Women

WOMEN  &  THE STRUGGLE FOR TAMIL EELAM

Women Guerrilla
War and Tamil Women: A Women’s Eye-view – Margaret Trawick, 1990
Malathi: First Woman Martyr – 1987
Maria Vasanthi Michael – Sorthia – First Leader of Women’s Military Wing of LTTE, 1990


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Women Fighters of Liberation Tigers, Adele Ann Balasingham, 1993

LTTE Women Guerrillas:
 A New Revolution, 1990

Second Anniversary of Annai Poopathi Fast for Freedom, 1990
Lions, Tigers, and Freedom Birds: How and Why the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam Employs Women, Alisa Stack-O’Connor, U.S. Department of Defense, 1 March 2007
In pictures: Women in Sri Lanka conflict
International Women’s Day – Tamil Eelam
 சர்வதேச மகளிர் தினம் – பெண்ணியம் – கற்பு – தமிழ்ப்பெண் – Sanmugam Sabesan, 2006
International Women’s Day observed across Tamil Eelam, 2006
Declaration on International Womens Day 2006 – Tamil Women Organization – Germany 
சர்வதேச மகளிர் தினம், 2005: கற்பும் பெண்விடுதலையும்…Sanmugam Sabesan, 2005 “‘கற்பு’ என்ற சொல்லை வைத்து, பெண்ணை இன்னமும் அடிமையாக்குகின்றது எமது இனம்…. ஆண்-பெண் இருபாலாரும் சரிசமமாக சுதந்திரத்துடன் வாழவேண்டும் என்ற நிலைமை ஏற்பட வேண்டும் என்றால், கற்பு என்பதன் அடிப்படை இலட்சியமும், கொள்கையும் மாற்றப்பட்டு, ஆண்-பெண் இருவருக்கும் ஒருப்போன்ற நீதி ஏற்பட வேண்டும் என்றபெரியாரின் கருத்து பெண்ணியத்திற்கு ஏற்றதொன்றாகவே காணப்படுகின்றது…”
Women’s International Day Message – Velupillai Pirabakaran, 1996  “…So that our race may honor humanness which is beyond masculinity and femininity, womankind is extending its hand of love and friendship. Only when man as a gender grasps this loving hand with deep awareness will equality between men and women be a reality..”
Women’s International Day Message – Velupillai Pirabakaran 1993 “The ideology of women liberation is a child born out of the womb of our liberation struggle… The Tamil Eelam revolutionary woman has transformed herself as a Tiger for the liberation of our land and liberation of women.”
Women’s International Day Message – Velupillai Pirabakaran, 1992 “Our women are seeking liberation from the structures of oppression deeply embedded in our society. This oppressive cultural system and practices have emanated from age old ideologies and superstitions. Tamil women are subjected to intolerable suffering as a consequence of male chauvinistic oppression, violence and from the social evils of casteism and dowry.”

Off Site Links

Documentary Video on Women Tigers released – Part 1, 3 November 2003  “The documentary video production titled Akkini Paravaikal (‘Volcanic Birds’) depicts the evolutionary growth of the women Tiger movement, includes the early experiences in the battle field, training methods used and social difficulties faced by fighters within the conservative Tamil society”
LTTE Women’s unit releases film on liberation struggle – Part 2, 2 October 2004  “..Part 2 of the “Akkini Paravaikal” (Volcanic Birds) describes the role and contribution of the LTTE women brigade in the Tamil liberation struggle
Revolution enables women’s struggle for gender equality – Vidhya Kumaraswamy, 2000 “..While the liberation of Tamil women within Eelam society and the liberation of Eelam are not the same thing, they cannot be achieved independently of each other. One is not a woman and Tamil separately, one experiences both identities simultaneously. Nor should women’s liberation be thought of as a once and for all phenomenon; gender attitudes are too deeply entrenched. It has to be an ongoing process in which all sections of society participate by being aware of how ideas of gender can structure attitudes and behaviour in way that is fundamentally antithetical to the interests of both men and women…”
Close Encounter with a Tamil Tigress –  Nachammai Raman, 12 August 2005
The Experiences of Tamil women: Nationalism, Construction of Gender and Women’s Political Agency – Part 1 –  Part 2  – Part 3  Nanthini Sornarajah,  2004
Tamil Tigresses – Hindu Martyrs  – Ana Cutter
Unbreakable Bonds: The spirit of Tamil sisterhood – Rosha, 2004
Tamil Eelam Women’s Day, 2004
Tamil Women: A beacon of hope for all Tamils – Tasha, 2004
Role Models and Empowerment- Harini, 2003
Paradigm Shifts in the thinking of Eelam Women-Thulasi, TamilCanadian, 2003
Women’s Gathering in Vavuniya on Women’s Potential, 2003
Sri Lanka’s Women Rebels Abandon Bullets for Bicycles- One World, 2002
Tiger rebels remember strength of their women-REUTERS, 2002
Continuing violence against Tamil Women I – Sunday Leader, 2001
Continuing violence against Tamil Women Part II – Sunday Leader, 2001
Sexual Violence Against Tamil Women – D.B.S.Jeyaraj, 2000
Women and Children – Human Rights Situation in the Tamil Homeland – Deirdre McConnell, 1999
Women’s struggle for equality continues-everywhere-Tamil Guardian, 1999
Torture, Abuse and Assault of Tamil Women – Midweek Mirror, 1998
Living in a War Zone: Women empowered against backdrop of war – Nalini Kasynathan, Community Aid Abroad, 1996

