25 September, 2020

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Not So Quiet On The Indian Front

By Kath Noble

Kath Noble

In the third week of the UN Human Rights Council sessions, Karunanidhi played what he hopes will be his trump card. Unless India not only votes against Sri Lanka but also ensures that the resolution includes a commitment to a war crimes investigation, his party will quit the coalition government.

Whether or not he gets what he wants in this instance, he knows that there is a limit to what can be achieved by means of threats alone. Threats couldn’t have persuaded Manmohan Singh to intervene to stop the war in 2009, for example. That’s why Karunanidhi didn’t make any. Instead, he launched a fast that lasted from breakfast until a slightly late lunch, at which point he professed to be completely convinced that the Sri Lankan military had stopped using heavy weapons in the No Fire Zone.

And that was at a time when Karunanidhi was rather more powerful than he is today, having since lost an assembly election rather badly.

Today, to get anything more than a resolution in Geneva, he is going to have to mobilise public opinion.

How easy this is in Tamil Nadu is obvious from the way in which Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa have been competing on Sri Lankan issues of late, and the result is an awful lot of blind hatred. Protests regularly spin out of control – it is not just that they become violent, but that they also pick illegitimate targets, such as Sri Lankan tourists and most recently a monk archaeology student (‘Buddhist monk is roughed up by a group of Tamil nationalists in Tamil Nadu‘, Colombo Telegraph, 16th March 2013) and a monk pilgrim (‘Another Sri Lankan Buddhist monk is attacked in Chennai Central‘, Colombo Telegraph, 17th March 2013). They are terrorist, albeit so far yet to do any serious damage.

Where this is heading should be a matter of grave concern for New Delhi.

Leaving that aside for the moment, public opinion in the rest of India bears very little resemblance to that in Tamil Nadu – a fact that some people have clearly noted as a problem, judging by their increasing efforts to reach out across state boundaries.

Last week, I was presented with an opportunity to experience some of this outreach in the form of a documentary screening and meeting on ‘War crimes and genocide in Sri Lanka’ at Jawaharlal Nehru University, organised by a group called Students for Resistance in collaboration with the Save Tamils Movement.

The documentary itself was fairly extraordinary.

Almost everything in it was said by nameless, faceless people sitting in unidentifiable rooms in unidentified places. Frankly, they might not even have been Sri Lankan. Whether they were or ever had been in Sri Lanka was also not obvious. Viewers were simply asked to trust the producer, which of course a lot of them did, the audience being almost entirely comprised of young activists.

Readers would eventually be able to judge for themselves, as the video would no doubt find its way onto the internet – it is called ‘Buried Justice’.

Since there was no attempt to present actual evidence, the claims made could go beyond all previous efforts. The number of dead, for example, was inflated to 200,000 in the last few months of the war alone.

Most interesting from the point of view of understanding the provenance of the documentary was the assertion that the LTTE never used force against its own people. One of the nameless, faceless interviewees acknowledged that some people dressed in LTTE uniform did come around when they were hiding in bunkers in the No Fire Zone threatening to shoot them if they tried to get away, but he claimed that they weren’t speaking ‘our Tamil’, implying that they were infiltrators sent by the Army – probably associated with the ‘traitor’ Colonel Karuna.

I noted in my last column the way in which some Sinhalese are pushing conspiracy theories that blame the LTTE for everything bad that has ever happened in Sri Lanka, including the burning of the Jaffna library and even the Black July riots. In parallel – as always – some Tamils are trying hard to absolve the LTTE of responsibility for the crimes that it did actually commit.

As always, it is not clear whether it was the Tamil chicken or the Sinhalese egg that came first.

Far more revelatory than the documentary were the comments by the three speakers – none of whom were from Tamil Nadu – and the response from the audience.

While appalled by what was said to have taken place in Sri Lanka, nobody exhibited any very special concern about it. As one of the invited speakers put it, ‘All states behave like that.’ He also pointed out that ‘similar things’ are happening in India today.

They were interested in the Geneva resolution only to the extent that it could be used to force a war crimes investigation on India too.

In other words, their reaction was very different to that of Western audiences to the much more measured documentary by Channel Four. (No doubt this is because Western governments direct the worst of their violence towards people in places as far away from their constituencies as possible, preferably in countries that their voters can’t even locate on a map.)

Also unlike in the West, a member of the audience expressed surprise at the tremendous amount of ‘information’ that was available. He attributed this to Sri Lanka being a small state that had to accept the presence of NGOs, which are much more strictly controlled and limited in India, and this prompted a discussion on how to replicate the kind of ‘solidarity movement’ that Tamils have established to engage with the wider world. Nobody suggested that what had happened in Sri Lanka was a ‘war without witnesses’, since they believed that they had in fact witnessed an awful lot more than they considered to be the norm in such situations.

