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. 








17 thoughts on “Sadanand Menon: Who speaks on behalf of Lanka’s Tamils?”

  1. Wonder how Ahilan Kadirgamar imagines, at this juncture, that Menon is speaking for democracy for Eelam Tamils. Menon’s piece is part of the same script that The Hindu has to offer. Please see the recent article by Malini Parthasarathy in The Hindu. The Dangers of Tamil Chauvinism . Menon partakes of the same logic as Parthasarathy. This and the subsequent stand of The Hindu led to protests in Tamil Nadu, especially Erode. Remember that N.Ram, editor-in-chief of The Hindu has been feted by the Bharat Rathna equivalent by the Sinhala governement of Kumaratunga — “Sri Lanka Ratna”. Ram/The Hindu’s position on Eelam is the same as the paper’s on Tibet. Menon seems to think no differently.

    It is not that the LTTE is an upholder of democracy; far from it. The LTTE has notoriously bumped off all dissenters. Someone like novelist Shobasakthi in his short novel Gorilla (translation published by Random House earlier this year) tells us how bad the LTTE can rally be. But Shobasakthi also equally condemns the Sinhala fascist Sri Lankan state which created the criris in the first place. However, when the likes of Malini and Sadanand (or Ram) routinely preface their description of LTTE with adjectives like “fascist, chauvinist, deadly terrorist organisation”, the killer of Rajiv Gandhi etc, it is made to seem that all those who even express concern over the fate of Tamils are fools. True, the repatriated Tamils from the estates were shoddily treated. Refugees live in subhuman camps. But that does not mean the Sri Lankan state’s blatant attempt at genocide goes uncommented upon.

    For a strong rebuttal of Parthasarathy’s and by extension Menon’s attempts to bolster the hands of the Indian and Sri Lankan states, see this in . Malini’s position is very similar to Praveen Swami’s position on Kashmir. The role of the Indian state in Lanka, even after the IPKF disaster, is rarely discussed by Parthasarthy or Menon. Tamil Nation throws light on that.

    For a counter-position, see today’s Times of India piece by MSS Pandian (“Change course in Lanka”) which, however meekly, submits a contrarian position.


  2. I sometimes despair that there might never be a way of escaping the polarization that deadens political debate. Time after time, politically engaged voices get locked into one of two “positions”, and the ensuing conversation resolutely erases the possibility of any alternative way of rethinking and repositioning the issue. I’m here concerned only with debates within a field that is already broadly left-ish, secular, pro-democracy and so on – that is, with voices essentially on the same side of a larger debate.

    Now, it seems to me that Ahilan, Sadanand, Ulaga Tamizhan and Pandian are actually on the “same” side, while the two hardened opposite positions are that of Indian statist Malini P and N Ram on the one hand and LTTE statist political parties of Tamil Nadu on the other. These two hardened positions are both statist in different ways, and display contempt for actual “people” as opposed to the people of the Nation they ritually invoke.

    But the other four named above, I think, are all struggling to evolve a vocabulary and a politics that escapes Nation and State, and instead engages painfully with the complexities, messiness and ethical responsibility that actually functioning democracy forces on us.

    Given this, I think Ulaga Tamizhan is mistaken in conflating N Ram and Malini P with Sadanand. I really don’t see irreconcilable differences between what Sadanand argues and UT’s own position as expressed in his comment. Nor is Pandian’s piece, condemning GOSL’s militaristic strategy and referring to popular anti-Indian State sentiment in Tamil Nadu, a contradiction of Sadanand’s position. All three and Ahilan, in fact, I would say, share the same concerns – suspicion of the Nation-State in whatever guise and an openness to engaging with whatever a “genuinely open democratic process” (in Sadanand’s words) can bring.

