Blog: The face that launched a thousand protests

Blog: The face that launched a thousand protests
Chennai:  One of the first things that I noticed on the drive from Chennai's Meenambakkam airport to the city's IT hub -Tidel Park, was the posters all along the route. The face that launched a thousand ships they say, but this one is of an innocent 12-year-old, Balachandran, the son of Velupillai Prabhakaran.

Still pictures from the Channel 4 video of his killing is the face that seems to have shaken people's conscience and galvanised Tamil Nadu into unprecedented protests that are hoping to catch the eye and the attention of the world, more specifically, the United Nations (UN).

On the main road outside Tidel Park, the human chain formed by at least a thousand young professionals seemed endless, stretching over a couple of kilometres.

Somehow you don't expect protests to be so widespread, simultaneous and well-organised unless there is a political party or interest backing it. Mention it and there is anger. "There is no political link,'' is the vehement retort.

Are all these people apolitical? I must admit I had been a little skeptical at first. The slogans seemed to ring with some political undertone.

"Tamizh eelam malarattum'' (let Tamil Eelam Blossom)

"Echcharikkai echcharikkai, mathiya arasukku echcharikkai'' (This is a warning to the Central government)

"Ilangai doodarai veliyetru'' (Send the Lankan Ambassador back)

"Vellattum, vellattum, Tamizh eelam vellattum'' (Victory to Tamizh Eelam)

"Tamizhargallukku veera vanakkam'' (Our salute to Brave Tamils)

The protest I was told had been organised by a pro-Tamil group, the Save Tamils Movement, a collective of IT professionals, who had been advocating the cause for a few years now. But many in the group raising the slogans were first-timers. The people were there, out of some heartfelt need to express protest, stand up to be counted, raising a voice, hoping to be seen and heard.

"I am here as a human, as an Indian and as a Tamilian,'' declared Joseline Jing. " If your sisters and brothers are killed, won't you cry? It is an issue that bothers us, so we are raising it. But the Indian government is not able to understand our pain,'' he says.

Are you happy that the DMK has withdrawn support to put pressure on the Central government? I ask deliberately, to provoke a reaction.

"So-called Tamil political parties are playing games. If they felt any emotion, they would have taken it up in 2009 when things turned so bad, but they did not. Even in 2009, when I was a student, I protested and I was arrested, but there was political pressure. This time we don't trust political parties. They are looking at the next elections. We are looking at the UN,'' says one professional. Many others join in agreeing with him.

So what changed this time? Why are there so many voices now that were silent for so long, I ask?

"Most people have been very ignorant because the media blocks out such news, '' Pandian explains. "There is now proof and evidence of lot of violations. So the government should take a tough stand, take it up on an international forum, so there can be justice.''
Karthigeyan is interning with an IT company here. He and his friend Vignesh Babu from Coimbatore say they want to take the issue to the UN directly, not through any political party.

"Slowly awareness is coming. I did not expect so many people to come here but they are protesting everywhere, in the colleges, on the roads. Social media and twitter have made all the difference,'' Karthigeyan says.

Bright Billy Graham says it took an international news house, the UK-based Channel Four, to put out something to shake the conscience of the world. "Thousands have been killed by Sri Lanka. 500 Indian fishermen have been killed and yet the Indian government is reluctant to act. I feel ashamed about it. ''

Don't the IT companies you work for object if you come out on the road and protest on what is seen as a political issue, I ask. Wide grins, some embarrassed. "No madam, I came after office hours," says one. "My company management initiated me to participate in this,'' says another. "It is a human rights issue, why can't we also stand up for it,'' asks a third, adding, "and so should the Indian government.''

Once the protests were over, I find one of the young girls, an IT professional, is holding a poster in one hand and picking polythene water bags littered around. There is hope when aware people act as socially conscious citizens, I tell myself.

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