By: T. Sabaratnam
Birth of Tamil New Tigers
entered the freedom struggle in the role of a leader of an armed group
when he was 17 years old. He led a bomb attack on 17 September 1972 at the
carnival held at Duraiappah Stadium, Jaffna. He was then the head of a
hand picked, active and dedicated group of young men: Chetti, Sivarajah,
Ramesh, Inbam, Kannady,
Saravanan (alias Patkunarajah), Kalapathy and Kirupaharan--all elder to
named that group Tamil New Tigers (TNT).
He wanted TNT to be the deadly exploder of Sinhala extremism and Tamil
who joined the Thangathurai-Kuttimani group in 1969, when he was 15, had
gradually built himself into a leader through his energy, bravery,
organizational skill and dedication. Chelliah Thanabalasingham (alias
Chetti), Periya Sothi, his cousin, and Chelliah Pathmanathan (alias
Kannadi) went with him to fling the homemade hand-bombs at the
exact date of the formation of the TNT is difficult to fix because it
was the outcome of a gradual evolution and former militants whom I met
say Duraiappah Stadium attack was TNT’s first act of violence. Others
consider the murder of Alfred Duraiappah on 27 July 1975 as the first
act of violence by the TNT. They base their decision on LTTE Central
Committee’s claim of responsibility issued on 25 April 1978. Uma
Maheswaran who drafted that letter might have decided to start with
Duraiappah murder because that was a major event. The interesting story
connected to that letter would be told later.
Stadium attack led to an intensification of the police hunt of the
members of the Tamil Students Union (TSU) but it took months before
police learnt about Pirapaharan. That was because Pirapaharan, during
that time, was very busy organizing the TNT. Most of the TSU leaders too
were not aware of the TNT. Pirapaharan organized his group in strict
secrecy. Police suspected Thangathurai- Kuttimani group for the
Duraiappah Stadium attack as their focus then was on that group.
and his associates spent many hours shaping the TNT.
Influenced by the teachings of Subash Chandra Bose, Swami
Vivekananda and the practice of his father Velupillai he drew a strict
code of discipline for his group. They should abstain from alcohol and
tobacco and dedicate their life to the cause of the Tamil race. They
decided to call themselves Tigers because Tiger was the emblem of the
Cholas who established a mighty empire in south India, Sri Lanka and the
far east at the beginning of the second millennium. Pirapaharan adopted
the Tiger flag and the crest for the TNT.
was, at that time, living with his parents in Valvettithurai. He slipped
from home for short periods to establish his secret outfit. His parents were
completely unaware of his clandestine activities. The opportunity for
the parents to know of his revolutionary activities came knocking at the
door on its own in March 1973 when the police launched a crackdown on
the newly formed Tamil Elaignar Peravai (Tamil Youth Forum).
The TUF decision to attend the National State Assembly brought the political leaders and the youth into direct confrontation. “Explain to us the logic of your actions,” asked a leaflet issued by the TSU. "You told us that the new constitution is a Charter of Slavery and now your parliamentarians have taken oath as members of the National State Assembly swearing allegiance to the same constitution. Are you not lending legitimacy to the constitution that had made us slaves? Are you not a party to making Tamils slaves of the Sinhalese?"
only answer Tamil parliamentarians could give was that they were
attending the meetings of the National State Assembly to agitate against
the constitution and to watch the interests of the Tamil people. Youth
leaders said they were unable to comprehend that argument and the
leaders shot back: You are unable to comprehend because you are not
mature. Youths accused the leaders of trying to enjoy the comforts and
benefits of membership in the National State Assembly.
take off the youth pressure and to combat government propaganda TUF
leader Thanthai Chelva launched on September 2, Mahatma Gandhi’s
birthday, satyagraha and announced that that was the commencement of the
non-violent struggle to win back Tamil rights. To pacify the youth they
commenced the satyagraha with the hoisting the Nadhi flag, the flag of
the Jaffna kings and the Rising Sun flag to denote the rise of a new
nation and Amithalingam’s wife Mangayarkarasi sang the
Thamil Thai Valthu.
