When Pirabaharan Triumphs
22 October 1998
A friend in the
mailing list wrote: "When Pirabaharan triumphs, don't you think, unless we boldly
address the underlying root causes of Tamil factionalism, we will have other wars between
Tamils to deal with in Eelam?"
- and added: "This question, IMHO, btw, is *not* germane to
the merits or demerits of Pirabaharan's cause - that is a separate issue (at a different
- and also: "Thiru Satyendra: you'll notice that I've
reverted back to "Thiru" with you. Reason: I believe that Tamil netiquette
has to reflect Thamil panpaadu. ..."
The matters you raise are important (and complex) and there are several
layers to them. I will try to respond as best as I can.
Form & Content
When Pirabaharan triumphs...
Tamils are no more divisive
than any other people...
A resistance movement
will spawn its share of quislings...
Sinhala government's need to
justice of the 'action' to be publicly known and accepted...
will not come from fine words and reasoned analysis alone...
Unity will come about when each one of us
engages in action directed to secure the shared aspiration of the people of
Tamil Eelam for freedom
Form & Content
Eight years ago, I was scheduled to speak at Conway Hall in London. Sathasivam Krishnakumar (Kittu) was also a speaker at that
meeting. Before the start of the meeting, I took Kittu to a side and asked him how I
should refer to him - Mr. Krishnakumar, Thalapathy Kittu, or simply Kittu. He smiled. After
a pause, he replied: "Why not say, Thamby Kittu" And that is what I did.
Kittu was a simple man and his simplicity sprang from an exceptional clarity of thought.
It seems to me that the way we address each other is significant only to the extent that
the form of our address reflects the content of our relationship. As always, when form and
content go together, there is power in the integrity that is achieved.
I am reminded of another occasion, some years ago, in Melbourne in Australia. Some of my
relations were visiting us. The parents brought their daughter and son with them and the
conversation turned to their education. The children were around 6 and 9 years old. The
daughter was the older of the two. The father remarked that the children were enjoying
their work at school but they had one problem.
I asked what it was and he replied: "You know, at home my son calls her sister
'akka' but when he calls her in this way at school, the sister does not like it, because
the other children laugh and ask, 'why does he call you akka, akka - don't you have
The peer group pressure and that too based on the 'equality' of calling each other by
their first names was difficult for the child to handle. The children felt that the
traditional form of address was 'old fashioned' and not 'modern'. It was easy for the
children to merge the 'generation gap' with the 'cultural gap' and conclude that their
parents were 'old fashioned' and what the parents said did not have relevance to the
'modern world'. 'Thamil panpaadu' did not quite work. The forces of 'democracy' and
'equality' (as perceived) were hard to resist.
I turned to the children and asked whether they knew why it was that in our tradition a
younger brother calls his elder sister, akka - and a younger sister calls her elder
brother, annai? I said that I myself had sometimes wondered about this. Back home, we did
many things according to our traditions, without feeling the need to reflect upon the 'why
and wherefore'. But when we live in a different land and we are confronted with a
different culture, we are compelled to reflect on our 'panpaadu' and ask: 'what is it all about?'
I said that it seemed to me that when a younger brother called his elder sister 'akka'
(with or without her name added), he was making explicit a family 'togetherness' and a
family relationship. Involved in the form of address was not only affection but also an
element of respect. And respect does not exist alone. It is linked to a reciprocal
responsibility - a knowledge that 'akka' will regard it as her responsibility to help in
times of need. So too 'annai'. Today when family 'togetherness' has been weakened in the
so called 'modern' world, 'Thamil panpaadu' may have something to contribute. It was not
my intention to suggest easy, facile answers but to suggest that there may be a need to
reflect more deeply on that which may be valuable in our heritage.
About two years ago, I believe that there was some discussion in the Tamil.net about
the appropriate Tamil word for 'internet'. The consensus was that 'innaiyam' was better
than 'valai' because innaiyam somehow furthered the sense of community - the idea of
'togetherness'. I believe that Kittu would have agreed, because the growing togetherness
of the Tamil people was something which was very much a part of his life work.
