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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
On Tennyson, Subash Chandra Bose, Peter Schallk
5 July 2008
Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha
In this world filled with numerous fake breeds of LTTE “experts” (local Colombo media variety, Tamil collaborators variety, globe-trotting Sinhalese variety, Tamil diaspora variety, adjacent Indian variety, and the Tamil language challenged-Western academic variety) we are fortunate to have an academic who can qualify as one real specialist on LTTE and Pirabhakaran.
Prof. Peter Schalk, affiliated to Uppsala University, is one of the few non-Tamil academics from Occident, who has viewed the Eelam militancy of LTTE sympathetically and published on the varied aspects on the contemporary life of Eelam Tamils.
Peter Schalk (born 1944) is a Germany-born Swedish citizen, and should be distinguished clearly from Peter Chalk, an Australian “terrorism specialist”. Where as Peter Schalk’s contributions can be be viewed as ‘pro-Tamilian’, Peter Chalk’s commentaries clearly projects an ‘anti-Tamil’ bias.
Being fluent in Tamil language, Peter Schalk is a breed apart among the LTTE observers from the West such as Peter Chalk, Robert Pape, Bruce Hoffman and Mia Bloom. For an academic, gaining fluency in Tamil language is a double-edged sword, in that he/she would come to be viewed by the power-wielding Sinhalese mandarins/academics/politician types (such as G.L.Pieris, Rajiva Wijesinha and Dayan Jayatilleka) as a sympathizer to the Tamil cause. That Peter Schalk has been at the receiving end of the venomous attacks of servile Sinhalese hacks of the Colombo mass media, and corrupt bureaucrats is also an open secret.
July 5 being a significant day of memories for Eelam Tamils, for its historical and current relevance, I have transcribed an academic paper of Peter Schalk, on the 1997 ‘Do or Die’ battle campaign of LTTE entitled “From ‘Do and Die’ to ‘Do or Die’: Semantic Transformations of a Lethal Command on the Battle-field in Īļam/Lamka”, that had appeared in the Orientalia Suecana journal of 2002-2003.
Prof. Schalk was kind enough to send me a reprint of this paper in 2004. In this paper, Schalk had revised the suggestion proposed by Prof. Margret Trawick that the ‘Sei allathu Seththu Madi’ [Do or Die] campaign of LTTE had its origins from the well-known Alfred Tennyson (1809-1872) poem, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ (1854), composed in the aftermath of a disastrous incident in the Crimean War (1853-1856) for the British troops, where only 195 of the 673 soldiers who charged down ‘The Valley of Death’ to attack the Russian troops survived unwounded.
Prof. Schalk infers in this paper that the source of inspiration for the ‘Sei allathu Seththu Madi’ campaign of LTTE, was the ‘Quit India’ campaign of Indian freedom fighters Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) and Subash Chandra Bose (1897-1945).
To quote Schalk, “It was not Gandhi’s interpretation that reached the LTTE, but Bose’s. Tennyson’s poem ended in disaster for the heroes. They ‘did’ (=killed) and ‘died’. This is not the case with Subash Chandra Bose and Pirapakaran.” As it may help the readers, if the complete text of Tennyson’s famous poem is presented first, I provide the complete version below.
Orientalia Suecana is an international journal of Indological, Iranian, Semitic and Turkic Studies, founded in 1952 by Erik Gren, as a Swedish forum for Oriental Studies. I have felt that this paper should also be brought to the attention of Sinhalese scanners of LTTE, since I also receive, albeit infrequently, requests from Sinhalese correspondents soliciting research materials about LTTE.
Solely for the ease in transcribing and reading, I have made the following alterations in the original; (1) the authentic Tamil phonetic descriptions provided by Prof. Schalk in the text have been transformed into the forms presented in the popular media. E.g: Īļam to Eelam. (2) diacritical marks of Tamil words, wherever they appear, have been ignored. But the dots and words in italics, wherever they appear, are retained as in the original. The 24 footnotes of the original text have been appended at the end of the text.
From ‘Do and Die’ to ‘Do or Die’: Semantic Transformations of a Lethal Command on the Battlefield in Eelam/Lanka
by Peter Schalk, Uppsala
[courtesy: Orientalia Suecana, vols. 51-52 (2002-2003), pp. 391-398]
This paper  is about a martial situation in Eelam/Lanka . Both fighting parties, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan Armed Forces (SLAF), tried in a furious and extremely fierce battle in 1997 to eliminate each other in the northern parts of the island.
From May 13th, 1997, the SLAF tried to recapture the 76 km stretch of road between Vavuniya and Kilinochchi along the Yaalpaanam/Kandi (Jaffna/Kandy) A-9 highway. Both parties had to mobilize their last forces. In this desperate situation, a command, a battle cry, ‘do or die’, appeared on the battlefield. According to the SLAF, it was launched by the LTTE as the name of an offensive military operation.
