Sunday, October 19, 2008

Which life is more precious?

In a recent development. all the DMK MPs at the centre have been asked to resign by the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Mr. Karunanidhi as a means of putting pressure on the Centre to lean on the Sri Lankan Government to ease off on the offensive they have launched in Northern Sri Lanka to flesh out the LTTE. In the process, many innocent Tamil civilians have either lost their lives in the cross fire or have been severely affected by the ongoing hostilities. Now, any action that tries to ameliorate the suffering of innocent civilians in an ongoing war (and indeed, what is happening in Northern Sri Lanka is little short of war between the Government and LTTE forces) should be encouraged. However, what I find more than faintly repulsive is the unwritten assumption that the lives of the Tamilians there is more valuable that those of others. The suicide bombers of the ferociously violent and ruthless LTTE have killed thousands of innocents, Sinhalese and Tamilian alike and I recall no particularly action by the DMK on such occasion except the usual platitudes muttered about innocents being killed. Is the life of a Tamilian more valuable than, say, the lives of others in Sri Lanka or for that matter in India? What about all the people killed in bomb blasts here, the thousands of Kashmiris killed in terrorist violence and in cross fire? Does not the DMK feel the same for all these people. Why is the life of a person of one's own community (that too in another country) more valuable than those of others? Before I am accused of harbouring anti-Tamil sentiments, let me hasten to add that this kind of chauvinism is not limited to Tamil Nadu politics though it does tend to rear its ugly face there more often, perhaps due to the proximity of Sri Lanka and the ethnic conflict there. I am sure Mr Raj Thackerey would consider the life of a 'Marathi Manoos' more precious than that of a Tamilian (definitely that of a Tamilian -- after all at one time they were the ones accused of taking away jobs from the locals). The same, I have no doubt, would be true of a blue-blooded Bengali -- even a distinguished intellectual like Sunil Gangopadhyay once fulminated against these Marwaris in Kolkata who were destroying Bengali 'kalchar'. Mercifully it remained at that level and there were no lives at stake though I can imagine scenarios involving next door Bangladesh. Mr Karunanidhi, as a senior statesman may fulminate at being compared to Raj Thackerey, considered by many to be just a rabble-rousing thuggish politician, but surely there is little difference? If hordes of 'North Indians' -- Biharis, UPites, Assamese invaded Chennai the way they do Mumbai, I am willing to bet my last Galavati kebab that the reaction of Mr Karunanidhi and the DMK would be very similar. The point is that after more than 60 years after independence, we continue to be prisoners of our caste, creed, ethnicity, language, religion and community. This is usually the point where I am accused of having a typical rootless elitist Westernised education (in India that only means going to a, perhaps convent, English medium school) and have therefore little sense of 'belonging'. This may or may not be true, but I must confess that I do feel far more de-racinated than many people I see around me, particularly in Chennai. If that is the result of my education, so be it. But I feel no reason to be apologetic about it -- in fact, I think a little more deracination is overall a good thing for an excessively diverse country like India. By that I do not mean to imply that one should not have any appreciation for one's own art and culture, literature, food, customs -- Maharashtrians can celebrate their Ganesh festivals and Bengalis their Durga Puja and Tamilians their Pongals and Diwalis (perhaps the one festival that seems to have become truly pan-Indian). But unfortunately it doesn't end with that. One's own existence becomes superior to that of people from other communities, chauvinism is just a step away and jingoism just around the next corner. Kashmiri Pandits feel only for Kashmiri Pandits, Sikhs are worried only about whether the Sikh Maryada is being compromised (one heard much of such statements during the Khalistan problem), Bengalis worry about fellow Bengalis being slaughtered next door by the mostly Punjabi Pakistani army and the DMK worries only about the Tamils in Sri Lanka. One can presumably look at the good side -- at least someone is worried about innocent human lives being lost, even if those are from just one community. But wouldn't it be nice if we could, for once, have concern for a fellow human without worrying about the person's ethnicity?


where is justice? said...

Mr Basu what would you do if your children are bombed to death from the air like these kids, just because they were born into the wrong race(Tamil)?
Would you pontificate to others the niceties of nationhood then?
The Sinhalese are running a longterm program of slowly wiping out Tamils using underground military death squads. You can sit pretty with your kids at home and lecture..

where is justice? said... killed in SLA artillery attack

Which life Mr Basu--whats this childs fault other than being tamil?

where is justice? said...

these lives not precious enough for you mr Basu?

