Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Vanni Preparing for Heroes' Day

by K. Mylvaganam

Preparations for the celebration of the Heroes’ Day actually started three weeks back in Vanni, even though it was officially announced that it is to be celebrated from the 21st to the 27th of November.

Last week I went to the checkpoint at Thandikulam, which is 57 kms away. It was pouring cats and dogs all the way. I noticed the floods running over the road at three points. When I returned, after two hours, the flooding over the A-9 road was in more than forty places. It was so scary to drive over certain bridges, especially when the water was two feet over the road. I was not sure whether the ground was washed away under the bridge or not. When I caught up with a lorry I decided to follow it, making use of that big vehicle as a cat’s-paw. On the way I was surprised to note the boys working on the road digging to plant flag poles even while it was pouring. They were completely soaked in rain. None of them had a raincoat or even a hat on their head.  

Last Sunday my wife and I drove from Kilinochchi up to Pallai, a distance of nearly 25 kilometres. We saw the entire stretch was decorated on either side of the road with red and yellow flags, banderoles, gonfalons and streamers. From Umayalpuram up to almost Jakkachchi – 6 kms – there were tube lights fitted on either side of the road. Not only the main roads, but even in the interior people decorated the road frontage of their houses with red and yellow flags. Shopkeepers decorated the places in front of their shops. It was like Christmas in the western world.

Yesterday there was a special celebration at Elephant Pass. That explained the hive of activity that was going there when we drove past four days back. The celebration was to mark the sacrifices made by the Heroes in capturing the Elephant Pass camp that had over 15,000 soldiers guarding it. The celebrations commenced with the lighting of the traditional oil lamp, followed by the hoisting of the National Flag.

Several top brass commanders from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), including Colonel Pottu Amman and Colonel Soosai, were present there to pay their respects.  A few of them delivered short speeches on their experiences in capturing this historically important camp that has been under the command of Sri Lankan and British forces for over 240 years.

I can still remember driving through Elephant Pass with my father when I was five or six. We were stopped there every time at the barrier and the car was searched before the gates were opened to let us pass through. Then there were not only the army, but also the police, the Excise Dept, the Forest Dept officials and food control inspectors. The transport of rice, paddy, timber and even firewood was prohibited those days, especially during the Second World War. The Excise Dept was there to curtail the trafficking of all contraband like gold, opium and marijuanai. These were smuggled from India and sold in Colombo. The talk was then that most of these officers made large sums of money by way of bribery.

One of the orators at the Elephant Pass Heroes' Day celebrations was Colonel Soosai. In his speech, he began from the first attempt made in 1991 and described how the LTTE lost badly in that attack. They lost nearly 600 of their cadre. A few more attempts were made subsequently without success, but the losses were minimal. However, he said they were learning from their mistakes every time an attack was made.  Their leader, Mr.V.Pirapakaran, studied all the details very minutely, and meticulously worked out a plan for their final attack in the year 2000, when several thousand of the army personnel were killed and Elephant Pass was won. This was a historical achievement, Soosai said. Whenever he referred to specific sacrifices made by certain individuals, he stopped talking for a moment. I knew he was recapitulating those incidents in his mind. I did not realize that a person who is supposed to be tough can be so soft hearted and emotional as well.

Capture of Elephant Pass in 2000

Another speaker, Ramanan, narrated a touching incident that took place during the final onslaught. A commander called Sutharsan was severely injured on both his legs while the attack was going on. He was bleeding profusely. The emergency treatment given to him was not producing the desired results. But still for all that, he was giving directions to his people while lying down leaning to a tree trunk. Ramanan, who was second in command to Sutharsan, was asked to stay close to him. When Sutharsan decided to change strategy as he got a message over his walkie-talkie from the sentries that the enemy was approaching from a different direction, he told Ramanan to take command and move his people towards a particular direction. So Ramanan called two of his men to carry Sutharsan with them. But Sutharsan firmly refused to be carried. He said, ”I will be a burden on you all and it will retard the speed of your movement. You have to get to the ------- point within so many minutes and that would be impossible with me on your shoulders.” When they insisted to carry him, his face turned red and in a firm and determined manner he said, “This is an order and that is it.” He tucked a grenade inside his uniform close to his chest, gave a few more orders and ordered them to leave immediately. Hardly had they gone a few hundred metres when they heard the blast of the grenade. Every one of them stopped instantly and looked towards the direction where Sutharsan had been. Ramanan had to collect himself and order the rest to move. At this point Ramanan, too, stopped for a moment and it was not difficult to decipher what was going on in his mind.

The talks were punctuated with dances by tiny tots who were the children of the LTTE cadre. Finally, a drama was staged to narrate the defeats and the victory over the capture of the Elephant Pass camp.

Now everybody is waiting for the annual speech of the leader, Mr.V.Pirapakaran, on the Heroes' Day the 27th instant. I intend to write about this, too.