Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance

Is India reaping a harvest of hatred sown by Indians? We have seen it all before-a Sri Lankan perspective

As I write this, Indian security forces are still fighting terrorists in Mumbai, the financial capital of India and centre of its glamorous film industry. Over a hundred people are dead, gunned down by young men in a crazed Columbine style shooting of unarmed civilians. A previously unknown group called the Deccan Mujahedeen have claimed responsibility. With the choice of this name-the Deccan valley being a large plateau in India-these guys are sending a clear signal: they are sons of Mother India. And they are not alone: a string of bomb blasts over the last year in Delhi, Ahmadabad, Bangalore, Jaipur, and Uttar Pradesh was claimed by another home-grown group calling themselves the Indian Mujahedeen.

India is the largest democracy in the world. They’ve got several hundred languages, they’ve got every major world religion in residence and originated four of them; they are multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, with a male Prime Minister of the minority Sikh religion and a female President. This is a kaleidoscope of people, all very proud of their individual cultures, and yet also very proud that they are one nation under one flag. This is the land held up as proof that no matter how large, how populated, and how diverse a country may be, democracy works for everyone; democracy protects everyone. So what the hell is going wrong now?

One of the terrorists spreading carnage at the Oberoi Hotel told Indian television via telephone: “Muslims in India should not be persecuted. We love this as our country but when our mothers and sisters were being killed, where was everybody? Release all the mujahedeens, and Muslims living in India should not be troubled.” What is he going on about?

In 2002, over two thousand Muslims were massacred in the state of Gujarat. It was called a spontaneous communal riot, but the weight of evidence suggests that it was a premeditated attack against the Muslims organized by local authorities and politicians. The attack was particularly severe against women, with organized rape and mutilation of women and female children-“when our mothers and sisters were being killed, where was everybody?”

The violence in Gujarat bares many resemblances to the landmark event in our own battle against terrorism: the 1983 anti-Tamil riot. It too was called a spontaneous communal riot, but as with Gujarat the weight of evidence suggested premeditated action by the then government. It is alleged that the government minister Mr Cyril Matthew organized gangs made up of the Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya to systematically target Tamil houses and businesses using voter lists which they had conveniently got access to. In Gujarat too, voter lists identified the Muslims and the chief minister Narendra Modi was accused of instigating and encouraging the attacks, and of being wilfully negligent in providing relief to the victims. The 1983 anti-Tamil riot swelled the ranks of militant groups in Sri Lanka with youth determined to exact revenge, and evidently the Gujarat riot has had the same effect in India.

Our response to 1983 was to ignore it and pretend that it was an isolated and spontaneous incident, rather than accept that there were deep-seated injustices perpetrated against the minority even prior to 1983. India did the same: investigations were sabotaged, no one was held accountable. Few saw the broader context of the problem: the ever-simmering violence in Kashmir, and the fact that the Indian economy-laudable though it is-had left out many Indians, many of whom felt that they had been systematically neglected because of their minority status.

To see what is happening in India today is to look in the rear view mirror of what we did wrong in Sri Lanka. When we suffered terrorist attacks, we blamed it on foreign interference, namely India. India does the same today: the Prime Minister in a televised message blamed a “group based outside the country”. Both countries have failed to realize that the root of the problem is not outside our shores; the problem lies within. Messages from the Indian public are scrolled continuously on NDTV, most of them blaming the government for inadequate security and calling for a severe crackdown on terrorism (as if they weren’t already trying all this time). Not one message asked the question: “what drove these Indians to do this to other Indians?”

In the interests of combating terrorism, it won’t be long before anti-terrorist squads ask Indians with Muslim names questions like:  what are you doing out so late? Do you have a legitimate reason for walking near that hotel? How can you prove that you live in this city? If you’re not from here, what reason do you have for being in this city? It won’t be long before Indian Muslims are arrested simply for being Muslims, and asked to prove that they are not terrorists. As for the public, the great majority will applaud these actions. They’ll say it is unfortunate, but it is necessary. We know this because we have seen it all before.

One of the police officers killed by the terrorists in Mumbai was an ‘encounter specialist.’ This is a euphemism for government assassins who shoot dead alleged gangsters and terrorists without bothering to collect evidence. Our equivalent would be the ubiquitous white vans that make ‘suspected terrorists’ mysteriously disappear and keeps adding to the tally of bodies that wash ashore or turn up in ditches. How does the public know they really are terrorists? We know, and that’s all that matters-who needs evidence anyway? In India these ‘encounter specialists’ are glorified by the media and cinema as heroes. Murderer equals hero. Isn’t that the same logic used by terrorists?

