“Sacrificial Devotion” — How I Entered This Terrain

Michael Roberts

With the benefit of a Teen Murti Fellowship I was collecting data on communal violence in India in 1995 when my readings of news archives indicated that the death of Mrs Indira Gandhi by assassination in Delhi induced a handful of individuals in southern India to commit sympathetic suicide. Since news reports did not indicate similar reactions in other parts of India, I began to reflect on the cultural foundations that promoted such expressions – acting, of course, in contexts that also could provide political and economic inspirations. This eventually led to my first essay on this topic:  “Filial Devotion and the Tiger Cult of Suicide,” Contributions to Indian Sociology, 1996, 30: 245-72.

Dhanu waits to kill Rajiv Gandhi in suicide attack

 Tigress with cyanide capsule posing for Rosenberg

 Tiger fighters relax in camp, late 1980sPic by Shyam Tekwani who was embedded with LTTE for a while

After completing a major project on Sinhala nationalism in British times and its precursor, Sinhala consciousness in the Kandyan Period, during the years 1996-2004, I returned to this topic with a comparative focus embracing the devotion to cause displayed by the Japanese kamikaze attackers (plane and submarine) on the olne hand and the various jihadist forces on the other. Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney’s Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms was an especially inspiring work in this regard, but I also delved into several studies of the 9/11 “martyrdom operation” and Al Qaida activities in general.

My interest and implicit data-base was also informed by the BBC team who visited Thamililam in the year 1991 and thereafter presented a documentary in their “Inside Story” series called “Suicide Killers;” and by the two excellent documentaries framed by Marc Corcoran of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 1999 and 2002, namely

I consciously avoided the general labels “terrorists” and “terrorism” because they occlude as much as reveal, while sweeping differences within any single corps of activists into one condemnatory ‘container’. My rubric became that of “sacrificial devotion” – a term that does not necessarily deny that some strikes for one’s cause wreak horrible damage on personnel who are not fighting forces and thus amount to “terrorist strikes.”

In late 2005, I even managed to secure Australian monies to mount a Workshop which brought scholars and students together on this theme. Rohan Bastin, Riaz Hassan, Daya Somasundaram, Shyam Tekwani Carl Thayer, and Clive Williams were among those who attended. It led to a web site, namely,

https://sacrificialdevotionnetwork.wordpress.com/category/sacrificial-devotion-in-comparative-perspective/………………….. one that is now dormant because overtaken by Thuppahi.

I present a list of my publications on this cluster of themes in the 21st century…….. in temporal order. Those who object to my approach to this topic and the labels I have used must necessarily read a substantial segment of this work before birching me.

  Six martyrs emblazoned on back cover of a notebook I purchased at a shop in Kilinochchi on 25 November 2004

     Black Tigers pay homage to Black Tiger dead from their locality at SampurPic from TamilNet

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Filed under authoritarian regimes, cultural transmission, Eelam, heritage, historical interpretation, Indian traditions, jihad, landscape wondrous, life stories, LTTE, martyrdom, military strategy, patriotism, politIcal discourse, power politics, prabhakaran, Rajiv Gandhi, religiosity, religious nationalism, Tamil Tiger fighters, terrorism, the imaginary and the real, vengeance, world events & processes, zealotry

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