Who was this man Velupillai Prabhakaran? Much has been written about him but few really were aware of his mindset. Many Tamils following the 1983 ‘Black July’ pogrom viewed him as the consummate freedom fighter. Thousands of Tamils fled the country since the war started in 1983. The trigger was the anti-Tamil riots in Colombo in July the same year in which hundreds were killed and their homes and businesses looted and destroyed.
The 62nd birth anniversary of slain LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was on Saturday, celebrated at a university in Sri Lanka’s Tamil-dominated Jaffna city. Hundreds of Jaffna University students, academic and non-academic staff gathered at the varsity to celebrate the birth anniversary by cutting cakes. The government had said that anyone killed during the war could be commemorated as long as events are not held in support of the LTTE which is banned in Sri Lanka.
The shameful pogrom served to mark the nation out with a searing blot that went on to become a damnable part of our racist history. It caused a backlash in world condemnation that the nation has still not quite recovered from. As a consequence, the denunciations against the Colombo Government orchestrated by the Tiger propaganda machine become progressively harsher and more convincing.
So much so, in fact, that in 1987Asia Week magazine compared him to the immortal revolutionary Che Guevara. The same year, Newsweek said he is ‘the stuff of legend’.
Naturally, readers of my vintage will remember the many iniquities enacted in the ethnocentric peninsula in the late sixties and early seventies such as the shutting out of the so-called lower classes or ‘untouchables’ from Hindu places of worship.
Its politics too used to be defined along those same tiers of rigidly entrenched social and religious traditions. Yet, many believe the war waged by the Tigers had gone beyond merely redressing the scale of Tamil grievances. Prabhakaran’s proponents had also credited him for being a formidable force in helping abolish the Tamils’ rigid caste system and for having raised the status of women in a secular, chauvinist society.
True, that is if status can be measured in terms of numbers of suicide bombers, they are spot on. That is because a disproportionate number of them were young women. And they were all fanatically obsessed with a sense of martyrdom at a time in their lives when they should have been entering the matrimonial stakes or allowed to naturally pursue their dreams of scholarly success or careers.
And what about the elite ‘Birds of Freedom’ and the other Tiger women’s brigades, whose literally dressed-to-kill fashion statements were hardly in the same vogue as of Giorgio Armani. The only styles they had been familiar with had been drab battle fatigues in contrast to an earlier generation which never left home unless swathed in traditional saree. For decades they had also been toting guns as nonchalantly as their mothers and grandmothers before them carried their ubiquitous umbrellas.
Up to the end of the war their only feminine adornments – The emblems of their total commitment to the Tiger cause – were the cyanide capsules worn around their necks. Sadly, the traditional gold thalis, accoutrements which symbolise the same devotion to their partners in matrimony and their families, had been totally denied to them.
He had over the years developed a total disregard for human life. The ideals he had spoken about so convincingly had been abandoned in favour of killing for the sake of violence itself. Indeed, he lost sight of the ideals that originally prompted him to wage war against the Colombo government. The so-called temperate Tamil politicos then had become nothing but invertebrate pro-Tiger yes-men.
The reason was apparent. They had abandoned their electors and their principles in stark fear for their very lives. All Tamil politicians who opposed the Tiger policies had been silenced permanently. They were either blown to smithereens by rebel assassins or provided with bullet riddled ‘pottus’ right in the middle of their moderate foreheads
But under the Tiger regime Jaffna’s caste barriers had begun crumbling like fragile sand-castles, taking down with them the related social class encumbrances. Prabhakaran would have known that perhaps better than anyone else. Which just goes to illustrate that war to him was not all horror and carnage. It did have its romantic moments. Even the toughest cookies, the loudest roaring rebels, are just hit by light, tenderness and softness when they finally ‘fall in love’ with a woman.
Yet, for Prabhakaran falling in love was the ultimate act of revolution, of resistance according to his own straight-laced rules. Amid the menace of screeching shells and swirling clouds of acrid cordite pervading the battlefront, Cupid has been known to draw his own battle-lines to bring people from some of the most improbable backgrounds together. His darts are known to have pierced the unlikeliest of hearts, including some of those many consider heartless.
And so, it was when the man who would soon earn the appellation as the world’s most ruthless guerrilla leader became smitten by the charms of Madhivathini Erambu, a vivacious undergraduate of the Jaffna University at the time. It is a fascinating saga that has all the right dramatic and romantic ingredients of a magnificent bestseller.
The romance between the militant high school dropout and the effervescent scholar had two unbinding taboos with regard to tying themselves up in knots for a lifetime of commitment. The suitor had to woo and win his spouse the hard way, running the gauntlet of an inflexible conventional code.The Tigers had at that time a rule forbidding marriage among its members, until the struggle for a separate homeland had been accomplished. The second in insular Jaffna Tamil society was the caste element. Prabhakaran came from the Karaiyar or fisher caste while his betrothed was of the supposedly higher Vellala stock.
But Prabhakaran in his characteristic, resourceful style endeavoured to remove both impediments. First by having the ban on internal marriages among the Tigers judiciously eliminated by the movement’s central committee and subsequently by winning over the bride-elect’s caste-conscious relatives.
Prabhakaran had shown that he wasn’t afraid to buck tradition, even if he had to do it in typical guns and roses fashion by brandishing an AK-47 in one hand and a bouquet of blooms in the other. If only his romance with democracy would have moved forward with the same intensity he displayed as a love-sick suitor he may have been still sitting pretty with his entire egotistical head intact.