By Michael Roberts –
This article is the second of those preparing the ground for a review of the new data on the last phase of Eelam War IV served up by access to the despatchesof British Defence Attache Lt. Col. Gash (the first being my analysis of Pirapāharan’s strategy of assassinations). It concentrates on the character of the state of Thamilīlam throughout its period of existence, viz. from 1990-2009. It by-passes the pre-history when the Tamil New Tigers-become-LTTE was an incipient insurgent force competing with other Tamil militant organisations and with the GoSL and/or the IPKF for control of terrain.
Thamilīlam in its fuller emergent state form could be said to have originated in early 1990 when the Indian Peace Keeping Force departed and the LTTE insurgents gained control of most of the Jaffna Peninsula. This span of control increased in mid-1990s when the Tiger insurgents outmanoeuvred the Premadasa government and seized control of most of the Eastern Province after attacking and seizing several police stations and then massacring around 600 policemen who had surrendered. This spatial reach was reduced in mid-late 1995 when the SL Army attacked from the Palaly enclave and seized control of the Jaffna Peninsula. But it then expanded again when the Tiger forces overran the SL Army base at Mullaitivu in 1996 and then took control of Kilinochchi town and eventually the huge army base at Elephant Pass in 1999-2000.
However, the LTTE and its supporters abroad always had larger territorial ambitions and their maps of the Eelam project were in step with the “traditional homelands” claim presented by the ITAK (Federal Party) from 1949 onwards[i]– thereby embracing Puttalam and Chilaw in the expansive world-view typical of all fascist states in their embryonic stage.
Thus, from 1990 one witnesses the LTTE setting up an independent administration in its territories with Velupillai Pirapāharan as its “talaivar” or Supreme Leader and its military commanders as the dominant authority in all regional centres. There was a civil administration consisting of the previous Tamil civilians who had served the government of Sri Lanka and who retained the titles of yesteryear. Over time the LTTE inserted some of its own personnel alongside these posts or displaced these persons with their own appointees. This process involved the creation and/or overseeing of the judicial organisation as well. The law courts were LTTE run and instruments of control as well as service.
The LTTE’s consolidation of state authority was enhanced by its military successes in the period 1996-2001. It reached out for international status with considerable assistance from Norway and the latter’s point man Eric Solheim. The military clout secured after they brought the Kumaratunga government to its knees in 1999-2001 enabled the LTTE to sign a ceasefire via “A Memorandum of Understanding” in April 2002 in formalities marked by all the characteristics of a state. This status was beamed to the whole world on the 10thApril 2002 when media personnel from many countries assembled at Kilinochchito witness the TalaivarPirapāharan, his de facto ‘Foreign Minister’ Anton Balasingham and the Political Commissar, Thamil Chelvam, hold court in solemn splendour.[ii]
Thamilīlam under the LTTE was an efficient authoritarian state run by a dictator who commanded widespread respect among its citizenry. Its propaganda capacities were as innovative as remarkable. Central to its process of cultivating respect was the homage paid to its fighting dead, the māveerar, at a ceremony held on the 27thNovember every year at the 21 thuyilumilum(“resting houses”) in LTTE territory – sites that were regarded as temples.[iii]
These events were preceded by several weeks of intense propaganda work with appropriate music ‘blanketing’ the air waves everywhere and māveerar-sheds depicting the dead māveerar from each locality at judicious locations in each locality. Remarkably, as I can attest from my experience in Jaffna Peninsula in late November 2004, such processes and events devoted to the deepening of Tamilness and obeisance to the talaivar and his martyr soldiers were freely pursued within GoSL territory as well.
An Office of Great Heroes (māeeīrar, was set up in 1995 and the head was Pon Thiyagam, an experienced grey-haired official whose no-nonsense capacities impressed me greatly when I met him briefly in Kilinochchi in 2004. The LTTE was well-served by the longstanding history of education in the Jaffna Peninsula and at such centres as Batticaloa: several generational cohorts of public servants were available to implement its programmes.
Thamililamwas also an innovative state. State-of-the-art underground hospitals had been constructed in Jaffna town in the early 1990s; while the underground complex built subsequently at Mullaitivu was impressive. Its innovative building of fast shallow water attack boats gaveits Sea Tigersconsiderable clout as a brown water navy. Its suicide cadre in the Black Tigers sharpened the LTTE’s raiding capacity as well as assassination work. The devastation of the Central Bank in Colombo Fort on31 January 1996 and the Tamil commando strike on Katunayake airport on 24thJuly 2001mark the capacity to inflict clinical assaults displayed by these personnel.
