Monday 1 March 2021


Gajalakshmi Paramasivam

01 March 2021



 By being within a group that recognizes itself as a Sovereign group, and by being true to them, one is able to read them at depth and identify with their needs as if it were ours. The first of such units known to us is the family. Families that have firm relationships are recognized as being more civilised than those that are enjoy early freedom. If that freedom is based on one’s truth and there is separation pain – natural structure develops to support the new branch. If the parent group that the new broke off from is not owed by the new branch and v.v. both would have exponential powers of Independence. A parent unit could owe the new branch when it has received from the younger unit / member more than it has spent on the younger unit / member. The measurable units are money and status.


Likewise, in any community structure. The Sri Lankan Tamil community is struggling to maintain this balance of Sovereignty in the post-war period for similar reasons as to why the Sinhalese community is also facing difficulties at global level. The parent here is the law abiding multicultural Tamil Community. The branch is de facto governance group of armed rebels. Majority Tamils known to me would hesitate to accept De Facto marriages. Yet most of them seem to accept it in community governance.


The Tamil Diaspora leader with whom I had conflict recently, asked:


[Why you don’t talk about the cremation issue. ]

I did but he probably had not seen it. Interestingly, Universal power of truth brought to my attention the following published in the paper by ‘ Building cemeteries, constructing identities. Funerary practices and nationalist discourse among the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka’ by Cristiana Natali :

Before 1991 we burnt [the fighters] according to Hindu rites. If the parents asked for the ashes, we gave them. But Christians and Muslims didn’t take ashes. We had this problem. There were Christian soldiers, and the parents didn’t want to burn them. A meeting of the leaders was organized and they decided to study what did for their soldiers other countries like America and England. They saw that they used to bury their soldiers. Then they decided to proceed in the same way ]  Personal interview  on 7 December 2002, of Mr. Pon Tyagam, in charge of Maaveerar’s office .


The reason for the change was stated to be taken from America and England who have Christian majority. Cristiana Natali continues on to present the following:


[It is not surprising that the LTTE chose to adopt funerary practices utilized by Western armies. In fact, Tigers do not like the epithet of “terrorist” and claim the status of liberation fighters. That is why they never miss an opportunity to emphasize that they are a regular army: for instance, they point out that they wear uniforms. From this perspective, an acceptance of Western military funerary customs might be considered a logic consequence of such a claim.

Conversely, what is really surprising is to ascertain that the official explanation for the transition from cremation to burial is never mentioned by civilians or fighters. Indeed, if questioned on this issue, both tend to refer to other explanations for the change. In the course of my fieldwork, I interviewed LTTE fighters, Tamil civilians living in both LTTE- and government-controlled territories, and eventually Tamils living in Italy. The persons interviewed gave me different interpretations for the transition, but nobody referred to the official one. This official explanation is probably neither significant nor acceptable to Tamil civilians, particularly for the relatives of the dead. In fact, when a daughter or a son, a sister or a brother are given burial as opposed to the customary ritual cremation, it is likely that relatives would not be satisfied with an explanation that justified this practice on the basis of conformity with Western military tradition. Indeed, it is more than likely that they would seek other more meaningful explanations.

Thanks to the exception represented by the interment of ascetics, Tamil civilians have the opportunity to place the burial practice within the mainstream of Hindu tradition. In order to provide an understanding of the symbolic analogy between ascetics’ interment and the Maaveerar’s burial we have to dwell upon the self-representation of the LTTE fighters. The combatants are portrayed as men and women who are not involved in the “bad habits” of ordinary people: they do not drink, do not smoke and do not have forbidden sexual intercourses. Abstaining from alcohol and cigarettes is significant particularly for male fighters, because in Tamil culture women are not supposed to drink or smoke. With regard to female fighters the most important peculiarity is therefore their purity:

The LTTE ideal of the armed guerrilla woman puts forward an image of purity and virginity […]. The women are described as pure, virtuous. Their chastity, their unity of purpose and their sacrifice of social life supposedly give them strength. The armed virginal woman cadre ensures that this notion of purity, based on denial, is a part of the social construction of what it means to be a woman according to the world view of the LTTE (Coomaraswamy quoted in Schrijvers 1999: 316).

Michael Roberts suggests that the ascetic mould of the LTTE fighters implies “the influence of Hindu tradition of tapas (strength via abstinence) as well as Maoist strains of revolutionary self- discipline” (1996: 256). The ascetic attitude of fighters is also a subject of LTTE-filmography. In this regard Peter Schalk, explaining the plot of a film on the Black Tigers – the suicidal commandos –, points out:

The hero of the film is described as a tavan, “ascetic”, not by the word, but by his behaviour. Although he is of marriageable age, there is no sign of a girlfriend […]. Living in the group of Black Tigers, he seems to be dedicated to the holy aim [to free Tamil Eelam] only (1997: 160).]

Whatever the reason, the above is a deviation from the Hindu cultural practice of Cremation. As per my interpretation – Cremation confirmed immediate detachment from the form. The combatants I met were not ascetical in their nature. Nor are their current followers.

I find this ‘branching off’ to be of  negative value due to young ones not settling their dues to the parental structure and abandoning the family structure before settling their dues as mentioned above. I feel also that this would have weakened the intuitive connection that the law abiding Tamils had with the official structures including within the Sri Lankan government.

The Sydney Morning Herald article ‘World's Tamils can only watch as Sri Lanka edges closer to war’ was published on 12 January 2008 – more than a year before the Mullivaikal attack which ended in May 2009. As per that presentation:


[Schalk's research on the 17,000 Tiger "martyrs" should also caution Western politicians who try to lump them with al-Qaeda as suicidal terrorists. Although the Tamils are mostly Hindu (against the majority Buddhists backing the Government) their struggle has no religious character. They are buried, not cremated. They are not promised any glorious afterlife.

Dr Kohona said it was popular outrage at Tiger ceasefire violations that had forced the Government's hand. But he also made it clear that Colombo thought the Tigers were now beatable, and dismissed fears Sri Lanka was heading for an all-out war with massive civilian casualties.

"The LTTE doesn't have the capability to launch an all-out confrontation any more. It's seriously lacking in cadres, and we also believe its levels of ammunition are very low since the sinking of the four supply ships," he said. In his last annual "Great Heroes' Day" address on November 27, the Tigers' supremo, Velupillai Prabhakaran, himself seemed to strike an unintended note of desperation when he railed at the international community for moves to isolate his movement.

Colombo hopes that a "moderate" Tamil majority outside the Tiger zone of control in the north-east will accept a proposal for devolution within a unitary state that a constitutional review committee will publish in coming weeks.

But this raises the question why Mr Rajapaksa could not wait these few weeks to publish his proposals for a political solution and assess the reaction. Instead he has chosen the path of military conquest, one on which many of his predecessors have been bloodied before.]

As an Australian Tamil said when I returned to Sydney after being with those in the camps, as a guerrilla force they ought to have gone into hiding. But once they think they are an official force – they lose the courage of ‘freedom’ that a guerrilla force enjoys.

I am therefore unmoved by acts of Martyrdom undertaken not only in London by Mrs Ambigai Selvakumar who paid her respects to LTTE nor the fast undertaken by the group headed by Mr Velan in Northern Sri Lanka.

I would focus on sharing my sense of Independence with needy Tamils in Sri Lanka’s multicultural areas.  



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