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Since 1st March, 1999
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DTP operator turns Lanka Tamil icon

Chennai, Jan. 31: An ordinary DTP operator who used only a Tamil calendar in his room, read obscure Tamil literature and wanted to be a film director has emerged as the symbol of protests in support of Sri Lankan Tamils.

K. Muthukumar, who immolated himself in front of a central government office complex on Thursday, has by his one singular act relegated to the background various other protests — fasts, human chains, resignation dramas — staged by politicians, film stars and others demanding a ceasefire by the Lanka military.

His funeral procession this afternoon was attended by hundreds of college students who distributed copies of his pamphlet appealing for greater support to the Eelam cause.

The 26-year-old, who worked in a Tamil magazine, had said his last wish was “his body be used as a trump card in the battle for the Eelam”. That may not quite be realised as the ceasefire is nowhere in sight and the Lankan army is on its final march.

But Muthukumar, a bachelor who lived with his sister, has become the symbol of the struggle with politicians competing with one another to hail him as the “ultimate Tamil hero”.

P. Rathinathurai, head of the cultural wing of the LTTE, even penned a eulogy that “the flames that enveloped his body would light up the Eelam struggle”.

Although chief minister M. Karunanidhi urged that his “sacrifice” should not be politicised, Muthukumar’s death has given the pro-Tamil campaigners a handle to re-ignite the protests that had become meaningless in the face of the LTTE’s capitulation and Delhi’s refusal to push for ceasefire.

The protests, observers felt, could now gather momentum in view of the emotions whipped up by politicians, the sudden hero-worship that Muthukumar has attracted and also the compensation of Rs 2 lakh offered by the state.

Suicide as an expression of protest or sorrow has been a regular feature of Tamil Nadu’s polity for decades.

Anti-Hindi agitators of the sixties, MGR’s followers during his illness in 1984, Vaiko’s supporters when he was expelled from the DMK in 1993, ADMK cadre unable to stand Jayalalithaa’s defeat in 1996 — all resorted to self-immolation out of anger or anguish.

Even before Muthukumar’s burial came the news that one more person near Dindigul, in south Tamil Nadu, had attempted self-immolation in support of the Lankan Tamils.

Ravi, 39, was admitted to the Madurai general hospital with severe burns last night. Police, however, said he was a history-sheeter who had suffered the burns in a stove burst in his kitchen.

Colleges shut

The Tamil Nadu government today ordered indefinite closure of colleges and hostels — both private and government — in the state in the wake of student unrest on the Lankan Tamil issue. The decision was taken two days before the students’ proposed state-wide strike from Monday.

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