Tag Archives: sinhalese

SRI LANKANS & THE TAMIL PROBLEM

The decision of the Government of India to boycott the recent CHOGM meeting in Sri Lanka, for its violation of Human Rights against the Tamil minority, was welcomed by all. Yet not many know the intricate pattern of the Sri Lanka imbroglio.

There seems to be little doubt that once upon a time, not so long ago, India and Sri Lanka were linked by a small strip of land, which can still be seen today from the air: Adam’s Bridge. Or Rama Setu, a 48km lo,g stretch of underwater causeway, spoken about in the Ramanayama. And this is how the first Tamils, those who settled in the North, came to Sri Lanka (are they the first inhabitants of Sri Lanka and not the Sinhalese? This is another question!). There is also no doubt -and the Sinhalese recognise it- that they are originally Indians, although some say that they came from Gujurat, others from Bengal. Thus it can be established beyond doubt that Sri Lanka and India are one ethnically, although they differ in religion (but the same can be said within India). And throughout the ages, under one form or the other, Ceylon was under the influence of India. That is why, when the British conquered it in the late 18th century, they chose to attach it to their Indian empire. But when they left in 47, in their desire to see that India never dominates too heavily the subcontinent, they facilitated the creation of Pakistan and handed to Sri Lanka its freedom. And India and Sri Lanka seemed to part way for ever, as Tamils and Sinhalese were left to war with each other, until Rajiv sent the IKPF in 1988.

One has to go back a long time to understand what decisive factors shaped the psyche of the island’s two communities. And this decisive factor bears the names of two of the world greatest religions: Buddhism and Hinduism. The first one, Buddhism, is a gentle, peaceful creed, that teaches non-violence and brotherhood, even to enemies. Unfortunately, Ceylon, often called the “isle of beauty”, has always been too tempting a prey for sea-faring invaders. And indeed, successive colonisers, from Arabs to Africans, from Portuguese to Dutch and finally, British, preyed on the tiny, defenceless island. In the name of Buddhism and because, the Sinhalese are by nature a fun-loving, gentle people, not only did they hardly resist these invasions, but often, many of their women, mingled freely with the foreign intruders. The result can clearly be seen today on the faces of many Sinhalese women folk, with their African-curled hair, Arabic features and fair skinned faces. As a result, the Sinhalese slowly lost their sense of identity, their feeling of being a collective being, to the point that when the British came, they collaborated wholehearted with them and had to be handed back their independence on a platter, for want of a real freedom movement. Today, democracy and western institutions are just a flimsy cloak that the Sinhalese wear. Lurking underneath the pleasant, sometimes servile attitude towards Westerners, is a sense of hopelessness and a terrible violence. And in reality, since independence, Sinhalese politicians must have been some of the least farsighted of the entire subcontinent: nothing is made in Sri Lanka, everything has to be imported and only tea, tourism and Western grants help the country survive.

On the other hand, Hinduism with its strict caste hierarchy, which forbids much contact with outsiders, particularly sexual contact with foreigners, protected Sri Lankan Tamils from mingling with their invaders. Thus they preserved their identity, their racial purity and their culture. Sinhalese live an easier life in the South, which was always more fertile than the arid North. As a result, Tamils have often been better at studies and more hard- working, (although one should not generalise). This was quickly noticed by the British, who often gave Tamils preference for jobs and university grants, thus angering the Sinhalese, who after all were the majority community.

It is this deep-rooted resentment of the Sinhalese towards the Tamil community which is the cause of most of the troubles. When the British left, the Sinhalese quickly moved in to correct what they saw as an unbalance: they set on depriving the Tamils of most of the rights they had acquired under the British and proceeded to establish a Sinhalese-dominated Ceylon. And every time a Sinhalese politician tried to give the Tamils their just share of power, he quickly had to backtrack under Sinhalese resentment. For years, the Tamils bore the brunt of Sinhalese persecution. But one day, too much became too much and Tamil armed groups started springing up to defend their people. To cut short a long story, the LTTE finally emerged as the most ruthless and sole militant organisation. For those who remember the Tamil Tigers in their early years: young, bright, soft spoken university students, there was no doubt that they had started with a genuine aspiration to secure their just rights. But violence breeds its own violence and soon the Tigers lost all sense of measure and restraint, eliminating ruthlessly all what they think stands in the way of their freedom. Killing Rajiv Gandhi was one of their biggest & most tragic mistakes and they finally paid that karma by being themselves ruthlessly wiped out by the Sinhalese, & Prabhakaran murdered in cold blood.

