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Friday 19 December  
Tamil women in Sri Lanka face many insecurities
Gayatri Parameswaran's picture
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Colombo, Sri Lanka

Living in fear: Sri Lanka's Tamil women

Published on : 28 June 2012 - 2:53pm | By Gayatri Parameswaran (Flickr Creative Commons)
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It’s been two-and-a-half years since the end of Sri Lanka’s war against the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Though the government claims to have restored peace in the Tamil-dominated Northern and Eastern provinces, much progress remains to be made. A recent report released by the International Crisis Group (ICG) highlights insecurities of Tamil women in the island country.

The 30-year-long civil war caused much suffering to Tamil women who were already part of a strong patriarchal system. The ICG’s report, which was released last week, suggests that while the decline of the LTTE has brought many positive changes in the lives of Tamil women, it has also ushered in a fresh set of challenges.
Heavy militarisation
Various independent reports studying the final stages of the war have accused the Sri Lankan government’s Sinhalese troops of using rape as a weapon of war. One of the most shocking among them was the Channel 4 documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, which showed video footage of Sinhalese troops making lewd, sexual comments over the naked corpses of Tamil women.
Horrid tales of sexual assaults by Sinhalese troops have dominated accounts of human rights abuses by the Sri Lankan government. Despite this, there still remains a heavy military presence in the Tamil-dominated Northern and Eastern provinces.
“Women often have to rely on male Sinhalese soldiers for information, goods and services… All of this compounds women’s exposure to risks,” the ICG’s report says. Heavy militarisation in the region is causing lack of security among Tamil women, who fear being sexually abused by Sinhalese soldiers.
Economic challenges
The ratio of Tamil men to women has been skewed because thousands of Tamil men died or disappeared during the war. Of those who survived, many have fallen prey to alcoholism. “[The war] has resulted in tens of thousands of female-headed households in the north and east,” the ICG reports.
The lack of a male bread winner has put the onus of running the houshold squarely on the shoulders of Tamil women, who until now were used to staying home and taking care of their families according to the old patriarchal structures. Looking for employment opportunities in a post-conflict society has become a major challenge for these women.
Sex work
The pressures of day-to-day survival have led many women into prostitution. An activist, who does not wish to be named, fearing retaliation from the Sri Lankan government, is quoted in the report as saying, “There are definitely cases of Vanni (a region in the Northern province) women being promised work in the south and ending up in brothels or sexually abused on the way to garment factories where the terms and conditions are not what they were told.”
Many reports of Tamil girls ending up in the brothels of the south have surfaced in the media recently. “Like all sex workers in Sri Lanka and most other countries, the Tamil women who find themselves in prostitution face serious risks of violence, disease and social ostracism,” the reports says.
The road ahead
Earlier last week, the Sri Lankan government issued a public release of the report of its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). While the report is still being studied by the United Nations, the government has received an encouraging pat on the back for the move.
But critics say the report doesn’t delve deep into the truth. On the Groundviews website, a citizen journalist forum, reporter Gibson Bateman called it “a document that looks to the future, exonerates the military, does not touch on the question of accountability and includes some touchy-feely language about the country’s need to move forward, celebrate its diversity and be grateful for the defeat of terrorism.”  
Against this back drop, the prospects of a better life for women in the North and East seem a distant reality. The question remains whether a government which refuses to be held wholly accountable for committing crimes against its civilians can be expected to better the lives of its vulnerable populations.   
This story was originally published on 27 December 2011.



