An Act of Resistance

Written by: Siva Nathan

The struggle for freedom has never been easy; where ever in the world it is fought for, there have been many selfless sacrifices. Self-immolation has been used as an act of resistance. In other struggles to attract attention to a cause, and emphasize the importance of freedom to regular citizens, citizens have engaged in self-immolation.

Tamil Journalist and Assistant Director, K. Muthukumaran, conducted such an act of self-immolation on January 29, 2009 as a way to garner attention and as an act of protest against the genocide of the Tamils. Through his act, he hoped to gain attention for the deteriorating situation for Tamils in Sri-Lanka, and highlight the need for a much needed immediate solution.

I think I need to make one point clear before I continue, I respect his selfless act, and cannot fathom the passion and love he had for his people, and the importance of freedom to him; however, I do not encourage it (Muthukumaran Anna himself urged that his model not be followed, and urged other methods of protest). Of which I will quote here: “Dear Tamil people, in the struggle against injustice our brothers and children have taken up the weapon of the intellect. I have used the weapon of life. You use the weapon of photocopying. Yes, make copies of this pamphlet and distribute it to your friends, relatives, and students and ensure that this support for this struggle becomes greater. Nan’ri.”

I think when looking at his act of protest, it begs the question why. Why? Why would such a highly articulate, intelligent young man be motivated to self-immolate himself? He has a lot going on for himself, he was successful in his career, and his family was making plans for a marriage for him the upcoming year. So, why? It is a question a doctor actually asked Muthukumaran Anna, of which to he responded that, several thousands similarly and more intelligent Tamils were being persecuted and killed in Sri-Lanka, and he hoped to gain attention to that through this act of protest. Tamils have been persecuted in Sri-Lanka through a genocidal program for many years, through social exclusion, unfavorable and discriminatory law, and cultural destruction and physical violence. I believe Muthukumaran Anna’s compassion for the Tamils suffering, and dire need to help raise awareness motivated his act of resistance.

Prior to his act, he submitted a letter, for those interested, a translation and scanned copy can be accessed here. When reading this statement, there are some parts which have stood out to me, and I wanted to just highlight some of those points.

They say the British killed people in Jallianwallahbagh, but what are they doing in Mullaiththeevu and Vanni? Look at the children being killed there. Aren’t you reminded of your children? Look at the women being raped? Don’t you have a sister in that age?”

What is the guarantee that these people–who indulge in politics through their money and muscle power–will not target us tomorrow? If they turn against tomorrow, who will be on our side?”

Is this not genocide? If India, Pakistan and China are supplying arms, Japan is giving economic aid, and moreover India is bullying Sri Lanka and thus killing Tamils, why don’t you realize that you are also committing the same murder by your silence and your blindness? Nobody becomes a terrorist simply by taking up arms. Our Thiruvalluvar has said: Arathirke anbucar penpa ariyaar/ marathirkum akthe thunai (The ignorant say that affection is appropriate only to righteousness, but it will also inspire heroism to be restrained).”

China’s tanks, India’s spy planes, Pakistan’s artillery… not only these kill our people, but the silence of the International Community also kills them. When will you realize this–after a people who greatly desire justice are totally wiped away from the face of the earth? If you are interested in adding us to the list of Aborigines, Maya and Inca peoples, each day one of us will come in front of you and kill ourselves, as it comes in one of our myths…. Please leave our sisters and our children alone. We are unable to bear this. We are fighting with the sole hope that one day we will watch them laugh whole-heartedly.”

When reading these words, we must take a renewed vow and interest in our brothers and sisters back home, and take some action. We are the lucky ones who survived, but that also makes us responsible for them, and we need to become a voice for the voiceless now. Like Muthukumaran Anna suggested, we must use our intellect, and our skills to help bring justice to our fellow kin. Because, again, quoting his letter, “if they turn against tomorrow, who will be on our side?” We must always stand up for injustice, because one day, we may be the ones in the position, and how would we want others act? Those suffering are our brothers and sisters, our community members, our kin. What are you going to do?


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