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Sustaining egalitarian national culture is key to Tamil unity: Tamil academic

[TamilNet, Sunday, 30 November 2014 13:41 No Comment]

“The material force and the historical significance of the liberation struggle for [Tamil] Eelam, battled by the LTTE provided a counter-hegemonic source for all oppressed people to organize a sovereign and people-centered and highly effective liberation struggle, to the dismay of international and regional establishments,” writes Norway-based Anthropology academic Athithan Jayapalan, in an article on the role of national narratives of liberation and culture for the oppressed. “The destruction of the LTTE was a loss for oppressed people across the world and for people of South Asia in particular,” he writes.

Comparing the Eezham Tamil struggle with other nations without states aspiring for freedom in Pakistan and India, Athithan Jayapalan notes that the bourgeoisie classes and chauvinist elements within the Sinhala, Pakistan-Punjabi and the Hindi constructions enjoy political domination and cultural hegemony through their centralized state system. “In their national narrative, consciousness and national culture, the national existence of Eezham Tamils, Baluchis, Kashmiris, Assameses, Manipuris and others are denied and criminalized,” he notes.

The more an oppressed people share coherent conceptions of the world, their oppression and path to liberation, the potentials and possibility of becoming a material force will be realized and alter the material conditions of life which engender their objective oppression.

“In the aftermath of such a mammoth loss of material force and agency for the Eelam Tamils it is the legacy of their political philosophy and the sacrifices of the people and martyrs, which are remnant. Therefore the continuation of the legacy of the struggle for Eelam in the present lies in the adherence and advancement of national narratives, culture and consciousness organized by the movement,” according to the second-generation Eezham Tamil academic.

“It is learnt that LTTE leadership has held the intention to incorporate martyrs from other Eelam Tamil militant movements within the Maaveerarnaal tradition. In order to further enhance the national unity of the Eelam Tamils, the LTTE leadership had initiated a project during the ceasefire to be inclusive of the contributions made by other movements. These efforts came to a standstill following the intensification of genocidal aggression by the Sri Lankan state in mid 2000’s when Colombo, bolstered and facilitated by the aid of world establishments, pursued the military solution to the Tamil national question,” Athithan writes.

“Nevertheless, the same spirit of inclusiveness displayed by the Tiger leadership to accommodate national unity and resistance is also needed in the present to elaborate upon the legacy of the Eelam national liberation struggle,” he further writes.

Full text of the article by Athithan Jayapalan follows:

The role of national narratives of liberation and culture for the oppressed

Historical possibilities and change

Historical conditions of material life or structures of oppression within a given political order do not remain unstirred; it is the conscious effort of reproduction and legitimization which ensures the continuity of these structures. Such enterprise and agency of super-structuring is often monopolized by the social groups who enjoy the privilege of affluence and power, or to use Antonio Gramsci’s concept-hegemony, in a given socio-political context. In the context of a post-colonial state harboring national oppression and structural genocide it is the ruling bourgeoisie classes of the dominant nation who mold, through their control of the apparatuses of the nation-state, the structures of the societies under its domain by devising material conditions of life which serve their interests. In other words, it is the ruling elites of the oppressor nation who enjoy the monopoly of a state’s political, judicial, epistemological and military power and can impose calculated conditions of life which aim at the annihilation, assimilation or subjugation in whole or part of the oppressed nation(s).

The structures of powers of the state is on one hand coercive in that they contain the disciplining powers of the judiciary, bureaucratic and military apparatuses, yet is dependent on creating consent and legitimacy for its rule through a national narrative and political consciousness among its masses.

It is towards such an effort, that the organic intellectuals of the bourgeoisies of the oppressor nation through intellectual labor perpetuates a national culture which aims at naturalizing the given chauvinist and fascist order and the structures of oppression it entails. A national culture and consciousness propagated through the nation-state apparatuses, its bourgeoisie classes and state centered-intelligentsia weaves into the fabric of the dominant national narrative a chauvinist logic in which demographic elements that are deemed to obstruct the state project of national and cultural hegemony are sought to be annihilated and suppressed.

