Saturday, March 24, 2012

A friendly neighbour's betrayal

By Swapan Dasgupta

From the late-1980s till the end of the long civil war in 2009, travelling to Colombo was both a joyous and deeply depressing experience. The happiness came from the warmth and generous hospitality of the Sri Lankans, particularly the residents of Colombo-7 who opened their doors to a Bengali. Legend has it that that Vijaya, the first king of the Sinhalese, came by sea from Bengal.

But this welcome was always tempered by sadness. Many of those with whom I had struck an instant rapport were dead—killed by an assassin’s bullet or a bomb explosion. Their faces still haunt me: Lalith Athulathmudali, one of the most erudite and clever politicians I have encountered; Ranjan Wijeratne, the fiercely outspoken ex-planter; the soft-spoken Tamil constitutional lawyer Neelam Tiruchelvam; and the genial TULF leader A. Amirthalingam whose blood-splattered residence I visited just an hour after he was gunned down. Although Lalith’s murder remains an enduring mystery, the others were all killed by the most vicious terrorist organisations ever created: the LTTE.

Those who haven’t experienced Sri Lanka of those days will never fully comprehend the colossal tragedy of an idyllic island being transformed into the killing fields. Nor will they gauge the horrifying extent to which the LTTE transformed large numbers of a hitherto docile, industrious and peaceable community of Tamils into carbon copies of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. Under the one-party state envisaged by LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran, Tamils of the Northern and Eastern provinces had two choices: acquiescence or death. The LTTE didn’t merely kill prominent Sinhalas and Rajiv Gandhi: it eliminated almost every Tamil opposed to it and hounded the Tamil middle classes out of its barbaric Eelam and, indeed, out of Sri Lanka.

Life in South Asia is said to be cheap. The LTTE made it worthless in Sri Lanka. By the middle of the civil war, brutalisation had become the norm in the island that once symbolised serendipity. Tamils killed Tamils, Sinhalas killed Sinhalas, and they both killed each other with a staggering degree of recklessness. When the civil war erupted the Sri Lankan army was essentially a ceremonial force. By the time it dispensed with Prabhakaran’s Tigers in 2009, it had become a redoubtable fighting force.

Of course there was spectacular brutality in the last days of the civil war and civilian casualties were staggeringly high. But ask any IPKF veteran and you will know that the LTTE never distinguished between its fighters and ordinary women and children. Indeed, many of those women and children in civilian clothes turned out to be hardened LTTE fighters. The suicide bomber was the creation of the LTTE well before the Al Qaeda had become a global menace and so was the human shield behind which the Tigers operated.

This is not to justify the trigger-happiness of the Sri Lankan in the last days of the civil when a reported 40,000 civilians were killed. It is merely to indicate that there was a context to the viciousness of the war—as vicious as the last months of the war against Germany during World War II. The human rights lobby that secured the condemnation of Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Commission debate last Thursday cited civilised niceties and international law to pour scorn on a small country. They didn’t take into account that what happened in the summer of 2009 wasn’t military action against unarmed civilian demonstrators—as happened during the initial stages of the Syrian uprising—but an ugly war.

What is particularly galling is India’s effrontery in voting against Sri Lanka. If any country was secretly delighted and relieved that Colombo had finally put an end to the LTTE menace, it was India. India, after all, had nurtured the LTTE—one of Indira Gandhi’s most short-sighted and cynical moves—before realising that it had created a monster that was potentially capable of infecting Tamil Nadu with its poison. Yet, for the sake of his government’s survival, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meekly acquiesced in the condemnation of a country that had preserved itself against overwhelming odds.

India’s vote was a colossal betrayal of a country that is trying hard to forget the past and begin afresh. 

Sunday Times of India, March 25, 2012


Sam said...