Anonymous said...

Hi basu,

Tamils are not beating up non-tamils in Chennai like MNS in Mumbai. We only want the govt to stop the genocide of Tamils in Srilanka. India intervened in East Pakistan and created Bangladesh. To this day 'Language Martyrs day' is being observed in West Bengal even though the martyrs were all Bangladeshis/East Pakistanis. There was a huge outcry in West Bengal when Bangladeshi refugees started pouring in and the Indian govt stepped in to help the freedom fighters. At that time nobody asked why India should intervene if Bengalis are being killed in Pakistan. All Indians including Tamils fought against Pakistanis. Otherwise the Bengalis of East Pakistan would have been exterminated like Jews in Nazi Germany. But now when Tamils want to stop the genocide in Srilanka they are being labelled as anti-nationals, chauvinist and jingoist. The LTTE may have indulged in suicide bombings but you have to examine the history of the conflict. Thileepan, an LTTE leader obeserved indefinite fast following Gandhiji's principle but he was let to die by both Srilanka and India ( ). When non-violence does not act what do you do? They don't demand anything beyond their homeland. They are not like the Islamic terrorists who want to establish Islamic rule throughout the world. India has to intervene and stop this genocide and bring both the Srilankan govt and LTTE to the table.

Anonymous said...

read this too

Anant said...

Oh learned mastah! As in the past, I find that while the sentiment and ideas of your post are commendable, this post too suffers from that bane of all Indian writing, that of prolixity. It is indeed important to take a stand on matters of human rights, irrespective of ethnicity, as you correctly say. The problem in Sri Lanka, as is the problem in many parts of our country, is linked to old colonial rule and for reasons that only experts know, has defied solution. There is no doubt that there is a national question, which is beyond that issue of LTTE. In fact it is violence that has pushed the main question on to the `back burner' and has allowed the problem to be turned into LTTE vs. Sri Lankan state. The violence of the state if also reprehensible as Sri Lanka experts always say. Would one not say that there are such issues abounding in India? If Karunanidhi were to advocate autonomy for Tamils in Sri Lanka, would it not be a corrolary that it would also have to be advocated for Nagas, Mizos, Kashmiris, and indeed the Tamils in India? The trouble is that none of our Indian politicians have any integrity in this issue either. They say one thing in public do something else when it comes to coalition politics. It is awful that the suffering of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka is being used to blackmail the coalition in India. This comment too is suffering from prolixity.

where is justice? said...

This video is for Rahul Basu specially.

Rahul Basu said...

It's unfortunate that people should misinterpret my words and accuse me of pontificating.

Nowhere have I said that the putsch by the Sri Lanka army has not resulted in civilian casualties amongst the Tamil population. Let me repeat - the death of any innocent human being is a tragedy - whether man, woman or child. The only point I make is that the deaths of innocents affects us more when they are from our community/creed/caste etc. Indeed the genocide in Bangladesh affected Bengalis presumably much more than the Tamils in Chennai. Similarly the deaths of innocent (Tamil) civilians in Sri Lanka affects the local Tamil population here in TN more than someone in say, UP. Perhaps that is natural but the point of my post was that it need not be so -- it should be possible to be concerned with the deaths of innocents everywhere, to use a cliche (and somewhat literally in the present case) from Kashmir to Kanniyakumari.

I am however unsympathetic to the LTTE being portrayed as a defender of Tamil rights. They have a violent history of using human shields (who are mostly Tamil) and using young children in the frontline of their war against the state, to say nothing of their suicide bombings which they have perfected. I am also sceptical of the local Dravidian parties and their crocodile tears for the Tamil population in Northern Sri Lanka. A lot of it appears to be a hidden agenda to force the Indian Government to lean on the Sri Lankan Government to back off from their renewed offensive against the LTTE.

Protests about my views are welcome but they would be more credible if they were not delivered from behind the wall of anonymity as with two of the commentators on this page.

Anant: You protest too much about prolixity. Everything cannot be packaged into suitable 10 second bites (bytes) appropriate for American TV audiences.

where is justice? said...

rahul basu , your rantings are as superficial as ur ' theoretical' physics.dont raise points not addressed in post

come down on earth and see the suffering..

where is justice? said...

