the donors. Not so the Government of Sri Lanka. For example – does the Australian Government require the Sri Lankan Government to provide objectively measurable outcomes for its ‘aid’ monies? If such Aid is on the basis of humanitarian need – then Australia has the responsibility to accept boat refugees as a priority – above those who can afford air travel. Economic need is a deep seated need for minorities. To the extent the war happened due to Tamils not being able to derive the value of their genuine investments in livelihood paths – their economic need is also a need to recover from the war. There are no rights and wrongs at that humanitarian level. When the Australian Government requires the Sri Lankan Government to provide objectively measurable outcomes of its aid – it has the authority to expect the Tamil Diaspora to likewise ‘calculate’ and use the mode of travel as per their expected returns rather than affordability.
If Murali came down to grassroots level and lived as part of these people who seek to use the boat – he would appreciate that he cannot influence them top – down through knowledge. The only way is to become part of them and help them feel included - so they know that Australia is NOT all that they dream it is. The worst loss for these folks is Human Resource – which is far stronger in these areas than it is in Colombo or Australia and other countries driven more by their money resources. Someone asked me recently in Vaddukottai (– where the first declaration of Independent Tamil State was made politically - ) – as to which one I preferred – Australia or Sri Lanka? I said Australia was good because of its money comforts and financial freedom and Sri Lanka is good because of its stronger common faith and human resource. We cannot compare the two flatly – the same way we cannot equalize the dollar to a rupee. The dollar is above hundred rupees. The value of human resource is far higher. I often have the local folks touching my feet – seeking my blessings especially those who seek to marry and develop strong families. The respect I paid my family elders – through that system of faith is getting returned in Sri Lanka’s North and East and that to me is confirmation that my investment back then was global. If Murali’s is also global – then his return would come from his home area – in Sri Lanka – many of whom also came by boats from India. One must not forget one’s origin. As Gandhi said in South Africa - ‘there is room for all of us’ in Australia also – boat arrivals included. So long as there is even one person in whom a boat refugee has faith – that refugee has earned the Natural right to live in the same geographic area as that person. The Australian Government has to become part of the ‘global facility’ for such a person and not ‘tell’ such a person.