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We Send Them the Money: So don’t Complain
The only thing more grotesque, uglier, than the Sinhalese leadership currently celebrating the murder of Thamil Selvan is the fact that we the expatriate Tamils send them the money for it.
I just returned from Toronto where I personally witnessed the process. Although this is not the only method by which we Tamil expatriates fund the GoSL (there are others and I will talk about them in the future), it strikes me as the most grotesque.
Visiting a Sri Lankan Tamil grocery store in Toronto, I observed streams of Tamil customers walking-out with loads of Sri Lankan grocery items. During a half-hour I was there on three separate occasions this past weekend, I observed about ten customers each time, spending on an average about fifteen dollars on their purchases. I admit that not all of their purchases are imports from Sri Lanka, but most were.
On returning home, I did some elementary math. These shops are open 12-hours a day, seven days a week. If ten customers in a 30-minute period spend even ten-dollars each, it amounts to a minimum of several thousand dollars a day spent in each store. That adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
That is in one store, and I don’t know how many other Tamil Grocery Stores there are in Toronto, or for that matter, in any of the major metropolitan cities of Montréal, London, Paris, Geneva, Sydney, Melbourne, etc., where Tamil expatriates are concentrated. I am sure worldwide they number in the hundreds. Then there are also restaurants and other kinds of shops selling Sri Lankan goods.
You do the math. For me, my guess is, the amount spent to satisfy the taste-buds of the Tamil-expatriates worldwide is stupendous, perhaps more than a billion dollars.
I concede that this amount is the total-cost of doing business – i.e. it includes local rents, wages, profits, middle-men, shipping costs etc., and is not the total amount dispatched to Sri Lanka. And, of course, the amounts remitted don’t go directly into the Sri Lankan coffers.
But, what the GoSL gains from this whole enterprise is: precious ‘FOREIGN EXCHANGE’.
I am not an economist to figure this out accurately, but my guess is that Sri Lanka gains about a billion dollars a year in ‘foreign-exchange’, or even more, straight from the expatriate Tamil community.
Guess what – this is about the sum GoSL spends each year on its entire military budget, to wage war against its Tamil citizens.
The real kicker is that GoSL doesn’t need a billion dollars in ‘foreign-exchange’ for its armed forces. Their military budget includes expenses such as the salaries and benefits for its soldiers and other expenses within the country, all paid for in local currency. The GoSL needs ‘foreign-exchange’ only to purchase arms, planes and warships from abroad – Perhaps, a hundred million dollars. The rest is from the unlimited supply of local rupees. We expatriate Tamils give them a lot more than they need.
Some of you may think this line of reasoning as a stretch. It may be.
But the point is – it is offensive and even grotesque, for the expatriate Tamil community to furnish even ‘ONE LOUSY DOLLAR’ to the GoSL to help wage its genocidal war against our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka.
The next time you buy a bottle of MD Brand Seeni-Sambol or Katta-Sambol, think about it.
Every dollar we give them buys them at least one bullet!
Part II We Send Them the Money: So don’t complain - R.Cholan 6 November 2007
For over a year now, I have been discussing with my buddies on how the Tamil expatriate grocery-habits are funding the GoSL’s war against the Tamils, and along the way I have heard a few voices of dissent. Let me deal with these dissensions first, before I go on to present to you an idea on how we, the eight-hundred-thousand-strong expatriate community, can make a difference.
The naysayers have said many things to me.
The most repulsive to me is that “Tamils will not stop buying Sri Lankan Tamil food, no matter what”. As to how, or why, any Tamil person with a modicum of conscience (knowing that GoSL uses our foreign-exchange to kill our people), could buy any Sri Lankan export item is simply astounding! If this is the kind of stuff that we Tamils are made of, then so be it.
