By Mano Ratwatte –
Sikkim was an independent Buddhist Kingdom before the glorious days of the British Empire. You know the same British empire which permanently altered Sri Lanka’s demographic patterns permanently by importing serfs/indentured labor and displacing Kandyan peasants in the hills to create the amazing tea plantations? Sikkim was an independent ancient kingdom similar to Bhutan; it is located between Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and Paschim Bangla.
Sikkim was a monarchy since the 1600s. It is landlocked and borders Nepal and Tibet. No need to go into its long history but the British made it a protectorate when they ruled India. Sikkim allied itself with Britain because of its traditional enemies the Hindu Nepal and the Kingdom of Bhutan. Later on, due to taxation issues (well the British tried to screw the Americans on taxes too) there was a falling out(of course our Anglican masters are well known for reneging on treaties now aren’t they? the Kandyan Sinhalese eager to overthrow a tyrant king, realized much to their chagrin in 1815 that those Anglos didn’t like to honor treaties) Britain annexed parts of the large kingdom of Sikkim into its Indian territories. Darjeeling, of the famous tea estates was historically part of Sikkim until the mid 1800s when the Empire carved it out. If the Kandyans weren’t that foolish, the radical demographic alterations of the hill country populations would possibly have been averted and millions of serfs from S.India would not have been imported. Of course what is done is done and that is mere conjecture.
1947 to 1960s
In 1947, the Sikkimese voted overwhelmingly to reject joining India. They had an independent ethno-religious identity and were a monarchy. They were suspicious of the new Hindu regime in India. However, being a helpless rather poor landlocked nation it agreed to a peace treaty with Jawaharlal Nehru(JN) in 1950(very much an unequal treaty signed under duress; you all remember 1987 and that arrogant Viceroy Dixit days( Paul Bremer in Iraq) and the agreement shoved down Sri Lanka’s gullet don’t you?) giving where India controlled its external affairs, defence, diplomacy and communications. Sikkim retained administrative autonomy. Remember that some in India wanted to absorb Sri Lanka into it too.
Sikkim’s king was called the Chyogal. As time went by slowly but surely the expanding Indian and Nepali Hindu populations started encroaching on Sikkimese lands. This started changing the demographic balance of Kingdom of Sikkim. Yet, India in the 1960s whilst officially claiming Sikkim was an independent nation starts sending in its army and the Central Reserve Police(CPRF); it built strategic highways as a bulwark against Chinese intervention from Tibet. It also promoted the penetration of Indian merchant and money into the tiny Sikkimese economy.
Fast forward to the days of Indira Gandhi and Congress I rule(mostly under emergency). Suddenly there is “popular unrest” in 1974, (of the kind initiated by the US in Libya and Ukraine in more modern times for different reasons). By then the population balance had changed. Nepali Hindus and Indian Hindus dominate the landscape. There is a referendum(perhaps JR learnt from them about this concept?) and a majority vote to overthrow the unpopular Chyogal. In early 1974, a rigged election is held – an election supervised by four battalions of the notorious CPRF and marked by blatant irregularities perpetuated by the candidates of the pro Indian Sikkim National Congress and a man named – Kazi Lhendup Dorji, a feudal overlord , is manoeuvred into power(Do you see the parallels with the election of Vartharaja Perumal under Indian auspices?).Was Dorji India’s PuYi, the boy emperor the genocidal Japanese monsters installed in Manchuria?
In 1975, under the auspices of Mrs. Gandhi, daughter of the father of modern India( JN who imposed an unequal treatise on Sikkim), absorbs it as the 22nd state of India. The world didn’t see or hear the outcry back then. By then 75% of Sikkim’s population were of Nepali origin and even they saw this blatant grab of a once independent Shangrila for what it was; a power grab by the regional super power afraid of China. Protests in Nepal were ignored.
Troubled pasts in both nations
People who have a view of India as being really rosy and peaceful co-existence fail to realize facts; India’s post WW II history is as troubled as Sri Lanka’s, with the exception that whatever happens in India including ethnic massacres, do not make international headlines because it is a regional super power. The west will never raise issue if India commits excesses in the Muslim state of Kashmir or deal with rebellion in the 7-sister states with an iron hand. So while for the most part, all ethnic and religious groups live side by side in both nations, we should realize that it was not always the case.
During the partition, between 200,000 to 500,000 people were massacred in gory bloodshed amidst scaremongering when India. So much for non violent Hindu Gandhian values being superior no? Most of the suffering happened in Punjab province when it was split between Pakistan(Lahore was part of the amazing Sikh Kingdom during Maharajah Ranjit Singh’s rule before our mutual Colonial masters conquered India) and India. Retributive killings, wholesale rapes occurred on both sides as Sikhs and Punjabi Hindus fled Pakistan and millions of Muslims fled hordes of mostly Hindu or Sikh mobs. To this date, it is estimated that the 14 million on forcible move of humans is the largest human migration in history.
