How did the LTTE Tamil women’s participation in the battle of secession question the patriarchal gender relations in Sri Lanka a

Aberamy Sivalogananthan
Posted November 25, 2012 from Sri Lanka

When someone asked to describe a woman, most of the people’s answers would be women are concerned, beautiful, caring, and weak. It is not erroneous to portray them in the above frames, because that is the way the society teaches us and our culture expects us as women to play the roles in the community. This kind of stereotypes made women to be naïve and made them not to take part in any kinds of activities, which are equal to men. However, according to there is a community where women who have overcome the social, cultural norms and proved the nation as well as the whole world, that they as women are no longer slaves to men. There was a period, the whole global was stunned and was surprised by the Sri Lankan Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) women fighters, because of their courage and strongest power in the battle field against the Sri Lankan government. Based on the above references, in this paper, I would like to explore the Sri Lankan LTTE women fighters. My target is to answer the following question: how did the LTTE Tamil women’s participation in the battle of secession questions the patriarchal gender relations in Sri Lanka and the among the politics of the Sri Lankan state? Before moving to the actual paper I think it is important to define some of the terms like: Sri Lankan Tamil Patriarchal society, LTTE, Sri Lankan Tamil traditional women, LTTE women fighters, and Thamil Eelam. First, patriarchal society means that some men (not all men) are dominate the women and women are not able to function on their own. Second, the term LTTE known as The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the Sri Lankan Tamil community name as LTTE or Tamil tigers. Third, the north and the east part of Sri Lanka is considered as Thamil Eelam by the Tamil community of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Diasporas which consider the east and north parts as an independent state for minority Tamil people in Sri Lanka. Fourth, the word Sri Lankan Tamil traditional women, is known as who expect to be noiseless, responsible for the house hold work, and devote their lives to their families. Especially, the society labels a woman as she is in charge for the kitchen and she always should fill her hands with full of kitchen items. Most importantly she is expected to wear her traditional dress (Saree) and to reflect the cultural identities which she belongs to, such as, pottu, (is call Bindi as well, is a decoration worn by women) and jewelries. In contrast, LTTE women fighters are not capable of holding the society’s expectation as traditional Tamil women. In contrast, they wear jeans and shirt or T- shirts as men, they carry cyanide capsule as their jewelry and huge and heavy weapons in their arms. In my paper, first half will be the answer for the following question, how did the Tamil women challenge the traditional patriarchal gender relationships such as, sex, gender and patriarchal society? And the rest half of the paper will be talking about, the ways that the LTTE women’s actions undermine the Sri Lankan politics? Firstly, since the general view that woman wear as their crown as they are feeble, most of the organizations which fight against their oppressed rights, do not accept women to be a part of the organization. For example, in Kurdistan Workers' Party, Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan, known as (PKK) enrolls women to be as part of the battle group; also the organization assigns the women with certain duties and activities. The women in PKK are not able to play the roles as men due to the religious and social structures. On the other hand, there are some organizations which accept women only as cookers, caretakers and health service helpers, but not front line fighters. The reasons behind the issue that the women are not supposed to go to battle to fight is, because of the men’s view of sex ideology. “Sex is a theory about human beings which divides them into two biologically based categories-male or female” (Cranny-Francis, Waring, Strvropoulos, & Kirkby, 7), according to sex definition people classify women as biologically weak figures, so they are not born to carry arms or to be as the front line fighters. However, Sri Lankan LTTE Tamil women trickled down the historical belief about the women and proved that women are not biologically weak; also they can fight in the battle equally to men. For example, in the LTTE organization, the women undertake the same tough trainings as men do, also breaking up into fighting groups in the battle field as front line fighters, intelligence and gathering information from the enemies in the high security places of Sri Lanka, and being appointed as political and administrative units’ officers with in the LTTE organization. Especially in the case of combat arms they are heavy, but still women are trained to carry those arms along with them, which illustratse that biologically women are not weak and they have the strength to be in an equal position to men. When the LTTE honorable leader Mr.Velupillai Pirabaharan addresses the international community on one of the 'Tamil National Heroes day’ speeches, he appreciates the women participation in the organization. He said, “Today young women have taken up arms to liberate our land. They have made supreme sacrifices to this cause to the amazement of the world. I am proud to say that the birth, growth and expansion of the women’s military wing is a remarkable achieve¬ment of our liberation movement, an achievement which marked a historical turning point in our struggle.” (Adele Ann Balasingham, 1993). The traditional Tamil group of people fails to give the equal floor to women, but the LTTE leader as a man appreciated the women participation in the organization, can be considered as a great compliment for the LTTE women fighters. Secondly, the concept of gender boundary was broke by the LTTE women and taught a lesson to the Tamil society that LTTE women are no longer slaves for the social and cultural practices. In a broad view, “Gender is the culturally variables elaboration of sex, as a hierarchical pair (Where male is coded superior and female inferior) (Cranny-Francis, Waring, Strvropoulos, & Kirkby, 4). In this broader view of gender, women are identifying to have femininity which is often related