Thileepan, the young Tiger leader of Jaffna, took the podium on the 14th September 1987 at the Nallur Kandasamy temple to commence his fast- unto-death as a protest against India’s failure to fulfill her pledges, and to mobilise the frustrated sentiments of the Tamils into a national mass upsurgence.
Thileepan’s non-violent struggle was unique and extraordinary 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 levels 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 indicates the phenomenal degree of oppression they have been subjected to. It is only those who experience intolerable oppression of such a magnitude, of being threatened with extinction, that are capable of supreme forms of self sacrifice as we have seen from Thileepan’s episode.
Thileepan, who had travelled to Delhi as part of LTTE leader Vellupillai Pirabakaran’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 Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi and Mr. Pirabakaran and that it had not been implemented, he felt that his people and the struggle had been betrayed and decided on a fast-unto-death demanding the fulfillment of the pledges.
When news of Thileepan’s fast-unto-death and the deteriorating political situation between the LTTE and the Indian Peace Keeping Force reached us, we decided to leave India for Jaffna.
My joy at reaching the shores of Tamil Eelam after so many years was contained by the gloom that hung in the air. Thileepan was a few days into his fast till death and the population of the Peninsula was seriously concerned and wholeheartedly behind the non-violent campaign of a single individual seeking justice from the world’s largest democracy. Subsequently, our first priority after our arrival in the Peninsula was to visit Thileepan encamped at the historic Nallur Kandasamy temple, the cultural and spiritual centre of the Jaffna Tamils.
Thileepan’s decision to single-handedly take on the credibility of the Indian state was not incongruous with his history of resistance to state oppression as a cadre in the LTTE. He had faced battle on several occasions in defence of Jaffna during Kittu’s time and suffered serious abdominal wounds in the process. He was well known for his astute understanding of the politics and mindset of his people and emerged as 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 the cadres but the people of Jaffna also.
My husband, LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham, met Thileepan during the pre-Accord talks when he shared a hotel room with him in Delhi and quickly grew very fond of this affable fellow. It was an extremely painful and emotional experience for Bala to meet him again in Jaffna, in totally adverse conditions, with Thileepan’s life slowly ebbing away.