    UT, I apologize for interpellating you in this fashion, but I truly believe a more productive debate would emerge if you addressed people like SM and Ahilan in an idiom that showed an awareness of what you share.
    For instance, you say

    “However, when the likes of Malini and Sadanand (or Ram) routinely preface their description of LTTE with adjectives like “fascist, chauvinist, deadly terrorist organisation”, the killer of Rajiv Gandhi etc, it is made to seem that all those who even express concern over the fate of Tamils are fools. True, the repatriated Tamils from the estates were shoddily treated. Refugees live in subhuman camps. But that does not mean the Sri Lankan state’s blatant attempt at genocide goes uncommented upon.”

    Now, Sadanand ‘s piece does not belong in that company. In this piece at least, his criticism of LTTE is not for the assassination of RG but for being “near-fascist”. Your own assessment of the LTTE is not very different:

    It is not that the LTTE is an upholder of democracy; far from it. The LTTE has notoriously bumped off all dissenters.

    He is critical (as you are yourself) of the hell that faced Tamils sent back to India, but his critique is directed at the hypocrisy of specific, named, political parties, not (as you put it) of “all those who express concern over the fate of Tamils”. He is also utterly scathing about the Sri Lankan state –

    “…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 dont see what is to be gained by so polarizing a debate that only the Malini’s and the Ram’s remain visible, and it seems you can escape from one nation-state only to fall into the stranglehold of another.


  3. Nivedita Menon cautions me against dividing people into slots/camps, and asks me to see nuances in various positions. Thank you. First, let’s see if Malini and Sadanand are indeed that different.

    This is Malini P:

    “These parties have launched a campaign in the State ostensibly to express solidarity with the Sri Lankan Tamils trapped in the war zone in northern Sri Lanka but the timing of this campaign which appears to have materialised overnight, is a dead giveaway. The Sri Lankan army, just two kilometres away from the LTTE’s administrative capital, Kilinochchi, has successfully encircled the Tigers and their leader who are virtually trapped in their bunkers.”

    This is Sadanand M:

    “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.”

    “Encircled” says Malini, “lassoed” says Sadanand with more glee which he cannot seem to hide (and merely laments the fact that 2 km can mean many days/months in a war zone). He can’t perhaps wait to see Pirabaharan “lassoed”. It is the same glee the western media had in hunting down Saddam Hussein. The difference between Malini and Sadanand is that Sadanand, having been a reporter two decades, seems to have had firsthand interaction with IPKF commanders like Lt Gen Harkirat Singh, whom he recalls with unqualified fondness and nonchalance. He seems concerned about World War 2 era claymore mines the LTTE deploys. He does not mention the advance technology that the Indian state has supplied and been supplying to the Lankan military primarily to pulp civilian Tamils besides attack the LTTE. He is not concerned about the role of the Indian army, navy and intelligence in abetting the genocide against Tamils. Just one link should suffice to let Kafila readers know the role of India in this war:
    Indian Commander visits SLA’s Vavuniya frontline:

    I suppose this is also not the time to discuss the crimes of the IPKF, an intervention that was dreadful and meant horror for Tamils. But note that the IPKF, known among Eelam Tamils as Indian or Innocent People Killing Force, is never introduced (by Sadanand or Malini) with a series of adjectives like ‘dreaded’ and ‘bloodthirsty’. The IPKF was an occupation army like the Indian Army is in Kashmir. A mass grave of Tamils in Killinochchi is like a mass grave of Kashmiri Muslims in Srinagar. See this:

    And like the US bombed hospitals and civilian areas in Afghanistan, so does like the SL Army. See this:
    SL Army bombs Killinochchi hospital:

    I would caution Nivedita against slotting Pandian with Sadanand on this issue… Pandian’s position is indeed nuanced and refreshing, given the kind of stories the Indian media in general likes to publish.

    I cannot understand how Nivedita glibly comes to a conclusion such as this: “Ahilan, Sadanand, Ulaga Tamizhan and Pandian are actually on the “same” side”! How convenient. Let’s see what Ahilan’s position on US intervention in the Sri Lanka-Eelam issue is, following SP Tamilsevan’s assassination by the LTTE.

    AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel the US has a role in this?

    AHILAN KADIRGAMAR: The US, along with the international community, has a role, in that the peace process in Sri Lanka is much internationalized. The Sri Lankan situation is very much internationalized. And what we’ve called for is principal engagement from the international community, including the US. And by “principal engagement,” we mean that any progress should address human rights and a democratic political solution.

    For the latest on US’s position on Lanka, see:

    Here, Ahilan is inviting an imperialist power like the US to intervene in Lanka! And the US will bring democracy in Lanka and Eelam? I can speak for myself: I would never support this. (I can’t speak for Pandian or Sadanand or Ram and Malini.)

    It is one thing to be critical of LTTE (and as Nivedita acknowledges, I am strongly critical) but quite another to see a role for the US in every problem in the world. Have there been ‘peaceful independence movements’ after the 1970s, after the rise of US imperialism? What are the factors that led to the creation of an armed and dangerous entity like the LTTE? Why was the Left-oriented, progressive JVP snuffed out? What was the role of the SL govt and the Indian state in all this? What’s the role of RAW? Why was LTTE cadre trained in India first and why was IPKF sent to kill us and rape Tamils in Eelam?

    The fact is LTTE-bashing is often used to bash Tamils. There is a war on, and Malini P, N Ram and Menon can only talk of the hypocrisy of small-time politicians in Tamil Nadu. While hundred of Tamils are being killed, journalists are talking of how Karunanidhi and others have been whipping Tamil chauvinism with elections in mind; the fact is no Tamil politician or party, inlcuding Vaiko, has contested elections on the Eelam issue. Yes, they are hypocrites and one does not expect much from them. But it is the hypocrisy of a Sadanand which is disappointing. Even the Malini/Ram position is understandable–that’s been The Hindu’s policy anyway. The Brahmins who run the The Hindu hardly see themselves as even Tamil; in fact they revel in their anti-Tamil/ anti-nonbrahmin positions.


  4. I would like to be clear on what I said on Democracy Now, I never called for US “intervention” or “intervention” by any country including India in Lanka. As evident from the transcript of that interview, I call for principled (the transcript mistypes it as “principal”) engagement by the international community, that includes the entire international community not just the US or India, on the issues of human rights and a political solution. There is a clear distinction between “engagement” which includes political pressure, debates on the situation, etc and that of military “intervention”. I continue to believe we have no choice but to look for engagement from multi-lateral institutions such as the UN, particularly from UN bodies such as the UN Human Rights Council as I have mentioned elsewhere. What I would be concerned about is the disengagement by the international community on the issues of human rights and a political solution – that would be a disaster in Sri Lanka. The ways in which the international community engaged with the peace process from 2002 onwards made a mess of the situation in Sri Lanka (I have discussed this in two long articles in EPW), but that does not mean they can just walk away now. On the urgent issue of the humanitarian concerns in the Vanni, there indeed needs to be much more engagement from the international community, particularly the UN. So yes, principled engagement (not engagement for political games or regional interests of big powers) on the question of a political solution and human rights of minorities with the Government on Sri Lanka.


  5. I am no expert on Sri Lanka at all, and so these posts and the ensuing debates/discussions are a real education in that sense :)

    I just want to address the issue you raise, that of international intervention Ulaga. You rightly point out that we must be extremely critical and wary of the US’s international interventionist role, and the hollow rhetoric of democracy that accompanies its imperialist expansionist agenda.

    There has also been, in the last twenty years, a sort of positivist re-working of just war theory in which international military intervention has been sought to be justified by “liberal” theorists. Micheal Walzer is one such prominent voice. I am extremely wary of such moves precisely because in the garb of internationalism and a universalizing discourse of democracy they support armed intervention by America. And I would therefore take seriously your caution.

