By: T. Sabaratnam
1: Why didn’t he hit back?
didn’t he hit back,” was
Pirapaharan’s reaction when he heard from his father, Thiruvenkadam
Velupillai, about the burning of the Panadura Pillayar Kovil priest.
father, an admirer of the Federal Party Leader Samuel James Velupillai
Chelvanayakam, had no answer. Tamils like him then believed in Gandhian
non-violent protest to win their rights. They believed that sitting
cross-legged on the dusty Galle Face Green, singing hymns and praying
for divine intervention and a change of heart among the Sinhala
leadership would earn them their lost rights.
the three and a half year old ‘thurai’ hitting back sounded more
natural and practical. His parents, especially his mother,
Parvathi in brief, called him ‘thurai’, meaning master, which he
really was at his home, his wish granted by the parents and obeyed by
his sisters and brother. Pirapakaran, the youngest of the four, was his father’s
darling and during childhood slept with him. He was born in the Jaffna
Hospital on 26 November 1954.
Pirapaharan routinely sat with his father and his friends during their regular evening chat sessions. He was with them when they discussed the events of June 1956, the passage of the Sinhala Only Law, the Galle Face satyagraha, the Sinhala attack on the peaceful protesters, the spread of attacks in Colombo and the chasing of Tamils from Gal Oya, the signing of the historic Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact, its abandonment and the consequent riots of May 1958 and the cruel burning of the Panadura priest.
then the Sinhala-Tamil discord had grown and was threatening the
foundation of the unitary character of the Sri Lankan state. The
state-aided Sinhala colonization of the Tamil majority east and southern
borders of the north had grown into an emotional clash. The deprival of
the citizenship rights of nearly a million Indian Tamils had burrowed into
the Tamil mind enduring distrust about Sinhala intentions. The denial of
official status to the Tamil language had inflamed Tamil feeling. These
three discriminatory factors had strengthened Chelvanayakam’s demand
for an autonomous unit for the Tamil majority north-east under a federal,
united Sri Lanka, first proposed in 1948 and adopted by the Tamil people
in the parliamentary election of 1956.
then, in June 1956 and May 1958, another serious factor, the safety and
security of the Tamils was added as the fourth to the three already
injuring Sinhala-Tamil concord. On
5 June 1956 an organized band of Sinhala hooligans, led by two
government parliamentarians, attacked and humiliated about 250 Tamils
who chose to stage a non-violent sit-down protest called satyagraha on
the Galle Face Green near the then Parliament building. The crowd,
thrilled with their success in quelling the Tamil protest, trailed the
satyagrahis, who came from the eastern province, hooting and pelting
stones, as they marched to the Fort railway station to board a
Batticoloa-bound train. The crowd, that had swelled into a mob by then,
attacked the Tamils in Colombo and on the following day another mob
attacked the Tamils in
Gal Oya, at a formerly Tamil village called Paddipalai, and chased all of
them out of the area. The cleansing the Tamils from their traditional
villages had begun.
May 1958 the attack was widespread and premeditated. It was aimed at
weakening the hold the Jaffna Tamil trading community had on the Sri Lankan
economy. The entire Tamil trading network in Southern Sri Lanka was
attacked. Shops in the provincial towns were looted and burnt. Hindu
temples were also not
spared. Tamil border villages were uprooted and their occupants chased
away making room for Sinhala encroachers.
number of Tamil families was rendered refugees and the Bandaranaike
government transported them under armed escort to the north and east
where, they were told, they really belonged. The riots that injured
Tamil pride had thus laid the foundation in the Tamil mind for the concept
of a homeland where they could live in safety and with dignity.
a district land officer, foresaw the impact of Sinhala colonization and
the riots on the future of the Tamil race and discussed those matters at
his evening chats. He kept repeating Chelvanayakam’s slogan: "the wall
must stand to do the painting," meaning that land must be protected if
Tamil people are to survive as a distinct race.
initiation to politics is through these discussions. He listened
intensely to what the elders discussed. He did not participate in them.
That trained him to be a patient listener, a valuable asset and a trait
of his character.
anger was natural when he listened to the story of the burning of the
priest. “Why didn’t he hit back?” he asked. The
priest and the Tamils should have fought back, he argued.
priest could not hit back. He
had heard that morning that Sinhala mobs were gathering on the streets
of Colombo and by noon they were looting and burning Tamil shops, Tamil-owned establishments and Tamil houses. He had also heard that hooligans
had entered government offices, dragged out hiding Tamil officers and
priest was frightened when a crowd gathered at Panadura junction and marched
threateningly towards the temple. He ran to his room and hid under his
wooden bed. The shrieking crowd found the shivering priest, caught him
by his hands and hair and dragged him outside the temple. It dowsed him
with petrol brought from the nearby pumping station and set him alight.
