The Tamil Nadu student movement that has “thrown up a new young leadership” that is unaffiliated to any political party and is challenging the US-sponsored UNHRC resolution on conceptually firm grounds “clearly shows that here is a new generation of Tamils which is imagining new political futures,” write Prof MSS Pandian and PhD scholar A. Kalaiarasan in a commentary published on the April 13 issue of the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW). In the article titled ‘A Tamil Spring?’ making a concise sociological analysis of the evolution of the student protests, the authors show how the student uprising, besides affecting the mass sentiments of the TN public and effecting greater awareness on the nuances of the Tamil Eelam struggle, is also influencing, challenging and changing the political discourse of parliamentary parties in Tamil Nadu.
Prof MSS Pandian, who teaches at the Centre for Historical Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, is the author of several scholarly works on the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu, including the book “Brahmin and Non-Brahmin,” which is considered as major academic reference for the study of Dravidian politics in Tamil Nadu.
Mr A. Kalaiarasan, a PhD scholar at the Centre for Studies in Regional Development at JNU, is also a student activist who has worked with solidarity groups to mobilize support for the cause of the Eezham Tamils.
Referring to the initiation of the protests from Loyola College, Chennai against the pro-LLRC US resolution, the demands tabled by the students and the mass mobilizations that followed, the authors write “The charter demanded, among other things, a proactive role by the union government for an independent probe into the war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan army at the end of Eelam war in 2009, a referendum on the demand for an independent Tamil state of Eelam and the imposition of economic sanctions on Sri Lanka.”
“As if to “humour” P Chidambaram, the union fi nance minister who happens to be an alumnus of the college, the students promised a non-cooperation movement mobilising the people of Tamil Nadu not to pay taxes to the union government.”
“Smelling a political opportunity, politicians – including those from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Congress whose direct and indirect complicity in the Sri Lankan war crimes needs no mention – made a beeline to the venue of the fast. But for K V Thangabalu, the former TNCC president, who was heckled with anti-Congress slogans, most of them were politely welcomed; yet their overtures were unrequited. The students’ resolve was to keep their protest unsullied by time-serving politicians.”
“In a midnight operation, reminiscent of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government’s past style, the Tamil Nadu state police broke the fast on its fourth day. For them, four days were more than enough. Not only did the fasting students receive support from students from other colleges, but it also triggered and galvanised a statewide students’ protest against the UNHRC resolution.”
“Thousands of them from arts and sciences as well as engineering and medical colleges took to the streets in different parts of the state, small towns were no exception. The protest in which young men and women participated in equal strength took varied forms – posters and pamphlets, hunger strikes, processions, human-chains, effigy-burning, rail and road rokos, and siege of central government offices.”
The authors also note how sections in Tamil Nadu, that formerly were generally ‘apolitical’ and aloof, were also roused into participating in protests.
“Significantly, schoolchildren, accompanied by their teachers and carrying pictures of the 12-year-old Balachandran, who was shot dead in captivity during the Eelam war, too conducted their own protest marches. Parents and teachers, sharing the students’ concerns, tacitly endorsed their action. After all, three senior staff of the Loyola College kept vigil at the venue where the students fasted.”
“The fringe could not hold out for long. They soon joined the mainstream. Sixtynine students from IIT-Madras, a campus where the only authorised political activity hitherto has been protesting against caste-based reservation a la the Youth for Equality and P V Indiresan, expressed their solidarity with the sentiments on the streets by observing a day-long hunger strike. About 40 of the students who sat in fast were from north India; and Som Prakash Singh, an MLA from Bihar, addressed the students.”
“Posters giving details of the Sri Lankan conflict and its consequences for the Island Tamils adorned the campus. They were in seven languages, including Tulu. The IIT-M administration did not disapprove of the protest. Also, the IT professionals working in some of the IT majors conducted a human chain protest along Chennai’s ITcorridor. No less than 150 IT professionals took on themselves the task of distributing pamphlets on Sri Lankan war crimes to the suburban train passengers. They sought the passengers’ support for the student movement.”
Tamil political observers also observe that this ‘Tamil Spring’ has witnessed an active and vibrant participation of young women activists, who are also emerging as leaders of the struggle. They say that this a new phenomenon in pro-Tamil Eelam demonstrations in Tamil Nadu and that the student protests has opened up greater democratic space for Tamil women activists to articulate their political views on Tamil Eelam.
Giving a background of the rise of a literate and politically active class of youth spearheading protests, the symbols from the Eezham Tamils’ liberation struggle used in the protests, the authors further write on the level of political consciousness of this new generation of activists.
“Self-assured, articulate and well-informed, they could rattle ill-informed TV anchors without batting an eyelid and confidently talk of Geneva convention and Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Their understanding of politics too is complex. For instance, they are deeply aware of the politics that the media has played and continues to play. A large flex banner which was used in one of the demonstrations read, “Genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The Official Media Partner: The Hindu”. Indeed, a brilliant summary of the newspaper’s shameless role in defending the Mahinda Rajapaksa’s genocidal regime.”
Noting how the student protests’ influenced political decisions taken by both the ruling and opposition parties in Tamil Nadu, especially how Ms. Jayalalitha’s government had to concede to the demands of the students in the form of an assembly resolution, the authors write that “Political parties no longer lead but are being led – at least for the moment,” concluding that the student upsurge makes political prospects for the Indian National Congress, which stood by and continues to shield the genocidal Sri Lankan state, in Tamil Nadu bleak.
While lauding the space that EPW provides for critical articles such as these, Tamil political observers lament the utterly dishonest position that is taken by its editorials regarding Sri Lanka. Insiders in Indian media circles state this is largely owing to the influence of certain individuals who are on the editorial board of the EPW who toe the CPI(M) party line.
In an editorial on the March 30 issue of the EPW titled “Keep up the Pressure”, the editorial made a statement that “The new wave of outrage in Tamil Nadu over exposes on war crimes in Sri Lanka against the minority Tamil citizens during the Eelam civil war in 2009 does not come as a surprise. A series of protests led by students and lawyers have demanded that India take a stronger position in international fora like the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), thereby forcing an international investigation into the war crimes.”
The hollow understanding behind this statement, ironically, is exposed by the commentary by Prof Pandian and Mr Kalaiarasan published in the same magazine in next issue.
The Tamil Nadu student protestors clearly recognize the Eezham Tamils as a nation and not as minority, recognize what happened to the Eezham Tamils as genocide and not as war crimes, and demand as a political solution nothing short than a referendum on the creation of Tamil Eelam.
While silencing all of these genuine and conceptually clear articulations put forward by hundreds of thousands of students protesting across Tamil Nadu, the editorial focuses on attacking “fringe groups” in Tamil Nadu and on advocating “federalism” claiming that it is the solution demanded by “minorities in Sri Lanka”.
“One does not expect honesty in reporting on Sri Lanka from outfits like The Hindu, whose former editor-in-chief N.Ram was awarded the highest civilian award of Sri Lanka. But a magazine like EPW, that has a credible name in academic circles, should not allow a few politically motivated elements in its board to pass ethically and politically dishonest statements in its cover especially on a crucial issue like the genocide of a nation,” a media student from Chennai told TamilNet.