My Ethnographic Experience in Kilinochchi in late November 2004
Through the good offices of the Uthayamnewspaper personnel and guidance from Tamil friends I travelled south from Jaffna to Kilinochchi with these friends on the 26th November and in doing so passed through border controls maintained by the government of Sri Lanka and that of Thamililam that were typical of all such practices world-wide (though not quite as mind-blowing as those I experienced at “Check Point Charlie” in Berlin in 1976). The first event I attended at Kilinochchi was the opening of a Media Centre on the 26thwhere Thamil Chelvam was the main speaker. However, my principal focus was the Kanagapuram Thuyilumilam south of the town where a huge gathering of perhaps 150,000 people[iv]who assembled at this ‘temple’ in homage to their maaveerar on that ‘sacred’ day, 27th November
The organisation at both events was exemplary. The arrangements on the 27thindicated attention to spatial requirements and participant comfort. Again, the restaurants in town and the bus services were state run (via delegation) and well-run. I was intrigued by the occasional scenes of cyclists and motor cyclists-towing-carts that moved hither and dither bearing two coconut seedlings, apparently gifts from the LTTE to householders on that day the 27thNovember which would therefore boost the productive capacity of the smallholdings everywhere – a simple innovation, yet so useful.
In conversations in English with two Health Department officials who joined our little party at meals and in interviewing Thiru Master (a senior LTTE counsellor and one of the speakers at the media event) at his house, I was peppered with complaints about the Sri Lankan state’s activities. These men were feisty and itching to return to war.
These experiences helped me understand a point dinned into my ears subsequently (2010?) by Anoma Rajakaruna on the foundations provide by her frequent visits to Thamilīlamon feminist projects during the ceasefire period 2002-06. The LTTE state, she said, had its fingers everywhere and most people were dependent on its ‘arms’ in one way or another – sometimes in several ways. Muralidhar Reddy and Silan Kadirgamar were therefore on the ball when (in conversations with me in 2010) they insisted that in 2006-to-2008 most of the residents in LTTE terrain were hostile to GoSL and in support of the LTTE’s diktats.[v]
Nor must we forget that the LTTE had spent time and effort in regimenting the ordinary civilians in martial formations through the makkal padaitraining arrangements. Thus, a martial orientation had been instilled among the citizens. This was a state geared for war. One illustration of this commitment was provided by the sarong-clad manager of the guest house at which I was staying. He was an Indian Tamil from the Kandy locality whose family had migrated to the Vanni way back in the 1970s or so.[vi]His son had died as a Tiger fighter and there was a little shrine in the son’s memory in the guest-house vestibule. The father – a middle-aged man, perhaps in his 50s – was unequivocal: if the LTTE asked him to join their armed forces, he would gladly join.[vii]
The Hallmarks of Sovereignty
There is little doubt, therefore, that the Tiger leadership launched Eelam War IV in mid-2006 with a conviction that they could cap their existing paraphernalia of statehood with formal worldwide confirmation.
The existing pillars of statehood included a little innovation on their part that also pointed to a shortfall. In April 1996 when astrologers and some bhikkhus persuaded the Kumaratunga government to adjust the Sri Lankan clocks by a reduction of one half-hour, the LTTE retained the old 24-hour schedule.[viii]In effect, they did not adhere to official “Sri Lanka time” and could display their “sovereignty” in yet another way.
However, this little sign highlights a fundamental shortfall. Throughout these decades the currency in use in Thamilīlamwas the Sri Lankan rupee. I paid for my meals and bought books and disks at Kilinochchi with my stock of rupees.
Why, then, had there been no change on this front? Answer: because a significant number of residents in Thamilīlamwere either pensioners of the SL state or were serving officers in departments subject to directives from Colombo. They were recipients of pensions and/or salaries from the government of Colombo. While dependent on the Colombo in this manner, they took orders from the LTTE.
Thus, one pillar of the LTTE economy was the cash flowing in regular fashion from the GoSL. That foundation, and its tell-tell sign, the ubiquitous Sri Lankan rupee, marked an outstanding shortfall; in fact, it was an awful sore on the forehead of the Thamilīlambody politic.
The LTTE state, moreover, drew some of its wherewithal in food supplies and medicinal needs from the stocks despatched to ‘their citizens’ by the GoSL arms working in conjunction with UN and other humanitarian agencies. The government centred in Colombo was marking/asserting its sovereign rights in this manner. The supplies were so useful that the LTTE chose to let them flow in. In this concession and in their continued dependence on the rupee as currency, they were conceding limits on the fullness of their statehood.
That was not a major concern for talaivar Pirapāharan in 2004. Bolstered by past success, he and his commanders were certain that they would finalize their nation-status by waging war. Ramesh, the Tiger Propaganda Chief whom I met in Kilinochchi in November,[ix]moved to Mullaitivu in December to prepare for this step. The ravages of the tsunami of 26thDecember that year delayed that move. However, the LTTE machinery of state regrouped and initiated Eelam War IV at Mavil Aru in August 2006.