The outsider could interpret it as a counter-slogan to the designation of the SLAF’s own military offensive in Sinhala called Jaya Sikkurui, ‘Victory Secured/Assured’. Tamilised, this named appeared as jeyacikkuruy. I shall use this incident to study how martial connotations based on vested interests, enclosed in the command ‘do or die’, are spread and semantically transformed on the winding roads of ideas in a modern, South Asian, post-colonial context of war. This is a study of a limited section of the modern history of martial ideas in 20th century South Asia.
Shortly after the beginning of the SLAF’s military offensive called Jaya Sikkurui, ‘Victory Secured/Assured’, in June 1997, the media reported that the LTTE had launched the command ‘do or die’, which they allegedly used as the official name for an offensive operation. The SLAF’s own battle cry, ‘Victory Secured/Assured’, in its character similar to an enforcing and self-fulfilling divination, anticipated boldly victory.
According to a journalist observer in Colombo, Iqbal Athas, five LTTE attacks during the offensive on the security forces came when the troops were in a defensive posture. However, Operation Do or Die Six was staged when troops began their advance from Puttur towards Mankulam. The move prompted the troops to make a tactical withdrawal from areas that they had entered earlier.
We learn from Iqbal Athas that, with Do or Die 6, Operation Jaya Sikkurui surpassed the 1000 mark of Lankan soldiers killed (in one and the same battle). The number of Lankan soldiers injured exceeded 5000, although the majority of the cases were of a minor nature. We also learn that the LTTE has not made public its total list of casualties since the ongoing military operation began on May 13.
A military report containing statistics up to September 4 contains three separate accounts of LTTE casualties: (a) ground troops estimated 858 killed, (b) estimated 1305 killed, (c) transmissions 515 killed. A further 59 Tiger cadres had been killed in Puliyankulam during the same period by snipers. The reporters also said that 1469 Tiger guerrillas were injured upto September 4.  Even if we take off 50% as political exaggerations in the psychological warfare launched by the enemy, the LTTE killed many soldiers, but also many young women and men of the LTTE died in resisting the advance of Lankan troops. Finally, in May 1998, the LTTE celebrated Jaya Sikkurui Vetri Naal, ‘day of conquest over Victory Assured/Assured’. The LTTE sent a video to the Tamil exiles all over the world, showing triumphantly dancing LTTE fighters and civilian Eelavar. Eelavar are those who anticipate the independent state of (tamil) Eelam.
The Martial Command, Its Origin And Semantic Transformations
The media spread the statement that the LTTE frequently used this command as its master symbol and the name of an offensive, but it is not so. There is no official publication of the LTTE in Tamil in which this command is referred to. The only source is an interception of the LTTE’s clandestine radio by the SLAF. The LTTE has coined unique labels of offensive operations earlier and later, like ‘leaping tiger’, but ‘do or die’ was never made an official label of any offensive by the LTTE. What was said over the clandestine radio could be interpreted as a common saying in Tamil by an individual belonging to the LTTE, which, however, does not have Veluppillai Pirapakaran, the talaivar or ‘head’, of the LTTE, as author. Sei allathu Seththu Madi, ‘do or die’, is a common saying in Tamil and only very few are aware of its origin (see below).
Having been wrongly informed by the SLAF’s intelligence, this saying by some individuals over the clandestine radio was lifted to the level of a designation of a military offensive operation. I have gone through the LTTE’s official news in Tamil called Tamil Eelam Seithikal, their monthly reports on video called OLi Veechu, and their official monthly paper Viduthalai Puligal, but I have not found Sei allathu Seththu Madi. The journalist Iqbal Athas has also confirmed that he could not find it anywhere in written official documents by the LTTE. I neglect here publications of LTTE supporters. In spite of this absence, Iqbal Athas’ presentation, based on the mentioned radio interception, having been wrongly informed by the SLAF’s intelligence concerning the context of this command, made it the official name of an offensive operation by the LTTE.
I have found only one written similar statement by the LTTE of a similar command, but in another context than an offensive operation. The source is an English release of news. On August 13, 1997, the LTTE issued a release in English called ‘Ours is a life or death struggle – new LTTE recruits’. The release title is not exactly ‘do or die’ but is similar. I take it as a paraphrase of the command ‘do or die’. The English title makes clear that ‘do’ is ‘live’. The release said that new recruits have realized that the Sinhala army’s intentions are clearly genocidal. It goes on saying that confrontation in full strength is the only route to salvation for Tamils. This is a life or death struggle where the very existence of the Tamil people is at stake. Independence for the Tamil nation is the only guarantee of survival.
