Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu

Cauvery River Water Dispute and Karnataka Massacres: Part 1

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, February 1998 (ID. 1998-02-01)
Click here for MAIN INDEX to archived articles (main page)




1. Cauvery River Water Dispute

2. An Orgy of Violence

3. Tamils were Massacred in Karnataka, India did Nothing

4. Tamil Fishermen were Chased Out of Kachchateevu, India did Nothing

5. Tamil Farmers were Denied their Water, India did Nothing

6. What can Tamils do?


Hindians: People whose mother tongue is Hindi (similar to Tamil speakers are sometimes referred as Tamilans or Tamilians).

(FOREWORD: In the article "Gujral and the Fishermen" [Reference 1], Usha Ramanathan  discussed the killings of Tamil Nadu fishermen by Sri Lankan Navy and pointed out that the Indian government does not care about the safety and security of its Tamil citizens.

This is not the first time that the Indian government refused to protect Tamil citizens. During the December 1991 massacres of Tamils in the Indian State of Karnataka the Indian government refused to send the army to protect Tamils living in Karnataka. I published a Tamil article "Lessons from the Karnataka Massacres" in the May 1992 issue of Thamizh Nilam. The following is an updated and expanded English version of that article with detailed analysis and assessment.

1. Cauvery River Water Dispute

Cauvery river flows from Karnataka State to Tamil Nadu and irrigates many thousands and thousands of acres of farmland in Thanjavur (Tanjore or Thanjai), nearby districts and Pondycherry. It is the life source for Tamil farmers of these areas, especially those cultivating samba, kuruvai rice (paddy). Through a series of agreements dating back to 1892, Karnataka State has the responsibility to release specific amounts of water to Tamil Nadu every year. There was no problem when the British ruled the Indian subcontinent. After the British left, Karnataka started holding back the water that are legally Tamil Nadu's share. Tamil Nadu government took the matter all the way up to the Indian Supreme Court and a Cauvery Tribunal (Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal) was set up to decide how much water Karnataka should release to Tamil Nadu. Following a Supreme Court order, the tribunal instructed Karnataka to release 205 TMC feet of water to Tamil Nadu for the year beginning July 1, 1991. Karnataka State Chief Minister Bangarappa refused the instructions and organized a statewide strike on December 13, 1991 to protest. The strike turned into an orgy of violence against Tamils living in the state and continued for over two weeks. Tamils were beaten, tortured, raped and murdered; their houses were looted and burned. Fearing for their lives, Tamils fled the Karnataka State to Tamil Nadu State or the neighboring Kerala State with only what they can carry on a long walk to these safe havens.

2. An Orgy of Violence

When many Tamil areas in the state capital Bangalore were in flames, Chief Minister Bangarappa was in Pune (Maharashtra State) attending a music function. Later, when a reporter asked him why he did not return to the state, he answered that there was violence in only some Tamil areas. Anti-Tamil violence was not limited to Bangalore. In fact, many gruesome incidents happened elsewhere in the state.

According to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, 90,000 Tamils fled Karnataka and they lost over three billion rupees worth of properties. It was estimated that about 50 Tamils were murdered and many more beaten, stabbed, tortured or raped. Karnataka Chief Minister Bangarappa claimed that not a single Tamil was killed and that only 17700 Tamils fled the state. Even 17700 Tamils fleeing the state afraid for their lives is bad but the number is much higher. A correspondent of the British paper "Sunday Observer", who visited some of the refugee camps set up for the fleeing Tamils, wrote "the sheer number of Tamils in the refugee camps seem to disprove only 17700 people left Karnataka". Sunday Observer also described some eyewitness accounts. Tamil women particularly seemed to have been the target of the mobs. Instead of quoting Tamil newspapers, I provide the following information from the British paper Sunday Observer:

"Crimes against Tamils were committed in connivance with the state police and some local political leaders."

"Local politicians and police shared the looted properties."

"Numbers of Tamil women were killed after being gang raped. Some women were tortured and raped. Numbers of Tamil women were missing."

"Two dead bodies and another on the verge of death were found at one place. The dead bodies were that of the father and mother of the young girl whose breasts were chopped off and still barely alive."

"A 14-year old girl was raped and murdered in front of her father."

"A group of Tamils were traveling (escaping!) to Kerala State from Karnataka. A mob of Kannadigas stopped them and took away ten women and girls between the ages of 15 and 25. They were never seen again."

While independent Indian and foreign news organizations reported the enormity of the situation, the Indian-government run Television and Radio showed its anti-Tamil bias by downplaying the situation as if nothing much was happening against Tamils in Karnataka. This biased reporting infuriated even Chief Minister Jayalalitha that she publicly complained about it.

3. Tamils were Massacred in Karnataka, India did Nothing

There were reports that some leaders of the party ruling Karnataka State initiated the attacks. There were also many reports of police and local politicians sharing looted properties. Also were reports that police were doing nothing to stop the violence in most places. In view of this background, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa asked the Indian government to deploy the army to violence-struck areas. The Indian government refused. Note that this orgy of violence against Tamils was not a one-day event. It continued for well over two weeks. Had the army been deployed when Jayalalitha requested it, many Tamil lives could have been saved and so much pain and suffering could have been averted. But the Indian government seemed to have no concern for Tamil lives. This was in 1991; the same disregard for the lives of its Tamil citizens is evident in the present refusal of the Indian government to ask the India Navy to protect Tamil Nadu fishermen from shootings by the Sri Lankan Navy [Reference 1].

Tamils should remember that India spends approximately 300 billion rupees annually for the upkeep of the army. Approximately 30 billion rupees of this comes from Tamils. (This is not the total tax Tamils pay to the Indian government but our share of the military expenditures.) Paying 30 billion rupees every year for the upkeep of the army, we have every right to expect protection from the army when Tamils are butchered in Karnataka State.

But Hindians, who control the Indian government irrespective of which party is in power or who is the Prime Minister, do not seem to think so. They think that all of Indian subcontinent belongs to them and the Indian army is their private security force to protect Hindian interests; Tamils are not worth protecting.

When the British ruled the Indian subcontinent, they enslaved all the nationalities of the subcontinent and plundered the wealth of everyone. But they treated them all equally. Tamils were not harassed or harmed anywhere in the subcontinent in all those years of British rule. But after the government changed hands from the British to Hindians in 1947, Tamils have met with violence in many Indian states. In fact, Tamils living in Australia, Canada, Europe and the United States are safer than Tamils living in some Indian states. Tamils have been attacked in Kerala, Maharashtra and Karnataka states with the connivance of state governments, though the level of violence in Kerala (in the 1950s) and Maharashtra (in the 1960s) were much less compared to what happened in Karnataka. In none of these cases did the Indian government send the army to protect Tamils. Consider this. Less than a dozen Hindi-speaking Uttar Pradeshis were killed by Sikh guerrillas one day a few years ago. Thousands of Indian troops were immediately rushed to protect the Uttar Pradeshis. Here, in Karnataka, scores of Tamils were murdered, mutilated and raped for over two weeks and billions of rupees worth of properties were looted and destroyed but the Indian government refused to send troops to protect the Tamils. Is it not step-motherly treatment?

4. Tamil Fishermen were Chased Out of Kachchativu, India did Nothing

Take the case of Kachchativu. This is a small island between the Indian subcontinent and the Sri Lankan island. It belonged to India. Tamil Nadu fishermen often stop there to rest and dry their nets. The Indian government handed it over to Sri Lanka during the 1970s. Tamil Nadu was not consulted even though Kachchativu is adjacent to Tamil Nadu and it were the Tamil Nadu fishermen who used the island during fishing trips. When Tamil Nadu fishermen raised their concerns, the Indian government told them that the agreement allows Tamil Nadu fishermen to use the Kachchativu Island as before even though it now belonged to Sri Lanka. However, now, the Sri Lankan Navy shoots at Tamil Nadu fishermen if they go anywhere near Kachchativu. Indian government refuses to protect our fishermen. All that would take is to send a Navy ship on patrol near Kachchativu couple of times a month and warn Sri Lanka that the Indian Navy would shoot and disable any Sri Lankan ship that shoots at Tamil Nadu fishermen. But the Indian government refuses to do that. 

India was very generous in handing over to Sri Lanka Tamil land (namely, Kachchativu island) used by Tamil Nadu fishermen for generations. But the same Indian government guards every square inch on its northern border jealously (even barren, unused and unusable land). In the Kutch sector, if a few Pakistani soldiers were to step a few yards across the boundary line, Indian troops shoot at them, reinforcements are rushed there and war planes fly over for additional protection. But alas, Tamil Nadu fishermen are shot and killed in areas they had fished for generations and the Indian government does nothing to protect them. Is it not step-motherly treatment?