Others have said that “the foreign-money we spend on Sri Lankan food is a drop-in-the-bucket compared to what GoSL earns in other exports”. True. But the moral issue here is not about how much GoSL earns by way of its exports; It is about how we Tamils are funding the GoSL to kill our own kinsfolk. Non-Tamil foreigners buying Sri Lankan tailored T-Shirts are not funding the slaughter of their own kind. We Tamils do, with our grocery-money.
“If we boycott Sri Lankan groceries we will economically hurt our own people” (the traders, manufacturers and growers) – is another concern. I must concede, to some extent this is true also. But, I am not advocating hurting anybody’s business interests; only to work with it. There is a solution to this dilemma, but before I get to it I wish for us to consider another moral question.
Is it immoral to hurt the Cannabis growing ‘businesses’ in Afghanistan, or the Coke producers of Columbia, just because it harms their ‘businesses’ economically? There is another dimension to this moral issue, and that is the fact that the ‘growers’ (as opposed to the ‘middlemen’) in Afghanistan and Columbia are considered ‘poor’. If we don’t buy their products these ‘poor’ farmers will starve to death!
The fact is Coke and Cannabis harms real living people, and so does our grocery money. One cannot have a moral dilemma or quandary on this matter.
How about the poor farmers in the northeast?
Does anyone know how much of their produce gets into the groceries we buy abroad? My guess is: not much. Jaffna peninsula is isolated; Vanni produce cannot get past the army checkpoints; and agriculture in the east is at a virtual standstill due to the massive displacements. The largest beneficiaries of this grocery-export-enterprise of Sri Lanka are the farmers, manufacturers and exporters based in the south. Perhaps, a little economic pain is needed to prod them to urge the GoSL to change its ways!
An age-old cliché is: if there are no ‘buyers’, there won’t be ‘sellers’. The inference here is that if there are no western (affluent) ‘buyers’ of Cannabis and Coke, the Afghanis and Columbians won’t be manufacturing them.
In the Sri Lankan context, this means that if the Tamil expatriates are not there to buy the Sri Lankan products, the manufactures and sellers won’t be there either. I am not saying this to blame anyone; there is enough of this blame-stuff to go around already. Let us look at what we can do.
Fortunately, the gap between the Tamil providers and consumers is much closer than that between the growers and buyers of Cannabis and Coke. Consumers of Cannabis and Coke don’t really know their providers, at least not as much as we know our providers. Our task is therefore much easier. We know each other well and we can work together.
As I have said before I am not here to hurt anyone’s business interests. Nor do I want to subject the Tamil taste-buds to any deprivation. The only thing I ask is not to provide foreign-exchange to GoSL to purchase arms to kill our kith and kin.
The solution is rather simple, if only we Tamils can get our heads together and also put in a little effort.
Sri Lanka is not the only place on this planet that can produce the food items that titillate our taste buds. In fact, we can buy the stuff (chilies, coriander and all other spices that we love so much) a lot cheaper elsewhere – in places like India and South America.
I am told that many of our businesses already buy some of their needs in places other than Sri Lanka. I don’t know if they do this for ‘ideological’ or ‘economic’ reasons. Regardless of their reasons, I salute the efforts of those who do.
Can products similar to the MD brand Seeni Sambol, Katta Sambol, Pineapple Jam, etc, be manufactured elsewhere? Sure. People in the food business in South India and elsewhere will line up if we can show them that there is money to be made. I would rather if one of our businesspersons undertakes it. There is plenty of money to be had – it is a billion dollar industry.
Only, the manufacturers need to come up with products with labels that say:
“CONTAINS NO INGREDIENTS FROM SRI LANKA”
We need to make a statement, and what better way than this label on ALL the groceries that we sell and buy.
We cannot continue, year after year, to send the GoSL foreign-exchange to buy arms to kill our people – It is repulsive, shameful and insane.
In the late seventies, the USSR was preventing the Jews from leaving Russia, and many of my friends in the West wondered as to why the GoSL was letting so many Tamils (potential dissidents) to leave Sri Lanka after the 1983Anti-Tamil Pogrom.
