India must listen to Tamil aspirations for the creation of Tamil Nadu as a separate country.
By Dhammika Dharmawardhane
For as long as 6000 years and counting, Tamil Nadu existed in the southernmost part of the Indian Peninsula. Tamil Nadu, for the convenience of English speakers means just that – Tamil Land. This land is home to Tamils, also known as Dravidians . The Dravidian Civilization encapsulated the state of Tamil Nadu as well some of its neighbouring states of Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
A part of the 28 states of India, Tamil Nadu is the eleventh largest state in India by area and the seventh most populous state. It is the fourth largest contributor (as of 2010) to India's GDP and ranks tenth in the Human Development Index as of 2006. Tamil Nadu is also the most urbanised state in India. The state has the highest number (10.56%) of business enterprises and stands second in total employment (9.97%) in India, compared to the population share of about 6%. Tamil Nadu’s southern coast borders troublesome neighbours Sri Lanka. All these factors therefore contribute to the important role Tamil Nadu plays in India. Therefore the history of the struggle itself within, for Tamils fighting for their independence from India.
History teaches us to not borrow from but learn from it. The aspirations of the Dravidians for a Tamil Land, again, however are worth mention for all of the above and more. For as in most journeys, it is not the beginning or the end. It’s the journey itself that counts the most.
The DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) in Tamil Nadu, the Akali Dal in Punjab and the Mizos and Nagas in North East India and more recently the supporters of Khalistan movements have been demanding secession from India. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Dravidian Progress Federation) founded in 1949, is a state political party in the states of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, India.
For as far as 1950 there were separatists or secessionists wanting an "Independent Tamil Nadu" or "Free Tamil Nadu". Then the India congress pushed to redraw Indian boundries along ethnic and linguistic lines. Jawahar Nehru the then Prime Minister of India resisted this, fearing that if all Tamils were pushed into one province, then the call for separatism would grow stronger. There was just cause to fear Tamil succession in the 1950s’ and 1960’. Tamil leaders demanded from India’s central government complete autonomy or the least secession. Despite Nehru’s concerns the India congress in 1956 voted to draw provincial boundaries along linguistic lines. This was a big victory for Tamils as they now had heir own pseudo-state called Tamil Nadu.
Then 1960, the DMK organised a joint campaign throughout Madras state demanding its secession from India and for making it an independent sovereign state Tamil Nadu.
In 1961, another organisation by the name of Tamil Arasu Kazhagam lunched an agitation for the renaming of Madras state as Tamil Nadu. DMK even proposed that the states of Madras, Andhra Pradesh. Kerala and Mysore should secede from the Indian Union and form an independent republic of Dravida Nadu.
In 1963, the Indian parliament adopted the constitution bill that enables to make laws providing penalties for any person questioning the sovereignty and integrity of the Indian Union. As a result, DMK dropped from its programme the demand for a sovereign independent Dravidian federation and its secession from the Indian Union. However the very DNA of the DMK remains in the struggle for a separate Tamil Homeland – a Tamil Nadu. The on going Tamil Nadu debate continues fiercely in India with the occasional incident of communal violence.
India has begun to feel the pressure internationally since recently. Mainly due to the fall of the Soviet Union, the reunification of Germany and the Arab Spring. All of course best examples of realising the will of the people.
The voice and financial support of the Tamil Diaspora in Canada, Australia, Europe and the USA added to this violent campaign for freedom from India.
These aspirations for a Tamil Land soon spilled over from the Southern most shores of Tamil Nadu to the northern shores of India’s southern neighbour, the island of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is well known for its’ vibrant Tamil people and culture. Bringing with them from Tamil Nadu, the Tamil people migrated to Sri Lanka over centuries. Some by choice, and the few brought over to Sri Lanka during colonial times by the British Raj in the 1800’s to work in the tea plantations. This very existence of Dravidian history in Sri Lanka has ensured over the years close ties to Tamil Nadu and India. Temples for the Goddess Kali and God Murugan are all over Sri Lanka, powerful reminders to anyone of the most revered of Tamil Gods.