When Pirabaharan triumphs...
And, so to Velupillai Pirabaharan (who had won the unswerving loyalty of persons such
as Kittu) and the question that you have asked.
To my mind, it is not so much a matter of when Velupillai Pirabaharan triumphs, but when
the people of Tamil Eelam triumph in their struggle for freedom. Tamil nationalism is not
something created by Velupillai Pirabaharan - rather Velupillai Pirabaharan is a creation
and an expression of Tamil nationalism.
It is not necessary to agree with everything that Velupillai Pirabaharan has said and done
to recognise that Velupillai Pirabaharan has earned the trust and
respect of large sections of the people of Tamil Eelam. Trust, because of his deep seated
commitment to the cause of Tamil Eelam; and, respect,
because of the political and military skills that he has displayed in furthering the Tamil
struggle for an independent Tamil Eelam - an independent Tamil Eelam that will, of course,
need to structure the basis of its association with both Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu.
Tamils are no
more divisive than any other people...
Here, I believe that the differences that exist amongst the Tamil people should be
placed in perspective - and in context.
There are some amongst us, who mourn about the divisive nature of the Tamil people. They
moan that each one of us is too much of an individualist - too full of himself. And they
usually end up by saying with self pity that 'this is the trouble with us Tamils'.
It seems to me that to moan in this way, is sometimes (though not always) a convenient way
of avoiding the difficulty of addressing the issue and doing something about it. After
all, if 'Tamils are like that', then, there is little that anybody can do about it. Again,
in a sense, it may also be racist - because to moan in this way is to ascribe
'divisiveness' as a racial characteristic of the Tamil people.
I, for one, believe that the Tamil people are no more divisive than those who belong to
any other nation. Divisions have existed at various stages in all struggles and Lenin's
words in 1902, some 15 years before the overthrow of the Czar, reflected the divisions
that existed in that particular struggle:
"All without exception now talk of the importance of unity, of the necessity for
gathering and organising but in the majority of cases what is lacking is a definite idea
of where to begin and how to bring about this unity."
As I have said, often, a national liberation struggle is no afternoon tea party. It is
the pain and suffering of a people that cements their togetherness. Distress binds them
together and reinforces their determination to resist alien rule. It is participation and
involvement in that resistance, and in shared goals, that forges unity. And, ofcourse,
everyone will not need to do the same thing.
resistance movement will spawn its share of quislings...
Again, that is not to say that a resistance movement will not spawn its share of quislings and collaborators. During the Second
World war, in France, Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands there were the French, the
Danish, the Norwegians and the Dutch who collaborated with the German ruler and who even
informed on the Free French and other resistance movements. They justified their
collaboration as being the "sensible thing" to do - not simply for themselves
but for their "people" as well. But, in the end, their people rejected them -
and alien German rule.
Today, in Eelam, we have some Tamils who collaborate with the alien Sinhala ruler. Some
may do so because they genuinely believe that that is the "sensible" thing to
do. Others may collaborate because of the personal benefits that such collaboration brings
to them and their families.
Still others may see a political role for themselves, even if that means undermining the
resistance movement - and the alien Sinhala ruler is not slow to encourage such Tamils,
knowing that after the annihilation of the resistance movement, these
"political" Tamils will have no "political" role to play, except,
perhaps, to continue to serve the alien Sinhala ruler with even greater diligence and
government's need to recruit informers...
There is also another aspect. The strength of a guerrilla movement lies in its capacity
to strike without warning against a relatively static, though better equipped enemy.
Mobility and surprise are the key elements of its success. It is therefore, generally true
that securing intelligence is, perhaps, the most important part of any campaign against
a guerrilla movement - and this may become increasingly difficult for an alien ruler, as
the liberation movement begins to enjoy increasing support among its own people.
