BY Sulochana Ramiah Mohan in Chennai, Tamil Nadu
South Indian film director, actor and Leader of Naam Thamilar Katchi, Senthamilan Seeman, is on record fanning the LTTE, protesting and going to prison for the Sri Lankan Tamil cause. Seeman and wife Kayalvili welcomed Sulochana Ramiah Mohan of Ceylon Today to his Chennai residence in a warm manner.
He is a welcoming host and his wife even goes to the extent of cooking a meal for his visitors who are interested in talking Tamil politics. Seeman who has learned several martial arts skills such as Karate and Silambadi (an oldest form of fighting using sticks) became emotional when he recalled the last days of the Eelam War and said he would set straight the ugly records and political games India and Sri Lanka played and will take the struggle forward till a solution is found and demanded a referendum on the Tamil issue.
Speaking to Ceylon Today, he said he stands for a genuine international probe on war crimes because the accusation is against the Sri Lankan State and Sri Lanka cannot probe their own war crimes.
Controversial South Indian film director, actor and the Leader of Naam Thamilar Katchi (NTK), Senthamilan Seeman, has been in the limelight for his strong, vociferous activism fighting for Tamil Eelam and considers ex-LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran as a true Tamil Nationalist. Seeman claims that he was asked to take forward the ‘Tamil struggle’ by Sea Tiger Wing Chief Soosai who telephoned him before getting killed during the last phase of the war in May 2009.
Seeman has been following Prabhakaran since his young age and was instantly attracted to Prabhakaran’s courage to take forward a struggle to free the Tamils. Seeman says, Tamils, one of the oldest civilized communities in the world, had been through and throughout ruled by power hungry men, suppressing their rights and disapproving their self-determination which has even encroached Tamil Nadu in the past decades.
Seeman in Chennai
A born Catholic named Sebastian Seeman, he later changed his name to Senthamilan Seeman and has remained an atheist, although respects all religions and races in the world.
Porur in Chennai, where Seeman’s office is, is a busy area with shops big and small, busy roads with mindboggling traffic. However, tracing Seeman’s office is a cakewalk as you only need to mention ‘Seeman’ and any taxi would take you there directly. The large board at the entrance stated ‘Shelter of Ravana’ also carrying the portrait of Prabhakaran, is no welcome sign if it’s in Sri Lanka. Seeman’s office looked like a public place where anyone could enter if interested in meeting him. There were several senior members and young guys who were seen engaged in work but welcomed every guest with a mellifluous smile.
The entire building had several photographs of Prabhakaran. A huge painting of Prabhakaran behind his office seat adorned his office.
“Seeman Sir is not in office,” an elderly man dressed in vetti said in Tamil. Several calls were then made to check out Seeman’s programme that afternoon. Seeman who forgot that he should be in his office to meet Ceylon Today immediately directed his personal driver to drive us in his cab to his house in Alapakkam, less than two kilometres from his office. The cab carried a flag of a tiger’s face, which is also the symbol of his Party, Naam Thamilar Katchi (NTK).
Ashtalakshmi Nagar in Alapakkam, Seeman’s house stands tall. The white, two-storey spacious house was also like a public meeting place. There was no security or a gatekeeper. The entire house was open to visitors. Seeman who rushed to the hall begged pardon profusely for forgetting the meet and claimed that his ignorance was due to his late night meeting with his party members. “What is it that you want me to talk about? How are my Tamil brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka?” smilingly asked Seeman. “What do you think of the election held on 8 January and the 17 August general election,” Ceylon Today queried. “Still Tamils are cheated,” said Seeman and “I am not surprised,” he continued.
Not hopeful about Maithri, Ranil
“I am not excited about President Sirisena or Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who was earlier also the Premier. What difference would they bring when the basic rights of self-determination is not there for the Tamils,” Seeman quipped. “Sri Lanka is also ours and Tamil Nadu is also ours. We have been split centuries ago. We have given room for invaders and being cornered eventually. We, the Tamils thought it was showing our gratitude to invaders which was the major mistake committed by our race”, Seeman stated.
Seeman who considers him as a Tamilan, despised the term South Indian Tamil and continued to talk for the Tamils of TN and of Sri Lanka as a single entity. “When I say basic rights, it’s the right to live in their own land, right to develop the territory with its own funds and having police power. If that is not going to be granted, what is great about the elections? All they want is to vie the votes of the Tamils. Not one politician said thus far, we shall share power with the Tamils. Why? No,” he queried.
