Naren Rajasingham’s Reading of Pirapāharan’s Thamilīlam in 2004/05

Michael Roberts

In working up perceptive readings of the Sri Lankan scenarios presented by the Tamil activist Narendran Rajasingham in Colombo Telegraph and other outlets I will proceed chronologically. This collection includes (B) his engagements with the Tamil peoples who survived the last stages of the war and ended up as internal refugees in IDP camps or elsewhere in 2009/10; (C) his discerning evaluations of the Tamil death toll; and (D) his forthright and critical reading of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Victory Day Speech of 13th May 2013 in no less an outlet than Colombo Telegraph; and (E) some biting exchanges within Colombo Telegraph when he countered Tamil protagonists via ethnographic data and incisive contentions in clarification of the war and its aftermath.

One finding is a Word File which he sent me on 23 August 2010 with assessments of the political scenario within the state of Thamilīlam in late 2004/05 – an assessment gathered in the course of his short sojourn there with his brother Jayadevan Rajasingham.[1]

Since I spent three days in Kilinochchi from 26th-to-29th November 2004, I will be placing my account of the events at that locality at the end of Narendran’s MEMO so as to underline his more perceptive comprehension of the Tamil peoples’ situation within the de facto LTTE state.

A: Email from Roberts-Narendran, 23 August 2010

I believe you visited the Vanni in the ceasefire period and so too your brother [though he may have seen the walls of a dungeon only?] …. So, what is your surmise on the degree of support the LTTE had in the period 2000-08? ….. Michael

B: Narendran- Roberts, 23 August 2010

Thanks.[2] During the two visits to Kilinochchi during the ceasefire period, I was able to discern the following:  …………………………………………………………………………………………
1. The LTTE was above the people and was no longer with them.
2. It had spies everywhere. Even we were spied on, while eating at one of their restaurants.
3. LTTE female cadres we tried to communicate with were very reluctant to do so. Soon after we approached these female cadres, the ‘ Spies’ (who were quite transparent) gathered within hearing distance.

4. Money was being collected from expatriates without any receipts being issued and very intrusive information about every expatriate was being collected.

The few people whom we were able to talk to were very critical of the LTTE.

One rice cultivator said that the LTTE was buying their paddy at a lower price and selling it the government at a higher price.  He was also complaining that he had to pay higher prices for his inputs because of LTTE taxation.

The following were also reported:

  1. Even the women who make stringhoppers at home for selling to shops/hotels are taxed. The shop keepers are also taxed upfront on the quantity they buy.
  2. Fish vendors were taxed at the point they buy their fish. There were no concessions for the quantity that may remain unsold.
  3. The LTTE had banned people from listening to radio stations opposed to them. One cycle repairman was beaten badly and his radio destroyed because he was caught listening to such a station.

On the whole, those who had committed themselves to the LTTE, were a privileged lot, while others who had not done were subject to their tyranny.

We were served lunch by Nediyavan, who assumed a very superior air and wanted to know why I was not contributing to the LTTE.[3] He wanted to also know whether I was committed to winning the rights of the Tamils and achieving Tamil Eelam. I bluntly replied that although I eat chicken, I was not ready to slaughter them. He could not understand this logic.  I also told him that I do not like my money to be used to kill anybody, because I know what that means [because] my mother and brother had been murdered by the IPKF in Jaffna, following a provocation by the LTTE.

Nediyavan
He was also trying to find out from my brother details of the temple he had started in London. The LTTE tried to take over this temple, while my brother was incarcerated. All in all, to the extent I could discern, there was considerable resentment against the LTTE among those who were fleeced for taxes and forced to do things the way the LTTE wanted.

