TAMIL TIGER ’MARTYRDOM’ IN SRI LANKA: FAITH IN SUICIDE FOR NATIONHOOD?

  • Shanthikumar Hettiarachchi “St. Philip’ s Centre for Study and Engagement“, Leicester, UK

Abstract

The article focuses on the ‘suicide-martyrdom’ deployed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of Sri Lanka as a political strategy for self determination and liberation from the ‘Sinhala hegemony’. The protagonists have given a new political-religious meaning to the historically celebrated acts of religious martyrdom, which took place in the name of faith and belief. Suicide strikers do not believe that the suicide acts they commit are lethal. They are portrayed to be valiant acts of honour and sacrifice on behalf of the family, ethnic community, and more importantly against the ‘terrorising other’ whose ‘acts of violence’ must be terminated. It is performed not as an act of violence, but a resolute sacrifice for the sake of compatriots and their freedom. The author draws some aspects from the research and writings of Peter Schalk and Michael Roberts who have addressed the same subject area on martyrdom as a form of secular resistance, and the latter, on religious aspects in the military formation of a suicide striker and in the aftermath of the mission. He argues that the reconstruction of an astute faith in suicide and its ritualisation as a well crafted political tool and as a powerful means to instil fear psychosis in the enemy for the creation of a separate state. The concept of suicide and the suicide striker within the LTTE with its primary secular political hermeneutic has now embraced a phase of expanding into a notion of patriotic heroism, in the name of statehood of Tamil Eelam bordering on religiouscultural sentiments. This altruistic suicide is linked to liberation of their compatriots from tyranny and injustice which is considered sublime and transcendental even though there is no definitive reward of a paradise as in the case of Jihadist suicide strikers. The political rhetoric behind the war slogans with religious connotations and statements is socio-political cancer, which has infected many conflict ridden localities across the globe. Sri Lanka remains one example of a majority-minority conflict zone and displays an ardent obstinacy both by the majority and the minority in the conflict, in portraying the ‘other’ as the sole enemy of the ‘self’. They have not only been emulated by the likes of Hamas in the Palestinian campaign against Israeli occupation but also by the Al-Qaeda terror network. A suicide striker is different to a solider who goes to the battle field, and is not focused on dying but counterattacking the enemy. The suicide striker kills so that others may live through his or her act of heroism, a devotional sacrifice for the cause of Tamil Eelam. The abandonment of a Black Tiger life is not suicide, but a gift of oneself which has Christian nuances. LTTE hero is a ‘secular’ hero. However, it must be noted that LTTE on their part fail to obliterate the centuries old psychosocial phenomenon of religiosity, embedded in the Tamil folk psyche with the Hindu worldview. The representational death of a Black tiger enhances and pontificates the Tamil ethnic roots and heritage as brave, courageous and surpassing those of the enemy which endows the Tamil public with a sense of heroism and national pride. He/she is a hero of the Tamil Eelam and nothing more and nothing less. Schlak relentlessly tries to separate the LTTE’s ideological secularity from being ‘religious’ but he undermines the ethnic Tamil religiosity which is very much Saivite Hindu and Catholic which determine the parameters of a new cult, within the space provided by the LTTE, where the masses have found meaning and connectedness in times of despair and loss. It is in this sense that new religious meanings have been collated around death and dying, in the name of liberation and suicide, however violent, self destructive and undesirable, within the religious world of the popular masses.

Author Biography

Shanthikumar Hettiarachchi, “St. Philip’ s Centre for Study and Engagement“, Leicester, UK

Dr Shanthikumar Hettiarachchi is lecturer in discipline Religion and Confl ict at “St. Philip’ s Centre for Study and Engagement“, Leicester, Great Britain. He is Doctor Philosophy (PhD) of Melbourne College od Divinity (Australia).

Keywords: nationalism, statehood, violence, suicide strikes, martyrdom, Tamil Tigers, Sinhala, Sri Lanka, new religious meaning

References

Peter Schalk “Resistance and Martyrdom in the Process of State Formation of Tamiliam” in Martyrdom and political Resistance, ed. Joyce Pettigrew, (Amsterdam: VU Press, 1997) p.75.
Thompson, Kenneth. Emile Durkheim, (London: Tavistock Publications. 1982) p. 109-113
Published
2017-01-15