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WOMEN & THE STRUGGLE FOR TAMIL EELAM

Freedom birds of Tamil Eelam
paraivagal.gif (1623 bytes)

Women Guerilla


Women, Tamil women, have been long subject to oppression of a dual nature.

On the one hand, women comprising a little more than fifty percent of the Tamil people have borne the brunt of the national oppression stemming from chauvinist Sinhala policies.

On the other hand, women have been subject to an internal form of social oppression rising out of male chauvinism. This form of oppression is reinforced by the conservative traditions and some of the cultural norms inherent in the Tamil community. Oppression of women is rampant in the plantation sector where females form half the work force.

Also, caste oppression finds its virulent expression when relating to women.

This brief article will however deal with one aspect namely the impact of the war on Tamil women. It will, in particular, trace the development of the “birds of freedom”,  the women military wing of the LTTE.

The role of women in military combat has been depicted in confusing terms in the Tamil Puranas. Sathyabama and Kaikeyi actively participated in battles aiding their husbands Krishna and Dasaratha but Bheeshma in the Mahabharatha refuses to fight Sikandi because he is in reality a woman, Ambai, transformed into a male.

Tamil literature does not emphasise the active participation of women in combat. Instead, it glorifies the motherhood aspect. The puranaanooru mother who describes her womb as the cave and the warrior’s son as a Tiger is one instance. There is also the heroic mother who after loosing father, husband, and brother sends her only son to war. Misinformed that her son was pierced in the back, she is ashamed that her son had run as a coward. Upon reaching the battlefield, she finds the valiant son has a chest wound and is proud that the son died as a fighter.

Growing national oppression however brought about a situation where Tamil women took to arms. The normal patterns of life underwent rapid transformation with large numbers of youths migrating. Some cultural aspects like girls travelling with a male chaperone, began to dwindle since a young male was prone to greater danger than a woman.

Initially the militant recruits were girls who were either fired by romantic adventurist visions or from families affected cruelly by the war. In some cases, personal experience was the motivating factor. The birds of freedom or “Suthanthirap Paravaikal” were initially something like a paramilitary division.

Great care was taken not to upset the cultural values of the society at large. First aid, cooking etc. were the overt functions. They also obtained military training. As time went on, the birds of freedom began to participate in fighting also.

The Indian invasion was a water shed. The Indian army was brutal and male chauvinist. The rapes, and molesting  made a bitter impact.

The callous disregard of the mothers’ front fast by the Indian establishment was another turning point. The abduction of one mother, Ponnamma David and letting the other mother Poopathi Kanapathipillai die without responding positively to her request worsened the situation.

Although the Tiger women militants had been injured in combat with the Sri Lankan forces, deaths occurred only with the Indian army. A total of 24 have died so far. (February 1990). sothiaS.JPG (10512 bytes)The leader of the women brigade, Vasanthi alias Sothia, (photo alongside) died in 1990 due to a natural cause – disease in the form of meningitis. A brief sketch of LTTE women fighters is as follows.