As is often the case with young activists, they were sympathetic to the idea of armed uprising. However, they weren’t as hypocritical as many of their counterparts in Tamil Nadu – they were clearly more interested in armed uprisings in their own country than in somebody else’s.

They were also ready to criticise. One of the invited speakers made a point of denouncing the LTTE both for its practice of targeting civilians and for silencing competing voices from its own community.

In addition, a member of the audience who had studied in Tamil Nadu highlighted the futility of talking about the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka while paying absolutely no attention to the way in which Sri Lankan Tamil refugees are treated in India.

The Save Tamils Movement is certainly guilty as charged. I first encountered them during a stint in Chennai in 2011 when I was researching an article about the refugees (‘Stuck, for a generation’, 31st July 2011), where they demonstrated every interest in discussing my opinion of the LTTE – which had by then ceased to exist – and none at all in anything else.

And the refugees are still in exactly the same condition today.

In Tamil Nadu, none of this matters. The refugees certainly don’t matter, since they are largely from the poorer segments of society, and worse – in the eyes of politicians and their hangers-on sitting comfortably in Chennai – they ran away from the struggle. The crimes of the LTTE don’t matter either.

Frankly, Tamils don’t matter to these people.

I believe that the only thing that really concerns them is the future of Tamil nationalism – more specifically, how the cause of Tamil nationalism can best be advanced while causing the least disruption to their own lives.

Unsurprisingly, the rest of India is not very sympathetic.

Students for Resistance, who are the regular partners of the Save Tamils Movement at Jawaharlal Nehru University, represent the very fringe of student activism, in a campus that is a long way from the centre ground of Indian politics. But even they know better.

What Manmohan Singh decides to do about Sri Lanka must eventually take this into account, whatever Karunanidhi’s games.

*Kath Noble’s column may be accessed online at http://kathnoble.wordpress.com/. She may be contacted at kathnoble99@gmail.com.

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Latest comments

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    Well said Kath. Sri Lanka is being targeted by many groups for various reasons. But none of them genuine. The proliferation of information available on Sri Lanka is further facilitating this process. Yes, it was not a “war without witnesses.” For one thing there were too many NGO’s and human rights groups in the country during the war. These people were drawn to Sri Lanka as it was – unlike most of the other war-torn countries – a tropical paradise with good infrastructural facilities and a friendly people with competency in English. So these activists could have a good time while ‘working’ for justice.

    Secondly, Sri Lanka is an open society with a working democracy with well developed educational institutions and media facilities. This has contributed to a rich body of scholarship and academic research on developments in Sri Lanka especially after the advent of the civil war.

    Sri Lanka’s strategic location and the entailing regional and global geopolitics has brought even more attention to the island. The Tamil Nadu connection, the role of the Tamil diaspora, and the determination of the LTTE rump to internationalize the conflict has resulted in Sri Lanka hitting the world headlines constantly. Corrupt politicians in western countries greedy for the Tamil ethnic vote keep adding to the media coverage of the country. Finally, human rights organizations, NGOs and Norway annoyed with the Sri Lankan government, for disproving their pet theories and destroying the LTTE militarily, keep harping on Sri Lanka.

    All these factors have contributed to the information overload on Sri Lanka.

    • 0
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      Ajay says:

      “Sri Lanka’s strategic location and the entailing regional and global geopolitics has brought even more attention to the island.”

      Why is Sri Lanka’s location strategic?

      What does Sri Lanka’s strategic location mean to whoever is after Sri Lanka?

      • 0
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        Native Vedda

        Are you a wannabe college instructor in a small town who tries to impress the poor students with his smart-ass teaching methods?

        Go to a library and read the book “SRI LANKA FOR DUMMIES,” rather than wasting your and other people’s time by haunting these pages all day because you are a hermit without any flesh-and-blood human contact. And throw away that plastic doll will ya?

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          Rambler

          “Go to a library and read the book “SRI LANKA FOR DUMMIES,”

          Have all stupid Sinhalese and stupid Tamils mastered this book? Where can you buy this book?

          “you are a hermit without any flesh-and-blood human contact”

          I am trying to avoid bad vibes from you and your brethren.

          “And throw away that plastic doll will ya?”

          I am not two year old girl.

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      Sinhala monks in Saffron robes are attacking Muslims in Sri Lanka and also Christian Churches and Hindu temples with impunity, so why shout when a Sinhala Saffron robes wallah is attacked in Tamil Nadu?

      YOU REAP WHAT YOU HAVE SOWN!

      • 0
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        @DOn.. you have obviously been reading the overtime propaganda.. If a church or Hindu Temple were attacked and Mosque to the scale you are saying CMB telegraph and its affiliate Tamil net will be having a media propaganda blitz..

