In Family Man 2, three aspects that remind us of Tamil rebels – The Indian Express

Posted By on June 9, 2021

The second season of Amazon Primes Family Man, released earlier this month, has touched a raw nerve in Tamil Nadu with the state government asking for the web series to be pulled down. They claim the show portrays Tamil separatists as terrorists, a characterisation that undermines the cultural sensitivities of an already maligned and persecuted group. Critics have pointed out the similarities between the shows depiction of Tamil separatists and the real-life actions of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

While never overtly mentioning the LTTE or any Tamil separatist leaders, the show makes several references to people and institutions that were part of the Tamil Eelam movement. Two of the shows characters are seemingly based on actual people separatist chief Bhaskaran, modelled on Velupillai Prabhakaran, the founder of the LTTE and fictional Sri Lankan Prime Minister who looks and dresses like Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President of Sri Lanka from 2005 to 2015. Parallels between fiction and reality exist prominently throughout the show with three real-life factors showcased that might be unknown and of particular interest to viewers. These are, the presence of a Tamil Government in Exile, the existence of an aerial wing of the separatist group and the use of women in carrying out suicide attacks.

The Transnational Government of Tamil Elam (TGTE) is a Tamil government in exile formed amongst the Sri Lankan Tamil diasporas. It was created after the defeat of the LTTE in 2009 and aims to establish a separate Tamil Elam state in the north and east provinces of Sri Lanka. The TGTE has been called a ploy to perpetuate terrorism by the government of Sri Lanka, but the group itself insists that its motives and actions are based on the principles of peace, non-violence, tolerance, transparency and accountability. As a transnational government, the TGTE has no host state, and its 135 members are democratically elected from among the Sri Lankan diaspora in America, New Zealand, Canada, Norway, Germany, Italy, France and Switzerland. Its Prime Minister is Viswanathan Rudrakumaran, a former international legal advisor to the LTTE based out of New York. While speaking of the groups objectives in a media statement published through Presswire earlier this year, Rudrakumaran said a strategy to bring together the Eelam Tamil Homeland, the Diaspora Tamils, the people of Tamilnadu (sic) and the world Tamils should be evolved and a common program and an (sic) united front to implement the same should be brought into existence.

Along those lines, the TGTE has engaged in a number of activities to hold the Sri Lankan government responsible for alleged war crimes during the Tamil Eelam conflict and has pushed for the creation of an independent Tamil State carved out of Tamil majority regions in Sri Lanka. The TGTE has encouraged people to use judicial forums available in the countries that they live in to sue the Sri Lankan state for damages and has called for a referral of Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court. It also unsuccessfully petitioned the British Courts to remove the LTTE from its national list of terrorist organisations and, again unsuccessfully, asked Canadian politicians to declare that Sri Lankas actions against Tamils in 2009 constituted an act of genocide.

The TGTE was considered to be a threat to the Sri Lankan state, much like its counterpart, the Tibetan Government in Exile is to China. However, the latter benefits from several structural advantages that makes it considerably more effective than the former. The Tibetan Government in Exile has a universally popular leader in the Dalai Lama, a steady base of operations in Dharamsala and receives support from countries like the US and India. The TGTE on the other hand is more fractured and has not been recognised as the representative body for Sri Lankan Tamils by any single nation. Furthermore, while the Tamil diaspora was a vital source of fundraising for the LTTE between 1976 and 2009, the groups actions towards the end of the Tamil Eelam war alienated many supporters and since then, no comparably effective fundraising mechanism exists within the community for the TGTE.

Compounding the problem, a report published by the International Crisis Group in 2010 states that, most Tamils abroad remain profoundly committed to Tamil Eelam while most in the country are exhausted by decades of war. This has consequently widened the gap between the diaspora and Tamils in Sri Lanka with the former dismissing Tamil politicians on the island for being traitors or too scared to stand up for their peoples rights. Even within the TGTE there are many competing factions, with different ideologies and approaches to Tamil independence. For example, Canadian representatives to the TGTE have indicated a willingness to accept a federal arrangement in which Tamil Eelam will remain a part of Sri Lanka but would operate as a self-governing region.

These fissures within the TGTE are represented in Family Man, with the official government in exile appealing for recognition from European nations, while a breakaway faction plots to assassinate the fictional Indian Prime Minister.

For the most part, in Family Man, the Tamil separatists are portrayed as a formidable military force. This mirrors the military capacity of the LTTE which was, and remains till date, the only terrorist organisation to possess a functioning air force. Called the Air Tigers, the LTTE air force was part of the groups military wing which also included a ground and naval force amongst other divisions. The existence of the Air Tigers had been a subject of speculation for many years but was officially revealed only after it launched an attack against a Sri Lankan air force base in 2007. During the attack, three government personnel were killed and 16 injured but more than the damage inflicted, the attack significantly affected public perception.

While the Air Tigers did pose a reasonable threat, after the defeat of the LTTE in 2009, it was revealed that the unit was mostly smoke and mirrors. Their fleet consisted of a few ramshackle single-engine propeller planes that were more effective in psychological warfare than actual combat. The planes had been shipped in parts into Sri Lanka over the course of many months, mostly concealed within the foreign aid that was sent to the LTTE held territories after the 2005 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

While never causing any significant damage, the Air Tigers did succeed in their mission of keeping the Sri Lankan government on their toes. In one particularly high-profile attack in 2009, the Air Tigers attempted to launch a suicide mission against military bases in Columbo using two weaponised light aircrafts. Both aircrafts were eventually shot down and only two people were killed in the crash.

But as a result of the attack, the Sri Lankan government was forced to cut the power supply to their capital Colombo. The Sri Lankan government underplayed the attack, however, portraying it as a desperate attempt by the LTTE to recover ground in a war that they were on the verge of losing.

Another aspect of the show that touches upon the actual conflict is its depiction of women in the separatist movement. Raji, played by Samantha Ruth Prabhu, is a woman who was brutalised by the Sri Lankan military and subsequently offers herself up as suicide bomber for the separatist cause.

Women actually played a significant role within the LTTE, at one point making up a third of the groups members. The LTTE also had a specific division called the Womans Front that consisted entirely of women. One of the aims of the Womens Front was to abolish the dowry system and to eliminate all discrimination, a tenet of the movement that appealed to Tamil women and their desire for a more equal society.

The LTTE propaganda targeting women with slogans such as women you light the flames of liberation were also displayed prominently in Tamil Eelam controlled territories. Women were further driven towards the LTTE because of their abuse by the Sri Lankan military, a theme that was represented in the show through the experiences of Raji.

The first female martyr from the LTTE was Sahayaseeli Pedhuruppillai, known commonly as Malathi. Following her death in combat, the LTTE commemorated the event by referring to the day as Womens Awakening Day and using her as a symbol for female empowerment within the LTTE. Another prominent woman within the movement was Thenmozhi Rajaratnam, who infamously assassinated Rajiv Gandhi in a suicide attack in 1991. The use of women and children in suicide attacks became a fundamental part of the LTTE strategy and one that the Sri Lankan government never anticipated. Between 1980 and 2000, the LTTEs Back Tigers, a special operations wing carried out 168 suicide attacks, more than any other organisation in the world. Despite these evolving conditions for women during the conflict, after the war ended, many returned to traditional domestic roles of bearing children and tending to the household.

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In Family Man 2, three aspects that remind us of Tamil rebels - The Indian Express

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