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Mainstream, Vol LII, No 15, April 5, 2014

Parties Ignore Human Rights

Sunday 6 April 2014, by Kuldip Nayar

Dictatorships get a fillip when democracies falter. India committed this cardinal sin when it abstained from voting at the UN Human Rights Council. A resolution was sought to be passed to seek an international, transparent inquiry to find out whether Sri Lanka had killed in cold blood 40,000 soldiers and others in the wake of hostilities against the Liberation of Tamil Tigers Eelam (LTTE). They had surrendered unconditionally.

India’s abstention reminds me of the words of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru: “When aggression takes place or human rights are violated, we will not and cannot remain neutral.” Yet the Manmohan Singh Government has been found placating the dictatorial government headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Colombo. New Delhi did not bother the harm it would be doing to the cause of the Tamils’ rights and their own say in governance.

My hunch is that bureaucrats in the Ministry of External Affairs, with their mindset, decided to stay absent what they thought was “in the interest of the country”. The hapless Minister, Salman Khurshid, went along. He probably wanted the release of 100 fishermen who had “strayed” into the waters claimed by Sri Lanka. What will Salman Khurshid do now when the Colombo’s Navy has killed four fishermen?

That DMK chief M. Karunanidhi, otherwise supporting the ruling Congress, should accuse New Delhi of letting down the Tamils in Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu and other places is understandable. But what is not understandable is the policy by which the Manmohan Singh Government is pursuing to uphold the senti-ments and aspirations even when the election of a new government is six weeks away. Sri Lanka should not mistake the timidity of the ruling Congress for India’s betrayal of demo-cratic rights of Tamils.

I was not surprised to read the Rajapaksa Government’s reaction: Thank you. No doubt, New Delhi was under pressure from the demo-cratic world, led by America, that China and Pakistan, where democracy has been reduced to a relative term, supported Colombo. India’s obvious stand should have been to vote for the resolution to reiterate its policy to protect human rights. Small, sovereign nations should have felt let down.

I do not regret the defeat of the LTTE which was largely a terrorists’ organisation. But as a humanist, I feel sad over the killing of soldiers and their supporters after the surrender. The Sri Lankan Army, obviously with the blessings of President Rajapaksa and his brother, Defence Minister Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, had no remorse over their indulging in a bloodbath.

The world would not have known about the killings if the enterprising BBC Channel 4 had not shown the documentary on the killings and atrocities committed not only against the LTTE troops but also against the innocent Tamils. Colombo’s own inquiry was an eyewash, exone-rating the Army and heaping the blame on the Tamils who wanted an equal say in the affairs of Sri Lanka.

India has tried to persuade the Sinhalese, a preponderant majority, to give autonomy to the north, Jaffna. But all such efforts, going back to the days of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, have borne no fruit because New Delhi is afraid lest any corrective step should alienate a neighbour which is hobnobbing with China. But how long would we take a hypocritical stand of placating the ruling Sinhalese and assuring the Tamils of autonomous status? On paper, the Sinhalese and Tamil are two official languages. But in practice Tamil has no place. Even a police station does not entertain a complaint written in Tamil, much less in the state Secretariat.

I can appreciate the argument that the estranged Sri Lanka, a next-door neighbour, is capable of harming India. But what worse can Colombo do when it has allowed China to have its footprints in the country? On the one hand, Beijing has been given the development of the Trincomalee port and, on the other, Sri Lanka has become a refuge for some anti-India elements.

We can probably do little when the Sri Lankan Government is averse to accountability. It has already rejected two earlier resolutions—one of them was in conjunction with the UN Secretary- General. By abstaining from a move that was meant to put pressure on the government to come clean, New Delhi has tried to let Colombo off the hook. Probably, we did so because our own record on human rights is so blotched that we do not want to set a precedent of an inquiry by outsiders.

Our insensitivity can be seen from the fact that practically no political party has included violation of human rights in its election manifesto. Two main parties, the Congress and the BJP, have such a bad record of their rule that they do not encourage even a discussion on the subject. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a political platform of NGOs, should have had human rights violations on top of its agenda. But it too is losing its way—idealism—in an effort to become an alternative to the Congress and BJP.

People want a change. The AAP can emerge a power to reckon with. But is leader, Arvind Kejriwal, is as much surrounded by a coterie as are the Congress and BJP. The AAP can retrieve the ground it has lost provided it does not make the election an end by itself. What the nation needs is a force to uphold the lower half to eliminate corruption and to reiterate the ideology of pluralism.

Had the Sri Lankan Government kept their principles above the politics of power, it would not have been facing the charge of war crimes. But it is futile to expect this from Rajapaksa who is a dictator through and through. It is a pity that New Delhi has arrayed itself with such countries, known for the suppression of the common people, particularly the Tamils. The din of election has suppressed even the demand for justice.

Striking a personal note, I recall my visit to Colombo. There was a midnight knock at my hotel door and the police barged in to search the room for any discriminatory material. After some time the police force withdrew on its own. My crime was that I had held a press conference during the day to demand the removal of ban on LTTE and fight it out politically.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is

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