By Akila Kumar
“Small country, too many problems” – Thinesh.
On the 18th March 2013 at 10 a.m., three young Tamil men began a nil by mouth campaign outside the High Commission of India in Aldwych, London. Thiraavidan, Thinesh and Denespalan (‘Denes’) started their activist campaign at a time when the United Nations were due to pass a resolution on Sri Lanka and mass protests began sweeping through Tamil Nadu in India. Among their demands, the three activists ask for an independent investigation in Sri Lanka following allegations of war crimes in 2009, a referendum for a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka, the details of missing civilians and combatants to be released, an immediate end to Sinhalese settlements in the Northern and Eastern Province in Sri Lanka and the withdrawal of occupying security forces and destruction of places of worship in these areas. They are also fighting for the right to self-determination of the Tamil people, in other words, their right to choose whether they want a separate state.
As a potentially significant political player in the global arena, the Indian Government have an opportunity to help strengthen the UN resolution on Sri Lanka and see the activists’ demands met, yet India stands accused of weakening the UN resolution by modifying demands set by the US in an original draft.
But moving away from the political intricacies which surround Sri Lanka and perhaps surmounting them, are the personal stories of the three young men camped out on a small piece of pavement in London. After all, it is only after stories and evidence of gross human rights violations and sacrifice that many people began to pay attention to the little island they call Sri Lanka.
Whilst conversing with Denes, it becomes apparent that he has lost 12 members of his family – 11 dead and 1 missing. But this isn’t about numbers – this is about 3 brothers, a sister (Akka), a dad (Appa), an uncle (Chithappa) and his entire family. Each family member was lost during the course of the ethno-political conflict in Sri Lanka, from 1991 to 2009. And so Denes sits calmly in front of High Commission of India, shaking the hands of those who approach him and offering a smile and even the warmth of his quilt. Thinesh and Thiraavidan are equally mild-mannered and willing to share their experiences. Thinesh describes leaving Sri Lanka 7 years ago and arriving in London, only to receive a phone call a short while after, informing him of the death of a loved one – a 16 year old girl. He describes his frustration, ‘Why are people coming, looking and not doing?’. 4 years after the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, these frustrations seem valid and are shared by many.
Thiraavidan, Thinesh and Denes who are now on the 4th day of their campaign, still refuse to take food or water. All they ask for is support, from anyone and everyone but especially young people – people like them. It is clear that well-wishers lift their spirits during this precarious time and this valuable and life-giving support will become more crucial in the coming days and weeks.