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Everyday Resistance

Raksha Vasudevan

8. Conclusion

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Before the war, we were all together. Now, we are widows with no security, and no one sees what we have to live through. But we go on…(Group interview 1, site 4, 04/04/12)

1Returning to Rina’s narrative, which was introduced at the beginning of this ePaper, it should now be easier to identify the dynamics of vulnerability, as well as the capacities for endurance and response which underlie this seemingly straightforward statement. The effects of the state’s behaviour, together with various gendered ideologies, which condition the experiences of FHHs like Rina should also now be more apparent.

2Based on field interviews with 65 FHHs in 10 villages and towns in northern Sri Lanka, this ePaper illustrates that these women face a range of common economic, physical and psycho-social vulnerabilities, differentiated by variables of ethnicity, religion and age. Financial survival was foremost amongst their concerns, but was closely tied to others, including ill health and personal (in)security. Psycho-social trauma and fear of an “unknown future” both exacerbated and were outcomes of these challenges.   

3In most cases, these difficulties were severely compounded by – and in some cases, the direct result of – the national government’s aim to consolidate control over the north. Under the guise of “reconstruction,” those at the helm of the Sri Lankan state have pursued a militarized, “Sinhalised” national security agenda, which has largely intensified the vulnerabilities faced by FHHs in the north.

4Although the Sri Lankan state is a key instrument of gendered oppression, the norms of “traditional” Tamil culture are equally culpable. One obvious example of this is in the societal censure brought to bear on FHHs who dare to step outside of the constrictive identities offered to them by Tamil culture: the virtuous “warrior woman” or the “powerless victim” of war and displacement. Whereas appropriate moral and social conduct of women and men was dictated by the LTTE during the years of conflict, Tamil patriarchal ideologies and recent state-led domination have now collided and fused, resulting in the imposition of new and varied forms of (attempted) control over, and marginalisation of, FHHs’ lives.

5However, a key finding of this research is that FHHs have responded to these vulnerabilities with an impressive diversity of strategies. These range from creating their own livelihood opportunities to accessing kinship and other “alternative” sources for both financial and non-financial support. A range of actions of everyday politics that contest and resist the asymmetrical power relations in which FHHs are embedded were also identified, as were several mechanisms that they used to “normalize” the highly adverse circumstances of their daily lives.  

6These findings suggest that, rather than being passive victims of socio-political manipulation and oppression, FHHs are highly vulnerable but active agents in their own lives. Though inevitably influenced by unequal power relations and gendered norms, through their response strategies, they also contest the narrow identities constructed for them and their simplistic portrayal as either victims or agents.

7The possibilities for future research on these topics are unfortunately all-too-plentiful: a similar study that focuses more on variables of class and caste in shaping vulnerabilities and response strategies of FHHs is needed. A more thorough examination of the gender narratives that are now being constructed for (and by) FHHs as the old discourses on “good womanhood” become less relevant is another possibility for further study. A comparison of the vulnerabilities, response strategies and constructed identities of FHHs in the north with those of FHHs in the east, which is more ethnically diverse and has been less affected by the conflict in recent times, could also provide valuable insights. A deeper analysis of how the Sri Lankan state’s actions result in fear and violence at the individual, household and community levels will be also be needed as processes of “Sinhalisation,” militarization and “reconstruction” do not show any signs of abating in the near future.


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