No history of a Tamil Land of course is not complete without the 30-year terrorist war suffered by Sri Lanka since the setting up of the LTTE in northern Sri Lanka. The Liberation Tamil Tigers for Eelam was set up by it’s charismatic but now dead leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran in 1976 in the Jaffna peninsula of Sri Lanka. The LTTE grew from strength to strength from 1983, with Sri Lanka’s biggest shame taking place in July that year. The civilian riots that lead to the loss of many Tamil lives, property and mass migration of Tamils from Sri Lanka to Australia, Europe, UK, Canada and USA. Strong support from Tamil Nadu and India, and now a powerful Tamil Diaspora enjoying western democracy, all contributed growth of the LTTE who chose violence as means to their struggle of a Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka.
Theirs, the LTTE’s, most dubious claim to worldwide fame being the inventors of the human suicide bomb. Deadly bomb rigged jackets worn by terrorists who had no qualm of blowing themselves up with their intended target and everyone else in the vicinity.
India had to stand by Tamil Nadu and intervene in Sri Lanka. DMK popularity and the importance of Tamil Nadu in their political mix demanded Indian Government equine cense. All what was required for Eelam to work, was building a underwater highway linking Sri Lanka to Tamil Nadu and natural progression of agitation for a separate Tamil Nadu. Now vice a versa, first originating from India to succeed in Sri Lanka, and back with added voice and reason to India.
Tamil Nadu. Truly a Tamil Land, the Dravidian Country. Alike India, the Hindu Country.
The author believes that the beginning to the end of terrorism in Sri Lanka started from 1987.
In May 1987 the Sri Lankan army began a major ground and air campaign against Tamil rebels concentrated in the Jaffna Peninsula in the north of the country. The Indian government, which faced growing discontent among its own southern Tamil population, began to pressure Colombo to cease its offensive. On the following day an Indian task force steamed off the horizon of Colombo, sending a clear signal to the Sri Lankan government.
On 29 July 1987 India and Sri Lanka signed an accord whereby an Indian Peace-keeping Force (IPKF) would be sent to Sri Lanka to engineer the disarming of Tamil guerrillas in the northern province of the country and oversee a ceasefire. On the same day, the commandos in the Indian task force were landed at Colombo harbour in order to provide security during the signing of the accord. In July the initial elements of the division began landing at the Jaffna airfield in northern Sri Lanka.
By early October 1987, relations had become strained between the IPKF and the Tamil Tiger guerrillas. Fighting became all but inevitable after five commandos were kidnapped by the Tamils and brutally murdered. In order to cripple the Tamil guerrilla network, the Indian Army planned to capture the insurgent headquarters in Jaffna City. Codenamed Operation `Pawan', the Indian plan involved an initial heli-borne assault into the centre of the city followed by a multi-prong ground advance from all directions.
The initial heli-borne assault began on 11 October, the commandos flew in low over Jaffna City. Unaware that their radio communications were being monitored by the Tamil Tigers, the commandos landed in a soccer field and were immediately pinned down by heavy machine gun fire. Two helicopters were damaged and six commandos killed instantly. A second wave of choppers containing a platoon from Sikh Light Infantry came under more intense fire, making further reinforcements impossible.
All but one of the Sikhs perished.
Cornered and running out of ammunition, the commandos pleaded for reinforcements. Their battalion commander personally led a column of T-72 tanks the next morning to relieve his beleaguered men.
After the failure of the commando assault, the infantry brigades slowly fought their way into Jaffna City over the next 16 days. Because of heavy Tamil Tiger resistance, two more brigades were rushed to Jaffna before the end of the battle. The entire operation was marked by major confusion on the part of the IPKF. As a result, the IPKF were unable to maximize the use of this battalion.
By the end of November, Jaffna was completely in IPKF hands. Most of the Tamil Tiger guerrillas, however, had slipped out of the Indian net and infiltrated to the east. With their duties fast becoming a protracted affair, the IPKF shifted to handle counter-insurgency operations in the Eastern Province. The Northern Province, meanwhile, remained as part of operations.