I shall read your article tonight or tomorrow and send back my comments.[4]

With best regards, Narendran

C: Michael Roberts in Kilinochchi, November 2004

In pursuit of my studies of “sacrificial devotion,”[5] I flew to Jaffna from Ratmalana on Monday 22nd November 2004 — literally on a wing and a prayer. I went to the University of Jaffna immediately and was fortunate to meet the Krishnakumar family[6] and to receive their help in finding accommodation together with a guide for my travels within the Peninsula in the person of their medical student son, Chenthan.[7]

Though the Jaffna Peninsula was under the control of the Government of Sri Lanka and its SL Army oversight and presence was marked by sentry posts at key junctions, the whole arena was literally awash – swamped one could say – with the buntings, banners and other accoutrements in celebration of māvīrar nāl, namely the annual homage to dead Tigers observed every 27th November. The overwhelming ‘mark’ of the Tamil Tiger presence was not only VISUAL. The waves and words of celebratory martial and praise music penetrated one’s senses continuously.

I visited the offices of the Uthayam newspaper and arranged to visit Kilinochchi in order to observe the māvīrar (maaveerar) homage ceremonies[8] in this administrative capital of Thamilīlam in the company of Canadian Tamil friends. We travelled early on Friday 26th passing through the two border control checkpoints sustained by the two states within Sri Lanka.

We were treated to a sumptuous breakfast in Kilinochchi by the LTTE media organisation. We then attended a speech-making function marking the opening of the LTTE’s new media centre. Thāmil SelvaN[9] was the chief speaker and a Catholic priest, Thiru Master[10] and Sivarām[11] were among the speakers. The medium was Tamil. I understood nil and kept my head low.

thamilchelvan ThamilSelvan sivaram Sivaram

We stayed at a guesthouse with dormitory arrangements. I used the opportunity (a) to chat with Joe Ariyaratnam, a Reuters reporter who was staying at the same guest house;[12] (b) to walk about town and observe the hustle and bustle of the Thamililam citizenry going about their business; (c) visited the sheds with pictures of dead māvīrar; and (c) purchased some cassettes and booklets in Tamil with illustrations of the LTTE achievements. Meals at restaurants run by Tiger associates also provided moments when our party chatted in English with some local friends in government service.[13]

Back cover of a little Notebook that I bought in Kilinochchi: presenting six Thamil ‘Greats’: clockwise from left top — Sivakumaran; Shankar; Annia Poopathi; Malathi; Miller; and Thileepan

On the 26th November our little party travelled a little distance south to observe the grand Maaveerar Naal ceremony at the “resting place” (tuyilam illam) south of Kilinochchi (Vannivilaannakulam I think) – a domain that most Tamils would consider to be “temples” rather than ‘cemeteries.”[14]  It was a huge open-air area with many, many graves. The crowd was massive. The arrangements – parking spaces, temporary halls, large drinking water containers with taps, et cetera — were exemplary. The crowd was so immense that I felt overwhelmed.

I also took the time one day to visit Thiru Master and his wife at their home in order to inquire into the background which had induced him to refer to the Japanese kamikaze in the course of his speech in praise of the Tiger suicide operations.[15] On the Sunday 28th one of the Canadian Tamils took me to meet Ramesh, the LTTE propaganda chief, and I sought information from him on the past Tiger suicide personnel.[16]

In summary, my impressionistic conclusions indicated that the LTTE was an efficient state and had solid support from most of its citizenry. Not only the bus services, but even the main restaurants were run by personnel who were extensions of — loyalists within — the Tiger establishment. I was particularly impressed by the fact that the LTTE used this māvīrar occasion to gift two coconut tree seedlings to families who had lost children to their cause — as evidenced by individuals traveling down the roads with these seedlings on trailers, bikes and what-have-you.

Alas, my thinking and organisation was so putrid that I had no camera for this segment of the trip – the winding lock in my little box camera having given up the ghost at VVT. Some second-hand pictures must suffice for a flavour of the environment …. a state and society geared for action and the rendering of service to the talaivar Pirapāharan’s cause.

So: this ignorant/outsider reading of Thāmilīlam’s people is quite different from the picture painted by Narendran Rajasingham above. He and his brother Jayadevan were, of course, better placed and relatively well-informed. But let me introduce two evaluations from other outsiders that one must add to this cluster of observations.

