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Everyday Resistance

Raksha Vasudevan

7. Key sources of variance between FHHs

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1The vulnerabilities and insecurities that FHHs perceived themselves as being exposed to, and their responses in the face of such risks, varied significantly across the 10 fieldwork sites. The strategies which they deployed depended to a large extent on the natural, physical, human, social, political and financial assets they had access to. As Brun states, “in situations of war and displacement, a diversity of different forms of capital gained before and during the war determines your position in […] power-geometries” (2005, 59).

2It should be noted that most of the households included in this research were at the “far end” of the vulnerability spectrum – most of those who had greater financial, social and/or political capital had already fled the conflict zone, either to other areas of the country or abroad. Some of these sources of variation have been already discussed in preceding chapters, but are worth highlighting again here.

3The history and strategic locations during the war (especially its last phase in 2009) of the fieldwork sites, constituted a significant source of variation in the vulnerabilities that women faced, and the ways in which they were able to respond to them. As discussed earlier,1 FHHs in the interior Vanni appeared to be more structurally vulnerable: the economy was weakest in these areas, with few jobs available. The lack of infrastructure in these areas, including good roads, public transportation, electricity and accessible drinking water, intensified the daily challenges that FHHs faced. Furthermore, many of these areas still had a significant and sometimes even increased military presence2 as compared to a few years ago. This contributed to a heightened atmosphere of fear, uncertainty and repression in these sites, whereas the number of army personnel in other places - such as larger towns - had been decreased. Residents of the interior Vanni were also forced into displacement the most number of times, and under the most adverse circumstances, often literally having to walk through the jungle and swim across rivers.3 As discussed in section 6.3.5 “Rumor-mongering”, such life events resulted in higher levels of trauma amongst these groups and undermined their abilities to respond to the multiple vulnerabilities they faced.

4A range of other demographic characteristics, especially the age and ethnicityof FHHs, also determined the specific vulnerabilities which they faced and their capacities to respond. A number of scholars (Thiruchandran 1999; Schrijvers 1999; Brun 2005) have demonstrated that especially in the case of Sri Lanka, constructs of gender, ethnicity, class and caste intersect and overlap to present distinct opportunities and connote different sets of power relations for specific groups of women.

  • 4  Marriage at ages as young as thirteen for girls were common in the east and north as a way to avoi (...)

5Both old and young FHHs4 faced severe but differing challenges: older ones were less able to work in physically demanding jobs such as seasonal farm labour, while the younger women often had not finished higher education and had very young children who required constant care, which limited their job opportunities.

  • 5  Another reason for the relatively higher standard of living of Muslim women is that the places in (...)
  • 6  Most of the Muslim FHHs interviewed were living in houses they rented from others. They were serio (...)

6Another key source of variation was the ethnicity/religion of FHHs: 66% of those interviewed were Christian Tamils, 12% were Hindu Tamils and 17% were Muslim. A marked difference between Muslim and Tamil FHHs was apparent: Ruwanpura and Humphries found that in the east of Sri Lanka, the relative poverty of Muslim FHHs was less severe than those of Tamil or Sinhala FHHs. Among non-widows, they suggest that Muslim women were more likely to have been divorced and given the opportunity to negotiate the terms of the divorce, whereas husbands of Tamil women were more likely to have been killed, disappeared or  to have “unceremoniously deserted” them (2004, 188). The same results were found in this research:5 Muslim FHHs were generally better off, having been displaced fewer times during the conflict, and with most now having some form of access to permanent housing6 and higher incomes on average than Tamil FHHs. The greatest challenges they faced were the rising costs of living, and the feeling that they were marginalized as the smallest minority group in the country:

Prices are rising here, but our incomes have been the same for past five years. The government has to do something, it is hard to live and to send our children to school when every single thing is so expensive. (Group interview 2, Site 7, 11/04/2012)

We are not getting any help as Muslims..they are biased against us. Since there is no Muslim minister from this area at the moment, no one in power is trying to help is. The government is only focused on resettling and providing houses for those in the Vanni. (Group 1, Site 6, 11/04/2012)

7These factors and others inter-link and overlap to give each woman a unique profile of vulnerability, as well as a portfolio of potential strategies to deploy in response. As Ruwanpura and Humphries insist:

the needs of a young widow with several dependent children whose husband has been killed in ethnic violence may be very different from the needs of a middle-aged widow with several children old enough to work whose husband died of natural causes after an industrious and provident life […] Moreover, families in these different circumstances may have different nonstate sources of support, help from kin and from the community. (2004, 187-88)

8Aside from these structural factors, a variety of individual motivations and relations also influenced the ways in which FHHs responded to the circumstances which confronted them. For example, the good relations that some participants had built with the military or government officials gave them significant advantages over other FHHs who did not or could not cultivate such relations. Although constricted to different degrees by gender, ethnic and class variables, the power of individual agency must not be disregarded and attempts to highlight variations in the responses of FHHs have been made throughout this ePaper.


1  See section 5.1 Economic vulnerabilities

2  See section 4.4.1 A new type of militarization and 5.3.1 Military presence above.

3  Fieldwork did not include the eastern part of northern Sri Lanka, specifically the Puthukkudiyiruppu or Maritimepattu divisions of the Mullaitivu district, where the last and most intense phase of the war was fought out in 2009. The vulnerabilities faced by FHHs in these areas are likely to be greater or at least equal to the challenges that FHHs in the interior Vanni face.

4  Marriage at ages as young as thirteen for girls were common in the east and north as a way to avoid their forced recruitment by the LTTE since married girls/women were generally not required to serve as cadres. As a result, it is not uncommon now to find eighteen-year old widows with several children, whose “husbands” were either killed during the fighting, or had disappeared.

5  Another reason for the relatively higher standard of living of Muslim women is that the places in which they lived, and which were visited during fieldwork, had been, on average, less affected by the conflict. It should be noted that the sample of Muslim women interviewed in this research is not representative of all Muslim women in the north. Other Muslim-majority areas in the interior were more severely affected by the conflict. However, due to time constraints, interviews could not be conducted in those areas.

6  Most of the Muslim FHHs interviewed were living in houses they rented from others. They were seriously concerned about the possibility of eviction should costs of living continue to rise, making it challenging or impossible for them to keep up with rent payments.  


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