Into Public Space

The political struggle of the Eelam Tamils began even before the end of colonialism in 1948. Over the following decades, this struggle gradually unified the Eelam Tamils who were fragmented until then. There is no evidence that women took part in this struggle until after the 1970’s.

Another struggle took centre stage in the Tamil homeland during the 1960’s spearheaded by the Communist Party. This struggle against “untouchability” peaked in 1967 in what is known as the “October Revolution”. Obscured in the documentation of this revolt is one report involving a woman. In this incident a woman named Sellakili was apparently on the search warrant of the police for throwing a grenade[1]. Could she be the first armed militant Eelam Tamil woman in contemporary times?

Parallel to the struggle against “untouchability”, the impetus for an armed political struggle against the Sri Lankan government had been building up, throughout the 60’s. The introduction of the 1970 university entrance scheme which required higher performance from areas with higher educational facilities was the initial impetus for the Tamil youth, in particular the Jaffna youth to seriously consider armed struggle. These youths were the worst effected by this scheme. They formed the Tamil Students Union (TSU) in 1970. The aim of this body was armed militancy. The young Tamil women, even though they too were affected by this university entrance scheme, did not have any active role in this group that was espousing militant politics. This is an indication of the conservative Jaffna society that promoted education and work for the young women but maintained strict societal codes that otherwise kept them in the private space.

The TSU proved to be an important body mainly because many of the future male leaders of the various Tamil armed movements started their militant activities in this body. Two persons among them was Pon Sivakumaaran and Pirabaaharan. Pon Sivakumaaran acted without a formal group and in 1974 became the first militant to take his own life by biting the cyanide capsule to avoid being in the police custody. Two young women, Valli and Atputham, who were friends of Pon Sivakumaaran’s sister had joined him as assistants to his militant acts. These two women appears to be the first Eelam Tamil women to participate in the Tamil Eelam armed struggle for independence. Thus as early as 1973 the spirit of armed militancy had begun the process of crossing the gender boundary in Tamil Eelam.

With the dissolution of the TSU of the 1970, a new group of young men came together to form the Tamil Youth Union (TYU) in 1973 also with the intention of armed militancy. Pushparaaja a key player of this body had published its history in his memoirs in 2006[2]. Uma Maheswaran who was to later lead one of the five main armed groups was active in TYU but operated mostly from Colombo. TYU had many female members. Notable were Urmila, Pushparaaja’s sister Pushparaani, Kalyani and several others noted in Pushparaaja’s memoirs. Many in this group, including Pushparaja, were disillusioned that this group was coming under too much influence of the moderate leadership of the Tamil political party, TULF. They left the TULF to form the more militant Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TLO) in 1975. According to Pushparaaja and also Pushparaani who also published her own brief memoirs in 2012 women were active in the TLO, though there is no documentation suggesting that women in TLO handled arms.

Urmila, Sivakumaaran’s helpers, Pushparaani and several other women who were involved with TLO can be considered the pioneers of female participation in Eelam Tamil armed militancy. Although none of them is known to have used arms themselves. Within two years of its formation the TLO itself was disbanded due to arrests and exile of its members.

The early 80’s saw the solidification many Tamil armed groups including, Kuttimani’s group as Tamil Eelam Liberation Organizatio (TELO), the formation of Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) due to split in the Tamil Tigers and the formation of the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) due to split in the EROS. These are the five armed groups that dominated the Tamil political scene during the 80’s. During this phase, especially after the 1983 pogrom, young women began enlisting in all five groups in substantial numbers. Tamil Tigers was a late comer in enlisting women. Eventually their role in Tamil Tigers grew. Besides the July 1983 outrage which pushed many of the women into armed militancy, there were many other push factors, the ongoing and pervasive Sri Lankan military sexual violence was one of them.

The Tamil independence struggle, briefly outlined above, provided many types of catalyst for social reconstruction. The practice of caste system and the position of women in the society saw the most noticeable changes. The struggle provided different paths for the women to burst into the public sphere. Paths that would have been hard to walk in the absence of the atmosphere of an intense struggle. The women who came out in the public space fell into two broad categories: by far the largest section were those women who took part in the armed struggle of the various groups. The other group of women became disillusioned with the military focused struggle of the Tamil Tigers and became anti-war campaigners.

