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Everyday Resistance

Raksha Vasudevan

4. Context: setting the stage

Texte intégral

4.1 The Sri Lankan Civil War and the current “post-conflict” environment

1Political domination of the state apparatus by the Sinhalese majority since independence from British colonial rule in 1948 have driven Tamil calls for self-rule. After independence, a number of changes instituted by the Colombo-based Sinhalese political elite benefited the majority (74%) Sinhalese population at the expense of the minority (19%) Tamil population: Sinhala was declared the island’s only official language, university admissions were reformed to make it more difficult for Tamils to compete, Buddhism (the religion of the majority of Sinhalese) was given special status in the country, and landless Sinhalese were resettled in traditionally Tamil areas (Weiss 2011; Rampton 2011).

  • 1  The LTTE was founded in 1976, and the civil war which pit it against government forces raged from (...)

2Failure to gain support for Tamil demands for political devolution - which were made both through the parliamentary system and non-violent protests - as well as widespread youth unemployment in Tamil areas, contributed to the emergence of various Tamil militant groups in the 1970s and 1980s.1 Violent anti-Tamil riots, most notably the “Black July” pogrom, in which up to 3,000 Tamil civilians were killed, and an additional 18,000 Tamil homes and 5,000 shops were destroyed, led to the outbreak of full-scale war in 1983 between the LTTE and government armed forces. The war, which endured for 26 years with several intermittent ceasefires, finally ended with the military crushing LTTE forces in May 2009. Although exact figures remain unknown, it has been estimated that 40,000 (mostly Tamil) civilians were killed during the 30-year conflict. The last and most intense phase of the conflict, which took place between August 2008 and May 2009, resulted in at least 7,000 deaths and 300,000 persons displaced (UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka 2011).

3The Northern Province, which makes up 13% of island’s surface (see Figure 1) and is home one million people, has been at the heart of a devastating three decades of conflict. Considered the country’s Tamil “homeland” with over 95% of its population of Tamil ethnicity, it saw the birth (and eventual fell under the control) of the LTTE. It was also the site of the last and most destructive phase of fighting in late 2008 and 2009.

Figure 2: Map of Sri Lanka

Figure 2: Map of Sri Lanka

Source: Nations Online Project. Accessible at​oneworld/​map/​google_map_sri_lanka.htm

  • 2  The UN considers there to be two major caseloads of displaced people in Sri Lanka: recently displa (...)
  • 3  United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), “Joint Humanitarian and E (...)
  • 4  See section 4.4.3 “Painting a new picture”
  • 5  Ibid.

4Following the end of the war, impressive progress has been made on certain elements of resettlement and reconstruction: the end of May 2012 saw 436,500 people return to the Northern Province, with only 6,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) remaining in IDP camps and an additional 7,300 “long-term” IDPs remaining in welfare centers.2,3 Major infrastructure projects have been undertaken and more are expected to get underway this year.4 Yet, despite government promises to devolve greater governance to provincial and local authorities, the area continues to be highly militarized, most decision-making power is still centralized in Colombo, freedom of expression is muffled, and efforts to “Sinhalise” the north are underway and have the support of the national government5.

5In many ways, the political emergency that gripped the Sri Lankan state during the almost 30-year civil war can be viewed as persisting today, with the balance of power favouring military actors over civil institutions and representatives. Characteristic of political emergencies, “the ‘rule of violence,’ threat and fear are superimposed upon political and social institutions” (Korf 2003, 131). As described in a recent report by the ICG, “two and a half years after the total military destruction of the LTTE, the government’s highest priority remains the total control of the state and the repression of any possible future military resistance. Any dissent or popular protest is viewed through a counter-insurgency lens and risks being considered terrorism” (2012b, 2). To connote this potential for violence that is still very present, the term “post-war” is preferred in this ePaper over “post-conflict”.