Seeman also stated that Tamil National Alliance (TNA) victory is for the party only but not a victory for the Tamils and Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran’s victory for that matter have not even given him the power to execute his duties. So what good has it brought to the Tamils,” he stressed.
He also said the recently held general election vividly tells the international arena that time and again, the Tamils will not be ruled by the majority and that the Tamils would continue to vote for any Tamils, be it Wigneswaran, Sampanthan, Sumanthiran or for any other Tamil candidate.
His question is, “if the new Maithri-Ranil Government has come forward to bring about a national solution and have come forward to release the land, remove Army installations, further developed the North and East, why did not the Tamils vote for them.” He continued, “There is something beyond all these phases of development, that is, the majority have not realized that a referendum is the ultimate to take a decisive step to set the record straight on the national issue.”
The open likeness of the Tamils is continuously exposed in the elections that are because from the 1950s Tamils have been duped, he pointed out. Seeman refused to comment on the TNA but said there are mixtures of opinions that create confusion in Tamil polity. He felt that Tamils are only considering TNA as a tool to express their displeasure with the majority and the Sinhala Government. “What I anticipate is that the TNA that was created by the LTTE has to take forward the initial plans it was created for and I don’t see that anymore.”
Seeman did not want to accept that the TNA has grown to think wisely to be on the democratic path as it cannot go solo to achieve its goals for the Tamils. “Prabhakaran was a creation of the Sinhalese. He did not take arms because his hands were itching to kill someone. It’s the Sinhalese who stuffed the gun in his hands.”
Old facts are long forgotten
Seeman recollected how the US and China that struck a deal with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa also at one point spoke to Prabhakaran showing him Rs 36 trillion as a deal that they would make him the leader of the Tamil Eelam if the Trincomalee Harbour was leased to them for 30 years. “Can these countries forget what they uttered? It was then that Prabhakaran rejected saying I am fighting a cause with the Sinhalese, and it’s an internal dispute between the big brother and small brother and told them to keep away. Seeman claimed that Prabhakaran did that in the interest of India thinking it would harm India. “These are old facts which are long forgotten,” he added.
These are some of the reasons placed by Seeman that Prabhakaran was a true Tamil nationalist. Seeman saw Prabhakaran as a Tamil leader for one reason: “He wanted the world to recognize the Tamils as a proud community.”
Recollecting the meeting with Prabhakaran in the Wanni jungles for 30 days in February 2008, Seeman said he fell for Prabhakaran from the time he came to know him. “I was in love with him as a small brother, from my childhood,” he said in a lighter vein.
“Did you undergo arms training?” “Prabhakaran invited all to join the armed struggle. Like a small brother I wanted to know how the training was conducted and my big brother taught me for a few hours,” confessed Seeman. “I remained near Prabhakaran for three days and learned the basics of fighting the enemy.”
As an ordinary film director even during that time, Seeman was attracted towards Tamil history and language and dreamt walking with Tamil nationalists like Periyaar. “In the same lines I saw Prabhakaran standing there to embrace me. I like all races and religions but I am an ardent lover of my race and language.”
During his visit to Wanni, Seeman says that Prabhakaran had been keen to expose the reason behind the Tamil struggle and secondly, to tell the next generation the need to continue the struggle. According to Seeman, Prabhakaran entrusted these duties on him if he perishes in the battle. “It’s not merely an armed struggle that Prabhakaran wanted, but a struggle to educate the masses, the need of a true Tamil identity.”
I saw Prabhakaran as a man who was born after 500 years gap having a true Tamil spirit and sentiments. That is how our forefathers lived. They cared for the language, race, arts, culture and traditions. Seeman says when he chose the Tiger flag for his Party, not to mimic Prabhakran but as a symbol of King Cholan. He admitted that Tamil kings despite their heroic rules were not disciplined. Tamil kings misused power, had too many women and gambled but Prabhakaran did not even drink tea or chewed betel. His militants did not consume liquor. Prabhakaran was a highly disciplined man who did not even hurt a friend in word or deed, for fun. He created a society that had no thieves or fraudsters,” recalled Seeman.
India needs a new star
He went on to say when India is full of fan clubs for film stars, who are merely actors, why cannot he consider Prabhakaran too as a star. Despite Seeman’s struggle to take forward Prabhakaran’s dream, holding protests and delivering strong speeches against Indian and Sri Lankan politicos, Seeman’s struggle has never made any impact even in South India or in Sri Lanka.
