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'We are tiger cubs!' - Vijay's support for the Tamil Eelam cause

Vijay with his wife Sangeetha Sornalingam Pillai, herself an Eelam Tamil, on a hunger strike in 2008.

With Tamil Nadu actor Vijay announcing the formation of a new political party in Tamil Nadu, we look back at his history of support for the Tamil Eelam liberation struggle.

As the Sri Lankan government was in the midst of its offensive that would culminate in the Mullivaikkal genocide, Vijay took part in a one-day hunger strike in November 2008.

“Eelam Tamils are struggling without a place to stay, clothes to wear and without food," he told the audience. "At this time, can we not go one day without food for them? That is the reason for this hunger strike protest."

"For anyone who likes me, my fans, I’d like to make one request— the war in Eelam must come to an end, and there should be a safe space for the Tamil people. Please write a letter conveying this to the Indian Prime minister. In the next 24 hours, regardless of however many of you write to him I’m hoping that at least 1 crore letters will reach him."

"Let freedom dawn for Eelam Tamils. This plea extends beyond just my fans; it is an earnest appeal to anyone who carries the essence of Tamil identity within them.”

He organised his own hunger strike in November 2008 to protest against the massacres. Vijay was joined by 5,000 fans and it culminated with his mother, Shoba Chandrasekhar, distributing juice. Vijay's wife Sangeetha, director Perarasu and actor Mansoor Ali Khan also attended the fast in Chennai, with his supporters organising at least 37 simultaneous events across the state.

"You have all been fasting here since the morning," he said at a protest in 2008. "I thank all my friends from the cinema industry, politicians and other great people who are all here to encourage you. Not only in Chennai but these fasts are being held all over Tamil Nadu. I am proud I have fans like you.”

“Not only me but all of you would have heard right from our formative years about the troubles in Sri Lanka. Reading newspapers and viewing news on the TV over the past two months has been heart wrenching.”

“There have been many wars. India-Pakistan, America -Vietnam etc. But if there was a war where peoples who used to get along as brothers and sisters have fought amongst themselves for 25 years and fled as refugees, that's only in Sri Lanka... We see kids all the time in our towns waving to aeroplanes. But in Sri Lanka, when they see airplanes, kids run from their homes and schools into bunkers in fear of their lives. If somebody stones a house here we would go out and shout "who threw that stone?", but in Sri Lanka even a stone being thrown creates terror as though it is a bomb.”

“All Tamils are expressing their emotions. So I believe the war will be stopped and the killing of Tamils there will come to an end."

Vijay sits alongside his mother on a hunger strike in 2008.

"It is my effort to show my support for the suffering Tamils in Sri Lanka,” said the actor at another protest. “I am happy and consider myself privileged to be part of the agitation."

"We can't go to Sri Lanka and fight for the Tamils. This agitation is an attempt to show our strong support to them."

Vijay would go on to attend and organise more protests at the time, in an effort to halt the genocide. See more photographs of one the 2008 protests here.

A few years later in 2011, Vijay gave a fiery speech at another protest in Nagapattinam, as he called on both the Central and Tamil Nadu governments to end the attacks on Tamil Nadu fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy. 

"I would like to make one small thing clear to all of you," he said. "I have not come to this stage as a politician. I have come here as a Tamil man unable to bare the attacks and killings of Tamil fishermen, I am here to condemn that."

"I am here with the anger and a younger brother would feel if his older brother were killed, and the sorrow a mother would feel if here son was killed. I am here with the emotions of a Tamil person standing up with a sense of social justice for another Tamil person that has been attacked. Please understand my intentions behind this, and don’t taint it as politics."

"This condemnation happening in Nagai shouldn’t just affect the Chennai courts but the Delhi courts too. The house we live in, the food we eat is all reliant on the fishermen. For them, the sea is their god. The Sri Lankan government is playing with the living and their livelihood of the Tamil fisherman. Although all of this is happening I feel as though the ruling politicians and are not taking any action regarding this."

"What I’ve heard is that over 1000 Tamil fisherman have been attacked and 540 Tamil fishermen have been killed. I’m immediately reminded of an MGR song 'Tharaimal piraka vechan, thaneeril polaika vechan'.

“They’ve tied a noose around their neck and dragged them along the boat, killed them and then disposed of their bodies in the sea. I don’t understand whether these people are humans or demons. Although all of this has happened, I don’t understand why the ruling politicians haven’t done anything. Just because we are not retaliating to the Sri Lankan government it doesn’t mean we are scared.

“We are tiger cubs!” he continued, quoting a line from the ancient epic Poranaanooru on how Tamils' lineage is that of ‘one that drank the milk from a mother who defeated a tiger with a mere stick’.

Vijay then quoted a famous line from one of his movies “naan adicha thoongamaata naalu maasam thoongamata” - which translates to "You won’t be able to take it if I hit you and you won’t be able to sleep for four months".

He sent a stark warning to Colombo, stating that “Sri Lanka will disappear off the map” if the attacks on fishermen continued. "Because you are the neighbouring country, we’re really trying to be patient— please don’t test us."

"I’d like to say one thing," he concluded. "Every attack that falls on you— I will see this as a personal attack on me and fight for you."

Despite the actor’s words, assaults on Tamil Nadu fishermen have continued routinely.

In 2013, Vijay sent his regards to his film industry colleagues as members of the South Indian Film Artistes Association (SIFAA) staged a day long hunger strike to protest against Sri Lanka’s genocide of Tamils.

And in August 2014, Vijay joined a protest outside the Sri Lankan Consulate in Chennai demanding it be closed, after an article published on the Sri Lankan defence ministry website insulted then-Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.

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