Why didnt the Western media cover Beirut as much as Paris, a writer for Al Jazeera asks. Why didnt Al Jazeera cover the Tamil genocide as much as Palestine, can we ask? We dont because we maintain this minimal decency that we should not compare deaths, massacres of civilians, that each tragedy is unique in itself and should not be compared. Yes, the dominant Western media covers Western issues more, just as a dominant Arab media covers Arab issues more just as a dominant Indian media covers Indian issues more. Why is that surprising? (To be honest, among the three, there is more diversity in the Western media.)
We have friends, family, comrades, lovers, who died in Paris. If we in the Europe mourn them, it does not mean we do not care about Lebanon. It is only because the Paris attacks were closer to the places we frequent, closer to the places our loved ones frequent; and humans as a species relate more to tragedies closer to home. This is what makes us human. To mock this requires a level of coldness which the ISIS share.
I can sympathize with the outrage that the Lebanese may feel at the media coverage in the West. Tamils who were active during 2009 can relate to this, how the Indian media, especially the lib-left ones, blacked out or twisted stories about Sri Lanka. But if we started asking the left “what about us” with respect to the Tamil case, there will be no end, and nothing fruitful in the end. We can challenge this media coverage with more dignity and without trying to exploit the other person’s guilt.
Yes, there are people who changed their profile pics to the French flag without any politics whatsoever, just as a stunt. But if these are fakes, I can say with confidence that the entire Indian “pro-palestinian” group is one big fake and the worst stunt pullers that I have met. These fakes do not represent the tragedy that either the Parisians face now or the Palestinians have faced for long.
Yes, Obama who is worrying about Paris but not Beirut is a hypocrite. So is Fidel Castro who accuses the US of creating ISIS but gave all diplomatic and political support to a state that resembles both in deed and ideology the Islamic State, the Sinhala-Buddhist regime of Sri Lanka. In fact, Sri Lanka is the perfect example of what the world will be if ISIS wins. And what coverage and solidarity did the Tamils get from the mainstream left? Imperialists will behave like imperialists will behave. They are brutal, hypocritical, cynical and manipulative. The sad part however is that the mainstream left is no different.
At some level, this also exposes the hypocrisy of certain ‘postcolonial’ activists – first you claim that you dont need attention from the West, next you scream if the West doesnt give you more attention. Just what and where is your politics exactly? To be honest, this “whataboutery” insults the victims more than the Western media people who you claim were ignorant to their plight.
Let us not undermine one person’s suffering in the name of highlighting another. Its like going to a house where a family has lost a loved one and making a statement that “Hey, this is sad, but you know in a road accident in New York in 1945, a whole family was wiped out.” There is nothing even mildly political about this.
Let us use this really grave moment to convey solidarity with the people who are standing up to racism and fundamentalism, be it in Paris, Lebanon, Tamil Eelam, Kurdistan, Baltimore, or Nigeria. But let us not do this “what about” games, especially with people who are our potential comrades, especially at such a time of crisis. The blood shed in Paris is the blood shed in Beirut is the blood shed in Jaffna is the blood shed in Diyarbakir. Praying for and showing solidarity with whatever is closest to you does not make you a racist. But trivializing the suffering of another makes you an absolute disgrace to humanity.
Originally published on Huffington Post
The astounding success of the Front National in the first round of France’s regional elections brought me no surprise. Though they didn’t win in the end, they have significantly increased their presence in France. The Right has been on an offensive insurgent mode in Europe for quite some time now. Quite strong Right-wing regimes rule Hungary and Poland. Anti-immigrant parties are on the rise in Denmark, Belgium and even in liberal Sweden. And at home, we have the UKIP that is steadily expanding its influence.
The success of the Right is not the validation of some inherently European racist tendencies as the politically correct would like to accuse, but rather the inevitable result of multiculturalism. The Right has capitalized where the Left has failed, weaving criticisms of practices of migrant communities into a strategically articulated discourse of xenophobia. The liberal-left, in its assumption that the best way to fight xenophobia is to treat the cultural practices of migrant communities as sacrosanct, has given ammunition to the Right’s discourse that immigrants will always remain alien to the European way of life.
