Pirapāharan as uncompromising killer prone to vengeance: testimonies from the Jaffna heartland, 1989-91

Ben Bavinck diary entries

See Val Daniel’s Introduction to the first volume of the diaries as well as the other items that are now apart of the thuppahi series which extract themes from the methodical commentary embodied in Bavinck’s diaries as he worked so wholeheartedly to alleviate hardships among Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese peoples throughout the island in these war years. Also note the recent article by Narayan Swamy entitled “Prabhakaran: From catapult killer to ruthless insurgent” in M. R. Narayan Swamy, The Tigers vanquished. LTTE’s story, Delhi, SAGE Publications, 2010, pp. 165-167, which meshes with the evaluations presented by the Jaffna Tamils who interacted with Bavinck  and whose readings are recorded here. However, note that these may well have been minority voices in the body of Tamil people at that time. A tough nut to crack that question: namely, how many and which proportion of the Jaffnese held similar sentiments to the body of dissidents known as the UTHR and their circle? Web Editor.

Pic by S. Walpola

5th January 1989, Jaffna: At the beginning of 1988, a group called University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) 28 was formed. Until that time nobody had dared to say anything against the Tigers except Rajan Hoole, another lecturer. But now people became more audacious. They also more and more had to intercede for Jaffna students, who had been arrested. All this had led to the founding of UTHR (J). UTHR (J) continues to collect facts about violations of human rights and to issue reports. Those are sent to the unions of the national universities. Now a book has been published by four members of the UTHR (J) i.e. by Rajani herself, Rajan Hoole, K. Sritharan and Daya Somasunderam. It deals with the war in 1987 and is called “The Broken Palmyrah”.Afterwards I also met Rajan Hoole, who explained that the leading thought behind the founding of the UTHR (J) was the feeling that there was nobody to oppose the principle “Might is right!”, not even the churches. The churches thought that the only possible approach was through silent diplomacy. Rajan thought that if the LTTE had had respect for the churches they would have listened.

Speaking about the situation, he made the following comments: After the killing of the 600 TELO29 cadres by the Tigers in 1986, many people started to follow the Tigers. The Roman Catholic Church in particular gave a lot of support to the Tigers, even though the bishop was silent. The Citizens’ Committee too is pro-LTTE. People with other opinions were forced to step down. Will the LTTE ever be able to participate with others in searching for a solution? But this was impossible, because Prabhakaran would rather commit suicide than compromise. That this will cost thousands of lives doesn’t matter to him. The Tigers maintain their support and their influence thanks to the cruel actions of the IPKF and its allies. Therefore the gut feeling of the people is to support the Tigers. How can one wean the people away from this? Non-violence? But people associate that so often with doing nothing. Rajan felt that there was a general feeling of regret that things went wrong. He wondered if that could form a base for the formation of a mass movement.

 22nd September 1989, Colombo: … After coming home from the meeting, there was a phone call from my friend Rev. Premarajah, with the shattering news that Rajani Thiranagama was shot dead in Jaffna yesterday. It seems she was on her way home from the university where she teaches. She had just returned from England. A tremendously courageous woman. Her death must be a terrible blow for UTHR (J). I must go there as soon as possible.

1st October 1989, Jaffna:  On Sunday morning I cycled from Vaddukoddai to Jaffna, to visit the Rajasingam family, the parents and sisters of Rajani. My old colleague Rajasingam was very downcast, and he wondered whether Rajani had not been too audacious. But he felt that this urge to stand up for justice and human rights came from deep down in her being. He asked me to speak at the meeting in the university in her memory the next day. He mentioned that I had been her teacher, and that my stories about the Second World War and about resistance to the Nazis had influenced her.

   I also talked to Rajan Hoole. He was practically sure that “the striped animals” had done this, but didn’t want to speak about this at this time, so as not to disturb the ceremonies in commemoration of Rajani. He told me that Rajani had been shot from behind as she was cycling home from the university, by someone on a bicycle.

2nd October 1989, Jaffna:  In the morning, I finished preparing my speech and proceeded to the university. There we heard that the procession through the town, in the morning, had been attended by 3000 people, including the vice chancellor of the university, Prof. Thurairajah. The Kailasapathy Auditorium was also filled completely when the meeting started under the chairmanship of the vice chancellor. There were 12 speakers. I spoke about that sentence from the Gospel, which says that unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it will not bear fruit. Self-sacrifice as a vocation, which only the best among us dare to accept.

21st May 1991: …….. During my stay in Jaffna we heard the shocking news of the murder of Rajiv Gandhi in Madras. In Jaffna, this created a real commotion and people expected bad consequences for the Sri Lankan Tamils because of this tragic event. First of all the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in India would feel the consequences, they feared. The opinion that the Tigers could have done this was widespread. “But even if this is not true, the fact that the whole world immediately thinks of the Tigers, is typical of our position. We have become outcasts and the whole world has turned against us”, people told me.

My friend Daya thought that the involvement of the Tigers in this murder seemed very logical, taking into account the psychological condition of their leader, Prabhakaran, who is prone to avenge every disdainful or disparaging word or action against him. That’s why Rajani. That’s why so many others. That’s why now Rajiv had to pay the price.

Rajiv Gandhi Memorial at Sriperumbadur where he was assassinated by Dhanu, a Black Tiger, under directions from Pirapaharan and Pottu Amman

ADDENDUM: Pirapāharan’s acts of retribution also extended to LTTE personnel. The most prominent instance is probably that of Mahattaya alias Gopalaswamy Mahendraraja (1956-28 December 1994), even though the latter was also a Karaiyar. Mahattaya became second-in-command of the LTTE from 1987 and was of central importance in the tough struggle against the SL army’s Vadamaradchchi operation of May-June 1987 as well as the subsequent guerrilla warfare against the IPKF in milate 9 1987-89. This was in part due to his remarkable cartographical knowledge.

Nevertheless in 1992 he came under suspicion and was accused of being an agent of the Indian secret service, viz., RAW. He was kept under arrest and eventually executed in December 1994.This contention was peddled in LTTE circles thereafter and it has been foisted on Wikipedia as well. Doubts must surely remain on this score insofar as one must allow for the possibility that Pirapāharan saw him as a potential threat from within to his ultimate authority. Here, one must recall two incidents during the embryonic early days of the LTTE in 1976-79 when the fighting cluster was as tiny as secretive: grapevine information retails credible allegations that Pirapāharan killed two of his former colleagues in arms, namely,Michael (from Batticaloa) and Patkunam – perhaps after a split developed and Pirapāharan left the LTTE to nestle temporarily with TELO whose leaders then were from his home town, VVT. Michael Roberts, 3 November 2011.

16 Comments

Filed under Fascism, historical interpretation, life stories, LTTE, power politics, Rajiv Gandhi, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, Tamil Tiger fighters, war crimes, women in ethnic conflcits

16 responses to “Pirapāharan as uncompromising killer prone to vengeance: testimonies from the Jaffna heartland, 1989-91

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