By Rajan Hoole –
On the one hand, we have the LTTE supporting Tamil elite who love life and what it has to offer in material possession, position and fame. On the other, we are told that Black Tigers from the same society altruistically disdain all these and readily give their life. How does one explain the pathology of the same society representing these two disparate tendencies?
We have discussed caste mentality, which has facilitated the existence of gross inequality. Another factor is the narrow material sense in which education is viewed. A person failing a public examination feels that he has failed in life and the month of May when GCE (O/L) results are released used to be also the month of suicides in Jaffna. The LTTE’s management of society has moulded and exacerbated these tendencies to suit its military aims.
Take for example the large number of young who left Jaffna when the LTTE briefly lifted the pass system in October 1990. They had the connections to escape from the LTTE and start life anew elsewhere. Being abused as traitors made no impression on them. Having gone out many of them became ‘patriots’. But the rest were left behind in a state of utter despondency. The departure of men was particularly hard on the women who were traditionally dependent. It is not surprising that the LTTE recruited women and children in larger numbers at this time. Children of privileged parents who joined in an emotional moment were taken out of the LTTE using influence and sent abroad. In July 1991, most of the thousand or so killed in the LTTE’s desperate bid to overrun Elephant Pass were women and children. The previous year, this drama had been played out at Jaffna Fort, Kokkavil and Mankulam.
The injured women and children in hospital did not evince a sense of heroism or any feeling for the LTTE cause. Their feelings were rather of being lost, wanting the affection of family and friends. And above all an unspoken message, that they had been trapped by fate in the wrong kind of organisation which was totally inhuman. What follows is the testimony of an injured girl from our Report No. 6. She was injured when her party trying to attack the Navy in Karainagar had caught a shell blast.
She had obediently held onto her gun, as instructed, until someone collected it. Asked how she felt before the attack, she said that it was the most exhilarating experience. They were simply thrilled as they were setting off after having tea together. She then became anxious, and asked the lady who was talking to her in hospital, ‘Akka (elder sister), will you stay with me tonight?’. Later in her sleep she cried, ‘Amma (mother), Amma, come and stay close to me!’ Then: “Drive the tractor slowly, my head hurts…I asked the Akka to stay with me, I don’t know if she is here…. “.
Another girl (Report No. 6) who lost a leg from a bomb blast while attacking Jaffna Fort on 5th August 1990, related her experience in a state of shock, unable to understand what happened or why: “An ‘Anna’ (elder brother) carried me. After he went a few paces, there was another explosion. The Anna who carried me collapsed dead. As I fell, I saw Mathangi. She too was dead. I lay on the ground for twenty minutes while shells flew over me. One exploding shell split my mouth….”
The next testimony from Report No.8 concerns a young girl whose father, a toddy tapper, fell from a palmyrah tree and died. The girl joined the LTTE and the mother was desperate. This was 1990 and the LTTE went for broke trying to overrun the Jaffna Fort. The mother received a letter smuggled out of the Nelliady girls’ camp. It was from her daughter, badly wanting to come home. The girl wrote that she was very frightened after four girls taken to Jaffna Fort had not returned.
The mother went to the camp with a friend to plead her case. The leader, a woman, denied the girl’s presence. Out of desperation, the mother produced her daughter’s letter. The leader read the letter and angrily called out the girl. In her mother’s presence she slapped and kicked her with her boot. She sent the mother away telling her that her daughter will never be released.
The next testimony, also from Report No.8, concerns children who in a moment of thrill, having been shown guns and uniforms on parade, had joined the movement. After a couple of days inside, the initial allure had gone. Life inside was oppressive, and most of them wanted to go home. One of the children told the man in charge that he wanted to go. Immediately, everyone was called together and he who expressed a wish to go home was a given a sound public thrashing. The others, who also wanted to go, kept quiet when asked. The parents who succeeded in tracing the camp wanted their children back. Each child was faced with his parents and asked if he wanted to go home. The answer was consistently ‘No’!
In due course, a few of them were given drugs which made them feel violent. They were given the freedom to abuse prisoners violently and so it went. They were thus broken and their childhood was destroyed. Since the LTTE was displaced to the Vanni, testimonies coming through show the same methods at work (See The Sun God’s Children, our Bulletin No. 23).
To many outsiders the Black Tiger phenomenon, which is the external manifestation of this regime, has been a source of mystical wonder. But most Tamils know much better. They are cynical about it. Many feel guilty and so do not openly criticise it. Tamil media- men know what is going on as is evident from the lengths to which they go in misleading the reader. The Tamil media in Colombo almost consciously play the role of drumming into readers the fatalistic acceptance of the Tigers as their only hope.
Nevertheless, the people living cheek-by- jowl with the Tigers see plainly the tragic reality that is interpreted in the world media as the fanatical dedication of Tiger combatants. For the latter, life is punishing labour, dangerous, dirty and with few amenities. Among the privileged are the ones in the administrative cadre, who are better educated and handle the resources and the government rations coming to the people. The people see them as leading a life of plenty amidst scarcity and are viewed with cynicism as in any fascist society.
