'How I Became a Freedom Fighter'
In an interview given to 'Velicham', a
Tamil language literary magazine published in Jaffna, the leader of the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Velupillai Pirabaharan, reflected on the
events and circumstances during his early life that inspired him to take up
arms and join the liberation struggle.
From your boyhood you have been a voracious reader. Can you tell us something
about the books which instilled Tamil nationalism in you and impelled you to
take up arms against oppression?
A. From my young days, I have been a lover of books. A
good part of my youth I spent reading worthwhile books. I was
especially keen on reading historical novels, works of history,
and biographies of heroes. The pocket money that my parents gave
me I spent on books. I got a lot of satisfaction and pleasure in
reading new books. There was a book shop in my village. It
became my habit somehow or the other to buy all those valuable
books there and read them.
It is through books that I learnt of the heroic exploits of
Alexander and Napoleon. It is through my habit of reading that I
developed a deep attachment to the Indian Freedom struggle and
Subhash Chandra Bose,
Singh and Balagengadhara Tilak. It was the reading of such
books that laid the foundation for my life as a revolutionary.
The Indian Freedom struggle stirred the depths of my being and
roused in me a feeling of indignation against foreign oppression
The racial riots which erupted in Sri Lanka
1958 and the agonies that the Tamils had to endure as a result were the
factors that impelled me to militancy. The reports that appeared in the
dailies unleashed a hurricane of fury in me. When I read the novels of Tamil
Nadu writers like Kausiyan (Paminip Pavai), Sandilyan (Kadat Pura) and
Selvan), I learned how our forefathers had established and ruled over
great, flourishing empires.
These novels aroused in me the desire to see our nation rise again from
servitude and that our people should live a life of dignity and freedom in
their liberated homeland. Why shouldn't we take up arms to fight those who
have enslaved us: this was the idea that these novels implanted in my mind.
In my boyhood I avidly read epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana;
they too sparked off thoughts in me.
'Perform your duty without regard to the fruits of action', says the
Bhagavad Gita. I grasped this profound truth when I read the
Mahabharata. When I read the great didactic works, they impressed on me the
need to lead a good, disciplined life and roused in me the desire to be of
service to the community.
Above all, Subhash
Chandra Bose's life was a beacon to me, lighting up the path I should
follow. His disciplined life and his total commitment and dedication to the
cause of his country's freedom deeply impressed me and served as my guiding
light. I was never in the habit of reading cursorily, skimming through a
book. I cultivated myself in the habit of immersing myself totally in the
book I was reading and becoming one with it.
After I had finished reading a book, the questions 'Why?' 'What for?',
'How did this happen this way?', used to rise in my mind. I would try to
connect the narrative and the characters with our life and the life of our
people. At all such times, the thought that I should fight for the
liberation of my people would dominate my mind.
Apart from historical novels and works of history, I also loved to read
science-oriented books and magazines like 'Kalaikathir'. I deeply desired
that my people should develop scientifically and intellectually. Reading
widened my horizons. I wanted to achieve something through action rather
than waste time in idle fancies. I believed that what our people needed in
future was action. The books that I read dealing with national liberation
struggles conveyed one clear message to me: 'A freedom fighter should be
pure, selfless and ready to sacrifice himself for the people'. So I would
say that the various books I read impelled me to struggle for the freedom of
Q. Your childhood must have been totally different from
that of today's generation. Can you describe your childhood?
A. As a child, I was the pet and the darling of the
family. Therefore I was hedged in by a lot of restrictions at
home. My play-mates were the neighbours' children. My 'world'
was confined to my house and the neighbours' houses. My
childhood was spent in the small circle of a lonely, quiet
house. When I was studying in the 8th standard, there was an
institution called the 'Valvai Educational Institute'
functioning in my village, Valvettiturai. Some youngsters who
had a higher education, wanted to develop my village; inspired
by this ideal, they were running this Institute at Sivaguru
Vidyasalai (also known as Aladi School) close to my home. One
of the services rendered by this institute was the provision of
tuition at nights to students studying in the lower classes.