4.2 The missing “real” narratives of female heads of households in the north

6FHHs are not a new phenomenon in Sri Lanka, including in regions relatively untouched by the conflict. According to official statistics, women were heading 20% of households in Sri Lanka by 1990, not including the Northern and Eastern provinces which were the most affected by the war (Ruwanpura and Humphries 2004).

7Although not a new phenomenon, the voices of FHHs specifically, and women in general, have been excluded from the traditional narratives of grievances of the Sri Lankan Tamil community. Tamil politics has been largely dominated by men while women are usually encouraged to stay at home in order to protect their reputations (Stack-O'Connor 2007). However, “womanhood” has been used strategically in the Tamil nationalist project, portraying women as “mothers and caretakers of the nation” (Schrijvers 1999, 314) for whom stability and a “pure” Tamil culture must be preserved, through armed conflict if necessary (Brun 2005). Women themselves were recruited for this purpose, resulting in the famous female wing of the LTTE, which was was hailed as signifying women’s emancipation within the movement; however, several scholars (cf. Stack-O'Connor 2007; de Alwis 2002) have shown that the LTTE decided to include women in their ranks mostly for tactical reasons (e.g., women were less likely to be suspected of carrying ammunitions) and also to consolidate support within the Tamil community by portraying itself as “forward thinking” on issues related to women’s rights.

  • 6  Women featured prominently in the LTTE’s battles for a Tamil eelam (homeland): the female wing of (...)
  • 7  It is easy to mistake women’s roles in the LTTE as the actualization of ideals of gender equality (...)

8Two contrasting images of Tamil women emerged during the conflict; one of the female LTTE cadres as violent, masculinized soldiers and suicide bombers6, and the other of civilian women as helpless, impoverished victims of war and displacement (Schrijvers 1999). These identity constructions are rooted in the patriarchal structures of Tamil and Sri Lankan society – the latter construction more clearly so in the way that it conforms with traditional gendered ideas of women as passive and powerless, and the former less obviously, but in an equally constrictive manner7.

9By leaving space for only two narrow identities for Tamil women to occupy both during and following the conflict, the diversity of circumstances that FHHs face in northern Sri Lanka, as well as the plurality of response strategies which they have developed as a result are ignored. The multiple sources of oppression that women in northern Sri Lanka have dealt with for extended periods of time are concealed: the “newer” forms of repression which emerged during and following the conflict are inextricably interwoven with patriarchal Tamil and Sri Lankan cultures which have endured for centuries. Thus, the intensification or diminution of one form of oppression inevitably holds implications for the others. One example is given by Giles in discussing some of the benefits and drawbacks for women from the conflict in Sri Lanka:

While some younger war widows might openly acknowledge the relief they feel from the responsibilities of constricting marriages, the clutches of abusive husbands or tyrannical and exploitative in-laws, they still have to negotiate larger and similarly oppressive patriarchal, capitalistic, or militaristic structures as they confront government bureaucracies, work in the fields, or pass military checkpoints. (2003, 2-3)

10This ePaper focuses on an institution which is thought to be both a key source and manifestation of patriarchal domination: the Sri Lankan state. Its impacts on what is thought to be an especially vulnerable group (i.e., Tamil FHHs) are identified, while simultaneously deconstructing notions of members of this group as being either “masculinized warriors” or “powerless victims”.

4.3 Female heads of households – an especially vulnerable group?

11Before examining the impact of state measures upon FHHs, the objective reasons for which this group is believed to be vulnerable8 must be clarified. Globally, women-headed households are thought to be disadvantaged economically, based on the belief that women account for a disproportionate number of the poor worldwide, and that male-headed households usually have an economic advantage due to discrimination against women (both in terms of employment and earnings) in most labour markets9 (Chant 1997). Without the protection of “the stronger sex,” women and their dependents are also perceived as being more exposed to attack and sexual abuse.

  • 10  That is, as compared to the number of FHHs that would exist if male family members had died of nat (...)
  • 11  Across Sri Lanka, FHHs are not a new phenomenon, due to factors such as out-migration of men (both (...)
  • 12  IRIN news, "SRI LANKA: Battles ahead for women”, September 18, 2011b. (...)