On August 7, the LTTE reported that, as the Tamil people’s desperation grew, they were flocking to join the LTTE’s fighting wing. Therefore, the context in which ‘do or die’ was used is not an offensive operation, but a recruiting campaign. What the offensive was called, the LTTE kept secret, if it had a special name at all.
Coming to the origin of this command, Margret Trawick, from New Zealand, has pointed out a non-Tamil and modern influence on the martial ideology of the LTTE. Let us test her statement that Veluppillai Pirapakaran had Lord Tennyson’s ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ from 1854 in mind. The relevant passage of the poem runs:
I want to add the following remarks. Already in 1882, Tennyson had published another poem called ‘The Charge of the Heavy Brigade at Balaclava’ that ends almost in disaster for the heroes also. To this poem was added an ‘Epilogue’ in 1885 in which Tennyson promoted the warrrior’s war ‘to make true peace his own’ and he also thinks that
Margret Trawick’s statement implies that Veluppillai Pirapakaran had a direct relation to his English source. I have to modify her statement a little. Tennyson has a different and highly interesting rendering. He created ‘do and die’, which gives a completely different meaning. He composed a tragic poem that ends in disaster for the heroes. Tennyson teaches that in certain hopeless situations you have to kill and die. No other option, the option to live, is left.
We face a complex situation in interpreting the command ‘do and/or die’. We should note that the slogans ‘do or die’ and ‘do and die’ are formerly so close that it is difficult to distinguish them, especially in oral communication. Even if a journalist correctly reproduces ‘do or die’ from an LTTE source, having inflated it as the name of a martial offensive, the reader associating it with Tennyson’s poem may apprehend it as ‘do and die’. He may get upset about the allegedly Fascist ideology of the LTTE.
Then, the reader may ask himself how one can motivate fighters to kill with the perspective of personal defeat and even without promising a glorious life after death. This question has been put many times and has also been answered by glorifiers of war. Their answer is that ultimate victory is death itself. The poem can be interpreted as a glorification of death as against life. Death was the ultimate victory in the ideology of decline of the third Reich. Nazi ideologists taught that ultimate victory is death itself. The command is interpreted as a glorification of death as against life, which became a ideological cornerstone of Nazi militarism. The LTTE’s command is interpreted in the light of this interpretation and is ascribed to the LTTE as its authentic view.
It so happened that a female LTTE supporter, known to me, came to know about this command. In her mind she also read ‘do or die’ as ‘do and die’. Her reaction was a complete denial that her respected leader, Thiru Veluppillai Pirapakaran, could have said such a thing. She was right. He has not. The LTTE has not said ‘do and die’, but ‘do or die’. It has not blended ‘do or die’ with ‘do and die’. It has not made this saying the official name of an offensive operation. There is no sanction for it by Veluppillai Pirapakaran or by the Central Committee of the LTTE. No member of the LTTE has invented this command, but an anonymous member has picked it up as a common saying. It fitted the situation of a recruiting campaign and it was not against LTTE martial thinking. Now we take the next step and ask where this common saying comes from.
Let us stipulate that Tennyson’s version ‘do and die’ is the starting-point in a colonial situation from the 19th century. Furthermore, let us presume that ‘do and die’ went through several semantic transformations before it became acceptable to the mind of the LTTE. Let us also note that the LTTE reproduced it in accordance with its own core value.
It is evident from its release that ‘do or die’ means ‘survive by fighting – or die’ and that the motto was intended to mobilize new recruits who were promised life if they fought. If they did not fight, they would not live but die. ‘Do or die’ was therefore neither in rendering nor meaning consistent with Tennyson’s poem, which left no room for survival.
I doubt that the LTTE has ever heard about Tennyson or that the LTTE cares about what Tennyson actually said. The common Tamil saying has another source. This is Gandhi’s ‘Quit India’ resolution from 1942. Gandhi had already in 1930, in connection with the salt march, been inspired by Lord Tennyson’s poem ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ from 1854, where we find the wording ‘do and die’. It was, however, changed consciously by Gandhi into ‘do or die’. He also gave the slogan another, and in fact not martial meaning. He made it the slogan of those who were non-violent satyagrahis. When they ‘do’, they should not use violence, but non-violent, civil disobedience. If they do so, they will not die.
Gandhi wanted all his satyagrahis to write this slogan on their clothes to mark them out. Still today, ‘do or die’ is used in a Gandhian context, as when opposition is mobilized against the Narmada project. We learnt in 1999 that 12,000 people in 60 villages were at risk of losing their homes and land during the current monsoon to the resulting submergence. With no plans for their rehabilitation, the adivasis, in addition, peasants of the Narmada Valley, decided to stay on. In addition, they faced the rising water rather than let their lands, rivers, culture and lives be destroyed in the name of development. The people went on a ‘do or die’ monsoon satyagraha on June 20, 1999. ‘Do’ here implies the unfolding of non-armed militancy in response to a command to live.
