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penalty to deal with the increasing incidence of

e published the first issue of
OPTIONS for 2004 in the wake violence and murder in the country. We believe
of the interim report of the however that capital punishment is but merely
Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral a palliative that fails to deal with the root causes
Reform, with disappointment and frustration of violence and will only make a critical situation
because yet again politicians failed to propose worse.
any legally binding measures to enable an
increased representation of women at the level The year 2004 also ends with a flurry of
of Parliament, provincial or local government. activity, by international mediators and
The second issue of OPTIONS was published facilitators, that seek to re-commence the stalled
amidst a raging tirade in the press against the peace talks. Both the enabling of women’s rights
proposed Women’s Rights Bill by religious and the need to redress historic disadvantage that
fundamentalists who homed in on the provisions has prevented women’s right to representation
that sought to ensure women’s right to control at the highest levels of political decision making
their reproductive health. are crucial elements in Sri Lanka’s peace process.
As with women’s tireless work during the years
However the year 2004 comes to an end with of armed conflict to ensure the survival of their
two hopefully positive developments for women. families and communities and to call for an end
In November, the cabinet approved in principle, to hostilities, women’s work continues to uphold
the need to ensure that at least one third of the the peace process by their perseverance in
representatives at local government would be returning to their abandoned homes and
women. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs has attempting to rebuild their lives and their
been tasked to work out a formula that will communities. However women continue to be
enable this. The National Committee on Women marginalized from most decision making
has concluded the drafting of the Women’s processes – the resettlement of the displaced; the
Rights Bill making sure that Sri Lanka will stand return of refugees; the generation of income
by its obligations to women guaranteed under earning opportunities; the rebuilding of
the International Bill of Rights and the infrastructure; the settlement of land; the
Convention for the Elimination of All Forms allocation of compensation; the establishment
of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). of secure environments, and so on. There are
An autonomous National Commission on still no creative mechanisms that actively engage
Women, with wide ranging powers will ensure women or attempt to give them a critical voice
the implementation and monitoring of the in decision making processes. While some policy
Women’s Rights Act. The current draft has is determined with the inclusion of women, the
incorporated the thinking of both the addressing of gender concerns is often under
government and the opposition and has benefited resourced or ignored. And most importantly
by extensive discussion, debate and engagement women, whether in government or in the LTTE
from within the women’s movement. We hope are almost totally absent from political decision
fervently that the Sri Lankan Women’s Charter making processes.
will finally gain the teeth and muscle it needs to
This is the reason why OPTIONS wishes to
effectively guarantee the rights of women it
enter the new year with renewed hope that both
promised to uphold eleven long years ago.
the rights of women and the right of women to
Ironically while the self appointed guardians equitable representation at all decision making
of female sexuality and morals sees a murderous levels will be realized at least incrementally in
abortionist lurking within every woman, the 2005. •
state slipped in the enforcement of the death Kumudini Samuel

2004 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 1

women) are weak, in need of protection and not
Sunila Abeysekera to be trusted with responsibility. Everyone
knows that it is the women of this country who
believe firmly in Buddhist precepts who voted

n the last few weeks several incidents took for the Buddhist monks on the Jathika Hela
place that reveal the various ideologies Urumaya list into Parliament and who form their
and ideas that prevail about women in largest constituency. This is why it is a puzzle to
Sri Lanka today. me as to why the Jathika Hela Urumaya decided
The Jathika Hela Urumaya (National Hela1 to denigrate and humiliate their greatest
Heritage) had drafted a Bill against Forcible supporters in this way. One of the most positive
Conversion which they wanted to table in elements of our Constitution is its commitment
Parliament. According to these gentlemen, to the principles of equality and non-
women are a species, along with minors, the discrimination. Those ideologues of the Jathika
mentally or physically disabled, the displaced Hela Urumaya who thought they could tamper
and prisoners, who do not have the capacity to with the rights that have been guaranteed to
form an opinion of their own. When we saw women by our Constitution and by international
the text of this draft Bill, I was immediately law and custom have exposed their misogynist,
reminded of the world in the 18th century, when capitalist and authoritarian nature not only to
many laws discriminated against women the people of this country but also to the people
considering them to be the equal and equivalent of the entire world.
of minors and the insane. The Bill proposed that The second incident that took place is also
the penalty for forcibly converting a ‘normal’ one concerning another piece of draft legislation
man would be a fine of Rs. 150,000 and a five- that has been put before the people of Sri Lanka.
year prison sentence. If the person forcibly This is the proposed Women’s Rights Bill.
converted was a woman, or any one of the other Although there has been a debate regarding the
classified categories, the penalty would be a fine contents of this draft Bill in the English language
of Rs. 500,00 and a prison term of seven years. newspapers, we have not seen a similar debate
What are the assumptions that underlie the taking place in the Sinhala or Tamil press. Why
articulation of such a difference? One is that in this is so is another topic entirely. In the English
our society, it is only ‘normal’ men who can lay press, several writers took cover behind the draft
claim to critical and decision-making roles. The to regurgitate centuries old ideas and arguments
other is that the classified categories (such as against contraception and abortion. Some