12In the context of northern Sri Lanka, such perceptions are widespread within Tamil culture, which already stigmatizes lone women, especially widows (Thiruchandran 1999). These stereotypes have endured in spite of the fact that FHHs have been over-represented10 in the current and previous generations as a result of male family members being killed or having gone missing during the conflict11. The government and NGOs have estimated that approximately 40,000 “war widows” are currently living in the north12, with up to 30% of the populations of some villages consisting of women-headed households (Government of Sri Lanka, United Nations & Partners 2011, 35).

13The challenges which FHHs face can seem especially overwhelming in the post-war environment:

these women have not only been traumatised by the violence they have witnessed and the loss of their loved ones but they have to both financially and emotionally support and nurture similar traumatised and devastated offspring […] The majority of widowed household heads in this country face a constant battle for economic stability, privacy and physical safety and most importantly, for self worth and social dignity […] Female-headed households has not become a topic of national concern or debate in the same way that garment-factory workers or foreign domestic aides have become. This unconcern is probably due to the fact that the majority of these households are headed by Tamil and Muslim women rather than Sinhala women. (de Alwis 2002, 94)

  • 13  It is estimated that the latter phase of the war alone from August 2008 – May 2009 caused at least (...)

14These observations about Tamil FHHs are still relevant over 10 years later; however, now there is not only a new “cohort” of FHHs in the north13, but the challenges they face are thought to have evolved and intensified. Academics, human rights activists and NGOs appear to have converged on five reasons for the heightened level of vulnerabilities facing FHHs, many of which are produced or exacerbated by state efforts to secure its control over the north. These include the consolidation of military presence and power, a project of “Sinhalisation” of the north, an ongoing portrayal of the north as having recovered from the war, repression of free expression, and a lack of direct assistance to affected populations and obstruction of the work of NGOs and humanitarian agencies.

4.4 An overview of state-led “reconstruction” efforts

15As with most nation-states, security, for the Sri Lankan government, has been centred on “the notion of a secure boundary and territorial protection” (Wickramasinghe 2001, 21). However, since the emergence of Tamil militant secessionist movements in the 1970s, this nationalistic conception of security has been focused on controlling internal threats, rather than those emanating externally. Even after the end of the civil war in 2009, the government's main priority has been to control and eliminate such threats, with special attention paid to the north which is considered to be the home of Tamil culture, and the birthplace of most Tamil militant groups. An understanding of the measures undertaken in pursuit of the national security agenda – measures labelled as “reconstruction” of the north - is critical to appreciating the wider political economy affecting the vulnerabilities experienced by FHHs, as well as the opportunities available to them.  

4.4.1 A new type of militarization

16Despite the end of the war three years ago, the militarization of the north continues and in several ways, is even intensifying. According to Chenoy, militarization is “the process whereby military values, ideology and patterns of behavior [undergird] the structural, ideological and behavioral patterns of the state with a powerful impact on civil society” (2002, 4-5). Triggered by various elements, including a real or perceived threat to national security from a foreign or domestic source, and/or an undemocratically installed government’s wish to secure its grip on power, militarization is heralded by a disproportionately high allocation of national resources to defense requirements in comparison to social necessities such as medical services and education. Correspondingly, the military becomes a key source of state employment (Tambiah 2005).

  • 14  Jane's Information Group, “Defence budget (Sri Lanka), Defence budget”, May 13, 2012. http://artic (...)
  • 15  Pieris, Natasha, "Terrorists Out, Army In – Part 1”, IPS news, February 17, 2012. http://ipsnews.n (...)

