The Tiger Movement had one ultimate political goal, and two main alternating methods to reach this goal, which was to obtain recognition by world community for the right of self-determination for a group of people living in the northern and eastern provinces of the island of Sri Lanka (in accordance with UN A/Res/42/159, from 1987). These people were Tamil speakers. Self-determination implied the right to secession and to the establishment of a separate and sovereign state called Tamilīlam. Peaceful methods to reach this goal were negotiations, diplomacy, lobbying, conferences, workshops, and above all mediatation; Gandhian methods like hartal “strike” (closing down of shops) and satyāgraha “holding onto truth” (non-violent resistance like sit-downs) have also been used during the period 1956 till today. The Tiger Movement has promoted the non-martial method of fasting to death in protest, but this was not in the orthodox Gandhian way, which did not make a choice between martial and non-martial acts dependent on the circumstance. All non-martial methods could be militant, but not violent.
Depending on the circumstances, alternate methods, closely related to each other and to the goal, were used. The non-martial methods were used transnationally, the martial methods nationally, only on the island of Sri Lanka, with one exception—the assassination in 1991of Rājiv Gāndhi, which was executed in Tamiḻnāṭu.
Vēluppiḷḷai Pirapākaraṉ was conscious of several methods to reach the goal, but there was only one goal. In 2003, however, the Tiger Movement for the first and only time, suggested a temporary suspension of this goal, an interim regional autonomy instead of separatism for a period of trial of five years. This did not change the ultimate goal, but suspended its realization in time to create space for negotiations. The government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) rejected this proposal, called Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA); The GoSL already had an ultimate goal, the preservation of the constitutional and centralized unitary state. This rejection threw both sides back to their starting point.
The martial method to reach the ultimate goal consisted of several different forms of armed struggle, which were parallel with the non-armed struggle; each time the non-armed struggle failed, the martial struggle gained momentum, from the 1970s to 2009. We count today four periods of war from 1983–2009, separated by truces and cease-fires, but not by peace. Combatants made extensive use of the martial method of voluntary death, which in media language goes under the name of suicide attack, belt bombing, etc. The media has made this an identity-marker of the Tiger Movement.
The Tiger Movement’s martial methods comprised assassinations squads, whose task was to assassinate VIPs related to the GoSL, guerrilla attacks, martial methods of a standing army with specialized brigades, and attacks by deep penetrating units, often ending in voluntary death. The motto for all methods related to its ultimate goal was “the task of the Tigers is (to establish) Tamiḻīḻam.” The combatants’ determination was to act according to the norm do or die, which might end up as do and die—as it did in May 2009, the end of the Tiger Movement.
The leader of the Tiger Movement, Vēluppiḷḷai Pirapākaraṉ, held the firm view that methods may change (continuously), but the goal does not. He held the same ultimate goal, which was political, to establish Tamiḻīḻam based on the right of self-determination of a people. It was universal, he emphasized. He also referred to legal forms of violence in a national struggle for liberation from colonial and foreign domination (according, for example, to the United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/RES/33/24 of November 29, 1978).
The reason for actualizing the right of self-determination for Tamil speakers was the result of political, social, and economic discrimination, including 171 massacres, well documented by the North-East Secretariat of Human Rights (NESoHR). [NESoHR, Massacres of Tamils 1956–2008 (Chennai: Manitham Publishers, 2009). There is a German edition, which also contains the massacres by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). NESoHR, “Damit wir nicht vergessen …” Massaker an Tamilen 1956–2008. Mit einer Einführung von Professor (em) Dr. Peter Schalk (Heidelberg: Draupadi Verlag, 2012)]. These massacres amounted to genocide in the interpretation of the Tiger Movement, performed by the government of Sri Lanka from 1956–2009, and by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), during 1987–1990, with the assistance of deliverance of arms by India, the United States, the United Kingdom, China, and Pakistan. The Tiger Movement was well aware of geopolitical reasons why the United States and India would not allow Tamiḻīḻam to emerge. The unarmed and armed struggles by the Tiger Movement were to counteract a deeply felt injustice. The two methods were closely related to the ultimate goal, which gave the Tiger Movement a moral justification, though the world outside did not necessarily agree.
Today we see that both methods were unsuccessful and the ultimate political goal was not reached. The GoSL suppressed the peaceful methods, and the martial methods earned the Tiger Movement the classification of “terrorists” by the United States, the European Union, India, Sri Lanka, and several other states. The end of the Tiger Movement came in May 2009, but Tamil speakers still cultivate its ultimate political goal, especially in the worldwide, transnational diaspora.
The Tiger Movement (puli iyakkam) was only one half of the organization known as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE), founded in 1972 and reconstructed in 1976. The other half was known as the People’s Movement (makkaḷ iyakkam). In an environment of lasting peace, we could speak of a military organization that was subordinated to a civil society, but in a war environment, the hierarchy was reversed. The People’s Movement became supportive of the Tiger Movement in many ways. Civil tasks, like political administration, police, the judiciary, and the financial sectors were under the Tiger Movement in a de facto state, which was not recognized by any state.
GoSL based its claims for unity and the recognized sovereignty and integrity of its state on recognition by the United Nations and on a Constitution from 1972 and 1978. It insisted on the preservation of a centralized state-formation characterized as a unitary state, which made separatism, even non-violent agitation for separatism, illegal.
The ultimate goals of both parties, the recognition of the right of self-determination of a people and the preservation of the sovereignty of a state were incompatible. Confederalism and federalism were also rejected by the Tiger Movement, because they were too little, and by the GoSL, because they were too much.