Multiculturalism, and its dogma of uncritical tolerance of minority communities, has morally and politically undermined the Left and enabled the Right to project themselves as the defenders of Europe.
If in the era of colonialism the European liberal saw himself as the superhero responsible for saving all of humanity, in the era of multiculturalism, he sees himself as the supervillain responsible for all of humanity’s problems. To use a Freudian argument, the self-flagellating masochism of the European left-liberal is a form of a perverted narcissism. The left-liberal is secretly pleased at the ‘punishment’ being meted out to him by the exotic other, since he still remains the object of attention. This is why we could find so many apologetic rants in the wake of the Islamist terror attacks in Paris. “Yes, the attacks were bad, but we were the guilty ones.”
This sort of ridiculous posturing not only alienates the Left from the European masses, but also makes the vitriol of the Right more endearing. To be brutally honest, if I were a politically uneducated White working class person in a Parisian suburb, I would find the diabolical xenophobic frankness of the Front National more appealing than the sophistries of the liberal who expects me to bear responsibility for aggression committed against France.
If backward cultural practices of Muslim migrants are to be tolerated under the argument that they are integral to Islam, soon Hindu migrants too can make a claim, not without legitimacy, that practicing casteism is integral to being a Hindu. Indeed, Hindu lobby groups have opposed Britain’s attempts to criminalize the practice of casteism. There will be no limit to this, and the only politics that the Left will encounter from such groups is the politics of blackmail. As Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek rightly observed, “The more Western liberal leftists wallow in their guilt, the more they are accused by Muslim fundamentalists of being hypocrites who try to conceal their hatred of Islam.”
We need to differentiate between defending the lives and democratic rights of migrants and minorities and serving as apologists for the bigotries and backwardness among them. In fact, the only way to effectively defend the democratic rights of migrants is by being unapologetically critical of backward cultural practices among their communities and extending full support to progressives from such communities. The failure of the Left to do so is the only success of multiculturalism, and this provides the best rhetorical weapon for the Right to denounce migrants en masse as a backward lot.
As an ‘immigrant’ who has been in this country for about four years now, I agree with the Prime Minister David Cameron that British values need to be defended. But what are the British values we are talking about? The utopian communism of Gerrard Winstanley, the secular Republicanism of Shakespeare and the romantic Jacobinism of PB Shelley are the real British values, and very much European values. To think that migrants need not subscribe to these and should stay in their own little closeted cultures is also a form of racism.
In the name of multiculturalism, we cannot allow an infantile liberal-Left deny and denigrate all that is radical and emancipatory about Europe. Because only the far-Right, which hates egalitarian European values as much as the Islamists, will be the eventual beneficiary of this.
Originally published on Huffington Post
For the past few days, liberal activists have been busy on the social media sharing the picture of a Syrian Kurdish child, dead on the shores of a Turkish beach, owing to the refugee boat carrying his family to Europe capsizing in the seas. Liberals lament the deteriorating human rights situation in Syria and urge for Western governments to be more welcoming of refugees, using this image as an emotional rallying point. Indeed, the image of the lifeless 3 year old Aylan Kurdi is soul-crushing.
But I refuse to share it.
Turkey, a NATO ally, is encouraged by the fact that the PKK is still a banned organization in several Western countries and that the US has remained mum over its continued assaults on Kurdish forces, democratic organizations and armed revolutionaries alike. Victory of PKK and their affiliates will alter the entire region of the middle-east. Not only will it halt the march of Islamist fundamentalism, it will also place a check to political and economic systems that engineer conflicts that generates refugees. In other words, a Kurdish victory would mean no more Aylan Kurdis.