During the early 1990s Thamilenthy, a former bank clerk turned leading financial administrator in the LTTE, made a revolutionary suggestion. He said in a speech that the Tamil people having produced such an incomparable prodigy as Prabhakaran must stop using the Birth of Christ as the referral year. He proposed using ‘Before Prabhakaran’ and ‘After Prabhakaran’ in place of BC and AD. The immediate talk among the people was that Thamilenthy is in trouble for embezzlement!
A woman in the Vanni regularly met young members of the LTTE fighting cadre who told her about their gruelling life where baths and good food were luxuries. She felt sorry for them. Some of them reminded her that she tried to dissuade them from joining and added they regretted not heeding her counsel. They told her, “ Once you come into this organisation, there is no alternative. You must make up your mind to die. When volunteers are called for a dangerous job, we all raise our hands.” These young persons are inexorably trapped.
To compensate for its lack of manpower, the LTTE now, in the Vanni, compels all able adults to undergo military training for its Border Force. School children who are in Grade 10 (about 14 years) and above are trained separately. Those who avoid training cannot function and are regularly harassed. They are denied everything from government rations to the right to register for public examinations. Many breadwinners, who took Border Force training to avoid harassment, suddenly found themselves forced on to the frontline in Jaffna from May 2000. They were left to do sentry duty at the front, while the trained cadre stayed behind. A large number of Border Force men had been killed by Sri Lankan commandos for whom they were sitting ducks.
The LTTE brought home in a sealed coffin what they said were the remains of a Border Force man. He was that family’s breadwinner. His wife was very angry. She had watched helplessly her unwilling husband being taken from home to the battle-front. She screamed and assaulted the LTTE men. Evidently, to prevent such rebellious tendencies from getting out of hand, she was later summoned for an inquiry.
The elite phenomenon too manifests itself in the Vanni. The heads of government departments make a token presence at Border Force training. This compels their staff to follow them. But when the others are called up for duty, the heads are exempted. For the rest, the latter pass onto the LTTE all food rations meant for the people, monies sent for the repair of tanks, roads, school buildings and equipment etc. and provide elaborate details of the work done for the record. In this, they have no choice. However, several of them then help to spread the word that the Government is the main cause of deprivation in the Vanni.
Against this conspiracy whose edifice has been put into place by the weaknesses of the society, individual failings and personal inadequacies, any attempt to speak the truth or examine alternatives draws a virulent response. The apparent attachment of this society to the Tiger phenomenon is far from one towards those who give them life, or who devotedly contribute to its enhancement. Stories of Tiger victories, and their procurement of advanced weapons, act more like narcotic agents. These keep the society supplied with ecstasies on the road to total ruin.
The worldwide Tamil society is not so cut off that they are ignorant of this reality. Tamil visitors from abroad while talking about the educational and material success of their progeny, may feel the ground by suggesting that the Tigers do charitable work in looking after orphans. If challenged, they would simply drop the subject. They know the truth. It suits them to be part of the crowd paying their dues and going along to lobbying seminars for the LTTE cause, where key politicians in their new country are received and felicitated. They do not need the rationalisations from karma to cover up their callousness and crudity. This crudity is also reflected in the new emergence of caste in Tamil nationalist discourse. It is a drift away from the goal set by the Gandhian inspired Youth Congress in the 1920s, leading to a slow undermining of caste in Jaffna. We mention one salient feature.
In 1985 the Tamil militant struggle, then involving a number of groups, reached its peak when the Sri Lankan Army was immobilised in Jaffna and several other parts of the North-East. This was because of spontaneous co-operation from the populace. Since the LTTE made itself the sole group, it has won some sensational battles. But overall, its influence and control have declined even against a weak Sri Lankan Army. Moreover, the latter not only took Jaffna in 1995, but in contrast to 1985, operate there comfortably, because of tacit public sanction. Wherever the LTTE is in control, it is seen as an incubus. The LTTE became weak because it ceased to have a popular base. This is where narrower loyalties such as caste came to play a role.
In all caste groups, persons with a regard for culture and morality silently became strong opponents of the LTTE. When the LTTE became the sole, totalitarian power, a greater consciousness of caste crept in for a variety of reasons. Also, elements from marginal groups based on caste or other interests (e.g. some prominent church leaders) gravitated towards the LTTE with a view to enhancing their influence within a totalitarian arrangement.
Where caste was concerned, persons identifying with the LTTE were notably from the intermediate groups. The LTTE’s failure became marked when the Army consolidated its hold on Jaffna in 1996. The search for scapegoats had already begun when, in late 1995, the bulk of the people of Jaffna refused to follow the LTTE into the Vanni. In a recent development, one regularly hears talk about ‘traitor castes’ from LTTE sympathisers. The fate of the Muslims is another tragic instance of this hunt for scapegoats. These are signs of fatal decadence.
*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