17Sri Lanka’s defense budget for 2012 was USD 2.1 billion, representing a nearly 7% increase over 2011. Reasons cited for the increase in expenditure included the provision of support to the families of deceased “war heroes,” the refurbishment of existing bases and the creation of new cantonments and headquarters.14 Thus, although the number of military checkpoints have been reduced, especially along the main A9 highway, making it appear that the military is gradually decreasing its strength in the north, exactly the opposite is occurring: existing military infrastructure is being consolidated, and new camps are being set up. This seems to be especially true for the interior Vanni region (ICG 2012b, 17). It is estimated that 35,000 soldiers are still stationed in Jaffna alone, overseeing a population of 626,000 people – a proportion of one soldier to every 18 residents,15 with statistics for regions deeper in the interior difficult to access.

  • 16  The TNA was formed in 2001 from several moderate Tamil parties and former rebel groups. Although i (...)

18The separation between the military and the executive is relatively porous: a retired military general, G.A. Chandrasiri, has been appointed as the governor of the Northern Province. Even almost three years after the end of the war, the Province is yet to be given the opportunity to elect its own provincial council – the most important elected institution for each province under the Sri Lankan democratic system. Local government bodies, for which elections were held in 2010 (and were overwhelmingly won by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA)16 and its allies), cannot administer taxation, and have little say on issues such as development projects and land policy.

19Furthermore, even though a civilian administration structure under the governor does exist in the north, with district secretaries responsible for the day-to-day administration of each of the province’s five districts, it is widely acknowledged that real decision-making power lies in the hands of the central government in Colombo, and with the military (DeVotta 2011). Thus, the “peace” following the end of the war has yet to be democratically legitimized in the north in a truly meaningful way (Goodhand 2010).

  • 17  Based on ICG (2012b) and the researcher’s own observations during several journeys to the north.

20The intensification of military presence in the north has been accompanied by its growing participation in commercial ventures, including highway restaurants, trading posts, hotels and guesthouses, and increase in its acquisition/occupation of land for growing agricultural produce. In addition, the army usually provides labour for the construction of roads and other government-run infrastructure projects in the north. All of these actions either directly or indirectly compete with the livelihood activities of the local population. For example, some of the land on which the army has built permanent camps effectively block access to the sea for local fisherman (Fonseka and Raheem 2011), and the large, well-stocked highway restaurants run by the army appear to be more attractive to travellers than smaller, locally run shops.17

4.4.2 Entrenchment of Sinhalese-Buddhist dominance in the north

21Numerous scholars have argued that the political economy of the north is being largely determined by Colombo-based elites who have dominated the country’s political scene since independence (Oberst 1985; Spencer 1990). However, as Rampton and Welikala (2010) argue, elitism, patronage, centralisation of power and Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism have dovetailed in Sri Lanka to form the foundations of political legitimacy, side-lining traditional democratic ideals of transparency, accountability, and equal representation. Rather than being driven solely by a Columbo-based elite, the militarized political space of the north is also reflective of a wider sense of growing Sinhalese nationalism that is reproduced from various points of the Sri Lankan social field (Rampton 2011).

  • 18  An external sign of the government’s transition away from working within the “liberal peace” frame (...)

22Indeed, this hegemonic nationalism has enabled the Rajapaksa regime to consolidate its political power, through manipulating Sinhala-Buddhist nationalistic discourse to gain popular support for its actions (DeVotta 2007). This included abandoning the pursuit of a peace agreement with the LTTE in 2009 and instead opting for a military solution that crushed the LTTE, with no signs of a forthcoming political solution to this day.18 Victory in the presidential elections of 2010 and an overwhelming general election victory for the Rajapaksa regime are indicators of the strong Sinhala nationalist mindset that now permeates through both the country’s political elite and the majority of its population, providing an enabling environment for the government to consolidate its control over the north through various means.

  • 19  McDowell (2011) argues that renaming has been used by the Sri Lankan state as a form of ideologica (...)

