Chennai: It has been over two weeks since eight students of Loyola College, Chennai began a hunger strike, as a means to seek justice for Sri Lankan Tamils. Within days, the move struck a cord among the twenty–somethings across the state. In a matter of days, thousands of students in hundreds of arts, science, engineering and polytechnic colleges joined the protest. Entirely driven by the student community, the strike shows no signs of ending.
Remarkably, the protests have been largely peaceful, although the police is never far away. With the students making the protest out of bounds for politicians of all shades, this protest is still firmly in the grip of the youth.
The state government has had no choice but to declare indefinite closure of all colleges. Both, the ruling AIADMK, and the DMK, have been pressurizing the Congress-led UPA government to take a harder stand on the Lankan issue.
Politically, the Lankan issue has played out, with the DMK demanding that India push for amendments in the US-sponsored resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The DMK, a constituent of the Congress-led UPA for nine years in succession, gave an ultimatum to the Centre.
It wanted India to include ‘genocide’ and also call for an international probe (as opposed to one by Sri Lanka as stated in the US resolution) into alleged war crimes in the final phase of the civil war in 2009 in Sri Lanka in which the top rung of the LTTE — proponents of a separate statehood who engaged in guerrilla warfare — was wiped out.
Allegations of widespread human rights violations in the No Fire Zone have been leveled against the Lankan army by international agencies. When the Centre failed to get the amendments made, the DMK walked out of the UPA combine.
The US sponsored resolution was passed on March 21 in Geneva, which leaves the onus of the probe with Sri Lanka. In Tamil Nadu, the students show no signs of giving up their struggle. When asked what their demands were, their responses were varied, but rather focused.
“The US sponsored resolution is a sheer waste, since it does not help move things forward in Sri Lanka for the Lankan Tamils. We want India to seriously consider economic sanctions against the island nation,” says Ram Kumar, third year student, Loyola College.
Mohammed Haneef, a student of Anna University, speaking from Thirunelveli said the students want justice for Sri Lankan Tamils. "The war crimes charge should be examined by independent authorities, only then can there be closure for all who suffered,” he says. “India should also try to be proactive, on the diplomatic front, and not always go on the back foot,” he says.
P Siddharth, a law student says the ball is now in the court of the Centre. “They should take the initiative to address the issue diplomatically. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report has too many shortcomings, there are too many holes in it. India is a big funder of Lanka, and thinks that grants alone are enough. People cannot live without rights and dignity, and only the Indian government can be an agent of influence,” he says.
Reengineer your diplomacy and reboot, is the common clamour from the students.
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Bhama Devi Ravi is a Chennai based journalist