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Mother India’s lesser children

Pioneer 25 November 2013

Mother India’s lesser children

Monday, 25 November 2013 | Priyadarshi Dutta 

Constitutionally, India is a Union of its States, but from a civilisational standpoint, it extends beyond its borders, across the subcontinent. New Delhi missed this point again when it failed to stand up for Lankan Tamils who look to India for justice

It was under intense pressure from political parties and the public in Tamil Nadu that the Government of India downgraded its representation in the recent Commonwealth Head of Government Meet in Colombo. But it stopped short of boycotting the summit as was demanded of it. The Government subsequently issued a disclaimer that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s non-participation would not affect India’s bilateral ties with Sri Lanka. Why grovel before a puny island state?

The UPA Government’s hobbling decision was a result of political compulsion rather than conviction. By participating per se in the summit, the UPA Government has exposed the lack of its commitment to secure justice for the victims of Colombo’s genocidal operations during the final phase of its war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

But was the attitude of the Indira Gandhi Government any different towards the perpetrators of genocide in erstwhile East Pakistan? An estimated three million people were killed, a bulk of them Hindus. While Prime Minister Gandhi is credited with the formation of a sovereign Bangladesh, she stopped short of securing justice for the victims of the genocide. There were some parliamentarians who wanted a Nuremberg-style trial for those accused of committing war crimes. But the Government of India did nothing except pass the onus on to the newly liberated state of Bangladesh. Nothing happened over the ensuing 40 years, during which many of the war criminals died natural deaths, while others wove their way back into the power structure of Bangladesh. Tikka Khan, a Baloch nicknamed ‘the butcher of Bengal’, lived up to the age of 87, before passing away in Islamabad in 2002. It is only recently that the Awami League Government has set up a tribunal to try the perpetrators. But its mandate is limited only to Bangladeshi citizens. The Pakistanis or the Bihari Razakars, who infiltrated into India, after being declared non-citizens in Bangladesh, are beyond its reach.

The Hindus of East Pakistan were supporters of the freedom movement in India. They were nationalists to the core. But thanks to Jawaharlal Nehru, after partition, they were left at the mercy of Islamists in East Pakistan. Nehru argued that it was for Pakistan to protect the rights of its religious minorities. Pakistan did precious little, apart from plotting to rid its territory of Hindu population. His attitude was similarly lackadaisical towards Indian-origin Tamils in Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was called then), who were deprived of their citizenship rights by the Senanayake Government through the Ceylon Citizenship Act, 1948, and the Indian and Pakistani (Residents) Citizenship Act, 1949. He merely rued in Lok Sabha on September 30, 1954, that, “Normally speaking, people are not driven out of any country, even if they are nationals of another country. Individuals may be sent out if they misbehave, but whole crowds of people, tens and hundreds of thousands, are not sent out. Such a thing is unknown, except under very abnormal conditions such as prevailed under Hitler.” Nehru’s credentials as a speechmaker, like his incapacity as a statesman, were never in dispute!

The disenfranchisement and de-recognition of around 8,00,000 Indian-origin Tamils/plantation Tamils in Ceylon was a prelude to the ordeal of Lankan Tamils, plotted by the Colombo establishment. It was pursued through Sinhala resettlement in Tamil territories, restrictive quotas in educational institutions and the marginalisation of Tamil education. The sinister design became obvious under the Government of SWRD Bandaranaike, which came to power in 1956 on the plank of ‘Sinhala Alone’. The Tamil satyagraha, whereby around 200 Tamils protested peacefully in front of the House of Representative in Galle Face, Colombo, was tarnished by police highhandedness and Sinhala hooliganism. In 1958, violence was unleashed against the Tamils, in which Hindu temples were targeted by Buddhist fanatics.

But for New Delhi, those were happenings on other planet. War in Korea or the Israeli invasion of Egypt pained Nehru more than happenings in Ceylon or East Pakistan. It was not until the rise of Vellupillai Prabhakaran that New Delhi realised that there were an indigenous Tamil population in Sri Lanka, whose human rights and civil liberties had been trampled upon. It is stated by some that Tamil Eelam would have been a reality if Gandhi had lived on for another month. Her son and successor, Rajiv Gandhi, first brought the Tamil factions and the Sri Lanka Government together for talks in Thimpu in 1985. But two years later, he signed the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord with the shrewd Sri Lankan President JR Jayewardene, without taking into confidence the aggrieved party, the Lankan Tamils. This gave a rude jolt to the faith of Lankan Tamils, who had turned to India as a sunflower turns towards the sun. Still, the Indian Peace Keeping Force was welcomed in Jaffna. It was not until the death of LTTE’s Lieutenant Colonel Thileepan (Rasiah Parthipan), at a hunger strike at Nallur Murugan Temple, that the mood of the Jaffna Tamils turned against India. 

For the Indian political establishment, India is merely an Union of States as mandated by Article 1 of the Indian Constitution. It takes no note of the selfless devotion that Lankans Tamils (as against the Sinhalese) have for ‘Mother India’. The latter were the first to welcome Swami Vivekananda back into the Indian subcontinent. It was not for nothing that the Swami delivered his first lecture in the East, in Colombo, glorifying India. On January 16, 1897, he said, “Today, I stand here to say, with the conviction of truth, that it is so, that if there is any land on this earth that can lay claim to be the blessed punya bhumi, to be the land to which all souls on earth which is wending Godward must come to attain its last home, the land where humanity has attained its highest towards gentleness, towards generosity, towards purity, towards calmness, the land above all of introspection, and of spirituality, it is India”.

It is ironical that Tamil parties and organisations are pleading with the UPA Government to secure justice for Lankan Tamils. It is the same Government that had provided Sri Lanka with equipments, helicopters, surveillance mechanism and real time intelligence, which helped Colombo defeat the LTTE. Thousands of Tamil civilians were killed in the process, with full knowledge of the UPA Government. The Channel 4 documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields has left people in no doubt about the genocide. How can one expect this Government, which runs with the hares and hunts with the hounds, to do anything for the Tamils of Sri Lanka? It was India’s privilege to have found an Ananda Coomaraswamy, from Ceylon, during India’s struggle for freedom. He had given India’s freedom movement a philosophical base. But it is a pity that, at the gravest hour of their crisis, we could not provide an Ananda Coomaraswamy in return to the Tamils of Sri Lanka.

New Delhi

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