By Rajan Hoole –
Purity, at the LTTE’s foundation in the mid- 1970s, was centred on an inviolable pledge to establish the separate state of Tamil Eelam. Its members on oath forswore entanglements of love, romance and family, until the movement’s dissolution upon the attainment of the goal. They were moreover forbidden to leave the organisation and function in another. Death was the penalty for breach. Yet, the LTTE began flaunting its purity most vocally when all the original provisions were in tatters.
By this time purity had merely become a weapon for supremacy over its rivals. The original LTTE had broken up over differences, mainly about Prabhakaran, in 1979, and the founding members parted from Prabhakaran. The latter for more than a year afterwards functioned in the TELO, the group of his former mentor, Thangathurai. In 1984, Prabhakaran married a woman who was abducted from a protest fast at Jaffna University and taken to India. The event dismayed the members, some of whom left the movement.
LTTE central committee member R’s experience in India illustrates how the organisation’s character was determined by a selective reckoning of human foibles. R had accidentally witnessed a plain and silly love scene, where the Leader had thrown water at the lady. R felt so let down that he, according to a former member, told the central committee, “The rules of the organisation are being violated at the highest level.” Prabhakaran looked down and said nothing. R was suddenly overcome by fear when he realised his rashness. R was subsequently asked to leave for Mannar. Fearing to travel by an LTTE boat, R went to Mannar with another group and left Sri Lanka for a foreign country.
The goal of Tamil Eelam too had become untenable after the LTTE went under the patronage of India. India had repeatedly reiterated its commitment to the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. Indeed Prabhakaran agreed to the political solution under the Indo-Lanka Accord and later, in 1989, delegated representatives to hold talks with President Premadasa. The commitment to a United Sri Lanka was then repeatedly reiterated by Anton Balasingham during talks in Colombo.
LTTE apologists explain such waywardness as strategy. This is special pleading for a cause which is condemned to endless ‘strategies’. Every ‘strategic’ move comes with a calculated provocation of the aggrieved party, so detracting from its own transgressions. These are ‘strategies’ designed to inflict mindless violence on its own people, as in 1987 and 1990. The LTTE goes on regardless, its purity intact! It is a self- indulgent and meaningless notion of purity, which only a handful can vaunt at everyone else’s expense.
The LTTE’s propaganda in the mid-80s represented the other groups as undisciplined, dissolute and anti-social elements, compromisers on Eelam and so on. Even so, the LTTE was committed to a common struggle with the EPRLF, TELO and EROS under the aegis of the Eelam National Liberation Front – the formal agreement having been signed by the leaders in India on 10th April 1985. The keener observers in Jaffna came to associate the LTTE with craftiness and duplicity. Political purity – no compromise on Eelam – became a pretext for absolute power (see Sect. 15.3).
LTTE propaganda was quite successful in projecting it as the ‘Pure’ Movement among the middle classes and expatriates. It is notable that nearly all those who joined the militancy from St. John’s, Jaffna’s most prestigious school, joined the LTTE. There was resentment after the LTTE killed the school’s principal for organising a cricket match with the Sri Lankan Army during the 1985 cease-fire. All those from St. John’s subsequently left the organisation.
However, many observant locals saw this purity as a sham. Several of the LTTE’s leaders were alcoholics. The high profile Jaffna leader of the mid-80s had a string of mistresses. Some notable LTTE personages used to boast about their sexual liaisons. What was most disturbing about this state of affairs was hypocrisy, and a readiness to kill in order to keep up appearances over ‘purity’.
The only daughter of a retired post-master from Valvettithurai, and her boy-friend, both LTTEers, were sentenced to death and executed for a love affair in a sentry bunker. This was long after the Leader’s marriage and by when the ban on marriage had been lifted. When the LTTE massacred, tortured and executed members of other groups in 1986, the main public pretext centred around their political ‘impurity’ – ‘traitors’ in other words. The organisation thus became further enmeshed in its hypocrisy, having to carry on the sham of purity at any cost.
By the early 1990s, it was abundantly clear that the gap between fiction and reality was unbridgeable. Several area leaders and tax collectors became notorious for living it up and spending lavishly on mistresses. Checks and punishment were selective. Charges of embezzlement etc. were made when cracking down on leaders who were close to Prabhakaran’s rival, Mahattaya. Several of them who held positions in the Vanni were taken from prison and executed. Far from purity, what prevailed in the organisation was the seedy world of oligarchy.
