India: Protests block Sri Lanka officer training

Protests by local people forced the abandonment of a plan to train Sri Lankan military officers at India’s Defence Services Staff College in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India.

The Times of India said at least two towns in Nilgiris were shut down by a strike on June 24 in protest at the plan.

The Indian government then offered to train the Sri Lankan officers elsewhere in India, but the Sri Lankan government turned the offer down.

India, along with the United States, Israel, China and other countries, supported the Sri Lankan government during its war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who were fighting for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east of Sri Lanka. The LTTE was defeated in May 2009.

But among the people of Tamil Nadu there is widespread sympathy for the Tamils of Sri Lanka, who are now living under military occupation. Since the end of the war the Sri Lankan government has built new military bases, confiscated Tamil land, and established Sinhalese settlements in Tamil areas.

To win support for its policies among the Sinhala people, who are the majority of Sri Lanka’s population, the government promotes Sinhalese chauvinism.

Tamils are not the only victims of this. Religious minorities, including Muslims, Christians and Hindus, have also been attacked by Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist groups.

A recent report by the World Evangelical Alliance said that at least 30 churches in Sri Lanka have been attacked this year. It noted that the Sinhala-Buddhist groups carrying out such attacks enjoy “almost complete impunity”.

The report said: “[T]he government appears to be desperate to garner popular support –― on which the survival of some top officials depends in the post-war scenario ― by aggressively pursuing Sinhala Buddhist nationalism”.