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Thai Pongal & Tamil Heritage Month Introduction in Britain Pioneered by the BTF gaining momentum

Identifying the elegance of the Tamil heritage, the British Tamils Forum (BTF) began its steps to enhance the knowledge to the Tamil diaspora and to make aware to the world at large of the sophistication of the deep-rooted Tamil heritage. Thus, the BTF launched its pioneer move with the Thai Pongal celebration in association with London Borrow of Harrow in 2011. 

In the following years, the BTF collaborated with several community organisations and continued demonstrating the prosperity of the Tamil heritage, following the Tamil phrase of its invaluable script, “யாதும் ஊரே யாவரும் கேளீர்”, of which the near translation is, “All places are one and all people are our kin.” and this the fundamental concept of brotherhood and equality. 

In subsequent years up to 2017 the BTF promoted the participation of Tamil youths, by celebrating Thai Pongal in its own premises, where several interested Tamil youths and Tamil community representatives took part with great enthusiasm. BTF was proud that several Members of Parliament representing Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats participated in 2018 event organized in the House of Parliament. Many MPs started wearing the Tamil traditional dress of Vetti and shawls in these events.

The BTF’s celebrations in 2019,2020 and 2021 were predominantly carried out by the Tamil youths with of traditional folk dances, and other cultural activities and they named those events as “The Tamil Youth Cherishing Rich Heritage” in 2019 and then “The Tamil Heritage Month” in 2020 and “Self-Reliance in Tamil Heritage” in 2021.

On each occasion the BTF invited politicians including many cross party members of parliament and councillors with the purpose of bringing the value of the Tamil Heritage to the core members of the British soil. The BTF is now very proud that the Tamil Heritage and the Tamil peoples’ aspirations have been gaining increased recognition by the British Members of Parliament, other politicians and institutions. Their participation to the Thai Pongal celebration over the period is not only at USA an increase but also their hospitalities are overwhelming. 

The BTF is very pleased that the Tamils for Labour, the Conservative Friends of Tamils, the Tamil Friends of Liberal Democrats, and many representatives of the British Tamil community joined its 2022 celebration. It is also proud that its 2022 event was well attended, which includes several people from other countries, especially from the USA, the EU, Canada, Australia and India despite their different time zones.

The BTF conveys its sincere gratitude to the London Assembly for passing a motion of “January as the Tamil Heritage Month” that the BTF originated in Britain. 

While the Tamil heritage is being preserved and treasured around the world, it is alarming that the Tamil heritage in North and East of the island is subjected to premeditated and calculated destruction by the Sri Lankan state for many years. With the end of the civil war in 2009, and the emergence of Rajapaksa regime in Sri Lanka, such destruction has been at an alarming increase. 

BTF’s success in pioneering the Tamil heritage in the United Kingdom and other countries, will not be complete, unless the Tamil diaspora and international community get together to protect the heritage in Tamil peoples’ homeland of North and East of Sri Lanka.

This colorful event included a presentation about Tamil heritage by Dr Siva Thiyagaraja presented by Kaveesha, speech by Professor Jeyanthasri Balakrishnan from Tamil Nadu, Silampam, presentation about Emperor Raja Raja Chozhan by Dr Kavitha Ganeshan Tamil Nadu, beautiful songs by Voice Art students and other Youngsters, Voice of Parai, beautiful dance performance by disciples of Pathmini Gunaseelan and Thirukural presentation by youth from ‘Nalvar Tamil Academy’.

The salient points of the Members of Parliament Speeches 

  1. The Right Hon David Lammy MP for Tottenham, Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

Upon wishing happy Thai Pongal, David conveyed his gratitude to the Tamil community in the UK for their dedication and contribution to the entire country especially those who work at the research of Astra Zeneca and working on the frontline at this difficult time of Corona pandemic. 

As the first speaker at the event, David touched several sensitive aspirations of the Tamil community in the UK, among the many things David’s remarks such as, the struggle to the Tamil people in their homeland of Sri Lanka is tremendous, establishing accountability has been long-outstanding, it was shamefulness that 13 years have passed from the end of the war in 2009 with no actions, there has to be a steadfast commitment to ensure the fundamental democracy in the island, and he is committed to support to the UNHRC’s actions and to take the matter to the International Criminal Court, were strongly supported by the all the follow-up speakers in the event.

