Commemorating the life, thoughts and contributions of ‘Taraki’ Sivaram Dharmeratnam, and inviting diverse views on the same, the Sivaram Memorial Seminar conducted in London on Sunday brought together Tamil, Sinhala, Muslim, British and Tamil Nadu journalists, academics and activists to discuss the intellectual legacy of the late senior editor of TamilNet. Referring to personal interactions with Sivaram, his ideological influences, his life as journalist and activist, his political and strategic analysis, the speakers interacted with the audience that included members of different shades of diaspora organizations, mainstream media and solidarity groups. The tightly packed programme included a closed door screening of award winning film-maker Beate Arnestad’s documentary ‘Silenced Voices’ to the seminar attendees.
Exiled Sinhala journalist Rohita Bashana Abeywardene addressing the gathering
"’Silenced voices’ poignantly portrayed the sufferings of the people concerned. One couldn’t help but admire the courage of the journalists portrayed in the documentary, and the producer in taking so many risks to bring out the truth to the world and exposing the crimes of the Sri Lankan state,” Anandhi Sooriyaprakasam, senior journalist formerly of BBC Tamil Service commented.
The event has brought Tamil and Sinhala journalists for the first time after May 2009 for an open discussion and interaction, another senior journalist said.
The broad assortment of views expressed in the event should start a trend of a healthy debate towards building a popular consensus on the Tamil national question within the diaspora, the journalist further said.
Recently, Sivaram’s writings on the Eezham Tamils’ struggle were recounted at the Press Freedom Day event held last Thursday in Jaffna, organized by the Nimalarajan Memorial Foundation, a well attended event that comprised of politicians of the TNA and the TNPF, and journalists of Free Media Movement from the South.
At the event in London, a panel discussion moderated by independent journalist and human rights activist Nirmanusan Balasundaram, debated on the theme ‘Nerukkadikku’l u’l’lathaa Thamizhth theasiyam?’, (Is Tamil nationalism in a crisis?) based on an article written by Sivaram in 2004.
During the panel debate, B.A. Cader, a Muslim activist and political commentator stressed that the need of the hour was to form alliance for a united front and that the diaspora and the homeland should work in cohesion to achieve objective goals.
Columnist Ithayachandran, giving an economic analysis, spoke about the present state of the Gross Domestic Product in Sri Lanka, the treasury and finance commission, and how the diaspora can use the situation to put pressure on various fronts on the GoSL.
While political commentator S.J. Fatimaharan talked on how an international conspiracy was responsible for the setbacks in the Tamil Eelam liberation struggle, Gopi Ratnam, editor of Oru Paper, observed how in aftermath of Mu’l’livaaykkaal genocide, some sections of the international community are planning to use the TNA as a tool to achieve their own interests.
Sasithar Maheswaran, a youth activist from UK, emphasised that at this stage the diaspora should not compromise on the fundamentals of the struggle.
The event also comprised of individual presentations, with the presenters using their interpretations of Sivaram’s ideas, to understand the Tamils’ struggle, the role of international forces, the role of media, aspects of counterinsurgency and genocide.
Exiled Tamil journalist from the island, Nirmanusan Balasundaram, through his personal experiences with Sivaram, talked about how the senior journalist’s life was an inspiration and a message for media persons in general, Tamil journalists in particular.
Vino Kanapathipillai of the Tamil Guardian spoke of the need to understand the developments in International relations and shifting balance of forces and engage with powers accordingly, while remaining firm on the national demands.
Screening a hitherto unreleased video clip of Sivaram, and referring to email exchanges of Sivaram within the TamilNet editorial board, K. Jeyachandran from TamilNet explained how an ‘ideological divide’ was injected into the diaspora through a counterinsurgency-driven ‘peace project’.
Karthick RM from Tamil Nadu, currently a research scholar at the University of Essex, elaborated on how establishments used NGOs and discourses on ‘human rights’, ‘development’, ‘peace’ etc., as abstract terms to dilute the national question of the Eezham Tamils as part of a containment agenda in the post-Mu’l’livaaykaal scenario.
Dr. Andrew Higginbottom, lecturer in Politics and Human Rights at Kingston University, brought parallels between the state repression on social movements in Colombia and repression on the national liberation struggle in the Tamil homeland, and drew on Sivaram to argue for a broad international solidarity to secure justice for the Eezham Tamils.
Bashana Abeywardane, from the Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, made a presentation highlighting the Sri Lankan government’s intention to commit genocide in its counterinsurgency operations, while masquerading as a ‘war on terror’.
Mr Abeywardane stated that the victimization of the Tamils by the GoSL was intentional and not collateral, and that terrorizing the Tamil population was used as a tool to achieve Sri Lanka’s military victory.
The exiled Sinhala journalist’s presentation elaborating the nuances of the military strategy and genocide committed by the Sri Lankan state got a standing ovation from the overwhelmingly Tamil audience.
The event was jointly organized by Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS), International Association of Tamil Journalists (ITAJ), and TamilNet.
A section of the audience