Monday, May 25, 2009

My Tamil Tigers

The Tigers have finally silenced their guns. After three decades of war Sri Lanka and the Tamil diaspora begin a new chapter in their tormented history. While the nationalists are in single-minded jubilation, the international Tamil community and many moderate Sinhalese are in the process of trying to make sense of all the loss and suffering that has came along with this historic event.

I grew up without being exposed directly to too much violence, but the war was always in our consciousness. My parents fled to Jaffna from Colombo after their house was burnt down in 83. I was born an year after, arriving into a family traumatised by the pogroms of Black July.

During my early childhood I would be entertained by the young Tiger annas (an affectionate term for older brothers) who stopped by our house from time to time to talk to my dad. These were the years when the peaceful liberation movement had just turned into an armed struggle. It seemed that every Tamil family proudly welcomed 'the boys' into their homes when they needed to hide out from the government or needed medical assistance for their injuries.

Though I was forbidden to speak politics outside the house, I was raised with the tales of their sacrifice and I idolised my Tiger heroes. I saw it as an epic saga of battle between good and evil and I knew of many legendary characters involved in the idealistic beginnings of the LTTE.

There was Lt. Shankar who outran the Government forces whilst bleeding from a fatal bullet wound on his stomach. He managed to lose his pursuers and reach his fellow cadres. He then handed over his gun and fell unconscious in the arms of his friends.

There was Lt Seelan (Charles Lucas Anthony) who when injured and no longer able to run, ordered his subordinate to shoot him so that he wouldn't be caught alive. The first conventional fighting unit of the LTTE was named the Charles Anthony Brigade in his honour and Pirabakaran named his first born after his old second-in-command.

There was Colonel Kittu, who was betrayed by Indian intelligence to the GoSL. Rather than being captured alive or surrendering the weapons he had procured, he chose to blow himself up along with his ship when it was boarded.

My favourite member of the Iyakkam is also possibly the one of the most respected figures in the Tamil diaspora. In 1987, Ltn Thileepan, a soft spoken skinny bespectacled young man, began a satyagraha in response to the Indian occupation. He promised to fast until requests for the rights of Tamil civilians were met. Refusing Prabakaran's pleas to drink even a glass of water, he died after fasting for 11 days. It was Thileepan's death which swung the full backing of the Tamil community unreservedly behind the LTTE.

He was also the one of very few early Tigers whose names are still unsullied by the atrocities that were to be committed in the name of freedom.

The Tigers morphed from a people backed movement into a powerful, secretive, intimidating, military dictatorship. A fanatical personality cult formed around it's leader, and questioning him was tantamount to betraying the cause in some quarters.

Along with the ingenuity and almost fanatical courage that they showed on the battle field, they ruthlessly massacred fellow armed resistance movements. They enforced boycotts on elections and killed politicians who did not subscribe to their own goals. Most unforgivably, they held their own people as human shields in their final desperate struggle to hold on to power.

I understand those who supported them unwaveringly to the very end. I too value the outstanding dedication and bravery shown by the Tiger cadres. I also know of the hospitals, schools, the police and judicial systems run by their efficient administration in the Wanni region.

I appreciate the sacrifice and risk taken by those in the diaspora who donated a large percentage of their own wealth into preserving what they saw as the final defense of their people. When you see an existentialist threat there really aren't too many options left to you.

But I think the Tigers had outlasted their usefulness. They became the primary excuse for the Government to continue on with its persecution, and in the eyes of the International community, they turned what was really a human rights struggle into an ethnic war.

The immediate next step is humanitarian aid to the IDP camps. We need to lobby for the NGOs and media to get in there immediately. We need to lobby governments to pressure Sri Lanka into allowing unfettered access. We need to help remove any more excuses the GoSL has for keeping these camps active. And we need to enlist the help of the expat Sri Lankan community to achieve these goals.

What comes after that will have to wait. We are angry and frustrated. Now is not the time to make lasting mistakes. Now is the time put out the fires. The rebuilding comes later.

1 comment:

Surind Raj said...

Hey Rene, thanks for commenting and stopping by. For the lives that have ended and suffered in this long war and marginalisation, it is certainly a tragedy. However, I do agree that there is an opportunity here as well. SWOT bro :)

My primary concern now are the refugees. Let us all do what we can for them, without depending or trusting the Sri Lankan government. Seasoned politicians in your country might be able to do something as well. Let us hope that aid and help is not too late. Without transparency, freedom and access, we will never know.