    However we need to make a distinction between this, and what Ahilan is speaking of. As Ahilan points out, being sufficiently critical and wary of the forms of international intervention is not the same as being opposed to international engagement per say. Because too often the rhetoric of national sovereignty is used by the state to pursue its own against “its” people. We can see the hysteria with which the entire political spectrum reacts every time there is a suggestion from any quarter that there be international monitoring in Kashmir. The assumption is that “these are our people” and so their destinies are no one’s business but the national state’s. Surely you would not support such a position either…I think this is what Nivedita meant when she drew an analogy between yours, Ahilan’s and Pandian’s positions as all attempting to forge positions which work outside a statist framework.


  6. Have been following this debate with interest. I would like to post an excerpt here from an EPW editorial which, almost endording Ulaga Tamizhan’s position, tells us why the pressure tactics adopted by the entire cross-section of TN’s politicians are not really to be looked down upon as easily as Sadanand (surprisingly) and Malini (unsurprisingly) do. I quote from the EPW edit:

    “The threat of the members of Tamil Nadu to resign from Parliament should not be interpreted as merely a chauvinist response to the fact that the LTTE is on the verge of a military defeat. The LTTE has been isolated internationally for its many acts of indiscriminate violence and its failure to be serious about a peaceful settlement, but the Sri Lankan government for its own part has shown its chauvinist face in the events following the end of a lame-duck ceasefire two years ago. For all its rhetoric of building an inclusive Sri Lanka after defeating the LTTE, the Lankan government today hardly pays even lip service to the idea of a multi-ethnic society. The ruling political class openly talks of a “Sinhala” country and the military, given a free hand by the government, has been making unacceptable political statements about the minorities having no right to an equal status. The government, in a mood of triumphalism, has shown an increasingly intolerant face: it has prevented media access to the war-affected areas, sent humanitarian agencies out of the Wanni and rejected all international criticism of military excesses.”

    the full edit can be viewed here:


  7. they are the tigers are now facing the absence of intellectual leadership.they have to develop a special kind of deplomacy in capitalist sense,strategy and tactics in marxist sense.


  8. Ulaga Tamizhan – you lump together a number of very different positions in your posts, concluding with a heroic sally that attempts to link Brahminism, criticism of the LTTE and anti-nationalism. Nuance is not the forte of those who believe in nationalist and identity politics. Frankly, your post reminds me of those right-wing Hindu nationalist rants that characterise everyone who disagrees as eager to invite foreigners to invade/ bomb/convert the country.

    I did not in any way read Sadanand’s or Ahilan’s post as inviting an American invasion or supporting the IPKF. The LTTE’s militarism did not originate with the IPKF, ghastly though the IPKF was. And the marginalization of a large section of Tamils by the LTTE has more to do with the constitution and leadership of the LTTE, than with Sinhala nationalism.

    As for the idea that because “there is a war on”, nobody should criticize the LTTE, that’s a scary suggestion – and it reminds me of the very fascist cries of “unpatriotic” that war-mongering Americans hurled at those who didn’t support the Iraq war.


  9. Dear Sada nand Menon.I can understand you are a hindu whose hearts is bleeding for terrorist organisation did not mentioned who had created the LTTE and Why.LTTE was created by RAW and given training and arms supply.before Rajeev era ,LTTE was supported by centre government and RAW and when same LTTE monster had killed Rajeev Gandhi then moves shifted to State government of Tamil Naidu.LTTE is same like Taliban who was supported by Pakistan and now they bcame dangerous to Pakistan.why some body will destroy the peace loving Sri lankan people and their country.time has come Indian governmet and taminaidu government should stop playing the lives of Srl lankan people and give helping hand to wipe out the LTTE from Sri Lankan Soil.It is shame on Tamilnaidu government that they are giving support to LTTE.Long live srilanka and their Buddhist religion.


  10. Actually Kureela, Sadanand Menon’s entire post is extremely critical of the LTTE. For example he refers to the “the brutally militarist and supremacist ideology of the LTTE”. (In fact the following comments attack him precisely for this critique)
    It seems you did not read the post at all, but made certain assumptions based on SM’s “Hindu” name. This kind of unthought aggression based on ready-made assumptions does not foster either debate or thinking.


