The use of the Sri Lankan Tamils in the political contest in Tamil Nadu among the ruling AIADMK led by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram, the DMK led by the former Chief Minister Karunanidhi, the Tamil Nadu Congress organization and the other players of the Tamil card to gather votes for seats and influence in Chennai and New Delhi in the coming general election in India is the overwhelming reality of Tamil Nadu politics today.
The AIADMK of Jayalalithaa and the DMK of Karunanidhi are trying their best to outdo each other in this campaign, with various demands being made on New Delhi, which are often far beyond the scope of any regional administration, and the attempts by Tamil Nadu to force changes in Indian Foreign Policy remains a cause for concern in New Delhi, with the ruling UPA coalition recognizing the dangers of such action proceeding unabated.
While protests by students and others, including a single day fast by usually well fed film stars, continue to keep the politics of extremism alive, there is also the tragedy of youth who have taken their own lives in the surge of emotion that the situation has created. A key aspect what feeds the rise of emotive feelings is the alleged killing by Sri Lankan troops of the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s 12-year old son, Balachandran, as depicted by the UK’s Channel 4 TV. There is hardly any thought being given to the lack of verification, authenticity and accuracy in the report of this alleged killing. The facts stated by those who know much better than Channel 4 of the battlefield conditions of the Sri Lanka Army at the time; that the alleged location of that killing has little to do with an SL Army bunker, but seems much more likely a well protected and comfortable hideaway bunker of the LTTE leadership at the time, has no place in the rising tide of anger being generated by the extremist rhetoric of today.
It is true that the killing of a child, as shown by Channel 4 and presented as fact by so many persons and organizations known to be against this country, can arouse the emotions of many that could lead to rage. This writer too would react with such feelings in a similar situation, if verification showed it to be real. But the effect of extremist propaganda is the refusal to look at facts, but be moved by slogans. Therefore, the alleged killing of young Balachandran by Sri Lankan troops, despite so much evidence that points against it, gathers a momentum of its own.
Earlier this week, a Congress MP, K. S. Azhagiru from Cuddalore, raised more serious doubts about this issue stating there was no evidence of this killing by Sri Lankan Forces. Addressing a public meeting organized by Congress youth in the Cuddalore Old Town on Sunday night he said. "Some parties were playing politics by taking up the issue of 12-year-old Balachandran’s death. However, there was no video evidence available on how Balachandran was killed. It was a practice among the terrorists that in order to avoid being caught by the enemy they either consume cyanide or shoot each other.”
With this comment the Congress MP recalled an important policy of Prabhakaran himself, to prevent Tiger cadres being captured by Sri Lankan troops. In the memorable media conference after the signing of the 2002 Norway brokered Cease-fire Agreement, Prabhakaran declared he would commit suicide with cyanide or his revolver rather than be captured. It was also the clear order to his cadres not to be caught and to kill any others who may be so captured or threatened with capture.
On this context there was a most revealing Op-Ed published in The Hindu last Wednesday (April 03), written by an Indian journalist who had great knowledge of the developments in the several Eelam wars due to the very long period he served in Sri Lanka. The writer is P. Jayaram, who was the UNI correspondent in Sri Lanka for very nearly 15 years, knew much of the emergence and growth of the LTTE and its operations in the North and East of the country.
His Op-Ed titled “Many Balachandrans of Jaffna” refers to the horror evoked by the alleged killing of Prabhakaran’s younger son by Sri Lankan Forces, but also draws attention to the record of the LTTE, being hailed as liberators of the Sri Lankan Tamils, as an organization that had little hesitation at using Tamil children as cannon fodder for its cause of a separate state Tamil state in the territory of Sri Lanka.
Here is the text of Mr. Jayaram’s Op-Ed, which I considered necessary to be reproduced in full in the current context.
“The killing of Prabakaran’s son allegedly by Sri Lankan Forces has evoked horror, but there can be no forgetting the children who were the LTTE’s cannon fodder.
“Way back in 1994, four Colombo-based Indian journalists and the Sinhalese correspondent of an international news agency got a rare permission to visit Jaffna. Rare because, at that time, the Northern peninsula was almost totally controlled by the Tamil Tigers, who had driven out the government forces in conventional battles. Journalists required permission from both sides to the island’s festering conflict — the government and the LTTE — as well as from the International Committee of the Red Cross, the only agency which had been allowed access to the region by the Tigers.