Thamilini with kuppi (suicide capsule)

  • Anoma Rajakaruna visited Thāmilīlam on several occasions during the ceasefire period 2002-06 in connection with her researches on women and interacted with Thāmilini and other senior LTTE personnel.[17] She indicated to me that the livelihood of many personnel in that territory was associated with the state. This meant a considerable measure of dependency among the people.
  • Muralidhar Reddy, the Telugu Indian journalist for The Hindu in Colombo,[18] was quite definite when he told me that in early 2007, that crunch-point in the war when the Tigers were pushed into retreat, the citizenry of Thāmilīlam had no reason to trust the government of Sri Lanka: their faith had therefore to rest with the LTTE.[19]

These appraisals, and my more extended assessment in South Asia Review in 2013, together with that presented by Narendran Rajasingham above, must be placed in the body of ‘data’ that has to be digested when historians and others address a crucial issue made up of two parts:

(A) why and how was it that the people residing in residual Thamilīlam obeyed the LTTE when they were asked/pushed to move eastwards and northwards in great discomfort from around March/April in the year 2008 till some 310 -to-320,000 civilians and Tiger fighters[20] were trapped in the north eastern corner of the Vanni in early January 2009;

Situation Map 6 January 2009

and

(B) why these Tamil peoples’ acceptance of LTTE demands continued yet further in 2009 till those who had not rebelled by fleeing and yet remained alive by the end of February – numbering perhaps 250-270,000 now (inclusive of Tiger personnel) — ended up from March onwards as residents on the north-eastern spit east of Nandikadal Lagoon in enormous discomfort and danger.

After all, this arena – an area some 12 by 2.5 kilometre in extent — was described as “the largest latrine in the world” by a Tamil journalist trapped therein till late April when he and his family succeeded in fleeing by boat to the Jaffna Peninsula.[21] This is a succinct distillation that happens to have passing support within one of Narendran’s observations –a pointer to Narendran Rajasingham’s perceptiveness from afar.

***** *****

NOTE the evocative pictures of the mass of people (civilians and deserting Tiger personnel) taken by a range of cameramen in late April and in mid-May 2009. Each of these must be studied and the date marked down (whether late April or mid May being the central differentiation); while careful note must be made as to the source –with greater weight being attributed to photographs from Reuters and other such a

gencies.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Works by Michael Roberts

2005 “Tamil Tiger ‘Martyrs’: Regenerating Divine Potency?” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism vol. 28: 493-514.

2005 “Saivite Symbolism, Sacrifice and Tamil Tiger Rites,Social Analysis vol. 49: 67-93.

2006 “Pragmatic Action & Enchanted Worlds: A Black Tiger Rite of Commemoration,” Social Analysis vol. 50: 73-102.

2006 “The Tamil Movement for Eelam,” E-Bulletin of the International Sociological Association No. 4,  July 2006, pp. 12-24.

2006 “Understanding Zealotry and Questions for Post-Orientalism, I” Lines May-August 2006,  vol.5, 1 & 2, in http://www.lines-magazine.org.

2007 “Suicide Missions as Witnessing: Expansions, Contrasts,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Vol. 30:  857-88.

2007 “Blunders in Tigerland: Pape’s Muddles on ‘Suicide Bombers’ in Sri Lanka,” Online publication within series known as Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics (HPSACP), ISSN: 1617-5069.

2008 “Tamil Tigers: Sacrificial Symbolism and ‘Dead Body Politics’,” Anthropology Today, June 2008, vol.  24/3: 22-23.

2010 “Killing Rajiv Gandhi: Dhanu’s Metamorphosis in Death?” South Asian History and Culture, Vol 1, No. 1, pp.25-41.

2010 “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, pp. 161-201.

2013 “Towards Citizenship in Thamililam: The Tamil People of the North, 1983-2010,” South Asia Research, vol 33: 53-75 (also in Roberts, TPS.Essays, 2014, pp 132-83.

