Thileepan with LTTE leaderAt this point of time, Martyr Thileepan, with the approval of Pirabaharan decided to undertake a fast unto death to expose the treacherous role India was playing as the supposed “Saviour” of the Tamil people. This was also meant to be the next phase of the liberation struggle.
On September 15, 1987 Thileepan (Rasaiah Paarthipan) who was the LTTE's political wing leader for the Jaffna district commenced his fast over the following demands from the Indian government. (The Indian army was in de facto control of the peninsula during this time)
1.All Tamils detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act should be released.
2.The colonisation of traditional Tamil areas by Sinhalese under the guise of rehabilitation should be stopped forthwith.
3.All such rehabilitation should be stopped until an interim government is formed.
4.The Sri Lankan government should stop opening new Police stations and camps in the Northeastern province.
5.The Sri Lankan army and Police should withdraw from schools in Tamil villages and the weapons given by the Sri Lankan government to 'homeguards' should be withdrawn under the supervision of the Indian army.
Citizen Committees, trade unions, students unions, teachers associations, religious leaders, all held meetings and discussed the issues relating to Thileepan's fast. They passed resolutions and submitted memorandums to the overall commander of the IPKF, Lt. General Depinder Singh requesting the Indian authorities to intervene and stop the fast and initiate immediate efforts to set up the interim administration in the Northeast.
But nothing moved fast enough to stop Thileepan’s martyrdom. The Indian government turned a blind eye. It did not realize the gravity of the situation or the dire consequences that are bound to flow following Thileepan's death. Thileepan attained martyrdom on the 26th of September 1987. There was widespread grief in the Northeast There can be little doubt that Thileepan's martyrdom had a profound effect on every Tamil soul in Sri Lanka. Thousands of people from the North and East poured into Yaazhpaanam as the news of his death spread like wild-fire.
Judged by past events, everyone expected a violent reaction in the Northeast following Thileepan's martydom, but to everybody's surprise the funeral turned into a peaceful day of mourning. LTTE members moved in decisively to curb any kind of violence. They moved all state owned buses into depots and guarded them. They also provided cover to government institutions after some attempts were made to set fire to them. The Tamil daily Eelamurasu as well as the TV Nitharsanam carried the LTTE leader, Piabakaran's appeal to the people not to destroy or damage public property, as this was the property of people of Tamil Eelam.
Black flags were seen everywhere - along roads, top of houses, churches, temples, trees and public buildings. Thousands of wailing and sobbing men, women and children followed Thileepan's last journey. His body was covered with the red flag of the Tigers. Thileepan's body was taken on a decorated car through villages for the people to pay their homage and last respects. It was finally taken to Suthumalai where it was kept for public viewing. Thileepan’s body partswere donated to the medical faculty of Jaffna University according to his last wish.
Thileepan's martyrdom brought sadness and sorrow and also fear among many people. Most of them had genuinely believed that India would intervene at the last minute on humanitarian grounds and stop the impending disaster. They began to have doubts about India's conduct. They began to say 'this could have been avoided' and 'India should have moved fast' and 'India should not have let this happen' and so on. In short the people felt it was a great betrayal by ‘mother’ India. Tamil dailies began to carry articles criticising the handling of the whole issue by the Indian authorities.
In a statement released by LTTE leader Pirabaharan on the occasion of Thileepan’s martyrdom, he said, inter alia,
“The entire Tamil speaking people in the North and East should rally round the LTTE in this non-violent struggle. We can achieve our goal of Tamil Eelam only by the united and concerted effort of the entire Tamil masses. This is the only way we can show our gratitude to Thileepan for his un-comparable sacrifice and martyrdom in pursuit of our cause.”