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The ‘Liberators’ Of Tamil Nadu

The onslaught on the LTTE in Sri Lanka and New Delhi’s passivity have given an impetus to separatists in Tamil Nadu, reports PC Vinoj Kumar

(November 14, Chennai, Sri Lanak Guardian) Tamil separatism is a dead issue. Or is it? The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) dropped its demand for a separate Dravida nation almost half a century ago, in 1963. However, growing protests in Tamil Nadu against Indian military assistance to Colombo in its war against the LTTE have resurrected separatist rhetoric in mainstream politics.

Last month, firebrand politician Vaiko and his deputy M Kannappan made a veiled threat to launch the struggle for a separate Tamil Nadu if the Centre continued to aid Colombo. Both were arrested for making seditious speeches. However, what is little-known to most people is that several Tamil nationalist groups are quietly working at the grassroots level to ultimately realising an independent Tamil state.

According to information available to TEHELKA, there are at least 10 such groups active in the state. Most were formed after the outbreak of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka in the 1980s. Many have flags with the Tamil Nadu map imprinted on them and actively propagate their ideals through literature and cultural programmes. They derive their ideologies from the Dravidian icon Periyar, Tamil literary figures SP Adithanar, and Perunchitharanaar. Periyar, founder of the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK), the DMK’s parent party, was the first to demand a separate Tamil nation in 1938, following widespread protests against the imposition of Hindi in schools.

Adithanar, founder of the Tamil daily, Thina Thanthi, proposed a ‘Greater Tamil Nadu’, including Eelam (the area claimed by the LTTE as a Tamil homeland) in Sri Lanka. In the 1970s, Perunchitharanaar, a Tamil poet, took forward the cause of a Tamil nation.

Most present-day Tamil nationalists are former members of the CPM, DK or one of their offshoots. They have a presence in almost all parts of the state, though their total number is estimated to be not more than 10,000. “India is a capitalist, Brahminist, and Hindi-dominant state, where other nationalities do not enjoy equal rights,” says P Maniarasan, general secretary of the Thanjavur-based Thamizh Thesa Pothuvudamai Katchi (TTPK). “Our goal is to establish a sovereign Tamil national republic.”

His group is active in about 20 districts and is mobilising the support of people from different sections. It has separate wings for students, youth and peasants. As a former CPM member, Maniarasan has built his organisation like a communist party, and collects a monthly fee from members. New entrants to the party are required to serve in some wing of the party for a year. They are then absorbed into the party and elevated in the organisation, based on an evaluation of their performance.

THERE IS anger among Tamil nationalists that a 3,000-year-old language has not been made an official language of India while such status has been given to Hindi. They recall the words of the DMK founder, Anna, who spearheaded the anti-Hindi agitations in the 1960s, and argued that if Hindi was made the national language because it was spoken by the majority, then, by the same reasoning, the common crow and not the peacock should have been made the national bird.

“Is it fair that in Parliament an MP can speak in Hindi but not in Tamil?” asks Pudukottai-based Era Paavaanan, a Tamil nationalist and supporter of the LTTE. He was detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) in 2002 for his pro- LTTE speech and spent 19 months in jail.

According to Maniarasan, Eelam and Tamil Nadu are two “distinct Tamil nations”. In the 1990s, however, an armed group called the Tamil National Retrieval Troops fought for a Greater Tamil Nadu. Another outfit, the Tamil National Liberation Army, fought for a separate Tamil Nadu in the same period. While cadres of the two groups have been arrested and the outfits are said to be defunct, a top official of the Q Branch of the state police, which deals with separatist outfits, said some cadres from these outfits are out on bail but are under close watch.

Tamil nationalist groups, interestingly, say that they do not subscribe to violence. They claim to believe in democratic methods and are engaged in building a strong cadre base. Says Thiagu, general secretary of the Chennai-based Tamil National Liberation Movement, “We don’t believe in violence but will take our propaganda to the masses and organise them. The strength of the people is mighty and it can shake empires.” He says New Delhi is helping their cause by ignoring Tamil sentiment and denying the state’s rights. He alleges that the Centre has not done justice to the state in water-sharing disputes with Karnataka and Kerala. “In both cases the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Tamil Nadu, but Kerala and Karnataka have not implemented the order. The Centre is a silent spectator to this injustice. If we are denied justice, what’s the point in being a part of India?” argues Thiagu, who joined the Naxalites in 1969. In 1970, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Since his release in 1985, Thiagu has been a Tamil activist.

One major objective of Tamil groups is to retrieve areas allegedly belonging to Tamil Nadu which are now part of other states. In June this year, a conference was held in Erode where resolutions were passed to ‘retrieve’ Munnaar, Devikulam, and Peermedu from Kerala; Chitoor, Puthur, and Nagari from Andhra Pradesh; and Kollegal and Kolar Gold Field from Karnataka. “The Indian state arbitrarily changed the borders of Tamil Nadu during the states reorganisation in 1956. New Delhi even gifted Katchathivu island to Sri Lanka (in 1974), says Thiagu.

While Tamil nationalists believe these factors will ultimately lead to a Tamil nation, others disagree. A commentator on Dravidian politics, Professor AR Venkatachalapthy of the Madras Institute of Development Studies, says Tamil nationalism is a manifestation of a whole range of the economic, cultural, and political grievances of the people of Tamil Nadu. While conceding that India is not functioning as a truly federal state and that the Centre has been vesting more powers in itself, he says that the formation of a Tamil nation will remain a dream. The fact, however, that such ‘dreams’ can spawn militancy should spur the Centre to address the genuine grievances of the people.

(The report originally published by Tehelka)
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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