2 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 2004

articles that questioned women’s right to take their families, who waste the hard-earned money
independent decisions regarding their sent by their wives and who think nothing of
reproductive and sexual lives used anti-woman subjecting their daughters and sisters to sexual
rhetoric that tried to take us back into the abuse and violence to be relieved of their
misogyny of the Dark Ages. responsibilities with such ease.
Along with this was a report of a meeting at So what shall we describe as the challenge
which the Minister of Labour had commented before us in this context? We must focus on
on the problems arising for families and promoting the idea that the Sri Lankan woman
especially children, because of the fact that is an intelligent and rational being who is fully
mothers were going away to work and proposing capable of making decisions regarding her own
that the solution for these problems was to life as well as the lives and future of her family,
prohibit women from migrating for work. No her community and the society in which she
matter how many times we have tried to draw lives. As we do this, we should strengthen
public attention to the fact that it is the husbands ourselves to withstand the words of denigration
and other family members of these women who that are sure to come our way. Can we go against
should be held responsible and accountable for the tide, living as we do in a world with a rapidly
the well-being of the children, all we hear in deteriorating economy, an unstable political
return is this kind of nonsense. We look to the scenario and the growing power of archaic and
Ministry of Labour to protect and advance obsolete ideologies in our culture and in the
workers’ rights. Yet when we hear such things world of the arts? This is the challenge that lies
from its highest quarters we wonder why it is before us. •
always the case that every responsibility for the
family is thrust on women while their
contribution to the national economy is ignored. Endnotes
And we wonder why society as a whole is so 1
The traditional name for the Sinhala people
willing to let the men who neglect the needs of

2004 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 3

Acting Asian :
Contradictions in a Globalising World
Creating the South Asian Woman : A Perspective
from Sri Lanka
Presentation made at the Asia Leadership Fellow Public Symposium,
Tokyo, October 2004.

Sepali Kottegoda and October brought home to me how closely

linked many of the countries in the region are
through the religion of Buddhism. Bhutan and
Sri Lanka are two countries where Buddhism is
Introduction a key religion. For example, Sri Lanka received
Buddhism from India; there is legend that
Gautam Buddha himself visited Sri Lanka on at