The priest writhed and the crowd yelled, chanting the slogan that that
would teach the ‘parai themala’ (Tamil paraiahs) who demanded equal
status for their language, Tamil, a proper lesson.
burning of the priest hurt Tamil Hindus greatly. It pained little
Pirapaharan more, for he was brought up in a highly religious
environment. His parents were descendants of families that built
temples. His father Velupillai was the trustee of the Valvettithurai
Vaitheeswaran Kovil, known as Valvai Sivan Kovil, the biggest of the
three Hindu Temples in the harbour town of Valvettithurai. It was built
by Pirapaharan's ancestor, Thrumeniyar Venkatachalam. Pirapaharan's
ancestors had also assisted in the construction of the other two temples:
Nediyakadu Pillayar Kovil and Vallai Muthumari Amman Kovil.
mother, Vallipuram Parvathypillai, was also from a temple building family,
‘methai veeddu' Nagalingam family, of Point Pedro, another northern
port. She was deeply religious, fasting and observing the numerous
festivals. As trustee the father and as devotee the mother spent most of
their time in temple work and Pirapaharan was constantly with them.
shrine room in their home had a large statue of Shiva and smaller ones
of Vinayagar and Murugan. The children were required to pray every
morning and to take turns in reciting Hindu hymns, thevarams.
Pirapaharan was the devotee of Murugan, the God of action and destroyer of evil.
the wall were hung the pictures of other gods and Indian leaders like
Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Velupillai, an admirer of Swami
Vivekananda, a Hindu revivalist, added his picture also. Pirapaharan
added two more: Subash Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh, the Indian freedom
fighters who preferred the path of armed struggle.
a prosperous trading port and boat building yard during the days of the
Jaffna Kingdom and later during the Dutch and Portuguese rule (for over
1000 years ending early 19th century) declined in importance
in early in the nineteenth century after the British brought the country’s
trade under its control. The daring trading and seafaring men of
Valvettithurai continued their sea trading, defying the British rulers
who called them smugglers. They often clashed with the police deployed
by the British masters and later with the army posted in the late fifties
along the winding northern coast to curb smuggling.
Valvettithurai residents, a tightly knit 10,000 strong community,
detested the army for its brutality during their searches.
VVT in brief, served as a “smuggler’s paradise” where all goods
forbidden by the “socialist” state of Sri Lanka were available in
plenty. The brave sailors of VVT traveled the choppy seas to the Tamil Nadu
and Myanmar (formerly Burma) coasts to bring in the contraband and amass
great wealth. They fought daring battles with the army’s coast guard and
the fledgling navy that patrolled the coastal waters.
annual festival of Valvai Sivan Kovil was celebrated with grandeur. Top
nathaswaram and bharatha natyam artistes were brought from Tamil Nadu to
perform during the festival. In late fifties and sixties Swami
Kirupanantha Variyar was brought to give musical discourses. Velupillai
was Variyar’s admirer and he kept his pet son, Pirapaharan, to be in
attendance. He also took his family to listen to Variyar’s discourses
whenever he visited the Jaffna peninsula. Pirapaharan, pious like his
mother, respected the sagacious holy man and sought his blessing during
every visit. The preacher enjoyed answering the searching questions of
the wide-eyed youngster. Variyar once told Pirapaharan’s mother that
her stocky son would one day emerge a Hindu revolutionary. His
penetrating questions made Variyar to see in him a revolutionary.
was naturally upset when he learnt about the burning of the priest. He
has disclosed that to most of his interviewers. He told N. Ram, then of
The Hindu, in mid 1986:
Ours is a god-fearing society and people
are religious-minded. The widespread feeling was: when a priest like him
was burnt alive, why did we not have the capability to hit back. That
was one atrocity that made people think deeply.”
in 1984 he told Anita Prathap in Chennai that the burning of the priest
had made him very angry and he repeated this sentiment in 1994 in his interview to
Velicham, a Tamil magazine. Priests of any religion are venerable to the
followers of that religion, he maintained and added that Sinhala
Buddhists who burnt a Hindu priest alive should be made to repent.
reaction when he saw his aunt’s burnt face was more violent.
