“Under the shadow of a sharp edged sword” is the loose translation of the title given to a book, written in Tamil.The author of the book,worked as head of the women’s wing of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) and served the organisation for almost two decades. The book was written prior to the author’s death and launched posthumously at Kilinochchi, a few weeks ago. Here the author paints a true picture of the LTTE, based on her experiences and perception, with warts and all.
Sivakami Jeyakumaran is the author of the book written under the nom de guerre, Thamilini – a name given to her by the LTTE hierarchy. In the early chapters she deals with her background and the circumstances which led her to join the militant movement, as a teenager. Thamilini from Paranthan, a northern suburb, had her entire education at the local Hindu college, where she was appointed as the‘head student’ and honed her skills as a debater and public speaker.
Thamilini points out, in her book, many ordinary Tamils disapproved several ruthless methods adopted by the LTTE. When she visited certain Tamil villages with other cadres they were confronted with questions as to why, the LTTE leader, Prabhakaran got rid of Muslims from the villages they occupied for years. Similarly, they wanted to know the reasons behind the internecine warfare and reasons for the LTTE’s elimination of the other Tamil militant groups from the political arena.To these questions Thamilini confesses she was nonplussed, at that stage, to give any convincing explanation.
Position of women
She also narrates what she saw at the camps for women,where firearms training took place. Thamilini reveals some male instructors, for no reason, went to the extent of beating the female trainees,until they bled. The language used by these men, in the presence of women, was obnoxious and putrid.
The LTTE hierarchy permitted the cadres to marry, on condition they selected partners from the movement! In most cases this arrangement worked against women. Making use of this ridiculous rule, many old male combatants expressed their desire to marry women much younger than them. The author also points out in marriages, arranged by the movement, in a subtle way, caste considerations played a role. Any form of relationship outside the organisation was considered treacherous. Punishment for disregarding this unwritten rule resulted in public execution!
The author illustrates this by referring to an incident that happened in the early part of 1993, when all the female cadres were ordered to assemble at ‘Sothia Camp’, located at Kilali. At the camp, in front of those assembled, the death penalty was carried out against three female cadres for having romantic relationship with men not belonging to the movement.Subsequently, those men too were hunted down by the LTTE cadres and executed in a public place.
The book highlights, an obvious fact, that there was no democratic centralism within the LTTE. Even senior LTTE commanders believed that to any complex question ‘Big Brother’, Prabhakaran, had ananswer. Following the assassination of Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, international opprobrium was heaped on Prabhakaran’s
cold-blooded organisation. Britain and the United States proscribed the organisation. The LTTE leader took this as a feather in his cap!
However,Prabhakaran’s cavalier attitude and indifference, without understanding the gravity of the international snub, made Thamilini twitchy.The author reveals to the readers how, two days prior to the conflict ended, she came to know about Prabhakaran’s plan to abandon the rank and file and take care of only his safety!
Son and the spy
During the latter stages of the conflict, following a large scale setback at the battle front, the organisation found itself in a disarray. There was a dearth of trained cadres to be used for combat purposes. Battle hardened senior commanders could not offer anything more than desperate look and low morale. To them the writing was on the wall and they openly let out their frustration. At this stage Prabhakarn’s son, Charles Anthony, commenced taking part in strategy related discussions. From the way the author portrays Charles Anthony, it is obvious he was just the chip off the old block – a person who was erratic and never cared about the consequences of his fatuous decisions. Charles Anthony enjoyed insulting battle seasoned commanders in public, which didn’t go well with many. The author informs the reader this young man was responsible for the last minute forced recruitment.
Pottu Amman, head of the espionage section of the LTTE, believed to be the alter ego of Prabhakaran, is referred to in the latter part of the book. It is apparent from the book that this master spy never possessed any special skill other than being a sticky beak and a purveyor of gossip. The portrait that Thamilini paints of Pottu Amman leads a discerning reader to conclude he was, in addition to being a megalomaniac, a person soft in the head. The book reveals during the final stages of the conflict, as a solution to the disabled persons in the care of the LTTE falling into the hands of the Sri Lankan forces, Pottu Amman ordered them to carry explosives strapped to their bodies to be detonated as the soldiers advanced towards them!
The book is more than an autobiography.Thamilini’s book written in a rhapsodic style is undoubtedly a treasure trove of information. While dealing with the armed conflict, the book highlights the structure of a blood thirsty organisation which the author joined in 1991 and remained until 2009.