Environmental Pasts, Environmental Futures
For centuries, the survival of Tamil society, an assemblage of village-based, close-knit communities based on a subsistence economy, depended on its close association with and understanding of nature. The colonial experience for Tamils, as for other subject peoples, meant increasing alienation from their traditions, culture and religion. Being Tamil has subsequently also involved displacement, urbanization, and monetization, all leading to an erosion of the links that Tamil society had with nature.
Tamils from Eelam were transformed into a largely urbanised society with little connection to the land during the 20th century. This alienation has been aggravated from the mid-1980s by the conflict, widespread displacements and substantial destruction of natural areas. The impending environmental challenges of the 21st century, most notably those resulting from global climate change, behooves Tamils to re-discover the links to nature which shaped their identity in the past in order to survive and build a sustainable society. There will undoubtedly be a critical role for the Diaspora in these endeavors, particularly by being the conduit of global knowledge to local practice.
Dr. Saverimuttu is a graduate from the University of Jaffna and trained as a plant ecologist in the University of Cambridge. He was a Senior Lecturer in the University of Jaffna until 1990 and was an academic and researcher in Fiji and Australia. He has more than ten years of experience in environmental and sustainable development policy and has worked on environmental issues in the north-east of Sri Lanka.