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Tamil refugee woman from Sri Lanka waits for news of her son.
Photo: Kate Geraghty

The Tamil community was left in a state of shock and despondency after the massacres of the IV Eelam War. Grief for the brutal murders but also for the defeat of their fight were and are the dominant thoughts of many amongst the diaspora. The big question is about the other side of the strait: everybody considers India the motherland, protector and guarantor of the rights of the Tamils. How could New Delhi abandon his sons? Surely there are divisions and frictions between the North and the South, but the idea that Indian eyes could watch such a carnage and remains impassive is almost unbearable.

The mistake from the Tamil side resides in considering themselves closer to India, just because Tamil Nadu is a part in the whole of the country. The central power in India has an imperialistic attitude towards its peripheral parts. From the far perspective of New Delhi, Sri Lanka is satellite of its dominion and Sinhalese are equally distant from the centre as the Tamils are. In the eyes of the rulers, a Sinhalese and a Tamil are subjects in the same measure.

In 2002 thousands of Muslims have been attacked in Gujarat. Death toll ranges in the hundreds.
PHOTO: AFP/FILE

Alongside the same mistake, the Tamils on the island invoke the protection for the minority. But India itself has more than one concern about the importance that you can give to the minority. The most direct correspondence is with the Muslims. They are integral part of the day to day life and yet their feeling and condition is ideologically separated by the main stream of the Hindus. The presence of the arch-enemy Pakistan as a guarantor of the rights of the Muslims, plays, under some respects, a similar role of Tamil Nadu for Sri Lanka: a sanctuary, a stronghold but also an avenger and an accomplices.

Pakistan’s politicians don’t officially back violence and destabilization in India, but only a naïve could think that behind many episodes of terrorism, you won’t find the long arm of IRS. Though many politicians in Tamil Nadu openly supported the underground operations of the Tigers.

Gujarat Riots against the Muslims 2002

How could New Delhi endorse publicly such intrusive behaviour in Sri Lanka, when is victim of the same tactics?

Moreover the Indian sentiment towards the Muslims is probably closer to the Sinhalese rather than the Tamils: a barely tolerated presence, proxies of destabilization and intimately stranger to the mainstream of the state. It is indicative the case of Narendra Modi, the charismatic Chief Minister of Gujarat and one of the leader of the right-wing, nationalistic BJP. His popularity is growing, he is a modernizer, he could be the man to lead finally India along a glorious path. The only issue is that this glorious path is clearly Hindu.

Sri Lanka riots against the Tamils, 1983

The rational follows this line: divisions in the country are slowing down the progress of the nation; to achieve a full, modern development, India must regroup. Implicitly, excluding the Muslims. In 2002 communal riots against the Islamic community, provoked hundrends of deaths1.

The issue is still controversial, propaganda both pro and against made all the picture just more complicated. The role of BJP members is not clear in details, let alone the one of Narendra Modi2. But the moral responsibilities of the carnage should be taken in to account regardless of criminal liabilities. Mr Modi speaks of modernization and development, but communal riots and massacres of members of the minority, hardly fit with a progressive society, based on education and merit.

I’m reluctant to be more drastic, because the future balance of power looks quite opaque to me. I’m not sure that dirigistic, authoritarian regime could not be the normal governance of future development. Maybe human rights, tolerance and inclusion are relics of the collapsing Western societies. On thing is sure: if you are a minority, don’t look at India for protection.

Chhattisgarh Police with Lathi. Adivasis community lament abuses from police and officers in Chhattisgarh.
courtesy Reuters

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Dambulla and Black July:Not just anti-terrorism against the LTTE

Muslim in Sri Lanka are quite a distinct case. Unlike Tamils and Sinhalese, they never made any claim of sovereignty in the island. But they found themselves harshly hit by the civil war. They suffered ethnic cleansing in the Norther Provinces by the LTTE and complete oblivion by the Sri Lankan government as refugees.

In Puttalam more than 100 000 people have been forgotten in refugee camps for 20 years. As recent as in 2009 the UNCHR (the United Nations agency for refugees), in partnership with Brandix Lanka were still struggling to deliver basic needs, like water and sanitation to them.

The Muslim in the Northern Provinces were Tamil speakers and lived in the region since hundreds of years. Their presence in modern times is old as the ones of Tamil or Sinhalese; yet they were considered stranger by the LTTE, on the main ground that they weren’t ‘real’ Tamils. If it was necessary, an evidence more of LTTE’s lack of democratic and inclusive conscience.

On the other side as well, Colombo showed its absolute disinterest for any other ethnic group outside the Sinhalese. During the IV Eelam War, Muslims parties have orbited around president Rajapaksa, on the ground that as a minority, it was better to cooperate rather than contest the majoritarian force of the central government. In the present coalition of government, Sri Lankan Muslims are present as ministers, but this compromise seems shor-lived.

The supremacist Sinhalese sentiment is growing stronger also against the Muslims. In April, radical Buddhists have tried to demolish the mosque of Dambulla. They fire-stormed the mosque and they threatened 70 others buildings of cult.

The monks involved in the protest claimed that they are just protecting Buddhism from encroachment, but everyone knows that all the other religions on the island are quite low-profile and don’t dare to contest the dominant position of the Buddhism. The minorities only try to survive in a climate of mistrust and oppression.

It is significative that the government is placidly turning its eyes somewhere else, when these cases of hatred and violence erupt. In a state where authoritarian rule is based on the iron-fist of the army, you may wonder how episodes of anarchy can take place. The reason is always the same: from the communal riots of ’58 and ’83, the government is implicitly backing up the racist-driven unrest.

All the the rhetoric of the Sri Lankan state is dedicated towards a unitarian entity, but in any possible occasion it is remarked that unity Sri Lanka is Sinhalese and Buddhist. Consequently all the other minorities should consider themselves as barely tolerated.

The reality in the island is an intense hatred of the minorities by the majority. Sometimes this underground sentiment surfaces and explodes in violence. But the government is far from trying to reign it. On the contrary it deliberately let the steam off as a measure of control and threaten of the minority.

The LTTE was responsible for heinous crime, but the war was not anti-terrorism. The Tigers desperately tried to resist a force of discrimination and oppression, a violent force with the secret intent of eliminating and wiping out all the outsiders of the Sinhalese mainstream.

Until Sri Lanka will come to terms of the diversity within itself, an underlying resentment of the other minorities will be kept alive for further challenges of this unjust authority.