Toronto may be nearly 4,000 miles away from Geneva, but a US-sponsored resolution at the UNHRC cast its shadow over a literary meet, aimed at bringing closer various Sri Lanka ethnic groups in the Canadian city.
The event was Samadhana 2012, organized by the local group Sri Lanka Without Borders. This one, featuring authors Shyam Selvadurai, Mary Ann Mohanraj, Koom Kankesan and Sultan Ameerali, is the first of five such scheduled, with the last in late November this year.
Canada hosts a huge Lankan diaspora population, probably the largest outside of the home country.
But it is harbours extremist elements, which made an event like this even more important despite some Sinhalese and Tamil community members viewing the organisers' efforts dubiously.
Kumaran Nadesan, who spearheaded the effort, said, "There was cynicism all around. My Tamil friends were like, 'What are you talking about? I don't consider myself Sri Lankan, why do you?' And my Sinhalese friends just couldn't be bothered. They thought we were just raising funds for the North and East and that was the end of it."
Among those in the audience was Viranjith Tilakaratne, a Sinhalese who owns the Sri Lankan restaurant Lanka Gardens located in Brampton, a Toronto suburb. He said, "Reconciliation initially happens when people are comfortable enough to start talking to one another. Setting up that dialogue in a casual event like this kind of breaks the ice and brings people together."
The first leg of Samadhana disproved the cynics, with a full house. Selvadurai, author of the acclaimed Funny Boy and the event headliner, said, "Any bringing together of the two sides is a good thing. I think culture is a very good way to do it." Mohanraj felt this could be a platform for other discussions: "You have to move from there to talking about some of the more difficult issues."
The passage of the UNHRC resolution, supported by India, though non-binding, also made this event timely.
It was referenced in Nadesan's opening remarks. Selvadurai, who is half-Tamil and half-Sinhalese, wasn't too taken by it, as he said, "It's all state theatre. It draws attention to the issue, it puts the government on alert that the world is watching them. But honestly, it's a toothless resolution." The ultimate objective was to overcome divides of their native country in an adopted land.