Since the realisation of independence, South Asian countries have been in complete turmoil. Be it Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, or Sri Lanka, every Indian neighbour has suppressed its minorities. The common target in all of these countries is Hindus. Their right to exist was denied and in case of any protest, they were mercilessly suppressed. Hindus in Pakistan, Madhesi in Nepal, Bengali Hindus in Bangladesh or Tamil Hindus in Sri Lanka, everywhere Hindus faced the burnt.
Despite being financially, politically, and even militarily powerful, India didn’t do much to ensure their rights. Even in case of any protest from the government of India, they responded with blackmail. They threatened to become a vessel state of China like Pakistan. However, India now seems to have learned the lesson to call spade a spade. In order to secure both Hindus as well as the nation’s interests, India is now playing its cards very wisely.
India Backed Sri Lankan Tamils at UN
In a surprising move, India has criticised Sri Lanka for the lack of measurable progress made on the Tamil national question at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva.
At the Interactive Dialogue on the report of OHCHR on promoting reconciliation, accountability, and human rights in Sri Lanka, India stated that the Government of Sri Lanka has not made measurable progress on its commitment of a political solution to the ethnic issue.
Targeting China’s debt diplomacy in Sri Lanka, India said that the current crisis in Sri Lanka has demonstrated the limitation of a debt-driven economy and the impact it has on the standard of living. India’s consistent view on peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka has been for a political settlement within the framework of a united Sri Lanka, ensuring justice, peace, equality, and dignity for the Tamils in Sri Lanka.
Despite knowing the fact that the terms of Sri Lanka’s nine provincial councils expired about three years ago, and since then, they have remained defunct, Sri Lanka was not able to conduct elections. The 13th Amendment of Sri Lanka’s Constitution mandates to ensure delegation of powers to Provincial Councils and holding of Provincial Council elections at the earliest but Sri Lanka has failed on all fronts.
Urging Sri Lanka to take concrete steps in the direction, India said, “It is in Sri Lanka’s best interests to build the capacity of its citizens and work towards their empowerment, for which devolution of power to the grassroots level is a pre-requisite. In this connection, the operationalisation of Provincial Councils through early conduct of elections will enable all citizens of Sri Lanka to achieve their aspirations for a prosperous future. We, therefore, urge Sri Lanka to take immediate and credible action in this regard.”
Sri Lankan Tamils and Their Suppression
India’s slamming of Sri Lanka has come very late on the issue of Sri Lankan Tamils. Sri Lankan Tamils are the natives of Sri Lanka. Culturally and religiously aligned with Indian Tamils, they constitute the majority in Sri Lanka’s north and northeast province. Centuries-old interaction with Indian Tamils, the Sri Lankan Tamils carry a distinctive way of life to the rest of the country.
After getting independence from Britain in 1948, the Sinhalese majority country launched unending discrimination and strike on minority Tamils. In 1956, Sri Lanka passed the Official Language Act to make Sinhala the sole official language of the state. Completely disregarding the rights of Tamil-speaking people, it was the blunt use of majoritarianism. The act promoted an exclusionist Sinhala Buddhist nation identity and became a justification of minority oppression. The extremist Buddhist Sinhalese launched uncountable ethnic cleansing programs against the Tamils.
Facing the wrath of ‘peaceful Buddhists’, Tamilian groups demanded independent Tamil Eelam. To secure the independent land for its people, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was formed by Velupillai Prabhakaran. It was a militant organisation to secure the rights of Tamilians in Sri Lanka.
In light of the LTTE formation, the Sri Lankan military launched a series of crimes to flash out the movement. Rape of Tamil women and killings of Tamilians became a norm. Sri Lanka launched one of the most heinous war crimes on its own population. Reports suggest that more than 1 lakh people were killed and thousands of women were raped and abducted.
The atrocities against Tamilians were unlimited, which ignited the mass migration of Tamilians from Sri Lanka to India. Facing persecution in hands of Sri Lankans, about 8 Lakh Tamils were forced to leave their ancestors’ homes. Reports suggest that one-third of Sri Lankan Tamils are living out of Sri Lanka due to persecution and discrimination.
After the brutal ending of the Civil War, Sri Lanka, according to 13th Amendment to the Constitution, provided for:-
- The establishment of Provincial Councils
- The appointment and powers of the Governor of Provinces
- Membership and tenure of Provincial Councils
- The appointment and powers of the Board of Ministers
- The legislative powers of the Provincial Councils
- Alternative arrangements where there is a failure in the administrative machinery
The Amendment also abolished the Official Language Act which made Sinhala as the only official language. Both Sinhala and Tamil languages are official as well as national languages of the country.
India’s criticism of Sri Lanka was made on non-compliance with the 13th Amendment, which provided for regional autonomy to provinces. But, despite mandated Constitutional provisions, Sri Lanka is reluctant to devolve land, police, and financial powers to the provincial government.
Target of China’s Debt Diplomacy
India, in its statement also slammed China’s debt diplomacy in Sri Lanka. Without mentioning China, India called that the current crippling economy of Sri Lanka is the direct result of the debt-driven economy model.
The statement was clearly targeted toward China’s debt policy in Sri Lanka. That’s why China in its statement, without mentioning India, ‘urged relevant parties to respect Sri Lanka’s right to independently choose its path for development.’
Reports suggest that although China holds 6.2% of Sri Lanka’s total central government debt. But the debt through state-owned banks like China Exim Bank and China Development Bank is around USD 7 billion.
These exceeding GDP to debt ratio creates recurring cycles of loans and interest where debt-ridden projects demand a regular interest rate, and the government’s limited resources to finance these loans become unsustainable. On one hand, the government does not have money. On the other hand, they possess unsustainable loans. In this case, default on a loan is the obvious option. That’s what China did to Sri Lanka.
Due to corrupt political leadership, China acquired a lot of ports and strategic businesses and threw the country into debt. It was the result of the uncountable debt that China forced Sri Lanka to dock its spy vessel on Hambantota ports.
Despite India’s strong protest, Sri Lanka allowed a spy vessel to dock on its ports and compromised India’s security. Although India was successfully able to counter the spying attempt, it was clearly unwelcomed by the Indian leadership. That’s why, voting thrice in favour of Sri Lanka in UN, India this time remained critical. Hitting two birds with a single stone at UN, India countered Sri Lanka’s blackmailing as well as exposed China’s debt-driven economic model to the world.
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