23One of these means is in the national government’s apparent ambition to “Sinhalise” the region, which it seems to have started acting upon. The military itself is a key agent in achieving this aim (Yiftachel and Ghanem 2004): more than 98% of army personnel are Sinhala-Buddhist and their ongoing presence in the region alone – in addition to their political control over the region – has, and will continue to have, significant consequences for Tamil civil and political rights. Reports of the government and military providing various financial and other incentives for Sinhala families to re-settle in the north have also been surfacing with increasing frequency (ICG 2012a; DeVotta 2011). Moreover, LTTE cemeteries and monuments have been destroyed in the north, old Tamil villages and roads have been renamed in Sinhala,19 and Buddhist monuments and shrines are being built in areas where no Sinhalese live – possibly foreshadowing a further future Sinhalese influx This has prompted accusations against the government of Sinhalese “colonisation” of the north, similar to the Mahaweli scheme of the 1970s and 1980s in which over a million farmers (mostly Sinhalese) were given land in the island’s central and northeastern regions, exacerbating tensions with Tamils who saw those areas as part of their traditional homelands (Yiftachel and Ghanem 2004).

24Most activists agree that while the Sinhalese have a right to live in the north, they adamantly oppose the government-sponsored Sinhalese settlement in the north (ICG 2012b). They argue that if this happens on a large enough scale, the demographic composition of the region would damage the sense of collective identity and political goals shared by Tamils in the north – an outcome that many accuse the government of deliberately pursuing.

4.4.3 “Painting a new picture”

25The government is also pursuing the strategy it has already rolled out in the east (named the “Eastern Re-awakening”), whereby economic development, rather than the resolution of underlying political grievances which motivated the conflict, is posited as the key to lasting peace and security (Goodhand 2010). Within this framework, the government is actively nurturing the image of the north as well on its way to full post-war recovery. Indeed, in the “Northern Province Development” plan for 2011, the government stated that:

After successful defeat of the terrorism in May 2009, special emphasis was placed to mobilize required foreign financing resources for development projects, including rehabilitation and restoration activities in the North. Accordingly the Government has accorded very high priority to rebuild required infrastructure including access roads, electricity, drinking and irrigation water, market facilities, public parks, sewerage and waste disposal systems to boost economic opportunities in the conflict affected areas. Therefore, foreign financing has been secured for infrastructure development that would provide connectivity and service delivery to lagging regions and by supporting nationally important projects that will be of strategic important [sic] in maintaining high level of growth in the long run.20

  • 21  Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, “Three years of success in post war Sri Lanka”, May 24, (...)
  • 22  Central Bank of Sri Lanka, “Recent Economic Developments: Highlights of 2011 and Prospects for 201 (...)
  • 23  Lanka Business Online, “Peace Dividend”, July 12, 2011. (...)

26Reconstruction of major roads and railway lines, the northern power grid, and certain ports and airports are now well underway.21 In addition to rebuilding critical infrastructure that had been neglected or destroyed during the war, private sector investment from both domestic and foreign investors is expected to increasingly flow into the north and east as businesses seek to tap into markets and real estate previously difficult or unprofitable to access on account of the war (Economist Intelligence Unit Nov. 2010, quoted in ACTED 2011). Furthermore, the lifting of war-time restrictions such as those on trade and workers’ mobility between the north and other parts of the country, as well as the liberation of land formerly occupied by the military or LTTE, has helped to boost the agricultural, fishery and telecom sectors in the north. Production in these sectors is expected to grow, as is consumer demand and expenditure in the Northern Province.22 The government recently claimed that the north had achieved a 22% growth rate in 2010.23

  • 24  IRIN news, “SRI LANKA: Graduates in north demand government jobs”, May 13, 2011. http://www.irinne (...)

27While it appears that these developments are beneficial to the population of the north – and many of them likely will be, either now or in the longer-term – looking only at these macro-level developments yields an incomplete picture of the population’s well-being and its prospects for the future. For example, a significant amount of this reported growth is likely due to increased trade and business generated by the military in the north, and thus does not truly benefit local Tamils. Indeed, political patronage networks are thought to play a significant role in determining the allocation of both government and private sector contracts, which has led to complaints that jobs and contracts are awarded to workers from the south, rather than to the local population.24

28Significant, urgent needs in the areas of food security, housing and protection, especially for recently returned IDPs, also still remain unmet while longer-term “reconstruction” projects are undertaken.25 In a recent study carried out in several areas of the interior Vanni, over 89% of respondents did not have any source of regular income (ACTED 2011). Another assessment carried out on behalf of the government and the World Food Programme (WFP) found that more than 60% of households in the Northern Province faced food insecurity (Petersson, et al. 2011).

