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Speak up, India, and act!

By Shreekant Sambrani
Last updated on: August 20, 2014 12:31 IST
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A Yazidi girl, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, at the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing.'Will the new government, largely of the BJP, whose manifesto proclaimed "India shall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus and they shall be welcome to seek refuge here" and whose patrons never tire of the glories of our civilisation in antiquity, stand up for these long-lost cousins, the Yazidis in Iraq?' asks Shreekant Sambrani.

While we worry about the Gaza/Iraq/Syria/Ukraine/Ebola situations, the enormous human tragedy of the genocide of the Yazidi people at the hands of the bloodthirsty Islamic State has only just started to get world attention. Their situation is far worse than that of the Christians in the region, who are also under severe persecution.

The Yazidis are a minority resident in Northern Iraq, mostly around Mosul, which is now the epicentre of IS activity. They are neither Muslim nor Christian. Their religion is quite similar to the sanatan dharma or ancient Hinduism, based as it is on the worship of the Sun and other elements. The IS calls them Godless devils and singles them out for slaughter, regardless of age or sex, in the name of ethnic cleansing.

The Yazidis number perhaps half a million and are among the poorest people in the region. They are neither united nor armed. No one in the world is their champion. The Christians in Northern Iraq quickly evacuated and the church helped them. The Yazidis are only now starting to move, mostly on foot, with a few belongings on their backs. The Kurds in Iraq and adjoining areas of Syria are helping them a bit, in their desperate bid to reach Turkey somehow.

A large group was besieged on Mount Sinjar without food or even water on hilltops while in flight. That is when the United States took note of their plight and air-dropped relief packages. President Obama has announced bombing of the IS positions as a means of support to the Yazidis.Displaced people from the Yazidi sect take part in a demonstration at the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing in Fishkhabour, Dohuk.

Why should we worry about these people? They are most likely the direct descendants of the Mitanni population, an ancient Indo-Aryan people. I first learnt about them when I read Haunting Echoes in the Fog of History: Evolution of Sanskrit and its Derivatives by Dr Sudhir Savkar (Snehavardhan Publishing, Pune, 2009).

This slim volume is obviously a labour of much love, because Dr Savkar is a mechanical engineer who spent his entire working career with the GE Global Research Centre at Schenectady, New York. He went to the United States when he was eight, but was driven sufficiently by his quest for his roots to take up a thorough study of Sanskrit on his own. The book is the result of his research, reviewed by well-known academics from the Deccan College, Pune and the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

The Mitanni probably migrated westward from India. Their language closely resembles the Sanskrit and the Apabhramsa of the third and second millennium BCE. The first stirrings of the Vedas were most likely felt here at that time, although it took several more centuries for these scriptures to acquire the written form.

Women rest in an abandoned building being used with other displaced people as their main residence outside the city of Dohuk.

The unspeakable horror the IS has let loose on these poor, unarmed, unorganised people is similar to that the Nazis unleashed on the Jews of Europe or the Pakistani army did in what was then East Pakistan. No one came to the rescue of the Jews then and India was the only refuge for those fleeing East Bengal.

I saw on CNN a family headed by a man well past 70 with an equally old wife. They had walked for 10 hours straight. When the correspondent expressed his amazement, the man said stoically that when death stares at you every step, you have no choice but to keep a foot ahead of it. I have seldom seen more moving, poignant, scenes. The veteran CNN correspondent said he had never witnessed anything like this.

What should the world do? If ever there was a case for a unanimous, unqualified global intervention in a conflict, this is it. A multilateral force under the United Nations (with Indian participation) must be quickly mobilised for the limited and sole purpose of stopping this genocide, an unspeakable crime against all humanity, and evacuating safely its victims, the Yazidis and the Christians.

The warring factions of the region could then be left to their own devices. Boots on the ground will work, not mere bombing.

After its initial strafing of IS positions and air-dropping of food and water to the Mount Sinjar crowd, the US now says that further ground action to rescue the Yazidis may not be necessary. Astonishingly, the official statement claimed that only thousands were stranded on Mt Sinjar, not tens of thousands as claimed earlier.

Does shading an order of magnitude reduce the agony of the Yazidis or make the situation more tolerable?

The Bajed Kadal refugee camp south west of Dohuk.

The ground action is now entirely in the hands of Kurdish forces, since the Iraqi troops are mainly engaged in protecting Baghdad from IS and internal dissensions within the Iraqi polity. The Kurds are poorly equipped to fight the vastly superior IS, armed to the teeth through their capture of deadly weaponry from Iraqi forces, and drawing thousands of jihadists from all over the world including into their ranks.

Where are the talking heads, whose hearts bleed nightly on Indian channels for the Arabs in Gaza or the Muslims in Moradabad/Meerut/Muzaffarnagar? They denounce the government for not taking a strong position on West Asia. How about their condemning unequivocally the IS barbarians for this genocide?

And will the new government, largely of the Bharatiya Janata Party, whose manifesto proclaimed 'India shall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus and they shall be welcome to seek refuge here' and whose patrons never tire of the glories of our civilisation in antiquity, stand up for these long-lost cousins?

Speak up, World, and act!

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