Reality Check 29 December 2011 - 10:21pm

Yes it has been two-and-a-half years since the end of Sri Lanka’s war against the Tamil Tiger Terrorists. How come it is hard to spit it out? Terrorists. Romanticing the LTTE with ‘rebel’, ‘liberation’ is a mockery.
Does the government claim to have restored peace or is that a fact? Have you heard that there have been no acts of terrorism since the end of the fight against Tamil Tiger terrorists? Is there any country that has shown such rapid progress following 30years of terrorism? Name one! And then we come to the ‘insecurities of Tamil women’
Have some sense of perspective people! Interesting how the words ‘tamil dominated’ is used – without question as to how and why it became Tamil dominated. Have you forgotten how the Tamils ethnically cleansed the North and East of Sinhalese and Muslims? If there was any Genocide it was the systematic ethnic cleansing by Tamils in their fool hardy attempt to have a mono-ethnic tamil state! How come 1/3rd of Colombo is Tamil? One wonders why the Tamils prefer to live among the Sinhalese in the South!
Shame on those of you who shout rape – when the Sri Lanka Military rescued thousands of Tamils starved, beaten and shot at by the cowardly Thalaivar who hid behind the women and children in Pudukuduieruppu! Is this really the behavior of a leader? Get a grip.
Tamil women enjoy the comfort of being free to travel where they want to, talk with whom they want and buy what they want instead of having the Tamil tiger terrorists breathing down its back. Have you forgotten how the LTTE shot the female cadre with a 3month baby in her belly and the male cadre who got her pregnant? Did you not know of the Tamil tiger boys got the Tamil tiger girls serving on the FDL pregnant? Did you not know that they were housed separately away from the public eye and those that got public were shot as a deterrent by the Thalaivar’s order?
Are you seriously trying to say the women are feeling insecure?
Maybe it is time to realize that it was the Tamil tigers that terrorized the entire country. It was the Tamil tigers that cleansed the North and East of Sinhalese and Muslims. It was the Tamil tigers that invented the suicide belt. It was the Tamil tiger women that carried massacre of civilians using claymore, and carried out suicide attacks. And SUDDENLY the women are insecure?
So if you think you can discredit the country and its military using the famous: sex-drink-money think again!
You gotta keep feeding the press with the ‘shocking’, ‘colourful’ and ‘horrifying’ juicy stories – otherwise you and your folk won’t get refugee status isn’t it? Those in the pipeline with their applications would get thrown out. Interesting that some who have applied for refugee status carry a UN refugee passport, but also get an emergency Sri Lanka passport playing the victim of robbery card and come back into the country to do business.
With regards to the military – if any of you arm chair analysts have spoken to any Tamils in the areas that were terrorized by the in bred tamil terrorists they would say that the Sinhala and Muslim soldiers are actually not interested in them when they have so many pretty women a few hours drive away.
Tamil victim is quite pathetic. May be I could suggest that you continue with the - victim card but do try the race card, the gender card, religion card, the discrimination card – the West loves it and will swarm around you like bees to honey.
Seriously, have you not visited the country and seen Sinhalese and Muslim women? If you have, do you think the Sinhala and Muslim men will get attracted to a Vanni woman? Honestly what an inflated opinion you have of the Vanni women. The picture looks very much from South India. None of those women look vulnerable.
Ask the former Tamil tigers if there has been any rapes, they will give you the answer. They are disgusted even at the suggestion. They are not interested in your disinformation campaign.
The people have greater confidence in walking upto a soldier BECAUSE they are disciplined, professional and trusted. That is hard for you to digest because – all you did was stay a comfortable distance and breed hatred. You funded the poor Vanni men women and children to conduct terrorist activity.
A lot of numbers are bandied about. No one that actually witnessed the war say thousands. May be that was the dream of the Thalaivar, what a disappointment to him.
Sex work! It is work nevertheless instead of cowering in fear of the Tamil tigers. The women have a choice in whether they want to sell alcohol, engage in the oldest profession in the world ‘prostitution’, or engage in agriculture. Tamil women are no different to the rest of the world’s women. I wonder where this sense of narcissism comes from. Without the grip of terror the community is normalizing with the alcohol and sex industry. Previouly the Tamil tigers sent their member to indulge in these activities - when sent for operations in the south, but banned in their terrorized areas. Well karma catching up. Wonder if those held back 30 years by the Tamil tigers – with their fetters broken – is indulging excessively.
Is there some feeling of resentment that the government has received an encouraging pat on the back for the move. Pretense of impartiality – the article is careful not to give any credit to the government but pulls in the disinformation to support its argument to discredit the government and the military.
I strongly believe that all those Tamils and Non Tamils that supported the Tamil tiger terrorists by providing passive and active support should be held accountable for committing crimes against Sri Lanka’s civilians and unarmed security forces and law enforcement personnel for 3 decades. They have been responsible for causing untold suffering to all civilians, and for holding back the development of Sri Lanka’s Northern and Eastern provinces for 30years. The Tamil tigers have deprived a generation of their own ethnic community education, vocation, sense of family, cultural values and social norms. Is there any bigger crime than this? The Tamils and non Tamils that supported the Tamil tiger terrorists must be made accountable by law. Including those that float other people’s bits of disinformation. If not the karmic forces will take its course for supporting 30years of terrorism in Sri Lanka.