2014 Tamil Person and State. Essays, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications.

2014 Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications.

OTHERS

Gopalan, T. N. 2016  “A Pol Pot Hell-Hole: Thamilini’s Disenchantment with Prabhakaran and the Tigers in 2009,” 19 March 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/03/19/a-pol-pot-hell-hole-thamilinis-disenchantment-with-prabhakaran-and-the-tigers-in-2009/

Hellman-Rajanayagam, Dagmar 2005 “‘And heroes die’: “poetry of the Tamil liberation movement in northern Sri Lanka,” South Asia vol. 28: 112-53.

Narayan Swamy, M. R. 1994 Tigers of Sri Lanka. Delhi: Konark Publishers Pvt Ltd.

Narayan Swamy, M. R   2003 Inside an Elusive Mind. Prabhakaran. Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.

Natali, Christiana 2008 “Building cemeteries, constructing identities: Funerary practices and nationalist discourse among the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka,” South Asia, vol. 16, pp. 287-301

Schalk, Peter 1997a “Historization of the Martial Ideology of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE),” South Asia 20: 35-72.

 Schalk, Peter 1997b “The Revival of Martyr Cults among Ilavar.” Temenos: Studies in Comparative    Religion, vol. 33: 151-190.

 Schalk, Peter 2003 “Beyond Hindu Festivals: The Celebration of Great Heroes’ Day by the Liberation  Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Europe.”  Tempel und Tamilien in Zweiter Heimat, ed. by Martin Baumann, Brigitte Luchesi and Annette Wilke. Wurzburg: Ergon Verlag, pp. 391-411.

[Thamilini] 2016  Thamilini’s Book in Sinhala: Pathways to Reflection and Reconciliation,” 16 May 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/05/16/thamilinis-book-in-sinhala-pathways-to-reflection-and-reconciliation/

Whitaker, Mark 2007 Learning Politics from Sivaram. The Life and Death of a Revolutionary Tamil Journalist, London, Pluto Press.

END NOTES

[1] Note his brother Jayadevan’s eulogy when Narendran passed away — prematurely on 2nd September 2017 from any point of view (see https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/farewell-to-my-dear-brother-dr-narendran/).

[2] I have taken the liberty of adding emphasis to Narendran’s account via black underlining.

[3] Nediyaavan aka Perinpanayagam Sivaparan (b. 1976) happens to be one of the surviving LTTE leaders. He was sent to Norway to coordinate LTTTE activities in Europe. He is believed to be residing in Norway still (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nediyavan).

[4] I regret that I have not been able to trace this email.

[5] The first outcomes of this work were in 2005: viz., “Tamil Tiger ‘Martyrs’: Regenerating Divine Potency?” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 2005, vol. 28: 493-514 and “Saivite Symbolism, Sacrifice and Tamil Tiger Rites,Social Analysis 2005, vol. 49: 67-93.

[6] Mrs Krishnakumar was a Lecturer in the Dept of History and her husband was a senior University administrator. As Aj Canagaratna who had been a fellow student in Ramanathan Hall with me at Peradeniya University in the late 1950s was residing in their house, my second step in Jaffna town was to visit him. The Krishnakumar’s founda guest house near the University for me to stay in.

[7] It was a vacation period and Chenthan was an invaluable guide in my visits to Kopay tuyilam illam and the VVT and Vadamaratchchi localities on the Tuesday and Wednesday. I stress, here, that his assistance was vital and I am pleased to regard him as a friend.

[8] For the “Hero ceremonies” known as māveerar nāl (māvīrar nāl), see Schalk 1997a, 1997b & 2003;   Hellmann-Rajanayagam 2005 and Natali 2008

[9] From his beginnings as a Tiger fighter who had been one of Pirapāharan’s bodyguards, Thamil Chelvam aka Suppayya Paramu Thamilselvan (1967-2007) rose to the position of Political Commissar in the LTTE and “one of the closest associates of LTTE leader Pirapharan.” He was killed in his bunker on 2nd November 2007 by a precision air strike carried out by the Sri Lankan Air Force ………………. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S._P._Thamilselvan).

