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Death and the horrors of war

GLOOMY news dominated the Tamil papers for the week of 26 Jan to 1 Feb 2009. A Kugan’s death, the ongoing war in Sri Lanka, and the death of a young man in Chennai were widely discussed in the papers.

Death in detention

Like all other papers in the country, 22-year-old Kugan’s death while in police custody, and his funeral, were widely reported by all the Tamil papers. The Tamil papers also carried on the back page, a full page of photographs taken during the funeral.

Tamil Nesan‘s editorial on 28 Jan titled Justice for Kugan’s family criticised Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar: “The police officers who were responsible for Kugan’s death should be hauled up in court and charged for the crime, not the two deputy ministers in the Prime Minister’s Department — Datuk SK Devamany and (Senator) T Murugiah — who went to the mortuary to help the bereaved family. Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar’s call for action against these two men is uncalled for.”

Selangor Police Chief Deputy Commissioner Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar also came under fire. The paper said he should have done more to calm the tense situation at the morgue by providing some explanation to Kugan’s family there.

Mourners at Kugan’s funeral on 28 Jan 2009
The paper insisted that Kugan’s death should not be seen as a racial issue but as something that affects all Malaysians. “It is not important whether those who died while in custody are Malay, Chinese or Indian [Malaysians]. The fact that these deaths happen causes the public to lose confidence in the police,” it said.

Makkal Osai‘s editorial on 30 Jan titled Criminals are not heroes but… was in response to Syed Hamid’s statement that the public should not make heroes out of criminals. Even though Syed Hamid declared that his statement was not targeted at anyone, the paper spoke up on behalf of the Indian Malaysian community. “We have never objected to the police apprehending criminals — it is their duty and their right,” it declared. “But we want to know why men who are taken in, especially young Indian Malaysian men, are dying one by one during questioning?”

The editorial gave some examples of Indian Malaysian men who died during police custody and the dubious reasons given by the police for their deaths. It described these reasons as rubbing salt into the wound.

“As far as Indian Malaysians are concerned, we do not harbour resentment or hatred towards the police,” it declared. The paper agreed with the minister that criminals should not be made heroes.

However, it also warned that a situation should not arise where “a person who has been taken in for questioning by the police on suspicion for a crime for which he has not yet been charged should die in police custody. His death gives reasons for people to elevate him to the status of a hero because his death becomes a symbol of the wrongs committed by the authorities. Situations such as these should be avoided.”

Sri Lankan horror

Tamils continue to be slaughtered in the civil war in Sri Lanka. The Tamil papers faithfully reported on the calamity there, complete with heart-rending pictures of the dead, and dying women and children.

Malaysian Nanban carried a graphic report on the horrors of the war in a 30 Jan story titled Tamil women burnt alive: the atrocities of the army in Mullaithivu. The report is based on an exposé by a Sri Lankan journalist in Anurathapuram.

The report revealed that the Sri Lankan army have been taking Tamil women away on the pretext of questioning them in secret locations, but the women were raped instead. The women were later brutally murdered and their remains burnt. “Just two days ago, about 27 women were raped and burnt alive,” the article said, quoting from the journalist’s report.

Location of Sri Lanka  (Public domain; source: Wikipedia)
Tamil Nesan in a report on 31 Jan titled Tamil youths in Geneva in an indefinite fast of protest highlighted the growing frustrations of Tamilians in Europe over the war in Sri Lanka. “The youths who are fasting in front of the United Nations office are demanding an immediate ceasefire and emergency aid of food and medicine to the Tamil civilians trapped by the war,” it said.

Fiery death and martyrdom

The suicide of 26-year-old K Muthukumaran in Chennai also dominated the Tamil papers. He died by setting himself on fire. Frustrated with the attitude of the Indian government and Tamil Nadu state government over the Sri Lankan affair, he decided to sacrifice himself for the cause. He also left behind a moving four-page letter where he criticised the Indian leaders and the rest of the world for ignoring the “extermination of Tamils” in Sri Lanka.

Malaysian Nanban was the first to break the news on 30 Jan with the story Youth self-immolates over the Sri Lankan problem. It reported that just before lighting himself, the youth shouted that the federal government was blind to the problems of Tamils in Sri Lanka. He said his act was to open the eyes of the government to the urgency of the situation there.

Muthukumaran’s death affected Tamils all over the world, including here in Malaysia. Tamil Nesan in its story on 1 Feb, Malaysian Indian Youth Council’s message of condolence, featured a statement issued by G Kumar Ammaan on the organisation’s behalf. He urged the Indian government to “at least respect [Muthukumaran’s] sacrifice by taking action” on the Sri Lankan matter.

“His sacrifice should not be in vain,” Kumar said.

Tamil Nesan also highlighted the reaction among Tamils living in France in a story titled Muthukumaran remembered in France on 31 Jan. “Hundreds of Tamils living in France gathered in Paris to honour Muthukumaran, whom many regard as a martyr who sacrificed his life for Sri Lankan Tamils. They observed a few minutes of silence with bowed heads,” it reported.

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