To secure intelligence, the Sinhala government needs to recruit informers who are (or
were) in touch with the activities of the guerrilla movement. The Sinhala government may
make careful efforts to infiltrate a guerrilla movement, by using individual grievances
that a person may have, family connections and so on. And where the situation demands it,
this will be backed up by cash inducements. Mark Lloyd, in a recent book 'Special Forces -
The Changing Face of Warfare' comments:
"(This infiltration) is best achieved by targeting a participant whose heart is
not in it or who is suffering from obvious family pressures. Initial meetings with the
target may only be conducted by highly trained operators, and for obvious reasons must
take place in the utmost secrecy. The 'need to know' principle, whereby only those within
the intelligence network who actively require details of the agent are given them, must be
imposed rigidly.."(Mark Lloyd: Special Forces-The Changing Face of Warfare -Arms
and Armour Press, London, 1995)
LTTE 'actions' and
In recent years, the LTTE has, from time to time, taken action against those who have
been proved to be informers and collaborators. The responses of the LTTE to the activities
of some Tamil elements who are co-operating with the Sinhala government, suggest that it
is mindful, on the one hand, of the dangers posed by informers, and on the other hand, of
the difficulties of responding to such dangers, within the framework of a guerrilla
movement without a stable judicial system.
But, that is not to say that the LTTE has always succeeded in its efforts to address these
issues. For one thing, the LTTE has in some instances, not claimed responsibility even
where the circumstances point to its involvement. 'Deniability',
is, of course, a technique used by governments as well.
"According to the purest tenets of international law, it is an act of war for one
country unilaterally to order its armed troops across the borders of another. Given the
large number of clear instances in which one nation has felt the need to meddle in the
affairs of another, short of actual declaration of hostilities, governments have become
adept at fighting wars by proxy. In times of notional peace, United States deniable
operations are planned and executed solely by the CIA..." (Mark Lloyd: Special
Forces-The Changing Face of Warfare -Arms and Armour Press, London, 1995)
However, 'deniability' is effective only to the extent that the denial is credible. The LTTE's
failure to claim responsibility for certain
'actions' (as for instance, the assassination of TULF leader, Amirthalingam), led
expatriate Tamil supporters of the struggle for Tamil Eelam to take contradictory stands.
Some denied LTTE involvement in the assassination. Others, whilst asserting that they did
not know who was responsible, set out the reasons why such assassination may be justified,
citing the quisling (traitor) role played by Amirthalingam.
Both the denial and the assertions of ignorance were then seized upon by opponents of the
struggle to show that LTTE supporters were only too ready to prevaricate to further 'the
cause'. The result was that the credibility of these expatriate Tamil supporters, was
called into question in other matters as well.
Again, without a knowledge of the detailed circumstances surrounding the action, the
warnings that may have been given, Amirthalingam's own responses (and what he was
specifically alleged to have done) and so on, it may be impossible for an impartial
observer to conclude that the action was 'justified' or that it was 'proportionate' to the
'offences' committed by Amirthalingam.
Recently, responsibility for some 'actions' have been claimed by a shadowy 'Sankiliyan'
force which is widely believed to be a 'proxy' for the LTTE - and used by the LTTE to
One may well ask: why it is that the LTTE has not claimed responsibility for such
actions? It seems that the answer is that it may believe that such actions, though
necessary and justified, may lay itself, and more particularly, its supporters living in
areas outside its control, open to the charge of violating the law.
When may a so called 'civilian' be regarded (and treated) as a 'combatant' in an armed
conflict? What actions, if any, may a guerrilla movement lawfully take against proven
informers or colloborators? The questions do not admit to an easy answer.
Again, as wars have become more and more 'total', it has become increasingly difficult
to separate the contributions of 'civilians', the 'para military', and the 'military' to
the war effort and the distinction between combatants and non combatants has been
observed, more often than not, in the breach.
The German blitz on London and the night time Allied bombings of Bremen during the Second
World War exposed some of the hypocrisy behind the stated concerns about 'the protection
afforded to 'civilians'. And, as Hiroshima and Nagasaki showed, it is military necessity
that in the end, prevails over humanitarian law. The justice of the ends seems to
influence the nature of the means.
An armed resistance movement takes shape in the womb of oppression. Its seeds are to be found in the eternal
quest for equality and freedom. But, though born of
natural parents it is at birth illegitimate - because it breaches the existing legal
frame, and seeks to supplant it. And that simple fact has much to do with its subsequent
development and growth.