Mr.Vernugopal, a Tamil teacher from my village, used to din
into our years that the Tamils should take up arms. He was an
ardent supporter of the Federal Party's Youth Front; later,
feeling that the party was not militant enough, He teamed up
with Mr.V.Navaratnam and was one of the founders of the
'Suyadchi Kazham' (Self-Rule Party). It is he who impressed on
me the need for armed struggle and persuaded me to put my trust
in it. My village used to face military repression daily.
Hence even as a child I grew to detest the Army. This hatred
of military repression, combined with Mr.Venugopal's persuasive
stress on armed struggle and the thirst for liberation generated
an inner dynamism within me and friends of my age flocked behind
Mr.Vernugopal. The swelling thirst for freedom led me, when I
was a fourteen year school boy and seven like minded youngsters
at our school, to form a movement with no name.
Our aim was to struggle for freedom and to attack the army. I
was the leader of the movement. At the time the idea that
dominated our minds was somehow to buy a weapon and to make a
bomb. Every week the others would give me 25 cents they had
saved from their pocket money.
I maintained this pool of savings till we had accumulated
Rs.40/-. At this time we learned that a 'Chandiyan' (thug) in
the neighbouring village had a revolver which he was prepared to
sell for Rs.150/-. Determined to buy this revolver somehow, I
sold a ring which had been presented to me during my sister's
wedding. It fetched Rs.70/-. Altogether we now had Rs.110/-. We
had then to abandon our plan to buy this revolver as we couldn't
find the balance money.
This is how I spent my youth, filled with thoughts about
struggle, freedom and the urge to do something for our people
such a life of struggle; they should bear witness to the deep
scars born of this life of struggle and convey the various
currents of emotion generated in the course of the struggle. At
the same time
literature attain heights of excellence when they give birth
to a consciousness of freedom, that priceless thing.
Only those creations which emphasise human values and have
the uplifting of humanity as their goal can be considered as
great art. I firmly believe that the literary resurgence
emerging from the
Tamil Eelam liberation struggle will produce great works
which touch the summits of excellence in the future.
Q. One can observe our young fighters turning into
creative writers. They write about today's struggle and life on the
battle-front. What is your opinion of this new trend which is
enriching the literature of struggle and war?
A.Literature depicting our struggle is developing in
Tamil Eelam, several of our young militants show a keen interest
in creative literature. One can observe that some of these
writings and works of art are of high quality. This is a good
sign. With the passage of time, the accumulation of experience
and the growth of maturity, one can look forward to excellent
literary and artistic work being produced by our freedom
Our fighters have today become historic personages and are
impelling history forward. When such people come to record the
history of their time, it is bound to be authentic and sublime.
In the history of the Tamils, our era is a significant one. I
consider it a very important duty of today's creative writers to
bring forth in art and literature the liberation struggle that
is unfolding before our eyes today so that the next generation
may be aware of this momentous freedom struggle.
Our militant cardres, I am confident, will turn out to be
excellent creative artists in the course of time as they are
growing up with a profound awareness of what struggle is like,
and the realities of life in the war front; this will certainly
enrich their experience and hone their insights into life.
That's why I keep on encouraging budding writers, artists and
art lovers in our movement.
Q. You are taking a very keen interest in the welfare of
small children whose lives have been adversely affected by the
ethnic war and are formulating and implementing several schemes for
their welfare. What is the reason for your taking a special interest
in the future of these children.
A.I'm all afire to build up a nation; that is the
life-ideal I have set for myself. The future generation is the
foundation for the nation we hope to build. Therefore I consider
bringing up the future generation and moulding its character and
ideals as important as building up the nation. That is why I
take so much interest in the future generation. My ambition is
to mould a new generation of youth who will be the architects of
our country's future.
This new generation will be scientific-minded, patriotic,
honest, decent, heroic, and possessed of a sense of honour,
self-respect and dignity. We have taken the small boys and
girls who have been affected by the war into our fond embrace
and are nurturing them. I do not consider them orphans or
children bereft of kith and kin. They are the children of our
mother land and they are flowers which have bloomed on our soil.
Just as we envisage our language and our soil as our Mother,
I consider these as the children of the nation which is the
mother of us all. I consider it our paramount duty to educate
these children and bring them up on the correct lines as the
architects of the future of our nation. That is why I pay very
special attention to them.
(VELICHAM, April/May 1994)