Tamil Net Conference (Tamilnet Conference)

Boycott the TamilNet-2000 Conference in Sri Lanka

Inia Pandian

TAMIL TRIBUNE, November 1999 (ID. 1999-11-02)
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ABBREVIATIONS:

LTTE - Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

OUTLINE:

1. Introduction

2. Sri Lankan Propaganda Bonanza

3. Sri Lankan Hypocrisy

4. My Conscience would not Allow me to Attend this Conference in Sri Lanka

5. An Appeal to Tamil Internet Scholars and Tamil Political Leaders

1. Introduction

Four months ago I came across an Internet Newsgroup posting that the next TamilNet Conference that discusses and sets standards for computerization and Internet usage of Tamil will be held in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo. I thought that it was a sick joke because I could not even conceive that a major international Tamil Conference would be held in a country (Sri Lanka) that is bombing, shelling, starving, raping, torturing and simply making the life of Tamil civilians a hell on earth. I posted a note in the August 1999 issue of TAMIL TRIBUNE asking where TamilNet-2000 Conference is going to be held. I received one e-mail reply that said that it would be held in Sri Lanka. Though it confirmed what I read on the Newsgroup, I still could not bring myself to believe that any Tamil would agree to hold an important international Tamil Conference such as TamilNet-2000 in Sri Lanka where large numbers of Tamil civilians are systematically starved, denied medicine, denied schooling and denied the very basic needs for living. Then I read in a newspaper that TamilNet-2000 Conference will, indeed, be held in Sri Lanka. On reading this, now I had no doubt about it, I had a mixture of emotions--anger, astonishment and anguish.

2. Sri Lankan Propaganda Bonanza

Would the Jews have held an International Jewish Cultural Conference in Berlin (Germany) in the 1930s when the Nazis were engaged in programs against the German Jews? No, it is simply inconceivable. Would the Albanians have held an International Albanian Cultural Conference in Belgrade (Yugoslavia) in early 1999 when minority Albanians living in the Kosovo Province of Yugoslavia were systematically raped, murdered and driven out of their homes? No, inconceivable. But, alas, a major international Tamil Conference is scheduled to be held in Sri Lanka even as the Sri Lankan military, special forces and police are making life a living hell for Tamil civilians.

We very well understand the Sri Lankan government's eagerness to hold this high-visibility conference in Sri Lanka. Of course, the maximum media coverage will be given to this gala event. Now the Sri Lankan government can go around the world and say, "We are not discriminating against the Tamil people. We are even hosting the TamilNet-2000 Conference in our country. How can anyone think that we are discriminating against the Tamil people?" This is a propaganda bonanza for the Sri Lankan government. We understand the Sri Lankan government's motivation. But why did the organizers of the Conference agree to hold it in Sri Lanka? Surely they know what is happening to Tamil civilians there! Then why did they accept Sri Lankan government's invitation to hold the conference in Sri Lanka?

3. Sri Lankan Hypocrisy

The only reason the Sri Lankan government is hosting the TamilNet-2000 Conference is the high-visibility of the conference and its propaganda value. If the Sri Lankan government really wants to do something for Tamil development, let it spend the money allocated for hosting the TamilNet-2000 Conference to one or more of the following urgent needs.

  1. In 1981 the Sinhalese burned down the Jaffna Library. This was not just another library. It contained many rare, irreplaceable Tamil manuscripts and they were burned to ashes. The library is not rebuilt even after 18 years. Jaffna library was not just a library, it was the cultural symbol of the Tamil people in the Sri Lankan island. When the Holy Tooth Buddhist Temple, which is a cultural and religious symbol of the Sinhalese people, was partially damaged in 1998 in a bomb attack (allegedly by Tamil terrorists), the Sri Lankan government was quick to fund the repair of the temple and the work was done in less than a year. How come the Sri Lankan government is short of funds to rebuild the Tamil cultural symbol, the Jaffna library, even after 18 years? The World Trade Center in Colombo was partially damaged by a bomb (allegedly by Tamil terrorists) in 1997 and the Sri Lankan government immediately repaired it and even paid compensation to some of those affected. How come the Sri Lankan government is short of funds to rebuild the Jaffna library even after 18 years? I say, "Spend the money to rebuild and restock the Jaffna Library first, before hosting the high-publicity TamilNet-2000 Conference". Of course the Sri Lankan government would not reap a propaganda bonanza by rebuilding the library as it would by hosting this international conference in front the media. If the Sri Lankan government is not after a propaganda coup, let it rebuild the Jaffna Library first.
  2. Hundreds of schools in Tamil areas under Sri Lankan army control were destroyed by Sri Lankan Air Force bombing and Sri Lankan Army shelling, and they remain in ruins even after some 4 years. Many other schools are occupied by the Sri Lankan army. Thus tens of thousands of Tamil children are without schools. According to a survey conducted between November 1997 and May 1998, one-fifth of the Tamil children in Jaffna cannot attend school. The situation has not changed. Why are the ruined schools not repaired even after 4 years? Why are soldiers still camped in school buildings? Is it because the Sri Lankan thinks that Tamil children do not deserve schooling? Then what a hypocrisy it is to host the TamilNet-2000 Conference? If the reason is lack of funds to repair schools, then spend the money allotted for the TamilNet-2000 Conference to repair the schools. Schools for our children are more important than this conference which can be held elsewhere.
  3. According to reports coming from Tamil areas under Sri Lankan army control, even for students who have a school to go to, there are not enough Tamil textbooks. In Sri Lanka, it is the government's responsibility to supply textbooks. It has provided only 40% of the books it is obliged to give to the Tamil children there. What a hypocrisy it is to spend money on the high-visibility TamilNet-2000 Conference instead of spending it on printing the necessary textbooks for the Tamil children.
  4. Sri Lankan government is blocking school supplies (such as chalks) and books from going into Tamil areas under LTTE control. Even donations of mats (for children to sit on) paid for by international humanitarian agencies are blocked. Thus tens of thousands more Tamil children are unable to get proper schooling. Will the Sri Lankan government explain why chalks, books and mats are embargoed into LTTE-controlled areas? Is it because the Sri Lankan government thinks that an educated Tamil is a threat to majority Sinhalese hegemony over minority Tamils? It is total hypocrisy to host the TamilNet-2000 Conference while preventing Tamil children from getting an education.
  5. It is estimated that 65000 more children in refugee camps are unable to attend schools. It is an epitome of hypocrisy to host the TamilNet-2000 Conference while denying education to so many Tamil children. First thing first. Do whatever is necessary to provide schooling to the Tamil children before holding gala Tamil Conferences before the press and video cameras for international publicity and propaganda.