  • 26  Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, Sri Lanka today is one of the most secure and stable c (...)

29At the very least, most independent researchers, NGOs and international organizations working in the north would not agree with the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development’s recent statement that “post war development in Sri Lanka is amazing and there is virtually no trace that Sri Lanka had fought a 30-year-old war.”26 On the contrary, and as Goodhand observed about eastern Sri Lanka following the end of the war, it can be said that in the north “there is a big gap between government promises of demilitarisation, democratisation, development and devolution and the everyday experience of communities” (2010, S351).

30It appears that by disseminating the idea that the north and its residents are now prospering, the Sri Lankan state is trying to gain more political space to consolidate its control over the north. A source who spoke under the condition of anonymity shared that the government had been opposed to the UN working with local NGOs in developing the Joint Plan of Assistance (JPA) for the Northern Province27 specifically because the state did not want “the outside world” to know about the severity of the humanitarian situation in that region. However, a perverse outcome of this strategy is waning donor interest in the north, with the World Bank now describing Sri Lanka as a "middle income country at peace."28 As of July 2012, the 2012 JPA remained under-funded by 17.5% of the total request of US$ 147 million, resulting in most UN agencies and international NGOs being forced to scale back their operations or to plan to do so in the near future, despite widespread acknowledgement amongst these actors that huge needs remain unmet in the north.29

4.4.4 Repression of freedom of expression

31Together with the attempt to re-configure the image of the north as a region of prosperity and one “newly” free from major problems, it should be noted that the situation with regard to freedom of expression in the country, and especially in the north, continues to deteriorate. Reporters without Borders recently declared that out of the world’s democratically-elected governments, the current Sri Lankan administration is the least respectful of press freedom.30 Freedom House, a US-based research and advocacy group, has deemed that actions against press freedom in the country have resulted in a state where “a shrinking number of privately owned newspapers and broadcasters continue to scrutinize government policies and provide diverse views, but most do not engage in overt criticism or investigative reporting.”31

  • 32  For a more detailed account of the obstacles faced by journalists who tried to report during the l (...)

32Similar to local advocacy groups, journalists working in the country face intimidation from both government and paramilitary forces (the latter generally protected by the military), especially in their coverage of corruption, human rights violations, or any other topic seen as either portraying the government in a negative light and/or empathetic to Tamil interests. Officials at the most senior levels of government, including the Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (also the President’s brother), have been implicated in the numerous physical attacks, disappearances and threats against both Sinhalese and Tamil journalists – almost all of which have gone unpunished. Furthermore, not only were both local and international journalists restricted in their coverage of the civil war in the north,32 they are still not allowed to access certain parts of the Northern Province. Most recently, smear campaigns and threats against journalists and human rights activists have escalated following the release of the Channel 4 documentaries accusing the Sri Lankan armed forces of committing war crimes, as well as the passing of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution in March 2012, which called for the government to implement the recommendations of its own National Reconciliation Commission.

33The freedom to exchange information is also being inhibited in other ways: residents of the most heavily militarized areas of the north report feeling heavily surveyed by the army and potential “informers” within the community, and required to inform the military beforehand of any sort of communal or group gathering (ICG 2012b; author’s personal observations during fieldwork). Civil society groups have reported receiving threats and being the targets of intimidation by paramilitary groups and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Sri Lanka Police Service, responsible for investigating matters related to “national security.” Ultimately, as Goodhand (2010) concludes, criminal and political violence in northern Sri Lanka overlap, with the government implicated in both. A prime example of this is Public Affairs Minister Mervyn Silva’s recent threat to “break the limbs” of the “traitors” (i.e., local journalists and human rights activists) who supported the UNHRC initiative.  

