Originally published on The Weekend Leader
Contrary to claims in certain sections of the Indian media that the Indian Prime Minister not taking part in Sri Lanka’s CHOGM compromises the country’s ‘national foreign policy’ in favour of ‘regional interests’, a decision by the highest political authority of India to avoid participation in this event is precisely in favour of India’s national interests.
If India really had long-term strategic vision, it would completely boycott the CHOGM, but that is a different argument.
Let us also leave the moral question of engaging with Sri Lanka – a country accused of genocide, war crimes, systematic rape and torture – aside.
What could be a rational reason for Dr. Manmohan Singh to boycott the CHOGM?
The Arthashastra emphasises that the welfare of a state depends on an active foreign policy. The operative word here being ‘active’.
An active foreign policy takes into consideration not just relations between states, but also intra-state relations, especially those between power blocs within a state, and the geographical location of these power blocs.
In the Sri Lankan context, an active foreign policy of India must, in all rationality, be mediated by the geographical and demographic power bloc that is Tamil Nadu, which is historically and culturally, not to mention emotionally, connected to Tamil Eelam.
In that sense, the ‘regional interests’ of Tamil Nadu must be part of any Indian foreign policy calculation vis-a-vis Sri Lanka.
At no point of time in history has pro-Tamil Eelam activism in Tamil Nadu been so politically charged and conceptually clear as in the years succeeding the genocide in May 2009.
The new generation activists, smooth, suave and adept in their use of social media for political purposes, have generated tremors in the state in their protests against the US resolution earlier this year.
The heat generated by the Tamil Nadu youth, besides inspiring diaspora youth to stage similar protests, also compelled the Tamil Nadu government to pass resolutions calling for a referendum among the Eelam Tamils.
And it is precisely their pressure and that of grassroots Tamil political parties, which compelled Tamil Nadu State Assembly to pass a unanimous resolution calling for a full Indian boycott of CHOGM in Sri Lanka.
There is another thing to note here. While pre-2009 pro-Tamil Eelam activism in Tamil Nadu was directed primarily against Sri Lanka, after May 2009 the informed political discourse began challenging the role of the world establishments – especially the US and India – and their role in assisting the Sinhala state.
Except during the period of anti-Hindi agitations in Tamil Nadu, at no other point has Tamil civil society been mobilized en masse to challenge a policy of the Indian Centre.
After all this, if Dr. Manmohan Singh, the political head of the Indian state, goes to Sri Lanka, not only would it have been suicidal for the Congress party’s political prospects in Tamil Nadu, it also would have given fuel to greater anti-Centre sentiments in the region.
So, a decision for Dr. Singh to boycott the CHOGM is indeed taken in ‘national interest’.
If those ‘experts’ in the media commenting on “foreign policy objectives” and placing national interest over “political expediency” fail to take this into account, it only reflects their sad ignorance of ground reality.
It should be added here that activists in Tamil Nadu are not satisfied with this gesture alone and continue to demand a total boycott of CHOGM and the removal of Sri Lanka from the body.
Informed activism in Tamil Nadu has a reached a stage where it knows to differentiate a symbolic gesture from a strategic victory.
Yet, can anything be deciphered from Dr. Singh’s decision?
One, the Indian government realizes that Tamil Nadu can turn volatile on Sri Lankan issue and therefore is trying to balance collective Tamil sentiments.
Two, the pressure exerted by peaceful democratic mass movements in Tamil Nadu has a potential to influence the centre via the periphery.
Three, Indian foreign policy on Sri Lanka cannot be blind to the power bloc of Tamil Nadu as it has been doing all the while. It needs to take in the ‘local’ factor into consideration if it indeed has a long-term ‘national’ vision.
Overall, Dr. Singh’s absence at the CHOGM signifies a symbolic victory for Tamil Nadu. Though symbolic, a victory nevertheless!
After all, the British Prime Minister is attending the meeting despite protests in his country against the same. Besides, this move is also a snub to Northern Province Chief Minister Wigneswaran and certain ‘analysts’ from Colombo who were pleading with the Indian PM to attend.
The power relations are rather explicit here. It is obvious that a strong Chennai carries more impact than a dummy in Jaffna or the stooges of Colombo.
India needs a serious re-think on its overall policy towards Sri Lanka. In this Information Age, the Tamils world over have emerged as a well-networked community.
Activists from three centres of Tamil power namely Tamil Nadu, Tamil Eelam and the Tamil Diaspora actively engage in knowledge sharing exercises through various medium, constantly expanding their spheres of influence in opinion making.
Through shared images, notes, articles and videos, the Tamils are constructing a political discourse that informs them of the oppression the Eelam Tamils suffer in the island and the remedy that is required.
And this creates intellectual ammunition for critical and radical voices in the Tamil Nadu polity.
The key questions that Indian foreign policy analysts with vision should consider is this – given that it is in the very nature of the Sri Lankan state to be hostile to Tamil interests, wouldn’t you rather lose Sri Lanka as a friend than gain Tamil Nadu’s enmity?
Does India really want to create instability in Tamil Nadu for the sake of creating stability for the Sinhala state? Does India want to antagonize a Tamil community that is global in its reach and potential for the sake of a failed state?
As for Dr. Singh’s decision, this symbolic victory of the Tamil Nadu activists must be converted to a strategic victory by eventually compelling the Indian government to do a complete re-evaluation and an overhaul of its current myopic foreign policy towards Sri Lanka.
Originally published on TamilNet
Various Tamil diaspora organizations have already started gearing up towards the forthcoming UN session in Geneva. While some believe that the resolution this year might take Sri Lanka to task over human rights, others argue that it will only be an encore of last year’s resolution, one that gives more legitimacy to the fundamentally flawed LLRC and providing Sri Lanka more time to strengthen its military occupation and colonization of the Tamil homeland.
Some have said that America wanted to bring a “stronger” resolution, but that it was watered down owing to India’s compulsions. It seems rather ironic though, that America, which was able to convince India to toe its line in the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement – definitely an issue of much greater strategic importance to India than Sri Lanka – was unable to bring India to its line over the issue of a political solution in the island.