Tamils often claim discrimination in Sri Lanka, however:

- Tamil is an official language of Sri Lanka, it appears on currency notes, stamps, coins, envelopes, government signboards (ie the government is paying for all this). All pronouncements on SriLankan Airlines, the national airline of Sri Lanka have to include Tamil.
- Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka is a majority Tamil-speaking city
- Tamils as an ethnic group are represented on the Sri Lankan flag (the only one to do so in the world)
- There are Tamil schools (funded by the Sri Lankan government), Tamil TV stations and Tamil radio stations (both government ones and private ones), Tamil cinemas, Tamil shops etc that are flourishing in the south of the country.
- Tamils can study in the Tamil medium all the way from kindergarten up to and including university (all government sponsored)
- There are many Tamil newspapers (government run and private), magazines,
- The government sponsors a "Tamil language day" while there is no "Sinhalese language day"
- The largest private media group in Sri Lanka is owned by a Tamil, and based in Southern Sri Lanka
- Tamil temples dot the island from Point Pedro to Dondra and are patronised by the Sinhalese as well who sometimes outnumber even the Tamil devotees.
- Thai Pongal, Maha Sivarathri, Tamil New Year, Deepavali (holy days for the Tamils) are national holidays sponsored by the government
- There are Saraswathi Poojas, Deepavali Poojas in Sri Lanka's parliament and government buildings, and sponsored by non-Tamil government ministers
- There are two government universities that are pretty much exclusively for Tamils while all the other universities are shared among Sinhalese/Tamils/Muslims/Burghers
- Tamils have their own political parties, which take part in elections and are free to voice their concerns in parliament - some are even a part of the current government (eg CWC, EPDP).
- Tamil politicians are free to speak only in Tamil in parliament (which they sometimes do)
- Most Tamils in Sri Lanka live outside the putative "Tamil Eelam" among the Sinhalese and the Muslims
- "Indian Tamils" in Sri Lanka have been king makers in many previous governments - meaning if their political party pulled out of the government the government would have collapsed. They have never complained of "genocide" and they have never protested against any "genocide" of the Tamil people. Their representatives are a part of the current Sri Lankan government.
- Tamil speaking Muslims have never complained of any "genocide"; their representatives are a part of the current Sri Lankan government.
- Tamil students from Jaffna and other so-called "disadvantaged" districts get into university with lower cut off scores (Z scores) than Sinhalese/Muslim students.
- Sri Lankan students in government schools today are mandated to learn the "other language" - ie Sinhalese students are taught Tamil and Tamil students are taught Sinhalese.
- Sinhalese government officers who can speak Tamil or learn Tamil are eligible for pay rises.

Rajesh said...

One Point, it is hard to understand that – Why TAMNILIANS are not RESPECTED and TAMIL NADU STATE is not “CONSIDERED” as an Integral part of India?

In today’s (25-Mar-2012) Times of India, there is an article by one Mr Swapan Dasgupta – a respected journalist in India – article titled, “A friendly neighbour's betrayal”.

He concludes the article by saying that India (Congress-led union Government) voted against Sri Lanka on the UNHRC’s resolution to save its chair in Delhi (your “INVENTION” IS CORRECT, Mr Dasgupta) and in the process betrayed a friendly neighbor.

But does Mr Gupta understand / know the pain of Sri Lankan Tamils (for decades together) and explain the following Questions?

1. Does he know the atrocities that our Indian Army (infamous Indian Peace Keeping Force - IPKF) unleashed in Tamil’s Areas in Sri Lanka in the name of SEARCH for LTTE – raping girls / women – forcibly seizing valuables, etc…etc…..?
2. Is he aware that how Tamilians were / are TREATED in Sri Lanka by the Sinhalese and supported by Buddhists Monks (what would Buddha think about the Monks, Sinhalese, Mr Gupta and people like him here in India and world-wide?
3. Sri Lanka continues to kill TAMIL NADU fishermen and destroy their fishing boats – happens at the International Border / Waters - why Indian Government does not take action?
4. What did India to solve the ethnic issue of TAMILIANS in Sri Lanka?
5. Why Sri Lanka is moving more closely with China and Pakistan – whereas receiving military / intelligence support from India to root out LTTE and what India does for that?
6. India “CREATED” Bangladesh….whereas it does not want to maintain GOOD TERMS with India – why?

