One Hundred Tamils
of the 20th Century
3 November 1932 - 19 April 1988
"Today, we cherish the memory of a great martyr and salute her supreme sacrifice. Mother Poopathi has earned our highest esteem as one of
the noble martyrs who have become legends in the history of our liberation struggle.
As a woman, as a mother, as the maternal head of the family, Poopathi amma transcended her
ordinary life and the bonds of existential attachment in sacrificing her life for the
emancipation of her nation. .."
on Second Anniversary of Annai Poopathy's death, April 1990
Rajiv Gandhi's War Crimes]
Annai Poopathy's Fast for Freedom - Adele Ann Balasingham
The history of the Tamil struggle for
national self-determination is a history of
extraordinary examples of courage, determination and sacrifice.
the senior LTTE cadre who fasted to death in 1987 demanding the fulfilment of promises
made by the Indian government to the LTTE leadership, superseded such historical figures
as Mahatma Gandhi and IRA activist Bobby Sands, in the use of fasting as a political
weapon. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Bobby Sands went without food during their fast, whereas
Thileepan refused both food and fluids.
Into the history of great feats of courage and determination must go the struggle waged
by a 56 year old mother of ten children and grandmother, Mrs Kanapathipillai Poopathy.
Mother Poopathy, as this extraordinary woman has come to be affectionately known, went
without food and fluids for thirty days before her death on 19th April 1988.
When Annamuthu and his wife Periyapillai from the ancient Tamil village of Kiran in
Batticaloa looked down affectionately on their baby daughter Poopathy on 3rd November 1932
it would never have entered their minds that this child would grow up to become a
legendary political figure, the first woman in political history to fast to death for a
cause; they did not know their daughter would be venerated by millions of people.
There is nothing extraordinary in Poopathy's childhood. Her biography reflects this
history of her times. She was one girl among three, with two brothers. The best interests
for a girl the family held was to fulfil the ideal type of life that prevailed at that
time. Thus Poopathy, with basic literacy skills, was withdrawn from school and married at
the age of twelve. Two sons were born from this union.
At a very young age Poopathy soon developed the emotions of a matured woman. Married at
twelve years of age, twice a mother and widowed all within a short span of life. But
Poopathy married again to Mr Kanapathipillai, a widower with two sons and a daughter. Her
family then expanded. Two more sons and two daughters resulted from this marriage and
Poopathy became a mother of ten children.
Poopathy struggled to raise a family in the face of shrinking opportunities for Tamil
and Muslim children and mounting Sinhala State oppression.
The young men of Poopathy's children's generation were targets of the military
operations by the Sri Lankan armed forces. Indiscriminate killings, 'disappearances' and
torture confronted the generation of her children. Eventually the horror and pain of
military operations came to her doorstep.
Poopathy's 28 year old son was shot dead by the Sri Lankan army. She tried to remove
her family from the area of military operations by shifting to Navatkerni near Batticaloa.
Again however, her eldest son by the second marriage was randomly shot dead by the Special
Another son, arrested during round up operations, was held in Boosa army camp and
subjected to severe torture. Poopathy's response to the death and pain of her children was
grief and sadness. But grief and sadness, rather than weighing her down in perpetual
morbidity, turned to rage and selflessness.
Poopathy amma transformed depressing, individual emotions into positive social action.
Poopathy knew that her experiences were the experiences of countless numbers of women. She
came into contact with the Mother's Front in Navatkerni and through this organisation was
able to support, help and inspire other women who were going through the same traumas as
she herself had been.
Poopathy amma as a member of the Mother's Front, became a vociferous critique of the
military operations and widespread violation of human rights by the Sri Lankan armed
forces. Undeterred by the armed forces potential for killing and maiming, Poopathy
protested against the military atrocities of the Sri Lankan troops. She often went to the
army camp to enquire about the disappearance of husbands and sons.
The height of Poopathy amma's political campaign against the oppression of the Tamil
and Muslim people and the violation of human rights came during the occupation of the
north and east by the Indian army. The outbreak of war between the Indian army and the
LTTE and the subsequent death and atrocities perpetrated against innocent Tamil and Muslim
people horrified Poopathy amma.
Poopathy amma, with grave risk to herself from a ruthless army of occupation, was
determined to lodge her protest against the war and the consequent death and mayhem caused
by the Indian army. When political activity was banned by the Indian army, Poopathy boldly
ignored the orders and organised demonstrations and protests against the atrocities
perpetrated by them.
Ultimately the Women's Front decided that it would use the weapon of fasting to express
its disapproval of the war against the people. Two Tamil women, Mrs Annammah David and Mrs
Nesammah Vadivel commenced a fast unto death. The occupying Indian army severely
embarrassed by the determination of Tamil women to demonstrate their dislike of the
presence of the troops broke up the hunger strike.
Poopathy amma, however, outraged by this impingement on political freedoms and
determined to protest to the world the injustice of the war, resolved to carry on the
hunger strike to achieve her political goals.
On 19th March 1988 Poopathy amma took up residence at Mahmangam Pillayar temple and
commenced her fast. She put forward two demands: (1)An immediate unconditional ceasefire
between the LTTE and the IPKF. (2)Unconditional talks between the LTTE and the Indian