It should be clear that the ‘strategic partners ‘, US and India, are at the moment more or less on the same line as far as the national question of the Eezham Tamils is concerned, the former promoting ‘positive elements’ in the LLRC and the latter, the 13th Amendment. The view that neither can provide any meaningful solution to the Eezham Tamil nation has been consistently expressed by Tamil writers, analysts and activists.
There are other lines too. Some like International Alert use ‘soft power’ to encourage Tamils to collaborate with the Sri Lankan government and to work within the unitary state model. A rapidly emerging ‘South Africa line’ is promoting concepts taken from other contexts, like the sharply criticized ‘restorative justice’ model, and the Harare Commonwealth Declaration, which might have some relevance as concerns “individual’s inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic political processes in framing the society in which he or she lives” provided this is placed in the context of the genocidal oppression that Eezham Tamils face as a nation in their occupied homeland. But sadly, context is what these actors mostly ignore.
The International Crisis Group’s line is considered among a few sections in the diaspora. In an interview to TamilNet on October 2012, Alan Keenan said “I hope there will be, an independent investigation into the incidents leading up to the end of the war, and preferably also post-war, the question of genocide should be included among those issues.”
As regards a question on the right of the Tamil people to have a sovereign state of their own, Dr. Keenan responded that in the current context, the demand for separation is not a wise one and if a larger percentage of the Sinhala population was more sympathetic to this demand, it could be pursued.
The ICG report “Tamil politics and the quest for a political solution” released on November 2012 promoted similar ideas. The report suggested “To be successful, the Tamil struggle for rights and justice cannot depend primarily on international support. Tamil politicians and civil society will have to engage more directly in political debates beyond devolution and the north and east and build alliances with southern civil society organisations and parties interested in promoting democratic reforms.”
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to term this idea as ‘idealist’ despite it coming from an organization that is supposed to analyze politics on the basis of historical fact rather than hypothesis. A torturous 65 year history – since the unitary state in the island created by the colonial powers was handed over to the Sinhalese – shows that the Sinhala nation has stood by regimes that progressively intensified persecution and genocide of the Tamil nation.
While a minuscule minority of Sinhala progressives have supported the Eezham Tamil nation’s political rights, only those who have denied it and trampled on it have been the prime movers among the Sinhala nation.
Utopians can entertain fantasies about some time in the future when a majority of the Sinhalese shall recognize the misdeeds of the past. But considering the accelerated rate at which Sinhala militarization and colonization, assaults on Eezham Tamil identity and territory, in short, the protracted genocide of the Eezham Tamil nation is continuing, the Tamils are likely to end up as dispersed tribes and artefacts in a Sinhala museum by the time this realization among the Sinhalese occurs. In a realist analysis, Eezham Tamils neither have time nor the demography on their side.
These, in general, are lines that the diaspora encounter in 2013, three and a half years after the internationally abetted genocidal massacre at Mu’l’livaaykkaal.
What is to be done?
Years back, ‘Taraki’ Sivaram, senior editor of TamilNet assassinated by Sri Lanka, had drawn a line between the control over monopoly of violence by the Sinhalese in unitary Sri Lanka to the constitutionally sanctioned political violence against the Eezham Tamils via the 6th Amendment that made any person or organization demanding self-determination as beyond the frameworks of basic political and civil rights.
While this Sinhala monopoly over violence was halted for a brief period when the LTTE was functional as a de-facto state, after an internationally co-ordinated counterinsurgency campaign against the Tigers, aided by world powers for their vested interests, it was restored in a severe and virulent form post-May 2009.
Without any effective social or political power among the Eezham Tamils in the homeland to check it, the Sinhala military apparatus has deeply entrenched itself in the Tamil homeland, engaging in land grabs, Sinhalization, colonization, besides systematic abuses targeting women and the youth in specific. Besides a planned erasure of the territorial contiguity of the Tamil homeland, these acts are designed to permanently mutilate the Tamil nation. All of these have been documented by non-Tamil sources as well and the Establishments are well aware of them.
While the strategy for the Tamils world over should be the restoration of Tamil sovereignty, the different Tamil diaspora organizations negotiating with powers must arrive at a consensus to pursue an immediate tactic to alleviate the mutilation of the Eezham Tamil nation in the Tamil homeland by the occupying Sinhala military.
This can happen through an interim solution of an intervention of international powers in the island to facilitate the dismantling of the Sinhala military apparatus, thereby placing a check over the Sinhala monopoly over violence which is currently playing out as unchecked genocide.
A TamilNet editorial piece ‘Declare for referendum in any unity meeting’ published on July 2012 charted out a blueprint alluding to such an interim solution.
“The US and India should jointly facilitate conditions to conduct a UN presided referendum. The other powers may be left out, as they never cared for entering into any political interaction with Eezham Tamils.
The SL military has to be completely removed or strictly put under barracks during the interim period. Paramilitary groups have to be completely disarmed.
A situation has to be created for the free travel and interaction of the diaspora with the Tamils in the island. Palaali and Trincomalee airports have to be opened for this purpose.
A UN presided committee of stakeholders and a police recruited by it should take charge of administration, civil security and the process of referendum.”
This was also echoed in the suggestions put forth by new generation activists commenting to TamilNet in response to Tamil civil society submissions at the recently held ‘Exploring peaceful options’ meeting, convened by the GTF and facilitated by Berghof foundation. They said “The demands have to concentrate more on matters practically facilitating ground realities such as an interim international takeover of the situation, complete removal of occupying Sinhala ethnic military and other SL security forces as the SL military now functions in police uniform, ban on colonisation and guarantee to the territorial integrity of Eezham Tamils, and free access to the diaspora to reach out to its people in the island.”
In the current conditions, this tactic of an interim solution of intervention by international powers can be considered a necessity if the strategy of restoring the sovereignty of the Eezham Tamil nation is to be pursued systematically.
Only if the intervening powers ensure that the genocidal Sinhala military’s stranglehold over the Tamil homeland is broken, the 6th amendment declared null and void, there is a pre-constitutional recognition of the Eezham Tamil nation’s sovereignty and territoriality and an agreement to engage with the Tamils on an extra-constitutional solution, and Tamils in the diaspora and refugees from Tamil Nadu get free and safe access to their traditional homes, can the interim solution work effectively.
