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.