David concluded his speech by confirming his support to enforce Magnitsky styled sanctions against the perpetrators, under the Global Human Rights Regime.

  1. Janet Daby MP – Lewisham East

Conveying her privilege to take part in Thai Pongal celebration, Janet expressed her sadness that the Tamil peoples’ relatives were not enjoy the same freedom in their homeland. 

By agreeing with the facts of Rt Hon David Lammy’s speech, Janet further commented that the atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan government is massive and she would push the UK government put bilateral pressure on Sri Lanka to place Magnitsky styled sanctions on accused Sri Lankan war criminals. Janet assured that she would continue to stand with our struggle for justice for the atrocities and genocide committed against Tamils. 

Janet concluded her speech by saying that her voice in the UK parliament would be the Tamils’ voice to seek a political solution in Sri Lanka. Janet encouraged the BTF and the Tamil people to keep campaigning and fighting for justice.

  1. The Rt. Hon. Stephen Timms MP for East Ham, Vice Chair of APPG for Tamils

After confirming all what David Lammy and Janet Daby had already said in their speeches, Stephen added that he woiuld continue to press for an International Independent Investigation on Sri Lanka of what happened at the end of the war in 2009. Stephen thanked the hundreds of Tamil businesses for contributing their services in his constituency and finished his speech by saying that he would continue to support to the Tamil community in the parliament for establishing justice.

  1. The Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP for Chipping Barnet, Vice Chair of APPG for Tamils

Theresa started her speech with a huge gratitude to all those Tamil Doctors, Nurses, care workers and all the Tamils who played their part in getting us through this very long held emergency, the COVID pandemic. 

Commenting that we were meeting on the first ever Tamil heritage Month highlighted by the Prime Minister in his Thai Pongal message, Theresa thanked the London Assembly for their decision to celebrate January as the Tamil Heritage month. Theresa referred the David Cameron’s visit to Jaffna was a historical event and expressed her concern that it was heart-breaking that 13 years have passed with no solution. Theresa referred the Sri Lanka government is scandalous for not abiding with the UNHRC Resolutions 30/1 and 40/1. She welcomed the new resolution 46/1 at the UNHRC.

Theresa ended her speech by stating that she would strongly join others to impose Magnitsky sanctions against the perpetrators, under the Global Human Rights Regime as a great step and assured to continue her campaign for the justice and accountability to the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. Theresa was proud to call herself as a friend of Tamil community and will continue to fight for justice for the Tamil community.

  1. Anne McLaughlin MP – Glasgow Northeast, Shadow SNP Spokesperson for Justice

Upon ascertaining that she would echo what the previous speakers said and expressing her disbelief that 13 years have passed to date since the end of the war in Sri Lanka, Anne recited her devastating memories of visiting IDP camps in 2018. 

Anne raised her concern that no proper action has been taken place and no reconciliation has been actioned to date. On behalf of Scottish National Party (SNP) she assured their support for the search for justice.

  1. Catherine West MP – Hornsey & Woodgreen, Shadow Minister for Asia and Pacific

Catherine, after wishing happy Thai Pongal to everyone, confirmed that they all would be united to uphold UNHRC Resolutions 30/1, 40/1 and 46/1 to uphold justice and accountability. Assuring to support David Lammy in his work, Catherine also assured her support to the crime against humanity and they all, as a parliament, would stand up with the Tamil community to ensure that we are on their side.

Catherine shared the message of Alan Whitehead, Member of Parliament representing Southampton, Shadow Minister for Energy and the Green New Deal.

  1. The Rt Hon Sir Edward Davey MP FRSA, Kingston & Surbiton, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vice Chair of APPG for Tamils

Acknowledging the traditional and historical values of Tamil heritage and the great roles played by the British Tamil community to the country, Edward said that he put a motion in the House of Parliament to formally recognise January as “Tamil Heritage month” and he would expect to attract support across all parties in the parliament. 

Referring to the Tamil peoples’ struggle in Sri Lanka and 13 years passed after the end of the war, Edward stated that although there were some progresses in the UN, the situation in Sri Lanka has been worsening.  

Edward voiced that not only the application of Magnitsky style sanctions to Sri Lanka was important but also on trade deals too.  Sri Lanka has been in breach of its international obligations. Edward further added that the reinstatement of the GSP+ facility to Sri Lanka by the EU in 2016 was a great mistake. 

Edward continued emphasising the need for an international investigation mechanism so those committed atrocities and genocide can be held to account.  

By stating that the UK government could do a lot to establish democracy in the island and to fight for a political solution to the Tamil people in Sri Lanka and assuring to stand by the Tamil people Edward concluded his speech. Edward ended his speech by stating that they would work with us, the British Tamils Forum, and others for an international mechanism, demilitarisation and political solution.

  1. Paul Scully, MP for Sutton & Cheam, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Small Business, Consumers and Labour Markets, Former Chair of APPG for Tamils

Praising the London Assembly for its recognition of January as the Tamil Heritage month, Paul complemented the Tamil people for their hard work and playing part in the NHS at every level. Paul continued stating that he would support all moves for the reconciliation process for the Tamil people live in Sri Lanka peacefully, travel freely without human rights abuses that have still been seen, heard and reported. Paul concluded by stating to support the UN Resolutions to get justice to the Tamil people and emphasise the Sri Lankan government to answer to all the outstanding issues in the year 2022.

  1. Wes Streeting, MP for Ilford North, Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Vice Chair of APPG for Tamils

After greeting all Thai Pongal wishes, Wes said that he was proud of the Tamil people as their play in businesses, culture and the NHS is paramount. Wes said that he was proud to see the Tamil people’s determination towards their cause. Referring to the present Sri Lankan government is very challenging, Wes stated that the support of the cross-party members would be needed to seek justice to the Tamil people. 

Wes concluded his speech by stating that he would extend his support to David Lammy, Labour leader Keir Starmer, Edward Davey, and other speakers to seek justice to the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. Despite being the Shadow Health Secretary with limitations, Wes guaranteed to remain a friend and firm supporter of the campaign of Tamils.

  1. Sam Tarry MP – Ilford South, Shadow Minister for Buses and Local Transport, Vice Chair of APPG for Tamils

Sam, upon referring to the denial of basic human rights to the Tamil people by the Sri Lankan state, he recalled his memory of over 100,000 Tamils marching in condemnation of genocide and atrocities in Sri Lanka. By stating the need to use the powers we have here in the UK to put pressure for changes in Sri Lanka, Sam remarked that we could not just be blindly do trade deals

Sam continued to say that he has been talking to the Tamils how to build the campaign nationally and internationally for Human rights of Tamils.

By assuring his readiness to stand shoulder to shoulder in absolute solidarity with the Tamil community in their quest for justice and self-determination, Sam emphasised the application of sanctions like those found in the Magnitsky Act against those engaged in atrocity crimes in Sri Lanka. There must be a political solution recognizing the right to self-determination of Tamils

Sam concluded his speech by wishing a free demilitarised Tamil homeland in the island of Sri Lanka soon. 

  1. Jeyaranjan, Mayor elect for Redbridge Council

Councillor Jeyranjan informed a motion would be moved in the Redbridge Council recognising Tamil Heritage Month.

  1. James Murray MP – Ealing North, Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury

James, after wishing a very happy Thai Pongal to the Tamil community in my constituency of Ealing North and to everyone marking the harvest celebration in the UK and around the world, he confirmed to stand in solidarity with the Tamil community in their struggle for accountability, justice, and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. James concluded by blessing this harvest festival to bring the Tamil people health, peace, prosperity and by greeting “Pongal Vazhthukkal!”

  1. Thangam  Debbonaire MP – Bristol West, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Joined the event and conveyed her best wishes to the Tamil community.

  1. Ben Everitt MP – Milton Keyns North

Joined the event and conveyed his best wishes to the Tamil community.

  1. Siobhain McDonagh MP – Mitcham and Morden, Vice Chair of APPG for Tamils

Expressing that important steps were taken forward in 2021 with the new UN resolution, Siobhan said that it didn’t go far enough. Siobhain by sharing the pain that is being felt acutely by the Tamil community, she remarked that the Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, Gotabaya, have been the present-day link to the atrocities of the past and to this day, no one has been held accountable for international crimes committed. 

Raising that 13 long years have passed since the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, Siobhain stated that she has been standing and would continue to stand alongside the Tamil community on their road to truth, justice and accountability. Siobhain ascertained that the Labour Party has been clear that it would always stand by the Tamil community in their pursuit of justice for Sri Lanka to begin building a lasting and sustainable peace.

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