The armed Tamil struggle is more than seventeen years old. (1990). The period of the armed women struggle is less than seven years. The repercussions of  the 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom and the ongoing armed oppression inspired many young Tamils to join militant ranks. The contribution of women was proportionately low because of the cultural barriers. In the early stages women cells were formed in various parts of Tamil Eelam.

In 1985, the various women militant cells were formed into a composite whole – the women army division of the LTTE. For the first time in contemporary Tamil history, Tamil women obtained martial training and formed a revolutionary fighting unit. The women organisations indulged in a lot of political and propaganda work among women. In a bid to raise consciousness among women about the national liberation struggle and female oppression, a journal called  “Suthanthirap Paravaikal” (“Freedom Birds”) was published. The first issue was in December 1984.

Soon, that name became a synonym for the women unit. When the peninsula became a semi-liberated zone, women’s division activities were broad based and intensified. The freedom birds integrated and co-ordinated activity with women organisations, trade unions, training centres, health centres, and primary education centres. At the same time women fighters engaged themselves in direct combat against the Sri Lankan army in Mannar and Vavuniya.

Women militants were active combatants in the Adamban confrontation on 12th June 1986 where Victor was killed. Women were involved in the efforts to establish full control over Jaffna and Killinochchi districts. Several girls were injured and lost limbs while on duty at sentry points and bunkers near the army camps at Jaffna Fort, Navatkuli, Kattuvan and Valvettiturai.

Women militants also participated in the …., Mayiliathanai mini camp attack, KKS harbour view camp attack, Kurrumpucity camp attack and the famous Nelliadi attacks spearheaded by Miller. After the signing of the Indo-Lanka accord, the women division had its hands full. Initially, the women’s militia engaged themselves in propaganda. Their task was to eradicate the false sense of confidence that people had in India….. Boycott, protest marches, preventing road transport, picketing etc. were staged.

Thanks to the active work of the women cadres, a large number of females participated in this mass protest. When Thileepan commenced his death fast, the women cadres began a series of Padayathras in most regions of Jaffna. The girls dressed in red continued this for all twelve days. Person to person contact were made with domestic housewives during these marches. The interaction between domesticated women and the revolutionary women raised consciousness among the former.

When the attempt was made to capture Jaffna, the women militants fought with great courage. The preliminary military operation against the IPKF was by the women cadres. The first Tiger casualty in the war against India was a women militant 2nd.Lt. Malathi. She was also the first women casualty among the Tigers. Three others Kasthuri, Thaya and Ranji also died in the preliminary encounter.

At Sittankerni, the women cadres in an operation entirely by themselves destroyed an Indian armoured personnel carrier. Women militants fought resolutely in countering commandos dropped by air at the Jaffna University in Thirunelveli…..Women militants also fought in Vanni. Notable among them was the combined male female onslaught at Weli Oya. ….

The overall impact made by the fighting girls on Tamil society is yet to be assessed. It is also too early to predict the future in relation to the position in Tamil society after the war is over.

“…பெண் அடிமைத்தனத்தின் விலங்குகளை உடைத்தெறியாத எந்த ஒரு நாடும், எந்த ஒரு சமூகமும், முழுமையான சமூக விடுதலையைப் பெற்றதாக கூறமுடியாது…”– Velupillai Pirabaharan, Leader of Tamil Eelam


 War and Tamil Women: A Women’s Eye-view 
Margaret Trawick, 1990

Tamil women, have been long subject to oppression of a dual nature. On the one hand, women comprising a little more than fifty percent of the Tamil people have borne the brunt of national oppression stemming from the chauvinist Sinhala policies. On the other hand, women have subject to an internal form of social oppression rising out of male chauvinism. This form of oppression is reinforced by the conservative traditions and cultural norms inherent in the Tamil community. However growing national oppression brought about a situation where Tamil women took to arms. The normal patterns of life underwent rapid transformation with large numbers of youths migrating.In the early days of the formation of LTTE women contributed to the freedom fight by performing socially defined women’s work. Giving moral support, providing shelter, food and played a major role in securing the safety and survival of the cadres. This work carried with risk of exposure and subsequently detention, torture and possibly death. Indeed women were taken into custody on suspicion subjected to rigorous and lengthy interrogations and faced torture. Women have been deprived of sleep during interrogation, sexual harassment and even deaths.The concrete condition which forced a tremendous rupture, projecting women into a new depth of participation for national freedom were the state organized anti-Tamil riots of July 1983. This horrific outburst of racial violence in which thousands of innocent Tamil civilians were murdered, which left a trail of rape, arson and looting proved to be the ultimate revelation of the depths of Sinhala chauvinism and racism.The situation escalated in 1987 when the IPKF was in Jaffna. Women experienced the worst in their own soil at the very hands of the people whom they trusted. The incidents are too many to mention. The following is one from the stories of some women. She was a lively, vivacious and self possessed 38 year old professional woman with a eleven year old daughter. Her husband worked abroad.