By the time the IPKF, the very large contingent of Indian military, landed in the Tamil homeland in 1987, the Tamil Tigers were dominating the scene after having virtually destroyed or absorbed the other groups. Women in the Tamil Tigers had already taken part in combat roles and this continued when the war started between the Tamil Tigers and the IPKF. Sexual violence by the IPKF became rampant in the Tamil homeland. These crimes by the IPKF became the strongest push factor for women to join the Tamil Tigers in even greater numbers. When the Indian military departed from the homeland the vacuum was seized by the Tamil Tigers and for the first time sufficient space became available for the state building project. Women too, who had already entered the public space, now had greater freedom to act in this public space. Women could do things that they could not do before and demonstrate their abilities in the public sphere. Drive against the practice of dowry giving through law as well as through theatre and the recruitment of large number of women into the police force gave the emerging de-facto state a strongly pro-woman character. In 1996, the Tamil Tigers were evicted from Jaffna by the Sri Lankan military. The Tamil Tigers now set up Kilinochchi as their administrative centre and continued the de-facto state building project amid constant military battles with the Sri Lankan military.

The women in this defacto-state: the Tamil Tiger women, civilians employed by the Tamil Tigers, and self employed women interacted closely in a manner that did not exist outside Vanni. Through this close interaction they managed to create a network to pick out the women who needed a helping hand. Be it in the spheres of economic assistance, domestic violence, child educational negligence or housing need, they were on the lookout. There were established channels and institutions to which they could turn in order to bring this to the attention of those who can help. Because of these available mechanisms, women did not hesitate to be watch-full and they did not turn their face the other way as women must do in most parts of the world. This culture more or less permeated the entire female population. That was the unique feminism – elimination of destitution through universal women’s action.

Sustaining this female culture was several Tamil Tiger institutions of health, welfare, banking-development, police, law and media. They all had more than fifty percent female representation. Some of them were run solely by women, both LTTE and civilian. The extensive and intensive women’s network in Vanni drew even the poorest of women in, bringing to them the awareness of the women’s work in the public domain. It encouraged women to enter the work force as self employed often in traditional areas such as small scale retailing, farming and sewing but also into small boat fishing, mechanics and driving. Though their ventures were small scale their participation in large numbers promised greater things to come.

[1] “இலங்கையில் சாதியமும் அதற்கெதிரான போராட்டங்களும்”, வெகுஜனன்-இராவணன், சவு த் விசன், தமிழ் நாடு, page 173

[2] “ஈழப்போராட்டத்தில் எனது சாட்சியம்”, சி. புஸ்பராஜா, அடையாளம் வெளியீடு, தமிழ்நாடு



There is no recorded statistics of women who were active in the armed struggle, except of those who were active in the Tamil Tiger movement.

The extent of women’s role in the Tamil Tiger movement can be gleaned from the official statistics of maaveerar, shown in Table-3, published by the Tamil Tigers in Auguts 2008 less than a year before they were destroyed . Table-2 is the summary of the Black Tiger statistics published by the Tamil Tigers. Table-1 summarises the data in Table-3 on a regional basis together with the distribution of Eelam Tamil population as per 1981 census.

This data reveals the follows points.

  1. Women represented 20-30% of the Tamil Tiger membership and this is proportionally represented in the maaveerar statistiscs as well as in the black tiger statistics.
  2. 5-10% of Eelam Tamil women were members of the Tamil Tiger movement.
  3. On a per capita basis Vanni districts have given the highest number to the struggle both among men and women. Given that this is where the Tamil Tigers fought its biggest battles this is not surprising.
  4. The male maaverar from the eastern districts is comparable to the Vanni districts. This is very impressive given that the Tamil Tigers hardly administered a region in Batti/Amp
  5. The low participation of women from the eastern regions is a surprise for many people. This may in fact be because the Tamil Tigers did not fully administer a region here.
  6. Every women who was a member, that is 5-10% of women, would have known another 10 or more women in her life who was not a member. When viewed in this manner it is possible to imagine the extent to which women came under the influence of the Tamil Tiger women.





This is a bibliography of all known published works by Eelam Tamil women who had carried arms during the armed struggle and the writings of Eelam Tamil women who had first-hand experience living and working with the Tamil women who were carrying arms[1]. A good collection of such past publications have been archived at the padippakam and noolaham archive sites. These are listed in eight different categories below.

1. Works by Tamil Tiger Women
There is a vast collection of publication by both the Tamil Tigers as well the Women’s Division of the Tamil Tigers that contains writings of the Tamil Tiger women. Some of which are:

