After May 2009 a youth from the Tamil Community has taken his life for a ‘cause,’ according to Tamil politicians and Tamil media. Rajeswaran Senthuran, a 17-year-old student of Kokkuvil Hindu College in Jaffna had allegedly committed suicide by jumping in front of an express train from Colombo on November 26, a sentimentally important day for many Tamils in the north, since LTTE leader V. Prabhakaran’s birthday falls on that day.
A note had reportedly been found in Senthuran’s school bag containing a demand for the immediate release of the Tamil political prisoners, a hot topic in Tamil media these days and a comment supportive of the carving out of a separate Tamil State. Despite doubts raised by the police as to who had written the note and how it had crept into the boy’s bag, the general perception that now prevails among the Tamil people is that he died for a cause - getting political prisoners released.
The nationalistic emotions were high among the northern people next day, November 27 as the cremation of the boy coincided with the LTTE’s “Maveerar Day” which was commemorated in many places in the province. For several days prior to the “Maveerar Day” Tamil media, especially the newspapers had been carrying articles and comments by politicians, venerating and glorifying the LTTE leaders and the cadres with emotionally charged wordings, but without any coherent analysis of the past. Most probably this might have affected the equilibrium in Senthuran. There are no reports about any of the boy’s family members being among the political prisoners over whose plight he was said to have laid down his life. He had taken such a drastic decision at a time when the incumbent government had been acting in a manner more considerate of the issue at hand than the manner in which the previous regime had handled it.
The Mahinda Rajapaksa government had never taken any policy decision on the release of detainees under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), apart from the one to release through a so-called rehabilitation process more than 11,000 LTTE cadres who had surrendered to the security forces after being entrapped in the Puthumattalan area, during the last days of the war.
However, following the recent fast by the prisoners demanding their release, President Maithripala Sirisena had intervened and some prisoners were released on bail last month. The government had agreed to prepare a programme for the release of the rest of the prisoners, except for those against whom serious charges have been framed, through a rehabilitation process. Hence, unless for the highly emotional Tamil media hype over the Tamil political prisoners and the “Maveerar Day” Senthuran’s decision to take his life either with a view to draw attention of the authorities through societal pressure or due to frustration seems to be illogical and irrational. Senthuran can be the tip of an iceberg; he cannot be the only youth emotionalized by the lethargic attitude of the government as well as Tamil media hype over the Tamil prisoners and the “Maveerar Day” on the other.
The Mahinda Rajapaksa government, that boasts about ending the war, miserably failed in winning over the Tamil people. It is true that winning the hearts and minds of the Tamil people by a Sinhalese led government that ruthlessly crushed a Tamil rebellion is a gigantic task; particularly against the backdrop of an extreme Tamil nationalistic political and media campaign against the successive Sinhalese led governments existing for more than six decades. However the previous government was very lethargic in addressing the basic needs of the northern people after the war. For instance, more than six years into the end of the war many people displaced by the war are yet to be resettled. Leaders then were so rude in dealing with Tamil politicians that they were not agreeable even to appoint a civilian Governor for the Northern Province, something that could have been done just with a stroke of a pen, despite repeated requests by the Tamil leaders.
This situation helped the Tamil nationalism that was already on the rise to mount further and the LTTE was openly glorified at the Northern Provincial Council election even by the former Supreme Court judge C.V. Wigneswaran who was elected to the post of Chief Minister. “Maveerar Day” and the “Mullivaikkal Day” are now commemorated in public. This was the background that created a situation for Senthuran to take his life in the name of political prisoners. One cannot blame his concern over the political prisoners, but the extremism or the radicalism in his action is something that has to be concerned about both by the government and the Tamil leaders. Although this is an isolated incident for the moment, the country has not forgotten the much-feared suicide bombers and the cyanide capsules introduced by the LTTE. When Urumpirai Sivakumaran took a cyanide capsule to end his life when he was surrounded by the police after the attempted People’s Bank robbery on June 4, 1974 and when the first “black tiger Miller” crashed a lorry laden with explosives into the Nelliyady Central College where an army detachment was established on July 5, 1987, they too were considered as isolated incidents.
These incidents were then venerated and glorified to be turned into a trend and then into a suicide culture within the Tamil separatist struggle. However, the excessive use of suicide bombers even for the killing of innocent civilians and respected Tamil leaders such as Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam made the suicide culture lose its sentimental value.
People have the right to respect the dedication of those who laid down their lives for their community, but venerating the actions such as suicides and blindly promoting the ideals of the groups such as the LTTE is dangerous. During the LTTE’s “Maveerar Day” this year some politicians used a modified LTTE motto “Emathu thagam, Thamileela thayagam” (The Tamil Eelam motherland is our thirst). Prabhakaran ended his annual “Maveerar Day” speech with the slogan “Thamilarin thagam Thamileela thayagam” (The Tamil Eelam motherland is Tamil’s thirst.)
Those who still promote the concept of Tamil Eelam must be considered as ones blinded to the geo-political situation. India would never allow Sri Lankan Tamils to carve out a separate Tamil State which would definitely be a launching pad for the Tamil Nadu separatists. Far back as 1988 former Indian Foreign Secretary S.K.Singh made it clear when he attended the SAARC summit held in the Pakistani capital Islamabad that India would never support any move by the Sri Lankan Tamils that would help create a “Tamil Eelam” in India.
This is the reality that Prabhakaran failed to understand. After the three decades of disasters befell on the Tamil community and on the country in general, Tamil politicians and the media should refrain from pushing the youth towards unrealistic political ends.