Subsequently, it follows that the official state education system reproduces such a chauvinist national narrative of the dominant nation and silences the historical agency and sovereignty of other nations.

Such a process bereaves the oppressed of their intricate connections to their traditional homelands and denies them their national existence by constructing them as minorities.

The ruling elites of the oppressor nation thus exercise hegemony within the post-colonial state, as well as within their own ‘nation’ imposing their conception of the world and ideology to legitimize the established order.

In the case of South Asia, particular striking manifestation of the above mentioned, is found in the Sri Lankan, Pakistani and the Indian states: where the bourgeoisie classes and chauvinist elements respectively within the Sinhala, Punjabi and the Hindi speaking people enjoy political domination and cultural hegemony. In their national narrative, consciousness and national culture, the national existence of Eezham Tamils, Baluchis, Kashmiris, Assameses, Manipuris and others are denied and criminalized.

A category of minority identification is imposed upon these suppressed nations, which deliberately contains their inalienable national rights and subordinates them to the policies of the centralized state.

These centralized states accommodate and reproduce as official national culture the conceptions of the world and narratives of the ruling bourgeoisie classes and their organic allies.

As a response to the oppression and the subsequent criminalization of their political aspirations, the oppressed nations are compelled to organize national political and armed resistance as the only logical path to construct alternative structures to fight the hegemony of the oppressor state and structural violence of their national culture and discourse. The potential energy of resistance among the oppressed is also engendered through the objective oppression at work in its multiplicities.

Historical possibilities for change needs to be scrutinized through identification of contradictions and structures of oppression in the established order, in these cases the nation-state.

Self-awareness among the oppressed of the structures of oppression is imperative in order to mobilize large sections of the concerned masses under one grand-narrative of liberation and progress. Only then can potentials of resistance among the oppressed be harnessed and coordinated.

If such self-awareness is organized into a collective political consciousness reflecting the national aspirations of the oppressed nation, and if its narratives are shared among large sections of its people it can retain, as Antonio Gramsci illuminated, the power of a material force which is capable of acting in history. The articulation of structures of freedom and oppression as well as elucidation of self-awareness, self-respect and progressive political ideas must be organically organized within the oppressed nation in order to sustain the revolutionary restructuring of the material life of the oppressed and their consciousness.

For such a (collective) national consciousness or culture to be organized and spread it needs to be propagated with conviction and determination to instill the people who share conditions of oppression with the ability to imagine themselves as belonging to the same nation, being collectively oppressed and capable of as well as in need of collective resistance.

Throughout history, grand narratives of liberation have proven to be organized as a conscious, meticulous and practical activity as any other aspect of political mobilization. A political philosophy of liberation is crucial for the oppressed to act upon historical possibilities and create their own history and structures.

History has proven that it is often the organized effort of a political movement, which can articulate and constitute the political philosophy, determination and means, which can cultivate a collective national culture of resistance.

The struggle against national oppression, as a result of its organic link to the masses, often tends to articulate an egalitarian national culture in which internal differentiation and oppression are sought to be eradicated. This inevitably brings such a political project in conflict with the internal contradictions existing among the oppressed through the prevalence of an established elitist centered conservative collective culture. In such conflicts, the liberation movements have strove to eliminate oppressive, counter revolutionary and backward facets of the established collective culture which disjoints the people in a bid to propagate a progressive, radical and egalitarian national culture which breeds cohesion and unity within the oppressed.

Unity of the oppressed is imperative to organizing national armed resistances and creating the structures demanded to sustain it.

The counter-hegemonic structures of national resistance organized by a liberation movement will on its military, political, economic and socio-cultural levels create a terrain upon which the material life and conceptions of the world among the oppressed can be restructured. This dynamic between the superstructure and structure, is what determines actualities and possibilities and are the factors which change history.

