Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Voyage of courage runs out of gas by G.C. SHEKHAR

This story from today's newspaper caught my attention for its hilarity. My comments on the story will be limited to a little backgrounder. The island nation of Sri Lanka has been at civil war for over three decades, owing to the stand off between the Tamils and the Sinhalas. The Tamils were immigrants from India brought over to the country during the British period. State power lies in the hands of the majority Sinhalese. The Tamils are largely located in the North and North Eastern parts of Sri Lanka.

The problem began soon after independence when the Sinhala majority tried to impose its will and language on the Tamils. The resistance over time lead to the creation of the Liberation of Tamil Tigers Elam (LTTE) also called Tamil Tigers. The LTTE since its inception in 1980's, with considerable help from the Indira Gandhi government become one of the most organised and lethal insurgent groups in the world funded liberally by the Tamil diaspora based in the West. The Indian state of Tamil Nadu is a huge support base for the LTTE. The failure of the Indian Peace Keeping Operations in Sri Lanka, the assasination of Rajiv Gandhi by LTTE and perhaps due to the similarities with the Kashmiri secessionaist demands, the Central government in Delhi has tried to distance it self from the LTTE, while expressing amnesic concerns on the condition of the Tamils after prodding by the Tamil parties. In Tamil Nadu, the concern for the well being of their Tamil brethern, remains an emotional rallying point for all political parties. The following story should be seen in such a context.

The current scenario is that the Sri Lankan army operations have, it appears reduced the military power of the LTTE after a two year long operation. One hopes that despite the military victory, the Sinhalas will provide the Tamils their space and autonomy so that the LTTE, a terrorist organisation, does not have space to exploit the Tamil grievances.

The Telegraph, Calcutta, Tuesday , February 10 , 2009

Chennai, Feb. 9: They had set sail for Sri Lanka this morning to lend much-needed muscle to the Tamil Tigers in their battles with the army. But the 14 Tamil Nadu lawyers could reach only the anchorage outside the Tuticorin harbour as their borrowed fishing boat ran out of fuel, turning their “journey of courage” into a joke within half an hour.

Stranded and hungry, the legal eagles stayed afloat for three hours by tying their flimsy wooden vessel to a buoy and eventually had to plead with the police to rescue them. But the cops and the coast guard preferred to look the other way. So the lawyers sent desperate appeals to the CISF, manning the Tuticorin port, over their mobiles. A CISF patrol boat brought them back around 3pm, four hours after their departure.

The lawyers — eight from Karur (300km from Chennai) and six from Tuticorin — had announced they would sail to Mullaithivu in northern Sri Lanka, 250km away, and take up arms for the LTTE. Many, however, believe they merely wanted publicity amid the current wave of pro-Lankan Tamil protests and hoped the police would arrest them and foil the trip.

So, led by Murugaiayan, the Karur Bar Association president, the lawyers went to a fishing colony near the harbour at Tuticorin, 450km from Chennai, posing as fisheries department officials on a mission to inspect the boats’ seaworthiness.

They got into a boat and forced the owner, Senthilvel, to take it out to sea despite his protestations that he was low on fuel. Journeys such as these are not made on wooden boats anyway, sources said. The boat’s outboard engine sputtered to a halt just outside the jetty area. The frantic lawyers called up friends and policemen on the shore urging them to organise a rescue. But the cops were not interested.

Since Senthilvel’s family filed a police complaint saying he had been duped and abducted, the lawyers were arrested after they reached the shore. “The CISF too has complained they had trespassed into a prohibited area,” said Tuticorin police chief Deepak Damor. The lawyers, though seasick, put up a brave front. “We would have reached Mullaithivu if we had a proper vessel,” Murugaiayan said.

Earlier this morning, another 50 lawyers on a similar “mission” had hung around with fishermen right in front of Tuticorin North police station. But they found to their dismay that neither were boats available for hire, nor were the cops interested in arresting them. So they merely posed for photos in front of the boats, shouted slogans and left.

In 1983, Tamil Nationalist Front leader P. Nedumaran had led a group of youths on a march from Madurai to Rameswaram, planning to lead a Tamil army to help their Lankan brethren. He managed to get into a leaky boat before being arrested, only to be released in the evening.

In 2007, Nedumaran collected money and organised a few vanloads of medicines and food for war-zone Lankan Tamils. He led the convoy to Rameswaram where none would lease him a boat. The food and medicine are still rotting in a godown.

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