Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Interview with SLMC's Rauff Hakeem

Muslims can now look to India: Hakeem

Sri Lankan Muslims can now look to India for the protection of their interest because the Indian view of the Muslim question has undergone a sea change since the India-Sri Lanka Accord of July 1987, says Rauff Hakeem, leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), the island nation's most influential Muslim political party. After his meeting with Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed and National Security Advisor MK Narayanan on Thursday in New Delhi, Hakeem said in an exclusive interview to Meenakshi Iyer of Hindustan Times: "My discussion with Narayanan was very reassuring. He talked about the need to have a Southern Consensus. The Indian position is that Sri Lanka should decide what it wants. India is willing to help us and Muslims can now look to India."

In its anxiety to please the Tamils, India had ignored the Muslims altogether in the Indo-Lanka accord of July 1987, and it was this which had led to the formation of the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress, Hakeem recalled. "India should not have a tunnelled vision towards the Sri Lankan crisis. The crisis in the nation doesn't just pertain to the Tamils and Sinhalese. There is a Muslim angle to it too. Unfortunately there was nothing for the Muslims in the Indo-Sri Lankan accord," he said. However, of late, the Indian attitude towards Sri Lankan Muslims has undergone a sea change, Hakeem notes. India wants to cultivate the Muslims and see that frustration with the Tamils and the LTTE does not drive them into the deadly embrace of the Islamic militants with foreign connections.

"Just like Tamils, the umbilical cord between the Sri Lankan Muslims and India cannot be severed. It is natural for us to look up to India. Not just because it is a regional power, but because it understands us perfectly and India cannot sit quiet when there is a fire in its neighbourhood," Hakeem said. The suave and articulate Muslim leader, who concluded his New Delhi visit on Thursday, said that India had to put pressure on the LTTE and the government to make them get back to the negotiating table and come out with a solution. India has offered a devolution formula, based on the Sarkaria Commission's recommendations, which could take care of the interests and aspirations of all sections of the society of the island nation. New Delhi has suggested that Sri Lanka look at the Indian model of governance, where there is a clear-cut distribution of power between the Centre and the states.

Pondy model preferred
The SLMC, however, has been pitching for a "Pondicherry" model, wherein the Muslims can have various Muslim pockets spread over the East under one Muslim administration. The Union Territory of Pondicherry has pockets in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. "We have been looking at the Pondicherry model and it addresses our issues. Of course we need to make some minor alterations," Hakeem said. The Muslims, who constitute seven per cent of the nation's 20 million population, have been the worst sufferers in the ongoing shelling between the Tigers and the government military forces. According to reports, 50,000 people from areas in and around Mutur in Trincomalee district have fled to Kantalai, and places in the Sinhala-dominated Anuradhapura and Polonnaruva districts, which are under government control. Blaming the Establishment in Colombo and the Tamil Tigers for the mass exodus of Muslims and the many deaths, Hakeem said that the government and the LTTE only had military objectives in mind.

They cared little for the plight of civilians caught in the crossfire, especially if they were Muslims. "The Muslim community has undergone sheer neglect. The two warring parties have put civilians in jeopardy. The shelling has not spared even mosques and schools. On one hand we have been let down by the government and on the other, LTTE is subjecting us to torture," a worried Hakeem said. He further noted that the LTTE never fired on Tamil settlements, and the government forces never fired on the Sinhala settlements, but both had no compunctions about firing on Muslims settlements! There has always been a perception in certain sections of the Sinhala community that Muslims are as much a threat as the Tamils, the SLMC leader observes.

The relationship between the Muslims and the Tamils took a serious turn in 1990, when the LTTE expelled 90,000 Muslims from Jaffna overnight, and killed 140 Muslims in Kaathankudy mosque in Batticaloa district. Hakeem maintained that over 100 Muslim civilians, including women and children, were slaughtered by the Tamil militants in the recent military conflict.

Little help from Colombo
He added that no proper transit camps had been established for the refugees and the little help they had been getting were from the aid agencies and not the government. Even though the government has asked the Muslims to return home, Colombo had to do much more to make it possible, Hakeem submitted. "I want my people to be resettled with dignity. People will not come until they are given a security assurance. Their livelihood has to be restored. I want the government to provide them with a livelihood and a resettlement package," Hakeem said. While in New Delhi, the SLMC leader also met Minister of Shipping TR Baalu, who represents the DMK, and Deputy Chairperson of Rajya Sabha K Rehman Khan, among other Muslim MPs.

(Written for Hindustan Times on August 25, 2006)

1 comment :

Bharatya said... come Sri Lankan muslims are classified neither as Tamils nor Sinhalese? How come they are a separate 'ethnic' class? Are they not converts from either Tamil Hindus or Sinhalese Buddhists?

2.If Sri Lankan Muslims can look upto "India" for help and can get UPA government actually respond to them favorably... of which country's concern should the problems of Bangladeshi Hindus be??? I never read a news of any high level meeting by Indian government and MPs with representatives of Bangladesh Hindus or Buddhists...did I miss it?