The aunt visited them at their home in Alady Lane at
Valvettithurai, nearly a year after the riots of May 1958. Her face and
hands bore the scars of burning.
did Aunty got burnt?” Pirapakaran asked his mother.
was burnt during the riots, his mother disclosed.
and his sisters, Jagatheeswari, the elder, and Vinothini, pleaded with
the Aunty to relate the incident to them.
was living with my husband and children in Colombo,” the aunt told the
children and described the mob attack on her house.
“We hid ourselves in the toilet. They set fire to it, too. Then
we tried to escape and they caught my husband and clubbed him to death.
I jumped over the rear wall, a fire ball. The children followed me.
Neighbours, good Sinhala people, took me to the hospital. I am living
like this, a memento of Sinhala brutality and kindness,” she said.
details the aunt gave about the cruel acts of the crowd made the two
girls sullen and Pirapakaran boil. The girls shrieked when aunty told
them how a gang tore an infant from a mother and flung it into melting
tar. Pirapakaran fell silent. He was angry.
five years later, in 1984, Pirapaharan recalled to Anita Pradap, his
During the riots a Sinhala mob attacked
her house in Colombo. The rioters set fire to the house and murdered her
husband. She and her children escaped with severe burn injuries. I was
deeply shocked when I saw the scars on her body. I also heard stories of
how young babies were roasted alive in boiling tar. When I heard such
stories of cruelty I felt a deep sense of sympathy and love for my
people. A great passion overwhelmed me to redeem my people from this
racist system. I strongly felt that armed struggle was the only way to
confront a system which employs armed might against unarmed, innocent
told his aunt that Tamils should hit back and he reasoned: “If they
know that we would hit back, they will not do such things.”
Pirapaharan was angry that the Sinhala leadership had allowed hooligans to attack and humiliate the Tamil people. He was also annoyed and angry with the Tamil leadership for not responding in the appropriate manner and for continuing to preach non-violence. He had no way to pour out his feelings. He was young and his father, Velupillai ,was a strict disciplinarian.
recalled to Ram the environment in which he grew up:
was brought up in an environment of strict discipline from childhood. I
was not allowed to mingle freely with outsiders. I used to feel shy
of girls. Great store was laid on personal rectitude and discipline. My
father set an example through his personal conduct: He would not even
chew betel leaves. I modeled my conduct on his:
he as a government officer, a district land officer. A very
straightforward man. People say in our area: When he walks, he does not
even hurt the grass under his feet, but his son is so…Even while
criticizing me, they marvel at the fact that such a son was born to such
a father. He was strict, yes, but also soft and persuasive.
In my own case, he reasoned rather than regimented and his
attitude was that of a friend… he would give me certain pieces of
advice and discuss things with me.
mother and sisters also petted him and endearingly called him
‘thamby,’ meaning younger brother. He recalled in interviews the
pleasant life he led at home. He told Velicham, in 1994”
a child, I was the pet and the darling of the family. Therefore I was
hedged in by a lot of restrictions at home. My play-mates were the
neighbours' children. My 'world' was confined to my house and the
neighbours' houses. My childhood was spent in the small circle of a
lonely, quiet house.
neighbours and relatives remember his childhood fondly. As the youngest,
he ran errands to them. He played a vital role at the annual feast the
family held in remembrance of his paternal grandfather. He carried lunch
parcels to the relatives who failed to attend. He also distributed sweetmeats to them whenever his mother prepared anything special. He carried
the temple ‘prasatham’ to his relatives after special poojas.
continues that habit even now in his Vanni hideout. Special
preparations cooked in his home, are sent to his close friends. Adele
Balasingham, in her autobiography, Will to Freedom, recalls the special meals he
had sent to her. She says that Pirapaharan’s special item is chicken
curry. Adele, a vegetarian, says her husband, Balasingham, political
advisor and negotiator of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE)
which Pirapaharan heads, relishs it, and adds that the considerate
guerilla leader made for her special vegetarian curries, mostly
and relatives say Pirapaharan’s mother was a fine cook and Pirapaharan
got his culinary talents from her. Parvathy, 65 in 2003, and her
husband, Velupillai, 70, returned to Jaffna on 30 May 2003 from Trichi
in Tamil Nadu where they had been living since 1984. Velupillai had a
stroke in early 2002. They were accompanied by their second daughter
Vinothini and her husband, Rajendran, who came from their home in Canada.
