Why do Tamils Burn Themselves?

Tamil Nadu has a burning problem.

This is a disturbing trend that no other Indian state has shown over 40 years.

Take a look:

* When Tamil movie superstar Rajinikanth’s marriage was on the rocks in the 1980s, an anguished fan doused himself with kerosene outside the star’s house in Chennai and burnt himself to death (Source: The Name is Rajinikanth by Gayathri Sreekanth P.289-290).

* At the height of the anti-Hindi agitation in 1965, eight people burnt themselves to death in Tamil Nadu (then known as Madras).

The New York Times (January 27, 1965) wrote about the death of 22-year-old Sivalingam in Madras in a fiery blaze on January 26, 1965. Two days later, another person did the same.

Was Sivalingam the first person in Tamil Nadu to ignite this fiery form of protest?

* When Karunanidhi was arrested by his arch rival M.G.Ramachandran in September 1981, 11 people immolated themselves. Five died soon afterwards and the rest must be suffering a living death if they are not already dead.

* In mid-1983, 15 people in Tamil Nadu are said to have immolated themselves over alleged atrocities against their Tamil cousins in neighboring Sri Lanka.

* In October 1984 when the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and one-time film star M.G.Ramachandran fell ill because of a kidney ailment, 100 people attempted self-immolation and 10 died.

According to the New York Times (October 29, 1984 P.A17), the situation became so alarming that the state’s then Finance Minister V.R.Nedunchezian had to appeal to the people not to attempt self-immolation because it would not help the ailing leader MGR.

* When MGR died in December 1987, more than 100 people are said to have killed themselves many of them presumably by burning themselves.

* Sometimes the burning in Tamil Nadu extends to other people as in the case of the Dharmapuri bus burning incident in 2000 in which three girl students were burnt in a bus by irate citizens upset over the conviction of Jayalalitha in the Kodaikanal Pleasant Stay Hotel corruption case.

Burning themselves is not the only bizarre practice followed by star-struck fans in this South Indian state.

* In 2002, a follower of political leader and yesteryear actress Jayalalitha cut his tongue and offered it at the Tirupati temple, according to the BBC.

* The following year, another Jayalalitha follower Gunasekaran from Vellore cut his finger and offered it at a temple on October 23, 2003 on the occasion of Jayalalitha’s birthday.

* In 2004, Shihan Hussaini, a painter from Chennai, painted 56 portraits of his leader Jayalalitha in his blood.

“There were times when I passed out. But I persisted,” Hussaini told the BBC. There you have it, devotion unparalleled in the modern era.

* As for walking on hot coals as a sign of loyalty or affection to political leaders or actors, oh, that’s so passe and no longer even attracts attention.

Why do such gruesome practices occur more in Tamil Nadu than in other Indian states?

Is it the low literacy level in the state?

Is it a desperate cry for mental help?

Is that the only way for the people at the lowest rungs of the social and economic hierarchy to draw attention of the top political leaders/actors to their plight?

Frankly speaking, we have no clue.

7 Responses to "Why do Tamils Burn Themselves?"

  1. sganeshkumar1989   August 29, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Not just Tamizhans,rather say entire India itself,as similar incidents happened on the occasion of Kannada Actor Rajkumar’s death too. 🙁 I believe tend to be highly sensitive and if anyone questions their loyalty,they’ll resort to extreme activities like self-immolation,spending lots of money to buy tickets/for political donations etc. to prove themselves :d

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    Were the incidents in Karnataka following the death of Annavaru (Raj Kumar) self-immolation or did the people die in the violence/police firing? We can’t remember.

    There were some incidents in North India too during the Mandal Commission riots but they were sporadic not as entrenched as in Tamil Nadu over 40 years.

  2. sganeshkumar1989   August 29, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Well,I believe people in Tamil Nadu are a bit more emotional and sensitive compared to other Indians. 😀

  3. shuaib68   August 30, 2008 at 4:58 am

    How many Tamil actors and actresses have committed suicides in many forms. Even we don’t have a clue why some people take extreme measures to protest and to solve their problems.

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    We think Sivalingam set off a fiery trend in 1965 when he set himself afire.

    You write above: Even we don’t have a clue why some people take extreme measures to protest and to solve their problems

    We wonder if anyone has researched the root causes of this form of fiery protest.

  4. dilip   August 31, 2008 at 6:21 am

    why are you generalising as why do tamils burns themselves? it is done only by some cheap party cadres in order to show their loyalty to the leader.(but fact is that they will be given a huge amount in order to do this cheap things).you wrote”Is it the low literacy level in the state?” definitely not tamilnadu is having the fourth highest literacy in india.followed by kerala ,maharashtra and gujarat. in south it is second. it is also the industrially most developed state after gujarat and maharashtra. kereal is having 90% literacy but there are no facilities for education there. even M.A graduate in kerela will sign only in malayalam they dont know english. tamilnadu is having the most no of engineering colleges in india. most of people from kerla will come to tn for higher education.

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    You write: why are you generalising as why do tamils burns themselves?

    We have not seen this pattern over 40 years in any other state in India.

  5. dilip   August 31, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    if you say”We have not seen this pattern over 40 years in any other state in India”.
    it seems that you do not know about indian politics and other indian states. when rajkumar a kannada actor died huge violence bursted and many fans burnt themseves.
    actually tamilnadu is far better than all other states like karnataka or andhrapradesh if you take in to account fans frenzy for their favourite stars and their language.when you take poltics it is far better than bihar or orissa.
    only some mad fans and some crazy cheap party cadres are involving in these kind of activities.

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    You write above: when rajkumar a kannada actor died huge violence bursted and many fans burnt themseves

    Most of the time, you write garbage.

    As far as we can tell, people died in the violent aftermath of Raj Kumar’s death NOT from self-immolation.

    Seven persons were killed in police firing and one constable was lynched in the violence that affected the city for two days after the death of Rajkumar. (Source: Excerpt from The Hindu, dt April 17, 2006)

    Take a look at the following links:







  6. dilip   September 1, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    if most of them i say are ridicluous.most of the things you say are even worst than that.it shows about your ignorance about indian cinefield,indian politics,and indian culture.most of the things like when you talk about boxoffice of any movie it is completely ridiculous which shows your ignorance.

    “i never denied tamil burning themselves”. people involved in these were just some mad fans and some mad party cadres ,not all tamils are like that.your statement shows tamil people are narrow minded and barbarians.tamil culture is one of the oldest in the world.tamils are intelligent. do not generlise all tamils like fool.
    this type of activities does not stop only with tamilnadu it is taking place throughout the country.you dont know about that. it does not mean that this type of activities are not taking place anywhere in india because you dont know that.

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    Stick to the point.

    You mentioned in your previous comment that: when rajkumar a kannada actor died huge violence bursted and many fans burnt themseves

    What is your source for that comment about fans burning themselves?

  7. joeantony   October 23, 2008 at 3:55 am

    Actually the “Thondaradi Podigal” (lowest level party / fanclub workers) try to make a drama of pouring fuel on their body, since they want to show their attachment and commitment over their leader so that in future (!?) they may get positions.. most of the times there will be a organizer for this drama (a level 2 leader) who sets the fire on these “Adi Podigal”…
    then only they realize that its no more drama and its for real.. before they realize they are burnt to ashes..

    Most of these are political murders and that’s the reality… pity on the poor and ignorant people…

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    One of the monumental Tamil tragedies.

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