1.1 “Suthanthira Paravaikal”,  Women’s Division of the Tamil Tigers. This is the foremost collection of publications that were issued regularly that contains mainly the writings of the Tamil Tiger women. Currently these issues appears to be unavailable
1.2 “Naatru”, Women Research Centre of the Tamil Tigers – a regular issue that also appears to be unavailable
1.3 “Veliccham”, Arts and Culture Division of the Tamil Tigers – a regular issue.
1.4 “Erimalai”, International branch of the Tamil Tigers – a regular issue.
1.5 “Vaanathiyin kavithaikal” – poetry collection, Vaanathy, Publication Division – Tamil Tigers, 1991
1.6 “Kasthooriyin Aakkankal” – writings, Kasthoori, Publication Division – Tamil Tigers, 1992
1.7 “Kaathoodu sollividu” – writings, Barathy, Publication Division – Women’s Division of the Tamil Tigers, 1993
1.8 “Eluthaatha un kavithai” – poetry collection by various women, Capt. Vaanathi Publication – Women’s Division of the Tamil Tigers, 2001
1.9 “Viluthaaki Veerumaaki” – history of 2nd Lt Malathy regiment, authours: A Kantha, S Puradchikaa and Malaimahal, 2nd Lt Malathy Regiment publication, 2003.
1.10 “Malaimakal kathaikal”- short story collection, Malaimakal, Capt. Vaanathi Publication – Women’s Division of the Tamil Tigers, 2004
1.11 “Meendum thulirkkum vasantham” – poetry collection, Ampuli, Capt. Vaanathi Publication – Women’s Division of the Tamil Tigers, 2004
1.12 “Vali” – short story collection, Capt Vaanathi publications – Tamil Tiger Women’s Division, 2005.

Another collection of poetry that has appeared in the various Tamil Tiger publications was re-published by a Women’s group, Oodaru, operating from among the diaspora Tamil women.
1.13 “Peyaridaatha nadchaththirankal”, poetry collection by various LTTE women, Oodaru-Vidiyal publication, 2011

1.14  “Pooraaliyin kaathali” – novella based on the pre-2009 period, Vettichchelvi, Cholan Padaippakam, Tamil Nadu, 2012

2. Adele Balasingam’s writings
Based of the qualification that this bibliography is of writings by Tamil women, Adele Balasingam will not qualify. However, she occupies a special place because her book on LTTE women remains to date the only authentic writing in English about LTTE women. This work, however, only describes the military achievements of the LTTE women.

2.1 “Women Fighters of Liberation Tigers”, Adele Balasingham, Tamil Tigers, 1993.

3. Work by women in other armed groups
No works by women in the other armed movements have been identified so far.

4. Women’s Research Circle (WRC) based in Jaffna University

4.1 “Sollaatha seithikal”, collection of poetry by many civilian anti-war women, 1986.
4.2 Rajani Thinaragam who was a key member of the Women’s Research Circle co-authored a book “Broken Palmyra” with three other male authors during the IPKF presence. In this work her name is not distinctly associated with any of the content.
4.3 Regular issues of “Pen” continues to this day by Surya Women’s Development Centre based in Colombo and Batticaloa. Surya Development Centre was closely associated with WRC until WRC became defunct during the late 1980’s following the assassination of Rajini Thinaragama allegedly by the Tamil Tigers.

5. 2009 experience

5.1 “Eelap poorin iruthi naatkal” – first-hand experience of end-war, Vettichchselvi, Cholan Padaippakam, Tamil Nadu, 2012.

5.2 “Oolikkaalam” – novel based on first-hand experience of end-war, Thamilkavi, Thamilini Publishers, Tamil Nadu, 2013.

5.3 “A fleeting moment in my ..” – first-hand experience of last years, N Malathy, Clarity Press, USA, 2012

5.4 “Enathu naatil oru thuli neeram” – the above in Tamil translation, Vidiyal Publishers, Tamil Nadu, 2013.

5.5 “Aaripoona Kaayankalin Vali” – first hand experience of Tamil Tiger women taken as POWs, Vetrichchelvi, Thavamani Pathippakam, 2016.

6. Post 2009 publications of much earlier experience

6. 1 “Tamil Tigress” – Author’s experience of less than one year (1987-88) membership in the Tamil Tiger movement, Niromi de Souyza, Allen & Unwin, 2011. Though touted as memoirs there is evidence that many of the sections in the book are fictitious,
6.2 “Ahaalam” – 1970’s experience of activism and torture,  Pushparanee,  Karuppu Pirathikal, 2013
6.3 “Oru Koor Vaalin Nilali” – Memoir of the ex-leader of the Women’s Section of the Political Wing of the LTTE, Thamilini, Kalachuvadu Pathippakam, 2016. Writing this memoir living in Colombo, Thamilini’s narrative twisted the truth according many others who were with her in many of the incidents she describes.

7. Post 2009 experience of LTTE women

7.1 “Kaanaamal poonavanin manaivi” – short story collection, Vettichchelvi, Cholan Padaippakam, 2012
7.2 “Ummath”- novel based only on post-2009 experience with Tamil Tiger women, Sarmila Seiyith, Kaalachuvadu publishers, 2013. Authour does not describe any experience with arms carrying women.

[1] A category of Tamil women based either in Colombo or in the Diaspora with very limited exposure to the arms carrying Tamil women have written articles/books about them. Some among them are: Radhika Coomarasamy, Darini Rajasingam-Senanayake, Nanthini Sornaraja, Ambika Satkunanathan and Nimmi Gowrinathan.