The Film Ray of Hope Shows Tenacity of Tamil Community

Rathika Sitsabaiesan, a former Member of Parliament and the first Tamil to be elected to the House of Commons will be releasing her new documentary film called RAY OF HOPE On May 10 that explores the aftermath of the 26-year armed conflict in Sri Lanka that forced tens of thousands of Eelam Tamils to flee the country to safe countries like Canada, including Rathika when she was a five-year-old child. The film is produced by Ryan Singh, an honoree at the Black Diamond Ball for 2024.

“The documentary delves into the intricate aftermath of trauma within the Tamil community that is now breaking its silence, aiming to attain justice for those who have gone missing or perished. The documentary sheds light on how Rathika’s experience echoes the larger narrative of Eelam Tamil migrants, exploring the intricate interplay between personal and collective healing and the pursuit of accountability.”

RAY OF HOPE depicts the struggle of the Tamil community as they fight to show their independence and separate culture from Sri Lanka while asking to be treated as humans and civilly. As the film follows Sitsabaiesan as she becomes the first Tamil Member of Parliament and is able to finally return to Sri Lanka after decades, audiences experience the raw emotion of a girl forced to flee her home at such a young age given a homecoming many will never receive while also fearing for her life. It is impossible not to be moved as you see families, Sitsabaiesan’s daughter, and other members of the Tamil community recount surviving genocide but all of the hurdles that accompany that reality.

Sitsabaiesan tells us that becoming a filmmaker happened unintentionally. “The driving force for me was truly my sense of responsibility to do more to advance the level of global awareness about the Tamils’ plight and to work toward a lasting solution. I felt obligated to create this film because of the immense privilege I have as a survivor of the genocide, my levels of education, my platform and network, as well as my sense of security as a Canadian that guarantees my rights and freedom of speech. Another reason I decided to make this film was to document our history and lived experiences to ensure that my daughter and the many who will come after her know a little piece of the history about their ancestors.”

As you watch the film and see a group of people displaced, murdered, afraid, within their own homes as the world watches on with complete disregard you cannot help but be reminded of what is happening presently with Gaza and Israel as the world watches genocide occur.

Sitsabaiesan shares that the genocide of Tamils and Palestinians have both been intentional, systematic and ongoing. “Since the Nakba that started in 1948 the Palentinians have been on the receiving end of a genocide. Since the improper decolonization of the Dominion of Ceylon in 1948, the Tamils have been on the receiving end of a genocide. Though the multiple protests, riots, attacks, or specific experiences may be different we are both peoples who have been on the receiving end of a globally recognized nation state that has been perpetrating a genocide. When we explore the 10 stages of genocide, there are many examples for each community to demonstrate each of the stages–Classification, Symbolization, Discrimination, Dehumanization, Organization, Polarization, Preparation, Persecution, Extermination, and Denial.”

She adds that what is happening today in Gaza is the mass and indiscriminate extermination of Palestinians. “This is exactly what happened in May of 2009 with the Tamils on the island nation of Sri Lanka. It has been 15 years since the massacre of Tamils in Mullivaikkal where Tamil civilians were cornered into a  two kilometre strip of land and slaughtered. The Gaza strip is 40km long and the Palestinians have been pushed into this area (along with the West Bank) for years now, but the massacre is happening today and the world is watching. The 25-year war in Sri Lanka was ended with the mass extermination of Tamils in Mullivaikkal in May 2009, and we are now experiencing the last phase of genocide–Denial, by the Sri Lankan state.”

Though the world is watching what is occurring in Palestine today, the 2009 massacre of Tamils happened in silence mostly because the Sri Lankan government pushed out international NGOs, aid organizations, diplomats and media outlets, shares Sitsabaiesan. “The local media outlets were banned from being able to send any news or information out of the island. There have been other documentaries made about this particular time of the massacre of Tamils, namely “Sri Lanka’s Killing fields” and “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished” by Channel 4 News, and “No Fire Zone” by Callum McCrae.” 

Both the Palestinians and Tamils have always wanted to be able to live in peace in their respective ancestral homeland, says Sitsabaiesan and yet they have both been and continue to be on the receiving end of a “state-sponsored genocide and our truths must be brought to light”.

RAY OF HOPE, already nominated for over 14 awards, is timely in this sense because as the world is sensitized and aware of the current mass extermination of the Palestinians they will be able to see the parallels to the history and ongoing genocide of Tamils. As Sitsabaiesan adds, “we must continue to build bridges and be allies for one-another as we educate and grow the global awareness of our individual and collective struggles as we both work toward the stoppage of the ongoing attacks on our people, their lives and livelihoods, and collective histories and work toward the recognition of the truth–a genocide”.

RAY OF HOPE will have a limited release of the film starting May 10th at Landmark films across Ontario. The film will also be featured at the Hamilton Black Film Festival on May 25th, the Romford Film Festival in the UK on May 27th and the International Black and Diversity Film Festival in Washington, D.C. on May 31th. 

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Hillary LeBlanc

Hillary LeBlanc

Hillary is an Acadian-Senegalese queer woman passionate about sharing stories relating to the Black community, fashion, beauty and sustainability.