15th of September 2016 is the 29th remembrance of Rasaiah Parthipan popularly known as Thileepan who started hunger strike on 15th of September 1987. The day is widely observed by Tamil people around the world.
Thileepan joined the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) prior to the 1983 Black July anti-Tamil riots. Thileepan injured in the stomach in May 1987 during the Vadamarachchi Operation (Operation Liberation), he became the LTTE’s political leader for Jaffna peninsula.
As hostilities increased in northern Sri Lanka, the LTTE handed over a letter to the Indian High Commissioner on 13 September 1987 making five demands:
The release of all political prisoners held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act emergency regulations.
- Cessation of Sinhalese colonisation of Tamil areas under the guise of “rehabilitation”.
- Cessation of all “rehabilitation” activities until the establishment of the Interim Administrative Council.
- Cessation of construction of police stations the Northern and Eastern provinces.
- Disarmament of Home Guards and withdrawal of the army/police from schools and colleges.
The demands were aimed at the Indians rather than the Sri Lankan government because the LTTE believed that Indians could force the Sri Lankans to comply. The LTTE gave the Indians 24 hours to respond but no response, or even an acknowledgement, was received.
Determined to make the Indians meet the demands, Thileepan began a hunger strike on 15 September 1987 in front of Nallur Kandaswamy Temple.
Thileepan gave speeches which were broadcast on Nidharshanam, the LTTE’s TV stations. On 22 September 1987 Indian High Commissioner J. N. Dixit arrived at Palaly Airport and was met by LTTE leader V. Prabhakaran who wanted Dixit to go and see Thileepan. Dixit wanted a written guarantee from Prabhakaran that Thileepan would end his hunger strike if Dixit met him but Prabhakaran couldn’t give the guarantee. As his condition deteriorated, Thileepan stopped giving speeches.
After refusing food or water for 12 days, Thileepan died on 26 September 1987. After a “martyr’s funeral” in Jaffna, Thileepan’s body was handed over to the University of Jaffna’s medical faculty.