[10] Thiru Master was an “Island Tamil” (that is, from the islands off Jaffna) and taught English to the LTTE personnel. I was informed that he was a member of the Political Council advising Pirapāharan; but have no definitive confirmation of this claim.

[11] Dharmeratnam Sivaram was a Tamil intellectual from a landowning family in the east of Sri Lanka who had been a member of PLOTE in opposition to the LTTE in the 1980s and 1990s. but his writings under the nom de plume of “Taraki” in the 1990s and his explicit Tamil nationalism had clearly gained him recognition in LTTE circles by the early 2000s. I knew him well because I had consulted him on several occasions in Colombo during the course of the Marga Project on “A History of Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka” in the years 1999-2001. For a long list of his extensive writings in the Sri Lankan media world, see the Bibliography in Whitaker 2007, pp. 239-40. Note his book under the nom de plume Taraki published in France in 1991 – The Eluding Peace (a work I have not consulted). He was assassinated in 2005 or so —apparently by elements linked to Karuna. Also see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taraki_Sivaram.

[12] The vestibule of this guesthouse contained a small shrine with a photograph of a young man. This. Joe told me, was a son of the guesthouse keeper who had died in battle. The keeper himself was Indian Tamil from the Kandy area and spoke Sinhala too. This man, the father, had told Joe that if the LTTE asked him to take up arms, he would gladly do so. This may be second hand; but it is not insignificant ethnographic information.

[13] One of these men was a youngish (maybe in 30s or 40s?) man who had received his training in the Eastern Province and worked in the Department of Health (possibly paid by Colombo?). I forget his name. He was severely critical of the GoSL’s “violations of the ceasefire.” In brief, I read him as a diehard Tiger. He was itching for war.

[14] See http://www.tamilnet.com, 27 November 1998 and Natali 2008.

[15] One of the Canadian Tamils seated next to me conveyed this item of information when Thiru Master was delivering his talk.

[16] The LTTE calendar poster depicting the earlies pre-1983 Tigers who had passed away and become māvīrar (or martyrs) that is presented as Pic 33 in Roberts, TPS. Pictorial, 2014, is a gift from Ramesh that I particularly treasure.

[17] For material on Thamilini, see https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/thamilini-freed-from-detention-returns-to-family-and-paranthan/

[18] I happened to be in Colombo from mid-April 2009 to early June when Murali approached me to write articles for Frontline (two essays appeared in May and June). Our interaction matured over time and extended into 2010/11. Murali had been working for The Hindu in Colombo for quite some time before 2009 and was more grounded in his readings than most foreign journalists.

[19]  See fuller elaboration in my article “Towards Citizenship in Thamilīlam,” in South Asia Rview, 2013 — which is reproduced in Roberts, TPS. Essays, 2014.

[20] Since a significant number of Tiger fighters and/or personnel who were auxiliaries in the war machine did not wear uniforms, it was not feasible to differentiate the two categories (a point that Narendran stressed with great force). The estimate of total population is a rough one on my part.

[21] Nillanthan Maha was an LTTE fighter in the 1980s, but became a teacher of English and part-time reporter thereafter. I have sustained email exchanges with him from circa 2010 and met him on one of my trips to Jaffna (2010 or 2011).

1 Comment

Filed under accountability, authoritarian regimes, communal relations, Eelam, ethnicity, historical interpretation, human rights, island economy, landscape wondrous, language policies, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, nationalism, politIcal discourse, power politics, prabhakaran, Rajapaksa regime, refugees, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, Tamil Tiger fighters, trauma, truth as casualty of war, unusual people, war reportage, world events & processes

One response to “Naren Rajasingham’s Reading of Pirapāharan’s Thamilīlam in 2004/05

  1. Pingback: Narendran’s Critical Dissection of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Victory Day Speech on 18th May 2009 | Thuppahi's Blog

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