In a lively session, Charles, Fauzer Mahroof, Balan and Senan introduced a discussion around the proposal for a common candidate in the next presidential elections in Sri Lanka. The Rajapakse regime’s idea of bringing them forward is due to its fear it is losing support, especially among the Islamic population who have recently been under attack by the racist nationalist monks of Bodu Bala Sena.
Following the introductions, the meeting was opened up for questions and contributions from the audience, which added greatly to this important discussion.
Before analysing the current regime in Sri Lanka, the speakers outlined how it had become dictatorial. This took place from 2007 with the growth of the South Asian economy, driven by rapid growth in India and China. Both these big powers put pressure on the Sri Lankan regime. One of the results of this was the decision by Rajapakse to attack Tamil minority rights, before going on to exploit further citizen’s rights.
The example of Pakistan was raised. It is a highly militarised country with a very powerful military. It is impossible for any political party to overthrow the military and decide on matters in the country. By highly militarising Sri Lanka, the regime is currently heading in a similar direction: installing fear among the population, and allowing the dictatorial family regime to get away with crimes with impunity.
The proposal for a common candidate is being debated as a possible way of defeating the current government, with Chandrika Kumaratunga or Sarath Fonseka among those being put forward. Further, Gotabaye Rajapakse would resist any attempts to be overthrown, by increasing the divisions between the communities and parties to try to prevent them from coming together.
Some speakers suggested that a common independent party should be formed, while others said that a common candidate would be enough. Tamil Solidarity’s proposal is for the need for a left-wing candidate who comes under the umbrella of being against the attacks on the Muslims, who demands that the Tamils at least have administrative power, and who defends the public education and healthcare system. Although such a candidate would be unable to win at this stage, it would lead the way in building a united movement which could eventually overthrow this authoritative regime.
As other reports on this website show, this was just the first part of a full day of discussion and cultural activity. Here are a few additional points:
Keerthikan (Tamil Solidarity joint national secretary) gave us general overview of the background and situation of what is happening in Sri Lanka. He reinforced why we cannot rely on western governments or the UN – and who our allies were and why we needed to build solidarity with workers and communities in Britain.
Senthil gave us the British Tamils Forum analysis of the Tamil struggle, describing how the Tamils are treated as second-class citizens and do not hold many democratic rights in Sri Lanka. He gave his support to Tamil Solidarity for the work that we were doing with the trade unions and taking the struggle to the Tamils and oppressed communities in Britain.
Becci (Rape is No Joke) started off with a case study of a woman who had been raped and sexually assaulted by men on a night out. She detailed the outcome of the complaint and the perception of the media and the law on the victim, producing jaw-dropping statistics – including that in every 100 rapes in the USA only five end in a conviction. Capitalist society reduces everything into a commodity that can be bought or sold, and there is widespread discrimination faced by women on a daily basis. This is shown by how often rape is talked about, and joked about. The Rape is No Joke campaign works on changing perceptions in society, to not blame the victims – including getting comedians to sign up to say they will not tell rape jokes.
Fatheek (Stop Bodu Bala Sena) gave a brief history of the Muslim community in Sri Lanka, reporting on the situation today, and the recent attacks on them by the racist group, BBS.
Selvi spoke about Day-Mer and how it came about. She gave us all an understanding of the problems faced by the Kurdish and Turkish communities in Britain, and Day-Mer’s role in providing help and organisation. She concluded with the importance of building solidarity with the Tamil community.
James (Youth Fight for Jobs) highlighted the large constraints faced by young people in Britain: from zero-hour contracts to large student fees. He talked about the increased unemployment and reduced living standards, which put the youth among the most vulnerable in the population.
The ‘Salma’ short film was a heart touching, and inspirational story of a woman who came from a repressive Muslim community in Tamil Nadu. She was locked up from the age of 13 for nearly half her life, but rose up and went on with the education that she was given to defy her village and write poems. Later, she would become the legendary activist, politician and poet that the world now knows her as.
Parai Voice of Freedom’s performance impacted with a strong message, sending echoes that filled the venue and surrounding area.
MC Starboy’s was a vibrant rapping performance.
Rani Moorthy gave us an insightful, impressive drama, with continuous audience interaction, pulling them closer and closer in. Her performance opened our minds and helped us to explore how we see war and the importance of solidarity. It was not just inspiring – we were transfixed!
The Day-Mer musicians added another rich flavour, with their Turkish and Kurdish instruments and performance.