In March 1989 the IPKF launched Operation Falcon, a clearing drive in the east involving mountain troops and paratroopers. Two months later the IPKF withdrew 8,000 of its 50,000 men to India. Over the next few months, the IPKF was considerably reduced in size. On 31 March 1990, the final 2,000 men of the IPKF were sent home. In 30 months the Indians had lost 1,115 dead in Sri Lanka.
Worse, they failed to achieve peace in this troubled island nation.
Then Rajiv Gandhi, the 46-year-old Indian prime minister, was assassinated by the LTTE in 1991.He was campaigning for the Congress Party on the second day of voting in the world's largest democratic election when a powerful bomb, hidden in a basket of flowers, exploded killing him instantly. At least 14 other people were also killed in the attack in the town of Sriperumbudur, about 30 miles from Madras, the capital of the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
Mr. Gandhi's arch-enemies, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the violent guerrilla group fighting for a separate homeland for Tamils on the island of Sri Lanka were proved responsible. Many say that Rajiv Gandhi the grandson of Jawahar Nehru was assassinated by the Tamil the LTTE in revenge for sending Indian peace keeping forces to North Sri Lanka. But the Tamil history of conflict for a separate country and the anti-Nehru sentiments have existed from the 1950s’ as Rajiv’s mother Indira Gandhi another former PM of India herself was the daughter of Nehru.
The death of Rajiv Gandhi at least temporarily saw India cease to be as interested in its neighbour Sri Lanka, but not the actions of the Tamils within their motherland. The LTTE increasingly found it difficult to operate out of the coasts of Tamil Nadu and operate terrorist camps out of India. But success for a separate Tamil country in India no longer carried that true.
When the end came for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, in May, 2009, it was overwhelming and unmerciful. In a three-year offensive of increasing sophistication, the Sri Lankan Army outmaneuvered one of the world’s most ruthless insurgent armies. The battlefield defeat ended a vicious conflict that for 30 years that divided Sri Lanka along ethnic lines.
The Tigers were persistent suicide bombers, as well as relentless guerrilla fighters, and the war took at least a hundred thousand lives in Sri Lanka.
To the extent that a counter-insurgency campaign can be successful, Sri Lanka is a grisly test case for success in modern warfare. The Tigers’ collapse began in January, 2009, when they lost the town of Kilinochchi, their de-facto capital. By May, their remaining fighters retreated into the jungle near the coastal town of Mullaittivu, taking along more than three hundred thousand Tamil civilians who were trapped with them.
Hemmed in by the sea, a lagoon, and a hundred thousand government soldiers, the Tigers were all but helpless.
On May 16th, 2009, Sri Lankas’ Army commander, General Sarath Fonseka, declared victory. Two days later, the Army announced that the Tiger leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, had been killed.
After the carnage, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government adopted a posture of triumph at home and resentment of the outrage it caused abroad. The important thing, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in London said, was that Sri Lanka had ended terrorism, making it the first country in the modern age to have done so.
Although until the very end, Velupillai Prabhakaran believed that the international relief community, the U.N., and Western governments would save the Tamil Tigers. The L.T.T.E. continued to read the world as if it was pre-9/11.
Many of the Tamils the author encounters now feel that the peace is perilously fragile. It should not be forgotten that the more successful counter-insurgencies, like Sri Lanka’s, are ugly in practice.
But the Tamils continue their struggle for a Tamil Nadu, a Tamil Land they already have but desire to be as their own country.
India, as a country, by any name, never existed before the British colonial rule in all history, in spite of the often-repeated false propaganda of the long history, oneness and unity of India.
Once again, now in 2012, we see the DMK re-introducing the agenda for a separate Tamil Land, Tamil Nadu to be its own country, away from Mother India. Of Independence. Borrowing from the great Dr. Martin Luther King, the bells for Tamil independence ring from near and far, from Canada to Australia, USA to Europe, UK to India, and all over the world.
So does the clarion call to end terrorism, from everywhere in the world.
Dhammika Dharmawardhane is a Sri Lankan now domiciled in the United Kingdom. He is a marketing communications professional with over two decades experience in the marketing and advertising industry. He now works as an Information Architecture Consultant providing digital marketing and traditional marketing communication services to Sri Lanka, USA and UK, with consultancies in Colombo, London and Washington D.C.