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Home > International Conferences > International Tamil Eelam Research Conference, U.S.A., 1991 > Keynote Address - Sangar Thasam Gunanayagam, F.C.M.A., M.B.A.
|International Tamil Eelam Research Conference,
Sacramento State University, U.S.A.,
21-22 July 1991
Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the panel and friends,
My name is Thasam Gunanayagam. I was born in the village of Puloly in Point Pedro. I grew up always thinking of myself as a Sri Lankan first and then a Tamil.
Then there I was in England in 1983 watching the B.B.C. TV news during the riots. The story covered the gruesome tale of a Norwegian tourist who had just arrived at Heathrow Airport from Colombo. She described how on her way to the airport the van in front of her vehicle was stopped by a mob in the middle of the road. A couple of men from the mob went and talked to the people in the van and within a few minutes two cans of gasoline were brought. One was poured into the van and one on the outside and then it was set on fire with all the passengers inside. The passengers were Tamils on their way to the airport trying to escape the rioting that was spreading throughout the country. What was even worse she said was the fact that whilst the vehicle was burning, members of the security forces were standing by and seemed to be enjoying the spectacle. This Norwegian woman was so upset and angry that she had to witness such, an inhumane act in a country she was told is a island paradise.
During the same riots in Colombo, the Capital, gangs of Sinhala thugs with electoral lists, went from house to house searching for Tamils, hacked innocent men, women and children to death and looted their homes.
Whilst this was going on the government of Sri Lanka that had at its disposal the armed forces and the constitutional obligation to protect all innocent citizens stood by condoning the actions of the mobs, and the armed forces. In many instances the members of the armed forces themselves were the perpetrators of the crimes.
The minister of internal security made the statement "Let them have a taste of it". The president of the country appearing on the national TV commented "I have to accede to the aspiration of the Sinhala people". The president is the conscience of the country. And the president conveniently abdicated his responsibility as the leader of the country and revealed his true position as the leader of the Sinhalese. The basic principle that the rights of every man is diminished when the rights of one man is threatened does not exist in the mind of the Sinhala leaders.
That is why today I stand before you as s Tamil belonging to a nation that is yet to achieve the statehood of Eelam.
The history of Ceylon tells us that the Tamils were there long before Vijaya, the ancestor of the Sinhalese who arrived there in the year 543 BC.
In 1505 when the Portuguese arrived we had Four Kingdoms, those of the Tamils, two low country Sinhalese Kingdoms and those of the Kandyan Sinhalese. From 1656 - 1796 the Dutch occupied the Tamil and the low country Sinhalese Kingdoms. The Kandyan Kingdom that was ruled by Tamil Kings since 1739 was ceded to the British in 1815.
The British ruled the whole area as one entity for administrative convenience. When Britain withdrew its colonial tentacles from Ceylon it did so without recognizing the Kingdoms they artificially merged and without constitutional guarantees of balanced representation.
Since then our elected representatives had struggled to establish equality of the Tamils within the framework of the Sri Lankan constitution. Our non violent demands were only met with killing, burning and looting by the majority Sinhalese aided and abetted by successive governments since independence. The ballot box having failed us the youth took to the barrel of the gun only as the last resort.
The freedom fighters have expressed their willingness for unconditional talks under the auspices of the international community. It is up to the government to reciprocate with sincere intention. The government of Sri Lanka would have to realize that any negotiations would have to take place on the basis that it is a negotiation between two equal parties on equal footing. It would be sure recipe for disaster if the government were to enter into talks on the notion that it is a negotiation between a superior and a subordinate.
Let us not forget that it is the same government that called the Amnesty International a terrorist organization for sighting the gross violation of human rights by government forces in Sri Lanka.
Let us not forget it is the same government that made a futile attempt to break the U.N. blockade and deliver shipment of tea to Iraq during the recent Gulf war.
Let us not forget that it is the same government that has recently expelled the British Ambassador to Sri Lanka for his impartial observation on the election malpractices during the recent elections.
Let us not forget that the present government of the Sinhalese is the one that put to death more than 60,000 of the Sinhalese youth from the countryside in their effort to eradicate the J.V.P.
Having done this to their own people the late former minister for internal security announced that he was going to evacuate more than a million civilian Tamils from the North to camps. I ask those who criticize the Tamil freedom fighters, who prevented this from happening? Who in this world would go to the protection of the innocent mothers and children in the North and East if the Sri Lankan forces were allowed to run riot amongst our kith and kin? Since independence from the British in 1948 when Tamils were being massacred during several riots there was nobody to protect us. Like the Israelis, the lesson we can learn from history is - only we can protect ourselves from genocide. We let those freedom fighters down we would be left with nothing to preserve or protect.
I salute those young men and women who have been defending the Tamil nation and especially those who sacrificed their precious lives fighting like tigers and dying like heroes, heroes you only come across in epics such as the Mahabaratha and Homer's Iliad.
I would like our Sinhala brothers and sisters to understand:
That is why my friends we are assembled here today to discuss our rights to self determination and survival.
It is our duty not only to discuss our right to self determination but also to let the world know of the Sri Lankan government sponsored colonization of our homeland, blatant discrimination both legislative and economic, peaceful protests and the Sinhala response of massacre of the innocent and the viability of Eelam both financial and political.
We as a people need not be led to the promised land. No sea need part for us to reach the promised land.
We are in the promised land and we have the knowhow and resources to make it one day flow with milk and honey.
We are the architects of our future. Eelam is a reality of the future that is looming in the horizon. Let us march forward as one people and nation and attain that statehood as a lasting legacy for future generations.
I hope the day will come soon when we would be able to go to Eelam, join hand with our kith and kin and sing the great poet Bharatiar's song:
Aaduvome pallu Paaduvome