A fanatic fringe seems intent on hijacking the protest movement in Tamil Nadu against Sri Lanka’s treatment of its Tamil citizens. With the terrorist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam no longer in the picture, large sections of the people in Tamil Nadu have begun to openly sympathise with the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka. But, even as the protest movement gathers momentum, extremist outfits without any popular base have started carrying out violent attacks on Sri Lankan students and offices. After the ransacking of the Madurai office of Mihin Lanka, which offers cheap flights to Sri Lanka from different cities in Tamil Nadu, activists belonging to some of these outfits assaulted a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk who was part of a student team. Even Sri Lankan Tamils on pilgrimage to India have been at the receiving end of violence by people claiming to represent these outfits. Also, the very same people claiming to champion the rights of Sri Lankan Tamils have sought to paint the troubles of Indian fishermen venturing into Sri Lankan waters in the colours of a Sinhalese-Tamil conflict, though the conflict is essentially between Indian Tamil and Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen over fishing rights and livelihood concerns. Clearly, the efforts of these outfits seem directed at gaining publicity and winning new followers rather than at furthering the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils. Obfuscation of the real issues appears to be part of the overall strategy.
That the protests and attacks have peaked at a time when a resolution on human rights abuses by the Sri Lankan military toward the end of the war with the LTTE in 2009 is before the United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva is certainly no coincidence. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and the principal opposition party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, have been asking the Centre to put pressure on Sri Lanka to punish those responsible for human rights abuses and to honour its responsibilities and commitments to Sri Lankan Tamils. However, the mindless violence of some of the fringe Tamil outfits is putting at risk India’s own moral authority to urge Sri Lanka to move towards a political settlement of the ethnic conflict. India’s approach toward Sri Lanka cannot hinge entirely or even primarily on domestic politics in Tamil Nadu. Those in Tamil Nadu talking of a separate Tamil Eelam as a solution seem to have no clue about the human costs that would be involved in partitioning a country and a people. India must look beyond Tamil Nadu while bringing to bear diplomatic pressure on Sri Lanka and working in coordination with other countries to ensure full and equal rights for Tamils as citizens of a united Sri Lanka.