A submission by the Tamil civil society at the Berghof foundation meeting mentioned above states clearly why a “pre-constitutional recognition of Tamil Nationhood and self-determination” was imperative and why the 13th amendment or a federal constitution would not work.
Likewise, the tragic history of PTOMS experienced by the Eezham Tamil nation, which the Establishments are well aware of, should also inform why any solution that gives legitimacy to the Sri Lankan constitution can only be fundamentally flawed.
But will Sri Lanka let this happen? Will Sri Lanka’s friends let this happen?
Sinhala diplomat Dayan Jayatilleka, a staunch defender of Sinhala state’s genocidal war on the Eezham Tamil nation, in a recent article cited Sun Tzu’s famous injunction “know yourself, know your enemy”, ‘enemy’ of course being the Tamil diaspora and Tamil Nadu. This article, written in an uncharacteristic forthright manner, provides insights to Tamil diplomats also to “know your enemy”.
About the attitude of Sri Lanka’s Sinhala rulers Dr. Jayatilleka writes “When they look in the mirror they do not see themselves or us as we are, they see Israel. This dangerous delusion confuses this small island which is vulnerable to a naval cordon sanitaire and whose significant military assets can be neutralized in a single strike by its giant neighbour, with the most powerful military entity in the Middle East. It confuses a state which has a powerful ethnic lobby in the world’s sole superpower with Sri Lanka which has and can have nothing of the sort.”
He further adds “Sri Lanka has not a single of Israel’s advantages. It cannot be any kind of model or inspiration for our conduct towards our Tamil citizens in the former conflict areas, the region or the world.
Colombo’s current delusions of being an Israeli type garrison state, seem to regard China as being to Sri Lanka what the US is to Israel as security patron and diplomatic guarantor, though their respective strategic capacities and global reach are vastly different.”
As a second crucial flaw made by the Sinhala rulers, he writes “the Sri Lankan leaders do not understand the limits of their state’s own hard power, in relation to both the soft power of other communities (Tamils, Muslims, Christians) and the hard power of other states (India, the USA). In short they do not understand the balance of power outside their shores. They do not grasp the larger reality in its tangible and intangible dimensions.”
Indeed, Sri Lanka is no Israel. Its military elite like Jagath Jayasuriya may speak about “enhanced C4I capability”, but its base is made of lumpen rural peasant youth who have a xenophobic mindset and paranoia of anything that they see as alien, western or more progressive than what has been instilled to them through the Sinhala Mahavamsa mindset.
While Pirapaharan’s LTTE built a fledgling air force from available talent in the Eezham Tamil nation, the Sinhala military had to rely on external aid even for elementary radars. Sri Lanka’s native model of COIN was genocide pure and simple. Thanks to international guidance, the Sinhala state’s intent to commit genocide was given a lethally effective COIN. Observers among the powers are well aware of the consequences of this, even if they choose to remain silent about it now.
Given this state of the Sri Lankan military, the Sinhala diplomat is right to be apprehensive that a single strike by a super power can take out the entire Sri Lankan military might, for all the bravado it puts up in military conferences.
Sri Lanka is not a market hub either. In simple economics, the combined capital of the Eezham Tamil diaspora and Tamil Nadu can buy out the Sri Lankan economy many times over. Sri Lankan economy thrives on militarization, a war economy even in supposed peace time. Here is where Dr. Jayatilleka fails to throw light on China’s interest. This model can adapt perfectly well to the Chinese ‘Capitalism with Asian Values’, but the US and India operating on a different premises are likely find themselves left in the lurch sooner or later. Besides, if the genocide of the territory and nation of the Eezham Tamils is complete, “Sinhala dvipa” (island of the Sinhalese) would implode making it unviable for anyone.
The only thing that worked in the favour of the Sinhalese till now is the strategically vital geo-political location of the island. Even here, the US and India have a greater chance of effecting a change in the island than does China.
The diplomats in the Tamil diaspora here need to use to their full extent the soft power they have. Any geo-political calculation for the island does not take place without taking the Tamil diaspora and Tamil Nadu, one of the economically dominant states in India, into account. Tamils, as a whole, are a politically and economically vibrant community, with far global reach, entrepreneurial spirit and a pluralist society. Will the powers be willing to alienate such a people for the sake of short term geo-political interests favouring a genocidal primitivist Sinhala nationalism or will it be possible to arrive at a win-win situation?
If the negotiating Tamil diaspora organizations, with their knowledge and resources, can play its cards well, such a situation can be achieved. But it should be wary that the Powers, in the name of immediate alleviation of suffering of the Eezham Tamil nation in the island, do not lead them into a blind alley where they only end up strengthening the unitary state, through this regime or through a regime change.
The need of the hour is neither a blind faith that the Establishments will automatically deliver justice nor a belief that our moral high ground will automatically take us to victory. What are needed are meticulous planning, non-dogmatic thinking, efficient organization and co-ordination, an acute sense of tactics and strategy, and optimum utilization of available resources.
Using the opportunity created by global circumstances, the Sinhalese wreaked genocidal havoc on the Eezham Tamil nation in May 2009. In the current circumstances, if the diaspora organizations engaging in negotiations and diplomacy can persuade the powers to agree to the immediate tactic of the interim solution, while not losing sight of the larger strategy of securing Tamil sovereignty, the losses can be reversed and the “Thamizharin thaagam” (Tamils’ thirst) can be satisfied.
It should however be added as a sort of a postscript here that, while very important, battles in the grey terrain of diplomacy are not substitutes to grassroots mobilizations based on firm, uncompromising principles. It is a front, and a tricky front. As long as those engaging to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the powers do not forget the national will of Eezham Tamils in settling for nothing short of a Eezham Tamil sovereign political mechanism, so much the better.
