It is estimated that nearly 11,000 former LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) combatants either surrendered or captured by the Sri Lankan security forces at the end of the war in May 2009. Tens of thousands of civilians from the north of Sri Lanka were displaced due to the nearly three decade long war.
According to the Minister for Prisons Reforms and Rehabilitation Chandrasri Gajadeera, only 700 ex combatants of 11,000 remain in the rehabilitation centres. There were about estimated 3,000 women ex combatants. A group of 104 women ex combatants were recently released by the Government of Sri Lanka. These brave women fought equally on the battlefields and won many battles. Families and friends were delighted when these women won the battles, but now, they are isolated from the society. Reintegration seems a difficult task for men ex combatants too. But it is even more difficult for the women ex combatants. The testimonies are as follows:~
*Sutha (32), Ex Child Soldier and Ex Sea Tigress, North of Sri Lanka:~
“I have joined the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers as it is popularly known) in 1995 as a child soldier and became a sea tiger. I fought in many battles against the Government security forces. I lost my left arm in a battle in Paranthan (North of Sri Lanka) in 1997, but I continued to fight. I fought till the last moment and surrendered to the Sri Lankan Government security forces on 17th of May 2009 in Vattuvaagal (North of Sri Lanka).
I have been in the Boosa prison for one year and 3 months. I was released in July 2011 after the rehabilitation.
The relatives and neighbours say that “I am having relationships/ affairs with the Government security forces”. The relatives use very bad language and scold me in Tamil such as “Whore”, “Prostitute” and “Sex worker”,. I have been scolded by these words for the first time in my life. The neighbours often say that “I paid a lot of money to the politicians and got released”, “I have slept with many men including the government security forces”, You are inauspicious”, “You are a bad omen” and “You bring ill spirits”, “You are a witch” and “You are a bad woman”. I am proud to say that I was the only woman, who was brave enough to join the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers as it is popularly known) from my remote village. I have come alive! And people are very jealous.
IOM (International Organization for Migration) gave me 63,000/= (Sri Lanka Rupees) worth of materials to put up a small shop to earn an income. But, I'm unable to do so because the relatives and society treat me very badly and kill my character daily. People around me talk badly and treat me like an alien. It's yet another tragedy in my life. This is how the society treats me now.
I tried to go to Middle East as a house maid. Since I'm disabled the job agent said, he cannot find a job for me in the Middle East.
My parents are elderly and sick. I don't want to be a burden for them. I want to commit suicide, because I cannot listen to these bad words and talks anymore. I told my younger sister to sell the materials given by the IOM (International Organization for Migration), and make use of the money for my funeral!”.
Society should be a helping hand to women ex combatants trying to rebuild their shattered lives
*Kavi (29), Ex Child Soldier, Pottu Ammaan Mines Unit,North of Sri Lanka:~
“I have joined the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers as it is popularly known) in 1995 as a child soldier and later served with the Puttu Amman Mines Unit. I surrendered on 17th May 2009. I was taken to Boosa prison and released on 22nd of January 2012.
My father was killed in a shell attack on 2nd of January 2009 in Murasumottai (North of Sri Lanka). My elder brother was a sea tiger and was killed in 2003 in a sea battle between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Navy. I am not educated; I am jobless. I'm hurt and sad when I hear others passing bad remarks such as “Killers!” and “Murderers!”. I am unable to get married, because I need money to give as dowry to the bridegroom. Nobody gives me work, because I am an ex woman combatant”.
*Abi, 25, Single, North of Sri Lanka.
“I was working as a pre ~ school teacher in the Vanni district (North of Sri Lanka). I was forcefully recruited by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2008. I was trained in firearms. I got injured, and transferred to Mannar hospital by the Government security forces in 2009.
After the head injury, I am unable to move my left hand and leg. The neighbours treat me badly so as the relatives. “They often ask me “why are you still alive?”. I want to leave from this place and live with others who are physically challenged!”.
*Priya (25), North of Sri Lanka:~
“I had chest pain. So, my mother took me and left me with my maternal Uncle in Vanni to get local treatment for the illness. I was forcefully conscripted by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2008, while I was studying in Vanni district (North of Sri Lanka). I was trained in firearms for s short period. I was with the medical team of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. I surrendered in May 2009. I was released in January 2010.
I don't want to marry, because nobody wants to marry me, since I have been a combatant”. Tamil men think that women ex combatants are too dangerous to get married and difficult to handle”. I don't want to get married and get tortured. I am not ready to face yet another tragedy in my life. I like to stay single!”.