This is an extended set of references that will lead earnest readers to the cultural and religious background of Sri Lankan Tamils which informed the mobilisation work and ceremonies of homage to the hero-dead that figure in this article. These references, in their turn, will point towards the literature on South India which is pertinent for this type of exploration.
Bastin, Rohan2002a. The Domain of Constant Excess. Plural Worship at the Munnesvaram Temples in Sri Lanka. New York: Berghahn Books
Bavinck, Ben2011 “Pirapaharan as uncompromising killer prone to vengeance: testimonies from the Jaffna heartland, 1989-91” http://thuppahi.wordpress. com/2011/11/01/Pirapaharan as uncompromising killer prone to vengeance: testimonies from the Jaffna heartland, 1989-91
Chandrakanthan, Revd. A. J. V.2000 “Eelam Tamil Nationalism,” in A. J. Wilson, Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism. Its Origins and Development in the 19th and 20th Centuries, London, Hurst & Co., pp. 157-75.
Chandradasa, Malaka2012 “Learning from Our Enemies: Sri Lankan Special warfare against the Sea Tigers,” //globalecco.org/learning-from-our-enemies-sri-lankan-naval-special-warfare-against-the-sea-tigers
Guardian2002 “Full Text of Memorandum of Understanding,” 22 February 2002, …. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/feb/22/srilanka
Gulf News 2006 “Time for change when Sri Lanka turns back the clocks,” 13 April 2006.
Harding, Luke 2002 “Tamil leader signals the end of civil war,” 11 April 2002.https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/apr/11/srilanka
Hellmann-Rajanayagam, D.1994 ‘The ‘groups’ and the rise of militant secessionism,” in C. Manogaran & B. Pfaffenberger (eds) The Sri Lankan Tamils. Ethnicity and Identity, Boulder: Westview Press, pp. 169-207.
Hellman-Rajanayagam, Dagmar2005. “And Heroes Die: Poetry of the Tamil Liberation Movement in Northern Sri Lanka,” South Asia28: 112-53.
Hoole, Rajan2001 Sri Lanka:The Arrogance of Power. Myths, Decadence, & Murder, Nugegoda Wasala Publications for UTHR (Jaffna).
Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2009 “Prabhakaran: Powerful Symbol of Tamil Armed Struggle,” 29 May 2009, in http://www.transcurrents.comOR http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/650
Natali, Cristiana 2008 “Building Cemeteries, Constructing Identities: Funerary Practices and Nationalist Discourse among the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka.” Contemporary South Asia 16, no. 3: 287–301
Ragavan 2018 “Young Pirapaharan’s Inspirations and Ideology: Ragavan’s Incisive Memoria, May 2009,” 9 August 2018, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2018/08/09/young-pirapharans-inspirations-and-ideology-ragavans-incisive-memorial-in-may-2009/#more-31113
Reuter, Christoph 2002My life is a weapon. A modern history of suicide bombing, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Roberts, Michael 1996 “Filial Devotion and the Tiger Cult of Suicide,” Contributions to Indian Sociology30: 245-72.
Roberts, Michael 2004Narrating Tamil Nationalism. Subjectivities & Issues, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.
Roberts, Michael2005. “Tamil Tiger ‘Martyrs’: Regenerating Divine Potency?” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism28: 493-514.
Roberts, Michael 2005 “Saivite Symbolism, Sacrifice and Tamil Tiger Rites,” Social Analysis49: 67-93.
Roberts, Michael2005 “Tamil Tiger ‘Martyrs’: Regenerating Divine Potency?” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism28: 493-514
Roberts, Michael 2006 “The Tamil Movement for Eelam,” E-Bulletin of the International Sociological AssociationNo. 4, July 2006, pp. 12-24 [reprinted in Roberts, Fire and Storm, Colombo, Yapa, 2010, pp. 203-18].
Roberts, Michael 2006 “Pragmatic Action & Enchanted Worlds: A Black Tiger Rite of Commemoration,” Social Analysis 50: 73-102.
Roberts, Michael 2007 “Suicide Missions as Witnessing: Expansions, Contrasts,” Studiesin Conflict and Terrorism, vol. 30 (10): October 2007, pp. 857-88.
Roberts, Michael2007 “Blunders in Tigerland: Pape’s Muddles on ‘Suicide Bombers’ in Sri Lanka,” Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politicsavailable at http://hpsacp.uni-
Roberts, Michael 2008 “Tamil Tigers: Sacrificial Symbolism and ‘Dead Body Politics,” Anthropology Today 24, no. 3: 22–23.