More info about the demonstration can be found here
Her Biji Pishtgiri ya Shoreshgeri (I was told this means Long Live Revolutionary Solidarity)
Comrades, as I am honored to be in front of all of you today, I am also deeply saddened of the loss of the Kurdish nation of three beautiful flowers, of three revolutionaries. It is not your loss; it is our loss as well. Paris has a history of being a place filled with the blood of revolutionary martyrs. Be it the martyrs of the French Revolution or the martyrs of the Paris Commune. And that legacy, that tragic legacy, is continuing today. That day, it was the great revolutionary Maximillien Robespierre, it was the revolutionary Babeuf. In November, in November 2012, it was a Tamil activist fighting against the genocidal Sri Lankan state and fighting for the freedom of his people. And now, it is our wonderful Kurdish comrades. Sekine, Fidan and Leyla are not names of Kurdish women. They are the names of the Kurdish revolution. In Tamil, in the Tamil revolutionary movement, in our liberation struggle, we have a saying – “poaraaligal puthaikka paduvathillai vithaikka padugindraargal”. Our fighters are not buried, they are sown as seeds to rise again. But today we watch France, which is becoming a grooming ground for rogue oppressors who are killing activists, who are killing our comrades who are fighting for revolutionary peace, revolutionary justice and revolutionary freedom. But will the Kurdish nation be intimidated by this? We say, no! Will the Kurdish nation be afraid of this? We say no! Will the Kurdish nation cower before the bullets of assassins and rogues who are in the government and among oppressors over here? We say, no! For every Sekine they kill, for every Fidan they kill, for every Leyla they kill, there will be hundreds and thousands and hundreds of thousands of them. I conclude with a short verse of Pablo Neruda – “You can kill all the flowers, but you cannot stop the spring.” And this, we will tell to our oppressors.
Biji Kurdistan. Long live Kurdistan.
Long live Tamil Eelam.
Originally on Countercurrents
The ‘Tamil Sovereignty Cognition’ declaration that was released today (Nov 27, 2011), on the momentous occasion of Heroes Day, appears as a significant step in building a political consensus among the Tamils, especially the Eelam Tamil diaspora, in order to pave a path for future politico-legal action that would ensure justice for the Eelam Tamils. It is clear from the declaration that the (much abused) terms ‘peace’ and ‘justice’ are impossible to think of without addressing “the chronic national question of the Eelam Tamils in the island, where genocidal and structural genocidal approaches continuously deployed against the Tamil people in their homeland in the North and East of the island, by the Sri Lankan state with tacit approval of world powers”.
The timing and the structure of the declaration is particularly important in that it is a concrete step in making a solution within the unitary system of Sri Lanka intellectually impossible. While the sham Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report that is to be released soon completely whitewashes the Sri Lankan state and society of all involvement in a clear case of genocide while, maybe, just maybe, having token prosecutions (which again do not indicate any punishment corresponding to the nature of crime committed), the declaration clearly identifies the problem in the root of the conflict – the very socio-political and legal structure of Sri Lanka. It is impossible for a state structure that is based, since its origins, on a systematized oppression of a nationality to dole out any fair solution to them. The solution, then, needs to take place beyond the structure. And the declaration is clear in pointing this out in its assertion that “all outside players should drop insisting on finding solutions only within a united Sri Lanka”.
The signatories to the declaration – Poonkuzhali Nedumaran, writer and activist from Tamil Nadu, Krisna Sarvanamuttu, a student activist from Canada, Rajeev Sreetharan, affiliated to Tamils Against Genocide, USA and Lathan Suntheralingam, activist from Switzerland – who also spoke on the occasion of its release on Heroes Day, highlighted the impossibility of a united Sri Lanka and opined that a sovereign state of Tamil Eelam was the only solution to the problems of the Eelam Tamil people. While Poonkuzhali emphasised the role Tamil Nadu should play in the future struggle, Rajeev Sreetharan spoke of the need for the means of the Tamils’ struggle to evolve by innovative use of politico-legal mechanisms. Suntheralingam spoke of the pressing necessity for the Eelam Tamils to work with progressive and democratic forces world over who principally stand by their just demands. All were of the opinion that there was a need for a co-ordinated global action that would ensure justice for the Eelam Tamils.
Complementing Sreetharan, who observed that one cannot use the argument of ‘territorial integrity’ in the context of decolonization, Krisna Saravanamuttu asserted the need to reject “the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka” and the “constitutional monopoly of violence” that the Sri Lankan state possesses as both necessarily involved genocide of Tamils. Many years back, Sivaram, one of the leading intellectuals of the Eelam Tamil nation who was murdered by the Sri Lankan state, had elaborated this idea of constitutionally sanctioned violence through the following three points
“(a) Control of national wealth by the Sinhalese, as stipulated in the Constitution saying that the Parliament has complete control; (b) control of the monopoly of violence by the Sinhalese in a manner prejudicial to the Tamils – that is, the executive controls the army and the Parliament provides for it; but the executive is always Sinhala and so is the Parliament, and the army always remains Sinhala Buddhist; and (c) complete and inalienable control over the land.”
This is probably the shortest and most precise introduction to Sri Lanka. Sivaram was stating this at a time when these processes received a checkmate through the de facto state of the Eelam Tamils governed by the Tigers. Without the counter-hegemony of the LTTE, of course, it is back to square one.
These points of Sivaram and the arguments raised by Sreetharan and Saravanamuttu are of crucial importance as they compel us to reflect on certain key issues. First, in the inheritance of the colonial state apparatus that brought together two nations in a system that privileges the numerically superior one, conditions were laid to facilitate the socio-economic, political and cultural domination of the Sinhala nation over the Tamil nation. Second, the occupation of Tamil homelands emulates classical models of aggressive colonization where-in, through the direct use of or with the threat of violence, the natives are assimilated or if they resist, annihilated.
Third, a state of emergency is always maintained in the occupied areas so as to keep the subject population in a state of trauma wherein, let alone the right to a political solution, even the right to live appears to be an act of generosity of the Lankan state – this necessarily involves routinization of acts of interrogation, torture, sexual violence, abduction, desecration of cultural symbols, and tearing down of social fabric. The figure of the Sinhala is sought to be made omnipresent and omnipotent in Tamil territories. Fourth, ‘monopoly of truth’, silencing of voices that articulate Tamil national demands, propping up of dummy figures who speak in the name of Tamils but serve Sri Lankan interests, the creation of an intellectual discourse through a carefully cultivated ‘Sri Lankan Tamil’ elite that obfuscates the Real question of Eelam Tamil nationality.