“That was a time when the Tigers were reportedly all set to make a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) for their proposed Eelam state, but had baulked only for fear of India’s reaction. They were only too aware that without New Delhi’s nod, the international community would ignore their UDI. But the Tigers apparently believed it (the New Delhi nod) was only a matter of time. Therefore, prior to issuing permission for the visit the scribes were informed they had to carry their passports because “immigration clearance” to enter Eelam was mandatory.
“So, one fine September morning, V. Jayanth of The Hindu, Apratim Mukharji of Hindustan Times, Vijay Satokar of PTI, Amal Jayasinghe of the French news agency AFP and this writer, who was then Sri Lanka correspondent of UNI, flew from Colombo to the Palaly base of the Sri Lankan Air Force by a commercial flight operated by the Air Force.
“The military camp at Palaly and the deserted brick-and-mortar buildings in the vicinity that were once homes to local people were covered with pockmarks after repeated but unsuccessful attempts over the years by the Tigers to overrun the strategic base. From the base, we were quickly transported by a vehicle flying the white ICRC flag to the Kankesanthurai naval base, a few km away. There we boarded an ICRC ship that took us to the Tiger-controlled Point Pedro port, at the tip of the peninsula.
“Armed Tiger cadres then took over our group for a two-day guided tour of the region to show how they had withstood “successfully” the Sri Lankan government’s harsh economic embargo — no electricity, no petrol and diesel, no food, no nothing…. Even the Jaffna Medical College hospital was reeling under the ban.
“The tour was an eye-opener to the Jaffna man’s ingenuity — running auto-rickshaws on coconut oil after firing the engine with a few drops of petrol that every driver kept zealously in a dropper in his shirt pocket; and providing light for children with specially made earthen-lamps, a few drops of kerosene and paper wicks. At a court in Jaffna town a female LTTE cadre, who looked like she was still in her teens, was the magistrate before whom seasoned lawyers in their black robes argued some case.
“At a deserted children’s amusement park, seesaws had AK-47 replicas for grip, while in the immaculately-kept Tiger cemetery stretched rows of graves of LTTE cadres killed in action. “But the most abiding memory of that trip was triggered recently on seeing the poignant pictures of the forlorn Balachandran, the 12-year-old son of LTTE chief V. Prabhakaran, who was apparently shot dead by Sri Lankan troops in cold blood.
We were visiting an exhibition the Tigers had organised on the grounds of the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple when we came across a group of 15-20 children, younger-looking than Balachandran and not half as well fed. They were all in military fatigues, wore caps and walked silently in single file. Seeing our surprised looks, the guide explained that they were “cadets” of the LTTE’s military academy. “Hundreds of such children, many forcibly taken away from schools, had been sent as cannon fodder by Prabhakaran and his lieutenants in the fanatical pursuit of their dream.
In fact, some of us who managed to slip out of Subhash Hotel, where we stayed, were told by long-time contacts that child recruitment by the Tigers had become so rampant that mothers and fathers stood guard outside school gates to prevent “cradle snatching”.
“There were whispers that while most children suffered the fate of being sent off to fight, Prabakaran’s older son, Charles, then just about as old as Balachandran was when he was killed, was driven to school in an air-conditioned SUV and wore expensive clothes and shoes that others could only dream of.
“This then is a requiem for not only Balachandran but all those nameless children who perished fighting in the Sri Lankan conflict.” (P. Jayaram is now head of the department of Amrita School of Communication, Coimbatore.)
While the killing of young Balachandran calls for unreserved condemnation, it is necessary that the facts of this killing be verified before the rush to heap blame on Sri Lankan troops.
Although it does not belittle the crime, it is also necessary to look at the record of the LTTE with regard to the use of children for combat in its terrorist campaign. The records of the UN Rapporteurs on Child Soldiers will bear out the facts presented by Mr. Jayaram. It is a fact that Sri Lanka cooperated fully with UNICEF to bring to an end the LTTE’s policy of conscripting children for its military campaign.
The LTTE’s terrorism has been condemned by most civilized countries and great supporters (and exporters) of democracy; although some of them found it proper to give shelter and all political support to leaders and ideologues of the LTTE in its campaign of terror.
This includes the UK, where Channel 4 is located, and where the LTTE was banned as a terrorist organization many years after other countries, and which continued to harbour Anton Balasingham, the ideologue of LTTE terror. His wife Adele too, another resident of the UK, played a major role in recruiting and training the female suicide cadres of the LTTE. All of those children used by the LTTE have been lost to their Tamil parents, to Sri Lanka and to the world. It is time to weep for them all, as attempts are made to revive the terrorist goal of Eelam, sought by the LTTE, and not the broad Tamil population of Sri Lanka.