  11. Sadanand menon echoes the same “secular” ethos which finds its political base in the anti-nonbrahmin position in Tamil politics, Malini and Ram being its exponents. The violence of Sinhales nationalism on Lankan Tamilians cannot be justified abd corroborated by that commttd of the ‘near fascist’ LTTE forces within its domain of power. Sadanand seems to be more worried about Tamil politics than Lankan Tamils. His secular credentials find faults only in the ‘caste sectarianism’ of PMK and prefer to remain silent on how the issue of caste has been masked by the violence of grand narratives of nationalism in Indian context. I don’t want to get into that debate now. But, the anxieties of both sadanand, malini and ram seems to that of the “commensensically secular Indian” (read Brahminical/caste Hindu) and therefore statist to the core. MSS Pandian and the EPW editorial cited by anand, has pointed out the political risk of ‘homogenisations’ whether it be in Sri Lanka or India. LTTE may be hinduised and fascist (as shobhasakti writes in his novel), the Tamil politics may be hypocritical, but even a dissident voice in support of the rights of minority Lankan Tamils to get equal status and citizenship from an undemocratic Sinhalese Lankan state should be supported vehemently.


  12. Dear Ranju Radha,
    Can you please elaborate on what kind of politics you consider progressive. You seem to accuse everyone as being casteist and brahamanical…… opposed to the grand narrative what kind of particular narrative do you propose. Please elaborate…..


  13. i must add to what i wrote.
    the points raised by sadanand menon stands valid, though i may not agree with its politcs completely. he does mention the rogue Lankan state and hypocritical tamil state in dealing with lankan tamils (i may be wrong to doubt his concerns).. i must stop here by saying that from the terrains of political/ideological differences, support for minority Lankan Tamils should emerge and put pressure on the Sinhalese Lankan state


  14. @HNO
    I am just pointing out the visible terrains of national imagination. it s not accusing anyone. for eg, if someone points out the operation of caste patriarchy in my ways of living, i consider it not as a personal accusation, rather how systemic streamlining and placng of indls in the power structure make me act in a particular way at a particular soci0-cultural context and historical juncture. For me, a politcs that resist it could only take me forward socially/culturally/politically.


  15. Dear Menon, What SM said that seven hundred fifty thousand tamilian srilankan were dead as refugee in India which is totally wrong.SM did not go to real culprit of Sri lankan crisis who were behind the ethenic problem in Srilanka.I met few srilankan muslims and christians fellow and got the the real picture of Srilankan governmet.If hindu led governmet at centre and Dravidian government at state would have not interfered with Sri lanka then sri lanka would have been top most country in Asia.Why Hindu itellectuals donot tell their fellow Indian about who are behind the Tamil conflict. In 1983 ,DMK leader M.Karunanidhi had resigned from assembly on protest on plight of srilanlankan tamils and Late M.G>Ramchandran said he is not going to field any candidates on that assembly segment even he thretend to march to the srilanka .LTTE was and now also supported by DMK ,DK(Veramani),MDMK(VAIKO),PMK. S.Ramdos).Sri Lankan government is always very kind to LTTE and their people because Buddhist religion does not give permission to kill the innocent people.LTTE is either banned or kept under watch from 30 counties ,but in Sri Lanka ,LTTE is not ban organisation.LTTE<TULF<TELO<EPRLF<VCPI ,these all fonts were supported by both MG Ramchandran and Karunanidhi.time has come hindu led governmet at the centre and state should help the Sri lankan governmet to wipe out the LTTE from Srilankan soil and SM should tell the real story of Tamil people in Srilanka. Only i know that what ever boms or mines were used by LTTE and other terrorist organisation in srilanka were manufactured at Delhi or at Tamilnaidu dear
    Menon,wheter you agree or not.