A friend asked me to look at the last page of the Hindu today (July 4th, 2009). At a first look, it appeared as though there were a lot of advertisements on the page. After a closer observation, I found out that I was not far from the truth. The lead article “Visiting the Vavuniya IDP camps: an uplifting experience” is nothing short of an advertisement for the Lankan government. The article flows like a good corporate ad – the (non-existent) virtues of the Lankan state have been overstated while its miserable failures have been understated.
I’ve been associated with the media enough to know how the Hindu functions, what are its holy cows, and its perception of “ethics.” I understand ‘Manufacturing Consent’ well enough to know how your dependence on being in the good books of the government and the corporates influences your paper’s stance. But what I don’t understand is your paper’s belief that your reader will accept your stories as gospel truth – this reflects in the quality of quite some your articles which are ideal cases of pamphleteering. And today’s article by Mr N. Ram takes the Oscar.
I fail to understand how a visit to any refugee camp can be an ‘uplifting experience,’ as Mr. Ram describes it. Every refugee is a tale of tragedy, a product of unfavourable circumstances beyond her/his control. And in Sri Lanka, they are products of an ethnic war, the roots of which lie in decades of state sponsored discrimination against the Tamils. Do you seriously think that all of your readers would fall for those pictures of all smiles and no tears? Do you think that we would believe that the Tamils would be happy in camps set up by a government that massacred their people by the thousands to apprehend a handful of so-called “terrorists”?
Never would the Hindu publish a story that is even mildly in praise of Israel. Never would the Hindu miss an opportunity to highlight the plight of the Palestinians. But different standards for genuine movements in India, Sri Lanka and China. But then, you have no interests worthy of concern in Israel. The Israeli govt doesn’t give your journalists free access like Sri Lanka or China. You don’t ruffle feathers in the Indian govt by adopting a pro-Palestinian stance but you might lose your precious government ads by being pro-Tamil or even mildly supportive of those brave tribals of Lal Garh. And let us not forget the Sri Lanka Ratna conferred on your Editor-in-chief by the Lankan state. Thus, the mistakes of the Lankan govt and the misery of the Tamil people – they don’t exist for the Hindu.
You try to portray a picture of being an “ethical” newspaper but your selective morality stands exposed in your coverage of people’s movements in and around India. You are no where near radical – you want to play it safe, be on the good side of the establishment. And your leftist stance? A farce, that will dropped at the first instance of trouble. I am willing to bet that if the Maoists target your interests tomorrow, you will sing paeans to the Salwa Judum. Even pro-right media orgs are better than you. At least they are honest about their stance.
PS I know that this letter will not be published. Truth hurts, and a paper like yours that lives in a world of constructed falsehoods wouldn’t want to face it. This exercise was to let you know that your readers are not fooled by your stories. That there are quite some who know the Hindu for what it is – a pro-establishment, bordering on the reactionary newspaper. There are others who are willing to wage an ideological war against such forces of reaction – through written letters, e-mails and blogs. Of course, we do not have a media mafia to back us, only the truth. And our conscience which we haven’t sold for some Ratna.
I wrote this letter as a response to the article “Visiting the Vavuniya IDP camps: an uplifting experience,” by N. Ram in the Hindu, Saturday, July 4th, 2009. A reliable contact within the Hindu told me that it was highly unlikely that my letter would get published. It was expected. My intention was to get the point across to the paper that there is resistance to their propoganda.
It was almost 1 am and I was tired after hours of debate with my friends (over several rounds of scotch, of course) about the situation in Sri Lanka and the way some ‘national’ news channels manufactured consent as well as content. We called it a day and returned our homes. Happily drunk, I hit the bed and fell asleep in a flash. And I entered dreamland.
There I was, one of the guests of a talk show on KDTV, a national news channel*. Darkha Butt, a famous TV journalist, was the anchor. The topic of debate? My pet subject.
Butt: Welcome to our show ‘Face the Country’ and we are live from Chennai. We have with us Mr. Subbuni Swamy, leader of the Jaalra Party, Mr. Jho Raaswamy, commentator on Tamil Nadu politics and Mr. Karthick Ram, activist.
