A bunch of Tamil Diaspora individuals from western nations have been present in Sri Lanka for the past few days. They have been involved in a series of gatherings, primarily with religious clergy, but also with civil and political figures, as well as their loved ones. The most noteworthy meeting they had was with Buddhist clergy and President Ranil Wickremesinghe, which garnered significant positive attention.
The arrival of the GTF delegation and the attention it has received has angered certain groups from their own country residing in the western region. These groups have released a collective statement expressing their disappointment in the recent efforts made by a portion of the Sinhala-Buddhist clergy and southern civic society. It is regrettable that these groups have chosen to engage in discussions with only a small and specific representation of the Tamil Diaspora.
It’s important to acknowledge that our engagement, mainly with the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), now only represents a small group of individuals from the Tamil Diaspora. However, it’s essential to understand that the unified voices of the organizations that truly represent our community are not fully captured in this engagement. It’s worth noting that the GTF no longer holds the same level of representation it once did.
The GTF members have been warmly welcomed in Sri Lanka during their visit, as stated by the local organizers and their own accounts. They have received a warm reception wherever they have been, including their meeting with the highest ranking Buddhist prelates in Kandy.
The highlight of the GTF visit to Sri Lanka was the gathering where they met with the Buddhist clergy and President Ranil Wickremesinghe. This meeting gained a lot of attention from the media. During the meeting, the president expressed his full support for their endeavors in promoting peacebuilding and reconciliation.
Over the past three years, the Tamil farmers and herdsmen in Batticaloa have continuously voiced their concerns about the encroachment of their grazing land by Sinhala settlers who are using it for cultivating corn. This grazing land was originally allocated to them by the government through a cabinet decision back in 2011. However, starting from 2020, Sinhala settlers from Polonnaruwa have been taking over the pasture for their own corn cultivation, leading to conflicting permissions and escalating tensions. To add to the distress, it has been reported that more than 80 cattle have been either stolen, slaughtered, or even electrocuted on the ground since the president’s visit to Batticaloa two months ago. Professor T Jayasingam, the former Vice Chancellor of Eastern University, who now represents the Tamil farmers as a lawyer, has confirmed these distressing incidents.
Around 160 cattle are estimated to have been lost, according to reports. The individual mentioned that despite the presence of two police posts, this unfair situation persists. It occurred just before the visit of the Honourable President to Batticaloa on October 7, 2023, and despite his declaration on October 8, 2023, to ensure justice for the people in Chenkaladi. Prof Jayasingam has also pointed out that the eviction of 13 intruders, as ordered by the Magistrates Court in November 2013, and the promise made by the Mahaweli authority to evict all intruders in the Court of Appeal in July 2022, have not been carried out. It is clear that nothing substantial has been accomplished, which raises concerns about the lack of knowledge or capability within the government and administration, or their deliberate attempt to undermine justice for minority groups.
Whenever the President, who holds the highest executive position, fails to back up their words with actions, it inevitably leads to a loss of trust among the people towards the entire system. Moreover, when the court’s orders are disregarded and the police fail to take action, people’s faith is completely shattered. It is during these circumstances that violence tends to arise.
If we don’t back up our words with actions, all the positive vibes of goodwill and reconciliation floating around won’t actually solve the problems at Ground Zero. However, there might be a glimmer of hope with the recent presidential directive to designate grazing areas, as outlined in the 2011 cabinet paper. It could be a small step towards finding common ground and fostering reconciliation.