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Tamil woman: The struggle for freedom

today i will share to us , amazing story about tamilwoman struggling for their motherland. These stories have been taken in the website peace for woman. I like to share their stories to us because together we can make the change. Personally i met some of them and they are fighting for noble cause

Women, traditionally responsible for taking care of their families, watched helplessly as Colombo’s final military advance in early 2009 forced their loved ones to become refugees. Tamil women struggled throughout the assault, which comprised a ground advance, aerial bombardment, heavy artillery shelling, and a government-imposed embargo that restricted food and medical supplies from entering the LTTE-controlled area. This genocidal assault, as well as the conflict as a whole, has had profound ramifications for the cultural and political roles of Tamil women in Sri Lanka, who have reacted in diverse and diametric ways to these dire circumstances.

Walking past an Army checkpoint towards her house, a woman snaps at the soldiers harassing her. These soldiers have taken any opportunity to verbally accost her since she filed an official complaint against police officers stealing her property. Neighbors and friends told Murugesapillai Koneswari, a Tamil mother of four, to simply forget about the police’s crimes and ignore the daily injustices. However, her actions had already aggravated the military forces in her village. On 17 May 1997, two months after she filed the complaint, police officers barged into her house in the middle of the night, and then proceeded to gang rape and kill her.

Koneswari’s story exemplifies the precarious position of Tamil women in Sri Lanka, who have been a particularly vulnerable population during the island’s half-century—long conflict. Between 2004 and 2007, I spent a year and a half in the territory formerly controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), documenting Sri Lanka’s human rights violations and growing familiar with Tamil stories of suffering. I discovered Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war had caused an erosion of societal norms that disparately impacted Tamil women. Some women had even assumed unconventional societal roles by joining the LTTE’s armed struggle for independence, and fiercely fought against the government. Women who abstained from taking up arms also remained under extreme pressure, as the government relentlessly attacked the LTTE de facto government and its populace in the northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka.

Women, traditionally responsible for taking care of their families, watched helplessly as Colombo’s final military advance in early 2009 forced their loved ones to become refugees. Tamil women struggled throughout the assault, which comprised a ground advance, aerial bombardment, heavy artillery shelling, and a government-imposed embargo that restricted food and medical supplies from entering the LTTE-controlled area. This genocidal assault, as well as the conflict as a whole, has had profound ramifications for the cultural and political roles of Tamil women in Sri Lanka, who have reacted in diverse and diametric ways to these dire circumstances.

Women in Tamil Society: Traditional Norms of Patriarchy

Sri Lanka’s recent civil war, which claimed the lives of 20,000 civilians, is only one phase of the country’s violent past.1 Immediately following national independence in 1948, the Sinhalese majority began to marginalize Tamils. The Sri Lankan Parliament passed laws in 1949 to strip citizenship from nearly one million Tamil laborers of Indian descent. Seven years later, the government declared Sinhalese the national language, which privileged native Sinhalese speakers for advancement in education and employment. Sri Lanka further institutionalized discrimination against Tamils when the Parliament passed the “standardization” acts, which established quotas restricting the number of Tamils able to pursue higher education.2

This structural inequality led to peaceful protests by the Tamil community, which the government police forces swiftly crushed. These events arguably served as the catalyst for subsequent decades of conflict, as they prompted Tamils to view armed struggle as the only path to freedom. The LTTE and other armed Tamil militant groups formed in the 1970s, with the first phase of the civil war breaking out in 1983. The LTTE used a variety of tactics during the conflict, including suicide bombers known as the “Black Tigers,” which prompted the United States to brand the group a terrorist organization. While the LTTE occasionally struck in government-controlled territory, the majority of the fighting occurred in the heavily Tamil-populated northern and eastern regions of the island.

As a result of prolonged exposure to this conflict, traditional Tamil gender relations shifted dramatically. Within Tamil society, women were historically valued as the bearers of culture, responsible primarily for maintaining the home. Parents carefully “protected” or controlled women from childhood until marriage, when authority over them would transfer to their husbands. Due to the fact that women’s domains did not typically extend beyond their households, they were generally excluded from the political process. Society rigorously maintained the image of women as sacred bearers of family and community, utilizing females as symbolic markers to measure purity and respect. This cherished image of women rendered the violent experiences they faced during the civil war traumatic not only for them as individuals, but for the entire Tamil society as well.