The ANSWER for the first 3 QUESTIONS is that, “TAMILIANS are and TAMIL NADU state is not respected and recognized as integral part of India (I do not know the reason for that – anybody can brief on this). The same feelings are there in South East (SE) states of India – do “WE” really consider them as Indians? We live a “FAKE LIFE”, Mr Gupta, in the name of FEDERALISM.

And ANSWER for the last 3 QUESTIONS is that, “India has stopped to TAKE “CORRECT STAND” on ISSUES related to International Community” – hence country recognizes India as a serious player in the International scene.

Few BOLD steps that India took, in the past, at International level are:

• Non-aligned movement
• Tibet Issue (India started recognizing Tibet’s cause, may be in Nehru’s tenure)
• Nurturing LTTE (Indira Gandhi and MGR supported / developed LTTE openly)
• Bangladesh CREATION from Pakistan, to name the few…..

Times of India writes that “Chennai splits India from Asia” – and same reflection now from this “respected” journalist.

I strongly believe that a situation might arise here too that TAMIL NADU’s TAMILIANS might face a situation as Sri Lankan TAMILIANS do there in Sri Lanka………

It is easier for GUPTAs and TIMES OF INDIAs… write (THINK) boldly (without shame, neglecting the realities – in the name of journalism) such WORDS against a community that is from an Indian Federal State – because, back in Tamil Nadu, we have KARUNANIDHIs, JAYALALITHAAs, RAMADOSSs, THIRUMAVALAVANs, Tamil Nadu Congress Leaders, etc…etc…..who BETRAY TAMILIANS and “massage” the feet of Delhi Politicians for self benefit…….

Seriously, it is TIME for TAMILIANS to start THINKING on this EVOLUTION and make the GUPTAs and TIMES OF INDIAs (in India) understand that TAMILIANS and TAMIL NADU are integral part of INDIA – and TAMILIANS in Sri Lanka are of the same race of the TAMILIANS in the Indian STATE of TAMIL NADU.

We Indians must first “RESPECT and RECOGNISE”, ourselves…………..else, GUPTAs and TIMES OF INDIAs would ensure that INDIA goes into PIECES…………

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how something like "there was a context to the viciousness of the war" and "ugly war" justifies the killing fields in Sri Lanka. Why Mr. Swapan took the position of betraying his own country? What India did was fantastically right thing. The atrocities conducted by Lankan military forces are heinous and accountable, and accountable duly not at their ease and comfort. Can Mr Swapan Gupta explain on what account Rassia and China voted for Lanka? Because they did not want one country to move a resolution like this against other country, but not in support of Lankan arrogance and war crimes. No human being can stand the kind of war crimes that Lankans committed to. But India is not such a shameless country not to question about it. And moreover, the people being killed, raped, persecuted were/are belong to Indian origins. India did the right thing in right way more respectable way. It help preotected the respect of a sovereign state. I agree LTTE committed heinous crimes too, killing and recruiting women and children into fighting cadres. But, that is a headless mob, group, not bound by ethics of government, state and people. That was a terrorist outfit. If you think a respectable countrie's army also should fall down to the standards of terrorist outfit, I only can pity on you, Mr. Swapan.

Anonymous said...

I think same logic should have been applied to B'ladesh (Swapan das Gupta Bangla!) by India.

Why swapandas gupta leave for srilanka if it is such a great country!

Nalliah said...