The recent defeat of the LTTE and the death of Prabhakaran elicited different responses from various sections of political parties in Tamil Nadu. Many of them are in a state of denial, claiming that the Tiger leader is still alive. So Mr. Swamy, what do you think about the reactions in Tamil Nadu after the rout of the LTTE?
Sub: It is all a humbug. All those people who staged demonstrations were on the payroll of the LTTE. They are now frustrated that they’ve lost a source of income. Every Indian should be happy over the death of Prabhakaran.
Butt: Mr. Ram, how would you react to that statement?
Me: Well, I guess I’m not Indian then. Jus kidding.. Mera bharat mahaan. See, the so called “rout of the LTTE” – it was achieved at a terrible cost. Over 30,000 Tamil civilians were killed since January. The final operation was nothing less than a blood bath. The Lankan govt’s war is something beyond the military defeat of the LTTE – its objective is to humiliate the Tamils who dared stand up against the majoritarian state. The reactions in Tamil Nadu, condemning the genocide of Tamils, is owing to sympathy among the people here for their suffering brethren across the Palk Strait. There is no funding for sympathy, as Mr. Swamy alleges. And please call me Karthick. I don’t like to be called Ram.
Butt (laughing): Ok Karthick. But why are Tamil Nadu’s politicians in a denial mode over Prabhakaran’s death when even Tiger sources have confirmed it?
Me: Well, there are just too many unanswered questions and too many speculations around Prabhakaran’s death. The Lankan govt has given too many versions with too many loopholes for us to take its word as the truth. As for the Tiger’s version of events, they are something to consider. Personally, I’m not sure what to say right now.
Butt: Mr. Raaswamy, what would the Tigers do next? Can they make a comeback?
Jho: The Tigers are a decimated outfit. There is no coming back. Sri Lanka has shown the world how to deal secessionist-terrorists with an iron fist. India should learn from them in dealing with our own secessionist problems.
Butt: I think you have a point there. Mr. Swamy, there are many who claim that there is now a humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka and that India has a moral responsibility towards the Tamils. What do you think India should do, now that the Tiger threat is over?
Sub: Some pro-LTTE elements try to paint Sri Lanka’s legitimate war against terrorists as a humanitarian crisis. Many English media outlets like your channel, many progressive newspapers, and popular intellectuals like myself and Mr. Raaswamy have repeatedly exposed their hollow accusations. Of course, some anti-national people like Arundhati Roy and Medha Patkar have spoken in favour of the so-called Tamil cause – but we shouldn’t take these terrorist supporters seriously. So what if some civilians die? This kind of things happens in all wars. National integrity is most important. As a responsible neighbour, India should extend all possible support to Sri Lanka in its efforts at reconstruction. After all, even the Sinhalese have umbilical cords with India.
Butt: What is your take on that Karthick?
Me: What ‘legitimate country’ uses its air-force to bomb its own civilians? Which democracy herds displaced people into camps which are little better than prisons? Don’t you know that Sri Lanka ranks among the lowest when it comes to press freedom and human rights? Sri Lanka is not a democracy – it is an ethnocracy where the state works for the majority community and disempowers its minorities through brute force. And India’s decision to back Sri Lanka in the UN Human Rights Council convention at Geneva speaks volumes about the moral standing of Gandhi’s country.
Jho: India opposing Sri Lanka is out of the question. We cannot lose a strategic ally for a bunch of Tamils. Also, if someone raises the Kashmir issue, we will be in soup.
Butt: Besides, LTTE killed Rajiv Gandhi…
Me: For how many years are you going to say this same thing? Till the Tamils are wiped out in Lanka? I don’t think supporting the butchering of ordinary Tamil civilians today just because some suicide bomber blew up one of your leaders in the past is the right thing to do. But then again, you’re the national media – you have your own rules and you bend them as and when you see fit. Your channel and a particular ‘progressive’ (in a sarcastic tone) newspaper based in Chennai cry bloody murder if Israel targets Palestinian civilians in their operations against Hamas. Are Tamil civilians lesser human beings? Have you no sensibility? Or are you just worried that you will lose your government ads or run into trouble with your pro-establishment corporate sponsors?
