Celebrating Sinhala and Tamil New Year Together in Toronto

April 22, 2008

Canadian Democratic Tamil Cultural Association was formed recently by some members of the Tamil community in Toronto in order to promote democracy and pluralism among the Tamils in Ontario, and to foster friendship and understanding with other Sri Lankan communities and the Canadian mainstream. Thereby the Association aims to contribute towards finding a negotiated political settlement that would bring a lasting and peaceful resolution to the conflict in Sri Lanka. One of the ways in which CDTCA tries to achieve its objectives is to organize community and cultural events to bring all Sri Lankans together in a spirit of harmony and goodwill.

CDTCA held its first major event on Sunday 13 April 2008 at the Agincourt Collegiate Auditorium in Scarborough. It was a cultural programme to celebrate the Sinhala Tamil New Year. The programme was dubbed “Celebrating Sri Lankan People’s Solidarity” and it was well attended by Sri Lankans of all backgrounds. The program featured Kandyan Dance and Bharatha Natyam, and both Sinhala and Tamil music. “Shiners” and “Breeze,” two leading Sri Lankan bands based in Toronto provided top musical entertainment to a large gathering comprising of Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Malays and Burghers and other Canadians. The event was organized solely by the CDTCA, and no other agencies or organizations had any part in it whatsoever. CDTCA raised the necessary funds by selling tickets, and through donations provided by its members and supporters in the Sri Lankan communities in Toronto. Volunteers from these communities worked tirelessly over the past several months in solidarity to make the event happen.

In his address, Chief Guest, Hon. Bas Balkissoon, Member of Ontario Parliament, praised the CDTCA for building solidarity among all Sri Lankans as a step toward a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Sri Lanka. Toronto City Councillor Mr. Chin Lee, an honoured guest, also addressed the gathering.


Sri Lankans celebrate Sinhala Tamil New Year in solidarity in Toronto

April 22, 2008

History has shown, time and again, that though forces of fanaticism, intolerance and extremism may dominate in the short run, ultimately it’s moderation, reasonableness, and sobriety that prevails. Because human beings – no matter what their backgrounds are – are innately fair-minded, decent and reasonable. Human beings are also pragmatic and rational. No matter what horrendous atrocities are committed – ultimately sanity will prevail. This is what history shows us. There simply is no history of extremism dominating forever.

We of the Canadian Democratic Tamil Cultural Association are unshaken in our belief that this tragic chapter in our history will pass – that the people of Sri Lanka will ultimately find a way to resolve their differences and accommodate each others’ concerns. This mutual understanding and adjustment is already reflected in the way they are coping with the ongoing war.
One of the positive developments in Sri Lanka today is that more Tamils are living among the Sinhalese in the South than ever before. Ironically this is a consequence of the actions of those who are trying to turn the two communities into hostile camps. A basic truism of social science is that all social action have unintended consequences. One of the ironies of social changes brought about by the conflict in Sri Lanka is that social interaction between the two communities has increased phenomenally. Tamils who have had little interaction with the Sinhalese in the past are now living side by side with them.

In spite of the conflict, people of all backgrounds …. all walks of life….. somehow manage to get along in Sri Lanka in their day to day lives. In most parts of the country …… Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Malays and Burghers ….. they all live side by side and they toil together in their fields, factories and offices and in their neighbourhoods.

Though the world media portrays otherwise, we – Sri Lankans – know in our hearts we are a caring, civilized society. No one can take that away from us. We no doubt have our difficulties and challenges as any multi-ethnic society does – but we have not lost our humanity. Though we may belong to different communities, as Sri Lankans we all share the joy of living on this beautiful island along with our common predicament: the need to find a way to accommodate each others’ concerns. We shall endure. We are a resilient people.

This is what we decided to celebrate: our solidarity as a decent people. And what more fitting occasion than the Sinhala Tamil New Year. This festival reflects the fact that we share common cultural bonds. By celebrating together we are also showing the Canadian mainstream that we are not hopelessly divided by some unbridgeable gulf as portrayed by the superficial western media.

Finally, the best tribute that we can pay to the ordinary but courageous people of Sri Lanka is to emulate them and live amicably in the Diaspora. We can learn from them how to live together in spite of all the political strife and the negative media hype. We can learn from them how to remain human in the most brutal circumstances…..how not to lose one’s humanity in the face of the gravest of provocations.

In Sri Lanka we live together, work together and struggle together to achieve peace. So why can’t we in Canada? Why can’t we have a dialogue? In my view, nothing that we do in the Diaspora to promote the well-being of our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka can be more useful than such a dialogue.

But in order to make that contribution, we must not forget even for a moment that we are also Canadians. Yes it’s possible to be a Sri Lankan and a Canadian at the same time in today’s postmodern world. Under globalization multiple allegiances and trans-national identities are becoming facts of life. I believe it’s by exercising our “Canadian-ness” that we can make a positive contribution towards resolving the conflict in Sri Lanka.

As Canadians, we are entitled to the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Canadian Charter. Are we going to pursue narrow, divisive political goals in Canada and invoke the charter when inevitably the Canadian authorities start cracking down on these activities? In other words are we going to use the very Canadian Charter to undermine the democratic rights of our own people in Canada? Are we going to abuse Canadian democracy to create more suffering for our people in Sri Lanka? Or, are we going to use the Charter in its proper spirit – its intent, rather than its letter.

Today I believe we have taken the first step in that direction. For what we have done by celebrating Sinhala and Tamil New Year together in Toronto on 13th April, 2008 is to emphatically exercise one of the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Canadian Charter: the freedom of association. The right to associate as we like, the right to gather as we choose – not as those with authoritarian, extremist persuasions among us would prefer.

Sam Rajendran
Canadian Democratic Tamil Cultural Association
e-mail: cdtamilca@yahoo.ca