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Remembering Murugathas Anna

With a single, supreme act of sacrifice for his people in February 2009, Murugathasan Varnakulasingham became a revered household name for the Tamils.

Outraged by international apathy as tens of thousands of Tamils were being massacred by Sri Lanka’s military, the quietly spoken 26-year-old computing graduate walked up to the United Nations building in Geneva and immolated himself, in a desperate effort to awake the world's conscience.

On the second anniversary of the death of Murugathasan Anna, as he is fondly referred to by Tamil activists, memorial events were held in Diaspora locations.

In London, several hundred people gathered on February 12th to remember him and several other Tamil activists who selflessly gave their lives for the freedom struggle.

As in all such Tamil commemorations, music and dance performances celebrated the actions and lives of those mourned.

The event was attended by Murugathasan’s mother, who although proud of her son’s bravery, was also distraught at the loss of her child.

Murugathasan’s life story is similar to those of many in the Tamil Diaspora.

Having been made a refugee in his own homeland, living a life of mistreatment, racial exclusion and the possibility of arbitrary and sudden death at the hands of the state, he chose, along with his family, to seek sanctuary abroad.

Safely beyond the Sri Lankan state’s reach, he and his family rebuilt their lives. He graduated from university in computer science.

Murugathasan had not been an activist before his selfless act of protest.

However, amid the callous lack of international action to aid his people in their horrific suffering, he was compelled to act.

He set out his carefully considered reasoning in a letter, written in Tamil and English, that is now among the annals of Tamil history.

Although not all supported his act, saddened by the loss of one of their brothers, his message was shared and understood, and he was embraced by the global Tamil community.

His funeral, attended by ten thousand people, and watched on satellite television by hundreds of thousands, was yet another moment of Tamil unity.

Although the mass protests of that brutal phase have passed, the flame the Murugathasan lit ignited new waves of political activism amongst the Diaspora youth.

Within weeks of his self-immolation, tens of thousands of Tamils took to the streets in Diaspora centres everywhere, in sustained protests that built an enduring popular solidarity that now underpins the struggle.

For the many activists around the world who attended the public commemorations this month, or held their own gatherings, it was a moment to pledge themselves anew to their cause.

The logic of their campaigns is to be found in Murugathasan’s outrage at international inaction; that Tamils’ liberation from Sinhala oppression can ultimately only be assured by one end – an independent Tamil Eelam.