WHEN South Asian leaders met at their first summit in Dhaka in 1985 there were just two democracies among the seven-member states that formed Saarc at the time — Sri Lanka and India.

The remaining five leaders comprised two military usurpers, including the host, representatives of two absolute monarchies, and an interloper who passed for a permanent head of a picturesque atoll.

You would have thought that the two representative states flaunting names such as Dudley Senanayake and Jawaharlal Nehru among their founders would have a natural moral edge over the hoi polloi dictators and autocrats in the neighbourhood who abused and mistreated their people at will.

The bitter truth is that some of the most egregious human rights violations in South Asia have been committed and are still being perpetrated by the two ‘gold standard’ democracies.

There is nothing novel though about self-regarding democracies becoming susceptible to the malaise of blood lust. The United States, Britain and France are among the current vanguards of rights abuse at a global scale. The colonial global onslaught in the 18th century was directed from the mother of all parliaments in London.

Still, if there is anything worse than the pain they inflict on their own people — the more powerful democracies inflict it on others — it is their penchant for mutual collusion in the macabre ordeal they subject their quarries to.

A new documentary by Britain’s Channel 4 on the military pogroms carried out by the Sri Lankan rulers against the island’s minority Tamils has pitted India against its own conscience, depleted though it may be after the trials and tribulations it has wreaked in Manipur and Kashmir as well as on a growing number of hinterland regions.

The latest revelations from Sri Lanka focus on more blood-curdling abuse of the Tamil people. The fresh narrative is pegged on a “victory trophy” the soldiers captured in their racist enterprise that purported to target the Tamil Tiger rebels.

The victory insignia is the pictures of the 12-year-old son of Tiger chief Vellupillai Prabhakaran the soldiers took while he was in their custody looking frightened and nibbling at a cookie. The next shot is that of the boy’s bullet-riddled body.

As always, the Sri Lankan government was prompt to deny any wrongdoing as it described the pictures as fabrication. A right-wing Brahmin leader who claims to speak for India’s Tamils was against New Delhi’s intervention in the affair.

“Support for such adventurist resolutions will make India vulnerable to future resolutions on Kashmir and Manipur,” Subramaniam Swamy reasoned. He was referring to a rare US-backed resolution to be taken up soon against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Navanethem Pillay on her part spoke bluntly when she accused the Sri Lankan government this week of “triumphalism” in the Tamil north, home of the vanquished Tamil Tiger insurgency. In a report published on Monday, she said that civilians in the area called the “Vanni” were not allowed to commemorate the memory of those killed in the war.

She would perhaps note a similarity in this with the weeklong military curfew slapped on Kashmir after the secret execution of Afzal Guru on Feb 9. The fear of people commemorating their tragedy is common among many states.

Guru’s family received a letter two days after his hanging to inform them officially of the decision to kill him. Why Guru was hanged ahead of others on the death row may never be known.

The waitlist included a Sikh separatist, who unlike the executed Kashmiri, has expressed pride in his killing of a Sikh chief minister of Punjab, a controversial Congress leader.

Again unlike Guru, the Sikh radical Balwant Singh Rajoana, wears his militant links as a badge of honour. He has dared India to hang him, though one hopes there is a sliver of sanity still left in Delhi and he is denied his passionate request to be martyred.

Let’s also hope that the Indian parliament doesn’t take up the proposal by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to debate whether Guru’s body should be returned to his family. Let us not make his macabre death even more ghoulish by fighting over his body for that is unlikely to change the Kashmiri narrative of injustice under military occupation.

The blood lust is getting more pervasive among the younger citizens. A massive crowd of youngsters has been gathering in Dhaka’s Shahbagh square to demand the hanging of a Jamaat-i-Islami leader who evidently played a role in the army’s rape and plunder of Bangladesh when it was still part of Pakistan.

In India, bands of youth nudged by right-wing parties want rapists to be hanged. As the economies shrink the bloody chorus will get even louder.

In Sri Lanka’s Tamil north, museums and memorials commemorating the victors have sprung up across the province. These, in Ms Pillay’s words, “tend to use triumphalist images from which the local population feels a strong sense of alienation”.

Sri Lanka’s vehement denial of rights abuse is of a piece with all other South Asian countries, including Pakistan’s stance on Balochistan where the army has run riot for decades.

I happened to be the judge in a mock TV trial of former Indian army chief Gen V.K. Singh. Amid the orchestrated cheering for revenge against Pakistan, China and whoever else, a young Muslim boy asked why the Indian army was mistreating Kashmiris.

