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Nations and their dirty tricks departments

| SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
Published : Mar 29, 2016, 12:10 am IST
Updated : Mar 29, 2016, 12:10 am IST

Norman Tebbit, the British Tory grandee who suspected the loyalty of South Asian and Caribbean immigrants if they didn’t cheer Britain in a cricket match against their original home countries, seems l

Norman Tebbit, the British Tory grandee who suspected the loyalty of South Asian and Caribbean immigrants if they didn’t cheer Britain in a cricket match against their original home countries, seems like a genial Sunday school teacher compared with Indian ideologues who appear to be able to get the police and law courts to enforce their narrowly sectarian views.

Of course, India isn’t alone in xenophobic bigotry. The world was reminded last Thursday of how tenaciously race antagonism persists when Judge O-Gon Kwon, the South Korean president of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, read out the chilling words of Ratko Mladic, military commander of the breakaway Republika Srpska in Bosnia Herzegovina: “The time has finally come for revenge against Turks who live in this area.” He meant Bosnian Muslims who are called Bosniaks. The deeper reference was to the Ottoman empire which ruled the Balkans for 400 years but crumbled by the end of the First World War. Muslims are still detested as “reminders” of that once conquering power.

Judge Kwon was speaking at the trial of Srpska's former President, 71-year-old Radovan Karadzic, infamously known as the “Butcher of the Balkans”. He was given a 40-year prison sentence for murder, genocide and ethnic cleansing, including the killing of nearly 8,000 Bosniak men and boys. But Mr Karadzic is a national hero for Serbs who see Bosniaks as the enemy within. Mr Mladic (whose trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide is continuing at The Hague) is another hero. So was the notorious former Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, who died in 2011 while being tried for war crimes. Similarly, Christian Serbs must be the enemy within for Bosniaks.

Many other countries have succeeded in burying the nasty and sinister past. The old American saying, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian”, is said to have been the 19th century General Phil Sheridan’s retort when a Comanche chief called Toch-a-way or Turtle Dove tried to curry favour by striking himself on the breast and saying “Me good Indian!” The exchange speaks of an era of cruel and ruthless racism against native Indians. The African-American was white America’s next hate figure.

The spectre of the enemy within rose to haunt the United States again in 1941 when between 110,000 and 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry — 62 per cent of whom were American citizens — were forcibly relocated and incarcerated under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s direct orders shortly after Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbour. The victims who lived on the Pacific coast were removed to camps in the interior of the country where they languished for the duration of the Second World War.

One would like to believe Americans have exorcised that evil past. But some of the belligerent statements that Republican contenders for the presidency, like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, made after the Brussels bombings suggest otherwise. As an Internet site commented on their competitive racist rhetoric, “Ted Cruz is not going to let Donald Trump out-fascist him”.

Indians can be just as crude. In fact, it sometimes seems to me there are as many perceptions of the enemy within in India as there are Indians. When the Union culture minister, Mahesh Sharma, described former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam as a “great man” who was a “nationalist” and a “humanist” “despite being a Muslim”, he was identifying one enemy within. The Bharatiya Janata Party MP, Yogi Adityanath, had the same target in his sights when he declared, “No Jinnah will be allowed to take birth in any of the educational institutions of the country.” Presumably, the Gau Raksha Dal (a cow protection group reportedly linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) volunteer who hurled a chappal at Kanhaiya Kumar in Hyderabad and denounced him as a “deshdrohi” suspects the Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader of treason.

These may be dismissed as the individual actions of fanatics. Not so measures taken under the 1962 Defence of India Act, which permitted the “apprehension and detention in custody of any person (suspected) of being of hostile origin” and extended the legal definition of foreigners to include Indian citizens of Chinese descent. The Sino-Indian war lasted from October 10 to November 20, but some of the 10,000 ethnic Chinese who were detained from all over India lingered until the middle of 1967 in internment camps where they were held only on suspicion, without formal accusation or trial.

The internees complained that when they regained their freedom, they discovered that whatever property they owned had been seized or sold off.

Apart from the thousands who were rounded up and incarcerated in camps, like the one in Deoli in Rajasthan, thousands of other Chinese-Indians were deported or pressured into leaving India. There may have been up to 80,000 ethnic Chinese in India (mainly in Kolkata) in 1962. Today, there cannot be more than 4,000.

That sad record of persecution came to mind when I read of two Karnataka students being produced before a Bengaluru magistrate for posting “Pakistan Zindabad” and “Jai Pakistan” during a WhatsApp discussion with fellow students during the World T20 India-Pakistan match in Kolkata on March 19. Even Tebbit didn’t contemplate police action when he made his casual remark about cricket supporters to the Los Angeles Times. But, then, there is no equivalent in law-abiding Britain of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad which lodged the complaint about the two Karnataka students, or the Bajrang Dal whose unfounded complaint about beef prompted the arrest in Rajasthan of students from Jammu & Kashmir. Such organisations fatten on the perception of the enemy within and do the dirty work of governments that don’t want to be too openly sectarian.

The writer is a senior journalist, columnist and author