The Chagos is a small archipelago with 60 islands situated at almost 434 nautical miles from the Maldives to its south. The geopolitics of relevance of this politically obscured piece of land can be easily comprehended through the presence of a US Military base on the largest island of this archipelago i.e., Diego Garcia. Since the Cold War era, the Chagos archipelago has been an essential asset for the US for power projection in the Indian Ocean region which has now attracted international attention for being called a “continuation of colonial crimes by UK and USA” by Human Right Watch (HRW).
Earlier being part of British Indian Ocean Territory, Chagos was separated from the colonies of Mauritius and Seychelles to create a military-specific area which was then leased to the USA for a duration of 50 years along with an additional extension of 20 years. The lease ended in 2016 however, the extension on the lease has been used to stretch it till 2036. In 1965, the entire archipelago before being leased out to the USA was forcefully depopulated of the native Chagossian people who were forced to settle in different parts of the world. Mauritius after gaining independence in 1968 has been constantly fighting to receive the Chagos archipelago in its territorial control which was reaffirmed under the 2019 ruling of the International Court of Justice as well.
The Geopolitics and Indian Dilemma
India however, not directly involved in the crisis that fell upon the Chagossian people has a very important role in why a military base was developed at Diego Garcia at the peak of the cold war. The years before the USA even planned to develop a military base, two important international events shook the entire world i.e., Cuban Missile Crisis and Indo-Sino War, in 1962. It was then PM Jawahar Lal Nehru who requested assistance from Washington led under President J F Kennedy. However, even before aerial support in the form of “US KITTY HAWKS” could reach India, a unilateral ceasefire was announced. In a fast-paced era of explosive contention during the cold war where delays could mean a heavy and unrecoverable disadvantage to any side or both sides. Fast forward to the contemporary scenario, Diego Garcia is yet again crucial for the US-led geopolitical mechanisms to deter Chinese expansion in the region which is important for India as well. Mauritius itself has reiterated again and again that American presence in Diego Garcia is acceptable to them and the offer to further the lease to 99 years has been made on several accounts. The only non-negotiable demand is the return of Chagos to Mauritius which even India has supported.
The Dream of Homeland for Chagossian
Briefly, various parties’ interest has been discussed but the actual stakeholders are nowhere to be seen on the table. It has been many decades of suffering, humiliation, and separation in conditions of utter poverty in foreign lands for Chagossians which ultimately can be read from how Human Right Watch describes it as “racial persecution as well as blockage of return” of Chagossian. Even though many of the Chagossian people fighting to find a way back home are born without any memory of what their home looked or felt like, however, that does not diminish their enthusiasm to raise voices for an agenda very close to their community. The actual agenda was and is still ignored where geopolitical advantage triumphs over the interest of a few thousand natives forced to live a life away from their homes. The silence, as well as the obscurity of these facts, makes it even more unbearable on the conscience of International Civil Society and other responsible agencies.