14 APRIL 1961, Page 6

Asian Discrimination


SOUTH AFRICA'S departure from the Common- wealth has inevitably called forth both accusations and confessions that the hands of other Commonwealth countries are not wholly clean, It is answered that, whatever their sins, they at least are not precisely the same sins as those of South Africa India has her caste system, but it can fairly be said that the Indian Government was in no way responsible for that system. It inherited it and is opposed to it—even if its measures against it have not so fat been very effective. The Government of Ghana can be called a tyrannical Government, but its tyranny is not a racial tyranny. Australia and Canada have their strict racial immigration quotas. But, whether or not it be desirable to exclude Asians from your territory, to say that they cannot come in is at any rate quite different from treating them as inferiors when they are in. It is indeed true that the only reason why Australia and Canada do not today find them- selves faced with a formidable native problem— .the Australians from the Aborigines and the Canadians from the Red Indians—is that the Australians and Canadians of three generations ago kept down their native populations by killing them. The treatment of natives in Australia and Canada then was certainly incomparably worse than the treatment of blacks by the South Africans today. The British with Ireland at their doorstep certainly cannot afford self-righteous- ness. It is only a little more than a dentury 'since the Times frankly confessed that the object of British policy in Ireland was that 'a Catholic Celt would be as rare on the banks of the Liffey as a red man on the eastern seaboard of America.' Nevertheless what is done is done and it is to little purpose today to waste too much time in condemning Englishmen, Australians or Canadians for the sins of their great-grand- parents.

So it can be for the most part argued that South Africa is a special case. Yet there is with- in the Commonwealth at least one example of racial persecution every bit as intense, and every bit as governmentally inspired as that of the South African Government—that in Ceylon. A few years ago I was speaking at a meeting on racial problems in Dublin. (Irish self-government is at last justifying itself. The rule of the old men occupied in their interminable and sterile de- bates about the rights and wrongs of the Civil War is now coming to an end, and in Dublin today one often comes across free and untram- melled debate about the affairs of the world. such as it is no longer Common to find in Eng- land, •which one enters as if one had passed through a baize door,lby which all noise of reality has been shut out. It would do Englishmen a lot of good to realise how much Ireland has gone ahead of them in these last years.) At this meet- ing there was much talk of the familiar sort of the wickedness of apartheid policies in South Africa. Then tip there got on the platform a little man who said that he fully agreed with every- thing that had been said in condemnation of the South African Government but that the suffer- ings of the blacks in South Africa were as nothing to the sufferings of his people at the hands of his Government. He was a Tamil, speaking of the Government of Ceylon, the Government (as it then was) of Mr. Bandara- naike. He produced a very formidable dossier of facts to support his contention.

Indeed his general case can hardly be in dis- pute. We make an absurd mistake if we assume, as so many do, that racial discrimination in the modern world is only of whites against blacks. I knew Mr. Bandaranaike ever since he and I were officers together in the Oxford Union and saw him very shortly before his death. I had for him an affection, but that he was a fanatical racialist beside whom Dr. Verwoerd looks some- times little better than a parlour pink, he himself would have been the last to deny. His policies have today been adopted with• even greater fanaticism by his widow, who thinks herself vowed to a holy cause in implementing them.

The Government's policy is one of suppressing the Tamil language as an official language and, as the Tamils allege, of imposing upon them the Buddhist religion. The Tamils, who are in the majority in the northern and eastern provinces, have replied to this with a policy of passive re- sistance, or satyagralta, which has virtually brought the administration in those provinces to a standstill. Before she left for the Common- wealth Conference Mrs. Bandaranaike appealed to the Tamils to call off their campaign and promised them consideration of their grievances if they did so But the Tamils thought that this was merely a trick to save Mrs. Bandaranaike embarrassment at the Conference, not conceiv- ing it possible that she would dare to take a stand against racialism with the Tamil question unsettled—in which. of course, they were wrong. They had been so often deceived before that they were in no mind to make a concession to mere words of vague goodwill. Now. with the Conference behind her, Mrs. Bandaranaike threatens the Tamils 'that they must take full responsibility for the consequences that must necessarily flow' should the Government be compelled to restore law and order by other means.' The Tamil resistance has so far avoided violence, but the reply to it is ominous. One dues not want to prophesy Sharpeville or calamity, but, if it is to be avoided, it is urgently neces- sary that Mrs. Bandaranaike practise in her own country a policy which bears some relation to the policy which she so eloquently recommends to others.