hen the topic for this symposium least three occasions and these places are now
was first discussed among us sacred places of worship. Buddhism is recorded
Fellows, the main question that to have reached Japan via Korea and China.
came up was whether there is something called Indonesia has archeological evidence of them
an ‘Asian’ identity. After all, the programme that extensive spread of Buddhism while Indo-China
we are all here for is called the Asia Leadership continue to place Buddhism as a key religion.
Fellow programme which in itself frames us, Islam, which is the main religion in Indonesia is
from seven different countries, as having one shared by most of our countries. Christianity
identity; being Asian. Obviously, there has been came to this region through first the Portuguese,
a recognition that ‘being Asian’ is the key to our then the Dutch and the British when western
selection as opposed to being from any other colonisation of Asia was at its heights in the last
part of the world. Firstly, then, we are from a few centuries.
geographical area called Asia which stretches
from Sri Lanka, Bhutan (South Asia), Vietnam, Hence, our histories have for the most part
Phillipines and Indonesia (South East Asia) to been enriched as a result of the impact of cultural
Japan, China (East Asia) and, of course includes exchanges, expansion of trade between our
all the Arab countries (West Asia). countries, of the arrival of colonisers or the
occupiers’ dominance/control. Some of our
Religion as a Common countries have attempted at different periods of
time to ward off occupation by closing our
Identity borders to outsiders. Through our field visits in
Japan, we learned that like many of our
But what is it that we are all supposed to share countries, Japan too has minorities, as for
in the eyes of the world that would bind us example, the Ainu. Today, however, we are
together and enable us to strengthen our ties with undeniably a part of a global economy; our
each other and recognise that there is an ‘asian- markets have been or are being ‘opened up’ to
ness’ that is integral to our identity? In terms of world trade, we measure our earnings in terms
religion, we are Buddhists (Shinto/Theravada/ of US$ and we scrutinise our population in terms
Mahayana/Vajirayana), Christians and Muslims; of assessing the labour force capacity to carry
we cover most of the main religions in the world. out a range of programmes aimed at ‘developing’
My visits to shrines and museums while in our countries. We focus on certain economic
Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima over September projects depending on the availability of
4 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 2004
particular types of labour, in terms of gender, 21 years of age to vote. The free education system
age or ethnicity. We accept the concept of and the medium of instruction in Sinhala or
‘development’ defined by the West. Tamil with English being taught as a second
language, enabled all children in the country,
Sri Lanka in South Asia male or female, access to education from primary
to university level. The foundations for an
It is the last mentioned area in which I would educated labour force required for economic
like to place my exploration into this topic. I development was set in place. In the years
would like to examine the construction of the immediately before and following independence
‘Asian woman’ in the implementation of in 1948, there was a keen interest in identifying
particular economic development programmes our ‘traditional’ culture, as can be seen in some
which are challenging the very notions of ‘asian- of the theatre performances and novels of the
ness’ of social relations of gender in the times.2 However, the overriding concern was to
Sri Lankan context. To place Sri Lanka in the steer the country towards a path of development
‘Asian’ context, I will briefly sum up its ethnic that would ensure its economic growth.
and political history as follows: the country has
a population of 19 million of which 51% is Women as Industrial
estimated to be female. Its population is multi-
ethnic and multi religious; 74% are Sinhalese Workers
(Theravada Buddhist or Christian), 18 % Tamil
(Hindu or Christian) and 9% Moors/Malays Clearly, Sri Lanka had set its course on
(Islamic). Over a period of half a millennium, modernisation. Perhaps the most rapid changes
the country has seen colonization, first of the in the socio-economic arena could be located in
coastal areas by the Portuguese (16th century), the past three decades with the introduction of
the Dutch (17th Century) and then of the whole Structural Adjustment Policies in 1977. Women
country by the British (18th Century to mid 20th had hitherto been the mainstay of the plantation
Century). Sri Lanka gained political sector where thousands of Tamils brought over
independence from Britain in 1948. from India by the British colonisers as near
indentured labour were placed. Sinhala and non-
Hence, already, our history is closely linked Plantation Tamil women worked primarily as
to many of the other countries in Asia in terms unpaid family labour in the agricultural sector.
of the experience of colonization by other It is with the ‘opening up’ of the economy and
powers. The continuous period of colonization the setting up of Free Trade Zones (Export
left its mark in terms of the introduction of Promotion Zones) that the importance placed
western religions, forms of attire, the inclusion on the ‘asian-ness’ of women for mainstream
of words into the Sinhala and Tamil languages economic development became most clear. We
and the introduction of certain types of food into can recall that already in the 1970s South Korea
our diet. The British introduced the Westminster and Taiwan were among the first Asian countries
form of governance to the country in the early which introduced this form of production using
20th century, which resulted in life style changes female labour between the ages of 18 and 30.
of the middle class initially and as noted by The ‘docile’ nature of young Asian women, their
Jayawardena and de Alwis (2001). ‘…the middle ‘nimble fingers’ were as highly valued as the
class women continued to shock the orthodox. They commodities they produced in hundreds of
not only went in for higher education but also rode garment manufacturing factories and electronic
bicycles, drove cars, traveled abroad, wrote novels, industries in the East Asian region. As the cost
socialized with men, gambled at the races, and wore of production began to rise in these countries,
the latest western fashions and set the pace for other investors sought cheaper sources of labour.
aspiring ‘new women’. 1 Sri Lanka was identified as an ideal location with
a relatively well educated female labour force
Despite, some opposition by male legislators, which, it was noted, still had those ‘Asian’
strong campaigns by women resulted in qualities of women – docile, non-aggressive and
Sri Lanka obtaining Universal Adult Franchise hardworking and could be employed at very low
in 1931 thus enabling all women and men over wages.