A Sri Lankan from Wanni 3 January 2012 - 1:08pm

Well said "Reality Check" !! I see that the discussion has ended in the face of facts !! Unbelievable as it may be, I am a Sri Lankan from Wanni and not a government lackey or a security force personnel. Why is it so difficult for you people out there to understand and imagine that we are able to form our own opinions based on facts & what we see/experience ? We are sick of being told what to believe and say - its time the true voice of Sri Lankans are heard, regardless of race, caste or creed. Its time you stopped using us living in SL as the pawns so that you can continue to enjoy the benefits of asylum !

Anonymous 29 December 2011 - 2:57pm

KEEPING COMMITMENTS AND OBTAINING INTERNATIONAL ASSISTANCE, National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, 6 December 2011:’’ A key feature of the three budgets that have followed the end of the war is the absence of good news in them for the majority of people. The political issue that can block Sri Lanka’s economic take-off is the unresolved ethnic conflict. Sri Lanka did not win the war against the LTTE entirely on its own through the political leadership of President Rajapaksa and the military leadership of the armed forces commanders. Sri Lanka received much international support in this regard from the international community. The assistance given ranged from military equipment to sharing of intelligence and a curbing of the LTTE through legal bans and blocking their military procurements. At that time the government gave implicit assurances of a political solution after the war in return for the assistance it was obtaining. This commitment too needs to be kept.

Seiji 30 January 2013 - 1:12am / bbQQEupWMwMiXgmU

This video dun pay homage to the beatuy of Sri lanka, looks like an aerial view from a plane, rushing through the island in a hurry to finish the clip.Never been there at all, but have seen better pictures and documentaries on this fascinating country, which would wet many an appetite more, to pay a visit, more so than this hastily assembled commercial clip by the Tourist Authority.

Anonymous 29 December 2011 - 8:15am / Sri Lanka

It is ludicrous to suggest that rape was used as 'a weapon of war'. Rapes may have occured during the war - regretable though it is, it is not unheard of for soldiers to behave disgracefully at times of war - but the inference of this and other articles that soldiers were ordered to perform these acts is not credible. The government of Sri Lanka has carried out a thorough investigation into these allegations (Google 'LLRC Report' for more details). Having established that some of these allegations are credible, it is now expected to put the members of the military involved in those incidents on trial.

PROF. KOPAN MAHADEVA 29 December 2011 - 7:59am / U.K.

Please let me know the location and approximate date on which the picture of the three women published today (29.12.2011) with Gayatri Parameswaran's article was taken. Thanks.
Professor Kopan Mahadeva (

Ponnaiah 29 December 2011 - 7:34am

"The ratio of Tamil men to women has been skewed "

The ratio would be more balanced if we were to count the Tamil refugee populations in the west.
Take the recent asylum seeker boat which pulled up in Canada for instance, the MV Sun Sea.

Out of 492 Tamils on board, 49 were children, 63 were women and the rest, a whopping 380 were men. I use the term 'men' loosely there since -if we were to buy into the usual propaganda- they seem to have left women and children behind to face "genocide", "rape", "mass murder" etc

A Sri Lankan from Wanni 29 December 2011 - 7:24am / Sr iLanka

The article is completely baseless and aimed at fanning the flames of hatred between the communities, by those who serve as proxy organizations for the Tamil Diaspora, battling to keep the shattered dream of Eelam alive for their personal gain and to remain overseas, safely ensconced in comfort. I have been working in the IDP camps since 2009 and since resettlement in 2010, I have been regularly visiting all remote corners of Wanni in a bid to support children in forgetting the trauma of the war and move forward. I meet women (mother's of those children I work with), teachers & so many in villages and towns and none have claimed such atrocities. Yes, some do have the burden of earning a livelihood as the LTTE decimated whole generations of males. Livelihood and micro-finance projects are being supported by NGOs and Govt to give them opportunities to earn a living. The women are so very thankful to have peace in their life - to be free from fear of losing children to the LTTE, losing loved ones to a hopeless war and to be able to move around freely and without fear. The Govt civil administration system is completely back in operation & the army is NOT in charge of civil administrator since over an year. The Government Agents, District Secretariats & Grama Nildharis are on the ground supporting the civilians, Police control is complete in maintaining law and order & the Army is ONLY involved in development work of building infrastructure, helping to build homes and in starting up livelihood projects etc, even to the extent of getting support from their personal contacts for such work. It would be strongly advised to visit Sri Lanka, meet the people of north & east, help them to re-start life again - they are the ones who truly sacrificed so that those tamils abroad can continue to live in luxury and who only know to write and talk about issues, of which they have NO first hand knowledge of ! Those who wielded the gun for a misguided dream of eelam, have vowed never to go back to violence and terror ! Therefore, its time the diaspora asked the Tamils who live in Sri lanka what they really want and NOT assume to speak for a community which they are so far removed from !!