An armed resistance movement acquires legitimacy and becomes 'lawful'
through its growth and success - not simply because the ends it seeks to achieve
are just. 'Deniability' may enable it to engage in
actions that are considered necessary to secure its continued growth and success - and in
this way, secure eventual recognition, legitimacy and legality. The metamorphosis from 'unlawful' to 'lawful' is gradual (and
many layered) and is related not only to the
justice of its ends and the legality of
the means it employs but also to the extent to which a guerrilla movement is
able to secure and maintain permanent
control of territory. It is not a case of 'one or the other' but a case
of all three.
But, even if this be the rationale behind the LTTE's failure to claim responsibility in
respect of certain 'actions', a further question arises.
for justice of the 'action' to be publicly known and accepted...
Any action that the LTTE may take against the Sinhala armed forces in combat will be
acknowledged as justified without need for further elucidation - and will strengthen the
solidarity of the Tamil people.
But, any action that the LTTE may take against a Tamil (even though he may be a traitor)
may set one Tamil (and his or her family) against other Tamils, and will divide and erode
the solidarity of the Tamil people, unless the justice of the action and the reasons for
the action are publicly known and accepted.
It was Mao Tse Tung who pointed out that a resistance movement cannot address an internal
contradiction within its own people in the same way as the external contradiction between
its people and their alien ruler.
In the absence of an established judicial system, a resistance movement will need to take
care to ensure that any action that it takes against a 'traitor' does in fact accord with
the principles of natural justice - however difficult that such an approach may sometimes
appear to be for those on the ground, engaged as they are in a daily battle for survival
against an alien Sinhala ruler with a great reservoir of material resources.
The principles of natural justice demand that no one shall be punished without being
heard, that those who judge shall be impartial and not moved by personal considerations.
Again, justice must not only be done but must also be (publicly) seen to done. And the
punishment meted out should be proportionate to the offence.
These are not matters simply of procedural law or social contract. They are deep rooted
and seem to touch our innate (natural) sense of justice - and humanity.
The Tamil people are a people not without common-sense and they will have no sympathy with
those who are proven traitors and who have, by their actions, placed the lives of those
who are struggling for freedom at risk. At the same time, they will distance themselves
from a movement which offends against their innate sense of justice and humanity.
In the end, a guerrilla movement derives its strength from the people whose cause it
represents - and it will need to place its trust on the wisdom of that people. Indeed, if
it is to succeed, it has no other option. If it seeks blind support, it may end up only
with blind supporters.
Unless the actions taken by the guerrilla movement are seen to be patently just, public
support for the guerrilla movement may erode and the 'desire of waverers' to cross over to
the enemy may increase. And the enemy will spare no effort to promote this movement - and
in this way nurture 'factions'.
In this sense, today's so called 'factionalism' has everything to
do with the ends that the Tamil people seek to achieve and the means that they employ to
secure those ends. The question of unity cannot be separated from the 'merit or demerits'
of the struggle of the people of Tamil Eelam to be free from alien Sinhala rule nor from
the 'merits or demerits' of the means adopted by that struggle. And, as always, means and
ends are inseparable.
unity will not come from fine words and reasoned analysis alone...
But, of course, unity will not come from fine words and reasoned analysis alone. It is
not that analysis is not necessary. It is necessary. But it is not sufficient. Swami Vivekananda's words come to mind:
"I believe in patriotism, and I also have my own ideal of patriotism.... First,
feel from the heart. What is in the intellect or reason? It goes a few steps and there it
stops. But through the heart comes inspiration. (Second) You may feel, then; but instead
of spending your energies on frothy talk, have you found any way out, any practical
solution, some help instead of condemnation...? (And Third) Yet, that is not all. Have you
got the will to surmount a mountain high obstructions".
I remember a conversation that I had with Sathasivam Krishnakumar (Kittu) in Geneva
some years ago. After a couple of days of talks, and after he had cooked a meal for me, he
looked at me directly and said: "Annai, may I ask you something straight?".
