Painting the Tiger with new stripes

BY maya r| IN Regional Media | 30/08/2006
The article that informs readers that Pirabakaran spent amounts equal to what he spent on war on the orphanages, does not ask why such orphanages were required to be set up in the region.



Maya Ranganathan




  • The cover picture in an issue of Junior Vikatan: LTTE supreme V Pirabhakaran in battle fatigue encircled by happy faces of children;
  • The story: the Sri Lankan army’s aerial bombing of Senchcholai, the orphanage in Mullaitivu;
  • The headline across the cover page: bloody Senchocholai, heart-broken Pirabhakaran.


And the magazine hit the stands a couple of days after India celebrated its 59th Independence Day!


For the uninitiated, Junior Vikatan is the Tamil political bi-weekly from the stable of Vikatan publications, Chennai, whose flagship Ananda Vikatan has a hoary past and is more popular. Old-timers will readily narrate the heights the magazine touched during the tenure of founder-publisher S S Vasan, who was also the owner of Gemini Studios in Chennai and the producer of the blockbuster Chandralekha. 


 It is precisely because of its standing in Tamil journalism that the cover story in Junior Vikatan causes worry. Never known for Tamil chauvinism and quick to adapt to changing times, its attempts to paint a humane picture of the ‘formidable’ LTTE supremo moved to tears by the brutal death of 61 girl children in the orphanage that he nurtured with huge expenditure (almost equal to the amounts he spent on war) and special care, is surprising indeed.


This piece is neither a justification of the Sri Lankan’s army action nor a denouncement of the demand for Eelam. It points out the alarming tendency among sections of Indian media to attempt to build heroes where there are none. (Incidentally, the approach to the issue in the English and Tamil media are diametrically opposite)


For those familiar with the political history of the island nation, the image of the LTTE chief in battle fatigue visiting a highly fortified orphanage to relax in between his military manoeuverings that are bound to render more children orphans or being devastated over deaths, even if they are of Tamil children caused by the ‘ruthless’ Sinhalese army, is a will indeed be  hard to stomach.


It is an open secret that the LTTE are no strangers to cold-blooded murders. Even a conservative count of just the Tamil leaders gunned down by the organization should put it at close to 50. Add to this the number of Tamil civilians and Tigers who have lost their lives in the last two decades and the tally will show that the Tigers have witnessed any number of  deaths of their ‘own kin’, even if they choose to define the term differently.


While Junior Vikatan cannot be faulted for bringing to fore a humanitarian issue of great concern to the region, what prompts this piece is what the article left unsaid. There has been no mention of the fact that a mere two days prior to the fateful bombing, on Aug 12, Kethesh (Ketheeswaran) Loganathan, a former EPRLF militant-turned academic, journalist, and advocate of human rights and a return to democratic values in Tamil politics, was gunned down presumably by the Tigers.


Reports in Sri Lankan media have it that the LTTE announced the death of an ‘infamous traitor of the Tamil race’. What made Kethesh so was his unswerving commitment to human rights as the focus of the peace process, his stand on Muslims and his position as the deputy head in the government peace secretariat. Like many others who identified with the LTTE cause but not with its means, Kethesh met a violent death. Typically, like all those who met such violent deaths at the hands of the LTTE, Kethesh did not merit attention of the vernacular media in Tamil Nadu.


It can be argued that news values place mass deaths over that of a lone man, especially when the deaths are that of innocent children. More pathetic indeed that the children who died were orphaned girls. But why does the article that informs readers that Pirabakaran spent amounts equal to what he spent on war on the orphanages, not address the basic question as to why such orphanages were required to be set up in the region? Is the answer that the need for such orphanages rose out of the mindless war in the region for which the LTTE too shares the blame, unpalatable?


Had the children escaped the army action, pray, what would their fate have been? Would they not have, in perhaps less than a decade, gone the way of their parents, ‘martyred’ for a cause that they did not subscribe to or perhaps even understand?


It is one thing for the journalists at the Media Research and Training Centre (MRTC) in Jaffna to question the relevance of objectivity and truth in reporting in times of war. But quite another for the media in a neighbouring country to misrepresent facts, especially to paint the principal accused in the assassination of a former prime minister of that country a hero.


How is one to accept the tone of reverence adopted by the article in question to highlight LTTE’s alacrity. The article informs that hours after the army bombing, the Tigers retaliated by triggering off a "powerful car bomb" in Colombo leading to South Africans  pulling out of the cricket tri-series. A clever way of drawing international attention, perhaps. But incidentally, just yards away from where the bomb went off is the Taj Samudra where Indian cricket players are staying!


Much has been written about the vernacular media’s contribution to the forging of the Indian national identity. But such reports cause anxieties as to where exactly it is heading!






(The writer is a Professor at the Manipal Institute of Communication. E-mail: )

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