Butt (sheepishly): I.. ummm.. we are… err… ah! Mr. Swamy wants to say something.
Sub: I don’t think you should pay much heed to the words of these fellows. They lack credibility.
Me: Did YOU talk about credibility Mr. Swamy? This coming from a person who loses his deposits each time he contests from Tamil Nadu is a bad joke.
Sub: Do you dare question my credibility?
Me: Actually, I’m questioning the credibility of these so called national TV channels. I mean, lets face it. You are a non-entity in Tamil Nadu’s politics and Mr. Jho Raaswamy is at the most a comedian – his commentaries on politics are becoming sick jokes as he gets older. The section of population in Tamil Nadu that are likely to back you are a numerically insignificant lot. Yet, you talk as though you have the backing of 6.5 crore Tamils. And these English channels lap it up as though you two guys were the voice of Tamil Nadu. I’m not sure who are the clowns here – you guys living in a delusion of being politically relevant, or the news channels that give bigots like you the space to rave and rant.
Sub: You terrorist scum, you! I will sue you! I’ll have you booked under the NSA, USA, RSA, BSA etc. etc.
Me: No you can’t. You’re in MY dream. And that, my friend, is beyond the long arm of your laws. Haha hehe hoho…
I woke up laughing.
*All character that appear on the TV show, including the channel itself, are figments of my imagination. Any resemblance whatsoever to real persons or organizations is purely coincidental.
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.
Tamil fishermen were yet again target practice for the Lankan Navy. Two fishermen were shot dead by a murderous Lankan Navy on July 12th 2008. More than 800 Tamil fishermen have been killed since 1983 and the centre has done little to address this issue. The roots of this contentious issue can be traced to India granting Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka in 1974. It is significant to note that Karunanithi, who recently demanded that Katchatheevu be retrieved, slept over this blunder all these years.
The Indian government, however, which considers Sri Lanka as a ‘strategic ally’, does not wish to antagonize it – even at the cost of the genuine interests of the Tamils.
But are Tamil people worthy of attention? Any person accustomed to the ‘national’ media in India will think otherwise. The ‘national’ channels that spent hours to debate Aarushi Talwar couldn’t find minutes to spare for the issue of Tamil fishermen. But then, Aarushi is the ‘ideal Indian’ stereotype – fair skinned, North Indian, Hindi speaking, upper caste. Why waste footage over some dark, low class, non-Hindi person who in no aspect conforms to the Indian stereotype? Of course, Aarushi’s tragic demise was a monumental tragedy for her parents, but was the tragedy any less for the kith and kin of the butchered fishermen? The theory of equality works strangely in a supposedly democratic country that has a heritage of racism sanctioned by religion. Some Indians are always more equal than others.
If the attitude of the North-centric government and national media towards the issue was apathetic, the reaction of the Tamil politicians was pathetic. Even amateur political observers could deduce that Karunanithi’s fast on July 19th was a farce. The ‘Tamizhina Thalaivar’ (leader of the Tamil race) would never jeopardize his political interests for some random fisherman. He probably has better issues to address. The other Tamil political parties, even those that were genuinely concerned about the issue, put up insignificant protests. The silver lining? For once, Jayalalitha and Karunanithi had a consensus – that Katchatheevu must be retrieved.
The issue of indiscriminate firing on Tamil fishermen was addressed at the SAARC summit, held on Aug 2nd and 3rd. As usual, it was just one insignificant issue which recieved slight attention from the Indian diplomats – they were more concerned about ISI and Afghanistan. Unless India comes down hard on Sri Lanka this issue cannot be resolved. And India will not do this unless there is adequate pressure from Tamil Nadu. And the Tamil politicians are living in a fool’s paradise if they think they can pressurize the Indian government to act on this issue through fasts and empty protests.