    Monday, May 18, 2009
    The Sreelankan Tamil Revolt: At Cross Roads

    Human society is a flux. Religious identities, linguistic identities, ethnic identities, regional and national identities all matter at some levels and diffuse at other levels. Often there are areas where these over lap and the self interests of each group get defined at that particular point. Contradictions galore when history is viewed. Perceived interests of one group and their actual realization can be seen to defy all logic. A villager may fight for village rights with another village, fight for his community interests within the village, may fight together for their regional interests visa a vis another region. When the Iraqis were attacked by Americans many people who thought that the Muslim world shall feel offended were for a rude shock, the deeper Shia – Sunni difference within became more decisive than the larger Muslim identity, where many Muslims were seen to rejoice at the US bombing reports. The values assigned can at best be random, for a limited period. The Bengali’s strong linguistic identity got blurred when the Indo- Pak division came and Islam became more powerful as a binding force. The end result there is debatable now is a different question. India, a British colony, fought for the oppressors, the British, in the World War.

    It is in this context that the story of violent revolt by the Sreelankan Tamils has to be understood. Only a leadership that realizes this can take decisions for a people. Here a group of armed people were taking on a state. Beyond the honor for honor sake it was a futile exercise, just by virtue of the enormous resources at the command of a nation state. Armed forces, huge organizational structure, media reach, international relations, all that a nation state commands cannot be challenged except by a similar force. Howsoever small that state is. In this when national interests fuse with plain chauvinism it becomes nasty. Parochial Budhist clergy getting recruited to Sreelankan armed forces meant just that. Strategy demanded that the Tamil leadership generate national and international sensitivity to what they consider an injustice. Or ally with equally powerful forces. This they did initially but later events negated all that. The ‘freedom fighters’ were soon ‘terrorists’. International community agrees to even taking to an amount of violence, if that is felt inevitable. Armed conflicts and wars are part of human history, but discretion demands that violence is given up at some point of time. Other options tried.

    Even when the socio-cultural identities are ephemeral there are occasions when these have to be asserted. In a collective where the competition for resources pit one against the other there is a role for this. How protest movements and liberation struggles come and go. But the strategy has to change with time once the issue is raised, where the issue is highlighted, another strategy may be needed. There are no perennial enemies and no perennial friends. Old people go and new people come. Only those who get blinded by a certain kind of stagnant thinking shall fall in to the belief that there is only one point of view. Common sense tells that there are many angles for looking at every phenomena, society and history. The interplay is in a continuous change. No one can arrogate to think that the transient processes can be defined as static. Many groups that resort to long term violence get trapped in this mind set. Initiating struggles and giving up are both crucial.

    Not going in to what triggered the tragedy in Sreelanka, which is too complex, the human tragedy that unfolded there was enormous. The unending news of mutual killings from the island was pouring in for long, to top it was the macabre scenes of children in battle gear. Whether by own choosing or by compulsion, from a people who were subject to a state driven pogrom, this was one of the most painful scenes of contemporary world. What resulted in both parties in the conflict hardening their stands. Bringing in a chain of mutual annihilation, at the heart of heart it was an urge to self sacrifice from the Tamil people. But in a world that has come to be cruel and cold such acts cannot make much headway. Except when the opposing parties have fundamental human values, Gandhiji’s doing Stayagraha worked with the British since they had a sense of values, there was a practical strategy of give and take. The island people Sinhalese are of another kind.

    For some reason the nobler values were not there in the Budhist Sreelankans, or this dried up after a phase of mutual killings. That the Tamil population in Sreelanka, who did well till the British left, where an illustrious group in ancient history, had to eventually drift to this pathos is a cruel joke of history. But the underlying reasons that drove the Sreelankan Tamils to this predicament cannot be forgotten. The role played by politicians in neighboring Tamilnadu and India in general in this conflict cannot be forgotten either. The leadership of the Sreelanka Tamils could not see through the game plans of Indian politicians who lack any long term commitment. Nor could they visualize the folly of it all. End of the day the feeling can only be conveyed with a Tamil saying, ‘On kattile mazha peyyuthu’ meaning, ‘it is raining in your farm now, not mine’ that is all that the Tamil people of Sreelanka can tell to the Sinhalese. Lord Budha and the religion that came after him remains stigmatized, so does the visionary faith of Hinduism. Perhaps at another level here was some kind of a replay of what happened long back, Hinduism and its child Budhism in clash. Mutual aggression has its role, co-existence has an equal role.

