TORONTO: Tamils from Canada, the US and elsewhere joined in Toronto on Friday in celebrating the 26th annual convention of the Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America (FeTNA).
Attired in their colourful traditional dress, men, women and children streamed into the Sony Centre of the Performing Arts and Novotel Hotel to mingle with one another, enjoy stage performances and participate in business seminars, exhibitions and networking sessions.
The three-day festivities began with the traditional Mangala Isai, the lighting of the lamp and the singing of Thamizh Thaai Vaazhthu at the packed Sony Centre for the Performing Arts.
“I am very excited to be here. FeTNA is such an important event in preserving and promoting Tamil culture and language. We 10 crore Tamils are one, and these events will help us usher in new Tamil era,’’ said C. Mahendran, assistant secretary of the Communist Party of India’s Tamil Nadu unit, who flew all the way from Chennai for the FeTNA event.
Lakshmi Sangaiah, who came from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in the US, with her daughter Selvi, said, “These events are a must for our kids to make them aware of our culture and values. FeTNA has been doing a great job and I thank the organizers.’’
Standing nearby with her two-year-old daughter, Amutha from Boston said, “It is my first visit to FeTNA, and I am finding it to be a useful platform for keeping our kids aware of our language and culture. I am with my husband and his parents and little daughter Shobha. I have another six-year-old daughter. As these girls now grow, I am going to attend more FETNA events.’’
Dressed in white Tamil dress, Canadian Tamil Congress national spokesman David Poopalapillai greeted every participant at the entrance.
“I am very happy with the way things are going. We have got full house as this place cannot accommodate more than 2,000 delegates,’’ said Poopalapillai.
Dr Pazhani Sundaram, FeTNA president from 2010 to 2012, who flew down from Connecticut, said he was happy to see the Canadian Tamil community organize the event so well.
“FeTNA has been serving as a great platform for bringing the Tamil diaspora together. Dr Muthuvel and I were instrumental in bringing the event here because we have a huge Tamil diaspora in Toronto. I am happy with the arrangements,’’ Dr Sundaram said.
For his part, Dr Muthuvel Chelliah, who headed FeTNA from 2008 to 2010, said he was excited to see the FeTNA event travel out of the US for the first time and come to Toronto.
“I am excited to be in Toronto. I have been with FeTNA from day one, and our single aim is to promote our Tamil culture, language and traditions. Our second and third generations should know our heritage. From our first meeting in Philadelphia 26 years to Toronto today, FeTNA has served the Tamil diaspora very well over the years,’’ said Dr Chelliah who came from Washington DC.
FeTNA awards were given to many people for their contribution in different fields.
On the first day, many Tamils in the diaspora and their sympathizers shared their thoughts and experiences with the audience.
Among them were Frances Harrison, former BBC correspondent in Sri Lanka, whose book `Still Counting the Dead,’ has put Sri Lanka in the dock.
She said the Sri Lanka war didn’t actually end in May 2009. It is continuing under the surface, she said.
In her slide presentation and later a short reading from her book, Harrison showed how inhabited Tamil areas (shown by Google map) were destroyed by massive bombing in the last few days of the war, how captured Tamil women and female Tamil Tigers were sexually assaulted and then killed and how Sri Lanka is militarizing the north.
She said the tragedy of the Tamils in northern Sri Lanka during the last days of the war was that they had nowhere to flee, unlike people in the Syrian civil war today.
British filmmaker Callum Macrae, whose documentary `No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka’ caused worldwide outrage by depicting Sri Lankan war crimes, including the killing of LTTE chief Prabhakaran’s son Balachandran by the Sri Lankan army, said there was a clear-cut case for war crimes against the Sri Lankan rulers.
Unless Sri Lanka is put in the dock, he warned, there is every fear that the new Tamil generation weaned on information from the Internet may not tolerate it. Sri Lanka should heed and history should not be repeated, he cautioned.
While the UN and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) came in for scathing criticism for ignoring the scale of the killings initially, Canada came in for praise for its decision to boycott the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to be held in Colombo from November 15 to 17.
Catholic priest Father S.J. Emmanuel, who fled Jaffna and now lives in exile in Germany, also narrated tales of woe of the Tamils in northern Sri Lanka.
The day ended with a superb stage presentation of Sivagamiyin Sabatham – the seventh-century story of love and revenge.