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.
Tigress with cyanide capsule posing for Rosenberg
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
- “Tiger s at the Gate” … directed by Mark Corcoran & Jennifer Byrne
- Truth Tigers … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zlxyvWOkfk
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.
- “Tamil Tiger ‘Martyrs’: Regenerating Divine Potency?” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 2005, 28: 493-514.
- “Saivite Symbolism, Sacrifice and Tamil Tiger Rites”, Social Analysis 2005, 49: 67-93.
- “Pragmatic Action & Enchanted Worlds: A Black Tiger Rite Of Commemoration,” Social Analysis 2006, 50: 73-102.
- “The Tamil Movement for Eelam,” E-Bulletin of the International Sociological Association 4, July 2006, pp. 12-24.
- “Understanding Zealotry and Questions for Post-Orientalism, I” Lines May-August 2006, vol.5, 1 & 2, in http://www.lines-magazine.org.
- “Suicide Missions as Witnessing: Expansions, Contrasts,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 2007 30: 857-88.
- “Blunders in Tigerland: Pape’s Muddles on ‘Suicide Bombers’ in Sri Lanka,” 2007 Online publication within series known as Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics (HPSACP), ISSN: 1617-5069.
- “Tamil Tigers: Sacrificial Symbolism and ‘Dead Body Politics’,” Anthropology Today, June 2008, 24/3: 22-23… rep. in Sri Lanka Guardian
- “Killing Rajiv Gandhi: Dhanu’s Metamorphosis in Death?” South Asian History and Culture 2010 Vol 1, No. 1, pp.25-41………………………………Reproduced in https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2010/01/06/killing-rajiv-gandhi-dhanus-sacrificial-met-in-death/
- “Self-Annihilation for Political Cause: Cultural Premises in Tamil Tiger Selflessness,” in Roberts, Fire and Storm. Essays in Sri Lankan Politics. Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2010, pp. 161-201.
- “Encompassing Empowerment in Ritual, War & Assassination: Tantric Principles in Tamil Tiger Instrumentalities,” in Social Analysis, sp. issue on War Magic ed. by D. S. Farrer, Issue Volume 58/1, 2014 …………………………………………………SEE https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/02/28/encompassing-empowerment-in-ritual-war-and-assassination/