So here’s a word of advice from a Sri Lankan to our big neighbour. Don’t go down the path we have taken. Don’t be tempted to sacrifice the freedom of another for your own safety. Be smarter than us. Look within and find the disease that is causing this fever called terrorism. For now, your terrorists seem to be ad hoc groups of lethal young men. With every attack in your country a new terrorist group with a new label takes credit. That’s how it starts. The day will come when a determined and motivated leader manages to coalesce the many fingers of extremism into a hard-hitting fist, with an ideology as compelling as it is evil. When that happens, you will pay a price in blood and sorrow for generations to come. We know this because we have seen it all before.

  • This is exactly why eelam is the worst of worst ideas. Pakistan was given to the muslims during Indian independence but India is still haunted by radicals. Racial segregation is the mother of all evil.
    Anyone who thinks India has the answers to the Sri Lankan problem should think twice before opening their mouths now. So many pundits have said that Indian model is the way to go in Sri Lanka.
    You watch now, India is going to dig it self in the war against terror camp too now. Have u heard the Indian whos who commenting on the attack? they're exact copies of 9/11 comments with an Indian accent. This is just getting started for them.. Next it is TN radicals.
    Regardless India now has to fight a border war (kashmir) + internal extremism (deccan mujahadin). This would have been the ultimate gift for Sri Lanka as well had short sighted Ranil n co. had their way!
    Point is us Sri Lankans will stay standing as long as we're united under one flag. The day we allow lines to be drawn we will crumble like a sand castle and come down to India's level.

  • Agaga

    crap-Why did Gujarat happen?Guess u check that out 1st

  • Bronze Body

    I have followed what passes for debate in SL blogs for long enough to know that you, "Under dog" are a breath of fresh air. Not many are wise enough to ask the harder questions in the face of heart-wrenching tragedy that is unfolding in Mumbai. Rarer still is to hear such wise words from among the "majority."

    At a question-and-answer session on BBC yesterday, I was moved by similar line of questions from the audience about this tragedy. Perhaps that is the enduring legacy of democracy that makes it the best among systems of governance known to humanity.

    I guess you wise enough to anticipate what now will follow by way of response to your thoughtful words. I just want you to know that I really appreciate your (mostly lonely) voice which perhaps gives reason for hope in an otherwise hopeless neck of the woods.

  • arun

    With all due respect i do not find any correlation between what's happening in Srilanka with the Mumbai Blasts. At the outset i do agree that not all is going rosy with the Muslims in India who are suffering from an identity crisis however it is improper to suggest that the blasts were done by total 'Indigenous Muslim operators’. What you perhaps missed during the Media frenzy was the fact that all communication between the terrorists intercepted by the Intelligence agency points to Punjabi language spoken in Pakistan (the Punjab province) and the terrorist you are referring to who spoke with the media had a Pakistani Hindi Accent so mate don't count your chickens before they hatch. In addition to this (though nothing personal) United India was divided into 2 countries (subsequently becoming 3 with creation of Bangladesh) to provide a separate home land for Muslims. Has the Srilankan Government recognised the so called 'ellam' as at least an autonomous state forget giving full independence.

    Some food for though eh!


  • American outta India

    India is a democracy but an extremely corrupt one. The purpose of a democracy is to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. This doesnt really happen in india. Remember, Manmohan Singh was never elected to the Lok Sabha. The Hindus didnt vote for him, the voted for the Gandhi led congress-I.

    On the other hand, muslims in India have been a thorn for sometime. Every time there is a war with pakistan, they often take the opponents side.

    This boils down to a who started it and who is going to finish it argument. The fight is on, same as in Tamil. Fortunately, the Sikhs were able to somehow end the disagreements relatively easily. The anger between muslims runs a little too deep I fear and the common muslim in India will ultimately pay the biggest price.

  • P.J.

    Thank you for some nuance and perspective. It's easy to point fingers, in this and many other cases justifiably so. But to look within, admit our faults and failures and then deal with them is much more difficult.

