Killinochchi, March 10: Why do LTTE female activists insist on wearing their uniform-style shirt-and-trouser dress made distinct by the web belt when their male counterparts have shown no reluctance to wear civvies when they go to Jaffna and other Sri Lankan army-controlled areas'
It has resulted in ugly incidents of confrontation at the Sri Lankan army checkpoints as soldiers have tried to forcibly remove their belts, culminating in a February 12 clash when six Tiger women were injured.
Why do billboards massed along the A-9 highway to the Jaffna peninsula valourise the contribution of LTTE women when there are no comparable ones highlighting the role of women per se' At the Mahamale checkpoint, on the LTTE side, en route to the Sri Lankan army-controlled Jaffna is a huge billboard stating: “We enthusiastically welcome you to step in and observe the brave and capable LTTE women”.
Evidently, the LTTE woman, deemed of “equal” status in the movement, is facing an identity crisis when it comes to re-integrating into conservative Tamil society in this period of delicate transition in the Sri Lankan peace process as the military outfit civilianises itself. The 20 years of Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict saw the re-casting of the Tamil woman from the traditional ideal of auspicious fecund wife to androgynous “Armed Virgin” to feed the LTTE’s military machine.
After 12 years as a front-ranking LTTE fighter — now women’s political wing head — can there be a return back to society for Tamilini (30)' “The struggle is my life and my life the struggle,” said Tamilini in her office in LTTE-controlled Killinochchi. But what of the younger Selvy and Madhi, and the thousands of women who make up 40 per cent of the LTTE — can these non-traditional women be re-absorbed in Tamil society' Can the dreaded Black Tigers, the suicide squad, go back'
The tensions surrounding re-integration are particularly evident in the area of marriage. After 25, LTTE cadres can marry but where are these women to find men — LTTE men' “LTTE male cadres often prefer to marry outside,” said Madhi (25). “We can marry in society, but we don’t want to.” This may explain why the LTTE has set up a kind of marriage bureau to match couples within the movement. It is the belt wars that have brought to the fore the identity issue. Under an agreement, no civilian can wear a uniform in a Sri Lanka government area where the LTTE is permitted to do political work. In February, the armed forces unilaterally decided to enforce the ban. Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission spokesperson Olle Brondom said he was puzzled at the timing. “The belt was a military belt and could be used as a weapon,” he said, trying to explain.
The LTTE women have been adamant about not removing their belt. “It is a mark of respect, of honour that we have earned,” said Tamilini. “It is our wish to dress thus.”
On February 9, Kayalvizhi, the LTTE Jaffna women’s head, lodged a complaint with the monitoring mission. On February 12 morning, in Manipai, Jaffna, six unarmed LTTE female and 12 male cadres on bicycles were stopped at the checkpoint. Allegedly, some soldiers slashed off the belt of the women Tigers. Several women were injured. Angry crowds gathered and threw stones.
The soldiers hit back with excessive force, according to the monitoring mission, which mediated peace without involving Kayalvizhi, a woman. Earlier that morning in Jaffna, Olle Brondom had dismissed her and her colleagues as “those females”.
Tamilini, tall, well-built and self-assured, asserted that the movement was sensitive to the cultural contradictions resulting from the “equal” LTTE women and the dominant social ideology. “Tamil women are traditionally shy and timid, lacking in self-confidence but all that has now changed after the LTTE women were taken to the battlefield.” She insisted that the LTTE leadership is committed to “women’s liberation side by side with the struggle for the Tamil people’s rights”. What did she think of the assessment that the LTTE women were mere cogs in the wheel. Tamilini laughed.
“Take the battlefield, when the strategy is being drawn up we’re encouraged to give our opinion and changes made.
“Of the 12 judges in the LTTE area, five are women. In the newly-set-up peace secretariat, two of the deputy directors are women.”
Women, she said, were not rubber-stamps, but were placed in positions “according to one’s capacity”. Adele Balasingham is talking peace with the Sri Lankan government.
Tamilini is a member of the new women’s subcommittee set up to bring women’s issues into the mainstream of the peace process.