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    she say about the attack of the monks ‘but that they also pick illegitimate targets’ one wonders what is a legitimate target.. and July 83 riots have been accepted by all Sinhala people even the ultra nationalist as a crime by the sinhala people.. so i dont know what spew she has been reading most likely Tamilnet.. nodoubt.

    During the Burning of the Great Jaffna library.. and when i see your acciunts nodoubt you have been repeating the same roumours that sri lanka is famous for.. During may there were the DDC council elections where couple of ministers of the UNP visited jaffna, I will saw this time the LTTE was not Involved.. But it was PLOT who started the violence and against the TULF for accepting the DDC council elections and this stage TELO too was operative and many police was killed. It was the PLOT that set fire to the Jaffna library and not the LTTE or the Sri lankan Police.. Everyone who was there knew the truth as PLOT was on a rampage.. But when the killed the policemen thay too went on the rampage and there were pitched battle between PLOT and TELO members near the Jaffna library.. Now after this died down no one blamed the Lankan forces This rumour that dissanayake and he was alone who gave the orders to burn was picked by the Vast Tamils living outside and their propaganda machine came much later thanks to premadasa who at the time was trying to discredit dissanayake for the impeachment motion againt him.. Why do you think he didn’t blame C matthew the know sinhala racist???????.. These are the Facts…

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      ponnudurai satyaseelan

      Didn’t S J V Chelva send his two lieutenants Amirthalingam and Rajadurai to set fire to the Library?

      Its so confusing.

      • 0
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        @Native Vedda.. No you really are ignorant.. Mr S J V Chelva was much dead at the time.. God rest his soul.. Toothless Amirthalingam was in fear as UMA was after him for accepting the DDC.. at least know ur history..

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          ponnudurai satyaseelan

          If that was not Amir then was it Rajadurai?

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        Today the Sri Lankan Government Have settled Many Tamils back in their Lands.. But most of this Land in the wanni must go to the Who in place have dispalced the ‘Wanniya-laeto’ Today the LTTE western entity have not mentioned the way it forced the ‘Wanniya-laeto’ out of its Traditional Lands and the Tamilsation that took place.. I ask the Government to Lankan to Give this Land back to the ‘Wanniya-laeto’ As the wanni is the natural place of origin. and urge before any devolution takes place that Uruwarige Wannila Aththo is also present.. The wanni is Not Tamil as it also belongs to the ‘Wanniya-laeto’

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          Thyagaraja

          “The wanni is Not Tamil as it also belongs to the ‘Wanniya-laeto’”

          Not just Wanni, the entire island.

          We don’t want devolution we want our ancestral land back. How soon can you leave?

          • 0
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            Native Vedda.. yes that all we want a Nation of Drunks in a Jungle.. which laziness and alcoholism will result in cannibalism.. Lets pass a UNHCR against this Horror

            • 0
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              Vedda no way

              Please refer to

              Survival Calls On UN To Stand Up For Wanniyala-Aetto

              which was published in Colombo Telegraph only few days ago.

              I know you are either a stupid Sinhalese or a Tamil stupid as your comment confirms.

            • 0
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              Native Vedda!!!these Wanniyala-Aetto.. Rather than do a heard days work. stand naked in front of tourist for a photo, charge them a criminal price and then spend the money on alcohol. And then well you can imagine the poor women and children of that community that suffer. Imagine if they we left alone. Native Vedda!!! If you wish to preserve Vedda culture first stop using english and the modern computers to fire wooden arrows..these are all non Vedda evil curses dark forces.. and get out of ur western clothes and help your drunk community

  • 0
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    Ahh the Good old day of MGR and Karuna come to mind.. how they were out doing each other to Fund and Arm the Boys.. Poor Q branch could not keep up with the delivery of Indian Tax payer money which funded terrorism in another nation.. still i doubt Kate had even seen let alone heard of a Tamilean back in the good old day’s

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      COLONEL KITTU

      When you mentioned the good old days of MGR, I couldn’t help laughing thinking about his films – though it is not relevant to this topic (that is why I am called “Rambler”) The MGR character would appear in various disguises in many of his movies. It was – one can say – an MGR specialty. The funny thing was the disguise would be so obvious that everyone in the theater would know it was in fact MGR in disguise except the other characters on the screen.

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        Rambler

        “The funny thing was the disguise would be so obvious that everyone in the theater would know it was in fact MGR in disguise except the other characters on the screen.”

        That was meant to be the best part of his comic routine which indeed entertained millions of stupid people like you and your stupid Tamil brethren.

        So you are a fan of MGR.

