On July 5, Eelam Tamils across the world remember and mourn the sacrifices made by the LTTE's elite women and men, the Black Tigers. “Karumpuli Naal” marks the sacrifice made by the first Black Tiger, Captain Miller, or Vallipuram Vasanthan, 33 years ago.
In 1987, he attacked a Sri Lankan Army garrison in Nelliyadi in the Jaffna district, by driving a small truck with explosives into it. Forty Sri Lankan soldiers were killed in the attack.
In 2008 the LTTE declared that 356 Black Tigers had laid down their lives, 254 of them in sea operations since Captain Miller's attack. It is not yet known how many sacrificed their lives during the final phases of the war.
Why remember their sacrifice?
To outside observers this day, this day may be difficult to understand. Why honour the sacrifices of these men and women?
One should note, a certain irony of this criticism for whilst the LTTE is condemned for pioneering the use of Black Tigers, western history is filled with martyrs, ready to die for what they believe in. Be it Jan Has who in 1415 was burned at the stake as a heretic, or the brave men of the First World War who walked across “no man’s land” knowing that they would not return.
A struggle for memory
Over a decade has passed since the end of the armed struggle and yet Eelam Tamils continue to honour sacrifices of the men and women. We continue to hold in our hearts the names of those who were massacred during the final stages as hospitals were shelled and civilians lined up for execution. In the final stages of the war between 40,000 to 70,000 people were killed by the Sri Lankan army.
Despite the war subsiding the military continues to occupy the North-East. Criminologist Rachel Seoighe and politicial scientist Kate Cronin-Furman both note that the state has not pushed for reconciliation but rather taken an active role in crafting a hostile narrative that celebrates the defeat of terrorism whilst also silencing and “denying the suffering inflicted by the victors’ and ‘policing the memory of their victims”.
This is evident through the military’s land grabs and the establishment of war monuments and Buddhist shrines in opposition to the concerns of local communities.
Rachel Seoighe writes that this:
"tourism celebrates the defeat of “terrorism”, erases the physical traces of Tamil nationalist ideology, and secures the 'oneness' of the Sri Lankan state. The process dispossesses the people, cuts off their livelihood resources, and also seals off areas where mass graves are suspected to exist".
Kate Cronin-Furman further illustrates this through the destruction of Tamil graves;
"there were 27 Thuyilum Illams (graveyards for fallen LTTE fighters) scattered throughout northeast Sri Lanka, massive complexes with hundreds of graves each. They’ve all been destroyed’. The Sri Lankan military has even constructed military bases on top of some of the gravesites. It is not only the destruction of graveyards but the criminalisation of Maaveerar Naal (Heroes Day) – a day established by the Tamil community to commemorate the fallen fighters – as a ‘terrorist activity’".
During the last Maaveera Naal, Sri Lankan police officers threatened a Tamil National People's Front (TNPF) Pradeshiya Sabha member, pulling up outside her house and warning that the army would shoot her if she lit lamps to commemorate Tamil genocide.
Monuments of Black Tigers have also been targeted. In 2006, a statue of Captain Miller erected in Point Pedro, where he was a student at Hartley College, was torn down by Sri Lankan forces.
Despite this, Tamils across the North-East, as well across the world, continue to honour their sacrifice.
The struggle lives on
Last year during Karumpuli Naal, TNA MP Sivagnanam Shritharan reminded us;
“[That] we all have the duty to preserve Tamil history and pass it on to the next generations […] The sacrifice of each of the martyrs (Maaveerar), especially the Black Tigers must be remembered.”
It’s important to remember that the struggle for liberation did not die with them. This was a message that they imparted to us.
“In reality, a liberation fighter does not die. The fire of his aim which functions as his life never blows out. This fire of the aim gets hold of the others as a historic force. It taps and awakens the national soul of an ethnic community"
“A new young generation should form itself into future sculptors of our nation. A new revolutionary generation should arise as the gifted ones, intellectuals, patriots, experts in warfare, and those who excel in honesty and dignity. This generation should emerge as constructors, administrators and rulers of our country” - Velupillai Prabhakaran, leader of the LTTE