“The Sri Lankan government has used rape against Tamil men and women suspected of being members of the LTTE […] but the Tamil Tigers have seemingly not used it in retaliation,” writes American feminist writer Michele Lent Hirsch. In an article that is general commentary on the use of rape by both state and non-state actors in war published on Women Under Siege on Tuesday, the author compares and contrasts the gender politics of the LTTE with other actors in conflicts, and concludes that “if rape is not inevitable in war, it follows that we have all the more reason to hold the perpetrating groups responsible.” Commenting on this, a Tamil feminist activist from Vanni remarked that it is not only important to condemn rape in war in general, it is also important to recognize the nature of the sexual violence used in specific cases and to deal justice to survivors accordingly.
Further observations from the Tamil activist follow:
While the Sri Lankan government calling itself a ‘democracy’ had used rape against the Tamils in the island before, during and after the armed struggle for Tamil Eelam, the de-facto state led by Pirapaharan’s LTTE, condemned by international powers as a ‘dictatorship’, had made exemplary efforts to create a gender-just society.
The vision of the leadership was to forge an egalitarian society where discrimination and oppression based on one’s gender, caste or religion would not be tolerated. This was an intrinsic aspect of the ideology of Pirapaharan’s LTTE.
Dr. N. Malathy in her book ‘A Fleeting Moment in my Country’ gives testimony to the nature of governance in the de-facto state and the progressive ideals that they tried to infuse into society.
Feminists with a Liberal-Western orientation commenting on Pirapaharan’s LTTE without fail failed to take into account the nature of emancipatory Tamil nationalism that the movement espoused.
Likewise, international organizations and media in the West and India were more content obsessing with the issue of child soldiers, and tried to vilify the de facto state through all means possible.
In her article, Ms. Hirsch, while making some conceptually erroneous statements about the LTTE led armed struggle, has taken an effort to understand the gender politics of the LTTE, referring largely to Western sources.
The other limitation of the article is that it only focuses on the why rape was not used by the insurgents and on gender-inclusiveness only as a question of instrumentality rather than on the agency and ideology of the leadership in creating an active participation of women in the struggle.
Her conclusion, however, is worthy in that she appeals to not treat war as an essential component of war but that to consider it as a question of choice by the actors involved, calling for a corresponding punishment of perpetrators.
Rape against the Tamils in the island was not an ‘excess of war’. It was and is a planned strategy to break the social fabric of the Tamil nation.
The New Delhi gang-rape case which happened some months back provoked sharp condemnations and reactions from the Left, Right and Centre in the Indian mainstream politics. But these political actors not only wilfully ignored rape used a genocidal weapon by the Sri Lankan state against the Eezham Tamils, they also continue to endorse the legitimacy of the Sri Lankan. There is no concrete difference between the politics of the BJP, Congress and CPM as far as the interests of our genocide-affected people are concerned.
How would have the Indian activists protesting against the Delhi gang-rape case reacted had someone suggested that the family of the rape victim should pursue reconciliation with the rapists? But they have no qualms in denying retributive justice a la Nuremberg Trials to the Eezham Tamils and a political solution that would protect the Tamil nation from the essentially predatory Sinhala nationalism, suggesting instead that the Tamils should reconcile with their oppressors.
It is this sense of international apathy towards the Tamils that allows the Sri Lankan state to commit its crimes with impunity.
The physical trauma endured by Tamil women owing to abuse at the hands of perpetrators of sexual violence is one aspect. That the dimensions of the other aspect of cultural and psychological trauma that Tamil women in their homeland undergo everyday owing to the omnipresence of the Sinhala military have not been taken into critical consideration is a matter of lamentation.
While every soldier occupying the Tamils’ homeland is complicit in the systematic crimes committed by the institution he serves, punishment of individual soldiers for crimes is irrelevant when the system is essentially genocidal.
This is the reason that many Tamil feminist activists grounded in struggle conclude that it is impossible to talk about gender issues alone without addressing the chronic national question of the Eezham Tamils.