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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
Devotion of Black Tigers
Sachi Sri Kantha
A response to 'Glorifying Death' by Nirupama Subramanian
in the Hindu of 16 July 2000
18 July 2000
There is little doubt that the liberation of Tamil Eelam by
Pirabaharan's Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) will depend on factors
beyond the comprehension of Sri Lankan ruling brass.
But, one thing is for sure. For the past decade, the LTTE's campaign has
provided many academics enough source material to pollute the academic and
popular literature with half-baked commentaries, research papers, reviews, book
chapters and media interviews. Even those who cannot read and write Tamil have
dug ancient Sangam Tamil literature (in English translation of course!) to seek
the roots of LTTE's Black Tigers. One of the relatively recent entrants into
this territory is Prof. Michael Roberts, a historian cum political scientist of
some merit, who served in the University of Peradeniya until 1977, before
emigrating to Australia.
The Madras Hindu daily, in its concerted campaign to discredit Pirabaharan
and LTTE has approached Michael Roberts to solicit his opinion. And this appears
in its July 16 commentary entitled, 'Glorifying death' authored by Nirupama
Subramanian. I wish to rebut some of Prof.Michael Roberts' observations. This is
what Hindu mentions that Prof.Roberts had stated.
"Mr. Roberts speaks of the cult of filial piety and devotion to God among
Tamils, apparent in Sangam literature, as one possible explanation for the acts
of self-immolation in Tamil Nadu and suicide bombings by LTTE cadres in Sri
Furthermore, Prof. Roberts is directly quoted as follows:
cannot get converts to a group such as the Black Tigers unless there is already
a cultural bedrock on which such total commitment can be based. The LTTE has
Of course, there is no doubt about that which Prof. Roberts has identified
as 'total commitment and devotion to the cause.' But, is it only visible among
the Black Tigers? How about the gallant warriors who have fought for their
nations in the past two centuries, and who do not share the 'cultural bedrock'
of Dravidian heritage?
Well, I have something to share with the Tamil Nation readers. Six years
ago, the July 15, 1994 issue of the Lanka Guardian carried a commentary of
Michael Roberts entitled, 'LTTE suicides and the Cankam World of devotion'. In
this commentary, he had attempted to trace LTTE's 'cyanide culture' to the
Purananooru poems, after reading these poems in A.K.Ramanujan's English
translation. I wrote a rebuttal to Lanka Guardian immediately, (but as I
expected), it went unpublished. So, I wish to provide the readers what I wrote
six years ago.
"I wonder whether Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill (two military
leaders of repute, who led war campaigns in the 19th century America and 20th
century Britain) also studied the Cankam literature of Tamils? Michael Roberts
implies that 'devotion' is a special ambrosia patented by the LTTE. No Sir! Why
not read the Gettysburg Address delivered by Lincoln? The Great Emancipator
spoke in the following words:
'Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any
nation so convinced and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great
battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a
final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might
live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
'...that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause
for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly
resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under
God, shall have a new birth of freedom..." [Nov.19, 1863]
After becoming the Prime Minister of Britain, Churchill, while delivering
his first broadcast speech via the BBC Radio, began with the words:
'Our task is not only to win the battle - but to win the War...The interests
of property, the hours of labour, are nothing compared with the struggle for
life and honour, for right and freedom, to which we have vowed ourselves....'
He closed his speech vibrantly with his roaring message:
Trinity Sunday. Centuries ago words were written to be a call and a spur to the
faithful servants of Truth and Justice: 'Arm yourselves, and be ye men of
valour, and be in readiness for the conflict; for it is better for us to perish
in battle than to look upon the outrage of our nation and our altar. As the Will
of God is in Heaven, even so let it be.' [May 19, 1940]
Then I concluded my correspondence to the editor of Lanka Guardian, noting,
"What Michael Roberts has failed to see in haste on LTTE's 'devotion' for
suicide from Purananooru poems, is that in war times, leaders of Western nations
(whether they be Lincoln or Churchill) also have instilled the merit of
'devotion' and glamor of death among their charges."
I still look for positive evidence whether Purananooru poems (as implied by
Prof. Michael Roberts for LTTE's Black Tigers) also inspired the leadership of
Lincoln and Churchill. These two leaders also, in their historically memorable
speeches excerpted above, have mentioned 'God' and 'devotion'.
Nevertheless, one can be certain that the gallant contributions of the Black
Tigers follow the traditions set by the warriors who died in the American Civil
War and Second World War for their beliefs. Nirupama Subramanian's article in
the Hindu was entitled, 'Glorifying death'. An analogous piece which I like to
contribute to the Hindu will have to be titled, 'Glorifying gullibility', but
this will not see the print.