When Pirabaharan Triumphs
A friend in the Tamil.net 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
- 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.
Tamils are no more divisive than any other
A resistance movement will spawn its share of
Sinhala government's need to recruit
'actions' and 'deniablity'...
Need for justice of the 'action' to be publicly known
Unity will not come from fine words and reasoned
come about when each one of us engages in action
directed to secure the shared aspiration of the people
of Tamil Eelam for freedom
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
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
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 name?'"
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
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
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
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
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
Tamils are no more divisive than any other
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
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
A 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
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 submission.
Sinhala government's need to recruit
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 'deniablity'...
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
'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 secure 'deniability'.
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
An armed resistance movement takes shape in the
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
'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.
Need 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
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
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
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.
But 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.
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
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 replied:
"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 way?"
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 diligence."
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
of 1972 or the pogrom of 1977. To yet
others, it may have been something later - Genocide'83 or
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 and
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 struggle.
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: