The two Houses of India’s Parliament have judiciously timed a debate on ‘the plight of the Tamils in Sri Lanka’ to coincide with the UN Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva. That India will vote for the US resolution against Sri Lanka is now public knowledge. Ironic as it may be, our twin stories elsewhere [...]


Govt. must act on Tamil Nadu attacks


The two Houses of India’s Parliament have judiciously timed a debate on ‘the plight of the Tamils in Sri Lanka’ to coincide with the UN Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva. That India will vote for the US resolution against Sri Lanka is now public knowledge.

Ironic as it may be, our twin stories elsewhere in this paper depict the contrast in the manner Indian Catholic pilgrims were treated when they came for the annual St. Anthony’s Feast on the Sri Lankan islet of Kachchativu and the manner in which Sri Lankan Catholic pilgrims, including Tamils, visiting the Velankanni shrine in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu are treated.

The harassment of Sri Lankans visiting Tamil Nadu has been going on for quite some time now. While Indian tourism authorities actively promote ‘Buddhist Tours’, Sri Lankan Buddhists pilgrims going to holy places via Chennai have been the subject of continued physical attacks. The Maha Bodhi Centre and the Bank of Ceylon branch in Chennai have been repeatedly targeted. An opposition lawmaker was asked to call off a pilgrimage, a Sri Lankan cricket umpire officiating in an international test match was subjected to a protest outside the stadium and many more incidents involving Sri Lankan citizens have taken place. Not everyone can get the VVIP protection President Mahinda Rajapaksa received when he visited south India on pilgrimage recently.

All these are happening under the nose of the Tamil Nadu political leaders — if not with their complicity, most certainly with their connivance. These are the same politicians who shed crocodile tears for Sri Lankan Tamils while stealing their fish from their territorial waters. These are the very same politicians who gave bank loans, safe haven and succour to the armed separatists in Sri Lanka to fight a war that caused the deaths of thousands of Tamils, including children who were drafted into battle as cannon fodder. They, who aided and abetted the 30-year agony that Sri Lankans, Sri Lankan Tamils included, faced, are the ones who need to be tried for war crimes against humanity.
The situation for Sri Lankans visiting Tamil Nadu is bound to get worse as elections loom in that neck of the woods and unimaginative Tamilian politicians continue to hitch their political star to the ‘Sri Lankan Tamils’ wagon.

What is the Government in Colombo doing about all this? It should, for starters take a cue from India. When the pro-Government EPDP organised a mid-sea protest against Indian fishermen poaching in Sri Lankan waters, India’s High Commissioner initiated pro-active diplomatic moves to ensure the protest did not take place. Not satisfied that the job was done, he himself visited Jaffna, Kachchativu and got the EPDP leader to back off. Wiser counsel did prevail eventually, because had a minor incident occurred involving the fishermen of the two sides in these troubled waters, it could have flared into a major diplomatic skirmish between the two countries.

The Government in Colombo is embattled on many fronts abroad – in Geneva, over CHOGM, GSP+ but has chosen to focus on opening diplomatic missions in Vanuatu, Nauru and Honduras. As a result, what’s happening in neighbouring Tamil Nadu has slipped its attention. Government leaders are fond of saying that their dealings are with New Delhi, between one sovereign state and another, not with state governments, least realising that it is Tamil Nadu politics that dictates New Delhi’s Sri Lanka policy. It’s a case of the tail wagging the head, and especially so in coalition politics with Indian elections looming in the horizon.

Other than for a remark in the Lok Sabha (Indian Parliament) that “Sri Lanka is not our enemy” every decision of the Indian Government has a Tamil Nadu flavour to it. Back in August last year we had occasion to say this, on the same continuing problem;

” The bustling trade that takes place between Colombo and Chennai belittles the hostility, sabre-rattling and vituperative politics generated in Tamil Nadu against Sri Lanka. It is business as usual, in fact, better than ever, as traders ply their goods over and under the Customs radar. Flights to and fro are full of sarong clad ‘businessmen’ with friends in high places in both cities engaged in an unofficial Free Trade Agreement..”.

The harassment of Sri Lankans visiting Chennai cannot be tolerated by offering the other cheek. Some action, political, diplomatic and commercial, is needed to remedy this deteriorating situation; travel advisories, trade sanctions, whatever it takes. The Government cannot keep adopting the attitude that what it refuses to see, is not happening.

Survival of the fittest?

A report that the Ministry of Education is to make sports a compulsory subject in schools is a welcome move, and so too this week’s circular, renewing an older one, that children taking part in the more strenuous sporting events must first be checked for medical fitness.“Mens sanain incorpore sano” (a healthy mind in a healthy body) is a sine qua non for youth.

There is a commendable drive by the Government to get ordinary citizens outdoors for physical exercise, especially city dwellers, with the opening of properly lit parks and properly paved walkways. University students are given a course in physical fitness and now, children are given lessons on keeping their bodies in shape.

In the US, obesity in youth is a major issue and the drive to get them to diet and exercise comes from the White House itself. The computer and TV are blamed for the ‘couch potato’ syndrome. Long years ago, PT (Physical Training) was part of our school curriculum, and many looked forward to it to get away from the drudgery of the classroom, but it was not a very serious programme.

The recent deaths of schoolgirls from Chilaw, Moratuwa and now Aranayake have, however, raised alarm bells over the fitness of many young people around the country, particularly when taking part in physically demanding sports like marathons or sea swims. Some of them may have conditions such as malnourishment, obesity and asthma and other serious congenital medical issues– like cardiomyopathy — that make such strenuous sports a high risk.

In an article in our MediScene supplement recently we said “Everyone assumes that those engaging in sports, as they are in the prime of their lives, are perfectly healthy”. It is not always so. This ‘keep fit’ drive must come with suitable safeguards. The fact that a circular had to be re-issued shows that they are not followed. It cannot be a case of ‘the survival of the fittest’.

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