The declaration conceptually challenges the ‘monopoly of truth’ that Lanka and its friends claim to wield in defending their unitary state, through its concise elucidation of the three types of sovereignties that the Tamils can lay claim to namely historical, earned and remedial. That the genocide of the Eelam Tamils is a structural and protracted process is made clear. The task now is for the youth, activists, legal professionals, intellectuals and others to use this declaration as a conceptual reference point for future activities and ensure that the question of Tamil sovereignty is never compromised.
It is harmless to remind here once again that the only democracy that the Eelam Tamils tasted in the sordid history of Sri Lanka was when their sole representatives wielded a parallel state power. It is naivety to expect anything democratic from a unitary state of Sri Lanka, no matter who leads it.
This article is intended as a response to Anand Teltumbde’s Dalit Capitalism And Pseudo Dalitism on Countercurrents dated 7th March, 2011
Fanon writes in The Wretched of the Earth that in colonies, a person is rich because he is white and he is white because he is rich. Simply put, the superstructure is the base. Stretching this analysis to India, one can argue that a Dalit is poor because she is untouchable and she is untouchable because she is poor. In a society like ours where hierarchy receives ritual sanction and operates via the medium of not only religion, but also language, social customs, morality and of course, the state, social capital determines economic capital. Nay, social capital is economic capital. If one has a glance at the top 50 ‘dollar billionaires’ in India one finds that there are 2-3 OBC’s in the list. No Dalits at all. Most of the rest are brahmins or baniyas. Is this capitalism in the classical sense?
Of course as Mr. Teltumbde says “capital does not have race, religion, caste, creed or even country.” But the capitalist has. What is capital without the capitalist? What struggle against capitalism can be successful unless it is directed against the face, all too human face, that embodies it? If we were to purely study the structure of capital subtracting the human agency that drives it one would just drive down an Althusserian blind alley. No. Capitalism has a human face and it is shaped by the thoughts, opinions and prejudices of the actor. In India, the face of the capitalist is the face of his caste.
Since Mr. Teltumbde is an avowed Marxist, I presume that he believes that socialism follows/should follow capitalism. Presuming that he is a Leninist, I believe that he would agree that the working class requires its organic intellectuals both in and out of a revolutionary party. In the history of Marxist intellectuals, very rarely have there been any who have actually emerged from an authentic proletarian background. They were bourgeois or petty-bourgeois who gave themselves up intellectually to the cause of the working class. India will be no exception to this. Where India will be an exception is that the caste of the intellectual will matter as much as, probably more than, his class. Here I would ask Mr. Teltumbde to look at various Marxist intellectuals in the country and their caste-class background. One does find a alarmingly high percentage of upper-caste adherents to a philosophy that intends to break all hierarchies. This not at all to doubt the intentions of the political actors concerned. Of course, various Maoist party intellectuals like Anuradha and Kobad Ghandy have taken genuine efforts to deal with caste. Yet, the question is why so many of them to analyse an experience that they can never feel? Can’t the subaltern think?
A partial answer lies here. We are dealing with a class of intellectuals that have had a middle class and bourgeois background to which the social capital of caste did contribute. Being literate sections for generations (rarely performing the gruelling tasks of manual labour), they have had access to a decent standard of education both at schools and more importantly, at home, besides day to day interaction in a more sophisticated intellectual culture. The texts of Marxism are not far from the reach of those that can read a text. Only the intention is required and the resources are given. But the void of Dalit and backward caste intellectuals in Marxism is precisely due to the fact that the social conditions around their caste rarely provide them the cultural and economic resources for them to first get a decent education and concurrently engage with and absorb a philosophy that changes them into conscious actors. Crudely put, the lack of a sizeable petit-bourgeois and bourgeois class of Dalits reflects on their minimal representation in Marxist circles.
Which is why Dalit Capitalism needs to be welcomed albeit partially. It does have its flaws in that the involved actors do consider it as the final stage of Dalit liberation, which is, of course, an act of bad faith. But there is always the possibility of positive effects on members of the community, let us say, the children of the Dalit capitalist, relatives or friends who might become beneficiaries out of a sense of caste solidarity of the Dalit capitalist. More Dalits get access to education and a different culture that they were previously denied. From here on, it is a matter of choice on what politics they seek to enter. But when they do enter, they enter not as objects, but as knowing subjects adding their experiences, their knowledge, their visions to a theoretical framework. One cannot expect that all might make the right choice, that is, the left choice. But the opportunity should be given to them to choose their political and intellectual destinies.
In Philosophy of Hinduism, Ambedkar writes that genuine liberty must be accompanied by three factors (I) Social equality (II) Economic security (III) Universal knowledge. We know that none of these are available in India for the Dalits. We can argue that economic security, even if it is for a miniscule number of Dalit capitalists, can and will open up possibilities for knowledge accumulation for a greater number, which consequently open up newer avenues for Dalit actors in movements for social equality. Caste is not just a social category. It is an experience. Unless you have representation from all caste groups to articulate those experiences in theory and execute them in revolutionary praxis what one would actually end with, I fear, is a group of upper castes performing the revolution, their revolution, in the name of the backward castes and the Dalits. The point is this: Dalit capitalism needn’t be glorified the way its protagonists have for it is not an end in itself. Yet, it needn’t be denounced the way Mr. Teltumbde does.
The news that Dr. Binayak Sen had been sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of sedition came as a rude shock to me today morning. The shock quickly gave way to a sense of irony as I pondered the significance of the timing (unintended of course) of the judgment. For today, the world commemorates the supposed birth of one the most celebrated seditionists in history – Jesus Christ.
My faith in reason does not allow me to believe in the ‘immaculate conception’ or the ‘son of god’ thesis. Nevertheless, I do think that Christ was an amazing personality in his age. The various churches that focus more on the text than the message of the Bible might want to portray him as a serious prophet of an organized faith – for that would then justify their own bureaucratic functioning. But Christ was a man who attended more parties than religious sermons. Who was the ‘king of kings’ who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Who said that the poor shall inherit paradise and that the rich have no place in the Kingdom of Heaven. Whose greatest message was to love and serve the poor.