Many arguments can be made against India's decision to vote against its neighbour Sri Lanka in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, a decision highly questionable from the foreign policy point of view. India's domestic compulsions seem to have outweighed foreign policy considerations in this case. India and the West have been at odds on how best to address the issue of human rights internationally. India shares the view that the West uses the issue to embarrass, destabilise or topple politically uncongenial governments. During the Cold War the Soviet Union was successfully destabilised through the human rights basket of the Helsinki Accords. Cuba has been a favourite target year after year.
After the Cold War ended many countries have come under the West's scanner on human rights issues, ranging from Libya, Iraq and erstwhile Yugoslavia to Iran, China and Russia. Belarus is under pressure on this count and so is Syria.
India, until recently, has been under stress too. With improved India-US ties the US government now disregards periodic reports from international human rights organisations on India's alleged human rights infringements in Jammu & Kashmir in particular, but the issue has not disappeared.
Because the West uses the issue of human rights selectively, targeting adversaries and protecting allies, India has taken a principled position all these years at Geneva to oppose or abstain on human rights resolutions against individual countries in the Human Rights Commission and its re-incarnation under US pressure as the Human Rights Council.
India has not believed in this name and shame game played for cynical ends by powerful countries who claim the high moral ground on humanitarian issues, but whose own international actions, often hugely costly in human terms, are shielded from any formal censure because of their dominant position. India also believes that the principle of sovereignty of states and non-interference in their internal affairs should be respected.
While India shares the values of democracy, pluralism and human freedoms with the West, it differs with it on the degree of activism to spread these values world-wide.
In India's thinking, promotion of values should not be a cover for an aggressive promotion of self-interest. India does not want to be in the business of shaping the global order according to the values it espouses as a country, as that entails passing judgments on how countries run their internal affairs and assuming burdens on behalf of the citizens of a foreign country that rightly fall within the purview of national governments.
In the case of the vote on Sri Lanka, irrespective of the reality of the human rights situation there, India has departed from its principled position on these matters.
The irony is that in the past India has stood on the side, explicitly or implicitly, of China, Sudan, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Turkmenistan, North Korea, Iran, Syria and so on by voting against or abstaining on resolutions.

Are these countries closer to India than Sri Lanka? If India had to move from principle to pragmatism on human rights issues, should India has begun with Sri Lanka, where bilateral sensitivities are far more acute than in any other case?
Once India drift from its moorings of principle at Geneva, India will not be able to escape taking up positions on human rights issues involving specific countries. Tomorrow how will India justify not voting against Iran, or for that matter China?
And, if for delicate political reasons India does not want to rock its relations with these countries by joining others in indicting them how will India justify in retrospect its vote against Sri Lanka?

Nalliah said...

In voting against Sri Lanka on a western sponsored resolution, has India now concluded that the West's treatment of human rights issues has become universally acceptable and even-handed in its treatment of friends and adversaries?
India's vote against Sri Lanka in a multilateral forum should have followed a public hardening of posture bilaterally with its neighbour. India should have appeared to have exhausted bilateral diplomacy before joining the West at Geneva to summon Sri Lanka to assume its human rights responsibilities towards its own population.
India has, however, maintained an intensive dialogue with Sri Lanka on the Tamil speaking Sri Lankans question and is undertaking rehabilitation and reconstruction operations in the North. India has not given any impression of a diplomatic impasse with Sri Lanka even as India has continued to press it to discard triumphalist thinking and move forward on reconciliation and devolution.
That India amended the US/EU sponsored resolution to make it less intrusive, more balanced and more respectful of Sri Lankan sovereignty is not sufficient justification for joining with distant powers to pick on Sri Lanka at Geneva. India should be in control of its relationship with Sri Lanka instead of following the lead of others or seeking to achieve India's own political ends through them.
Those in India advocating that India should have taken the lead at Geneva to move against Sri Lanka are implicitly endorsing the manipulative dimension of western human rights policies, while forgetting that this instrument has been used against India in the past and can be in the future.
Those who argue that in censuring Sri Lanka India has shown its readiness to act as a responsible power subscribe to demeaning criticism of India in western circles as well as the fiction that western policies are inherently responsible.
While democracies have to be sensitive to public opinion, should India's foreign policy be held hostage to coalition politics? Should individual states be allowed to dictate to the Centre foreign policy decisions whose implications go beyond immediate domestic political equations?
India's foreign policy risks becoming erratic and capricious if domestic pulls become overly influential in shaping its direction.