T. N. Gopalan, courtesy of newsminute … 17 March 2016, where the title is “Woman LTTE leader’s memoir exposing their brutality has created a furor among Tamils” … with a few footnotes added by the Thuppahi editor nad highlights deployed to assist reading.
“No question now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” Thamizhini, aka Sivakami Subramaniam,** in-charge of the political wing of the women’s section in the LTTE, might not have been familiar with the devastating close of the celebrated Animal Farm by George Orwell. But she perhaps felt as much when she learnt of the instructions to shoot at the legs of those innocent Tamils crossing over to government-controlled areas in the closing stages of the war in 2009.
In her reminiscences, now making waves in the Lankan Tamil community, she says she was aghast that anyone, least of all the Tiger rebels, avowedly fighting for the rights of the Tamils, should seek to prevent those fleeing for safety. “Not a morsel of food, not a drop of water, not an inch of land to stand on…the rebel artillery stationed in the last places of refuge, firing at the government positions and the army retaliating furiously, it was horrifying…the hapless civilians had been moving from place to place for months now, since the latest phase of the war had begun three years earlier…what else could they do but swallow their pride and move over…anyway they were received well, given food, medicine and some rudimentary accommodation as well…It was then I realized something was seriously wrong with us…we were no more the saviours, we had turned on our own people…”***
It was a painful realization for a person who had dedicated her life to the separatist struggle, so she too chose to throw away her Tiger uniform and the cyanide capsule, changed into civilian clothes and joined the vast throng herself. Indeed, in the Orwellian language, the animal farm had turned into a nightmare and man seemed a better bet. Well, she crossed over, surrendered, was duly imprisoned, sent to a rehabilitation centre after a couple of years and finally set free. She also got married to a loving and sensitive man soon thereafter.
But then she could not taste her newfound freedom for long. Pancreatic cancer had started eating into her vitals, literally, and so, racing against time, she managed to complete her memoir, KoorvaaLin Nizhalil, meaning ‘in the shadow of the sharp blade’, before she died.
Brought out by her soft-spoken husband, Jayakumaran, the book has predictably provoked outrage among ardent LTTE supporters. The Internet is awash with eternal damnations for him, many slyly insinuating that Thamizhini herself was untrustworthy, in that she did not choose to end her life on the battlefield, but preferred to surrender to the Lankan armed forces.
But then Velupillai Prabhakran himself did not bite into the capsule and threw up his arms, only to be shot dead along with his senior colleagues.
It is interesting to be told that in the last stages of the war, Charles Anthony, Prabhakaran’s son, came to wield considerable power, and the brash young chap thought nothing of snubbing senior commanders. Worse, it was he who insisted on compulsory drafting of all youth in the region under Tiger control, alienating the public at large. Not just that, the hapless greenhorns were either mowed down with ease or they abandoned their arms and surrendered, hastening the end.
Thamizhini confirms that Anton Balasingam was a sobering influence on Prabhakran and that he had parted company in sheer frustration when the LTTE chief refused to take the peace talks forward.m The man who stunned the world with his military genius was simply not prepared for peace and he had little clue to what was happening in the outside world, it looks like.
File image of Tamizhini with her husband, Jayakumaran, after the war
Technically speaking the memoir doesn’t say anything new. Thamizhini only confirms what many have known all along – the LTTE was a tightly controlled organization, personal loyalty to the chief was a paramount virtue and he was a kind of Stalin and Mao rolled in one, if not a Pol Pot or a Kim Il Sung. Still it is a very important book, almost a milestone in the vast literature on the ethnic strife, as it happens to be the first critical evaluation of Prabhakaran’s leadership from the inside. There is Tamil Tigress by Niromi de Soyza, a Christian Tamil who deserted the LTTE in its early years and went on to settle down in Australia.**** She had to put up with the rigours, not to mention the all too evident cruelty and arrogance at various levels.
But Thamizhini’s account is of a very different order, as she had moved with the highest in the leadership, though not a decision-maker herself. Her angst seems to be genuine. There’s no put on there, no taking it out, just plain anguish over the tragic end, over how nearly three decades of struggle against the Lankan government came to nothing but ruin.
From the elimination of rival organizations to anyone who dared differ with Prabhakaran on any account, death sentence for sexual peccadilloes, expulsion of Muslims from Jaffna, deliberate wrecking of peace talks initiated by the Lankan government in 2002, at every stage Thamizhini has felt very uneasy, but she kept it all to herself and soldiered on, hoping eventually a separate Tamil Eelam would be achieved, after which there would be enough democratic space available for all.
She was to be disappointed, and putting it all down in black and white was perhaps some catharsis for her. Denying the many speculations making the rounds, her grieving husband, Jayakumaran, insists, “The writing of the book was her idea…words are all hers, I only edited the manuscript…at no stage did she even seek my counsel…if anything she was worried by publishing the book after her death, I would only be courting opprobrium….I don’t care…She wanted the world to know the truth, and I am fulfilling her wishes….In any case, there is a dire need for introspection, otherwise we would be condemned to repeat history, as the cliché goes…”
+++ +++ ADDED FOOTNOTES
** Her name was usually presented in the local press as Thamilini but this rendering Thamizhini is probably the correct one – in keeping with the nativism and indigenization of Tamil speech and transliteration that was favoured by purists such as Baby Subramanium.
*** This summary picture is also confirmed in some of the vignettes within the documentary biography of “Mugil” (a pseudonym) in Rohini Mohan’s The Seasons of Trouble, Harper Collins, 2014.
**** Niromi de Soysa is actually in awe of Prabhakaran and goes out of the way to fabricate tales of some meetings with the talaivar. for critical readings see Michael Roberts, “Another Demidenko? ..., ” 21 August 20111, https://thuppahis.com/2011/08/21/another-demidenko-niromi-de-soyza-as-a-tiger-fighter/ and Arun Ambalavanar, “The Farce of a Tamil Tigress,” 15 August 2011, http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2011/08/farce-of-fake-tigress.html …… and Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, “Outing a Counterfeit Guerrilla: A Tale of Lies by Tamil Tigress Niromi de Soyza,” 19 November 2011, http://groundviews.org/2011/11/19/outing-a-counterfeit-guerrilla-a-tale-of-lies-by-tamil-tigress-niromi-de-soyza/
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English Translation of the book is now available: In the Shadow of a Sword
The Memoir of a Woman Leader in the LTTE – Nedra Rodrigo (Translator)