Women & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam
Freedom birds of Tamil Eelam
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
விலங்குகளை உடைத்தெறியாத எந்த ஒரு நாடும், எந்த ஒரு
சமூகமும், முழுமையான சமூக விடுதலையைப் பெற்றதாக கூறமுடியாது..."- Velupillai Pirabaharan, Leader of Tamil Eelam