Vinothini was Pirapaharan’s competitor in cooking. Eldest sister
Jagatheeswari Mathiyaparanam, now living in Denmark, would readily
acknowledge her brother’s superiority, partly to encourage him and
partly as a show of affection. His brother, Manoharan, now in Denmark,
was never Pirapaharan’s competitor in anything, 'thamby' was so dear to
enjoys eating. He likes
non-vegetarian food, chicken is his specialty. Now his preference is
Chinese food, according to Adele.
had scrupulously inculcated in his cadres the sense of good cooking and
the art of enjoying eating. An incident, related by one of the cadres to
the Tamil publication Viduthalai Puligal is revealing. The Indian Peace
Keeping Force had closed in on his Mullaitivu hideout. They had only
cowpeas to cook. They were boiling them in the open hearth. The pot slipped
while taking it off the fire. A handful of cowpeas spilled.
was scared. If anyone sees I would receive the normal punishment of
cooking for a week. I hurriedly swept some ash and covered it. Thalaivar
(leader) had seen it. “Child,” he chided me. “Why did you do it?
That is sufficient for my lunch.” He collected it, washed it, and
walked away munching it, asking me to temper it before giving it to
always insisted that the food should be clean, tasty and none should be
was playful. Teasing his sisters was his pastime during childhood. He
enjoyed entertaining his mother and sisters, enacting for them the
impressive and hilarious scenes in the films he saw. Once, after seeing
the Tamil film 'Parasakthi,' released two years before his birth, he
entertained his mother and sisters with Sivaji Ganeshan’s classic
dialogue: kalaithan kachithan kudikkathan katpithana. After seeing the
film 'Virapandiya Kaddapomman,' he entertained them with Kaddapomman’s
reply to the British official who asked the Tamil chieftain who resisted
British domination to pay up his taxes.
series of Tamil films on the Indian independence struggle and on Tamil
history instilled in him the spirit of independence and Tamil pride. 'Kaddapomman,' and
'Kappal Oddiya Thamilan' influenced him immensely. Both
films kindled his spirit of resistance to foreign domination. The second,
in which Chidamparanar floated a shipping company as a tool of resistance,
kindled his imagination in that direction. Now the LTTE owns many ships. The
films ','Rajaraja Cholan which depicted the might and influence of Tamil
power, and 'Oovaya' that portrayed the literary legacy of the Tamil people
made him realize the heritage to which the present day Tamils are heir. After he entered the
armed struggle his passion veered towards cowboy films and Clint
Eastwood emerged his hero.
guzzles war films, especially if they are connected to a freedom struggle.
The film on the Algerian freedom fighter, Ali, in which a woman Algerian
freedom fighter jumps into a French army camp with explosives tied to
her waist and destroys it, excited him.
He has a wide collection of videos of such films.
and seventies were also the golden years of Tamil historical novels. Tamil
Nadu’s popular weeklies Anantha Vikatan, Kalki and Kumutham vied with
each other to serialize those novels. Pirapaharan, an avid reader since
childhood, gulped every one of them. Kaki’s Sivagamini Sapatham and
Parthipan Kanavu, Akilan’s
Kadal Pura, Kausiliyan’s
Pamini Pavaikal, Kaliya Perumal’s Kalukkul Eeram,
and Rajaj’s Mahabaratham and Ramayanam were his favorite novels.
Pura was the story of the Chola naval power and its conquests of Cambodia
and Thailand. The Tamil naval power was at its peak under the Cholas and their command
ship was named 'Kadal Pura.' Kallukkul Eeram was the story of
India's independence struggle and describes how a group steps out of Gandhi’s control and
stages an armed attack on Madras' Fort St. George. Pirapaharan was
influenced by both.
the historical novels, he told Velicham, he learned
of the great, flourishing Tamil empires. He added:
novels aroused in me the desire to see our nation rise again from
servitude and that our people should live a life of dignity and freedom
in their liberated homeland. Why shouldn't we take up arms to
fight those who have enslaved us:
this was the idea that these novels implanted in my mind.
He said from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana he learnt several virtues:
'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.
respond to the characters of Mahabharata in different ways and
Pirapaharan responded the most to the character and role of Karuna, who readily
sacrificed his life. He venerated Bhima’s obedience and
selflessness He told an interviewer:
I value the character and role of Karuna
the most on account of his readiness to make the ultimate sacrifice.
is the hallmark of Pirapaharan’s personal life and that of his
militant group, the LTTE. He considers himself the principal of a good and
disciplined school. He told Ram:
When you have a school with a good
standard of discipline and a principal who believes in this, the
students acquire good education and do well in life.