Roberts, Michael2009 Confrontations in Sri Lanka: Sinhalese, LTTE and Others¸ Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.
Roberts, Michael 2010Fire and Storm. Essays in Sri Lankan Politics, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.
Roberts, Michael 2010 “Self-Annihilation for Political Cause: Cultural Premises in Tamil Tiger Selflessness,” in Roberts, Fire and Storm. Essays in Sri Lankan Politics, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 161-201.
Roberts, Michael 2010 “Hitler, Nationalism, Sacrifice: Koenigsberg and Beyond … Towards the Tamil Tigers,” in https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2010/03/19/hitler-nationalism-sacrifice-koenigsberg-and-beyond-%e2%80%a6-towards-the-tamil-tigers/.
Roberts, Michael 2013 “Towards Citizenship in Thamilīlam Sri Lanka’s Tamil People of the North, 1983-2010,” South Asia Research, 2013, 33: 57-75.
Roberts, Michael2014 “Inspirations and caste Threads in the Early LTTE,” in Roberts, Tamil Person and State, Essays,Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2014, pp, 1-43.
Roberts, Michael2014 “Hero Figures and Hitler in Young Pirapaharan’s Thinking,” in Roberts, Tamil Person and State, Essays,Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2014, pp, 69-89.
Roberts, Michael 2014 “The Induction Oath of Tamil Tiger Fighters at their Passing-Out Ceremony,” 23 June 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/the-induction-oath-of-tamil-tiger-fighters-at-their-passing-out-ceremony/
Roberts, Michael2014 Tamil Person and State. Essays, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.
Roberts, Michael2014 Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.
Schalk,Peter2003 “Beyond Hindu festivals: the celebration of Great Heroes’ Day by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) in Europe,” in Martin Baumann et al (eds.) Tempel und Tamilien in zweiter Heimat, Ergon Verlag, pp. 391-411.
Sumathy S. ‘Militants, militarism and the crisis of Tamil) nationalism’, Colombo: Marga Institute, A History of Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka, Monograph Series, No. 22.
Tanaka, Masakazu 1991Patrons, devotees and goddesses. Ritual and power among the Tamil fishermen of Sri Lanka, yo,to: Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University
Taraki [D P Sivaram]2004 “LTTE develops Asymmetric Deterrence to stall Foreign Intervention.” Daily Mirror, 22 May 2004
Taraki 2005 “What is the larger picture in Prabaharan’s Mind?” Daily Mirror, 9 March 2005 –reproduced in Ilankai tamil Sangam, http://sangam.org/taraki/articles/2006/04-29_Larger_Picture.php?uid=1696
[i]For the Presidential Speech by Chelvanayakam and the title page of the pamphlet presented by “The Federal Freedom Party of the Tamil-speaking people of Ceylon” on 18thDecember 1949 go to Roberts, TPS.Pictorial, 2014, pp 273-92.
[ii]See Harding 2002 and Roberts,TPS. Pictorial, 2014, Figs. 59-61.
[iii]This point is clarified forcefully by Natali (2005) One should also visit the articles by Schalk (2003) and Hellmann-Rajanayagam (2005) both of whom are proficient in Tamil. The scenario is also set out in broader contextualization in Roberts “Saivite Symbols” 2005; Roberts. “Pragmatic Action,” 2006 and Roberts, “Regenerating Divine Potency?” 2005.
[iv]This estimate was presented by the late Joe Ariyaratnam of Reuters who was staying at the same guesthouse as myself. He indicated that more than half the Tamils of the north would have assembled at the various thuyilumilumon that day 27thNovember.
[v]These appraisals in their turn informed my conjectural assertion that the Tamil people resident in Thamililam were firm supporters of the LTTE (see Roberts, “Citizenship,” 2014).
[vi]Reference to the statistics from Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Mannar Districts in the 1981 will, I think (from memory) indicate that about ten percent of the population were classified as “Indian Tamil.” In surmise, I suspect that this was in large part due to the land reform and other policies pursued in the hill country by the United front government of 1970-77.
[vii]Taken in conjunction with other individual case histories (e. g. Thamil Chelvam), this tale points to an important process that calls for in-depth study: viz. the degree to which the rise of Tamil militancy, and the period of LTTE rule, assisted the Indian Tamils in the north and the depressed castes (Pallar, Paraiyar, Nallava) to raise their position in Tamil society.
[viii]See Gulf News, 13 April 2006.
[ix]I was introduced to him on the 28thNovember. THE poster of the early maeeirar that is reproduced in miniature copy as Fig. 3 in my Tamil Person and State. Pictorial remains in my hands as a rare document and memento.
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