Pain, I believe, has to be felt to be realized. There are but a few books that actually evoke pain within us, that sensitize us to suffering of humanity. Island of Blood is one. Authored by veteran journalist Anita Pratap, the book revolves around violent flashpoints in South East Asia, with extensive focus on the conflict in Sri Lanka. It evoked more than pain within me. A feeling of uncontrollable rage against the injustice meted out to the Tamils. This is the kind of book that hits your heart before it hits your head. A person reading this book would see through the farce of the contemporary Indian media with respect to this contentious issue.
It is not surprising that the ‘Nationalist’ media chooses to side with a state committed to genocide than a people fighting for their legitimate rights. After all, it would then pose a question on what their own government is doing in Kashmir. Now, the Indian state wouldn’t really want that, would it? And thus, the media renders the cries for justice mute. Or better, it takes sanctuary in denial. The genocide of Tamils in 1983? It never happened! The Chencholai massacre of children? There weren’t any children there – it was a Tiger base! No, these are not claims of a political fruitcake like Subramaniam Swamy. They can be found in the op-eds of certain ‘respectable’ national dailies. Their opinion on the right of the Tamils to live with dignity is not only one of apathy, it is of contempt. In their desperate attempt to cater to the bourgeois-nationalist elite in the corrupt, free market society of India, they have lost the capacity for humanitarian concern.
Now, Anita Pratap belongs to the rare creed of Indian journalists who have the courage to call a spade a spade. She has minced no words in criticizing the genocidal actions of the Sri Lankan state or the atrocities of the Indian Peace Keeping Force against the Tamils. Though she is also critical of the ‘autocratic’ functioning of the Tamil Tigers, she has expressed her profound admiration for their unwavering commitment to a genuine struggle. Her analysis of the personality of Velupillai Prabhakaran, though short, is insightful and provides the reader an intimate understanding of one of the most brilliant liberation leaders of the era. Objectivity is consistent in the book. A far cry from the jingoist opinions of the ‘Indian mainstream media.’
The crisis involving the Tamil people in Lanka has been going on for decades. It was the discriminatory policies of the Sri Lankan government in the 1950s, followed by repressive measures against the Tamils in the 60’s that led to the blooming of the struggle for an independent state which began to intensify during the 70’s. And the vicious state sponsored genocide of the Tamils in 1983 sealed it. Two nations were at a bloody war, one for its rights and the other for its hegemony. The book brings out the gory details of the war, oft with a personal touch. The empathetic portrayal of the plight of the victims, the anguish of the survivors or the agony of someone who has lost a beloved has been done in a manner that provokes some deep feeling within the reader. A professor once remarked in class that feeling shame over injustice is the biggest revolution. I was revolutionized many times over.
There were quite some narratives which shook me. The tales of raw courage and determination even at the time of pain and unimaginable suffering was something I found out of the ordinary. Had Nietzsche reworked his concept of the Ubermensch, he would have modeled it around the Tigers. They were, by any standards, supermen.
” I once visited a Tiger hospital after a major battle. In one ward there were sixty young women, recuperating from serious wounds. Most had their arms or legs ripped off, some did not have a part of their face, some had craters where there should have been stomachs. But what was even more bizarre was the atmosphere in the ward – it was cheerful. Sixteen-year-old Sumathi, who had lost her right leg in battle, said, ‘All I want is to get an artificial leg so that I can go back to the field. If I stay home, how will we get Eelam?’ ”
Island of Blood, P100
Absurdity seems to have a special place in contemporary Indian mainstream media (read as bourgeois-nationalist media). An excellent case of glorification of the absurd was Malini Parthasarathy’s article on ‘The Dangers of Tamil Chauvinism’ (14th October, 2008, The Hindu, Op-Ed page). In all her jingoistic fervor, Ms Parthasarathy has conveniently manufactured some bizarre interpretations of the situation of unrest in Tamil Nadu regarding the Eelam independence struggle.