4.4.5 Restrictions on the work of NGOs

  • 33  Established in 2009 following the end of the war under the chairmanship of Basil Rajapaksa, one of (...)

34As already discussed, there have been criticisms levelled at the government on account of the fact that the direct assistance it has provided to war-affected populations in the north has been relatively limited, especially when this is compared to assistance received by the families of army “heroes” who died during the war, and also when compared to the increasing amounts spent on the defense budget and longer-term infrastructure projects. Furthermore, through the Presidential Task Force for Resettlement, Development and Security in the Northern Province (PTF)33, the body that coordinates and approves all NGO programs in the north, severe limitations have been placed on the types of assistance that can be delivered. Specifically, the “thoroughness” of needs assessments have been curtailed, and programs designed to provide any kind of psycho-social counselling, human rights awareness, or training on social mobilisation are usually prohibited (ICG 2012b; Satkunanathan 2012b). CID intimidation of human rights organizations working in the north has also been reported, and the government has long denied visas to aid workers who have criticized the government’s assistance policies towards its own population (Weiss 2011).

35From this chapter, a picture of some of the key dynamics that shape the political economy within which FHHs are currently situated begins to emerge. These include the entrenchment and extension of the army into various spheres of public and private life, various “Sinhalisation” efforts, the portrayal to the outside world of the north as a flourishing region, the systematic violations of the right to freedom of expression, the failure to deliver urgently-needed assistance and obstructions to the work of other development actors. It is against this backdrop that the research objectives of this ePaper are placed and will be addressed.


1  The LTTE was founded in 1976, and the civil war which pit it against government forces raged from 1983 to 2009, with several ceasefire periods during this length of time. However, several other Tamil militant separatist movements also formed during the late 1970s, with the LTTE emerging as the most powerful.

2  The UN considers there to be two major caseloads of displaced people in Sri Lanka: recently displaced or “new” IDPs, representing the caseload of persons that have been displaced after April 2008, and the “old” or protracted caseload, which refers to persons displaced prior to April 2008. The figure giving the number of people who returned to their places of origin (436,500) includes both categories of IDPs.

3  United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), “Joint Humanitarian and Early Recovery Update”. Humanitarian Portal - Sri Lanka. May 2012. (accessed July 3, 2012).

4  See section 4.4.3 “Painting a new picture”

5  Ibid.

6  Women featured prominently in the LTTE’s battles for a Tamil eelam (homeland): the female wing of the LTTE – Suthanthirap Paravaikal (Birds of Freedom) – is now infamous, as was the LTTE’s use of female suicide bombers for high-profile targets, including Rajiv Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India.

7  It is easy to mistake women’s roles in the LTTE as the actualization of ideals of gender equality or women’s empowerment – indeed, the LTTE did its best to portray women’s participation as precisely that. However, as several scholars have shown (cf. de Mel 2003) – the LTTE was a highly patriarchal structure which strictly controlled the roles of women and their interaction with men. For example, sexual chastity was mandatory for female fighters and any suggestion that women did not guard this strictly was punishable, sometimes by death (de Mel 2003). Women within the LTTE were forced to live up to an image of a “masculinized virgin warrior” (de Alwis 2002, 95), thereby perhaps challenging gender norms that were in place before the LTTE, but nevertheless propagating oppressive ideals of women’s “proper” conduct. Such gender constructions served the purposes of the LTTE’s nationalist projects: “Tamil liberation” was manifested in young women fighting as militants, while the armed forces and national government were simultaneously vilified through highlighting the struggles of civilian women affected by the conflict.

8  See section 2.3 Defining "vulnerability” and its responses.

9  For a case study which challenges these common beliefs, see Chant’s examination of women-headed households in Latin America (1997).