“Why me?” I ask myself whether by chance, something in me made them think they could do this to me? I feel inside myself soiled, I feel small, two months have gone past but I think I am getting worse. I was scared to tell my husband. Only recently had I written to him: I will tell you my story if you say it will help other women.

On 12 November, in the morning, three Indian soldiers came to our house at about 8 O’ clock. My mother was in the kitchen, only my daughter and I met them. They said that they were checking and started pushing my daughter into a room, I dragged her shouted ‘Amma, Amma, checking checking. Then the soldiers at the sentry point near our house came running to our house. They who were in our house told them they were checking. ( I lost my gold chain also ), They did not stay long. However, we were scared. I took my daughter and hid her in a small box room at the rear of the house and at about 9.30, we saw the same three soldiers coming again. This time they had not used the front gate where the sentry point is located, but came through another adjoining vacant house, jumping over the parapet wall.

Then they locked my parents in one room, showed the gun and raped me, one after the other, all three of them. I did not scream. What if they shot my parents? I can still recollect those beady eyes could not handle. I left the village and Jaffna when the first bus started running to Colombo. I started having nightmares. I started seeing their faces and hearing their voices…I took my daughter and went abroad. I even went to a psychiatrist. I could talk to him because he was a total stranger. He gave me drugs. They quietened me, but have not taken the memories away. I am becoming worse, even more so, At least I saved my daughter. I have written to my husband and he says not to worry. But you know our men. Do you think he will accept me? I feel so apart from the world. I feel different.”

The stories are so traumatizing and makes one feel exhausted and impotent and as women angry at ourselves, our class, our men, our whole passive society. The above is a story of a survivor of sexual violence. There are numerous reports of suicides, deaths followed as a result of inhuman gang rape and torture and molestation. The middle class families in cases of rape and molestation have always tried to hide and submerge the incidents. This type of handling the victimization of women individualized the pain and trauma and created far reaching damage to their inner selves.

Deepening genocidal oppression has now propelled them out of their established social life into a new revolutionary world. The very decisions of young women to join armed struggle – in most cases without the consent of parents- represents a vast departure of behaviour for Tamil women. This is a turning point in the Tamil society. Women have now decided that talking about their problems will never put an end to their problems. They have to challenge. They have to change the norms. They have stormed into a previously all male activity. They have challenged the entire beliefs about women’s strength, endurance, potential, determination, courage and talents. But it is only a certain percentage of women in the age group 15- 30 who have adopted themselves to a new style of life. The majority are those who are still suffering the communal oppression as women and national oppression as women belonging to an ethnic minority group, especially as women in a war torn country. They are widowed, have lost children, brothers and sisters as victims of war and as victims of the atrocities of state terrorism.

In two incidents on the 12th, 15th and 18th of August 1990, ninety, ninety five and ninety one civilians, respectively, were shot and hacked to death and burnt alive by Muslim home guards supported by the army, in Senkallady, Thuraineelavanai and Veeramunai in the Eastern province.

Women with their memories haunting with the sights of the distorted forms of bodies of their beloved, but still with the responsibilities awaiting their services as women, tending the young, the elderly, adjusting life in the worst of living conditions, still made incomprehensible, due to indiscriminate shelling, aerial bombing and torture.

Complete majoritarian Democracy, in countries divided on ethnic lines will never satisfy the minority. In circumstances where the majority refuses to come to an amicable settlement with the minorities, the minorities have no way other than fighting for their right for self determination. Even in such a situation the majorities are the gainers as they easily brand these freedom fighters as “terrorists“, a word often used to gain the attention and sympathy of all the so called parliamentarians around the world. Ultimately it is again the minorities who are the losers.

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Source:   TamilNation.org
Content on this page last updated 27-06-2007 by TamilNation.org

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