When the Chinese claimed some barren land on the Indo-Chinese borders as theirs, India even refused to talk about it. China sent its troops into the land it claimed and India rushed its troops to counter it and lost thousands of soldiers in the war that ensued in 1962. See the difference. When it is land on the northern border that is relatively close to the Hindi belt, even if the land is barren and unused, India would not budge an inch and enters into costly wars. When it is land used by Tamil Nadu fishermen, India generously hands them over to Sri Lanka though the land is important to Tamil Nadu fishermen. Is it not step-motherly treatment?

I am not saying that India should not protect land on its northern borders. What I am saying is that protect land important to Tamils and used by Tamils with the same vigilance and vigor. After all, we the Tamils foot army's bill equally and we have a right to expect protection from the Indian army when needed. But we are not getting it.

5. Tamil Farmers were Denied their Water, India did Nothing

Take another example - The Cauvery water dispute. During the British rule they made an equitable water sharing agreement between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and enforced it. Then our British rulers left and Hindians became our masters from 1947. Karnataka started to renege on the agreement little by little. Chief ministers of Tamil Nadu did everything they could to get our share of the water because Tamil Nadu has a legal right to part of Cauvery waters and that water is the lifeblood of vast areas of farmland in Thanjavur and nearby districts. They pleaded with Karnataka chief ministers; no effect. Submitted our claim to the Cauvery Water Tribunal; it ruled in TamilNadu's favor. Karnataka refused to obey the ruling. We sued in the Indian Supreme Court; the court ruled in our favor. Karnataka refused to obey. We pleaded with successive Indian governments to enforce the rulings of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal and the Supreme Court. They would not.

The Indian government does not care that Tamil crops are dying for lack of water. It does not care that Tamil farmers are going hungry. It does not care that Tamil farmers' families are vanquishing. If it were Hindi-speaking Uttar Pradesh or Madya Pradesh that were denied their rightful share of water, if it were Hindian's crops that were dying, if it were Hindi farmers that were going hungry, if it were Hindi farmers' families that were vanquishing, then it would have been a different ball game. Indian Prime Minister would have made sure that the Hindi farmers get their rightful share of water from the neighboring state. If the neighboring state were to refuse the Water Tribunal or Supreme Court rulings, the Indian Prime Minister would have surely dismissed the state government on the grounds that it was not obeying the law. But here, in our case, no action was taken against the Karnataka government because the people on the receiving end are Tamil farmers, because the people whose livelihood is denied are Tamil farmers, because the people who are going hungry are Tamil farmers and their families. Tamils do not mean much to the Indian government. Tamils count very little to the Indian government.

6. What can Tamils do?

Put all these things together. Karnataka refuses to release Tamil Nadu's share of Cauvery water, disobeying the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal and the Indian Supreme Court. Indian government would not enforce the law. Tamils in Karnataka are massacred for over two weeks. India refused to send the army to protect them. Kachativu Island that belonged to India and used by Tamil fishermen was handed over to Sri Lanka without consulting the Tamil Nadu government and against the protests of Tamil Nadu fishermen. Sri Lankan Navy shoots at Tamil Nadu fishermen going near Kachchativu in spite of its earlier promise that Tamil Nadu fishermen could use the island as before. Indian government refused to protect the Tamil fishermen. Seeing that India is not protecting the Tamil fishermen near Kachchativu, Sri Lankan Navy now shoots and kills Tamil Nadu fishermen in international waters also. Indian government refuses to protect the fishermen. As of now, over 120 Tamil Nadu fishermen have been killed, many more injured and millions of rupees worth of boats damaged or destroyed by the Sri Lankan Navy. These boats are the very means of fishermen's livelihood.

Under these circumstances what can Tamils do? Take it lying down? Murmur that we cannot do much about it and bear with it?

(Thanjai Nalankilli presents his solution to the problem in Part-2 of the article. Click here to read  "Cauvery River Water Dispute and Karnataka Massacres: Part 2".

(EDITOR'S NOTE:  The name "Jayalalithaa" is sometimes spelled as Jayalaltha, Jaya Lalithaa and Jaya Lalitha. The name "Kachchativu" is sometimes spelled as Kachativu, Kachchathivu and Kachathivu.)


1. Gujral and the Fishermen (by Usha Ramanathan), TAMIL TRIBUNE, December 1997 (15 KB)

2. Who Rules India? (Part I) (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, November 2000

FISN020925X    1998-a1d


Your comments on this article or any other matter relating to Tamil are welcome

(e-mail to: Please replace "at" with the @ sign.)

Copyright Ó 2012 by TAMIL TRIBUNE. All rights reserved.