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.