Velupillai Pirabaharan - Rebel in the Family
Vinothini Rajendran sister of LTTE leader speaks
to Stewart Bell
Canadian National Post, 16 December 2008
"... Ms. Rajendran says her brother is in no
danger. 'They won't be able to catch him' she says... A poster
of the Hindu hero Arjuna hangs on the wall. The Tamil script
below tells a story from the Bhagavad Gita about a conversation
between Lord Krishna and Arjuna, who is reluctant to go to war.
'Arjuna says, how can I fight my relatives?' ... Then Krishna
says, it is your duty. 'I am the God and I am telling you, you
do it'. Then he (Arujna) decides to fight. It was one of
Prabhakaran's favourite childhood stories... 'Once he accepts
something, he always finishes it... Father was like that' says
Excerpts of Interview...
Vinothini Rajendran says she has had no contact with her younger
brother, rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, since moving to
Toronto in 1997. Vinothini Rajendran's 11th-floor apartment is
decorated with plastic flowers, a poster of Lord Krishna and framed
photos of the little brother she left behind in Sri Lanka.
It has been years since she saw him. He never writes or calls, but
she accepts that is just the way it is when your brother is
"It must be God's wish that he should become such a man," says Ms.
Rajendran, who immigrated to Canada more than a decade ago and lives
with her husband, Bala, in a modest apartment in east Toronto.
Despite being the sister of the Supreme Commander of the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Mrs. Rajendran has lived incognito in Toronto
since 1997, but she agreed to tell her story to the National Post.
For 25 years, her brother has led the LTTE, or Tamil Tigers, in a
civil war in Sri Lanka. His objective: independence for the ethnic
A folk hero to Tamil nationalists, Prabhakaran is wanted by Interpol
and has been condemned internationally for his tactics, which have
included hundreds of suicide bombings and the assassination of
senior politicians, including India's Rajiv Gandhi....
Sri Lanka has vowed to kill Prabhakaran and wipe out the Tamil
Tigers over the next few months. Last week, the military said it was
within "kissing distance" of the rebel stronghold, Killinochchi, but
Ms. Rajendran says her brother is in no danger. "They won't be able
to catch him," she says....
Ms. Rajendran describes her father as "very kind and soft
talking." He was highly disciplined. He never took bribes and
abstained from all vices, alcohol and cigarettes included. He worked
as a district land officer and volunteered as a trustee at the local
temple. "He was a religious-minded man, a Hindu," she says. The
family lived in Valvettithurai, a coastal village on Sri Lanka's
northern Jaffna peninsula, in a small house with a veranda and a
banana tree, enclosed within a fenced compound.
Vinothini was the third-born child. She was two years old when
Prabhakaran was born at Jaffna Hospital on Nov. 26, 1954. "As a
child, I was the pet and the darling of the family," Prabhakaran
magazine Velicham in 1994. "My childhood was spent in the small
circle of a lonely, quiet house."
Vinothini would play with her baby brother, and fight with him. "He
was as normal as any boy," she says. "Normal, only he was reading a
lot." The house was full of books. Their mother was "a voracious
reader," Ms. Rajendran says. They would borrow books from friends or
Like his mother, Prabhakaran devoured history books, particularly
stories about the
Indian fighters who fought the British for independence. "It was
the reading of such books that laid the foundation for my life as a
revolutionary," he once said.
The Tamil-dominated northern region of Sri Lanka is a dry zone; much
of the soil is ill suited to farming. "So the people depended on
education and government jobs," Mr. Rajendran explained.
But following independence from Britain in 1948, the island's
Sinhalese majority tried to limit Tamil access to universities and
civil service jobs. Tamil youths grew disillusioned with the
turned to militancy.
Around the same time Prabhakaran took up arms, his father spoke to a
friend and they agreed that Vinothini and Bala would marry. The
family erected a temporary building in their compound to accommodate
wedding guests and shelter them from the sun and rain. The ladies
prepared vegetarian dishes in the kitchen. No invitations were
required; everyone knew they were welcome.
Prabhakaran was the best man. As is customary, he came by the
groom's house the day before the wedding to pay his respects. "He
was a very quiet man," Mr. Rajendran says. "He was smiling and his
eyes were piercing. He was lean."
A few months later, Prabhakaran formed the Tamil New Tigers, or TNT,
to wage an armed struggle against the Sri Lankan state security
forces. The group would later evolve into the Tamil Tigers.
"At that time, we knew he was doing something, but we didn't know it
was so serious," Mr. Rajendran says. They thought he was only
putting up political posters. They only learned of his paramilitary
activities when police came calling at the family home in 1972.
Prabhakaran slipped out the back and disappeared.
"After that he stopped coming to the house," Ms. Rajendran says.
Prabhakaran told the Indian journalist Anita Pratap that, "As
soon as the Tiger movement was formed, I went underground and lost
contact with my family ... They are reconciled to my existence as a
The Rajendrans were living in the capital, Colombo, when Prabhakaran
ignited the civil war with an ambush attack against Sri Lankan
soldiers. Mr. Rajendran promptly lost his job at an import-export
firm; his employer found out about the family connection and didn't
want any trouble. "I was asked to leave," he says.
They spent a week at a refugee camp and
then sailed back to Jaffna. Six months later, Mr. Rajendran went
to Jeddah to work as a deckhand on a ship on the Red Sea. Mrs.
Rajendran stayed in Jaffna, but the police gave her a hard time
about her notorious brother so the family decided to leave for
Thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils had sought refuge around Madras.
The Rajendrans registered with the police and rented a house. Mr.
Rajendran taught English and ran a consultancy service that helped
Tamils submit applications to immigrate to Canada and Australia.
Prabhakaran was also exiled in India at the time, running his
guerrilla war from a Madras safe house. The Rajendrans saw him there
at a family function, a cousin's wedding. "He came in a jeep with
four or five boys," Mr. Rajendran says. They saw him again just
before he returned to Sri Lanka. "He talked to us and said he is
Tired of refugee life in southern India, the Rajendrans travelled to
Canada, arriving on Oct. 27, 1997. They have returned to Sri Lanka
only once, in 2003, to help Ms. Rajendran's parents move back to Sri
Lanka from India. It was the first time she had seen her homeland in
almost two decades. The north was a desolate landscape of ruined
buildings, destroyed by incessant shelling. The lush gardens of her
youth had gone to weeds.
A red-and-yellow Tamil Tigers flag hangs in her living room in
Toronto, but Ms. Rajendran says she is not politically active.
Neither she nor her husband attends Tamil community events in
Toronto, with the exception of
Heroes Day, the annual commemoration of fallen rebels.
Rajendran does not work; her English is awkward. Her husband works
part-time at a furniture store. His hands shake like he is nervous,
but he explains he has Parkinson's Disease.
A poster of the Hindu hero Arjuna hangs on the wall. The Tamil
script below tells a story from the
Bhagavad Gita about a conversation between Lord Krishna and
Arjuna, who is reluctant to go to war. "Arjuna says, how can I fight
my relatives?" Mr. Rajendran explains. "Then Krishna says, it is
your duty. I am the God and I am telling you, you do it. Then he
decides to fight." It was one of Prabhakaran's favourite childhood
Every so often, Ms. Rajendran gets a letter from her parents in
Killinochchi, but she has had no contact with her younger brother
since coming to Canada. She only hears stories about him.
She believes he will not give up his fight for Tamil independence.
Because he started it, he feels obliged to see it through, she says.
"Once he accepts something, he always finishes it," she says.
"Father was like that."