For starters, her paranoid assumption that the LTTE has ‘game plans’ to ‘rally Tamil chauvinist sentiment and translate that into pressure on New Delhi.’ It makes one wonder though how leaders from across the political spectrum in Tamil Nadu – DMK, MDMK, AIADMK, PMK, CPI, VCK, TMMK – could be pawns in the ‘strategic design’ of the LTTE. Her contempt for the independent decisions of senior political leaders like Karunanidhi, Vaiko and Ramadoss seems obvious through her desperate attempts to portray them as stooges of the Tigers.
What makes her article far fetched from ground realities is that by focusing exclusively on the political sphere, she has completely – in all probability, deliberately – ignored public sentiment in Tamil Nadu. She fails to recognize that democratic politics is after all a reflection of the society. That the average Tamil is aggrieved by the injustice being meted out to his brethren in Sri Lanka is of no value to the writer.
Even assuming her argument that political protests from Tamil Nadu were stage managed by Tiger sympathizers as true, which it is not, how would one explain the protests of students from colleges across the state? Or of the Tamil Nadu Advocates Association? Were they also a part of any complex ‘game plan’ of the LTTE?
Could the Tigers have any ‘strategic design’ behind the one day protest-fast of prisoners at the Salem Central prison on October 14th? Or maybe the Tamil Nadu Cine industry which has decided to express their solidarity with the Eelam Tamils through organized campaigns is rallying ‘Tamil Chauvinistic sentiments’ for the Tigers?
Ms Parthasarathy has a distorted understanding of the Eelam struggle and its relation to the Tamils in Tamil Nadu. Firstly, expressing sympathy with the Eelam Tamils is not the same as supporting the LTTE. The Tigers are one of the organizations, undoubtedly the strongest, that represent the Eelam Tamils. Supporting them or not is a matter of individual preference and ideological affiliations. But anyone with a humanitarian outlook, particularly any Tamil, would express concern over the plight of the suffering Tamil masses in Sri Lanka.
Secondly, the argument that LTTE would ‘stimulate the secessionist sentiment in Tamil Nadu’ holds no ground. Never in the LTTE’s history, since its conception in 1976, has it expressed a desire for a greater Eelam. Is the writer so insecure about Indian democracy that she feels Tamil Nadu would want to break away? However, it is important to note that this is a common argument put forth by the coterie of bourgeois-nationalists in India.
Fortunately for the Tamils in India, democracy has given great opportunities for them to develop their economy, have equal rights to employment opportunities, preserve their indigenous culture, have adequate representation in the political process and above everything else, the right to live as a human being. For all its flaws, Indian Democracy has benefited Tamil Nadu.
Unfortunately for the Tamils in Sri Lanka, none of these, including the right to live as a human being, were guaranteed. It was the racist Sinhala regime that forced the peace loving Tamils to take arms. The discriminatory policies of the Sri Lankan state, the racist attitude of the Sinhalese rulers, and the frequent anti-Tamil riots – from the 50’s to the early 80’s – were the reasons that legitimized the genuine struggle for liberation.
Things are not so different today. General Sarath Fonseka of the SLAF claims that Sri Lanka is primarily a Sinhala Nation and hence, it ought to be ruled by the Sinhalese community. The actions of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces are but reflections of such attitudes. Civilian buildings are bombed, innocent Tamils are killed, tortured and raped. Even children are not spared. The bloody war has claimed the lives of over 100,000 Tamils.
However, Ms Parthasarathy is oblivious to all of this. Defending the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka is her agenda and the sufferings of Tamils don’t count. In fact, her arguments in the article in favor of Sri Lanka are so ridiculous, they would have passed off for a good laugh hadn’t the issue involved been such a terrible humanitarian crisis. It is a pity that media freedom has largely benefited jingoists to market their prejudices.