Gandhi’s interpretation of Tennyson’s ‘do and die’ was deviating radically from the original, but still we have not reached the interpretation of the LTTE. The LTTE does not address satyagrahis, but armed fighters who kill to live. They do not practice resistance to the SLAF in organized sit-downs. To them, the Gandhian interpretation must appear absurd.
There is one link missing between Gandhi and Veluppillai Pirapakaran. This link is Subash Chandra Bose. We notice that Gandhi’s interpretation was taken up by Subhash Chandra Bose, who rightly believed that Gandhi and Bose were united with regard to the aim of the ‘Quit India’ program, but who also wrongly believed that Gandhi with this slogan had put himself on his side. Bose interpreted the slogan in the sense of ‘freedom at any price’ (including the use of violence).
One close follower of Bose, the leader-to-be of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment of the Indian National Army, Ilakkumi Vicuvanatan (Lakshmi Vishvanathan), noticed in her diary from August 11, 1942, that Gandhi had declared ‘Do or Die’ to all patriots. She interpreted his declaration as ‘Do not wait for a lead from leaders, do what you think is right, do what you think will bring us freedom.’ She also wrote that Gandhi also (now) realizes ‘that today is the opportune moment to snatch our freedom [in armed struggle]’. It is evident that Ilakkumi Vicuvanatan in 1942 was not aware of the link with Tennyson. She, like her mentor, thought that Gandhi was the author and she thought wrongly, like her mentor Bose, that Gandhi was on their side.
‘The Tennyson case’ above confirms what I have tried to say elsewhere, namely that Veluppillai Pirapakaran does not produce an ‘outpouring’ of pre-colonial martial traditions from the Cankam age. He was, of course, not ‘impelled’ by ‘history’. He selected ideas consciously. He did not select only pre-colonial Tamil martial traditions, but also anti-colonial, martial, Indian ideologies like Subhasism and Dravidism, that were channeled by radical elements of the Federal Party  and by people like ‘Netaji of the Ceylon Tamils’ and especially by Pal Nedumaran. He is an elderly, South Indian politician in whom these two trends of ideas, Subhasism and Dravidism, converge in a reflected synthesis and who saw this synthesis expressed by the LTTE, in whom he put his trust and hope. He was not only an observer of, but also a mentor to Veluppillai Pirapakaran during the latter’s formative years in Tamil Nadu, especially in 1981, when Veluppillai Pirapakaran stayed with him in Madurai.
‘Live (through fighting) or die’, this is the Subhasist interpretation of ‘do or die’. This twisted interpretation by the Indian National Army (INA) of Gandhi’s twisted interpretation of Tennyson’s poem became popular in India among freedom fighters and reached in this shape Veluppillai Pirapakaran.
It was not Gandhi’s interpretation that reached the LTTE, but Bose’s. Tennyson’s poem ended in disaster for the heroes. They ‘did’ (=killed) and ‘died’. This is not the case with Subhash Chandra Bose and Pirapakaran.The latter has also, through the mediation of Bose, cut an important link with Gandhi, with his non-use of violence.
When reading about Veluppillai Pirapakaran’s ‘do or die’, the reader should associate it with ‘Quit India’, but substitute it with ‘Quit Tamil Eelam’ and interpret the slogan in accordance with Bose’s ‘freedom at any price’ or his own ‘survive through fighting or die’.
The background is the fundamental evaluation of Velupillai Pirapakaran that the struggle of the LTTE is a protraction, prolongation or extension of the Indian freedom struggle in which the Lankans take the position of colonizers.
The expression ‘do or die’ refers to an experience in the last phase of a battle when the last forces have to be mobilized. Then complexity is reduced to two options only, to do (kill to live) or to die. The experience is, of course, not specific for the LTTE. What is specific is the use of a specific context that connects this experience with the context of the Indian freedom struggle.
In the martial situation described above, an anonymous member of the LTTE used a common command in Tamil and quoted it in the LTTE’s clandestine radio sendings and in the news’ release in English. This could be done by the LTTE without hesitation, because the interpretation of this command had already been prefigured in a Gandhian tradition that again has twisted a poem by Tennyson. Then it was twisted once more in a contemporary, martial, Subhasist tradition that was known also among Indian freedom fighters.
In this shape it became a common saying and was picked up at random by the LTTE in a recruiting campaign, not as the name of an offensive operation.
In the physical, ideological, and psychological warfare, however, between the LTTE and the SLAF, this command was then inflated in Lankan media and lifted to the level of the official name of a military operation by the LTTE. The use of the expression had some propagandistic value, because the media implied that ‘do or die’ as name of an offensive operation by the LTTE was synonymous with ‘do and die’.
Now, we have reached the end of the winding roads of martial ideas in a modern South Asian, post-colonial context of physical, psychological and ideological warfare.