Women in Terrorism: Case of the LTTE, Tamara Herath, Sage Publications, Pp 242 (HB), £ 35
Written by a Criminal Justice Manager for a policing organisation in Central London, this book is a study of how three decades of ethno-nationalist war in Sri Lanka contributed to a major social change for Tamil women in Jaffna. An important component of this change has been the recruitment of women to the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) recognised globally as a terrorist group. This book is therefore about combatant women in the LTTE, an armed resistance group led by the late Vellupillai Prabhakaran that has been active in Sri Lanka since the early 1970s, pursuing the goal of an independent Tamil state named Tamil Eelam. During the height of its success, the LTTE controlled large parts of northern Sri Lanka, including the central northern province known as Vanni as well as parts of the eastern province.
The aim of the book according to the author is to gain and provide an insight, albeit a limited insight, into the lives of women who became combatants in the LTTE. Although the book gives an overview of the conflict, the focus remains as a contribution to the understanding of gender and conflict.
It discusses the historical influences in the social construction of female identity in Sri Lanka, particularly that of Tamil women in Jaffna. The author says that though Sri Lankans practised diversity and religious tolerance for many years, in the last three decades, their social position changed and a deeply embittered and divided ethno-centric split between the Sinhalese and the Tamil took place. The book describes the construction of a Sinhalese ideology that treats Sri Lanka as a Sinhalese-Buddhist state and views Tamil nationalism as a minority issue. Tamil nationalists argue that only war and the constitution of their own state can address Tamil political aspirations. The conflict was defined in terms of ethnic identity based on language and geography, and was intrinsically linked to territory.
Displacement affected a number of people, the majority of whom were from the Jaffna peninsula. Described as idampeyatha, this displacement began from the home where women were safe. The clash suggests that displacement was a key factor in the recruitment of women into the armed struggle, explaining the link between moving to a LTTE-controlled area, where the influence of nationalism was rife and their decision to join the LTTE voluntarily.
The aim of the book essentially, as the author claims, is to encourage women in Jaffna to take the mantel that has been given to them by the combatant women and move forward; to rebuild their lives knowing the sacrifices that were made and the battles that were won and lost.
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