Chelva also announced that he would resign his seat in parliament the
next day after explaining to the National State Assembly the reason. He
said his resignation would be sufficient to convey to the world the
message that the Tamil people had rejected the new constitution. Next
day, October 3, he announced his resignation in the National State
Assembly and challenged the government to hold a by-election to test
Tamil opinion. The government did not take that challenge. It postponed
the by-election repeatedly.
police swooped on all the important members of the TYF in March.
Somasundaram Senathirajah, known as Mavai, Anandapoopathy
Balavadivetkaran, and Sivaramalingam Chandrakumar were arrested on March
9. K. Sundarampellai Sabaratnam was arrested on March 10 and P. V.
Tissaverasingam March 16. Police continued its arrests as evidence
pointed to others. S. Appathurai Nithianandan was taken into custody in
May and Sivaramalingam Suriakumar in July. There were others whose names
I am sorry to have forgotten.
Kuttimani. Periya Sothi and some others went into hiding. Pirapaharan
was at his home in mid March when a police squad knocked at the front
door at 3 a.m. Pirapaharan knew the Police had come for him. He slipped
through the back door.
mother Parvathi opened the door and was startled to see the
posse of policemen. They told her and her two daughters who stood
behind their mother, they had come to take Pirapaharan into custody.
Without waiting for an answer, police constables searched the house and
returned empty handed. The inspector bragged to the two teenage girls
that their criminal brother had escaped but they would get him soon.
Lankan police never arrested Pirapaharan. He was always two steps ahead
went underground around 1973…
added that leading an underground life was very difficult;
and you know leading an underground life is a very difficult
proposition. I have led an underground life for a long time… it was a
very difficult period for us, with the army on the rampage… to escape
their net was very difficult.
Pirapaharan teamed up again with Thangathurai and Kuttimani and went
hiding. Relatives say Velupillai went to their hideout and begged his
son to return home but he declined. He told his father,
I will never be of any use to you or to
other members of the family. If
I return there will be trouble for you and our family. Let there be no
trouble for you because of me. Please
allow me to go my own way. In future never expect anything from me.
Police did not leave him in peace. Their net swiftly closed around him. So he sailed to Tamil Nadu with Thangathurai, Kuttimani and Periya Sothi in one of Kuttimani’s boats. They
landed in Vetharaniyam, the popular landing point for Sri Lankan
there with Periya Sothi as he wanted to go to Chennai, then Madras, to set up a cell there
and build contacts with Tamil Nadu politicians. Thangathurai and Kuttimani went to Salem. Pirapaharan and Periya Sothi had a hard time there, living on cheap curd rice and temple prasatham. There were days they slept with empty stomachs. In Chennai, they sought Janardhanan’s help to hire a small house in Kodampakkam. Janardhanan struck an instant
friendship with young
Pirapaharan. Janardhanan explained the reason thus;
was very young and extremely shy. He had a pair of piercing eyes. He was
itching for action and yearning for knowledge. I was quite surprised at
his searching questions. He had a deep understanding of Tamil Nadu
politics. I took him often for dinners. I enjoyed the discussion and he
relished the meal.
Pirapaharan was short of cash and lived frugally. Periya Sothi cooked their meals, mostly rice and one or two vegetables. Pirapaharan,
a lover of non-vegetarian food, cooked chicken every Saturday.
Pirapaharan, active by nature, was tired of this lethargic life. He
wanted to return to Jaffna, the scene of action. When he learnt in 1974,
that his former colleague Chetti, had escaped from Anuradhapura prison
and had taken up residence at Mylapore, another part of Chennai,
Pirapaharan met him. Chetti and three others- Kannadi, Appaiah and
Sivarajah escaped from Anuradhapura prison in 1973. Pirapaharan and
Chetti decided to return to Jaffna. Periya Sothi objected. He warned Pirapaharan not to keep company with
Chetti. He told his cousin that Chetti had turned unreliable and had
become a common criminal. Pirapaharan would not listen. He told him that
Chetti was a man of action. Pirapaharan told Periya Sothi:
Pirapaharan told Periya Sothi:
are content spending your life, cooking, eating and sleeping. I do not
want to waste my life like that. I want action. I must do whatever I
can while I am young and able. Chetti, like me, is a man of action.
