Sadanand Menon: Who speaks on behalf of Lanka’s Tamils?
[I am posting below an article by Sadanand Menon on Lanka’s Tamils and recent political developments in India. Sadanand Menon’s solidarity for Lankan Tamils also reflects the principled and committed journalism that is so much need for and on Lanka. The suffering of people living in the Vanni in northern Sri Lanka is of utmost concern at the moment. Their humanitarian needs have to be met and that requires international concern and support. However, just as the Norwegian Peace Process silenced the politics and presence of the Muslims and Up-Country Tamils (Tamils of Indian Origin) in the interest of simplifying the problem in Sri Lanka as one between Sinhalese and Tamils, the current wave of concern in Tamil Nadu at a time of war should not further entrench the ethnicisation of the conflict. Solidarity from India should be for all the oppressed peoples of Lanka, and should not become an opportunistic game for Tamil chauvinism. This is where conflating the Tamils with the LTTE (the self proclaimed sole-representatives of the Tamils) continues to have a disastrous impact. The ruling regime in Sri Lanka has given Sinhala Buddhist nationalism centre stage and marginalized the political process to address the grievances and aspirations of all the minority communities (Lankan Tamils, Muslims and Up-Country Tamils). As Sadanand Menon says support for a “genuinely democratic political process”, should be the basis for solidarity. – Ahilan Kadirgamar]
Sadanand Menon: Who speaks on behalf of Lanka’s Tamils?
The LTTE, by all accounts, seems to have been lassoed. The dreaded militant outfit fighting for an independent Tamil state within Sri Lanka, is said to be engaged in a last ditch battle from its encircled base in the Vanni region in Jaffna. The Lankan army claims to be a couple of kilometres short of the LTTE’s administrative headquarters in Kilinochchi.
Reporters who have covered the decades-old nationality struggle in the island know that, in Jaffna, being a ‘couple of kilometres’ away really means nothing. The LTTE is the world’s deadliest deployer of World War-II vintage Claymore mines. Almost twenty years ago, the commander of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka, Lt Gen Harkirat Singh, had told reporters that after a 48-hour gun-battle, the IPKF would succeed in flushing a building across the road which had been occupied by LTTE snipers, but that to cross the road and occupy the building could take up to a week or more, as they would have mined every square inch of access to the building.
So the din in Tamil Nadu the past days by political parties, many known to be fronts for the LTTE, for Indian intervention in Sri Lanka to prevent the “genocidal attack on the Tamil race” seem orchestrated by an invisible agency. The Centre has been served two-week’s notice to ensure a ceasefire on the island, failing which the all-party meeting chaired by Chief Minister Karunanidhi on October 14, has threatened that all 39 Lok Sabha MPs from the state would resign their seats.
For at least a quarter of a century, crocodile tears over the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils has irrigated political arterial wells in Tamil Nadu and given heroic legitimacy to a section of its leaders who, otherwise, have no other constituency. MDMK’s Vaiko has, for long, built his political fortune in the name of speaking on behalf of Lanka’s Tamils. That he simultaneously bats for a ruthless and near-fascist organisation like the banned LTTE has not disturbed anyone in particular, as he continues to forge opportunist alliances with more mainstream parties.
So too are the dubious claims to ‘Tamil interest’ expressed by one of the most undemocratic formations in Tamil politics is recent times, the PMK of Anbumani Ramadoss. Through the past twenty years of its growth, it has only exhibited caste sectarianism of the worst kind, so as to disqualify it from ever being able to speak on behalf of ‘Tamils’ as a whole.
One has not come across any of these parties pleading the cause of a genuinely democratic political process in Sri Lanka, especially among the Tamils, which they consider their own undifferentiated constituency. Never once has the brutally militarist and supremacist ideology of the LTTE been questioned. The parties in Tamil Nadu have only obediently echoed what the master ventriloquist across the Palk Strait has made them repeat.
While there can be no two opinions that Sri Lanka is today some sort of a rogue state and should be restrained from assaulting unarmed Tamil civilians, I am personally unable to categorise the move of the parties in Tamil Nadu, and the claims on behalf of Lankan Tamils, as anything but hypocritical, as I have been witness to one of the cruellest chapters in this saga which saw the marginalising, pauperisation and death of the almost 750,000 repatriates (people of Indian origin) from Sri Lanka during the ’70s and the ’80s.
In two phases, under the Shastri-Sirimavo Pact of 1964 and the Indira-Sirimavo Pact of 1974, three-quarter of a million ‘stateless people’ of Sri Lanka — the descendents of the 19th and early 20th century indentured labourers to the tea plantations — were lock-stock-and barrel repatriated to Tamil Nadu in one of the most infamous instances of human engineering in recent times.
The reception they had from fellow-Tamils was less than human. It has been documented that they were rapidly dispossessed of their meagre belongings. A few found ‘jobs’ in the exploitative special ‘rehabilitation’ schemes created by the state government. A conservative estimate by a fact-finding team surmised that at least 25% died within the first three years of landing in India, of starvation.
It is a memory that cannot be erased. The claims now by Tamil Nadu’s parties on behalf of Lankan Tamils, rings hollow.