Sri Lankan Tamils in Britain take cue from Indian diaspora

New Delhi, June 7 (IANS) Impressed by what India has done for its large diaspora, influential Sri Lankan Tamils have come together in Britain to seek from Colombo a “Ministry of Overseas Sri Lankans”.

The newly formed Non-Resident Tamils of Sri Lanka (NRTSL) also wants special status for the children of those of Sri Lankan origin “similar to that granted to the overseas citizens of India”.

The NRTSL is the latest Tamil grouping to be formed in Britain, which is home to more than 300,000 Tamils from the island nation and where once pro-LTTE feelings ran high.

“We realise the need for a new group within our community because the present day diaspora activism has new dimensions,” a senior member of the group who did not wish to be identified by name told IANS.

“We are impressed by what the India state has done for its diaspora,” he said, “and what the Indian diaspora has achieved.”

Many of those associated with NRTSL are leading professionals in various fields. They have already met and exchanged views with several British and Sri Lankan political leaders.

Besides a “Ministry of Overseas Sri Lankans”, the outfit is demanding a “Department of Overseas Sri Lankans” – to engage with the non-resident Sri Lankans.

“We are inspired by the constructive role played by the Non-Resident Indian organisations and the institutional mechanisms and arrangements created by the Indian state to harness the expatriate resources,” the Tamil source said.

The NRTSL’s founder members feel that the attitudes of extremists from both the Tamil and Sinhalese communities have to a great extent stigmatized the term “Tamil diaspora”.

This, they say, is one of the main reasons preventing a positive engagement between the Tamil diaspora and the Sri Lankan state, which is dominated by the Sinhalese community.

For long years when it fought for an independent Tamil state in Sri Lanka, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam forced most diaspora members to toe its line.

The decimation of the LTTE in May 2009 opened up space within the diaspora community, including in Britain.

But over the years, most Sri Lankans, particularly the Sinhalese, began to view the Tamil diaspora as an extension of pro-LTTE politics.

“We think that the ‘Sri Lankan government-versus-Tamil diaspora’ label is fundamentally flawed,” the Tamil source told IANS. “There is a need to recalibrate the relationship between Sri Lankan communities.”

The new group wants Sri Lanka to grant dual citizenship to overseas Sri Lankans, invite non-residents to invest in Sri Lanka to take part in the task of nation building – a la India.

It desires that overseas Sri Lankans, Tamils included, should get legal rights to buy land, houses, retirement homes and holiday homes as well as to inherit property in Sri Lanka.

Although the NRTSL was formally launched on May 31 in London, its founding leaders have already held meetings with new Sri Lankan President Maitripala Sirisena.

It is also reaching out to members of the Sinhalese and Muslim communities from Sri Lanka living abroad as well as other Tamil groups.

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