The death on 13 March of Vairamuttu Varadakumar, the director of Tamil Information Centre, came as a shock to all activists. When someone who seems so full of life, whose essence is activism, it is a shock. Continuing that activism effectively must be the legacy we build to Varathar as he was known.
Varathar was always engaging – always involved in projects for the betterment of society and democratic rights. His memory invokes warm feelings, even among those who disagreed politically with him in the past. Although softly spoken, he was determined to bring people together in action.
At almost every public meeting organised by Tamil Solidarity you would find him. He became a regular feature in the yearly Solidarity Days in the crucial discussions on uniting in the fight against oppression. He has always stood out as being a doer.
Many discussions have taken place in the Tamil community in Britain, attempting to bring together at least some of the diaspora organisations – or propose working committees. Varathar was not only a feature of these discussions but would throw himself into the work, including taking on responsibilities.
He shared many of his frustrations with us – about some of the self-proclaimed leaders in the community, as well as the lack of political involvement of the youth. At times it was very funny to see the normally calm face of Varathar turning dark in disgust. At one meeting, one of the so called “leader” blasted about how everything had been won with only a tiny bit left to be achieved to complete Tamil rights and that the parliamentary parties in Britain were some sort of unstoppable power on our behalf, Varathar cringed and circled down in his chair hiding his face in his hands. He let out his frustration with us: “Absolutely not possible to change these idiots”. But he often followed that up with a call for doing something to educate the youth to prepare them to fight for their future by breaking with these so-called leaders.
We fully share his frustration and eagerness to engage the new generation. Varathar wanted to engage the youth and politicise them to a higher degree. With this in mind he worked tirelessly to engage as many people as he can. Building a fightback among the next generation youth will be the greatest tribute to Varathar.
He also kept in touch with many important activists in Sri Lanka, particularly on the left. He often hosted meetings with them at the TIC office. He never hesitated to promote the sane voices in the south of Sri Lanka, such as Siritunga Jeyasuriya from the United Socialist Party who among many left intellectuals spoke in numerous meeting in the TIC office.
In the wake of the massacre of 2009 many activists became passive. On the contrary Varathar’s activism increased manifold. It is impossible to list all of the good work that he was involved in – and the number of people who benefitted from that. We had many disagreements with the NGO approach that does not put decisions into the hands of democratic bodies of the workers and youth. But unlike many others Varathar was able to see the political basis of this disagreement and never took them personally. Hence he continued to support and encourage our work. Varathar maintained a close connection and continued to keep in touch about every new project.
Varathar also organised many tributes and celebrative meetings for those who contributed to society. We would receive emails or messages immediately from Varathar informing us about good or bad news. Now it is time for us to celebrate his life. He will not be forgotten. His legacy will last in the fightback that will emerge in the Tamil community.