The more an oppressed people share coherent conceptions of the world, their oppression and path to liberation, the potentials and possibility of becoming a material force will be realized and alter the material conditions of life which engender their objective oppression.

Eelam and the LTTE

In Sri Lanka, it was the onset of the Tamil Eelam militant movements in the 1970s which brought such a radical change within the Eelam Tamil nation which up until then was largely led politically by varying elite classes. These sections of the Tamil nation upheld a political tradition which utilised parliamentary means within the unitary constitution of Sri Lanka to address the consolidating national oppression and structural genocide perpetuated by the state itself against the Eelam Tamils.

In stark contrast to the parliamentary tradition of protest, the militant movements endorsed socialist ideals and initiated a popular political movement for national liberation and armed resistance for the Eelam Tamil nation. They also articulated upon the structures and conditions perpetuated by the Sri Lankan state which collectively oppressed the Tamils. The unitary administrative structure, and the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state were identified as root causes of the oppression and their destruction was advocated as the revolutionary path to achieve national liberation. Subsequently the creation of a socialist state of Tamil Eelam was identified as the only political durable solution to safeguard the national existence of the Tamils and their rights within a unified Tamil homeland in the North and East of the island.

Out of this Eelam Tamil militant movement in the 1970s, it was the LTTE which emerged as the most capable organization determined to cultivate and organize a national culture of resistance organically linked to the oppressed Tamil nation. Through the period of militancy, various previously marginalized national sections of the Tamil nation, the oppressed castes and classes, the peasantry and fisher folk, women and youth were mobilized into militant movements and were incorporated into the revolutionary restructuring of Eelam, giving the cause its organic character. The participation of these sections enhanced the political mobilization for Eelam and brought radical internal changes to the erstwhile conservative Eelam Tamil society.

The LTTE worked most consistently in constituting a political philosophy for Eelam and in organizing an egalitarian collective national culture and identity for the oppressed Eelam Tamils. A grand narrative for liberation for Eelam was disseminated among the masses, and the structures of oppression were illuminated. The increasing efforts of the Sri Lankan state to subjugate the national political mobilization for Eelam through means of state terrorism and counter insurgency only enhanced the awareness of the national oppression and genocide at work.

The initial period of Tamil armed resistance was historically significant as the structures of freedom were illuminated through the political and militant activities of the movements. The possibility for historical change was made possible through the path of armed national liberation for the creation of Tamil Eelam; political power was accessible for the oppressed only through the barrel of the gun guided by a quest for liberation, statehood and equality. Parliamentary protest and attempts to solve the national question by democratic dialogue and means were rendered utterly futile as the hegemonic bourgeoisie state of the oppressor nation was bent on pursuing the subjugation of the oppressed nation through processes of structural genocide aiming at assimilation, disintegration and annihilation instead of a negotiated political solution.

Martial traditions and the spirit of resistance

The LTTE cultivated a national identity and culture for Eelam Tamils through stipulation of martial traditions found in Tamil history and egalitarian values to weave cohesion, self-respect and unity among the Tamils. One of the foremost Eelam Tamil intellectuals D. Sivaram wrote on the martial origins and aspects of the Eelam Tamil militancy in a series of influential articles which were published in the Sri Lankan monthly Lanka Guardian in the early 1990s.

He painstakingly and brilliantly illuminated how in order to subdue Tamil spirit of resistance among the peoples of south India and North-East Sri Lanka, the Portuguese and British imperialists criminalized and marginalized martial sections and traditions of the people and dissolved its traces from history. Instead they found in their interests to promote the landed gentry as the basis for Tamil national culture, in order to keep Tamils in a subservient mode of existence. Promotion of dominant landlord castes and the caste culture of their elites was favored on the premise that it would serve security, administration and revenue considerations of the imperialists.