 4. My Conscience would not Allow me to Attend this Conference in Sri Lanka

Personally, however important the TamilNet-2000 Conference is, I simply cannot make myself to attend this conference in Sri Lanka at a time when the Sri Lankan government is making the lives of Tamil civilians a living hell.

I am sure that Tamil attendees to the conference will be well treated by the Sri Lankan government. The government will offer plentiful and sumptuous food to the those attending the conference. But how can I eat that food knowing that at the very same time tens of thousands of my Tamil brothers and sisters--from young children to aged elders--are starving because this Sri Lankan government is systematically and callously denying food to them.

If I get sick when I am attending the conference, I am sure that the Sri Lankan government will provide the best medical treatment available in the country. But how can I accept that treatment knowing that at the very same time this self-same Sri Lankan government is systematically and callously denying even the very basic medical supplies to tens of thousands of Tamil civilians.

I am sure that I will not be harassed by Sri Lankan security forces when I am in Sri Lanka for the conference. But I know that at the very same time many hundreds of Tamils are detained without cause or court orders just because they are Tamils; worse still many of them will be tortured and some even murdered with impunity. If only I am not attending this conference in the full view of the press, media and cameras, I know that I could be detained, tortured and even murdered by the Sri Lankan security forces with impunity because I am a Tamil and Tamil life has very little value in Sri Lanka. Of course I will not be touched because of the presence of the press and the cameras. The dark deeds of torture, rape, mutilations and murders are carried out by the Sri Lankan police, special forces and the soldiers in the darkness of censorship and news blackout--not in the presence of the press. Will the Sri Lankan government allow the press and the media invited for the conference to visit Tamil areas under army control on their own (without soldiers surrounding them) so that they can go wherever they want without hindrance and observe for themselves how miserable the lives of Tamil civilians are and hear for themselves what the Tamil people have to say about the Sri Lankan government?

5. An Appeal to Tamil Internet Scholars and Tamil Political Leaders

In view of the current plight of Tamil people in Sri Lanka and the indignities and sufferings thrust on them by the Sri Lankan government, I appeal to all Tamil Internet scholars and Tamil political leaders around the world to boycott the TamilNet-2000 conference scheduled for March 2000 in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo. Developing Tamil for the Internet age and setting standards for Internet usage are, of course, important to the future of the Tamil language and the Tamil race. But attending this conference in Sri Lanka where the Sri Lankan government has made the life of Tamil people a living hell is a betrayal of our brothers and sisters there. I am from Tamil Nadu but I feel their pain and empathize with their anguish. To me, walking the corridors of the conference halls in Sri Lanka is like stepping on the 50000 or so Tamil civilian corpses killed by Sri Lankan security forces. After that, how can I sleep at night in the feather beds in the luxury hotel room reserved for the TamilNet-2000 attendees by the Sri Lankan government? Speaking of sleeping in the comfort of the luxury hotel room in Sri Lanka, it is the same Sri Lankan government that refused permission to foreign refugee relief agencies to help Tamil refugees just a few years ago, that resulted in tens of thousands of Tamil civilians sleeping in the open without a roof in the hot sun or pouring rain; many young Tamil mothers actually gave birth to Tamil babies in open fields without a roof over their heads. Even today many thousands of Tamil refugees live in camps where there is no roof. I say to the Sri Lankan government, "Put a roof over my people, then host the conference and invite me".

Again, I appeal to Tamil Internet scholars and Tamil political leaders not to participate in this conference in Sri Lanka. Don't be an unwitting pawn in this propaganda fiesta the Sri Lanka is staging to play to the world community that it treats its Tamil minority fairly, even hosting an international Tamil conference. However important the TamilNet Conferences are, we should boycott the TamilNet-2000 Conference in Sri Lanka and continue with TamilNet-2001 elsewhere as if Tamil Net -2000 never happened.

UPDATE:

March 2000: Conference organizers postponed the date of the conference by a few months and also moved the conference from Sri Lanka to Singapore.

BOOKS THAT MAY INTEREST YOU

Book-33: The Break-Up of Sri Lanka : The Sinhalese-Tamil Conflict (by A.Jeyaratnam Wilson), University of Hawaii Press

More books (if  you can't access that click here)

----    1999-a1d

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