Rape as a Weapon: The Significance of Sexual Assault in the Tamil Conflict

Sexual assault is often considered a fate worse than death in the Tamil community. One female LTTE cadre described to me the strict policy of never leaving a fallen cadre’s body behind. She remarked, “It is worth risking my life to save the lifeless body of another female cadre…. It would be easier to accept my own death, than the mutilation of their bodies and spirits.”3 Stories concerning the rape and mutilation of women are well-known among Tamils; Krishanthi Kumaraswami’s death is particularly infamous. Kumaraswami was an eighteen year old Tamil student who was arrested while passing through a Sri Lankan Army checkpoint in 1996. Her mother, younger brother, and a neighbor went to the checkpoint that afternoon to find her, refusing to leave until she returned safely with them. The soldiers killed all three of them. An hour later, they gang raped Krishanthi and buried her body. Reflecting the importance of this event within the Tamil community, a Tamil schoolteacher Padmini Ganesan, told the Washington Post, “Every Tamil remembers the Krishanthi case…. For us, the checkpoints are sort of a slow-motion thing, the trauma and the fear that we go through.”4

However, these stories do more than reflect on the vulnerable position of women in conflict. For many Tamils, the high rates of sexual assault against Tamil women in the civil war represented an attack on the integrity of their community. As UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Radhika Coomaraswamy reported, sexual assault in the context of ethnic conflict has community-wide implications. She states: “To rape or mutilate women in ethnic conflict is to raid the inner sanctum, the spiritual core of ethnic identity and to defile it…. The female body is a symbol of a community’s honor and its inner sanctum. To rape women with impunity… is to assert domination and to symbolically assault ethnic identity in is most protected space.”5

Fighting Back: Tamil Women Take Arms for Empowerment

In recent years, Tamil women joined the LTTE in greater numbers than their male peers. Though female cadres had different personal reasons for enlisting, many joined after experiencing some form of injustice at the hands of the Sri Lankan Army. Most women came from the heavily militarized north. The permanent insecurity of this environment inculcated a desire for freedom and statehood, which included the motivation to take up arms. One LTTE fighter, Senthulasi, described coming of age in Jaffna, a heavily-militarized city. Her own cousin was raped and killed on her way home. Senthulasi said she ran away from home to join the LTTE and fight against the helplessness she felt daily.6

Although most women initially joined the LTTE to find respite from this suffocating physical insecurity, their involvement in the armed movement had unintended, yet profound, cultural and social consequences. Local psychologists noted that for Tamil women, “joining the militants [has been a] liberating act, promising them more freedom and power…. Tamil society had always suppressed women into a subservient position… it was the war that has had a liberating role.”7 Many of the female Tamil cadres with whom I spoke expressed their desire to fight for the liberation of both their ethnic community and also their subservient position in Tamil society.

When women first began to join the LTTE, they primarily worked in service and support roles as caregivers for the wounded, but later advanced to positions as frontline soldiers. This initially met with opposition from the conservative Tamil community. Many of the earlier female cadres reported that male Tigers “wanted them to flee with the civilians.”8 Women had to demonstrate their equal competence to earn the respect of the other LTTE cadres as they were “challenged to lift bigger bombs.”9 One can also attribute the acceptance of women’s participation in the war to the government’s indiscriminate bombings of civilian homes and schools: “a clear sexual division of labor in war… usually disappears when there is no clear differentiation between the ‘battle front’ and the ‘home front’ or ‘rear’.”10 Women were forced to protect not simply their own physical integrity, but also that of their children. Female cadres eventually prided themselves on performing all tasks of their male counterparts. The LTTE even established male and female artillery divisions, which was long considered impossible for women to handle due to their weight. Some female cadres remarked with pride that they surpassed male cadres in certain areas of fighting, such as sharp shooting.11

The LTTE also explicitly committed itself to gender equality and women’s empowerment. 11 October is celebrated as Tamil Eelam Women’s Day, which marks the anniversary of the first female cadre battle casualty in 1987. On International Women’s Day in 1992, LTTE chief-commander Vellupilai Pirabakaran stated: “With pride I can say that the origin, the development and the rise of women’s military wing of the Liberation Tigers is one of the greatest accomplishments of our movement. This marks a revolutionary turning point in the history of the liberation struggle of the women of Tamil Eelam.”12 The LTTE further expanded the agency of both female cadres and civilian women within its territory by abolishing the dowry system and promoting education.13

As Tamil women advanced to new roles in society, they strove to realize their political aspirations. The female cadres with whom I spoke said that Sri Lankan soldiers fought only for a paycheck, whereas the LTTE fought for the freedom of their people and land. One female cadre, Isaimozhi, said she aimed to kill on the battlefield, but simultaneously regretted that violence was the only way to actualize Eelam.14 Isaimozhi cited the decades of police brutality, ethnic discrimination by the government, and repression of Tamil rights, and finally accepted that war was the only path to freedom.

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