But the elimination of the LTTE does not solve the Tamil problem in Sri Lanka, as they continue to face discrimination & violence there. Only India has the power and the muscle to impose to Sri Lanka a just solution, which will give the Tamil minority an autonomy which will stop short of total independence. But is the will there? Manmohan Singh did not go to the CHOGM meet, not out of genuine concern for the Sri Lankan Tamils, but just to placate his DMK ally,who in turn has often used the Sri Lankan issue to whip up frenzied violence for purely political reasons.

India should pause and act

François Gautier

Source: Expressbuzz
First Published : 30 Jan 2009 02:01:00 AM IST
Last Updated : 30 Jan 2009 08:45:50 AM IST

How many of us remember the young Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam cadres in the mid-Eighties, when they walked freely in the streets of what was known as Madras: young, nice Tamils, who looked more like students than militants? There is no doubt that over the years the LTTE has become a deadly terrorist outfit, eliminating in cold blood anyone it felt was in the way of its aspirations, including other Sri Lankan Tamil leaders.

The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was symbolic of that ruthlessness: he was murdered on the assumption that he would then follow an anti- LTTE policy once back in power after the experience of the IPKF.

Today the Tamils of Sri Lanka are paying a heavy price for the assassination: they are losing the war with the Sri Lankan army, mostly because the Congress of Sonia Gandhi, who has never forgiven them for her husband’s murder, is backing the Sinhalese leadership.

But before the LTTE is wiped out, India would do well to think whether it would serve its geopolitical purposes to have a triumphant Sinhala neighbour. For this, one has to first look at the history of Sri Lanka.

There seems little doubt that a few thousand years ago, India and Sri Lanka were linked by a small strip of land, which can still be seen today from the air: Adam’s Bridge, or Ram Setu. This is how the first Tamils, those who settled in the North, came to Sri Lanka. One has to go back a long time to understand what factors shaped the psyche of the island’s two communities. The decisive factor bears the names of two of the world’s greatest religions: Buddhism and Hinduism.

The first is a gentle, peaceful creed that teaches non-violence and brotherhood, even to enemies. Unfortunately, Ceylon, the “isle of beauty”, has always been a tempting prey for sea-faring invaders.

Successive colonisers, from Arabs to Africans, from Portuguese to Dutch and finally, British, preyed on the tiny, defenceless island.

In the name of Buddhism and because the Sinhalese are by nature a fun-loving people, not only did they hardly resist these invasions, but often their women mingled freely with the invaders. The result can be seen today in the faces of many Sinhalese women folk, with their kinky hair or Arabic features.

As a result, the Sinhalese slowly lost their sense of identity, their feeling of collective being, to the point that when the British came, they collaborated wholeheartedly and had to be handed back their independence on a platter, for want of a real freedom movement.

Today, democracy and western institutions are just a cloak that the Sinhalese wear. Lurking underneath is a sense of hopelessness and a terrible violence. Its politicians have been among the least farsighted of the entire subcontinent: nothing is made in Sri Lanka. Only tea, tourism and Western grants help it survive. On the other hand Hinduism, with its strict caste hierarchy, protected the Tamils from mingling with their invaders. They preserved their identity and culture. The Sinhalese live an easier life in the South, always more fertile than the arid North. As a result, Tamils are often better at studies and more hard working, (although one should not generalise). The British noticed it and often gave Tamils preference for jobs and university grants, angering the Sinhalese, who after all were the majority community.

It is this deep-rooted resentment that is in greater part the cause of the present troubles. When the British left, the Sinhalese quickly moved to correct what they saw as an imbalance, depriving Tamils of most of the rights they had acquired under the British and proceeded to establish a Sinhalese-dominated Ceylon. Every time a Sinhalese politician tried to give the Tamils their just share of power, he was forced to backtrack for fear of Sinhalese resentment.

For years, Tamils bore the brunt of Sinhalese persecution. But one day, too much became too much and Tamil armed groups started springing up to defend their people. To cut short a long story, the LTTE finally emerged as the most ruthless and sole militant organisation.

Yet, in 1988, Rajiv stepped in to mediate between the warring Sinhalese and Tamils. All kinds of insulting epithets have been used to describe the Jayewardene-Rajiv Gandhi peace plan and the IPKF’s role in Sri Lanka, but these are unfair.

The plan was the best that could be done in the circumstances, and the IPKF did not come to conquer, but to help. All the same, India got bogged down in a guerrilla war, with one hand tied behind the back to avoid killing civilians. Ultimately, it had to leave because of pressure at home and Premadasa’s intense dislike of Indians.

Today Tamils are on the verge of being completely overrun. And this raises the question of India’s security.

