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News: Censorship in the World’s Largest “Democracy”? – Part 2

May 6, 2009

by Sanjay Dev

This is a followup to the previous entry — Censorship in the World’s Largest “Democracy”?

And the response was…

We asked previously if the following two links were visible on Youtube:

We made our post on censorship public first before asking other sources in India. Our sources replied that they could see the videos. One source reported that it would be a real eye-opener for many people who do not understand much about the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Stephanie Nolen, from the Globe and Mail, however, seemed to have done her own investigating prior to our posting. In her posting, “India, Sri Lanka and a question of censorship” on May 2, she said:

New Delhi, May 2, 2009 – For months now, as the already grim situation in northern Sri Lanka has deteriorated, there have been rumours in India that the government is censoring media coverage of the conflict there, in order to avoid inflaming the already angry and very large Indian Tamil population. Tamils here are watching the Sri Lankan governments assault on the final strongholds of the erstwhile Tamil independence movement in considerable consternation. (In the complex political chess game of the region, the Indian government tepidly backs the Sri Lankan government, despite the heft of the Tamil community, because its sympathy for the Tamil rebels was permanently scotched with their assassination of prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.) Its never entirely clear from the rumours how the government might be achieving this censorship, given the robust nature of India’s unfettered media except maybe by asking nicely. But here’s a funny thing: over the past 10 days, as I was working on a profile of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, various Tamil sources around the world e-mailed me links to recordings of his speeches, and his rare public appearances, and a few videos of other people who know him speaking about him. And I couldn’t watch them. I didn’t get the usual, red YouTube no longer available message. I got a strange black screen apologizing and saying I could not view the requested content. Ive never seen it anywhere else, on any other type of content. I tried other viewers, other routes. Same problem. Yet when I checked with people in countries outside India, they could view the videos just fine, using the same links. I’ve e-mailed YouTube to ask for an explanation – no response yet – and I have a natural caution about conspiracy theory. But seems a little funny, no? I can watch all the trashy gossip or stupid pet tricks I want. But I can’t watch a single thing that involves Prabhakaran addressing the faithful. Not in India. Not today.

Potential for more censorship?

Yesterday, on May 2, 2009, Tamils belonging to various political parties (Periyar Dravida Kalagam, Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kalagam) and some of the general populace intercepted a convoy (among the many recent convoys) that are reported to be shipping weapons from northern states through Andhra Pradesh, via the cities of Coimbatore and Salem en route to Kochi (Cochin) and Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, to be taken on ship to Sri Lanka. The incident took place in Neelambur near Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu on By-Pass Road, which is a toll road built for vehicles going between Tamil Nadu and Kerala to circumvent the traffic of Coimbatore city.

The following video of the incident is on Youtube. Will it stick around? Will it be visible in India? Please, let us know.

More links on this incident: Link 1 (in Tamil) Link 2 (in Tamil) Link 3 Link 4 Link 5 (video) (in Hindi)

This gains significance in light of the Indian federal elections, which are staggered across 5 stages over a period of a month, and where Tamil Nadu (considered a swing state, especially due to uncertainty resulting from the Eelam issue) is scheduled to go to polls during the final stage, May 13.

How could this be?

Why would India do this? As we have said, there are many reports and rumours of India actively supporting the Sri Lankan military in the current round of war. Many more reports and reasons abound in public speeches by politicians in Tamil Nadu and word-of-mouth in the Tamil Diaspora. But India has definitely been at pains to publicly and overtly get involved. What is it about these above videos that India would want to censor? Here are some excerpts:

Anita Pratap in 2003

on her impressions of Prabhakaran, leader of the LTTE:

… but in terms of his persona, I would say he is possibly one of the most remarkable men I have met in my life. I have never met another person with such clarity of vision, such motivation, such commitment to his cause, and tremendous foresight. He could foresee years ahead what is going to happen down the line. I could remember at a time when India was helping him, and other Tamil militant organizations, they were helping with arms, refuge, giving them financial support. And he was literally surviving because of them — logistic support was from India. And yet, in 1985, when I met him, he told me that, “One day, I will have to fight the Indians.” And I was shocked. I said, “But you are taking all this support from India. And you’re even living…” — at that time, they were all taking refuge, and he himself was living in South India — “… how can you say that you’re going to fight India?”

