Tehelka on what the grass roots feel in Tamil Nadu

[TamilNet, Friday, 31 October 2008, 12:19 GMT]
"In these villages, it hardly matters that Pirabhakaran is an accused in the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, or that the LTTE is banned un India. Many have named their children after Pirabhakaran. Housing colonies have been given the names of LTTE martyrs", reports Tehelka Magazine in a feature article on Kolathur (Ku'laththoor), a Panchayat of 10 villages and 75,000 people, bordering Karnataka, in the Selam (Chealam) district of northwestern Tamil Nadu.

The article, Pirabhakaran 'Returns' to India, by P C Vinoj Kumar, for the November issue of the Tehelka magazine has been released early to the web.

Even though a bit belated in political context, the article is helpful to understand the sentiments of the masses in Tamil Nadu.

Full text of the story published by Tehelka follows:

Pirabhakaran ‘Returns’ To India

PC VINOJ KUMAR travels through Tiger territory in Tamil Nadu, to understand why M Karunanidhi’s ministers have resigned from the Centre

IN 2002, THEN chief minister Jayalalithaa arrested Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) founder Vaiko and other politicians for their support to Sri Lanka’s Tamil rebels. Six years later, the situation is utterly reversed, with the public mood in Tamil Nadu swinging radically in favour of the rebels. Recent local surveys by two of the state’s leading media houses, the New Indian Express and Tamil weekly Ananda Vikatan, have found overwhelming ground-level support for the Sri Lankan Tamil liberation movement and for rebel leader, Velupillai Pirabhakaran. With reports of increasing Tamil casualties in the island country, public sympathy for Pirabhakaran and his outfit, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), has only been strengthened.

In spiralling protests across the state last fortnight, effigies of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse were burnt in many places, as were copies of the English daily, The Hindu, for its alleged pro-Sinhala stand; the paper’s office even came under attack in Coimbatore. Students boycotted classes, lawyers stayed away from the courts and the Tamil film industry staged a massive rally in Rameswaram on October 19. Political parties, their eye on the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, were forced to take up the Eelam cause. State MPS belonging to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Congress, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), the CPI, CPM, and MDMK threatened to resign en masse if the Centre failed to pressure Sri Lanka into calling a ceasefire. With the standoff threatening to bring down the UPA Government (which has 16 DMK, five PMK, 10 Congress and two MDMK rebel MPs), the Indian Government is in contact with Colombo to find a face-saving solution.

Meanwhile, in Salem district, about 375 km southwest of Chennai, LTTE supporters are celebrating in Kolathur. “Just because a member of a family has killed someone, you don’t pull his pictures out of the family album. He still remains part of the family. Pirabhakaran is part of our families. We are proud of him, he is a freedom fighter,” says Kolathur Mani, leader of the socio-political outfit, the Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam (PDK). Pirabhakaran’s photos adorn the walls of many houses and shops in the Kolathur area’s villages. Locals say if the LTTE chief were to contest the local assembly seat, he would win hands down.

The Kolathur town panchayat comprises about 10 villages, which together have a population of around 75,000 people. About 2,000 of Pirabhakaran’s cadre trained in one such village, Kumbarapatti, in the 1980s. “The boys were here for about three years. The village people provided them food and shelter,” says Balasubramaniam, who did small chores around the camp. “The LTTE boys were well-disciplined. Many had suffered under the Sinhalese army. There were boys from affluent families, who had lost all they had and who had seen their mothers and sisters raped before their eyes.”

In these villages, it hardly matters that Pirabhakaran is an accused in the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, or that the LTTE is banned in India. Many have named their children after Pirabhakaran. Housing colonies have been given the names of LTTE martyrs: Suba Thamilchelvan and Dileepan. Last year, villagers collected over a tonne of rice for the Eelam Tamils when Thamizh Desiya Iyakkam leader Pazha Nedumaran appealed for relief materials. In Kumbarapatti stands a bus shelter built in memory of Ponammaan, the LTTE camp in-charge whose helpful ways earned him the villagers’ love. “The LTTE had an old, battered Willys jeep, which they used to buy provisions from the Kolathur market. Ponammaan used to offer the jeep to help transport sick people to hospital,” recalls local resident Dhandapani. The shelter was built in 1989, when Ponammaan died in Sri Lanka; two years later, the villagers fought back when Congressmen damaged the structure after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. “They asked them if they had ever seen Rajiv or eaten with him. Ponammaan was in their midst for three years and had shared their joys and sorrows,” says Mani.

IN 2006, NEARLY 500 schoolchildren from the area took out a procession protesting the Sri Lankan air attack that killed 60 children in an orphanage. “These protests are spontaneous because the Eelam Tamils are our brothers and sisters,” says Balakrishnan, otherwise known as ‘Tiger’ Balu for his diehard espousal of the LTTE cause. His shop, the Tigers’ Auto Electrical Works, has the LTTE logo on its signboard: a tiger’s head ringed with bullets. “I am an LTTE supporter,” declares medicine-seller Nallathambi. “My whole family admires Pirabhakaran.” Madhu, who runs a saloon named after LTTE leader Dileepan, turns emotional. “I am prepared to give the Tigers any kind of support. We supported them before, and we will continue to do so.” he says.

Kolathur remained a hotbed of LTTE activity even after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in 1991. In 1993, Kiruban, an LTTE cadre who escaped from custody while being transported to the Trichy court, was said to have gone underground in Kolathur for a while before he slipped out of the country to Eelam via the sea route. The car he had hijacked to flee the police was found burnt near Kolathur. In 1994, PDK leader Mani was detained under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act on charges of aiding the escape of an LTTE convict. He was arrested again in 1995 for his alleged links to the dramatic escape of 43 LTTE cadres from Vellore Fort through a 126ft-long underground tunnel they had dug. Villagers said some of the escapees hid in the Kolathur forests before they fled to Sri Lanka.

Till a couple of years ago, many in Kolathur received LTTE publications such as their monthly bulletin Erimalai. The magazines stopped after the war intensified in Sri Lanka. But people here kept themselves abreast of the happenings in Eelam through the Tamil Eelam Television, a two-hour daily broadcast put out by the LTTE. “The half-hour news bulletin gave an accurate account of the happenings in Eelam. But there have been no transmissions for the last six months,” says TS Palanisamy, a Kolathur quarry owner. It is suspected that the Tigers’ transmission tower has been damaged in the conflict. With locals alleging biased coverage of the war in the Indian media, many tune in to international radio stations instead. VCDs on the conflict are also available in some places.

With pro-LTTE passions running as high as they do here, none of Tamil Nadu’s political parties would want to be seen lagging when it comes to a show of hands for Prabhakaran’s army. What that means for the UPA, the Centre has only a few days more to test.

External Links:
Tehelka: Pirabhakaran ‘Returns’ To India


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