What will be the consequences of a triumphant Sinhalese majority? Are not Sri Lankan Tamils closer to Indians, culturally, socially and spiritually, than the Sinhalese? Will Sri Lanka, like Bangladesh before it, turn on India once it has achieved, with India’s help, its goals? The Government of India should think twice and remember Rama and Ravana before it allows the Sri Lankan army totally to subdue the north.

fgautier@rediffmail.com

India, the land of refuge


By Francois Gautier

Indian Express – June 5, 2000

It is common for India’s enemies whether outsiders or, unfortunately, Indians themselves to harp on the “rise of Hindu fundamentalism in India” (while mentioning Muslim fundamentalism in passing) and the growing intolerance of “fanatical” Hindu movements (the RSS, VHP, and the Bajrang Dal) towards India’s minorities. This has become an accepted proposition among the India specialists, historians, and foreign correspondents.

Yet, everyone seems to forget that, for thousands of years, India has been the land of refuge for all persecuted minorities of the world, whether the Jews after the sack of their temple in Jerusalem, Arab merchants, Parsis from Persia, Syrian Christians, Armenians, or the early Sri Lankan Tamils fleeing Sinhalese persecution. Nobody mentions that not only is this tolerance a Hindu tradition, because Hinduism has always accepted the divinity of other Gods, but also that, in return for their goodness, Hindus have been for 2,000 years the target of innumerable persecutions, whether at the hands of Christians (the Portuguese, for instance, who razed temples and crucified Brahmins in Goa) or, of course, Muslim invaders (like Timur who, in 1399, is said to have killed 100,000 Hindus in a single day). And which religion in the world can boast not only of never having invaded another nation to impose its faith upon its inhabitants, but also never tried to convert anybody, even by peaceful means (as the Buddhistsdid)?

Today, India is still a land of refuge. Witness the Tibetans, persecuted by the Chinese, who have been able to recreate on Indian soil a mini-Tibet (in Dharamsala and other places), where they enjoy full freedom and even the right to travel abroad with Indian documents. Today, almost the whole world knows that, from 1950 onwards, when the Chinese invaded Tibet, 1.2 million Tibetans have been killed, either directly (through shooting, death squads and torture) or indirectly (in concentration camps, prisons, and famines).

As many as 6,254 monasteries, most of them ancient, have been razed to the ground. Sixty per cent of religious, historical and cultural archives have been destroyed. A quarter million Chinese troops are occupying Tibet. One Tibetan out of 10 is still in jail. There are today in Tibet 7.5 million Chinese settlers for six million Tibetans in many places such as the capital, Lhasa, Tibetans are outnumbered two to one. Yet, the western world is so wary of China, where they have invested huge amounts of money, that they keep being blackmailed by Beijing and very few world leaders dare to receive openly the Dalai Lama, the living symbol of Tibet’s non-violent resistance to Chinese holocaust.

Recently, India upheld this tradition of granting asylum, when it allowed the Karmapa, third in the Tibetan spiritual hierarchy, to stay in India, after he fled occupied Tibet. Initially, the-re was some suspicion that Karmapa might have been sent by the Chinese to sow disorder amongst Tibetan refugees, as there was another boy who claimed to be the Karmapa (he lives in France). But the Dalai Lama, whom the Indian Government trusts, has vouched for the boy’s integrity and the 14-year-old Karmapa himself, mature beyond his years, has told many (including this writer) that he fled Tibet “because he felt that he would be more and more used by the Chinese for propaganda purposes and because he refused to make statements against the Dalai Lama, as the Chinese wanted him to”. For the moment, the boy is mo-re or less confined to a small monastery near Dharamsala, but is eager to settle in the Rumtek monastery of Sikkim, the traditional seat of the exiled karmapas. The Indian Government is hesitant to let him gothere, as it does not want to offend the Chinese, when border talks are on and the President is in China.

But it should not be hesitant. For, the history of India-China relations since 1947 shows that it is always India which has shown goodwill towards the Chinese and always the Chinese who pretended goodwill while stabbing India in the back. Nehru’s policy of `Hindi-Chini-bhai-bhai’ was a disaster: China attacked India by surprise in 1962 and took away 20,000 square kms of its territory. Today, China has transferred one-third of its nuclear arsenal to Nagchuka, 250 kms away from Lhassa, a region full of huge caves which the Chinese have linked together by an intricate underground network and where they have installed, according to US estimates, 90 intermediate-range intercontinental ballistic missiles. Tibet is of a great strategic military importance to China as, being on a high plateau, it overlooks Russia and India. But Russia is no more a danger to China. Thus it is towards North Indian cities that most of the nuclear missiles are pointed!

By letting the Karmapa settle in Rumtek, India will show that Sikkim is an integral part of its territory and that the Chinese should forget about its territorial claim on Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. India should have learnt by now that the only way to deal with China is firmness. India should also help Tibet to regain its freedom, because as the Dalai Lama has often pointed out, a free demilitarised and denuclearised Tibet would be the ideal buffer zone between the two giants of Asia: India and China.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.