His thing was that Sri Lanka is an island nation with about 18 million people, and Tamils are a small minority that live in the Northeast part. But the Tamil ethnic people also live in India, and 55 million Tamils live in South India. So Prabhakaran’s reasoning was that India will never allow the separation of Sri Lanka, a division in Sri Lanka along ethnic lines. There will never be a Tamil homeland, if India can help it, because the minute that happens in Sri Lanka, India will have to face a similar situation within India. The Tamils in India will want to secede, and they had, and there was a Tamil secessionist movement in India in 1962, in the same South Indian province of Tamil Nadu. And at that time, when he said it, I said, “Oh, but you can’t fight India. These are guerrillas. They’re so simple; they’re so ordinarily dressed. Some have combat fatigues, but most of them are just in a shirt and a sarong and bathroom slippers — so un-guerilla-like. How can you fight India, the world’s 3rd largest army?” and so on and so forth. And he says, “No, if I’m committed, if there comes a situation, I will fight. I’m not interested in winning or losing, but if I have to fight, I will fight.”

And you know, when I reported that, everyone said that I was romanticizing Prabhakaran, and that there’s no way that this leader of a small organization in a small little country like Sri Lanka can take on the might of the Indian military machine. And he did. Two years, later he did. He fought, and it was a terrible situation. There was terrible loss on both sides. But, he did. And it is a fact that when you talk to the Indian establishment, yes, they have every reason to prevent the breakup of Sri Lanka because India, as you know, we’re like Europe. We have different provinces, each with its own language and culture and history and cuisine and everything — they’re completely separate. And if one province, if Tamils in Sri Lanka got their independent homeland, that would encourage the Tamils in Tamil Nadu to do the same in India. And we have different provinces, as it is we’ve had problems in Punjab and Kashmir that wanted to secede, and then we’ve also had situations in the Northeast. So this is something that India will always prevent. And he was very, very clear about that.

And even talking about whether he would get his Eelam, he was fighting for his separate state called “Eelam”, and he said at that time, “Whether I get Eelam or not” — this is in the 80’s he’s saying– “whether I get Eelam or not will depend on domestic factors as well as international factors.” And the reality is that there is a feeling, and even though, of course, Prabhakaran started this peace process, or agreed to be a part of this peace process before 9/11 happened, he was pushed further into that peace process because of 9/11. Today, there is no international tolerance for terrorism, and that has pushed him further into the peace process. So there are these international factors that he was well aware of. But, of course, the last time when I met him, he said, “But there is focus and there is focus. There is focus right now. Big countries cannot remained focused on one subject for very long.”  And that could well be prophetic again.

Anita Pratap in 2008

recalling a quote from the book Tamils in Sri Lanka by Dr. Murugar Gunasingam:

Dr. Gunasingam recounts an incident when he met with a very famous TULF leader, Sivasithamparam, who I knew very well — a very learned and distinguished man. So Dr. Gunasingam meets him in Madras (Chennai) and asks him 2 questions:

1. What do you think of Prabhakaran? (given the fact that he [Sivasithamparan] was forced to live in exile, in Chennai. He had to leave the Tamil areas and live in Chennai because of the LTTE. They had threatened him, and so he had to live as an exile in Chennai. So his question was, “What do you think of Prabhakaran?”
2. How long do you think it will take the LTTE to achieve their political goal of Tamil Eelam?

And Sivasithamparam, he quotes, is silent for a few minutes, and then with tears in his eyes, he recounts, he says, talking about Prabhakaran, “This is one Tamil leadership that nobody can buy.” And then he adds on, “‘Til today, I have not raised my hat to anyone. But today, I will raise my hat to Prabhakaran.”

Giving her own thoughts about the question of when Tamil Eelam will be achieved:

About Tamil Eelam: I think that Tamil Eelam exists already. It exists in the hearts and minds of every single Tamil expatriate. So it is a reality. Tamil identity is strong. Tamil nationhood is strong. No one can take that away from you. But the question is, what is it that you can give back to this identity. Not everyone can be an LTTE person sacrificing their life. It’s not possible for you. In a lot of countries, the LTTE is even proscribed, so you can’t even do that. It is not even necessary. What can you, as citizens of Norway or other countries, what can you do, what can you give back to the Tamil identity, the Tamil nationhood? It is your excellence. Whatever you do, whatever branch, whatever field you are in, it is to bring that quality of excellence into that field. It is to bring professionalism, it is to bring scholarship, as this book has done. That is your greatest contribution.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 20, 2009 2:04 am

    Wow! Thank you! I always wanted to write in my site something like that. Can I take part of your post to my blog?

    • voicesinexile permalink*
      May 30, 2009 5:30 pm

      Feel free to use a part of this post on your blog. If you do, please include a link to us so that others can find us and read the original post. Thanks!

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