Rajiv Gandhi allowed Cong-I goon squads in New Delhi and Haryana to rape, burn and massacre innocent Sikhs in 1984 too. Over 5,000 Sikh innocents are feared to have lost their lives in that week of violence. Human Rights Watch in 2011 unequivocally challenged the State of India to prosecute those responsible for those violent acts against a religious minority. Were those terrible events a failure of leadership or deliberate pogroms? Sri Lankans love Bollywood right? Did you know that legendary Amithabh Bachchan a Cong I politician back then was accused of raising the “Khooon Ka Badla Khoon” (blood for blood) slogan on October 31, 1984 and was summoned to US courts in 2014?
Fast forward to 2002 and the Gujarat pogrom against innocent Muslims. Modi was Gujarat’s Chief minister back then. Between 1,000 and 2,000 innocent muslims were massacred by marauding Hindu rightwing mobs and Modi was blamed for his inaction at the least or inciting the riots. The US did not grant a visitor visa to PM Modi until he won the election. For a long time secular well meaning Indians have asked the question if Modi could have stopped the violence? Ironic isn’t it? Everyone is rushing to glad hand this guy after the secular corrupt Cong-I was routed but the same man was almost an untouchable to the US before the elections. Quite a queer twist in Realpolitik no? Writing about Cong-I games in Punjab, operation Bluestar, Sikh uprisings, Khalistan are for another day.
Events leading to Khalistani uprising and the massacre of innocents and the repressive overwhelming Indian military presence in Kashmir, and the North Eastern states such as Nagaland, Assam, Mizoram, Manipur are a another chapter. It is sufficient to say most Nagas(there are many tribes including those with head hunting traditions ) , and Mizos who are predominantly Christian, don’t like the repressive presence of Hindi speaking Indian military in their state. Sikkimese Buddhists still do not consider themselves as Indian and desperately try to cling to their ancient heritage. Conversations over Old Monk rum and countless cups of chai , samosas and kachoris, during my years in Punjab are still etched in my memory. I yearn for those days, where we would sit under a tree at the students union and debate or discuss world events with an incredibly diverse group of students from across the world(Fijian Indians, Tongans, Malayali Indians, Sikhs, Hindus, Nigerians, Afghanis, Iranians, Kenyans, Malaysian Chinese and Indians including my great roommate a grandson of a Chinese woman and two generations of Ceylon Tamils, Singaporean Chinese and Sikhs). It was hard for me to go back to Punjab after the disgraceful pogrom in 1983 because every Indian buddy of mine wanted to jump on my case. Roles was reversed in October-Nov of 1984 when I had to console some of my Sikh brothers who were from New Delhi as they feared for their lives when people were being dragged out of trains and being murdered on their way to Delhi. My North Indian friends stopped judging Sri Lanka harshly after that shameful chapter in their history.
Will Modi govern as a pacifist or will he give way to his Hindu Raj tendencies from his Gujarat days? Will he try to foment trouble inside Sri Lanka using RAW so that he can justify a military presence in strategic locations inside Sri Lanka? Perhaps the Astrological forecast of the people was good and with the recent positive electoral change, it may not happen. But don’t rule out possible scenarios where the CM of the North might become the next Pu Yi if Sri Lanka falters in its search for a more equitable representative secular democracy. India will not hesitate to engineer incidents and claim Indian interests are at stake to intervene again if Sri Lanka fails to reconcile different concerns of the different ethno-linguistic or religious groups within its 25,332 sq.miles.
Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan have recently had issues related to water sharing with India. There wasa border skirmish between India and Bangladesh in 2001 over disputed border areas in the Indian state of Meghalaya. Bangladesh claims India overdraws water via the Farraka dam leaving rivers dry on their side of the border. India occasionally shoots illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. India is building the world’s longest border fence to stem illegal immigration from Bangladesh leading to further tension. India has similar water resource issues with its other neighbours. In all these cases, India has got away with bullying and intimidation because of its sheer size and military power.
Potentially with illegal immigrants from India settling down in parts of Sri Lanka, they will alter demographic patterns. India may potentially create issues and intervene militarily in the future. These may sound alarmist, but they are not beyond the realm are they? What if RAW and India set up some violent attacks against Indian interests/Investments? Japan did this in China before World War II. What will Modi’s mode be? Will he aggressively seek Hindu Raj domination or will he govern as a moderate mild genuinely Gandhian Indian?
The fact remains that the Sinhalese be they Buddhists, Agnostics, Atheists or Christians is indeed one of the oldest recorded ethno linguistic civilizations of the world. Whether the Sinhalese are of Malayali or Ori or Bengali, or even Bihari mixed descent is besides the point; its recorded history shows that it is indeed the dominant ethno linguistic group in Sri Lanka and some respect for its fears and concerns must be shown and addressed in whatever political settlement sets its future. Dayan J is right on that point; it is not racist to point out that fact.
There are 80million Tamil speakers across the Palk Strait. The Tamil identity and language is not threatened by mingling or integration. That is indeed a racially divisive tactic used by those who want to protect the caste based segregationist identity of one group over another. Can one part of a nation exclude one ethno-linguistic group from living there based on irrational ethno-religiously based biases the way Tamil supremacists and Tiger supporters want? Shouldn’t any ethnic Sri Lanka have the right to own property, live, work and prosper in any corner of a densely populated Island nation? Will India try to make a Sikkim out of its island neighbour?