Feature Article

Change course or face misfortune: Indian scholar

[TamilNet, Thursday, 23 October 2008, 21:32 GMT]
The broad sentiment in Tamil Nadu this time is not merely against Colombo but against New Delhi as well. It is widely perceived in Tamil Nadu that New Delhi is collaborating with Colombo in authoring the misery of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, says M S S Pandian in an article appeared in The Times of India on Thursday. "Tamil Nadu had a history of demanding secession from the Indian Union. Yet, over time, it has chosen to integrate itself fully with the national mainstream. If New Delhi does not change course in its Sri Lankan policy, it may plant the seeds towards a reversal of such history. That will be India's misfortune," wrote the renowned scholar on sociopolitical and subaltern studies of contemporary India.

Full text of the article is reproduced below:

SUBVERSE: Change course in Lanka

A recent issue of a Sri Lankan newspaper has published excerpts from the memoirs of Neville Jayaweera, a distinguished civil servant who once headed the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation. The excerpts deal with his appointment as the government agent in Jaffna in the Tamil-majority Northern Province in Sri Lanka in 1963 and his encounter with N Q Dias, permanent secretary of defence and external affairs, whom Jayaweera describes as "the most powerful public servant around".

As Jayaweera recounts, Dias instructed him that his brief in Jaffna was to enforce at any cost the Sinhala Only Act which disenfranchised the minority Tamils of their linguistic rights and handicapped them educationally. Dias knew the consequences of such acts of discrimination against the Tamils. He predicted to Jayaweera in 1963 that within 25 years, there would be armed rebellions by the Tamils against the Sri Lankan state, a prediction which no doubt proved right. Yet he did not want to address the rightful concerns of the Tamil minorities but sought a military solution to the possibility of a future armed rebellion by the Tamils. Jayaweera notes, "The centrepiece of Dias's strategy to contain a future Tamil revolt was to be the establishment of a chain of military camps to encircle the Northern Province..."

Dias also laid out a strategy to legitimise his plan for military camps around the Northern Province. That is, to present the military camps as a means to prevent illegal immigrants from India and to contain smuggling from Sri Lanka to India. Remarkably, smuggling and illegal immigration continues to be themes employed both by India and Sri Lanka to legitimise their actions even today. In the 1980s, "it was this iron pincer around Jaffna's neck that served as the Sri Lankan army's bulwark against the Tamil militant groups".

The 'Dias paradigm', which is to deny the minorities their rights and suppress their protests militarily, is sure to warm the hearts of xenophobic militarists everywhere. But it ultimately did not work. The Sri Lankan state's militaristic approach has failed both in finding a solution to the Tamil question and in containing the armed rebellion of the Tamils. Instead, it has only increased the misery of all in the island nation, in particular the Tamils.

The Sri Lankan state believes that it can vanquish the LTTE in the current war. What will be the meaning of such a victory even if that happens? It can only be a victory bringing extra cheer to the Sinhala hardliners. The Sri Lankan state has already achieved most of what it wants to. Tamils in Sri Lanka have been reduced to refugees in their own country. A substantial number of them have migrated to far-flung places as refugees.

The demographic balance of the once Tamil-majority Eastern province has already been altered by state-sponsored colonisation of land by the Sinhala peasants. Going by past record, the Sri Lankan state will pursue its majoritarian goals with new vigour if the LTTE gets defeated.

After all, it took away the rights of the Tamils even when they followed peaceful Gandhian forms of protests under the leadership of S V J Chelvanayakam. India's role in all this is dubious. It has been training Sri Lankan military officials. It has also been supplying radars in the name of defensive military hardware. And, now it is clear that Indian technicians are aiding the Sri Lankan army in the very theatre of war. The miserable plight of civilian Tamils in Sri Lanka has already caught the attention of Tamil Nadu.

Significantly, the broad sentiment in Tamil Nadu this time is not merely against Colombo but against New Delhi as well. It is widely perceived in Tamil Nadu that New Delhi is collaborating with Colombo in authoring the misery of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Tamil Nadu had a history of demanding secession from the Indian Union. Yet, over time, it has chosen to integrate itself fully with the national mainstream. If New Delhi does not change course in its Sri Lankan policy, it may plant the seeds towards a reversal of such history. That will be India's misfortune.

 

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