2004 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 5

Migrant Workers “...there seems to be
The other key area in the economy where little questioning of why it is only
women have been targeted for embodying the women’s behaviour or
qualities of the asian woman has been in style of dress or mobility which
government level attempts to facilitiate the export
of women as migrant housemaids to work in
seems to symbolise
West Asian countries. Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the ‘asian-ness’ of our culture.”
the Philippines are among asian countries which
send out thousands of women. In Sri Lanka, this Overall, we would still see ourselves as being
policy saw women from the Muslim community ‘asian’ as opposed to being ‘western’. More
migrating for the first time out of their villages importantly, we see ourselves as part of the South
and the country for employment overseas along Asian entity drawing on the commonalities in
with Sinhala and Tamil women. From the West religions and customs, in the forms of dress –
Asian countries, the demand is usually for saree or shalwar kameez. At the same time, in
married women between the ages of 30 and 45 Sri Lanka, many women of all ages, are more
to work for periods between 2 and 5 years. This inclined to wear dresses, or the skirt and blouse,
category of women are deemed to be the most or, as with the younger women, jeans and
suitable since they are perceived to be already T-shirts. So called traditional clothing seems to
socialised in the Asian tradition to be good be giving way from being an every day attire to
mothers and responsible ‘home makers’ who can being seen as required ‘formal’ attire for
be safely given the tasks of child care and weddings, funerals, official functions. This
housekeeping in the employers home. The fact change appears to have taken place at a much
that the remittances of these migrant workers faster rate in countries like Japan and the
contribute immensely to the national coffers has Philippines.
meant that it is in the interest of the sending
countries to encourage such avenues of In South Asia, such changes in women’s dress
employment for women. and mobility, their increased visibility in the
public sphere, the more vocal articulation of
Women as the Keepers of their rights are also bringing out strong resistance
from sections of the public and fears that we are
Tradition in danger of losing our ‘asian-culture’. Strangely,
there seems to be little questioning of why it is
In the macro economic scenario of Sri Lanka, only women’s behaviour or style of dress or
women of working age are framed primarily as mobility which seems to symbolise the ‘asian-
a critical part of the country’s labour force. The ness’ of our culture. After all, changes in men’s
highly gendered development framework clearly clothing, for example, from ‘traditional’ to
needs to be assured that there is a continued ‘western’ seems to have been ‘passed’ by society
supply of suitable women workers. The impact very smoothly with not a hint of the social
of this integration of women into the active turmoil cited as in the case of changes in women’s
labour force can be seen in the increase in the dress code or behaviour. Clearly, we need to
number of women income earners, in the seriously challenge reactionary social norms
changing living styles and consumption patterns, which attempt to confine women as the
in changes in sexual behaviour, and most ‘signifier’ of cultural identity.
importantly, in the perceived challenges to the
dominance of the male-headed household. The Acting/Being Asian
ethnic conflict which took place for two decades
in Sri Lanka together with the civil strife in the So, I come back to our main theme. Are we
South of the country in the late 1980s, has seen ‘acting’ Asian or are we ‘being’ Asian in this
the emergence of female headed households in ‘globalising’ world? Is our identity as Asian
numbers significant enough to challenge the something which we want to ensure, to ‘protect’
socially sanctioned norm of the male-headed as mainstream media, since the business
household. community and the global markets tell us that
6 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 2004
we are now part of the ‘global village’? Is there
space in this discourse to ask ourselves whether
we, the Asians, really accept this notion that we REL
have to give up what makes us different and sink
into something which someone else somewhere
has defined for us? Are we prepared to see our
crafts, our clothes, our food being made part of “Einstein’s eyes
some exotic so-called ‘ethnic’ cuisine which is were
hungrily consumed by ‘others’ who are not privy filled with tears
to those qualities which identify us as Asian? when
Do we, in our quest to preserve our Asian he heard about Hiroshima.
cultures, also defend those oppressive patriarchal Mr.
structures which, for example, result in girl Tamiki
children being discriminated against in terms of had
access to food or education, or uphold the notion no eyes left
that a woman is subjugated first to the authority to
of her father, then her husband and then her show his grief.”
- Colin Rowbotham -
Rather, I think, the future of our Asian-ness
lies in a fusion of what is best of our cultures
What shapes madness
and what is most enriching within the
That turns a city unto itself
globalising world. We can see it already in the
In fire?
arena of music, in theatre and in film. We need
Breaks its air into flamestorms,
to strengthen our capacities to ensure that
Whirls the soil away from feet of her trees?
cultural practices do not violate the human rights
Maims everything living
of peoples, whether it is of women, of children
In her living things?
or of men. While the world still searches for the
pure form of democracy, we need to come
What splits the atom,
together to demand that our States follow
Magnifies her sunlight
democratic principles of governance. Increased
A million degrees Celsius
representation of women in the political arena in
To burn centuries-old trees from inside out,
all our countries, or the steady reduction of
To enflame thatched roofs and bodies,
institutional and social practices which
And anything else in the way
discriminate against women, for example, could
Of smoldering beyond telling:
be important indicators of such a trend. As many
A skill and art we learn full and well.
of the discussions among us Fellows on this
programme reiterated time and again, we need
What rage is worth mounting
to be aware that the rights of our peoples are
Torrents to pierce eyes and souls?
not reduced to some ‘other’ telling us that we
Or etch on her asphalt shadows of her dead?
are ‘either with them or against them’. It is our
And leave in the blackest of hearts
shared his/herstories, our unity in diversity,
Only unknowable sadness?
whether it is in terms of religion, ethnicity or
language and, the best of our cultures which is
our strength and which bind us together as
Asians.• Karina Africa Bolasco
Hiroshima 9/8/2004
De Alwis, M. and K. Jayawardena (2001).
Casting Pearls: The Women’s Franchise Movement Note: Karina Africa Bolasco is the
in Sri Lanka. Social Scientists Association. Publishing Manager of Anvil Publishing,
Colombo. the Philippines.
De Mel, N. (2001). Women and the Nation’s
Narrative: Gender and Nationalism in Twentieth
Century Sri Lanka, Kali for Women, New Delhi.
2004 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 7
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights
Commission (IGLHRC)
Mourns the Murder of Fannyann Eddy;
Calls on activists everywhere to respond