He explained why that was so. “When Tamils don’t consider themselves as Tamils, how do you expect full attention from them?” queried Seeman. Tamil is a race which is proud to be called but at the same time a community that has a low estimate of themselves. They suffer from an inferior complex. They prefer a white skin for the dark skin. They get attracted to other languages, than their own. They get attracted to foreign names than their own names. They like foreign lands than their own.”
Talking about the last phase of the war, Seeman says Prabhakaran never spoke to anyone during the war times. “Don’t believe he spoke to so and so. He never did and that is not his way. He did not talk to me either. However, his representatives spoke to me.” Nadesan and Tamilchelvan had been in touch with Seeman.
Who spoke to you during the last days of the war? “I was contacted by Soosai and Nadesan. The reason that I was chosen to be contacted was a story.”
Seeman narrated about a boy who had come to Chennai from Jaffna to ‘learn’ film recording. His name was Anutheepan. “I did not know that he was sent as a spy to find out who I was. It was to see about my keenness on Tamil patriotism. I enrolled him like I would do for any other Tamil,” Seeman said.
Later in life when Seeman met Pottu Amman who was talking about the struggle and the methodology they follow, Seeman had asked how he could help them. “I was questioning Pottu Amman how will I know who is genuine or not genuine. Pottu Amman laughed and asked me, ‘Who is Anutheepan, the student who came to learn filming’.
I said he was a boy from Jaffna and one Logan Aiyappan from Puthucheri sent him to me. Pottu Amman then confessed that Anutheepan was a spy sent to watch over to ascertain I was genuine on the Tamil struggle. “I asked, does my brother Prabhakaran know that you spied on me.” Pottu Amman said it was Prabhakaran who told him to send Anutheepan.
Taking the struggle forward
Seeman said after Anutheepan’s recommendation that he had been invited to Wanni and Anutheepan had been in Tamil Nadu for three years to gauge whether he was genuine to be a friend of the LTTE. “Prabhakaran knew that I would die for my race and language. That is why I was called to take the struggle forward. I was taken to Wanni in 2008 February. Fighting was intense. The Sinhala Army was all over when I was there,” Seeman said. I was wondering what made Prabhakaran think that I could take forward their struggle. But today when I see the task I have undertaken I am surprised that Prabhakaran foresaw me better than I have done. Prabhakaran had told Soosai that they are leaving the struggle for me to take forward. “Tell him not to discontinue but believe in the struggle,” and Seeman says he is gripped in trouble today. “I cannot disband my duty. I will do it and I will win one fine day. The international community is watching over me. India is blocking my progress. I am facing brickbats and barricades right around me but I will do it. I did not wait till Soosai or Prabhakaran told me,” Seeman stressed.
According to Seeman, Nadesan had died when he was in the prison for 85 days arrested by then TN Chief Minister, M. Karunanidhi. “Today I am furious at Dravida Munnetra Kalagam (DMK) and I want to wipe out that Party. Karunanidhi, a Telugu by race, did not help the Tamil struggle and only blocked the struggle,” he added.
Seeman recalled that while he was in prison, Vijay Nambiar Kanimoli and many other politicos had told Pulithevan and Nadesan to surrender with white flags. However, Seeman claimed that call was to kill them. “When Puli and Nadesan had asked what to do, these politicians have suggested the same thing that was suggested by Erik Solheim and not with the intention of getting them killed,” pointed out Seeman.
However, Seeman disclosed that it was Gotabaya Rajapaksa who told the LTTE cadres to surrender with white flags. “I’m pained that everyone thereafter maintained silence. No one accused the killing of the surrendees, which is a war crime,” stated Seeman. “All politicians are opportunists and sadly I was in the prison during that time,” he lamented.
When Ceylon Today asked why take the Tamil struggle with the photos of late Prabhakaran, and isn’t that the reason he is being chased and accused by all, Seeman replied, “Who can stop me from using his photos? I felt there should be a distinct identity for the Tamils. I held Periyar’s hand in my dream and then I see another man struggling to achieve it too, so I felt like being there too. No one forced me to be by Prabhakaran. I chose him. Even if Prabhakaran had told me stop it, I will not stop this struggle, said Seeman. This struggle is a freedom for my race. My passport is impounded but I don’t care. I have more work on my Tamil soil,” he quipped.