Sivaram elucidates that Eelam Tamils’ nationalism was inspired by a militant Dravidian movement seeking separation for the Tamils in India during the 1950s and 60s and the significance of Tamil martial traditions took root amidst the militant Tamil youth of Eelam. In particular it was the LTTE which took upon the task of integrating Tamil nationalism associated with the fight for a socialist secular Eelam along with heroic Tamil martial traditions as illuminated by the Dravidian movement. Upon historical conditions of oppression and subjugation, it is the martial tradition within a people which arouses and preserves the spirit and energy of national resistance and revolution.

The grand narrative of national liberation developed by the LTTE, espoused martial traditions of the Tamil civilization as a fundament to organize the armed national resistance upon. Such an overarching narrative provided the oppressed Eelam Tamil with alternative conceptions of the world which challenged and countered the hegemonic intellectual agency of Sri Lankan state with its nationalist education and discourses. The latter alongside the objective forms of oppression launched by the state were indeed processes which dehumanized the Eelam Tamils, stripping them of their national self-respect and conditioning them to naturalize their existence as second grade citizens on a Sinhala Buddhist island.

The state narratives presented a Sinhala chauvinist historical trajectory in which Tamils were presented as non-natives who had invaded and immigrated to the island from South India. The historical sovereignty of the Tamils and their national existence was silenced and they were rendered as minorities to be dependent on the Sinhala Buddhist nation.

The LTTE’s commitment towards the cause for the liberation of Eelam and the effective military action against the occupational army and state, brought conviction among the oppressed masses towards the national narratives and culture structured by the LTTE.

Martyrdom

Integral to the political project of creating an egalitarian and revolutionary national culture, identity, tradition and consciousness for the Eelam Tamils were the sacrifices of the LTTE cadres.

The word martyr stems from the Judeo-Christian religious traditions and denotes one who endures external violence, torture and death in the name of his faith. This sort of martyrdom implies non-violence and the reception of oppression and death, and would be detrimental to any oppressed nation facing genocide. In the secular LTTE tradition the martyrs were termed great heroes (Maaveerar) and such a title was bestowed upon only the fighters who laid down their lives in the act of fighting the enemy. It is to be noted that it was resistance and agency which determined the martyrdom of an LTTE cadre and the spirit of resistance was perceived as a continuation of the martial traditions of the Tamil civilization.

The martyrdom of fallen liberation fighters was cultivated as the epitome of the national resistance and their sacrifices and life upheld as ideals for the entire Tamil nation. These symbols and ideals associated with the martyred Tiger materialized the political philosophy of the LTTE and organically integrated it into the Eelam Tamil nation. The large participation of fighters from various national sections of the Eelam Tamils also held the effect of organically linking the movement to the people. This was also ensured through the ‘nationalization’ of ceremonies and rituals associated with death, commemoration and secular cultural activities. Through cultural activities the LTTE disseminated among the people various conceptions of the world associated with Eelam and liberation and integrated them into the Tamil masses.

The rituals and ceremonies of commemoration and burial were organized by the movement in accordance with the martyrdom of LTTE fighters and became popular among the Eelam Tamils. They were essential components in the organization of a new national culture and tradition shared by the various sections.

The main event within this processes were the Great Heroes’ day (Maaveerar naal) of the LTTE. Since 1990 it has been held annually on the 27th of November in the Tamil homeland and among the diaspora stretching from Toronto to Oslo.

The LTTE announced it as a national day for the Eelam Tamils in 1990 and chose 27th November as it marked the death of the first LTTE cadre, Lt. Shanker in battle in 1982. This day was chosen to commemorate all the martyrs and accordingly the people recommitted themselves to the struggle and the movement, reproducing the historical material force incited by the armed liberation struggle. Alongside rituals and ceremonies, the LTTE institutionalized cultural performances as an integral part of the revolutionary national culture. Tamil classical and folk art forms, poetry, music and theatre were facilitated and performed to communicate to the people the cause for Eelam and the possibilities of change.