Love and serve the poor. That is the crime Dr. Binayak Sen is guilty of. The place of his work is what we, the comfortably settled urban middle class, would call hell. Dirt, disease, starvation and poverty filled districts of Chhattisgarh. The wretched place cries, it shrieks for attention. And as an individual, Dr. Sen dedicated the best part of his life giving precisely that. Attention and care. Indeed, like Christ, Dr. Sen was a healer. Literally.
I have attended a few meetings in Delhi where Dr. Sen has spoken. If one identifies a person’s political ideology on the basis of what he speaks in public, I would say that Dr. Sen is definitely not a Marxist-Leninist. He is closer to Gandhi than to Marx. But it appears that the only ‘Gandhism’ that the Indian state allows is Rahul Gandhism. Even the communal cousin gets his space in democracy. Those Gandhians, who through some interpretation of the ideas of the original thinker try to make some positive difference in the lives of the masses, find themselves in the line of fire however. The state unhesitatingly clubs them with the ‘Ghandyians’. This sort of paranoia towards anyone who questions the state and its (mal)functions is hardly the sign of democracy, rather, it is a manifestation of the despotic undercurrents that plagues this system.
So there you have Indian democracy. Gun down suspected criminals in encounters and you are a local star. Kill civilians in Manipur or Kashmir and you are a war hero. Exhort people to butcher Muslims on the basis of an imagined community and you are a patriot. Even if the ‘secular’, ‘humanitarian’ elements in the polity would disagree to these statements, I doubt it if anyone would dare even suggest slapping sedition charges against a Togadiya or a Thackeray. But work for the poor and/or question why they are so and voila! Section 124a.
Maybe Sen’s life term is another crucifixion. Maybe this is the rebirth of Christ, as those who sacrifice their lives for the oppressed. Maybe this is the Kingdom of Heaven, the heart of the brave and the compassionate. Maybe like Christ who died then for the sins of humanity, such people do for ours now – the sins of inaction and silence. Maybe they are executing Christ’s message after all: “Greater Love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his fellows.”
Merry Christmas to all.
(I wrote this yesterday)
To be filed in any high court in Indian Territory
Honorable your Honour
I recently read the judgment of your colleagues on the Babri Masjid… ooops… the Ramjanmabhoomi issue. I should say that I was thrilled. Since legal bodies of our great modern country have extended their jurisdiction to the unknown past to settle real or imagined religious disputes, I make an appeal for my client with great confidence in your rational-legal authority.
Since in the RJB judgment, ‘Lord’ Rama is accepted as a historical character, I would like you to the consider the case of my client, King Mahabali. Since you have managed to map out Ram lalla’s birth to a specific geographic region, we hope you would pay due regard our argument of the Kerala origins of Mahabali. Sir, we want to bring to light the historical and religious injustice done to Mahabali and his followers.
Mahabali was a righteous king who hailed from that section whom you call in legal terms as ‘backward castes’. He was to the oppressed sections what ‘Lord’ Rama was to the upper castes. In case you need more information on his historical significance, I would suggest that you read Mahatma Phule’s works, in case thy most knowledgeable self has not already. His rule was considered to be one where there was a just treatment of all sections of the population. However, jealous with the virtuous rule of this backward caste king, Vishnu, in the guise of a brahmin dwarf (Vamana), duped Mahabali and pushed him into the underworld. (I think a case of impersonation can also be filed against Vishnu).
Anyway, what happened over the years was that my client was denied his place in society by the brahminical ruling classes and they also crafted stories to justify his predicament, thereby legitimizing their own rule. Result was disastrous for his people, the backward castes, who comprise the majority of the population. Not only did they lose a politico-spiritual symbol, it also meant material losses. Thanks to Mr. Vishnu, they lost their wealth, their lands and above all, their self-worth, being stigmatized and dehumanized for well over a millennium. I am sure your honour understands the social and historical significance of all this.
Thus, keeping the Allahabad verdict on RJB in mind, we would like you to consider the following
1. That Kerala was the kingdom of Mahabali (if you go by Mahatma Phule, it was much larger. But we are content with Kerala as of now) which was unjustly usurped by the brahmins with the help of Mr. Vamana, an alias of Mr. Vishnu.
2. That since Kerala is the birthplace of Mahabali lalla, we want 2/3rd of the land to go to his descendants, that is, the backward castes – yes, even after Namboodripad’s much talked of land reforms, the brahmins still have enormous land-holdings in the state.
3. That an Archaeological Survey of India research team must be constituted to do a study of all brahminical temples in Kerala. If evidence showing that they have been built over backward caste temples is arrived at, steps for their demolition and the rebuilding of the original temples should begin in earnest.
For the past 110 days, a man called Seeman, leader of the Naam Tamizhar Iyakkam, is languishing in a prison in Tamil Nadu, arrested under the NSA. His crime was grave indeed: he voiced his opinions on the plight of the Eelam Tamils in pretty strong words, supporting their right to self-determination. And he was booked under a variety of charges, including for talking against ‘national integrity’. And not a single ‘radical intellectual’ (read as Delhi based intellectuals who make statements on a variety of prominent issues) condemned it.
And then happens the meeting on Kashmir in New Delhi on 22nd October. And then the circus in the pigsty, the right wing elements baying for the blood of Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Arundhati Roy, the media trials. And then the reaction from the civil society. And of course, our radical intellectuals. ‘Freedom of speech and expression’, ‘sedition is colonial’, ‘draconian laws’ and other such terms were used to counter the absurd logic of the loony fringe. The chaps in Tamil Nadu, those who condemned the arrest of Seeman, also used the same terms. Sadly, it neither made to the ‘national’ dailies nor to the ears of our defenders of democratic rights. (I need to note here that many of the activists who condemned Seeman’s arrest do not agree with his line of politics. Neither do I. But I assume he has the same right to express his democratic opinion on political issues as does Roy.)