  • sergio

    Just to say, perfect article…I only hope someone (someone with power to decide) read this and think that maybe you're right…
    From Spain

  • Vijay

    Replying to this article about "Gujarath Riot response". we are aware of the Gujarat riots , but the situation in Sri Lanka and India cant be compared.
    1. Gujarat riots was a spontaneous response to Godhra violence of Sabarmati express
    2. Tamils do not enjoy the freedom in Srilanka where they cannot contest and there is far greater discrimination, India is secular where is Sri Lanka is Buddhist
    3. abdul Kalam is a muslim by birth , many indian see him as the role model and he was the president.Infact muslims and christians enjoy greater religious freedom than majority Hindhus because of pseudo secularism. Take the cricket team and see how many cricketers are Muslims, We all are treated as INDIANS , one word INDIANS. Can all the people of Sri Lanka call themselves as Lankans ? ,they divide as Tamils and Sinhalese.
    4. But if Indian nationals are working against the interest of the state especially Muslims in the name of the Kashmir Aazadi , they cannot expect treatment , they have to be interrogated. Because of such fanatic fools , the moderate section of that community is made to suffer, it is applicable to both hindhus and muslims because of the extremists, moderates suffer. and this becomes a vicious cycle.
    6. We will uproot terrorism , and sustain no further growth by fair,just and equal treatment to all our citizens. INDIA is SECUALAR

    Himalayas has been land of rishis Maharishi Kashyapa from which the name Kashmir was derived , all the Kashmiri Pundits were driven out and now Pakistan wants Kashmir , soon they wil lwant entire india and some day they would entire planet. They would declare world as Islamic planet given their way. The religion of Islam is wonderful one meaning "Peace", but the followers are destroying divine brothers of the same species. No animal kills another of same species , only human beings divide among ourselves and kill each other.

    Nature has to intervene and create a big disaster so that whole of Human kind can unite for some highher cause , saving the human species.

    The proud sons of India like me wont let our Mother being bleed by the idiotic terrorists.

    We will master mind a secular India , the epicenter of peace and through that we will reestablish the brother hood , tolerance and equality of all humn beings


  • Digvijay

    I think your facts are all messed up, one must not be so naive to believe that a country should be just & politically correct when it has fanatic neighbors. We are extremist , wait and watch .

  • I agree with the sentiment – that in our desperation to 'do something' just to see some immediate action, we will cause damage far worse than what these 12 men have caused us. If the seed of hatred in our hearts to our brothers continues to grow, then we're playing right into the hands of what the terrorists what us to do – this is exactly the reaction they're hoping to get. Fear, anger, and hatred – like cornered animals and not thinking humans.

  • Rajiv Wirasinha

    I don't know what it says about the regular readership of this site that almost 24 hours have passed and no one has bothered to correct Vijay's fairly outrageous misconceptions of our country. As a very infrequent guest, let me weigh in then.

    Vijay, where did you get this notion that Tamils can't contest in Sri Lanka? There are plenty of Tamils elected at local, regional, national and even cabinet levels. There always have been. Please check your facts. The only time Tamils were disenfranchised en masse was at the 2005 Presidential election, but by none other than Prabhakaran of the LTTE! This is NOT to say that Tamils don't have grievances in this country, but you are being awfully glib when you say that Muslims in India face far less discrimination. That is surely, at the very least, debatable.

  • Rajiv Wirasinha

    As a Buddhist and secularist myself , I regret that our constitution makes special mention of the majority religion. Someday, I hope that will change. But let's be clear about this – that same document grants total freedom of religion to all citizens. Furthermore, I would argue that in reality we have AT LEAST as much religious freedom and tolerance in Sri Lanka as you do in India. Our civil conflict has NO religious dimension to it whatsover. So spare us the self-righteousness.

    You may have had a Muslim president, but don't compare apples and oranges. The president of Sri Lanka is directly elected by the people, the president of India is not. Let's talk when India has a popularly elected Muslim president. Yes, yes, I know, India has a minority-community Prime Minister right now, and that is truly admirable. But, strictly speaking, that decision was made post-election by a political party, not by the masses of India.

  • Rajiv Wirasinha

    As for our cricket team, here's where you really betray your utter ignorance my friend. Our team is multi-ethnic multi-religious Sri Lanka at its best. And if you've never heard of Muralitheran, Arnold, Mahroof, Vaas et al., then ask your boys about them. Whatever divisions we have in our country, we are overwhelmingly united behind our cricketers. Come down for a match and see. It's fun and riot-free.

    The same point you made about Indian nationals working against the state applies here. A small suicide cult of extremists, hijacking a legitimate cause, has made life miserable for all Sri Lankans, especially the community they claim to represent. They work to destroy harmony, to make reconciliation impossible and to render just solutions unworkable. Sound familiar? There's no basic difference, so don't try to pretend there is.

