Saturday, June 6, 2009

Velupillai Prabhakaran: The Life of a Rebel

Rebels fascinate me. I guess its because I am something of a conformist myself and also something of a closet rebel. Velupillai Prabhakaran was the quintessential rebel. To his followers, he was a hero and a great freedom fighter, to others he was a visionary, but there are many more who think of him as a raving megalomaniac and an evil villain. So I have been reading up on the man, and here is some of the stuff I have unearthed.

Velupillai Prabhakaran was the founder and leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The objective of this group is to create a separate homeland for the Tamils or a Tamil Eezham. And in order to attain their aims they have been waging war against the government for nearly three decades. The war is over now and all that remains of the LTTe is the ideas they stood for.

Even the LTTE's worst detractors would admit that their grievances were justified. The predominantly Sinhalese government did make life difficult for the Tamils. For instance, as early as 1956, the "Sinhala Only Act" was passed in parliament. This law ruled that Sinhala, the language of the majority which amounted to about 70% of the populace was to be the sole official language of Sri Lanka. Ostensibly, the law was formulated in the wake of Sri Lankan independence with the idea of removing all traces of their colonial masters but Tamils were indignant and saw it as a conduit for the majority to impose their will on them. And then in 1973, the government announced a new policy for university admissions called standardisation which required Tamil students to score higher than the Sinhalese to enter the university. This virtually destroyed the ambitions of Tamils who aspired to become doctors or engineers. In this manner, the differences between the two ethnic groups led to a schism that simply could not be bridged and not surprisingly, erupted in violence.

There is little doubt that Prabhakaran sought to redress the wrongs of the Tamils. He was a man who believed passionately in his cause and would stop at nothing to fulfill his dream of a liberated Tamil Eezham. However, the tactics he adopted were far less admirable. He was an inflexible man who did not take kindly to opposition in any form. Therefore, in addition to killing key Sinhalese government officials, and an Indian Prime minister, he is also responsible for claiming the lives of Sri Sabarathinam, leader of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation and Appapillai Amirthalingam, the Tamil United Liberation Liberation Front leader. The Tamil Tiger also liked to use suicide bombers and it has been said that he used civilians as human shields to keep the inexorable Lankan army at bay. This callous disregard for human life may not seem a big deal for an overzealous nationalist but it does make the gorge rise for the rest of us.

Prabhakaran did not have the patience or the wisdom for peaceful negotiations. He preferred to rely on his guns and this trigger - happy attitude led to the LTTE being declared a terrorist group in 37 nations. The violence he had so much faith in ultimately proved to be counter - productive and with global opinion shifting in favor of the Sri Lankan government, it was only a matter of time before the LTTE were wiped out.

Despite the destruction of the LTTE, and the death of their leader, the situation remains dicey on the war - torn island. None of the original problems have been solved. The Sri Lankan goverment has refused to allow the international media, NGOs and other witnesses inside the war zone. So one shudders to think of the fate of those trapped within. And given the fact that the government has been bombing its own citizens for over a year, one can expect a bloodbath. It was precisely this sort of heavy - handedness that spawned the Eezham war in the first place and created extremist leaders in the form of Prabhakaran. And unless the government makes a sincere attempt to do the right thing by the Tamils, (I don't mean just including Muttiah Muralidharan in the national team) the cycle of violence and bloodshed will continue unabated.


  1. It seems that you have so many things to share in your blog. Will be following your posts. Thanks for sharing!

    Realities and Realizations

  2. Anuja, you are a very capable writer, and this is a very well-written post about a man whom I only knew as a "terrorist".

    In my country (America), and throughout North, Central and South America, native peoples have been conquered and subjugated and their cultures despised and, as much as possible, destroyed by the conquerors (my own ancestors).

    Nearly 40 years ago, I read a remarkable book by a man named Alvin Josephy. The book was "The Patriot Chiefs: A Chronicle of American Indian Resistance." A Revised Edition (Paperback), was published in 1993 (30 years after it was first published), and is still in print.

    I remember reading it in 1970, and weeping for the people. Last year I read a novel by a young American Indian writer, Sherman Alexie. The book's name is "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian". It is about a young teenager from the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington State, where I used to live. If you can find it, it is well-worth reading.

    Thank you for your comment on my "I protest!" column, and for writing your article about Velupillai Prabhakaran. Let us pray that Sri Lanka's leaders have the wisdom to respect and include their Tamil citizens as full, respected members of their society.

    Jorge Tostada
    P.S.: If you're interested in my other writing, check out my official author website,, where I write under my birth name.

  3. Hello Anuja,

    One of the things I like the most about your blog is your versatility both in the writing and as far as the topics. I knew hardly anything about this man prior to your post. Thank you for sharing and I look forward to reading more.

  4. A terrorist is a terrorist by whatever name you call him. Even here in India, we have the Official Language Act where they try to ram Hindi down your throat. The end does not justify the means. I am a strong believer in the "Gandhian" method. That language is well understood in the North and now gaining wide acceptance in the South of India as well.

  5. It's very interesting this post. COngratulations.


  7. Nice post I think western media doesn't cover all too well why the LTTE was started. It's overshadowed by all the terrible things they have done and approach they have taken to get what they want. It's unfortunate that the LTTE hasn't taken a Gandhian approach like laidback commented above.

  8. Blogs are so interactive where we get lots of informative on any topics...... nice job keep it up !!

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