*Uma (22), North of Sri Lanka
“I was forcefully taken by the male combatants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2008 from my home. I was trained for a moth in handling weapons. I got injured in head and leg in February 2009. I was transferred to the hospital by the Government security forces.
Neighbours and relatives hurt me with the worst words in Tamil language such as “Bitch” and “Don't come in front of us”. I want to study further and find an employment. But, if I begin to go out, the neighbours and relatives will start to call me with so many “bad names”, therefore, I have decided to confine myself to a corner of the house”.
*Leela, Ex Commander of Women Tigers (49), North of Sri Lanka:~
"I have joined the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 1984 and fought till the last moment. I was a commander for the women tigers. We won many battles. I got injured numerous times, but continued to fight in the jungles as a single woman and a married woman without food and water. I have been a front line fighter for many years. My husband surrendered to the Government security forces, but no news about him yet. I have handed over the women fighters who were with me to the security forces and surrendered myself as well on 18th of May 2012, as the decades long war was coming to an end.
I thought several times about whether to live or kill myself. I have decided not to bite the cyanide capsule (which was around my neck) and commit suicide, because there is nobody to take care of my children.
Tamil people who were very proud, when we Tamil women broke the traditional barriers and joined a fighting force in early 1980s. But, sadly they are not willing to accept us (women ex combatants) into the same society!. I'm sad to see their endless behaviours and treatment towards us.
I get up very early to fetch water from the well before dawn. And, I go to the well again only in the night to fetch water and wash, because I don't want to see anybody. I neither go out nor send my children to play out. People don't think twice before they move their tongues with the worst words to hurt us.
I lead a life in a cow's shed now. "People asked me how much money and gold Jewelery did I bring along when I returned from the war zone?", We have fought for the Tamil community as a whole, but we are neither respected nor our service in not recognized”.
Women's Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Although Sri Lanka is currently in post war period, the process of reintegration is a difficult task. Because Tamils, an ethnic minority community of Sri Lanka is very conservative and traditional. Most family members of these women ex combatants are reluctant to take their daughters, daughters ~ in ~ law, sisters, sisters ~ in ~ laws, mothers and mothers ~ in ~ laws back into the family! The family members say “It will lead to security problems for the rest of the family, we feel ashamed if they come back”. It is also very difficult to find life partners for most of the unmarried women ex combatants.
Most of these women ex combatants are still traumatised. They are struggling to get back to normalcy. Some of them have young children. Majority of them are married and their husbands are either killed or disappeared or detained or being rehabilitated (if they were combatants). These women ex combatants were undergoing a yearlong government rehabilitation programme.
These ex women combatants are dumped and abandoned by the society. Social stigma continues to haunt them. The discrimination against these ex women combatants continues endlessly in many forms.
The Tamil community took the pride and praised decades ago, but now refuses to provide a helping hand to the women in need. Social acceptance is denied by people. Prospects for marriage continue to be problem for the single women. Education and employment too remain as hurdles for them.
They were frontline fighters for nearly 30 years. They stopped schooling and joined the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), took training to fight, fought, injured, survived, surrendered, rehabilitated and reintegrated into the society. Dignity and social stigma faced by these helpless women ex combatants are beyond acceptance. They fought for self determination, but now are isolated by the society.
They still fear for their lives; they are stamped; they are feared “Tamil Tiger” label would be stuck with them forever. The face tough time returning to civilian life with fewer prospects for education, employment and marriage due to the prevailing social stigma. They suffer silently. They are disgusted, dismayed and demoralized. They are sad and in pain, but they have dignity. They have no option, but to try and live despite the social stonewalling!!!. The society should be a source of strength. Society as a duty bearer has failed to protect the rights of the women ex combatants. The economic, social and cultural rights of these ex women combatants are violated by the society in a post war Sri Lanka. Right to livelihood, right to freedom, right to speech, right to education, and right to work for these women ex combatants are violated by the society in many ways. Every woman is an agent of change. It's the society's duty to make them WINNERS from VICTIMS.
*LTTE or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam ((Tamil Tigers as it is popularly known) have fought for nearly 30 for a separate state (North and East) in Sri Lanka. The war was officially brought to an end on 19th May 2009.
*Boosa Prison is where the LTTE suspects are detained
*Names have been changed to protect their identities.
(The above research has been conducted as part of the training by the Leadership Institute on Programme on Women's Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (PWESCR), and the research findings were presented at a training recently held in Nepal)