‘How I Became a Freedom Fighter’
In an interview given to ‘Velicham’, a Tamil language literary magazine published in Jaffna, the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Velupillai Pirabaharan, reflected on the events and circumstances during his early life that inspired him to take up arms and join the liberation struggle.
Q. From your boyhood you have been a voracious reader. Can you tell us something about the books which instilled Tamil nationalism in you and impelled you to take up arms against oppression?
A. From my young days, I have been a lover of books. A good part of my youth I spent reading worthwhile books. I was especially keen on reading historical novels, works of history, and biographies of heroes. The pocket money that my parents gave me I spent on books. I got a lot of satisfaction and pleasure in reading new books. There was a book shop in my village. It became my habit somehow or the other to buy all those valuable books there and read them.
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.
The racial riots which erupted in Sri Lanka in 1958 and the agonies that the Tamils had to endure as a result were the factors that impelled me to militancy. The reports that appeared in the dailies unleashed a hurricane of fury in me. When I read the novels of Tamil Nadu writers like Kausiyan (Paminip Pavai), Sandilyan (Kadat Pura) and Kalki (Ponniyin Selvan), I learned how our forefathers had established and ruled over great, flourishing empires.
These 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. In my boyhood I avidly read epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana; they too sparked off thoughts in me.
‘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.
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 guiding light. I was never in the habit of reading cursorily, skimming through a book. I cultivated myself in the habit of immersing myself totally in the book I was reading and becoming one with it.
After I had finished reading a book, the questions ‘Why?’ ‘What for?’, ‘How did this happen this way?’, used to rise in my mind. I would try to connect the narrative and the characters with our life and the life of our people. At all such times, the thought that I should fight for the liberation of my people would dominate my mind.
Apart from historical novels and works of history, I also loved to read science-oriented books and magazines like ‘Kalaikathir’. I deeply desired that my people should develop scientifically and intellectually. Reading widened my horizons. I wanted to achieve something through action rather than waste time in idle fancies. I believed that what our people needed in future was action. The books that I read dealing with national liberation struggles conveyed one clear message to me: ‘A freedom fighter should be pure, selfless and ready to sacrifice himself for the people’. So I would say that the various books I read impelled me to struggle for the freedom of my people.
Q. Your childhood must have been totally different from that of today’s generation. Can you describe your childhood?
A. As 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. When I was studying in the 8th standard, there was an institution called the ‘Valvai Educational Institute’ functioning in my village, Valvettiturai. Some youngsters who had a higher education, wanted to develop my village; inspired by this ideal, they were running this Institute at Sivaguru Vidyasalai (also known as Aladi School) close to my home. One of the services rendered by this institute was the provision of tuition at nights to students studying in the lower classes.
Mr.Vernugopal, a Tamil teacher from my village, used to din into our years that the Tamils should take up arms. He was an ardent supporter of the Federal Party’s Youth Front; later, feeling that the party was not militant enough, He teamed up with Mr.V.Navaratnam and was one of the founders of the ‘Suyadchi Kazham’ (Self-Rule Party). 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.
Hence even as a child I grew to detest the Army. This hatred of military repression, combined with Mr.Venugopal’s persuasive stress on armed struggle and the thirst for liberation generated an inner dynamism within me and friends of my age flocked behind Mr.Vernugopal. The swelling thirst for freedom led me, when I was a fourteen year school boy and seven like minded youngsters at our school, to form a movement with no name.
Our aim was to struggle for freedom and to attack the army. I was the leader of the movement. At the time the idea that dominated our minds was somehow to buy a weapon and to make a bomb. Every week the others would give me 25 cents they had saved from their pocket money.
I maintained this pool of savings till we had accumulated Rs.40/-. At this time we learned that a ‘Chandiyan’ (thug) in the neighbouring village had a revolver which he was prepared to sell for Rs.150/-. Determined to buy this revolver somehow, I sold a ring which had been presented to me during my sister’s wedding. It fetched Rs.70/-. Altogether we now had Rs.110/-. We had then to abandon our plan to buy this revolver as we couldn’t find the balance money.
This is how I spent my youth, filled with thoughts about struggle, freedom and the urge to do something for our people such a life of struggle; they should bear witness to the deep scars born of this life of struggle and convey the various currents of emotion generated in the course of the struggle. At the same time art and literature attain heights of excellence when they give birth to a consciousness of freedom, that priceless thing.
Only those creations which emphasise human values and have the uplifting of humanity as their goal can be considered as great art. I firmly believe that the literary resurgence emerging from the Tamil Eelam liberation struggle will produce great works which touch the summits of excellence in the future.
Q. One can observe our young fighters turning into creative writers. They write about today’s struggle and life on the battle-front. What is your opinion of this new trend which is enriching the literature of struggle and war?
A.Literature depicting our struggle is developing in Tamil Eelam, several of our young militants show a keen interest in creative literature. One can observe that some of these writings and works of art are of high quality. This is a good sign. With the passage of time, the accumulation of experience and the growth of maturity, one can look forward to excellent literary and artistic work being produced by our freedom fighters.
Our fighters have today become historic personages and are impelling history forward. When such people come to record the history of their time, it is bound to be authentic and sublime. In the history of the Tamils, our era is a significant one. I consider it a very important duty of today’s creative writers to bring forth in art and literature the liberation struggle that is unfolding before our eyes today so that the next generation may be aware of this momentous freedom struggle.
Our militant cardres, I am confident, will turn out to be excellent creative artists in the course of time as they are growing up with a profound awareness of what struggle is like, and the realities of life in the war front; this will certainly enrich their experience and hone their insights into life. That’s why I keep on encouraging budding writers, artists and art lovers in our movement.
Q. You are taking a very keen interest in the welfare of small children whose lives have been adversely affected by the ethnic war and are formulating and implementing several schemes for their welfare. What is the reason for your taking a special interest in the future of these children.
A.I’m all afire to build up a nation; that is the life-ideal I have set for myself. The future generation is the foundation for the nation we hope to build. Therefore I consider bringing up the future generation and moulding its character and ideals as important as building up the nation. That is why I take so much interest in the future generation. My ambition is to mould a new generation of youth who will be the architects of our country’s future.
This new generation will be scientific-minded, patriotic, honest, decent, heroic, and possessed of a sense of honour, self-respect and dignity. We have taken the small boys and girls who have been affected by the war into our fond embrace and are nurturing them. I do not consider them orphans or children bereft of kith and kin. They are the children of our mother land and they are flowers which have bloomed on our soil.
Just as we envisage our language and our soil as our Mother, I consider these as the children of the nation which is the mother of us all. I consider it our paramount duty to educate these children and bring them up on the correct lines as the architects of the future of our nation. That is why I pay very special attention to them.
(VELICHAM, April/May 1994)
Prabakaran’s spark and LTTE liberation struggle part 1,2,3