This was not an ordinary criminal organisation or a band of military men for whom secrecy serves limited purposes. The LTTE was an organisation for whom punishing the smallest sign of dissent within the cadre and covering up every deviation from ‘purity’ by the leaders had become a necessity and an obsession. It had developed interwoven networks of spies to spy on each other. As widely known (see Sect. 22.9 above), it had also developed a system of agents for internal killings. Inconvenient persons have been done away with on the battlefield and commemorated as martyrs. The widespread belief that Mannar leader Victor suffered such a fate in October 1986 arose from talk within the LTTE. Victor had not complied with orders to kill members of the TELO in his area. These manifestations had serious implications for the plight of women within the movement.
A group of soldiers may rape a woman in a moment of lust and kill her to avoid identification. It is a crime by individuals which the Government hardly does enough to check. In an organisation like the LTTE however, the masters have enormous power to play with women using the mechanisms of the organisation itself. What is the plight of a woman who resists a calculated advance and is in a position to blow the whistle on the purity of some leaders? She must live in dread knowing that the end will come swiftly in a staged action!
Such may seem farfetched in those acclaimed worldwide as the leaders of the Tamil people. But if one takes into consideration the well- known facts, it is to be expected. The LTTE is an organisation which has developed the capacity to watch people and target them in the most devious ways. It has cheapened life to a point where it is not just those who dissent that are at risk, but civilians are made to die by the leaders in deliberately provoked reprisals for propaganda abroad. Children are tricked into joining the movement while the parents are kept running in circles. It is inevitable that this organisation must plumb the depths of depravity in all spheres, whomever it has occasion to deal with, and women are no exception.
Outsiders have written about the LTTE having liberated women, but those who live among them know that it views women mainly as chattels who can carry guns. Given the organisation’s political viciousness, it cannot be expected to inculcate anything into women that would serve their interests.
In the LTTE itself, the men, after a certain number of years, are allowed to marry women outside the organisation, but the women are allowed to marry only within the LTTE. Moreover the men who leave the organisation can go abroad and start a new life, but it is not easy for women, and their training has not fitted them for normal civilian life. The organisation has thus collected a number of single women going into their 30s.
It is therefore not surprising that women are increasingly taking on the role of suicide bombers and assassins. A count from Dhanu in 1991 would show that about a half are women. Nearly all the women victims are from poor homes. This raises disturbing questions about fate of women and children in Tamil society.
Among the most shameful episodes of the so-called liberation struggle was the expropriation and forced deportation of Muslims from the North in October 1990, for the mere crime of having been Muslims – a peace loving people who were an invaluable part of society and the local economy. Here is a scene from the final humiliation of Muslim women before deportation from Jaffna (Sect. 3.4 of our Report No.6):
“Tamil friends and neighbours who too were very upset and attempted to go to the Muslims were prevented [by the LTTE]… The [Muslim] women were taken inside [Manohara Theatre] to be examined by female cadre. The treatment was humiliating and the looters behaved as though people retaining their meagre hard-earned possessions were criminals. One woman was made to remove her brassieres and part with jewellery hidden inside. One tigress started removing the ear studs of a Muslim girl. Losing patience after removingone,shepulledtheother,leavingthe girl with a torn, bleeding ear… Some female cadre crowed triumphantly that the Muslims were being taught a lesson for not contributing the two sovereigns of gold asked from all the families…”
In another incident, on hearing of the deportation order, a Tamil man who had ordered a bell from Colombo through a Muslim trader rushed to his home to collect the bell and make the balance payment. On going there, he found the people gone and there were instead LTTE men. He wept within himself upon seeing the school bags of Muslim children who had come home from school, only to learn that they were being evicted from the land of their nativity and the patch of the world they cherished. An LTTE man asked him his problem, and the man told him, explaining that he would like to give the Muslim man the Rs.5000 he owed. The bell was found. The LTTE man asked him if he brought the balance payment, which he then carefully took from the man. Upon deporting the Muslims, 15 of them were held back for ransom payment. Visiting them must have been one of the strangest missions of the ICRC.
This episode does not deal with the harrowing murders of Muslims – there were hundreds of them in the East. But it tells us a good deal about the organisation and what it was doing to its members, especially the women. It was an outfit bereft of the faintest gleam of good. What follows is an experience of Sara Zyskind, related in her book Stolen Years. She was a teenaged Jewish girl from Poland who survived the Nazi holocaust. The incident took place as guards searched a line of Jewish women being marched into the concentration camp at Auschwitz:
By now the woman in front of me was being searched…. She was ordered to open her mouth, and one of them looked into it with a flashlight. On spotting a gold tooth, he took
a pair of pincers, and within an instant the tooth was gleaming in his hand. This tooth must have served as a dental support for as soon as it was removed, several other teeth fell out after it. The woman began vomiting. Revolted at the sight, the soldiers kicked her forward violently.