Maybe its got something to do with the issue Seeman was talking about. The genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka happens to be the worst case of systematic state violence against a people in South Asia. And the least talked about in India’s intellectual circles. Apart from Tamil activists and some party intellectuals affiliated to the CPI(Maoist), no one else did an honest appraisal of the struggle of the Eelam Tamils or gave a condemnation worthy of the horrors that the Lankan government perpetrated. Intellectuals who talked about repression on Mars, Jupiter and Pluto were conspicuous by their silence on the repression in a country not far from home. Even Arundhati Roy, who has written brilliant essays on Kashmir, Palestine, Iraq etc had but a 200 word article on Sri Lanka (and a consecutive interview to Sri Lanka Guardian). But even Ms Roy, with all her positions on grave issues, stopped short of recognising the political demands of the Tamils.
This is not an attempt to undermine the issues taken up by these intellectuals. Rather, it is an attempt to understand why some issues get perennially neglected, issues which are as important, where oppression is similar or worse. For instance, how many times have we seen conventions in the capital on the rights of the people of the North-East? But on Palestine, whoa! The oppressed in South Asian countries, like others in the Third World, are treated worse than animals. But if one were to observe the patterns in the ‘internationalist concerns’ of the Indian intellectuals, in an Orwellian sense, some animals appear to be more equal than others.
Condemning the attempted assault on the freedom of expression of popular intellectuals and leaders is necessary, but at the same time let us also recognize that silencing of ordinary activists happens on a day-to-day basis, of those who work on the ground among the masses in Kashmir, in Chattisgarh, in Tamil Nadu, in Manipur and so. Recently, Anthony Shimray, a NSCN(IM) leader, was arrested by the Indian authorities. And the Indian state is supposed to be on a Ceasefire Arrangement (CFA) with the NSCN(IM). How do you arrest someone with whom you have a CFA with? What of his ‘freedom of speech and expression’? Who will take up his case the way the intellectuals and civil society took up cudgels for the democratic rights of Ms Roy? Or the case of the Dalit Human Rights Mission activists who are hounded by the Kerala state government?
These are questions one can ask the intellectuals. For one is indeed tempted to believe that these intellectuals are in someway, maybe unconsciously, subscribing to the logic of the media market – maximum coverage to that which gets maximum attention. Should this be the case, then the intellectuals are doing a great injustice to the radical politics that they claim to represent. For radicalism is not making the loudest statement about the flashiest issue. On the contrary, it lies primarily in highlighting those issues which have been avoided, even should it make one ‘unpopular’ in intellectual circles.
For the lack of recognition of these issues is, from a Fanonist perspective, as good as opposition.
“தமிழர் காணும் துயரம் கண்டு
தலையை சுற்றும் கோளே அழாதே..
என்றோ ஒரு நாள் விடியும் என்றே
இரவைச் சுமக்கும் நாளே அழாதே..”
Its been a year since that dreadful day when Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse declared that the war against the LTTE is over. War, being the ugly thing it is, it would seem ironical to say that the day it ‘ended’ was dreadful. But that’s Sri Lanka for us, full of ironies. We are aware of the means employed by the Sri Lankan government to crush the Tamil Eelam liberation movement and the genuine demands of the Tamil people. We know the thousand untold sufferings that the forcefully detained Tamil civilians are facing in the IDP camps. We also know the role played by the international imperialist powers and the regional big brother, India, in facilitating the genocide of the Eelam Tamils. Numerous debates, discussions, conventions, protests, demonstrations and tribunals have been organized to highlight the plight of the Eelam Tamils. Yet, things continue as before in Buddha’s country.
A Tamil from Tamil Nadu, I write this with great shame and frustration, but also with hope. Shame at our inability and impotency to do anything solid while you, our brethren, got butchered. Frustration with the Tamil politicians-cum-agents who built their political castles with your bones. If the way the various TN political parties manipulated mass sentiments was bad, the way the Tamil society slipped into inertia after the war was worse. What happened in Sri Lanka was not a war on the LTTE, it was a war on the Tamils. Unfortunately, the Tamils here did not respond to the situation in the way they should have. This is but a reflection of the rotten socio-political order that exists in TN and it will take quite some time before the scenario changes here. But I have hope, I have faith that the Eelam Tamils will not take these humiliations lying down, that the ‘defeat’ of the LTTE is only a temporary setback to the struggle.
As Tamils, we are used to hearing stories of the military exploits of our ancestors, sagas of heroic personalities and tales of daring kings. Today, we can say confidently that the Tamil Tigers have outshined all the accomplishments of our past heroes and stand as examples worthy of emulation not just for the Tamils, but for all struggling peoples the world over. Indeed, Prabhakaran is a revolutionary icon for the Tamil youth of the world just as Che Guevara is for the Latin American youth. However, I fear that just like Che, Prabhakaran will be reduced to T-shirts, banners and posters while his message for revolutionary political action takes a backseat.
Of late, the Tamil diaspora has been busy with procedures regarding the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam. While I don’t underrate the importance of such measures, somehow I feel that it is being considered as an end in itself. Comrades, Tamil Eelam can be established only through struggle IN Eelam, BY the Eelam Tamils. That is primary. The activities in other countries complement that struggle, but they can never replace it. As Prabhakaran said, “the success of our struggle depends on us, not on the world. Our success depends on our own efforts, on our own strength, on our own determination.” The priority now is to revive the movement in Tamil Eelam. For as Com. Ravindran points out, “The war led by the LTTE was an inspiration for all those who are fighting against exploitation, injustice and oppression” (People’s Truth, Sep 2009). Likewise, the defeat of the LTTE was not only a blow to you, but also a boost to the various reactionary governments facing similar movements. The Indian ruling class and their media agents find the Sri Lankan solution appropriate to crush the various struggling nationalities as well as the people’s revolutionary movement in central India. Even far-off countries like Turkey, Israel, Colombia and others feel emboldened that they can finish off their problems through such brutal military means. The Tamil movement has to rise again now, not just to prove the Tamil Tigers right but also to prove these paper tigers wrong. Also, you will have to come out of your isolation and join hands with revolutionary forces and oppressed nations across the world. Yours is but part of a global struggle for freedom and justice.