Periya Sothi was unhappy about Pirapaharan’s decision to rejoin Chetti.
He tried to block their returning to Jaffna. He first spoke to
Thangathurai and Kuttimani who tried to dissuade Pirapaharan. He then
got Janardhanan to speak to him. Janardhanan recalls talking to
Pirapaharan. He said he had no answer to Pirapaharan's reply;
I am aware of the criminal side of Chetti’s life. As for me, I will
never, never lose my identity.
Thangathurai and Kuttimani were annoyed that Pirapaharan, much younger
to them, had turned down their advice and had teamed up with Chetti, an
outsider from Kalviyankadu, a suburb of Jaffna city. Janardhanan said he
understood the young man’s feelings and his desire for action.
Pirapaharan landed in Jaffna in mid- 1974 Jaffna people were angry with Sirimavo Bandaranaike's government and were convinced that the only way
available for them to preserve their dignity was through the
establishment of a separate state. This was partly due to the antics of
Posts Minister Kumarasuriyar and the Mutpokku Eluthlar sangam controlled
by the Soviet embassy staff and partly Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s Sinhala
1973 and 1974, Sirimavo Bandaranaike made two attempts to soothe the
feelings of the Tamils. She made those attempts due to political
necessity. The UNP headed by J. R. Jayewardene was leading a satyagraha
movement against the government’s effort to take over the Lake House
group of newspapers, the largest publishing house in Sri Lanka.
Thondaman, a president of the TUF, supported the satyagraha. The
government was concerned and its strategists decided to prevent the TUF
leaning towards the UNP.
Put Back on Track
On 23 March 1973,
government enacted the Language of the Courts Act which
provided for the use of the Tamil language in courts in the northern and
eastern provinces. Tamils wanted it made part of the constitution which
the government declined to do.
Action Committee of the TUF met on 17 May 1973 at the Federal Party
headquartes in Jaffna when members of the TYF staged a demonstration
opposite the headquarters and demanded they take action to set up a
separate state. At the meeting Eelath Thamilar Oottumai Munnani leader
Suntharalingam proposed that the TUF initiate the preliminary steps for
the establishment of the state of Tamil Eelam. He suggested that all
Tamil MPs constitute themselves into a Constituent Assembly and elect a
committee to draw up the draft constitution. The Federal Party and the
Tamil Congress were not prepared to go that far and were agreeable to
the election of a committee to report on the future course of action.
youths were dissatisfied by the refusal of the Action Committee to set
up a committee to draw up the constitution and were incensed by its
decision to work for the “establishment of self-rule of the Eelam
Tamil nation in their traditional homeland.” They read into the phrase
“self –rule” an attempt to return to the concept of federalism.
They accused the Tamil leadership of trying to stick to their
parliamentary seats, that their main concern was their powers and
privileges and were immune to the aspirations and sentiments of the
revolted. Its Colombo branch headed by Eelaventhan, the president and
Uma Maheswaran, the secretary, issued a stern statement calling for the
rejection of the Tamil leadership. “If you cannot do what the people
want you to do please go,” was its message.
Party’s younger leaders Amirthalingam, V. N. Navaratnam and Rajadurai
intervened to pacify the youth leaders and promised them that they had
no intention of returning to the federal demand. “The decision is
final. We have abandoned federalism. The phrase self-rule used in the
TUF resolution should not be interpreted to mean return to federalism.
What is meant by the resolution is the establishment of a separate state
and nothing less,” Amirthalingam assured Eelaventhan and Uma
his statement issued after he was elected president of the Federal Party
on 25 July 1973, Amirthalingam reassured the youths that their
aspirations and sentiments would be taken into account in the future
activities of the Federal Party. He was true to his word. He proposed at
the Federal Party convention held at Mallakam on 9 September 1973 the
resolution to alter the objective of the Federal Party from federalism
to separation. Speaking on the resolution Amirthalingam declared;
it had become clear that we cannot establish our rights with the consent
of the Sinhala people, the only way open to the Tamil nation is to
establish self-rule in their traditional homelands in the exercise of
the inalienable right of every nation to self-determination.