He continued: “I am a tough man, angry man; I can make speeches to express myself and my ideologies. I have learned all defensive skills like karate from childhood. But Prabhakaran was not so. He wouldn’t hurt anyone. So I have come to this point and I am not going to relax. India played a major role defeating the Tamil struggle and we have lost faith in New Delhi. I am being branded, because I am against suppression.
“Will you be satisfied with a federal system the TNA is calling for?” Ceylon Today asked.
“Why was that not given long time ago? If you had shared power then, there wouldn’t have been one Chelvanayagam or a Prabhakaran. When will you work on a federal system? I am waiting to see that is given. If power is shared I will be happy and if you don’t then I will be protesting,” demanded Seeman.
“60 years of protests, people lost homes, lost limbs and lives and the struggle did not end. The international community should have found a solution. There is no proper land for Tamils and they are scattered in more than 130 countries but a Tamil political platform is only found in Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu has the status to have a Tamil leadership with 234 in Tamil Nadu assembly and 39 lok sabha and one in Puduchcheri (total 40). When we completely take control of this, there will be freedom for all Tamils, Seeman pointed out.
“My Party, the NTK comes into play at this point, and I want to create a solid Tamil administrated government that would lead to freedom for all Tamils,” Seeman noted.
In 2016 my focus is to begin work under the theme Tamil nationalism and apply political pressure towards that struggle.” He requested Ceylon Today to wait patiently for the next State Assembly Elections that would be held next year. “In the next 10 years, let’s see how it goes and I will have more questions for Sri Lanka,” he added.
Seeman’s love for Prabhakaran and the Tamil struggle is projected around him. A shrine room of Prabhakaran at his house at the main hall has several photographs of Prabhakaran. But the uniqueness is that there are three clay pots inside the shrine room. One pot contains the ashes of Prabhakaran’s mother, another pot contains the ashes of K. Muthukumar, a journalist who set fire to himself on in 2009 against the war and the third clay pot contains ‘Soil of Wanni’.
Seeman says he is eager to visit Sri Lanka but that is a dream only. He also recalled the boy who assisted him to come to Wanni was later killed in the Jaffna University premises. He says he is happy that some land areas were released by President Sirisena but yet considers it was based on his election manifesto. That was partly to break the Tamil votes. “I am watching the developments in Sri Lanka.”
“Isn’t there peace prevailing in Sri Lanka?” Ceylon Today asked to which Seeman cracked, “Even cemeteries are peaceful.” Seeman is already funding several students towards their education and paying salaries to teachers in the Wanni. “I am doing what I can. But what are the others doing? You made the roads but who destroyed the roads? You made houses but who destroyed the houses? You gave prosthetic limbs but who disabled them?” Seeman continued with a barrage of questions.
Sinhalese will not share power
Seeman added: “Sinhala means it is against Tamils and they will not share power. Take my word. Many perished because of the 13A, isn’t it?”
He demanded a referendum. “Quebec and the Scots settled their national issue with great dignity. Likewise, go for a referendum. Let the people of Sri Lanka decide their future and the Tamils can express their stance too. That is democracy,” said Seeman.
Seeman rejected the claim that Sri Lankans have denounced politics based on ethnic identity. When Ceylon Today highlighted that Rajapaksa was defeated for his communal stance and politicians like Ganjendran Ponnambalam, Crusaders for Democracy were not embraced even by the Tamils, Seeman stressed that this could be the last chance for the TNA to take the Tamil aspirations forward.
People have the power to throw anyone and replace with any other. That is what happened to Rajapaksa. He was ruling for too long and thus, the people rejected him. Similarly it could happen to the TNA. Even in Tamil Nadu politics it’s either ADMK or DMK. People are left with no choice. After a term, Tamils here vote for the other crook. This practice should end here too.
“I will win and that path will set straight from next year. I will be happy if I win. And if I fail, still I will continue with my struggle. There is something called fundamental political rights. Karnataka has a Kannadiga Chief Minister. Kerala has a Keralite as their Chief Minister. Only when I call for a proper Tamil rule for Tamil Nadu, I am questioned. This is the State of Tamil Nadu. My enemies are M. Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa and I am taking the task to defeat them one fine day,” he stressed.
The ashes of late Velupillai Parwathypillai, mother of slain LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, have been placed in a clay pot in the shrine room at the residence of well-known Indian film personality, Seeman in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.