But the Lankan state is triumphant, all-powerful and is aided by big powers, is it not? Comrades, the Sinhala-chauvinist ruling classes are not fearful, they are fear-full. Like all tyrants and enemies of the people, Rajapakse and co. are afraid of the people they oppress. They fear that someday, someway the hand of justice will rise to hit back at them and their oppressive machinery. This is the reason why they seek to turn the captured areas of Tamil Eelam into Sinhala colonies and inflict horrors upon the Tamil people. They seek to crush you politically, physically and psychologically because they fear your strength. But as Prabhakaran observed, “As long as there is oppression and suffering, as long as there are people deprived of freedom, there will be liberation struggles.” It is in this dark hour of brutal repression that you need your strength more than ever. The Indian govt aided Lanka’s genocide, but the struggling masses of India and the nationalities she oppresses are with you. The Tamil Nadu govt and the political parties might have betrayed you, but the Tamil masses are with you. Even should you lose faith in us, the inactive activists, please keep faith in your people, the goal of Tamil Eelam, the sacrifice of your martyrs. The Unceasing Waves of Tamil resistance cannot stop. They should not.
The election results for the 15th Lok Sabha are out. Some are jubilant. Some are crestfallen. New faces will be seen in the cabinet. The heads of prominent losers will roll. Over the next few days there will be party meetings and meetings for a party. Congratulatory greetings will be sent to the victors. Some sober losers will use the time to self-introspect. New alliances will be forged. Some old ones will be discarded. And finally, the UPA will form the government with Dr. Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister. And another 5 years will go on till the next elections (unless something drastic changes the course of India’s polity, of course). But what happens to the ‘Aam Aadmi’?
No, the Aam Aadmi does not refer to those chic youth of Mumbai or Delhi who find so much space in the IBNs and the Times Nows. My Aam Aadmi refers to those millions of Indians who have benefited the least from the economic policies of the previous governments and are unlikely to from the current one’s either. These people who comprise the majority of India’s populace, unfortunately have minimal space in the media (but if Aishwarya Bachchan itches her nose, its national news). What has elections done for these people?
A cotton farmer who cast his vote in Vidharba would probably go back to his impoverished home, commit suicide and become a statistic in some report of Sainath in the future. A Dalit woman in Haryana would’ve been raped by upper caste villagers the day after she cast her vote – she would have little hope for justice no matter who represents her constituency. The agricultural labourer in Orissa who cast her vote on April 23rd would probably see her daughter die out of disease on May 23rd for the simple reason that there were no public healthcare facilities anywhere nearby and the nearest private clinic was too expensive for her. The people of some districts in Tamil Nadu voted and toppled some Congress giants in their strongholds for the Eelam cause – but of what use now? The people of Kashmir would’ve voted, secretly hoping for a referendum on their status in the near future. I do not know why those in the North East or those under Salwa Judum territory even vote. Procedural democracy in India exists – whether it is substantive is a question that requires answers.
A recent report by Sainath in a daily newspaper revealed that voting in Mumbai was only 41.41% this time. Mumbai. The city that never sleeps. The city of Bollywood. The city of some of the richest men in the country. The city of Mukesh Ambani’s 600 crore home And the city that houses the largest slum in Asia. Over 50% of Aamchi Mumbai’s residents live in the slums. And it was these people who formed the bulk of those who cast their votes. Uh..oh. What happened to the youth of those posh colleges of Mumbai who took out candlelight vigil protests against the 26-11 attacks on the Taj and the Oberoi? (Who cares about the CST anyway? If TV doesn’t cover it, its not news!) Where were those angry young women and men, whom the Barkhas and the Goswamis believed would teach a lesson to the politicians? Considering that these chaps, and their rich parents of course, were the primary beneficiaries of the neo-liberal policies of the government, wouldn’t they spare a couple of minutes to select their representatives? But we don’t want their soft, fair skins getting a tan, do we? Well, the lesson that seemed obvious out of the entire exercise was the politicians need the votes of the poor to serve the rich. That is, the poor elect the representatives of the rich. Is it then, as Marx and Lenin spoke about the functioning of a capitalist democracy, that the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them in parliament?
Of course, it would be naïve to suggest that all of the bourgeois kids would be indifferent to the electoral process. Quite a few would have cast their votes (for those who would serve their interests in the future). I, for one, am sure that quite some students from certain prestigious J-schools in the country would have voted. Well, they ought to. They are the future constituents of the fourth pillar, aren’t they? They would then boast about it on facebook/orkut and proudly display their index finger to their friends at Coffee Day, Barista or some expensive pub. That they will show their middle finger to the Aam Aadmi in the due course of their career is a different issue altogether.
For the poor, however, the polling booth is one place – in my opinion, the only place where democracy functions. This again, when you exclude cases of booth capturing or rigging. Democracy, otherwise, doesn’t exist for the underprivileged in India. The country’s healthcare sector is one of the most privatized ones in the world, even worse than that of the US’. A series of articles in the EPW dated Nov 22 2008, on the 30th anniversary of the Alma Ata revealed the glaring failures in India’s healthcare policy post 1991 reforms – things just went from bad to worse. And as a result, you have thousands of people dying of curable diseases for the sole reason that they can’t afford treatment. As far as education is concerned, apart from a few states that had a tradition of reform movements, India’s progress has been abysmal. Even primary schools don’t exist in 1000’s of villages across the country. Add to this feudal notions of caste superiority, pollution et al that prevail in society that have been minimally addressed by the state, in some cases, reinforced by it. So by the time a Dalit/Tribal student reaches collegiate education, she would have undergone thousand untold sufferings. But yeah, the chief argument put forth by the privileged classes against affirmative action is merit. A comparison with social progress achieved by ‘dictatorial’ Cuba should put the ‘world’s largest democracy’ to shame, if it has any.
So where is democracy in India? Are the benefits of democracy for the rich and the despotism of bureaucracy for the poor? Is the freedom guaranteed by Indian democracy then, as Lenin observed about capitalist societies, the same freedom guaranteed for slave owners in ancient Greek republics? If so, then what is to be done?
Well, I am not going to suggest anything that would be perceived as going against the sovereignty, integrity and whatever of India. I am a law abiding, UAPA-NSA fearing citizen, after all. Those who are working for Change with a capital C know best.