  • Rajiv Wirasinha

    What makes it so difficult for the civilized world to deal with the scourge of terrorism is the inability to empathize and unify. It's the old 'Our guys are terrorists, your guys are freedom fighters' mindset, and you Vijay, I'm sorry to say, exemplify this. Terrorism is terrorism, whatever the merits of the professed cause, whoever is committing it, and whether it happens in New York, Tel Aviv, Karachi, Mumbai, or Colombo.

    But no. You seem to think that demonic little Sri Lanka deserves the horrendous acts of terrorist violence committed against her, whereas India is great and pure and just and an innocent victim. That's profoundly ignorant, irresponsible, and dangerous. Most of all Vijay, it undermines progress to the enlightened future for humanity that you claim you're aspiring to.

  • Saj

    The Under Dog tries to glorify India, but if truth be told India is a country where there have been several progroms against minorities – against Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and the 'lower castes' or the Dalits. The latest pogrom happened this year a few months ago and targeted the Christian community of Orissa, leaving more than 50 000 homeless. Anti-Christian violence then spread to the state of Karnataka and even parts of Tamil Nadu. Further, many Indian states have enacted "anti-conversion" legislation, but India is touted as a symbol of secularism. India is also beset with numerous separatist movements from Kashmir in its north to Assam in its east, and large portions of the country are actually controlled by Maoist rebels or the Naxalites who carry out regular attacks against the state. I'm not saying Sri Lanka is perfect – far from it – but it's pretty rich to claim that India is something we should emulate or to pretend as if everything is hunky dory over there. Let's not forget, that India armed, trained and funded the LTTE just like the USA did with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

  • Saj

    Dear Vijay, my response to your points…

    1. If the "Gujarat riots was a spontaneous response to Godhra violence of Sabarmati express " then Sri Lankans can claim that the 1983 violence in Colombo was a response to the murder and mutilation of 13 soldiers in Jaffna.

    2. Tamils can certainly "contest" (I think you mean in elections?). There are Tamil parliamentarians in Sri Lanka's parliament, including the LTTE supporting Tamil National Alliance. The party representing Tamils of Indian origin in Sri Lanka is part of the current government. You claim India is secular so why do so many states have anti-conversion laws enacted? Such a move was attempted in Sri Lanka but the Supreme Court ruled it as unconstitutional. Further, religious harmony in Sri Lanka is, IMO, in a far better shape in Sri Lanka than it is in India. As for ethnic tensions, that is another matter.

    3. Abdul Kalam was appointed to the post of President of India. India does not have an executive president like in Sri Lanka. The post of president in India is just a figurehead position – kinda like how the Queen of England is the official head of state of Australia, but has no power.

    You talk of the Indian cricket team, but the Sri Lankan team is more multi-religious that India's. The Sri Lankan cricket team has Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims in it.

    You claim Sri Lankans divide themselves along ethnicity, and yes that is true. But so do Indians… jsut visit the messageboards on and you will see Tamils vs Kannadigas, Tamils vs. Malayalis, Hindus vs Muslims, North Indians vs. South Indians, Marathis vs. North Indians shouting against each other.

    Just recently North Indians (ie Hindi speakers) were beaten up in Mumbai, and then Hindi speakers attacked Marathi institutions in the north of the country…how exactly is that Indians united?

    5. Sri Lanka could also well make that claim with regard to Sri Lankans

    6. Despite your capitalised 'INDIA IS SECULAR' claim, Sri Lanka has had far less religious riots and religious acrimony is nowhere as near present is it is in India.


  • Prateek

    Excellent post. Just goes to show how history repeats itself. Despite your advice I fear the worst – politicians will undoubtedly go down the same road as Sri Lanka. India will undoubtedly turn into a police state. We pride ourselves in "electing" a Muslim president / Sikh PM / female president but these events are little more than political posturing. Wake me up the day India elects a Muslim prime minister. Barack Obama's election will look like a cakewalk in comparison.
    While there are many parallels between the two countries, there is one major difference. In light of events taking place after this article was written, and if the Times of India is to be believed, these terrorists were indeed from Pakistan. I do not know enough about the situation in Sri Lanka to gauge how much influence comes from India but it seems to me like there is a much larger conspiracy in Pakistan to exploit the underlying weaknesses in Indian society. Not to downplay the fact that India has been steadily losing its communal hegemony in these past few years.

