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Tamil Community Trauma–Violence without End

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Dr. Leslie Korn of the Center for Traditional Medicine (an agency of the Center for World Indigenous Studies) began a three-year study of Community Trauma in a western Mexico comunidad in 1996. This ground-breaking study concluded that there are serious chronic health conditions (diabetes, heart disease, obesity, mental health problems, alcoholism, drug addictions and drug abuse, etc.) that arise from persistent and sustained violence resulting from pressures of development in Fourth World nations. Community members under persistent development-trauma exhibit greater tendencies toward family violence, sexual violence and group violence themselves. Dr. Korn described a remedy to community trauma through the restoration of cultural norms while significantly slowing and even stopping development to permit cultural institutions to regain the capacity to slowly absorb or reject introduced change. When a community regains its ability to choose its social, economic, political and cultural present and future, the levels of disease and the internalized violence subsides. Violence, in other words, breeds disease and violence.

Professor Daya Somasunderam, a Sri Lankan psychiatrist conducted on a study on the mental health of Tamils (Collective trauma in northern Sri Lanka: a qualitative psychosocial-ecological Study) in Jaffna city inside Tamil Eelam claimed territory releasing his conclusions today. Somasunderam's conclusions from studying the affects of a persistent and sustained war on Tamil communities is virtually the same as Dr. Korn's findings in Mexico.

Repeated threats to life and personal security acted out and reenacted by Sri Lankan military occupying Tamil territories over a period of more than 20 years create collective trauma or as Dr. Korn's terms it: community trauma.

The pattern of militant action, cease fire and renewed violence instills in individuals and the community as a whole heightened vigilance that is never at rest. The Korn Community Trauma Study in Mexico compared physiological quantitative data with psyco-social qualitative documentation to explain the physical exhaustion experienced by traumatized community members. Normal responses to stressful circumstances cause an increase in cortisol levels (the hormone that regulates natural fight-or-flight responses) and cause other hormones to excrete. These hormones natural restore when the cause of the stress are removed. Persistent vigilance with the expectation of additional threats causes these hormones to become exhausted--leaving the victim without natural capabilities to react to new stresses. Trauma results in the form of hyper vigilance, psychological and a physiological damage and hyper-reactivity. When a whole community no-longer has the capacity to rest and restore normal behaviors and normal life it becomes traumatized, suffers a strong sense of powerlessness and consequently becomes a threat to its own safety and becomes a threat to others.
Tamil Eelam

The Tamil Eelam seeks to exercise the power of self-determination and to become self-governing. Sri Lanka sees this aspiration as a threat to the continuity of the Sri Lankan state. The Tamil possess a bedrock culture that extends into the mist of history by 5000 years and more. Tamil culture defines the harmonious relations between community members, families and relations with outsiders. The spiritual life, economy, social life and political life of Tamil communities have been profoundly important to the continuity of this ancient civilization. Violent disruptions of this culture by military intervention from Sri Lanka for what ever reason contributes to the traumatization of the Tamil population as well as the Sri Lankan populations.

Community Trauma is pervasive in Tamil Eelam, in the development pressurized indigenous communities of western Mexico, in Palestine, the war-torn tribal communities of Iraq, and in the native communities of Canada and the United States living under persistent threats of relocation, assimilation and development. These communities are injured both physically and psychologically. No amount of conventional medicine will heal the deep wounds introduced by generations of violence in these communities. Only the restoration of cultural norms and traditional healing can do.

The Sri Lankan violence on the Tamil must come to an end. Both sides must know that twenty-years and more have demonstrated that violence cannot resolve the differences. Unless culture is permitted to heal the deep wounds neither the nation of Tamil Eelam nor the Sri Lankan state will achieve healthy and prosperous societies. Tamil Eelam must be permitted to exercise self-determination. The Sri Lankan state must know that could mean that Tamil will want to be a separate people. It is equally possible that Sri Lanka and Tamil Eelam could form a kind of condominial state where Tamil Eelam will freely govern itself. Tamil community trauma must be healed or it will return in the future to strike out against others in terrifying forms.

(c) 2007 Center for World Indigenous Studies

(Dr. Rÿser is the author of Fourth World Geopolitics and the forth-coming book Nationcraft, and actively participated in the twelve-year effort to draft the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.)

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  1. William Vega, an American public health researcher at Rutgers, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 1998, observed that Mexican immigrants have roughly half the incidence of psychological dysfunction as Americans. After 13 years, though, these immigrants develop depression, anxiety and drug problems at the same level as the general population (32%). Additional studies have extended these findings to other ethnic groups, leading to the conclusion, that “socialization into American culture and society increase susceptibility to psychiatric disorders.”

    Studies from the Archives of General Psychiatry in 2000, as well as from the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1992 and 1996, document that the overall rate of depression in the US has doubled since World War II; for women, it doubled between 1970 and 1992. Even more startling, “American school children today are taking four times as many psychiatric meds as all of the rest of the world combined.”

    The World Health Organization has found that schizophrenia in developing nations is up 45% from 1985, due primarily from “significant disruptions in cultural practices, social routines, and traditional roles in work and family.” The WHO predicts that “depression will become one of the most common disabling disorders in the world by 2020, second only to heart disease.”

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