Sunday, April 16, 2006

Tamil Diaspora and Tamil language

By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai in Norway and Denmark

The language makes a difference.

If we can't understand a language, which can lead to misunderstanding.

People who are living in Scandinavian countries have to learn the language of the respective country, where they are living.

The Sri Lankan Tamils are no exception.

There are seven thousand Sri Lankan Tamils currently living in Norway.

Most of them left Sri Lanka after 1983, black July riots.

As they have landed in Norway, first they faced a cultural shock in freezing cold.

Nevertheless they all had to learn the Norwegian language in order to secure employment.

As Tamils are known for hard working, they found jobs in various fields.

They had to find their life partners, as they grew older.

The young Tamil men wanted to marry girls from their home town Jaffna.

Their parents went ahead with the match making, found cultured girls from Jaffna for their sons.

The brides to be were sent to Norway to tie the knot.

They took “Koorai Saree, Thaalikodi- which was made in Sri Lanka according to the tradition, with other jewelleries.

The wedding took place in Norway with the blessings of the parents in Jaffna.

Their children were taught in Norwegian.

Norwegians say that, “A child should learn his or her mother tongue first. Then it is easier for the child to learn the other languages”.

The Norwegian Tamils are teaching Tamil to their children.

There are a few weekend schools, which teach Tamil, Karnatic Music and Bharatha Natyam.

Children can take Tamil as a subject at grade ten.

There were not enough Tamil newspapers or magazines available in Norway, for the Sri Lankan Tamils, who migrated there.

They thought it was necessary to start Tamil schools, and make the place available with
reading materials in Tamil.

The first Tamil school “Muththamil Arivaalayam” was started in 1988, in a Church
premises in Tøyen.

It caught fire and destroyed completely including 3,000 Tamil magazines and other
reading materials.

The school was relocated in a different place.

“Muththamil Arivaalayam” has about three hundred and forty children. They are three
year to sixteen year old. It is a recognized school among the Tamil community. The children are enthusiastic to learn Tamil language. We celebrate “Sarasvathi pooja”, Christmas, and annual day. We have annual sports meet as well” says the Principal K. Sivananthan.

The children come here on every Saturday to learn Tamil and extra curricular activities.

Parents of the children work on voluntary basis.

The teachers are trained according to the curriculum.

“Although we are living in a foreign country, we can’t forget our culture and tradition.
We have to teach our children all good values and especially the mother tongue. We
speak to our children in Tamil at home. They speak Tamil fluently” says Sellathurai Selvakumaran.

The children take extra interest to learn the Tamil language and practice it.

"I like to learn Tamil. It is my favourite language" says five year old Mary Krisha Christopher Jude, who was born in Norway.

There are eleven thousand and eight hundred Sri Lankan Tamils living in Denmark, and
twenty eight Tamil schools in functioning there.

The Danish Tamil children learn the Tamil language too.

“It is very important to teach Tamil, which is their mother tongue, though they are living
in Denmark. When a child speaks his or her mother tongue, it counts. All the Tamil
parents are interested in teaching their children Tamil and its tradition. And it makes
them to understand and mingle with their grand parents, who can’t communicate in any
other language, except Tamil” says Jeyarajah Rasiah, who is a member of the city council
in Denmark.

Sri Lankan Tamils are recognized and respected for their hard working.

Some Danes mentioned that, the “Sri Lankan Tamils are doing very well, especially the
younger generation in education, and they
do not make much noise. They do not get involved in crimes, unlike other ethnic
communities, which migrated from various parts of the world. The Danish Sri Lankan
children are well behaved.”

And every single parent is concerned that, their children speak Tamil correctly.

It was surprising to see the children speak the very fluently, like Norwegian or Danish.

“It is not necessary to learn Tamil. Because they are not living in Sri Lanka. There is no
use. And most probably, they are not going to come back and live in Sri Lanka” says
Sri Lankan journalist and practicing lawyer Saman Kaluarachchi.

It is encouraging to see the Tamils, living miles away from home maintain the culture and tradition, and want to treasure it for the next generation.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Sweet Home Coming in
“Little Jaffna”

By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai
in La Chapelle, France

Jaffna meat shop in La Chapelle

It was a Saturday afternoon.

I went to La Chapelle by train. I saw Tamil names for the shops, as soon as I came out from the La Chapelle station.The streets of La Chapelle were full of traffic, the shops were bustling.The people of La Chapelle spoke Jaffna Tamil, which made me feel at home.

I could smell the fragrance of jasmine in the air.The Tamil women were wearing garlands, which were made out of jasmine flowers on the hair. They wore ‘Pottu” on their foreheads. Most of them wondered first, whether to speak in Tamil or not.When I started o speak to them in Tamil, they continued the conversation in Tamil. Some thought that, I was a new immigrant to La Chapelle. They were more hospitable, when the found out that, I was just a visitor from Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan Tamils, who are currently living here, left their motherland in 1980s due to the political situation at that time.There are sixty thousand Sri Lankan Tamils living in France. La Chapelle is known as “Little Jaffna”. It is packed with Tamil shops, which sell groceries, sarees, jewelleries, books and sea food. And, there are restaurants, which serve typical Jaffna and Sri Lankan cuisine. Everything is available here from Jaffna curry powder to Tamil Almanac (Vaakkiya Panchchaangam).

Fresh fish is imported from Sri Lanka during the season, especially prawns and lobsters from Mullaithivu, North East of Sri Lanka. The consumers told me that, they can buy everything here. A young restaurant owner Egambaram Mathivathanan from Punguduthivu in Jaffna told me, while handing over his business card, “You can live here like Jaffna. I have been living here for more than a decade. My customers are mostly Sri Lankan Tamils, but other ethnic communities too visit my restaurant to taste our delicious dishes".

