Pin It

thileepan 400Thileepan’s non-violent struggle was unique and extra-ordinary for its commitment. Although an armed guerrilla fighter, he chose the spiritual mode of ‚Ahimsa‛ as enunciated by the great Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi to impress upon India the plight and predicament of the people of Tamil Eelam. The level to which the Tamil people, or more specifically the LTTE cadres are prepared to go for their freedom, mirrors not only a deep passion for their liberation but indicated the phenomenal degree of oppression they had been subjected to. ..It’s only those who experience intolerable oppression of such a magnitude, of being threatened with extinction that are capable of supreme forms of sacrifice as we have seen from Thileepan’s episode…‛

Thileepan who has travelled to Delhi as a part of Mr. Pirapaharan’s delegation before the signing of the accord was informed of the content of the dialogue that had taken place between the Indian Prime Minister and the LTTE leader. With the knowledge that there was an unwritten agreement between Rajiv Gandhi and Pirapaharan that had not been implemented, he felt that his people and the struggle had been betrayed ad decided on a fast-unto-death, demanding the fulfilment of the pledges. When news of Thileepan’ fast-unto-death and deteriorating political situation between the LTTE and the IPKF reached us we decided to leave India for Jaffna.

Subsequently, our first priority after our arrival in the peninsula was to visit Thileepan, encamped at the historic Nallur Kandaswamy, the cultural and spiritual centre of the Jaffna Tamils. Thileepan’s decision to single-handedly take on the credibility of the Indian state, not incongruous with his history of resistance to state oppression as a cadre in the LTTE. He had faced a battle on several occasions in defence of Jaffna during Kittu’s time and had suffered serious abdominal wounds in the process. He was well known for his astute understanding of the political mindset of his people and emerged a radical political leader. The senior LTTE women cadres often speak of his staunch advocacy of inducting women into the national struggle and is remembered as one of the founding fathers in the promotion of women’s issues. With such a history, it comes as no surprise that he endeared himself not only to cadres but to the people of Jaffna also…

Bala met Thileepan during the pre-accord talks when he shared a hotel room with him in Delhi and grew very fond of this affable fellow. It was an extremely painful and emotional experience for Bala to meet him again Jaffna in totally adverse conditions, with Thileepan’s life slowly ebbing away...

As we entered the premises of the Nallur Kandasamy Temple, we were confronted by a sea of people, seated on the white sands under the blazing sun. The air was thick with collective emotion and solemnity. This fading young man on the platform, obviously embodied the political sentiments and aspirations of his people. But it was more than that also. Thileepan’s fast had touched the spirit of the Tamil Nation and mobilized the popular masses in unprecedented solidarity. One could sense how this extraordinary sacrifice of a fragile young man had suddenly assumed a formidable force as the collective strength of his people. Thileepen’s fast was a supreme act of transcendence of individuality for a collective cause. Literally, it was an act of self – crucifixion, a noble act by which this brave young man condemned himself so that others could live in freedom and dignity.

With deep humility, Bala and I mounted the platform to speak to the reposed Thileepan, already several days without food or water and with a dry cracked mouth, Thileepan could only whisper. Bala leaned closer to the weakened Thileepan and exchanged words with him. Naturally enough Thileepan inquired of the political developments. We left soon afterwards never to see him alive again.

As Thileepan’s fast moved on in days, he was no longer to able to address the public from the podium and spent much of his time lying quietly as his condition steadily deteriorated. As Thileepan grew visibly weaker in front of his people’s eyes, their anger and resentment towards India and the IPKF grew stronger. The sight of this popular young man being allowed to die in such an agonising manner, generated disbelief at the depth of callousness of the Indian government and the Indian Peace Keeping Force.

All that was required to safe Thileepan’s waning life was for the Indian High Commissioner Mr. Dixit to humble himself and meet and reassure Thileepan that the Indian government would fulfil its pledges to the Tamils. In fact Delhi ignored Thileepan’s fast as an isolated idiosyncrasy of an individual, and later became seriously concerned when the episode gathered momentum and turned into a national uprising with anti-Indian sentiments. Delhi’s concern’s compelled Mr. Dixit to pay a visit Jaffna to study the situation..on the 22nd of September, Mr. Dixit arrived at the Palaly airport where Mr. Pirapa-haran and Bala met him. Bala told me later that Mr. Dixit was rude and resentful and condemned Thileepan’s fasting campaign as a provocative act by the LTE aimed at instigating the Tamil masses against the Indian government.

Mr. Pirapaharan showed remarkable patience and pleaded with the Indian diplomat to care for the sentiments of the Tamil people at this very crucial time, it’s highly probable the entire episode of India’s direct intervention in the ethnic conflict would have taken a different turn…But Thileepan’s willingness to sacrifice his life in such a way touched the spirit of the people and his unnecessary tragic death on 26 September planted deeply the seeds of disenchantment with the IPKF. Events to follow only reinforced their shattered confidence in the IPKF and Delhi…

Small candle lit shrines housing Thileepan’s picture was set up in front of every house in the village (Valvettiturai) as they were throughout the Peninsula. Plaited dry coconut leaves, the traditional Tamil decoration indicating mourning strung from post to post, fringed roadsides; funeral music blared from the loudspeakers of temples and schools. Thileepan’s ravaged body was dressed in full military uniform draped in the insignia of the LTTE. The garland bedecked funeral cortege had moved slowly from village to village throughout the Peninsula to pay their profound respect to this legendry martyr. The sombre beat of the military drums heralded the movement of the cortege from its rest-ing place through the village to its next destination. As Thileepan’s open cortege crept through the main village road for the last time I stood silently with the crowd to pay my final salute to a young man whose fast and sacrifice had surpassed that of the Guru of Satyagraha, Mahatma Gandhi himself. Thileepan transcended Gandhi in his act of self-denial by refusing not only food but fluids also.

- Adele Balasingam

 You can send your articles to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Pin It
Add comment