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          Native Vedda

          Your attempt at comedy is worse than even the bad jokes of MGR.
          By the way, most of his fans in Sri Lanka were Sinhalese. When MGR visited Sri Lanka in the 70s these Sinhalese fans were rushing to see him screaming “Apey Kolla Aavaa Ne Lankavata.” Probably you were among them – a starry-eyed, snot-nosed, awkward teenager.

  • 0
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    The writer has made an excellent case for an independent international
    investigation so that what really happened will emerge.
    We will then the TRUTH.

  • 0
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    There are some things SL Govt can do without escalating. (Of course, such as the release of Balachandran’s picture cannot be controlled). Appear to be solving problems. Keep promising that there will be devolution of power instead of flatly rejecting. What is the purpose of creating Bodu Bala sena. They see all these monks running around protesting and attacking that they thing all monks are terrorists.

  • 0
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    Kath, these kids calling themselves Students for Resistance are fringe activists enamoured by romantic notions of saving the world by revolution and armed uprising! Those days have long gone, and these day-dreamers need to wake up.

    Naturally other fringe elements like Save Tamils Movement will use every opportunity to advertise their so-called cause, while ignoring Tamil refugees languishing on their own doorstep.

    From your report it appears that the video presentation and the comments by some of the participants were mostly clumsy and amateurish in approach, and at best immature.

    Kath, these kids are a joke and irrelevant in the discourse about the Tamil problem, but they gave you good copy.

    That’s your bread and butter, so you are excused for giving them undeserved publicity.

  • 0
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    Thank you for an unbiased article, that is not fueled by propaganda nor populist theories. Nobody spoke about the atrocities and murders committed by the LTTE against the SriLankan people. They murdered and drove away thousands of Muslim and Sinhala villagers. Destroyed old temples/ enough bldgs. Whole villages were hacked to death in their sleep. Monks who refused to leave their temples were hacked to death. Murdered the moderate Tamils, and those who did not obey them. Bus loads of SriLankans were murdered. Innocent people were bombed on their way to work….. Now the diaspora in sheep’s clothing is trying to sensationalize and re write what actually happened. We were here. We saw. We heard.

  • 0
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    Kath, with your bias towards Srilanka you had written one of the biased article. Simply this article deserves to go into dustbin and paid article. You portray SL as innocent state and think the other world leadership bodies are as fool as you.

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    Kath Noble you have hit the nail on the head. You are right. Sri Lankan Tamils do not matter to the Tamil Nadu politicians who are exploiting their issue to win votes at the next Lok Sabha elections.

    Sri Lankan refugees living in camps are treated like prisoners by the Tamil Nadu authorities. They do not have free movement. They live in squalor under tin roofed shacks. I don’t think that champions of the Eelam cause like Vaiko and Seeman had ever stepped into these Sri Lankan refugees camps where they had been living for the past thirty or thirty-five years.

    Karunanidhi withdrew from the Congress led coalition because he knows that remaining in that coalition would be disastrous for his party which is still licking its wound from the bashing it got in the Assembly Elecions. He is not just a cinema script writer but a well accomplished actor on the political stage. However, he cannot reclaim the credibility he had already lost. He foolishly wanted the Indian government to support the US resolution on Sri Lanka before the US had even drafted the resolution.

    As Kath had rightly pointed out those doctored videos and photographs will not have any impact in other parts of India. Even in other South Indian states like Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh that is not a word of protest against the Sri Lankan government.

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    The worst thing happened to the Tamils in Sri Lanka is Rajapaksa presidency, best one the elimination of Prabhakaran.

  • 0
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    This Kath Noble, despite all her displays of a seasoned journalist, mocks everyone’s intelligence by exhibiting her utter ignorance of events.

    Your argument that Karunanidhi (KN) could not have stopped the war even if he had wanted to because Manmohan would not have listened is seriouslt flawed. When KN announced DMK’s intimation of withdrawing, Pranab Mukherjee was on the next plane to Chennai. Sonia had to personally villify him. But the real twist was he had used this instance to extract favours from the Union Govt (UG). It was a selfish and narrow-minded stance and he and the Congress paid a heavy price in the subsequent state assembly elections. Yes, if only Karunanidhi had done what he did today, there wouldn’t be the colossal loss of lives. But greed in that man wreaked havoc in his mind. Shri Shri too said the same thing.

    I wish one day you too will disappear in a white van. Nameless, faceless, etc had to be to shield their families in SL. When an independent international investigation materialises, then these can be adduced as evidence. After all, substantiated evidence matters but no one is naive or silly as you to hand over or disclose now as the SL regime would harass the families in SL and possibly they may disappear, too. If we are to subscribe to your naive proposal, or who knows, you may be one of those informers of the regime trying hard to extract the evidence for the regime to work on.

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