The Disintegration of Cultural and Family Values in the North East of Sri Lanka
A nation is built on its land, language, and culture. When these are threatened, as in the case of Tamils in Sri Lanka, their progress is impeded, constrained and faces extinction. The army occupation, along with other forced acts which undermine traditional Tamil values, and the taking over of the traditional land they lived in for over two millennia in the north and east of Sri Lanka, has not only undermined the enhancement of cultural and family structures of the Tamils as a nation but has also brought about its extinction.
In this regard, the current unhealthy social fabric and disorder amongst the youngsters is the result of the army occupation of the North and East of Sri Lanka. Also, the government has deliberately neglected to involve the international community in attempts to rebuild the North East, initiatives which could have created livelihoods for both war widows and aspiring jobless youngsters. Instead, Sri Lanka government has been deliberately stopping international direct aid to Tamils and made no efforts to rebuild the devastated economy and infrastructure or people.
With no hope of economic survival, all qualified people are leaving for abroad causing a brain drain, similarly others including teenagers are introduced to drugs, pornography and alcoholism which are destroying the very fabric of civilised ancient Tamil culture which is built on the utmost respect for all, especially parents, elders, clergy and teachers on a par with God.
During the Exodus of the war between 1980 and 2009, displaced people left behind their books, manuscripts, musical instruments etc. and moved to the Vanni area or to a safe place abroad. The state of emergency, day long curfews and constant displacement, halted the musical performances and cultural developments that shaped the cultural identity of both young and old. Only after the war ended did the drama artists and musicians return to their villages to resume their cultural activities. This left generations of war affected young people without a true Tamil civilised identity.
Prior to the 30-year war, North and East were enjoying unhindered performances of drama, Bharatanatyams (Ancient Tamil dance), Arangetrams (Dance graduations) etc. which were part and parcel of Tamil culture. In addition, there were open-air theatres which staged folk dances, debates, dramas, and cultural events. These again, reshaped and ensured continuity of Tamil traditions and passed them on to future generations as has been the custom for thousands of years. At the peak of the pre-war golden era, there were more folk dances, musicals, Arangetrams in the North and East of Sri Lanka than in the whole of Europe.
The Jaffna open-air theatre frequently performed musical dramas and recitals throughout the night and people turned up in their thousands to enjoy the musical celebrations instead of the current undesirable activities. Sadly, this Jaffna open-air theatre was reduced to the ground during the war as was Jaffna library - the educational temple of Tamils. Following this cultural set back, morale is down, and it will take a long time to regain its former glory. However, it's encouraging to note that the Hindu temples are bringing back regular musical and cultural programmes to stop this decline.
The few possibilities for developing a livelihood have left youngsters distracted from their studies and accomplishments, and engaging in wild entertainment, alcoholism and drugs taking. These were unheard of in the pre-war era when the family structure was solid and youngsters were competing to get university places. Again, with the influx of easy money from the diaspora, the youngsters' priorities also changed and their reckless behaviour have led to them becoming misfits in the society.
These war affected youngsters are now more interested in getting out of the country and are spending enormous amount of money on agencies who offer to find them opportunities abroad. In this process some who sought illegal ways to reach far away countries were often cheated and stranded in foreign countries.
Another reason why today's youngsters have become uncontrollable is their dependence on technology and social media. The parents are worried about the effect of technology on their children as technology can be directed towards creating patterns of behaviour that accentuate its use. Although knowledge is power, the key to using technology well is found in moderation of its use. The parents must strictly supervise their children with TV and how much time they spend on social media to ensure their studies are on track.
As a damage limitation, the people from the diaspora must continue their link to North East Sri Lanka and ensure their lands and properties are protected and securely passed to the next generation in order to ensure that theTamil nation does not lose its homeland by succumbing to accelerated Sinhalese settlement in predominantly Tamil areas. The diaspora's unclaimed properties may become government properties hence safeguarding land and properties are very important. Investing in restoring properties or starting businesses to establish financial power for the local Tamils is crucial. The diaspora should also introduce the Tamil heritage to their children who may not be aware of our old, rich and ancient Tamil language and the need for cultural development and revival of the cultural links between the host countries and Tamil homeland.
In this current dire situation, the diaspora has a very important part to play to ensure the continuity of the Tamil nation. If they are not careful and take quick action, there is a danger not only of their children being unable to speak their mother tongue but also that ancestral Tamil land will be lost to the malice of cunning accelerated Sinhalese settlement and deliberate destruction of Tamil culture by the patrons of Sinhala Buddhist only Sri Lanka. This has resulted in Tamils being forced to become a minority in their own traditional land where electing remaining few Tamil Members of Parliament (MP's) is being lost rendering Tamils a powerless minority with no voice fulfilling the ultimate Sinhalese Chauvinistic goal.
Therefore, Diaspora parents living outside Sri Lanka should explain these dangers to their children and ensure they have an understanding of the rich culture of our Tamil language and dangers of extinction of Tamil nation in Sri Lanka. Moreover, the Diaspora must present a united front through organisations working hard to canvass the International Community, especially through the Tamil National United Organisations (TUNO -www.tamilunited.org), to protect and secure Tamil homeland from extinction before redeveloping it in order to give a future to the war affected urgently before it is too late.
It's worth concluding with a final thought from the late Sunday Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge from his famous 'Beyond the Grave' Editorial.
'A military occupation of the country's North and East will require the Tamil People to live eternally as second-class citizens deprived of all self-respect.
The wounds of war will scar them for ever, and you will have even more bitter and hateful Diaspora to contend with.'
Tamil Writers Guild Editorial Board