Martyrdom and sacrifice for liberation and the nation was highly espoused in the alternative conception of the world propagated by the LTTE. The fallen LTTE cadres were held not as bodies bereft of life and permanently laid to rest, but as seeds lying in the soil of Tamil Eelam, upholding the terrain upon which the armed national struggle for liberation is fought and in eager anticipation of the emancipation of their homeland and people. Their sacrifices and commitment held the conviction to spread the political philosophy of Eelam among the masses. With the power of material force the LTTE acted as an agent in history, rupturing the oppressive structures of the Sri Lankan state and conservative traditions within the Eelam Tamil nation. The egalitarian basis of the Eelam Tamil national identity and the measures taken by the movement to enforce this equity enabled the LTTE to battle oppressive elements within Tamil society such as the pervasive caste consciousness and discrimination. The martyrs were all paid equal respect and were laid at rest next to each other, in a spirit of equity to the radical effect of disrupting the caste oriented basis for traditional ritualistic procedures of Tamil burial and commemoration.

It is in particular the martyrdom of the liberation Tigers, who solidified the material force at work among the Eelam Tamils and created the possibilities of historical change; it is their commitment towards the cause of national liberation which effectuated arrest of the genocidal policies of the Sri Lankan state and the protection of their people and homeland. Their sacrifices and ideals communicated the narratives of liberation which stressed national unity and espoused the uncompromising struggle for the peoples’ sovereignty and rights. The effective armed resistance against the Sri Lankan state embodied by the liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam sustained the fervent national culture of equality and upheld the morale and spirit of resistance. The material foundations for the national oppression of Tamils was shaken, and the nation-state fell into a crisis within the oppressor nation, in which a political solution with the Eelam Tamils was urged even by the Sinhala bourgeoisie classes and the liberal intelligentsia.

The strategic partnership between imperialist powers, ranging from Washington, Westminster, Beijing, and New Delhi, aided the Sri Lankan state out of this crisis and facilitated the pursuit of the military solution against the Eelam Tamil political movement. The historical agency, the capacity to act and rupture the established structures of oppression and to create new history for the oppressed was annihilated on the shores of Mullaiththeevu in 2009.

Conclusion

The destruction of the LTTE was a loss for oppressed people across the world and for people of South Asia in particular. The material force and the historical significance of the liberation struggle for Eelam battled by the LTTE provided a counter-hegemonic source for all oppressed people to organize a sovereign and people centered and highly effective liberation struggle, to the dismay of international and regional establishments.

In the aftermath of such a mammoth loss of material force and agency for the Eelam Tamils it is the legacy of their political philosophy and the sacrifices of the people and martyrs which are remnant. Therefore the continuation of the legacy of the struggle for Eelam in the present lies in the adherence and advancement of national narratives, culture and consciousness organized by the movement.

It is learnt that LTTE leadership has held the intention to incorporate martyrs from other Eelam Tamil militant movements within the Maaveerar-naal tradition. In order to further enhance the national unity of the Eelam Tamils, the LTTE leadership had initiated a project during the ceasefire to be inclusive of the contributions made by other movements. These efforts came to a standstill following the intensification of genocidal aggression by the Sri Lankan state in mid 2000’s when Colombo, bolstered and facilitated by the aid of world establishments, pursued the military solution to the Tamil national question.

Nevertheless, the same spirit of inclusiveness displayed by the Tiger leadership to accommodate national unity and resistance is also needed in the present to elaborate upon the legacy of the Eelam national liberation struggle.

The political legacy of the LTTE is located in its struggle-centered logic for attainment of national liberation and an egalitarian conception of the Tamil collective and nation.

Only a struggle-centric logic can ensure political clarity within the oppressed to withstand the machinations and games played by the comprador oppressor states and their imperialists’ aide. It is imperative to reproduce and sustain the egalitarian national culture propagated by the LTTE in order to advance revolutionary changes within the Tamil nation and to solidify national unity and commitment to the national cause in the present.

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