Rape in Sri Lanka
Rape in Sri Lanka
The rights Tamil women fought for must not be lost
By Tasha Manoranjan
Women, traditionally responsible for taking care of their families, watched helplessly as Colombo’s final military advance in early 2009 forced their loved ones to become refugees. Tamil women struggled throughout the assault, which comprised a ground advance, aerial bombardment, heavy artillery shelling, and a government-imposed embargo that restricted food and medical supplies from entering the LTTE-controlled area. This genocidal assault, as well as the conflict as a whole, has had profound ramifications for the cultural and political roles of Tamil women in Sri Lanka, who have reacted in diverse and diametric ways to these dire circumstances.
Walking past an Army checkpoint towards her house, a woman snaps at the soldiers harassing her. These soldiers have taken any opportunity to verbally accost her since she filed an official complaint against police officers stealing her property. Neighbors and friends told Murugesapillai Koneswari, a Tamil mother of four, to simply forget about the police’s crimes and ignore the daily injustices. However, her actions had already aggravated the military forces in her village. On 17 May 1997, two months after she filed the complaint, police officers barged into her house in the middle of the night, and then proceeded to gang rape and kill her.
Koneswari’s story exemplifies the precarious position of Tamil women in Sri Lanka, who have been a particularly vulnerable population during the island’s half-century—long conflict. Between 2004 and 2007, I spent a year and a half in the territory formerly controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), documenting Sri Lanka’s human rights violations and growing familiar with Tamil stories of suffering. I discovered Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war had caused an erosion of societal norms that disparately impacted Tamil women. Some women had even assumed unconventional societal roles by joining the LTTE’s armed struggle for independence, and fiercely fought against the government. Women who abstained from taking up arms also remained under extreme pressure, as the government relentlessly attacked the LTTE de facto government and its populace in the northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka.