Confronting the Death of Prabhakaran
18 June 2009
I have never met Velupillai Prabhakaran. Neither have I ever spoken to him. I did not know him personally. Again, it is not that I have agreed with everything that he said or did. Yet, when he died on 17 May 2009, I felt a deep sense of personal loss. I grieved. In my grief I was moved to revisit the words of Fidel Castro Ruz at his trial in October 1953 –
“…The man who abides by unjust laws and permits any man to trample and mistreat the country in which he was born is not an honorable man. When there are many men without honor, there are always others who bear in themselves the honor of many men. These are the men who rebel with great force against those who steal the people's freedom, that is to say, against those who steal honor itself. In those men thousands more are contained, an entire people is contained, human dignity is contained …”
Velupillai Prabhakaran rebelled with great force against those who stole his people's freedom. In him, something of the honour and dignity of an entire people, an entire nation was contained. It is not surprising therefore that his death evoked a deep sense of personal loss amongst those who feel – and who feel deeply - that they belong to that people and to that nation. It would have been surprising if it had not.
It is also understandable that there are those amongst the Tamil people, in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere, who have found it difficult to reconcile themselves to his death and want to believe that he continues to live. Understandable, but they do a great disservice both to Velupillai Prabhakaran and to the cause for which he gave more than 37 years of his life.
I said that I did not know Velupillai Prabhakaran personally. But I knew some who had worked with him closely and many who had met with him and had spoken with him.
Sathasivam Krishnakumar (Kittu) was one who had worked closely with Prabhakaran and I came to know Kittu well during his stay in the United Kingdom and in Europe in the 1990s. On Kittu's death in January 1993, I wrote –
"…Kittu belonged to the true intelligentsia of Tamil Eelam. Not to the pseudo intelligentsia which reads books that other people write to find ideas which they can then expound or worse still, pass off as their own. Not to the pseudo intelligentsia which writes and thinks in English and has little understanding of that which is felt and thought by the Tamil people. Not to the pseudo intelligentsia which quarrels endlessly about what ought to be done without knowing how or when to start. Not to the pseudo intelligentsia which, deprived of direction, is intent on getting there fast. Sathasivam Krishnakumar, abstracted and conceptualised his own experience, read widely, sought to integrate that which he read with his life and then set about influencing a people to action. To him, theory was a very practical thing." – Sathisivam Krishnakumar, the Struggle was his Life, 1 February 1993
And I have always felt that if Velupillai Prabhakaran was able to command the unswerving loyalty of a person such as Kittu, then Prabhakaran too must have had qualities which matched or bettered those that Kittu had. Kittu would often speak of Prabhakaran and of some of the things that he had said to him. Some of those statements have stayed with me over these many years. Statements such as 'Orators do not become leaders but leaders may become orators', 'You can wakeup someone who is sleeping but you cannot wake up someone who is pretending to be asleep'. 'New Delhi are traders – they want to bargain with our demand for freedom'. I remember on one occasion Kittu telling a Tamil Eelam activist in London who had complained to Kittu about the lethargic response of a Tamil expatriate – 'What is your problem. Go and meet him again. After all Thalaivar came to my home six or seven times to persuade me to join.'
There are also other memories that I have.
An Australian Tamil Eelam expatriate who I have known personally for many years, visited the Vanni in 2003 and met with Prabhakaran. In the course of a conversation, Prabhakaran remarked casually to him in Tamil - 'You know, it is those who are prepared to give their lives that they hunt. '
A UK medical consultant and his wife for both of whom I have a high regard spoke to me about their meeting with Prabhakaran and his family in the Vanni in October 2004 -
"… To us Pirabaharan came across primarily as a soft spoken, deep thinking person with considerable depth of knowledge in what ever topic we discussed, with a keen desire to gain a proper understanding of each and every matter that he came across during our conversation… At lunch our two hosts made sure that my wife had her vegetarian dishes and both supervised personally the servings and Pirabaharan took a great pride in explaining the various dishes and how many vegetables and fruits were now grown in Vanni. He made sure all others at the lunch table ate well too. It was typical Thamil hospitality at it’s best, showered on us by a person who could have been very aloof and remote to the two unknown visitors but chose to be a ordinary man doing his duties as a host as expected by our traditions and customs, with out any effort but naturally as it would come to a brother feeding his long lost family…"
And I can understand the feelings that moved M.Thanapalasingham, an erudite Tamil scholar, a citizen of Australia, an accountant by profession, and a brother of a Maha Veeran who had given his life in the struggle for Eelam, to tell two police officers from India when they interviewed him in Sydney in 2001 -
'… I have but a feeble and weak body and lack the courage and commitment required for membership of the LTTE. To be eligible for membership of the LTTE requires a level of determination and fearlessness that cries out 'I will not lose my freedom except with my life'. This I do not have. No, I am not a member of LTTE…. No, I have not met Pirabaharan. Like millions of Tamils living in many lands and across distant seas, I do dream of meeting him one day. To meet him so that I could bow my head in front of him and with all humility say to him: 'Thank you, thank you for restoring our dignity. Because of you, we Tamils are walking with our heads held high'. This is my dream. .' – An Australian Tamil Stands Up for that which he believes…, 31 May 2001
Today, as I reflect on Velupillai Prabhakaran's life and death, I take some solace from the words of Subhas Chandra Bose many years ago –
“..It is our duty to pay for our liberty with our own blood. The freedom that we shall win through our sacrifice and exertions, we shall be able to preserve with our own strength…. Freedom is not given, it is taken.. One individual may die for an idea; but that idea will, after his death, incarnate itself in a thousand lives. That is how the wheel of evolution moves on and the ideas and dreams of one nation are bequeathed to the next…”
One individual may die for an idea; but that idea will, after his death, incarnate itself in a thousand lives. That is how the wheel of evolution moves. I also take some solace from the reflections of Velupillai Prabhakaran himself -
"'…Perform your duty without regard to the fruits of action', says the Bhagavad Gita. I grasped this profound truth when I read the Mahabharata. When I read the great didactic works, they impressed on me the need to lead a good, disciplined life and roused in me the desire to be of service to the community. Above all, Subhash Chandra Bose's life was a beacon to me, lighting up the path I should follow. His disciplined life and his total commitment and dedication to the cause of his country's freedom deeply impressed me and served as my guiding light." Velupillai Prabhakaran, How I became a freedom fighter – Interview, April 1994
"Nature is my friend. Life is my teacher of philosophy. History is my guide… Not the existence of man, but the action of man sets the wheel of history of the struggle in motion…History is not a divine force outside man. It is not the meaning of an aphorism that determines the fate of man. History is an expression of the dynamism of man. Man creates history. Man also determines his own fate… Simplicity is born as the highest fruit of wisdom; simplicity appears devoid of selfishness and pride. This simplicity makes one a handsome man; a cultured man…Fear is the image of weakness, the comrade of timidity, the enemy of steadfastness/ determination. Fear of death is the cause of every human fear. Who conquers this fear of death, conquers over himself. This person also reaches liberation from the prison of his mind.. Even an ordinary human being can create history if he is determined to die for truth…" Reflections of the Leader: Quotes by Veluppillai Prabhakaran Translation of Tamil Original by Peter Schalk and Alvappillai Velupillai. Published by Uppasala University, Sweden
Perform your duty without regard to the fruits of action.
"…That which was said by Lord Krishna to Arujna in the battlefield was both simple and fundamental – simple to declare but fundamental in content. It was a call for action in the battlefield and where else is there a greater need for action. And Lord Krishna urging Arjuna to do battle against those whom Arjuna regarded as his friends, his teachers and his relations, tells Arujna, ‘To action you have a right, but not to the fruits thereof.’
This oft repeated statement of the Gita is of very direct relevance to all of us who are engaged in activity or action of one kind or another. The detachment which the Gita speaks about is not the opposite of attachment. It is not a dead detachment. It is not a negative detachment. Understanding the Gita is not a mere intellectual exercise in the trap of opposites…. There is in each one of us a path of harmony, our dharma, and it is this path of harmony which the Gita enjoins us to follow. For Arujna that path was to engage in battle." - Reflections on the Gita – Nadesan Satyendra, 1981
For Velupillai Prabhakaran, his dharma as he saw it, was to engage in battle. But Velupillai Prabhakaran was no sun god. Neither was the LTTE without its failings. Nevertheless, Velupillai Prabhakaran will live in the hearts and minds of generations of Tamils yet unborn as the undying and heroic symbol of Tamil resistance to alien rule – a Tamil resistance rooted in the moral legitimacy of the Tamil Eelam struggle for freedom from oppressive alien Sinhala rule.
And as Tamils living in many lands and across distant seas face the future, they will remind themselves yet again of the words of Ernest Renan more than a hundred years ago –
"Where national memories are concerned, griefs are of more value than triumphs, for they impose duties, and require a common effort. A nation is therefore a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future. " Ernest Renan in What is a Nation, 1885