  • The problem as clearly revealed is the hatred that is poured out on its citizens, by states such as Sri lanka and India. The hatred is manifested in the form of sstate terror. Those who benefit from the discrimination of citizens and denial of political expression in certain areas of governance always support such discrimination, dehumanisation and genocide.

    Because of this reason there is always a majority that benefits at the expense of a minority. This is not democracy. Democracy believes in freedom, equality, justice and human rights for every one not for the majority alone.

    When such an occurence takes place, what should the oppressed do? If they have tried all the means to find peaceful solution has failed what should they do?

    We have a problem here. The problem is with governance in countries than terrorism. Terrorism is arising from this lack of democracy.

  • T.Douglas







  • Saj

    I think the following article is very relevant to this post… I hope I can post a link to it?

    Muslims — India's new 'untouchables'

    The condition of the country's Muslims has deteriorated, and the world has overlooked the nation's problems.

    The news of the attacks in Mumbai eerily took me back to a quiet morning two years ago when I sat in Room 721 of the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel, reading the morning newspaper, fearing just the kind of violence that has now exploded in the city of my birth. The headlines recounted how the socioeconomic condition of the people of my ancestry, Muslims in India, had fallen below that of the Hindu caste traditionally called "untouchables," according to a government report.

    "Muslims are India's new untouchables," I said sadly to my mother, in the room with me. "India is going to explode if it doesn't take care of them." Now, indeed, alas it has. And shattered in the process is the myth of India's thriving secular democracy.

  • UJay


    "I do not know enough about the situation in Sri Lanka to gauge how much influence comes from India but it seems to me like there is a much larger conspiracy in Pakistan to exploit the underlying
    weaknesses in Indian society."
    To enlighten you, It was India under Indira Gandhi with RAW who gave birth to a serpent called LTTE in order destabilze pro West leaning govt. of JR Jayawardana in early 80's. India supported or ignored LTTE until they killed Rajiv Gandhi on Indian soil. Even now LTTE goonies in Tamil Nadu are trying to bail out LTTE by black mailing your union govt. Though it is LTTE who is holding it's own Tamil civilians as a human shield. Some politics.

    We had a Tamil politician called Lakshman Kadirgamar in a recent govt as foriegn minister. Killed. Earlier there many Tamil ministers and MPs in various governments. Many of them eliminated. By whom LTTE and not majority Sinhalese.

  • Rajiv, you hit the nail into Vijay’s coffin. I commend you for bringing out the sword of truth and slicing through his pompous rhetoric.

  • Natasha

    Vijay your comments show quite a level of ignorance…."Pakistan wants Kashmir" shouldn't you be admitting India does not want to give Kashmir its right? One would need to take a look at the UN resolution related to this issue, and I suggest you do that. The Indian government's tactics have delayed resolving this issue for so many years and it doesnt look like it is in any mood to actually have some meaningful and sincere movement towards resolving it. Confidence building measures with Pakistan is the best answer they, how about we try to eliminate the root cause of all the problems and do whats right! The Kashmir conflict is the oldest international conflict in the world. India’s forcible occupation of the State of Jammu and Kashmir in 1947 was the main cause of the dispute. The United Nations alsoDOES NOT consider the Indian claim as legally valid. The worst part is that except India the whole world recognizes the seriousness of this conflict and recognizes Kashmir as a disputed area. If Pakistan was created for muslims when the sub continent was divided in 1947 (which it certainly was, and as someone else also mentioned in one of the posts above) then based on that fact alone, Kashmir should have been part of Pakistan NOT India as it is a muslim population! So lets check the facts again and see who wants what!

  • Natasha

    I agree with your comments 100%. India likes to sugar coat things and cover the real problems and issues presenting a picture to the world that is far from reality. Wake up and smell the coffee!

  • Natasha

    well vijay in response to your comment, " Jihadi muslims want whole of the world to be under islamic rule, given their way… are we going to hand over everything. Kashmir is integral part of soverign india" ….Well IN NO WAY should acts of terror be carried out against anyone…no matter who it is, however, most of these movements and groups are connected to geographical disputes and conflicts, so they are POLITICAL not RELIGIOUS… whether its the occupation of Palestine, the invasion of Iraq, the invasion of Afghanistan by the Russians followed by all other attempts to maintain control of the land by outsiders, or Kashmir (forcible occupation by India). These groups want to free themselves of the forced occupations, which does not translate into taking over the whole world……….Dont hand over everything coz no one wants that, just let people have what is theirs rightfully and what belongs to them.