    Will the Sinhalese people realize it or shall we see more violence in days to come is a matter to watch. To sum up the whole drama in Sreelanka the Tamil issue was always an integral part of Indian processes. Ancient south Indian history is intertwined with that of Ceylon. So are the people. In recent times a series of blunders on the part of India created havoc. Sadly , the political vested interests of the Indian politicians were not deciphered by the naïve Sreelankan Tamil leaders makes this a story of Shakespearian tragedy. Where India, with a major Tamil population, has a role still has to be understood. To trace back the whole chain of events the Sreelankan Tamil revolt started from a series of World Tamil Conferences conducted at various places, last at Jaffna itself. The once well off Tamils were looked at with alarm by the Sinhalese and after independence they started cornering the Tamils by various means. Openly parochial steps were taken to cut down the Tamils. Meanwhile in India the Dravidian movement was gaining popularity. The leaders of the Lankan Tamil movement were indoctrinated by the Dravidian parties in Tamilnadu and supported by state and national governments. In fact Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Tamilnadu Chief Minister M G Ramachandran, who had his past in Sreelanka, were directly involved giving money and other support. With the Sinhalese Sreelankan government allying with the US – China axis at the time, keeping the Tamil population in Indian alliance was felt a necessity. It was the cold war era and India was in the opposite camp.

    Later matters went out of control, those unaware of the history of Sreelanka started taking decisions in India. The exaggerated and illogical anti-Brahmin verbiage in Tamilnadu, though the Brahmin priesthood has its negatives, gave a space for Brahmin Tamils in key positions to operate their own stratagems. They were in media, in positions of defense, beurocracy. The chauvinistic trends of some Tamil groups did threaten many others in India is also true. Back in Sreelanka the plantation Tamils brought by the British and the native Tamils had their differing views in the beginning and the native Tamils did not oppose the relocation of the Indian Tamils back to India. What was to prove decisive in later years. Large populations of Sreelankan Tamils were relocated to India under the Indira – Bandaranaike pact and settled in the Rehabilitation Plantations set up for the purpose. These people still live in India, as reports tell, with out any right to citizenship and no right to protest. Huge populations of Tamils fled from the island and reached Indian coasts as refugees and are living in India now. India has her own poor and there was no need for India to have accepted the Sreelankan Tamils back. It was a big political blunder.

    Now with the degree of mutual hatred between the Sinhalese and the Tamils at the zenith the choice of their mutual co-existence is doubtful and India has no way but interfere taking the world community in to confidence. If possible the Sreelankan Tamils in India remaining with out citizenship should be settled back in their home land so also the refugees who are now scattered all over India and the world. As it seems despite the bravery there is no leadership among the Sreelankan Tamil population who can chart a proper plan of action. The valour they showed also the protests at various European countries reflect the inner reality. With the assassination of the Indian Prime Minister and the clever propaganda unleashed by the Sreelankans all over the world Sreelankan problem was reduced to one of terrorism alone. But the deeper issues, where it all started, cannot be brushed aside. Being a senior country in South Asia India cannot shut her eyes to the complex issue next door. For south India these are their own people. The human tragedy in Sreelanka cannot remain unattended. India is carrying a huge burden of Sreelankan Tamils as refugees and in the rehabilitation centres. Sreelankan Tamils indeed need a home land. How it can be implemented is a matter of consensus and debate, where India has to assert her views. The inability of the Sreelankan Tamils to articulate their problems cannot be exploited by the others, particularly the now hardened and innately chauvinistic Sinhalese people.


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