Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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A Hole in the Head of Ms. Nirupama Subramanian

by Sachi Sri Kantha

Ms.Nirupama Subramanian is the current woman in the House of The Hindu publishers in Chennai who poses as a Sri Lankan specialist. In the December 2nd issue of the Hindu newspaper, her opinion piece, ‘Confessions of an ageing guerrilla’ appeared, which was her take on the LTTE leader Pirabhakaran’s Nov.27th Heroes' Day speech. The article was also reprinted in the Colombo Daily News of Dec.3rd. Simply speaking, I did not like the naughty, but silly, title.

Maybe the title of Ms.Subramanian’s opinion piece was not her ‘original,’ and was instead the handiwork of a senior editor. As such, I sent the following e-mail to the Hindu editorial desk on Dec.3rd 2005, which I am sure will not appear in print. Therefore, I place it on record via this website.

“Mr.Narasimhan Ram,
The Editor, The Hindu.

Dear Mr.Ram:

This is in reference to the opinion piece of Ms. Nirupama Subramanian, entitled, 'Confessions of an ageing guerrilla' [Dec.2nd].

While the caption carried the word 'ageing,' the text did not provide any details related to LTTE leader V.Pirabhakaran's age. He turned 51 on November 26. Do you consider this as 'ageing'? If so, the editor of the Hindu, should be anointed with the appellation 'an aged Commie peddling political junk.' An alternate appellation could be 'a senile, self-pretentious hack,' since you are even older than Mr. Pirabhakaran.

Eelam Tamils do not care about a leader's age or physical debility, as long as he has a functional brain which serves the Tamil interests. The father of the Eelam Tamil Nation, S.J.V.Chelvanayakam (1898-1977)made his entry into politics only when he reached 45, and he was first elected as an MP only at the age of 49. He became the leader of Eelam Tamils in 1956 (at the age of 58) and none of his younger contemporaries were able to usurp him from his earned rank as the leader of Eelam Tamils until his death in 1977 (at the age of 79).

When Chelvanayakam became the leader of Eelam Tamils in 1956, he suffered from the initial stages of Parkinson's disease. But, the disease did not incapacitate his thoughts, and that is why Eelam Tamils respected him. It may not be irrelevant if I refer you to my research paper on this theme entitled, 'Parkinson disease of ranking lawyer and legislator S.J.V.Chelvanayakam,' which appeared in the Ceylon Medical Journal of Dec.2003, pp.133-135. Thank you.”

Here is a self-promotional sound-bite for Subramanian's recently published book on Sri Lanka, which I culled from the internet. She contributed this description to a Harvard University alumni newsletter. She was a Nieman Journalism Fellow there in 2003.

“My book; ‘Sri Lanka: Voices from a War Zone,’ came out in May 2005, published by Penguin/Viking. It is an account of the events in that country from 1995 to 2002, the years I was there as a foreign correspondent, first for the Indian Express and, later, The Hindu. The book has been received well in India and, for one short week, it was on the New Delhi nonfiction bestseller list. I see the book primarily as the product of my Nieman year because I began writing it then, imposing at least one chapter on my fellow Niemans in Rose Moss’s class. Their feedback, plus the time the fellowship gave me and the distance it enforced from Sri Lanka, was crucial to the writing of the book.

In June 2005, I was promoted and redesignated a senior assistant editor at The Hindu. I continue on the editorial board of the newspaper, writing on national and South Asian issues.” [source: Nieman Reports, Fall 2005, p.110]

The sound-bite makes interesting reading, especially the news that Nirupama’s recent book on Sri Lanka was on the New Delhi nonfiction bestseller list for “one short week.” Too bad! The cynic in me says that, if this book had been delegated to the ‘semi-fiction’ category, it might have had a better run on the bestseller list.

As a practitioner of semi-fictional writing, Nirupama Subramanian is also one of the members belonging to the stable of Hindu House of Publishers (the other one being D.B.S.Jeyaraj, another Harvard Nieman Fellow) who bloated the number of Muslims evicted from North Eelam in 1990. She commenced an opinion piece entitled, ‘LTTE and Muslims’ with the sentence, “In October 1990, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ordered the 100,000 Muslims then living in Jaffna to leave…” [The Hindu, October 21, 2003]. Recently, I have verified and refuted this bloated number in a three-part commentary, with supporting statistics from multiple sources, including the Amnesty International.

Nirupama Subramanian is also the type of war reporter from India who would not dare to visit the battlefront without protocol and permission. Rather than breaking the imposed edicts to get the real facts, she would prefer visiting the safe houses [No, not that type of Sri Lankan army’s notorious safe houses] which cater to the Indian interests in Colombo, such as the Indian High Commission office, the familiar jaunts of foreign reporters, such as the government-owned newspaper offices, and even the Sri Lankan President’s mansion. In the 1990s, she became a ‘Special Correspondent’ for sending her reports from Colombo, mixing facts with spin and a little bit of fiction.

Here is an example of Ms.Subramanian’s humbug, written in December 2000, just after the LTTE made a ceasefire announcement on December 21st.

“WITHIN hours of the truce announcement, however, the government made it clear that it would not march to the LTTE's music. At dawn on December 22, government troops launched an assault aimed at wresting control of a strategic road that connects Jaffna town to Chavakachcheri. The battle was fierce and the casualties were high. The Army lost 25 soldiers, including an officer. The LTTE is said to have lost over 50 fighters. The military said the operation was successful, with the troops taking control of 3 4 sq km of territory and all but 2 km of the highway.

Technically, there were still two more days to go for the ceasefire to take effect. So, even if the government intended to respond positively, it was within its rights to launch the operation when it did. In the event, the operation, the seventh in the series of military offensives since September, code-named Kiniheera, the Sinhala word for anvil, set the tone for the government's response, which came on December 23. [News commentary: ‘War Over Truce’, Frontline magazine, Chennai, Jan.06-19, 2001]

Gullibles may have guessed that Ms.Subramanian was reporting from the scene of action. I am not so gullible. So, I was not even mildly surprised when I read Ms.Subramanian’s own confession – two months later, in a commentary authored by Shiraz Sidhva for the UNESCO Courier (March 2001 issue). To quote,

“Since 1995, hardly any journalists in Sri Lanka have had access to the area where the government is fighting a deadly battle with the separatist guerrilla group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. ‘We don’t get anywhere close to the conflict’ says Nirupama Subramanian, special correspondent of The Hindu in Colombo. Instead, both sides transmit their version of the news via contradictory press releases. ‘It is a fax war we are covering’, Subramanian says. ‘There is no way of knowing the truth.’ The proliferation of real-time news has made political control even tighter. Journalists often find they have little training for the choices they are forced to make in tense situations…”

Sure indeed. Nirupama Subramanian’s confession on how she covered the Sri Lankan-LTTE war is not shocking. The tools she carried for her assigned job in Sri Lanka were defective. And this was evident from her open confession, made in 2001. She did not have the grit to find out the real facts in Eelam’s battlefronts. By her own admission, she covered only the ‘fax war.’ Then, like the proverbial bad worker blaming her tools, she lamented that ‘There is no way of knowing the truth.’ If she had bothered to travel on her own to the battlefronts of Eelam, she could have scooped quite a number of stories. But, she neither had the will nor the training for such perilous tasks. Thus, she did what came easily to the breed of her cluster. She let her imagination run, and her imaginative brain is still working overtime to churn out blatantly biassed commentaries against the LTTE.