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.
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.