Why do Sri Lankan Tamils support the Tamil Tigers?

Ruwan Weerakoon spoke with a former member of the Tamil Tigers' suicide wing (Black Tigers). He wanted to know what motivated and inspired a person to want to blow himself up. The interview not only gives us a rare glimpse inside the mind of a suicide bomber, but also the Tigers' methods of indoctrination, training, and strategy. Ruwan Weerakoon spent two weeks with Rajadurai Ganesh (name changed for obvious reasons).

Ruwan Weerakoon
I tried my best to gain his confidence, providing him with meals of Masala, ghee thosai, Chinese fried rice and ice cream. I wanted him to feel comfortable enough so that he would share with me the minutest details regarding his life -- before, during and after he became a suicide bomber. My intention was to probe the how and why of what he became. Over the course of two weeks, I visited the suicide bomber -- whom we shall call Rajadurai Ganesh -- on multiple occasions, using a trusted interpreter to communicate.
Amazingly, even on an island as small as Sri Lanka, and in this day and age - with information so freely available - it's not impossible to isolate and indoctrinate.

Ganesh (former Black Tiger)
From the day I began to see this world with some sort of understanding, I never knew who the [Sri Lankan] Sinhalese [majority] were, or what the Sri Lanka Army was. I only saw the LTTE cadres carrying their weapons like real heroes..
There was also enough fear of the Tamil Tiger organisation that no one dared question, or critically examine what they were expected to believe. The Tigers didn't tolerate dissent. They didn't tolerate free thinking either.

[Video: Suicide bombers in Sri Lanka - Al Jazeera - 28 Nov 07]

Sri Lankan Tamils who live outside of the island see all this as a freedom struggle. They then fund the Tigers who they see as fighting against an oppressive state. The very same state that paid for and provided for all hospitals, schools, and social services for Tamils in Tamil Tiger held territory for the last 30 years.

The most sobering factor in all this is that Tamil youth who lived under Tiger control had no choice. They were not fighting an oppressive state, or fighting for their freedom when they had no say in the matter. Freedom fighters are not forced conscripts. It didn't matter who they fought or what they fought for because it wasn't their decision to fight. Most were abducted on their way to school, or like Ganesh abducted while running an errand for his mother. Perhaps a key factor in the Tamil Tigers' demise.

Who do we hold responsible for the destruction of so many Tamil youth? Who is responsible for the mass corruption of minds, and the injection of extremist ideals into Tamil communities worldwide? Tamils who lived outside of Sri Lanka had more of a choice than the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Yet they chose to support and fund a movement considered by 32 nations as nothing more than terrorist. The Tamil Diaspora funded the forcible recruitment of children and the destruction of their motherland for over 10 years. They turned up in their hundreds to protest against the Sri Lankan government when the Tiger leadership was threatened. Some even chanted: "Tamil Tigers - Freedom Fighters."

I find the reasoning for the Tamil Diaspora's support for a nihilistic death cult to based mostly on half truths fed via various propaganda channels by the Tigers. The dislike for all democratically elected governments in the last 30 years could be tied to the fact that the Sri Lankan government consists mostly of Sri Lanka's majority, the Sinhalese. The words "majority" and "minority" became the axis of hatred among sympathisers of the movement.

Very few Tamils acknowledge that the Sinhalese protected them in July of 1983. They seldom speak of how Tamils were sheltered and protected by non-Tamils when a couple of hundred thugs took matters into their own hands. While Tamils were targeted, the looters and thugs stole from all. Thieves don't discriminate.

If there was ethnic hatred among the Sinhalese and the Tamils, the events of 1983 would have overshadowed the genocide of Rwanda. 70% of the island's inhabitants were Sinhalese. If they were out to kill 16%-18% of the population there is no doubt that more blood would have been shed. It never happened. The lives of approximately 600 innocent Tamils were lost. Over a million resided in all parts of the island at the time.

As Sri Lankans we must all be ashamed for what happened in July 1983. We, however, must not let the truth be distorted and twisted so the minds of Tamil youth can be exploited to shed more blood. In 1983 Prabhakaran and an LTTE in it's infancy killed 13 Sinhalese soldiers in the northern province. This was the single largest loss of life in the history of the armed forces at the time.

Emotions ran wild during that week in '83. The riots were triggered by the carnage caused by a Tamil rebel movement fighting for Eelam. Similarly, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, the Canadian public and the Canadian government took their anger out on the Japanese living in Canada. They were locked up in camps and their lands and personal belongings sold. Some beaten and killed. New Japanese immigrants were barred from entering Canada until 1967.

I am not trying to justify the events of 1983. I am trying to make it clear that every nation has similar problems. Where humans are involved there will always be conflict. It doesn't always represent widespread race or ethnicity related hate.

Time Magazine (9 February 1998)
In 1975, Prabhakaran's gang assassinated Jaffna's mayor. The youngster became a wanted man and a disgrace to his pacifist father.

The New Tigers, renamed the ltte in 1976, survived on robbing banks, killing policemen and stealing their weapons, and fighting rival Tamil militant groups. Whenever the police were closing in on him, Prabhakaran and his boys slipped over to India's Tamil Nadu state, smuggled in with help from boyhood friends. In 1983, the gang killed 13 soldiers in an ambush near Jaffna. He and his cohorts fled to Tamil Nadu, but hundreds of Tamils across the island were massacred in retaliation. Says a Sinhalese businessman: "Tamil shops and houses were being selectively burnt. Many people felt the Tamils deserved to be taught a lesson."
Sri Lanka will forever be marred by the events that unfolded in 1983. But Sri Lankan Tamils must know that the thugs and extremist who turned a blind eye to the acts of violence, and those who justified it did not represent all Sinhalese. They must know that more Sri Lankans protected them. Many more than the few that hurt them. Black July must be a month of remembrance and a month of hope. We must pray for the lost, and remain hopeful that Black July will never be repeated.

Today, in Sri Lanka's population of 21 million there is more love for each other than hate. Sri Lanka has progressed since 1983, or even the 1950s. It is now a nation inter-mixed with many diverse ethnic groups. There is no logical reason for a freedom struggle, or a separate state which would segregate Tamils from the other ethnic groups on the island. In hindsight Eelam would never have addressed any Tamil's grievances. It would have divided a nation and caused disharmony.

If you can still somehow justify trying to destroy Sri Lanka and it's people over a Tamil homeland. You then become no better than the businessman quoted from Time Magazine above, who said: "Tamils deserved to be taught a lesson."

Extremism and extremist ideas will not bring justice to those who perished before us. Many have died on this island, and not all of them Tamil. Sri Lanka has been marred with violence for years. The dislike for journalist and the lack of tolerance for the media today is as a result of the attitude of past governments, which eventually influenced the masses. Rajapaksa and Co. only share some of the blame. With the end of war maybe things will change.

I can understand the anger when Tamils hear of 260,000 of their own displaced and confined. I can also understand the anger when they hear that 20,000 Tamils died. There is a valid reason for the confinement of the displaced. I've written about it here. 20,000 people did not die during the final days of the conflict. As the conflict drew closer to an end - in May of 2009 - members of the Indian intelligence agency (RAW) and several high ranking Indian officials visited the island. India and it's huge Tamil population had a keen interest in the well being of Tamils in Sri Lanka. If 20,000 had indeed perished then India would have intervened. If 20,000 perished then India would most certainly have cut it's ties with the island and pushed for a war crimes investigation at the UN. It did not. India's eye in the sky saw everything unfold.

When Navi Pillai, a South African Tamil, and the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights called for an independent investigation after the UN security council resolution deemed otherwise. It was India that told her it was not necessary. [see video below]

The above is more significant than the Times of London's claim of 20,000 dead Tamils based on a photograph.

If you go with the Times' version of the story then you must also know that you are insinuating that the UN, India, and Red Cross officials on the ground are involved in a mass cover up to assist the Sinhalese. That's how silly it all becomes.

If you want to go back further than 1983, and to the "Sinhalese only" law to point at injustice. Then you must also accept that just 10 years before the law most state jobs were at the hands of the colonial masters' most favoured ethnic group, which was not the Sinhalese. The British decided who they would hand power to when they left. The decision was made after several commissions of inquiry.

Don't keep going back to the past as reason to fight for a Tamil only homeland. We shouldn't think that discriminatory laws, which existed back in the 50s - at a time when Rosa Parks was still on the back of the bus in the US - is ethnic hatred. It is not.

The Tamil language is now an official language in Sri Lanka. Education and state employment is not exclusive to any one group. The state has also made it mandatory for all state employees to become proficient in the Tamil language.

In the 61 years since independence from Great Britain, Sri Lanka has had it's fair share of problems with governance. Most former colonies faced similar issues. But don't let people tell you that there ever was an ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. Nothing could be further from the truth.

From robbing banks and killing fellow Tamils who opposed his violence, Vellupillai Prabhakaran and the Tamil Tigers went on to exploit the grievances shared by most people living in developing countries. He almost became the sole representative of all Tamils on the island. In a world where we believe that good always prevails over evil. It's safe to say that evil succumbed.

The time has finally come where every Tamil child has the chance to become Sri Lanka's next leader. Let's just hope that it stays that way.

The LTTE had a concept that if any person from a family joined the organization as a suicide cadre, the other members of the family would not be recruited into the organization--and the family would be treated as a "Maveerar Family" [Hero family] and provided for in regard to all their needs.

This fact prompted me to decide [that this was] the best way to protect my family -- to protect my sisters and brother from being recruited, and at the same time drawing respect from others toward my family.

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