Fascists through the ages have shown a shared talent for gold detection. Misusing the label ‘liberation movement’, the LTTE was takinginordinaryyoungmenandwomenand training them to behave like the troops of a degenerate state power, or even the criminal dregs of a society. These at least have the sense to keep women out of such loathsome proceedings. The LTTE, which once preached that women should be spared the horrors of war, used them in massacring women, children and infants in the Sinhalese village of Gonagala, in September 1999. What is the future of a society whose supposed leaders turn women into butchers?
There can be no illusions about the position of women in the LTTE. For women who survive the apocalyptic experience of service in the LTTE in which over 5000 women have perished, there is grave anxiety about whether a society that holds onto orthodox values would accept them as marriage partners. This too is exploited by the organisation. There is nothing new in this. A society that is under external attack, but has freedom within, can transform itself to adapt to new challenges and support the afflicted. But the LTTE as a predatory internal force kept on hammering at all defensive and stabilising mechanisms within the society to benefit from its ruin.
There are a number of instances of women, whose husbands were killed by the LTTE, becoming LTTE operatives in the South. The society and the churches have been taught to pretend that such victims do not exist. The exceptional woman who wants the truth recorded in the death certificate of her husband may be fortunate enough to get as far as ‘killed by unknown persons’. Where can such women go unless they are fortunate enough to have a kinsman to help? A number of cases of exploitation of such women by the LTTE (e.g. as accomplices in urban terrorism) itself bears further testimony to its sadism. These are women for whom all meaning in life has been destroyed at its very foundations, and are in turn adrift in an unsympathetic social environment. It applies as much to women who had been in the LTTE.
Those who can talk about the true nature of the organisation are either dead or hold their peace in different corners of the world. It is the kind of organisation in which the young burn out their little lives in short-term ecstasies that are obligingly provided. Apart from Prabhakaran, nearly all those from the 1987 leadership are dead – thirteen of them, including Thileepan, committed suicide on orders from the Leader. Several top leaders were killed or suffered an unknown fate like Mahattaya who was reported seen with his fingers bandaged after torturers had pulled out his nails. Yogi, one time LTTE spokesman, is today stone deaf, after being run through the mill by LTTE torturers. It was the same dreadful machine to which Yogi condemned others in his hey day. Susilan from Nelliady was among the two who accompanied the Leader into the Vanni jungles after the start of the war with the Indian Army in October 1987. The Leader told Susilan, “I am placing myself in your hands and coming into the jungle”. During that period, Mahattaya acted with considerable autonomy and Susilan is said to have become close to him. Later in 1990 when Prabhakaran started isolating Mahattaya, Susilan was arrested, and his wife was subsequently informed of his execution.
The case of Kittu illustrates how everyone touched by the LTTE must live out a lie. On the night of 30th March 1987, when the LTTE was the sole power in Jaffna, a bomb was thrown at this high profile Jaffna leader, who survived with the amputation of a leg. Many immediately suspected an inside job. However, whether out of genuine confusion, or in an attempt to shift the blame, some LTTE men went berserk and massacred up to a hundred EPRLF prisoners held by them. Kittu was later placed in charge of LTTE offices in Madras and then London. Peacemakers regularly called upon him. He duly convinced them of the LTTE’s fervent thirst for peace. There was another side.
A former LTTE member who had been very loyal to Kittu met him in Madras. Kittu requested him to rejoin and work for them. This former member replied, “On what guarantee do I come back after what they did to you?” This was the first time someone touched so bluntly the subject of the bomb attack, which by common convenience had been papered over. Kittu, the killer, whose presence had for three years evoked dread among the folk of Jaffna, broke down. He wept like a babe.
This former member met Kittu a few more times in Europe, but Kittu never again broached the subject of his rejoining. He described the nature of Kittu’s difficulties. About late 1985, printed calenders with Prabhakaran’s picture were sent to Jaffna by boat from India, where Prabhakaran was. When the stuff was unloaded and brought to Kittu’s attention, he irritably ordered them to be thrown into a corner. Later Prabhakaran called Kittu by wireless, and told him that a week had passed since the calenders arrived and they had not been distributed. Kittu offered some excuses. Prabhakaran told him, “When you speak, think carefully and speak wisely”. Every leader feared the ‘Uzi Group’ – an internal spy group whose members were known only to Prabhakaran. Having close dealings with the Leader carries a danger from which hardly anyone is exempt.
These excesses of the organisation have strong implications for what sort of peace the Leader could agree to. The years 1987, 1990 and 1995, brought options for peace, which the people badly wanted. But the Leader chose alternatives that further entrenched him in the bunker. What guarantee will do to convince a man who killed an Indian prime minister, a Sri Lankan president, a presidential candidate and attempted to kill another president?
*To be continued..
*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here