People stayed on the pavements, and checked on each other’s wellbeing. Some had long talks.Those who are living in other parts of France visit La Chapelle during the weekend to purchase groceries and other items.

Although the French Tamils speak fluently in French, they continue to speak in Tamil amongst themselves to feel belonged. The second generation Tamils is willing to come back to their motherland to retire, if the political situation permits.

I left La Chapelle with the feeling of having been to the main market in Jaffna town.

Monday, April 10, 2006

“I touch people’s lives,

People touch my life":

Shukria Gul

By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Shukria Gul was found HIV positive in 1995. Since then she has been working with the People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs) in Pakistan. Thirty five year old Shukria Gul is currently the general secretary of Pak plus Society, which is working very closely with the PLWHAs. She came to Sri Lanka recently for the second time, to attend a regional workshop on HIV/AIDS, which was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

A courageous woman, who is coming from a conservative community, shared her thoughts and feelings with me. The following are the excerpts of the interview:-

What made you to come forward and work with the society?

“My husband worked in South Africa. He got infected through contaminated blood, when he met with a car accident there. He fell ill in 1995 in Pakistan. He was thrown out of the hospital room bed to a store room in the same hospital. He was tested for HIV thereafter, and found positive and he had full blown AIDS at that time. He told me that, if he is found positive he will shoot himself. (She cries). But unfortunately he passed away, before the results came. Thereafter I checked myself and found positive. I suffered double crisis. I was very worried about my children. He doctor asked me why I was worried about my children, and not about myself. I told him that, my children have to live long. I thank God, they were not positive.

At that time my daughter was four year old, and my son was two year old. I had to take the family burden and move forward, amidst stigma and discrimination. I had gone through enough and more discrimination at several stages. But my family was very supportive, although the were not very well informed about the disease.

I can recollect an incident, which took place earlier. I participated in a workshop in Peshawar, where there was a Mullah mentioned that “All the HIV positive people should be shot dead”. I did not react immediately. I revealed on the last day that, I was HIV positive, he apologized for making such a painful statement. There were many distasteful incidents like this in my life.

But I did not mind too much about the negative comments passed on to me. I took them as a challenge, and moved forward and started to work with the PLWHAs. It gives me so much relief and comfort.

How do you approach the People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs)?

Since I am a positive person, they trust and accept me, as one of them. I visit them frequently, and counsel them. It’s easier to approach a positive person through another positive person, rather than an expert. I put myself into his or her shoes and make them talk. I ask only two questions. They are did you get it through a needle?, and did you get it through blood transfusion? If they say no to these two questions. I know that they got infected through sexual relationship. And as a respect towards the positive, I never ask the third question, which is did you get it through sexual relationship? But most of us don’t practice way of asking question. Therefore the PLWHAs are very reluctant to come out and talk.

And I always maintain their privacy. Initially people were misinterpreted regarding HIV/AIDS. Even I gave all the wrong answers to the questions, when I was interviewed in 1995. Because at that time I did not know what is HIV/AIDS or how can it be infected or what are the consequences. But now I am very well informed, and sharing the information with others. Because after I got infected I went to Islamabad and got all the possible information available about HIV/AIDS and set up a non-governmental organization called “New Light”. Now I am fully aware, and I make others aware about the disease. I am grateful to Mr. aleem Beigh, who educated me a lot on HIV.

Later I moved to work with a group called “Pak Plus Society”. Now I work with fifty families in Lahore. People of Pakistan welcome me very warmly and whole heartedly into their houses than a consultant. I have been working with the People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) for the past ten years.

How do you describe the situation of the People Living With HIV/AIDS in Pakistan?

I see people still suffer from the stigma and discrimination. The social stigma is deep rooted in our society. The most the people of Pakistan do not go for voluntary testing.

According to UNAIDS estimates about 70,000 to 80,000 or 0.1 percent of the adult population in Pakistan are infected with HIV. But officially reported are much lower as 3,000 until 2004. Although overall HIV prevalence is low in Pakistan, there is growing evidence of substantial high risk groups, which contribute to the disease.

When a person if found HIV positive, I slowly counsel his or her family. Then they begin to accept and care. People’s attitudes are slowly changing. I believe that, we can change the whole community gradually.

What is your dream?

I wanted to become a doctor. But I could not make it happen. But the Almighty God has chosen me to serve the society. I will continue to serve till I depart. I told my two children that I am HIV positive. They are very understanding and loving. They come with me to visit the People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs). I am very fortunate to have them. I want to educate them, and make them shine like stars.

I got married, when I was just twenty year old, but I do not want my daughter to marry early. I want her to study further, and come up in life.

I was motivated to combat ignorance about the disease. I want the other People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs) to join hands, and work together for a HIV free world.

What is your message to the world?

It is not infectious through shaking hands, eating together or hugging.My humble request to the world is to love and respect the People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs). Do not drive them to death, through stigma and discrimination. My whole details including my home address were published in the media in Pakistan, when my husband died. These details were disclosed to the media by the hospital officials. The whole media stormed my house, while I was grieving. (Tears in her eyes).Do not repeat the same to my fellow People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs). They are human beings as well. Please accept and adore them. I am affected in my heart, than my body. I still love my husband. And I have been living for more than a decade, because people pray for me to live long.

Please log onto the following link to listen to a song, which was dedicated to Shukria Gul.