The stupidity of the GoSL decision to let us to leave became evident to the Sinhala leadership only when the Tamils who left Sri Lanka regrouped in the West, Australia and in other places, to fight back. Indeed, we Tamil expatriates have fought admirably well so far.
Since then GoSL has spent millions to nullify this ‘EXPATRIATE-EFFECT’ (remember Kadirgamar’s jaunts to plead with foreign governments). Although the GoSL has been successful to a degree, after the many millions spent, we the expatriate Tamils are still a terrific force.
There are eight-hundred-thousand of us around the world (not counting the support from Tamil Nadu), and if we can all work together we can do a lot more.
The soft underbelly of Sri Lanka is its dependence on the ‘export-economy’, which we can meet head-on in so many different fronts. What Sri Lanka earns form its textile-exports alone amounts to forty-percent of its foreign exchange earnings; a substantially significant sum, and also a very vulnerable target for us, if only we can convince our non-Tamil friends in the West not to buy.
Our Western (primarily white) next-door-neighbors are quite sensitive to such matters as ‘human rights’, and the task of convincing them not to buy Sri Lankan products is, in fact, quite easy. My own friends here in the US understand this rather well, and now many don’t believe what they read even in the New York Times anymore.
Taking on the economic weaknesses of an ‘evil-nation’ such as Sri Lanka is a relatively easy task in the west, and is also an effective strategy, as was shown in the case of the Apartheid South Africa. But before we go salivating about a similar success with the ‘Apartheid Sri Lanka’, we need to answer one question.
Can we, in all honesty, ask our ‘Non-Tamil-Friends’ in our neighborhoods not to buy Sri Lankan products, when we ourselves buy Sri Lankan made groceries for our own consumption?
Charity begins at home, they say. If we are to harness the might and power of our ‘diaspora-strength’ with our Non-Tamil friends, we need to ask ourselves the following question first, and answer it honestly.
Is pleasing our taste-buds so important that we are willing to send a percentage of our hard-earned dollars (or even pennies) to a murderous regime that kills our kith and kin?
That I need to even ask this question is painful to me.
Personally, I don’t have any close relatives in Sri Lanka, but I am sure there are those in the diaspora who do. Do they, when they buy a Sri Lankan exported-item, ever think about how with each of their purchases, they are funding the murder of their relatives and friends back home?
Before we go any further down this road, we need to understand the basics of our grocery-spending-habits clearly.
We, the expatriates around the world, spend over a billion dollars on our Sri Lankan Grocery purchases. A substantial portion of it goes to pay the businesspeople based in Sri Lanka, both Tamil and Sinhalese. The amount transmitted to Sri Lanka to pay these businesses (exporters, manufacturers, and growers) is converted into SL rupees by Sri Lanka Central Bank (GoSL), which holds these sums as foreign-exchange. It is this pool of dollars, which the GoSL’s uses to purchase the warplanes, warships and ammo to kill Tamils. They don’t manufacture any of these items there – they need foreign-exchange to buy them overseas.
I can’t be any clearer than this.
Our grocery-money helps the GoSL to kill our own people, period. Each one of us, in the eight-hundred-thousand strong diaspora, needs to know and understand this fully and comprehensively. Not just a few of us, but all of us.
It is only then, we as a cohesive group can go forward.
That some expatriate Tamils send foreign-currency to GoSL by other means is another matter. We do indeed need to tackle this problem of their remittances for the Sri Lankan Airlines tickets, cheap textiles, and luxury flats in Colombo, etc. But, these are a miniscule minority of the affluent amongst us. We do need to shame them also and we shall get to them in due time.
The prime issue of the moment is the ‘grocery-money’. It is not even the quantity (a billion dollars in grocery-money is not a small sum, however); But it is a matter of principle. GoSL earns a lot more with its textile exports and tourism, but this is not the issue.