The final paragraph of the Mallakam resolution made the matter very
National Convention resolves that the Tamils are in every way fully
equipped to be regarded as a separate nation and to live as a separate
nation and that the only path for them to follow is the establishment of
their right to self-rule in their traditional homeland based on the
internationally accepted principle of the right of self-determination of
were thrilled. They chorused:
Thamil Eelam is our Motherland.
Thamil Eelam is our Desire.
groups adopted this spontaneous outburst as their slogan. Youths carried
Amirthalingam on their shoulders shouting that they had dedicated their
lives to their Motherland.
extremely emotional by nature, was carried away by the emotional
outburst of the youth. He told them;
our youth, at the moment, we can only offer blood, sweat and tears. The
immediate possibility is that you may face baton charge by the police,
attacks by the army and incarceration without trial. You have to tread
the perilous path of freedom.
are ready to sacrifice our lives for our freedom, for our motherland.
In two months, the Tamil leaders and their henchmen in the TYF let down
the youths. Faced with the need to start a resistance movement, TUF
decided to break the postal ordinance which declares the use of used
stamps an offence. TUF decided to perform satyagraha in temples on
October 2, the Gandhi Jayanthi day, and to post 10,000 letters affixing
used stamps. Militant youths ridiculed both. They said postal men would
throw away the letters with used stamps into dust bins and the
resistance movement will die. It happened.
TYF organized a 50-day rotational fast at the Jaffna Miniappar Temple,
one batch fasting for a day, demanding the release of arrested youths.
Sivakumaran ridiculed it as a farce. He said the noble practice of
satyagraha had been prostituted for political purposes. He said many
militants were fasting daily because they do not get anything to eat in
their hideouts. He accused the TYF and the TUF of hoodwinking the issue
of the release of arrested youths.
The need for the government to keep the TUF away from the UNP increased
in October. The UNP organized a joint opposition rally for 11 October
and invited the TUF to send a representative to address it. Prime
Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike wanted to prevent the TUF from attending
the joint rally. She wrote a conciliatory letter to Thanthai Chelva
saying that she had delayed the holding of the Kankesanthurai
by-election due to police advice and followed it by announcing talks
with the TUF on October 8.
Talks failed because the government was prepared to accept only one of
the four demands Thanthai Chelva placed before it. Sirimavo Bandaranaike
told him that she would be able to accommodate the request that the
Language of Courts Act be made a provision of the constitution. She
refused to accept the other three demands: the Tamil Language Act be
included in the Schedule in the Constitution, regional autonomy for the
north and east as contemplated in the B-C Pact and state aided
colonization in the north and east be stopped.
The collapse of the talks led to the 2 December 1973 decision to launch
the second phase of the civil disobedience and the TUF decided to take
up the question of the release of the Tamil youths. It requested the
government to release or charge them in courts before 31 December and to
launch civil disobedience by violating selected emergency regulations if
the government failed to act. “It will be so structured that the
police would have to arrest thousands of Tamils,” Amirthalingam said.
Amirthalingam charged that the police was not following normal
procedures. Though the Attorney General had informed the Jaffna police
that charges could not be framed against some youths the police are
keeping them in custody telling the court that they had not completed
inquiries. This had gone on, in the case of Kasi Anandan, for over one
and a half years, he said.
The government responded by releasing Kasi Anandan and some others and
by 29 December all but 25 of the arrested 42 youths were released.
Justice Minister Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike wrote to Thanthai Chelva
that they too would be released or charged soon. TUF postponed the civil
On January 10, another major incident that angered Tamil people,
especially the youth, occurred.
1: Why didn’t he hit back?
2: Going in for a revolver
3: The Unexpected Explosion
4: Tamil Mood Toughens
5: Tamil Youths Turn Assertive