You see this everywhere: certain schools are rated good because
the teachers and, most important, the principal stand for discipline.
You will find batches and batches of students who studied under
such a principal do well
later on. The same principle applies to our
activity. That is why we lay such stress on stern discipline.
the same interview he gave two reasons for maintaining strict discipline
in the LTTE. First, a member of the LTTE, by definition, fights for the
people. If he indulges in anti-social activity he becomes an enemy of
the people and the LTTE would lose its clout with the people. Second,
Consider also this aspect, the status of
those under arms in society. Those who bear arms acquire and wield an
extreme measure of power. We
believe that if this power is abused, it will, inevitably, lead to
family bought Anantha Vikatan and Kalki. Neighbours bought
Kumutham and Kalkandu. Pirapaharan, using his earnings, the tips he got
for helping to do household chores, bought the science magazine
Kalaikathir and the monthly digest Manjari. He bought them from the
small bookshop in the village where he also bought his books.
was a lover of books and reading was his hobby since childhood. He was
especially keen on reading historical novels, works of history, and
biographies of heroes. He said:
It is through books that I
learnt of the heroic exploits of Alexander and Napoleon. It is through
my habit of reading that I developed a deep attachment to the Indian
Freedom struggle and martyrs like Subhash Chandra Bose, Bagat Singh and
Balagengadhara Tilak. It was the reading of such books that laid the
foundation for my life as a revolutionary. The Indian Freedom struggle
stirred the depths of my being and roused in me a feeling of indignation
against foreign oppression and domination.
all the Indian freedom fighters he was attracted to Subas Chandra Bose,
who was Pirapaharan’s hero. His advocacy of armed struggle, his escape
to Germany, his stealthy submarine journey to Japan, his raising of the
Indian National Army and his thrust to India along with the Japanese made the charismatic
Bengali nationalist Pirapaharan’s idol. Above all
these, his brave words:
fight for the freedom of my land until I shed the last drop of my blood
and inspired Pirapaharan.
said this to Velicham:
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
is not a casual reader. He reads the book from cover to cover. He gets
immersed into the book totally. After reading a book he questions 'Why?'
'What for?', 'How did this happen this way?'
Raji, a leader of a rival militant group, the Eelam Revolutionary
Organization of Students (EROS), who has known Pirapaharan since the early
seventies, vouches that. He says he has seen Pirapaharan immersed in the
book he was reading. He recalls some of the biographies he saw in
Pirapaharan’s room: Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh and Mao
Tse-tung. He said Pirapaharan was an admirer of the Vietnamese and Chinese
revolutions. Shankar Raji had also seen some of the 'Teach Yourself 'series in Pirapaharan’s room. One of them was on Shooting.
mainly self taught, Pirapaharan underwent formal education. His junior school
study was at Alady Sivaguru Vidyalayam, known as Alady school. His
secondary education was at Valvai Chithampara College where he studied
up to grade ten. He did not sit for his General Certificate of Education
school he was playful and classmates recall him relating the story about
the burning of the Panadura priest with emotion. “Tears rolled down
his plump cheeks,” recalled a classmate, now a leading trader in
Colombo. He discussed with his friends most of the things he heard at
his father’s chat sittings.
hobby while returning from school was to display his skill in
marksmanship with stones and the catapult. With stones he would fell
mangoes and wood apples. He
would also get a friend to throw up a stone and try to hit it.
With a catapult he felled many squirrels.
of Chithampara College remember him as an average student who was more
interested politics than his studies. The worried father, who desired his
son to enter the civil service like him, put him at Valvai Educational
Institute, a private tutory to receive additional instruction. At that
time Pirapaharan was in his eighth standard and was 14 years old. There Pirapaharan fell
under the influence of the Tamil Language teacher, Venugopal, a long
standing activist of the Federal Party Youth League, who quit it saying
that it was not militant enough. Venugopal teamed up with a Federal Party
parliamentarian who formed the radical “Suyadchi Kalazham," Self
Rule Party, after he was sacked from his party.
influenced Pirapaharan vastly. Pirapaharan admits:
It is he who impressed on me the need for armed struggle and persuaded me to put my trust in it. My village used to face military repression daily. He used to talk to us on the various world movements, how nothing can be accomplished by parliamentary means, etc. I was 14 years old then and my feeling that we also should hit back was reinforced. We were also convinced that we should have a separate state.