We don’t have the moral authority to tell others not to buy Sri Lankan, as long as the majority of us keep buying Sri Lanka exported groceries, and continue funding the Sri Lankan war-machine in the process.
What I am trying to achieve here is not to hurt businesses of the successful entrepreneurs amongst us; it is for us to unite and find ways not to help the GoSL to kill our people. I think we can do it.
We gained a lot from the stupidity of the GoSL, which helped create the strong Tamil Diaspora. The achievements of the Tamil Diaspora in the cause of Thamileelam so far have been impressive, and I am proud to have been part of it. But we cannot go forward, if we keep on sending our grocery-money to the GoSL, to help it kill our people.
them the Money -
So don’t complain - Part IV
Let us for a moment (or for a while) forget the grand scenario of an ‘International Boycott of Sri Lanka’. If all right thinking people in this world boycotted Sri Lankan goods and services, GoSL will cede Tamil rights in no time. But, we are not there yet at this utopian, ideal situation, and so forget this for now.
What I would like for each of us to think about right now is our own personal contributions.
I have in my discussions with many in the diaspora discovered a dual mindset about this issue. Most agree with me on the facts outlined in the earlier chapters of this series. The facts here are not in dispute. But, regrettably, as individuals most of them still buy Sri Lankan groceries.
The attitude seems to be “Yes, we need to cripple the Sri Lankan economy”, but “My little serving of MD Brand Seeni Sambol just tonight is not going to make a difference”.
“You see, other Tamils are eating it tonight. Why should I deprive myself of this simple pleasure?”
It is easy for us expatriates, now ensconced in the safety of the western world, to think in these terms. A harder task is to search our inner souls about how our own individual actions are harming our kinsmen back home.
I agree that a ‘Tablespoon of MD Seeni Sambol just tonight’, is not going to make one bit of difference to the GoSL in its billion dollar war machinery, at least for now.
The real question for each of us is not about this. It is a moral question, of expatriate Tamils contributing anything at all, even one-hundredth-of-a-penny, to the GoSL. How our pennies kill our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka is something that we need to think about, at every second in our daily lives.
I understand that only a few amongst us read these articles and the large majority of us expatriates don’t. Most of the ‘non-readers’ will continue with their shameful purchases of Sri Lankan goods for the next several months, or even years to come. In this scenario at this particular moment, a personal sacrifice by any one of us may not seem insignificant.
What we need to think about first is the moral issue here on an individual basis. Can we as individuals, knowingly and willingly send even miniscule sums of money to a murderous regime that wantonly kills our kith and kin?
If you and I can answer this question honestly, we need to start acting on what our own consciences dictate. If your conscience says to you that it is okay to send a few pennies to Sri Lanka to satisfy your taste-buds, then please do continue. That is your prerogative.
The rest of us with clearer consciences must start to act. The first step for us is to throw out any Sri Lankan made item in our fridges and pantries. We should do this even though we have already paid for it. Throwing them out may seem like a waste, as we have paid for it already, but this single act has psychological value.
The next step is to swear never to buy Sri Lankan exports ever again. Once we have taken the first step, this second step will be real easy.
These two steps, which may seem like sacrifices, are not really onerous. There are convenient alternatives, like buying products made outside Sri Lanka. Many of them are really tasty!
I have personally taken these two steps of weaning myself of Sri Lankan goods and services and I must say – it feels real good. I have a clearer conscience now. Now that I have reached this stage, I go to bed every night with the thought that I have not contributed even one penny to GoSL to kill my brothers and sisters.
I am sure many of us are at a place where I am, and I am also confident that all of us in this group feel the way I do.
Once we in this group with scruples and a conscience get to this point, we are ready to spread the message.
Talk to our family and friends about not buying Sri Lankan exports. Once we have set an example for ourselves, we can claim the moral high grounds to preach.
If we dream about an international boycott against Sri Lanka, we
need to start somewhere, and the first place is our own homes.