By Rajan Hoole –
If the crunch of July 1983 forms the key to understanding the mass-based Tamil militant struggle which commenced thereafter, the key to understanding how the LTTE phenomenon took root must lie in the State’s counter-insurgency practices from mid- 1984. Unfortunately, its significance has been lost because it was largely ignored by the local media and the documentation was otherwise scattered. Important documentation was then done by the TULF which was making representations to the Indian government, but its leaders who are invaluable sources of history have been decimated by the LTTE.
During this period Tamil civilians living in the East, the Vanni and particularly the Trincomalee District endured untold horrors in the form of massacres, displacement and aerial strafing by the Sri Lankan Forces. The affiliations of the refugees, if anything, were mostly towards the PLOTE, TELO and EPRLF. But once the LTTE destroyed the other groups, this desperate refugee population totally alienated from the Sri Lankan State and its social organisation in shambles, formed a susceptible base using whom the LTTE extended its control over Tamil society.
Early May 1986, when the LTTE attacked the TELO and the Tamil struggle died, is etched in the minds of beholders of those tragic scenes. Not long before, the TELO had helped the LTTE to beat off a helicopter borne commando assault on the LTTE’s Suthumalai camp, for which it publicly thanked the TELO. In fact, the LTTE Jaffna leader Kittu who had been deserted by his own men was saved by the TELO.
At Tellipalai in Jaffna, James, a member of TELO, when confronted by LTTE assailants, ripped open his shirt, bared his breast, and shouted defiantly, “Shoot me if you will, but don’t come near me”. Facing his tormentors, he fell, riddled by a hail of bullets.
Shankarlal had been in charge of the TELO camp at Vaddukkottai. He was at Sittankerni when someone told him that the LTTE was attacking his camp. Instead of trying to escape, as he could easily have done, Shankarlal rushed back to his camp and died the death of a hero.
At Nelliady, the LTTE chained the hands of Bharat, a TELO man from Trincomalee and used a vehicle to drag him along the rutted road. With blood oozing from his pierced flesh, Bharat, who remained defiant, swore at his captors and let fly with epithets. The LTTE doused him in petrol and burnt him alive.
In Thenmaratchy, a TELO captive begged for water. ‘Hurdles’, the LTTE intelligence chief, poured petrol into his mouth and forced him to swallow it.
These TELO men were real warriors, who once upon a time dedicated themselves to the Tamil struggle, and of a kind who have not been seen again. While the massacre of the TELO was going on, there was one note of dissent by an LTTEer. He spoke to some members of the public near Windsor Theatre junction in Jaffna. “Today the people are watching this outrage against another group in silence”, he said. “One day, they will do the same when it happens to us!,” he added poignantly.
In contrast to the members of the groups it banned, those in the LTTE are immature youth drilled to function effectively as a machine, but even Black Tigers in captivity have shown little hesitation in revealing everything. On the other hand, there are several members of the PLOTE, TELO, EPRLF and EROS, who held their own under the rigours inflicted by Sri Lankan torturers.
In fact the rise of the LTTE had very little to do with any traditional notion of valour. Typical of its strategy was the murder of Sundaram on 2nd January 1982. Prabhakaran then judged Sundaram, a former associate in the LTTE that broke-up in 1979 over differences, to be the most potent personal challenge to him. After the break-up, Prabhakaran did a stint in the TELO that lasted through 1981.
Sundaram was an able military man as well as a political strategist who formed the PLOTE with Uma Maheswaran, again a former LTTE leader. In ordering the death of Sundaram from India, Prabhakaran used the words, “Put off the main switch”, thus signifying his own political strategy. Sundaram was murdered in a cowardly fashion while proof reading his journal Puthiya Pathai (New Path) at Chitra Press, Jaffna. In time, the other militant leaders lapsed into complacency.
Able members of other militant groups were marked by the LTTE and ‘switched off’ when opportunity arose. Jegan from the group TELE was the first to confront the Sri Lankan Army directly without the aid of mines. He took a lorry and rammed into an army truck carrying soldiers on Hospital Road, Jaffna. He was killed by the LTTE while setting up an ambush on the Karainagar causeway, around early 1985. The LTTE pleaded ‘mistaken identity’. Amin of the EPRLF was ‘accidentally’ shot from behind by the LTTE when all groups did sentry work around Jaffna Fort.
It was in May 1986 that the LTTE revealed its intentions openly by attacking the TELO when there was a split in its leadership and likewise the EPRLF in December 1986. The PLOTE had already destroyed itself by its internal killings. Had the LTTE been concerned about the people, the struggle and the thousands of youth who joined the other groups for the same cause, it could have exposed individual leaders who had become degenerate. That would have helped the struggle to become stronger and more unified. The LTTE, however, worked instead to target individuals, weaken other groups and exacerbate differences among them, and when it finally attacked them, it expended its fury mercilessly on the innocent rank and file in an outpouring of sadism.
Once the LTTE attacked the other groups, the people distanced themselves from the struggle and played survival games. The verbosity of pro-LTTE lobbies abroad do not detract from this hard reality. A stark instance of this arose recently in Canada. When civil war flared up in Yugoslavia over the Albanian majority province of Kosovo, several planeloads of Kosovan exiles in Canada flew to the Balkans to fight alongside their Kosovan brethren. But out of more than 100,000 Tamil refugees in Canada, one could hardly count one who went home to fight with the LTTE!
The distancing of people from the LTTE- hijacked struggle is also seen in its volte-face on the role of women. In 1983, thousands of men joined the different groups spontaneously and there was no need for women fighting cadre. In an open statement, the LTTE attacked the EPRLF for recruiting women, causing thereby erosion of Tamil social values. They were accused of desecration of the special status Tamil society has accorded women to build close-knit and healthy family units, and further, subjecting the weaker sex to the unimaginable terrors of war.
However, after crushing the other groups the LTTE put out a new line about liberating women and over 5000 of its women recruits died from the unimaginable terrors of war. A similar number of child recruits too have been sacrificed. What is even worse, there are tens of thousands of able-bodied Tamil men who have escaped these conditions and roam the streets of North America, Western Europe and Australasia indulging in crime and extortion for the LTTE. This underlines the kind of support enjoyed by the LTTE. And at what price to the community!
*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