“Have faith in your army. There’s no such thing happening,” the young man was informed tersely amid louder applause. This is the danger we are all facing in South Asia — the pervasive blood lust, and the ghoulish applause.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.


Updated Feb 20, 2013 08:02pm

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Comments (18) (Closed)

Ajaya K Dutt
Feb 21, 2013 04:40am
Did the little boy ask why All the Hindus in the Valley are out of their homes for so many decades? Did the little boy ask why North-Eastern Indians were terrorised and the how come the terrorists still could not be arrested?
Feb 21, 2013 03:41am
woohooo I am rite...It is against India...Thanks to dawn for giving so much space and importance to India even when u guys are killing 100s of ur own citizens...thank u for showing us the aspects which needs to be improved...plss do keep on showing what is wrong in India and not else where..because everything is wrong in India and everything is rite in Pakistan..and I am not even joking....
Vikram Bhatt, Secular Pundit
Feb 21, 2013 10:33pm
It is amazing you mentioned all four countries except almost daily events of terrorism in your own Pakistan. For god's sake,be a little balanced. Rest of the countries including India , a "Gold Standard" for democracy may not deserve any praise re the human rights but at there is some semblance of "Accountability" It seems you're deliberately "Blind" to that.. In India there's a famous saying in the Northern Hindi Belt (where you write from ): "Hum nach karay to Raas Leela , Tum Nacho to Character Dheela". Vikram Bhatt, Secular Pundit
Feb 21, 2013 11:39pm
He wont because he is portraying himself as a secular and liberal but with a different agenda. I have read his articles always criticising the Indians and supporting our enemies, living in India, shame on you.
Feb 21, 2013 03:34am
I havent read anything except the authors name and I bet its against India...
Feb 22, 2013 07:12pm
You perfectly exemplify your country's mindset.
Feb 22, 2013 07:11pm
Mr Naqvi quotes a right-wing Brahmin leader. Mr Naqvi is a utopian, socio-marxist-communist and an eternal-India-basher with soft-corner for Pakistan. Awful.
Feb 21, 2013 06:36am
You forgot to include Bangaldesh Genocide of 71 by IRP and Kashmiri pandits Genocide .Seem to be frsutrated by Afzal hanging
Feb 21, 2013 02:42pm
India and Indians have many faults like all other nations and peoples but you can say whatever as a journalist without fear for your life.
Umesh Gupta
Feb 21, 2013 07:14am
Dear Naqvi Sahib why do not write about Hazara's killings in Pakistan.
Feb 21, 2013 10:41pm
And you are absolutely right .....!
K G Surendran
Feb 21, 2013 07:27am
It has become almost fashionable to demand death penalty, how it solves issues is extremely debatable. However, some crimes do deserve maximum punishment because the perpetrators, who glorify their act, are a menace to society and keeping them in prison a drain on resources. Human rights violations are not the preserve of the state only as militant organizations are guilty of the worst kind of violations without being brought to justice though the state is answerable to several institutions including the media.
Feb 21, 2013 09:12am
Jawed..son, u got issues. U need to relax...
Feb 21, 2013 12:13pm
I feel your pain but Mughal rule is not coming back to India.
Soulmind, UAE
Feb 21, 2013 02:19pm
As usual rant of a weak personality what one can say about it
Feb 21, 2013 05:05pm
Another cock and bull article by Naqvi showing his utter prejudice towards Brahmins. There are better and less jaundiced ways of describing a person than by referring to his caste or religious identity. How would he like it if somebody wrote that a radical Shia journalist has made false accusations and come up with statements without refering to Swami's complete remarks. Swami opined that both the Sinhalese and Tamils were of Indian origin and they needed to brought closer, keeping the real politik of geo politics in mind. Its a nuanced view and there is nothing abominable or evil about this view.
Md Imran
Feb 21, 2013 05:23pm
Another excellent article by Mr Naqwi. The world fails to understand that Indian democracy is nothing but a sham, and the bane of all problems emanating from south Asia. The partition along not just religious lines but inspirations was what Quaid desired. Unfortunately, it remained unfulfilled thanks to India's hegemonic designs. Kashmir, Junagadh, Indian occupied Hyderabad, much of UP,Bihar and West Bengal belongs to the Muslims. Similarly, almost all of India's NE belongs to the ethnic tribes there. Arundati Roy has already mentioned that India should lead by example and give up these lands to its rightful owners and disband its hegemonic military.
Feb 21, 2013 06:09pm
@Naqvi... Please be safe . A blast killed 12 and injured 50 odd in Hyderabad,India . I think any Hindu Organisations like Modi Org or Sikh extremists are responsible for it.