Anonymous 29 December 2011 - 3:56pm / Netherlands

This Sri Lankan from the Wanni does not appear to know what the Tamil Members of Parliament who represent those in the Wanni had been telling on the floor of the Parliament about the atrocities being committed by the Army in the Wanni. Obviously he is either a military officer trying to defend his colleagues or a hireling of the Government like Bell Pottinger trying to paint a false picture of what is happening in the Wanni.

Anonymous 29 December 2011 - 9:50pm

This Anonymous does not appear to know that those "Tamil members of parliament" have always been mouthpieces for the murderous and deceptive LTTE, and still have the same subversive objectives in mind. Obviously he is an LTTE operative who has evaded the authorities or one of their many stooges paid blood money to paint a false picture of what is happening in the Wanni.

Tamil Victim 29 December 2011 - 5:56am

All uneducated street sinhala thugs were given uniforms, arms,money(salary) and ranks and were depolyed in tamil's homeland north and east of the island. On average one sinhala thug for every six tamil civilans in tamil's homeland. These thugs are harassing from five years grand daughter to ninty years old grand mother.

Ponnaiah 29 December 2011 - 7:53am

Unfortunately that's the only response the uneducated Sinhala thugs could come up with when highly educated, supremely intelligent & cultured Tamil gentlemen, supported by their equally educated & intelligent diaspora, decided to carry out a decades long campaign of terror, massacring villages, bombing buses and blowing themselves up in the middle of Colombo.

Sri 29 December 2011 - 7:25pm

Partly true. And the LLRC is silent on this issue! That is also why it is essential that there be a credible independent investigation by the UN as locals cover up all the time and mass murder and violent crimes affecting people keep repeating over and over again. Sovereignty lies with the people, not the President. Read the constitution.

H Wilson Thilakaratna 29 December 2011 - 3:42am / Sri Lanka

More than half of the content of the article is biological lies.So are the comments. All these fabricated stories are published to tarnished the good image of the current government.Even in the other parts of the country and in the world usual crimes are taking place.So is in the north oh of Sri Lanka. We see reports of mass killings are taking place even in America from time to time. The military presence in Jaffna is not to issue towels to women but to further control any repetition of ethnic crimes.The number of military personnel are being reducing as time passes.The world community must understand that all Sihalese, Tamils and Muslims live without fear attending to their day today life after the end of war. 29 December 2011 - 12:54am / Thamizh Eezham

Groundviews is operated by Sinhalese and tamils.

Yes, many Tamil Girls(children) and women have been raped, tortured and killed.
But, WHO CARES??!!!
- no one, apparently.

Since the whole world has decided to turn a blind eye to all this.
It seems that most countries have chosen to ignore the terrible suffering of children and women in Sri Lanka, because they stand to benefit economically and politically by siding with the Sinhala-SriLanka government.

Iqbal 28 December 2011 - 11:54pm

The Sinhalese military soldiers are in charge of all the civil activities in Tamil speaking areas including selling sanitary towels to young women and use unfair treatments to punish the non-cooperators. The Sri Lankan government knows well the high handedness of the army but as a weapon of enslavement it lets the Sinhalese soldiers carry out the excesses. Many of the complaints made against the soldiers to the LLRC in spite of threats made against the witnesses were ignored to minimise the criticism of the government.

Sri 28 December 2011 - 10:04pm / UK

It is not only women but Tamil girl children as young as 8 who have been raped by the Sinhala military. And so far they seem to have got away with this horrendous crime which reflects on those who wield power at any cost in a lawless country.

Anonymous 28 December 2011 - 4:29pm

Good summary, except that Groundviews is a citizen journalist forum, but not distinctly Tamil. A further obstacle I would mention is that it's near impossible in Sri Lankan (Tamil or otherwise) culture to talk directly about sexual violence and to use words like 'rape' and 'prostitution'. Many women and even NGO workers do not report attacks for this reason, or at least do not report them in direct enough language to be able to gauge the scale, nature and perpetrators of them, thus compounding the vulnerability of women who are already at risk.

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