I laughed because I recognised that when any one puts it in that way, the question may
often go to the core - and the answer is not always easy. I replied: "Yes, go
ahead" partly because I had considerable regard for Kittu's own integrity. Kittu
"Annai, during the past two days, we have discussed many matters and there is much
that I have gained from the interaction. But can you tell me why it is that during the
1960s, you did not involve yourself in the Tamil struggle, at least in the ahimsa
I could have answered that question in many different ways. However, I felt that I owed
Kittu a direct and honest answer. I replied:
"The fact is that having been born in a middle class family, and aspiring to make
a 'success' of my life in the context of the Sri Lanka state, and also achieving a measure
of what was generally regarded as 'success', I felt that all Eelam Tamils could do the
same - and that there was no dividing line which could not be crossed with effort and
For myself, the events surrounding the burning of
the Jaffna Public Library in 1981 and the later Thangathurai
& Kuttimuni trial in 1982 were the turning points, which compelled me to take
stock - and see the dividing line more clearly. They were my Konstradt.
To others, it may have been something earlier - the
Sinhala Only Act of 1956, the riots of 1958,
or the Satyagraha of 1961 or the Standardisation of 1972 or the pogrom of 1977. To yet others, it may have been
something later - Genocide83 or today's continuing genocide - the extra judicial killings, the systematic torture of Tamil civilians and, above all,
the open (and oftentimes virulent) belligerence of Sinhala
Buddhist fundamentalism. Every inside has an outside and the relationship is intrinsic
In the end, it is around our actions that unity will grow. It is not so much what 'others'
are doing in relation to the struggle, but what each one of us is doing in relation to the
Unity will come about when each one of us
engages in action directed to secure the shared aspiration of the people of
Tamil Eelam for freedom
I believe that Golda Meir's remarks in 1948 to the Council of Jewish Federations in
Chicago, about the Jews in Palestine have a general significance:
"I do not doubt that there are many young people among the Jewish community in the
United States who would do exactly what our young people are doing in Palestine. We are
not a better breed; we are not the best Jews of the Jewish people. It so happened that we
are there and you are here. I am certain that if you were in Palestine and we were in the
United States, you would be doing what we are doing there, and you would ask us here to do
what you will have to do."
The Tamils in Eelam are not a 'better' breed of Tamils. They are
not the 'best' Tamils amongst the Tamil people. It so happens that they are in Tamil
Eelam, confronting a belligerent Sinhala Buddhist
fundamentalism and we, other Tamils, are here, dispersed in
many lands and across distant seas. If we were in Tamil Eelam and they were here, we
would ask them here to do what we will have to do.
Unity will come about when each one of us engages in action directed to secure the shared
aspiration of the people of Tamil Eelam for freedom from alien Sinhala rule. It seems to
me that it is when our words and our deeds match, when we are truly prepared to suffer for
that which we believe, that we influence others - and strangely, when we do that, we
influence even though we do not seek to influence.
Gandhi was once asked (in the 1920s) whether he sought
power. He replied: "No, I do not seek power. I seek to serve". He added
truthfully: "But I know that when I serve, power will accrue". And Gandhi was
not trying to be "clever" - he genuinely felt for his people and identified with
them - and he genuinely sought to serve them. Or, as Stephen Covey may put it today, unity
will grow only around a principle centred approach.
Yes, when the Tamil Eelam struggle triumphs, I would like to believe that a people
purified by pain and suffering will find, in freedom, a new strength and energy to build
anew. There are thousands of young Tamils who have proven their integrity and their
capacity to serve - and who will be able to give leadership to the people to whom they
belong, so long as they continue to remain mindful that means and ends are always
That is not to say that political differences will not exist within the framework of an
independent Tamil state. But such differences will take as given, the existence of an
independent Tamil Eelam, and will not be directed to its destruction. No, we will not have
'other wars between Tamils to deal with in Tamil Eelam'. Treason, after all, is a
punishable offence, even within the legal framework of a functioning democracy.
I end with a quote from Velupillai Pirabaharan: