MDMK Chief Vaiko has just finished his fortnight-long 450-km padayatra demanding that the Tamil Nadu Government close all liquor shops. PMK Supremo Ramadoss has long been vocal against TASMAC (state owned corporation that has a monopoly over selling of liquor in the state) culture in Tamil Nadu. These two have one more thing in common: their support for the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. They and a few political activists have been saying for a long time that the students in Tamil Nadu are becoming victims of TASMAC culture and are indifferent to the social and political problems around them.
But, the students in Tamil Nadu have surprised everyone. They have proved that they can pressurise the political parties and the state and central governments on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue which Vaiko and Ramadoss could not accomplish all these years.
But, will it have any immediate impact? The protests have resulted in the immediate withdrawal of support to the UPA government by DMK. It may also have a long term impact on students' participation in political and social issues. 1965 anti-Hindi movement produced many political leaders. 2013 can do so too.
It all started when the British television broadcaster Channel 4 released photographs of Balachandran, 12-year-old son of the slain LTTE Chief Velupillai Prabhakaran. The pictures showed the small boy with some eatables in his hand before he was shot dead at close range. It revealed a lot about the deadly war and the human rights abuses that took place towards the end of the final war between the Sri Lankan army and LTTE. A Human Rights Watch report also indicated that the Sri Lankan security forces used rape as a means to torture suspected members of LTTE for years after the end of the war.
A group of Loyola College students in Chennai who are part of the All India Catholic University Federation (AICUF) suddenly started an indefinite hunger strike on March 8th, 2013 with a charter of demands. They demanded that Sri Lanka be declared a genocidal regime for its role in the 2009 war, at the upcoming UNHRC meet. Though protests are not new to the students belonging to this federation, the sudden hunger strike by these eight students surprised the other members of the AICUF.
It would have remained an intra-college affair as they started their hunger strike within the Loyola campus. But they were advised to shift the venue from the college campus, citing the location of the Sri Lankan deputy high commission nearby.
The change of venue attracted more visitors including politicians from across the parties. The temperature was increasing at the strike venue after visits by the members of Congress and DMK. Social media played an important role in reporting the happenings at the venue and spreading the news across the world. With the deadline for their demands more than 10 days away from the scheduled meeting of UNHRC, no one had a clue about the logical end of the hunger strike. With the students not allowing the politicians to guide them, there came a turning point in the form of the Tamil Nadu Police. On Sunday night (10th March 2013), the Police forced the evacuation of the students from the strike venue and forcibly admitted them to the government hospital.
This news spread across social media. Though a few more colleges were planning to show solidarity with the Loyola students on Monday, the Police act triggered students of many more colleges to come to the streets. Even as the Loyola students withdrew their hunger strike after the intervention from Loyola management (which was not happy with the developments since the venue shifted from their campus), the movement they had started continued to pick up force.
Arts and science colleges from around the state joined in. Law colleges joined next. Then it was the turn of IIT Madras. Then followed the Engineering Colleges and the Medical Colleges. The State Government declared indefinite holiday for all the colleges from 18th March.
This is uncommon in Tamil Nadu in the present times. People were angry not only about the Sri Lankan Tamil issue, but also about the continuous attack on Tamil Nadu fishermen by the Sri Lankan navy. The non-political society was not reacting to any of this till the Loyola students started their protest. After that, it has been a chain reaction.
The AIADMK government must be happy with that midnight police act, even though they might not have expected this to grow. Most of the slogans in the protest venues are against Congress and DMK. Other parties have been spared so far.
The protests have started late. It may have negligible or zero impact on the upcoming UNHRC resolution. Even if the Indian government wishes to change its attitude on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue, it may be of no immediate use.
But, the tremors are felt elsewhere. DMK is already out of the UPA. Congress feels the pressure to at least bring a resolution in the parliament condemning the Rajapakshe regime. The main political parties, Congress and BJP, will be careful about the implications of the parliamentary resolution on J&K.
At the ground level, students should be more careful on what they are protesting for. They must be careful whether they are fighting for justice for the Sri Lankan Tamils or whether they are protesting against the Central government. They must differentiate between a party, a government or the nation.
Few forces will have their own agenda in infiltrating the student movement. Prabhakaran's pictures have entered the protest venues. This will certainly irritate the law enforcement agencies and divert the attention from the actual cause.
Few forces will try to inject anti-Indian ideas and thoughts of an independent Tamil nation. Few others will take another extreme position and question the credibility of the protestors. They may want us to believe that Rajapakshe is the only saviour of the Sri Lankan Tamils.
Students must have their agendas clear. The protest is an attempt to change the mindset and attitude of the centre. It is to force the centre to take a foreign policy stand to persuade UNHRC members to bring a resolution condemning the Sri Lankan government's role in genocide and to have push for a referendum so that the Sri Lankan Tamils can decide their own future. With respect to Tamil Nadu, the aim of the protests is to force the Central government to protect the Tamil Nadu fishermen from the attacks of Sri Lankan navy.
Students must gain more political insight and more social awareness. They have to streamline their energy towards social and political causes. Flash strikes cannot help them every time. There are other channels like lobbying, writing, grassroots political activism and direct participation in political parties.
Let them not be bottled into a TASMAC stereotype anymore!
(The author is the Chief Technical Officer for lndic Labs)
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