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India’s Date with Sri Lanka: 2009-2012

Year 2009. The end of a war without witnesses. The year marked the end of the bloody ethnic conflict that witnessed heavy civilian casualties involving gruesome killings of 100,000 Tamils in Sri Lanka. Massive internal displacements, many left homeless, loss of innumerable lives and limbs, broken families, women turning into sex workers and a string of ghastly human rights violations by genocidal Lanka – marked the war-torn island nation.

Post-War Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka under the dictatorial Mahinda Rajapakse regime was/is marked by anti-Tamil attitude with its many reported and unreported violent acts of white van abductions, demolishing of Hindu temples, militarization of north, Sinhalese encroachments in Tamil lands, coercion of Tamil women into joining Sri Lankan military, abduction of ex-LTTE members, usurping of Tamil lands, abusing of Eelam Tamils in their own mother land, arrests of Tamils and as recent as the detention of Jaffna University students for their Heroes’ Day observance.

Rajapakse’s regime is infamously tainted with media gags, intimidation and assassination of media men making press freedom a key concern in Sri Lanka. Press freedom in Sri Lanka became the “worst in any democratic country” in Rajapakse’s rule according to the Reporters without Borders index.

Across in India – indiscriminate shootings on Tamil fishermen robbing their lives and livelihood at Rameswaram by Sri Lankan Navy are a regular occurrence.

Cut to 2012

With an unwavering support in many spheres, India has been extending a friendly arm to Sri Lanka against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s direct and veiled anti-Tamil stand.

India is an active partner in a number of development projects in infrastructure, education, health and military training for Sri Lanka.

National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon in June 2012 went on a tour to Sri Lanka to engage in high-level talks that were expected to be in the lines of Sri Lanka’s obligation towards delegation and decentralization in line with the 13th amendment to the Constitution. What was the outcome?

Delhi’s veiled endeavours to keep Sri Lanka ‘happy’ and to remain in its ‘good books’ are in the name of preserving its political interests and security concerns. But, at whose cost? Eelam Tamils are the poor victims who have lost their homes in their very own soil and live like ‘orphans’.Or,they go seeking asylum in foreign soil (Australia), either crossing dangerous waters or falling into the tyrannical hands of the Sri Lankan Navy.

Interestingly, India was one among the 24 nations who voted against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC meeting held in March 2012, urging it to implement its own LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) recommendations and ensure accountability.

Rajiv Gandhi’s Memoirs

Way back in 1987, what good did India do by entering into the Indo-Sri Lankan Peace Accord signed in Colombo between Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President J.R.Jayewardene? Though it was aimed at resolving the ongoing Sri Lankan civil war waged by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) against the Sri Lankan government, it only flared up the ethnic strife further. India under Rajiv Gandhi regime sent Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka to enforce the disarmament of Tamil militant groups, which infamously indulged in human rights violations and has to its credit the infamous Jaffna Hospital Massacre, in which about 70 patients and staff were killed.

After rubbing the wrong sides and facing internal opposition, IPKF was withdrawn from Sri Lanka in 1990.

Indo-Lanka Trade Relations

The end of ethnic strife in 2009 saw a doubling up of Indian investment in Sri Lanka from $78 million in 2009 to $147 million in 2011, according to Sri Lanka Board of Investment data.

Corporate giants like Tata, Bajaj, Godrej, Bharti and RPG have set up their bases in Sri Lanka. Britannia, Ultratech, Ambuja Cement and Ashok Leyland are said to have made advances in Sri Lanka.

Defence Ties

India and Sri Lanka have been looking to retune their defence relationship ever since Sri Lanka crushed the Tamil tiger rebels in May 2009. Indian Army Chief General Bikram Singh went to Sri Lanka on a 4-day tour in December 2012 to look at the unfinished agenda of entering into a formal Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) between the two countries that has been pending since 2003.

Despite political opposition from various quarters of Tamil Nadu, Sri Lankan military personnel are undergoing military training in various Indian training institutions. A combined military exercise between the two countries is currently in progress at the Special Forces Training Centre at Nahan in Himachal Pradesh according to NDTV reports.

India has been a preferred destination for training of Sri Lankan military officers though China and Pakistan have more military involvement with the island nation in the past decade.

India also extended its assistance to Sri Lanka open its Military Intelligence School at Kandy in February 2009.

Rajapakse at Sanchi

Rajapakse, a war-criminal accused of unspeakable war crimes and who massacred thousands of innocent Tamils arrived in Sanchi,India as a special guest to inaugurate the International Centre of Buddhist Studies in September 2012, though marked with widespread opposition from Tamil parties in Tamil Nadu.

There was a public outcry about who ‘invited’ Rajapakse to Sanchi? All the key national political parties staged a massive drama and ‘dutifully passed the buck’, leaving the common man of India to wonder who invited him in the first place?

Tamil Nadu’s Take on Sri Lanka

Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalithaa had pointed out there had been 38 incidents of harassments and 23 incidents of threats involving 379 fishermen from May 2011 till September 2012. Intimidating attitude and brutal attacks on Tamil Nadu fishermen by Sri Lankan Navy continue unabatedly robbing them of their lives and source of living. High-level diplomatic talks assuring of preventing such attacks on Tamil fishermen have only proved to be empty words till date.

In August 2012, after Tamil Nadu CM requested Dr.Manmohan Singh to order the Defence Ministry to stop the training given to nine Sri Lankan personnel and send them back to Sri Lanka immediately, the centre moved them to Yelahanka air station at Bangalore! If not Tamil Nadu, the Indian Lion crouches to accommodate the Lankan ‘Lion’ in Karnataka!

There had been 167 incidents of shooting on Indian fishermen and killing of 85 fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy in the Indian waters during the years 1991- 2011, stated Tamil Nadu government, as reported by TOI in August 2012.

 Karunanidhi’s Dramatics and Somersaults

DMK patriarch, Karunanidhi claiming himself to be a pro-Tamil force unfailingly issues statements to media and shoots out letters to Prime Minister of India condemning attacks on Tamil fishermen, discouraging sporting ties between India and Sri Lanka and opposing military training of army personnel in India.

What did he do in his much-hyped Tamil Eelam Supporters Organization (TESO) conference? Karunanidhi, out of the blue revived TESO and was raising his pitch about creating separate Eelam, proclaiming separate Eelam to be a key agenda of the TESO conference. His voice died down after the then-Home minister P Chidambaram pressured him to drop the Eelam agenda from TESO conference. Keeping in mind his politico-familial interests, Karunanidhi went on to say it is just an opinion and did not want to create any confusion by putting it up as a topic for discussion in TESO meet.

Sporadic cries of help for Eelam Tamils from political parties of Tamil Nadu and shooting out letters to Manmohan Singh have not yielded any results. Talks, letters, protests, fast campaigns, empty statements, conferences, media outbursts are all that we are spectators to so far!

What did Rajapakse aim to do through LLRC  which he initiated in 2012? Conclusions of the commission squarely proved to be a mixed bag of contradictory statements putting the blame on LTTE for civilian killings and violation of international humanitarian law.

Independent international investigation pressed by International bodies, Tamil forums, various Diaspora groups could only be the solution for the Tamils languishing in Sri Lanka.

Till then, no respite and no solution in sight for Eelam Tamils!

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