10  That is, as compared to the number of FHHs that would exist if male family members had died of natural causes.

11  Across Sri Lanka, FHHs are not a new phenomenon, due to factors such as out-migration of men (both to other regions within the country and overseas) for economic opportunities, rising gap between male and female life expectancy, and desertion. In the north especially, since the beginning of the war 30 years ago, men between the ages of 14 and 40 have been recruited into fighting, gone missing, or voluntarily left to avoid LTTE recruitment, leaving the women to cope on their own (Thiruchandran 1999).

12  IRIN news, "SRI LANKA: Battles ahead for women”, September 18, 2011b. (accessed June 7, 2012).

13  It is estimated that the latter phase of the war alone from August 2008 – May 2009 caused at least 7,000 civilian casualties (UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka 2011).

14  Jane's Information Group, “Defence budget (Sri Lanka), Defence budget”, May 13, 2012. (accessed May 19, 2012).

15  Pieris, Natasha, "Terrorists Out, Army In – Part 1”, IPS news, February 17, 2012. (accessed February 19, 2012).

16  The TNA was formed in 2001 from several moderate Tamil parties and former rebel groups. Although in the beginning, it had demanded an independent Tamil state, it declared in 2010 that it would settle for some level of regional autonomy. It won 2.9% of the votes in the 2010 elections and 14 out of 225 seats in the Parliament.

17  Based on ICG (2012b) and the researcher’s own observations during several journeys to the north.

18  An external sign of the government’s transition away from working within the “liberal peace” framework is the strengthening of its ties with non-traditional donors such as China, Pakistan, India, Iran and South Korea (Goodhand, Stabilising a victor’s peace? Humanitarian action and reconstruction in eastern Sri Lanka 2010) – all regimes well-known for oppressing opposition within their own borders. This assistance has included not only economic assistance, but also military and diplomatic support.

19  McDowell (2011) argues that renaming has been used by the Sri Lankan state as a form of ideological warfare, in an attempt to erode collective identity within its Tamil population and subliminally alter what they view as “sacred.”

20 GOSL, “Northern Province Development”, 2011. (accessed June 15, 2012).

21  Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, “Three years of success in post war Sri Lanka”, May 24, 2012. (accessed May 29, 2012).

22  Central Bank of Sri Lanka, “Recent Economic Developments: Highlights of 2011 and Prospects for 2012”, (accessed July 3, 2012).

23  Lanka Business Online, “Peace Dividend”, July 12, 2011. (accessed July 3, 2012).

24  IRIN news, “SRI LANKA: Graduates in north demand government jobs”, May 13, 2011. (accessed July 3, 2012).

25  IRIN news, “SRI LANKA: Indian boost for IDP housing”, March 15, 2012. (accessed June 9, 2012a).

26  Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, Sri Lanka today is one of the most secure and stable countries in the entire world-Secretary Defence”, November 25, 2011. (accessed July 3, 2012).

27  Updated on an annual basis, the JPA is the common framework adopted by the GOSL, aid agencies and the UN in delivering both immediate and longer-term assistance in the Northern Province. It is also used by these actors as a basis for making funding appeals to donors, coordinating actions, and evaluating progress made during the year.

28  The World Bank, “Sri Lanka”,  (accessed July 12, 2012).

29  IRIN news, “SRI LANKA: Donor interest in north waning”, July 6, 2012. (accessed July 12, 2012).

30  Reporters without Borders, “World Report: Sri Lanka”, 2012.,79.html (accessed May 19, 2012).

31  Freedom House, “Freedom of the Press: Sri Lanka”, 2011. (accessed May 19, 2012).

32  For a more detailed account of the obstacles faced by journalists who tried to report during the last phase of the war, see “The Cage: The fight for Sri Lanka and the Last Days of the Tamil Tigers” by Gordon Weiss (2011).

33  Established in 2009 following the end of the war under the chairmanship of Basil Rajapaksa, one of the president’s brothers and now the minister of economic development, the PTF is made up of senior officials of the central government, heads of police, and military leaders. All members are Sinhalese.

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 2: Map of Sri Lanka
Crédits Source: Nations Online Project. Accessible at​oneworld/​map/​google_map_sri_lanka.htm
Fichier image/jpeg, 240k


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