with femaleness (Johnson, Repta, 26). Especially, when Tamil tradition refers to femaleness, it always points out the concept of “Four Virtues” of Tamil women. Such as, modesty, charm, coyness and fear (Mauna guru,1995 as cited by Lawrence 99). According to that a traditional woman expects to perform her roles according to the above four virtues. However, the LTTE Sri Lankan Tamil women replaced those four virtues into three virtues as “notions of courage, confidence and thirst of liberation” (Lawrence 99). One of the LTTE women told that she was expected to play the role of femaleness since the childhood, however after she joined the LTTE, she said as the following “When we were children, we were told by our parents that we had to behave differently from boys. We were told the only the boys rode cycles and played outside, but the “LTTE” organization was different. Now we are the same as the men” (Chandranayaki, 2002). The Sri Lankan LTTE women act in a masculine way by fighting in the front lines, conducting trainings to the new members, driving heavy vehicles, and taking part in the high authority positions as man. Third, patriarchal society of Tamil community is basically, not allowing women to take part of any activities because they think that women are born own the home not the country. Some of the men in the community not let the women to even attend some public events. However the LTTE women over come from those practices in the patriarchal society of Tamil community and proved that they do equal to men. Most of the national Tamil people, Tamil Diasporas, national and international politicians, and scholars appreciate the women participants in the LTTE. For example, On March 8, 1996 during the international women’s day Honorable leader of LTTE Mr. Velupillai Prabhakaran, quoted the Tamil women empowerment for joining in the arm struggle considered as the “the ‘fervent child’ that was born out of the Tamil "national liberation movement". “The women's liberation movement is forging ahead as an integral part of our greater struggle”. For the awakening of the nation and the salvation of the women, the Thamil Eelam revolutionary woman has transformed herself into a tigress! Fierce and fiery, she has taken up arms to fight injustice," he proudly stated (The Hindu, 2002). Moreover, the Australian lady who is the wife of LTTE theoretician, Adel Balasingham, mentioned about the Tamil LTTE women’s empowerment as “they are not satisfied with the social status; it means they are young women capable of defining authority; it means they are women with independent thoughts; young women prepared to lift up their heads” (Adel Balasingam) it clearly represents that the women participation in the LTTE organization has appreciated by the women from the other part of the world too. In the rest of the paper, I would like to elaborate my point of view on how the LTTE women undermined the Sri Lankan politics. First of all the LTTE women decided to protest and went on a hunger strike in order to request the Sri Lankan government to share the state with Tamil people and let the Tamil people have a peace full life in their mother land which they call as Thamil Eelam. However, the government’s response was the violent and brutal operations, in return for the non violent activity. After all the unforgettable responses from the Sri Lankan government, such as raping the women, continuous murders and rapid kidnappings of children, top Tamil officers, made the LTTE women to take the arm against the government to attack them through suicide bombers, group attacks and Gorilla attacks. First, gorilla attack means that LTTE fighters hide themselves behind the bushes and attack the Sri Lankan soldiers abruptly, the attacks will be unexpected for the opposite party and most of the soldiers will be killed during the time. There were several attacks done by LTTE women fighters and some of them ended up successfully and some of the operations were got caught by the Sri Lankan soldiers before the attack. For example, “in 1998 January 25th , sixteen persons were killed by using one of the technique, they targeted Sri Lanka's holiest Buddhist shrine, Sri Dalada Maligawa, Temple of the Tooth Relic, in Kandy town is attacked by LTTE women” ( Institute of conflict management) was one of the successful attack. Though the LTTE women were engaged with the above actions they are particularly good at suicide attacks. There are some feminist and scholars that critic the suicide attacks by women portray the weakness of women. However, Nino Kemoklidze is a Ph.D. candidate at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies mentioned, “It is a woman who blew herself up, and with her exploded all the myths about women’s weakness, submissiveness, and enslavement” (Kemoklidze, 2003). Though half of the worlds see women suicide bombers as a weak part of women hood, the LTTE suicide bombers see themselves as empowered women both physically and mentally. Furthermore, in the LTTE 40% suicide attack has been carried by LTTE women fighters. As I have mentioned about the PPK organization they did not have this much amount of women suicide attacks by their organization. According to that data it clearly shows the scale difference and the importance that has given to the LTTE organization especially for the women fighters. One of the remarkable incidents challenged the Sri Lankan state as well as the Indian state, the attack on the former prime minster of India Mr. Rajiv Gandhi. He was attacked by a women LTTE suicide bomber within the Indian Territory. Moreover, in 2006 Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the Sri Lankan army chief of staff, got attacked by a pregnant LTTE suicide bomber. The place which he got attacked was one of the top high security places in Sri Lanka. Above examples, clearly shows that how intelligent and strong were the LTTE women during their attacking periods. They have questioned the Sri Lankan states politics which even the Sri Lankan government cannot deny and cannot stop by taking in to account.

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Inshah Malik
Mar 04, 2013
Mar 04, 2013

I think, feminist discourse can only be strengthened when we fully understand the concept of Agency, Agency is not merely in moments of resistance to domination but utmost submission in order to liberate one self is the only way in which feminist theory can imagine women's power completely. Salute to brave Tamil women and Salute to Nation of Tamil Eelam