Sri Lankan imbroglio
Editorial Desk
The Statesman
Publication Date: 19-10-2008
The time has come for India to stop hunting with the hound and running with the hare.
No less a person than Basil Rajapaksa, senior adviser to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, revealed in an interview to Sunday Observer that Sri Lanka was getting maximum support from India in its ongoing war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Manmohan Singh has all along been saying that India favoured a political settlement to the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka. Then why train, arm and equip Sri Lankan armed forces and post Indian experts in the island nation to help it crush the LTTE which took to terrorist tactics only after exhausting all avenues of negotiations by its elders, particularly the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF)?
It is unfair to compare the ethnic strife in Sri Lanka with the separatist uprising in Kashmir. What is happening in Sri Lanka today is comparable to the pre-1971 situation in what was then East Pakistan. If President Rajapaksa believes in a political solution, let him table it now. He cannot fool all the people all the time. The all-party conference he had appointed to evolve a solution is neither all-party nor a conference. The United National Party (UNP), the main opposition party, is not in it. The Janata Vimukti Perumana, third largest party in the country, refused to associate itself with it and the Tamil National Alliance has been deliberately kept out. It is only a tool in the hands of Rajapaksa to silence his critics abroad. The all-party conference has been kept in suspended animation most of the time.
New Delhi must realise the gravity of the genocidal war in Sri Lanka from the fact all the 39 Lok Sabha members from Tamil Nadu, cutting across party lines, have threatened to resign en masse on October 28 if the government fails to act. Among them are seven ministers from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), three from the Congress, including P Chidambaram, and two from the Pattali Makkal katchi (PMK, Toilers’ Party). They are the elected representatives of 55 million Tamils in India who do not wish to remain silent spectators as their co-linguists across the Palk Bay are being driven to the wall by the regime in Colombo, aided and abetted by the United Progressive Alliance government. New Delhi’s contention that if it stopped military supplies to Sri Lanka, Pakistan and China would usurp India’s place is not borne out by ground reality. Colombo simultaneously has been shopping in China and Pakistan for military hardware. Even without any military support, Colombo extended full use of its territory and facilities to Pakistan in its war against India in 1971. Sri Lanka never supported India when it made a bid for the UN Secretary-General’s post last year. In spite of such a track record, India wants to woo Sri Lanka to the chagrin of its own 55 million Tamils. How sensible is that?

Anant said...

Rahul: I agree that such complex issues can probably not be covered in sound-bites. We always bow to superior knowledge, as you know.

Sunil Mukhi said...

To the angry commentators: Rahul's point was NOT that the Sri Lankan government isn't doing anything wrong, and he never denied or underplayed the importance of its violent actions.

He merely observed something that is painfully obvious - that people tend to oppose most strongly those violent acts that make a political point they believe in, or that threaten a group they belong to. In other words human beings, subconsciously or otherwise, pick and choose which injustice or cruelty upsets them the most. This is simply a fact about human nature, and it has consequences which I'd like to discuss below.

But first, I just came across the following article with photos (warning: the photos are truly ghastly) of the effects of NATO bombing in Afghanistan. Kids being bombed anywhere in the world is awful and it makes one hang one's head in shame at being a part of the human race.

Back to the thesis. As Rahul admits, one has to be grateful that human beings react to the suffering of others at all, even if they do so selectively. I would add that this selectivity is sadly part and parcel of human nature, and there doesn't seem to be any global improvement in human nature over the last few decades.

Despite the enlightened principles of justice enshrined in US law, the fact is that Americans just cannot react to the deaths of Iraqis and Afghans the way they would to the death of Americans. If things were not that way, the whole global war scenario would be different.

The media here often helps to project the view that innocents in some appropriately remote and alien land are not human beings in the same sense as "real Americans". In the Vietnam war, words like "gooks" were used to refer to yellow-skinned people and de-humanise them. I have been to Saigon and seen, in a museum, the preserved fetuses of "gooks" deformed by chemical weapons - there were a few Americans at that museum and they seemed visibly shaken. Imagine if all Americans could get to see that museum.

Today, right-wing media in the US are unbelievably arguing that civilian casualties, being normal in a war, should not even be reported! They hastily change their minds when Americans are once in a while killed by "friendly fire" - also a normal part of war, one supposes?

AMOK said...

If we were so finely tuned to others I am sure none of us would kill and eat animals. Nor would we allow the hungry and cold masses in India and elsewhere. Which life is more precious? The extension of your self.

where is justice? said...

I request Mr Basu to read this please.