S IERRA LEONE - October 4 - Fannyann Eddy broke the silence for us all.
She courageously brought the struggle for freedom and dignity in her own
country to the world stage. Last week, that voice was silenced forever. As
Fannyann worked late in her office in Freetown, several men broke in, raped and
brutally murdered her.
Not only was Fannyann a human rights activist, she was also the fearless leader
of the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association. She understood that freedom for
women, in particular lesbians, was related to their ability to provide for themselves
economically. As a result, her approach to human rights advocacy included putting
her own money into buying materials for young lesbians to make clothing and other
items that they could sell for income. She understood that human rights is not only
a legal principle to be enforced but a measure of human dignity to be demanded.
In April 2004, she was a member of the delegation that advocated for the
Resolution on Sexual Orientation and Human Rights at the United Nations Human
Rights Commission in Geneva. With her testimony to the entire Commission, she
boldly presented the personal embodiment of the existence of lesbians in Africa
that many African leaders sought to deny.
Fannyann Viola Eddy was 30 years old. Her 9-year old son has lost a doting and
loving mother. Sierra Leone has lost a brave and visible leader. The global Lesbian,
Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) movement has lost a daring and fierce human
rights defender. •
Source: www.iglhrc.org

8 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 2004

TAT !!!
Nehama Jayewardene changed partners thrice. A tattoo if placed in a
position that can be seen easily, is a conversation
starter and thus if it has an interesting story

month ago my best bud and I behind it you will never be at a loss for words.
decided that we were going to get Be apprehensive about choosing an offensive
branded for life. Having heard design, you may grow out of your rebellious
many horror stories, surfing the internet and period and not wish to remember you went
speaking to many about the benefits and harms through one. Discuss size and colour with your
of getting tattooed we decided that we would artiste, he/ she would be a good judge of how it
submit ourselves to permanent body art. We would look like on skin. Don’t let alcohol drugs
were further encouraged after having won a or friends influence your decision. In short do
voucher at Mr. Pierce. So the preparation began. not look at tattoos as a trendy fashion statement
We both decided that we needed a tattoo that but as a long term investment.
would have some symbolic reference to our
personalities. Thus we ruled out all butterflies,
barbed wire and spent hours on the web, Consider the nature of work you are involved
searching for the perfect match. We were in. Many places of the government sector may
successful in finding pictures that spoke the most not look at tattoos favourably. Society sometimes
about what we believed in. So I submit my does not look beyond the tattoo to the real you
experience of getting tattooed and hope that and unfortunately tattoos are associated with
those of you wishing to do the same will consider those whose personalities are wild and unstable.
all points mentioned. Additionally if your family is not of the “hip”
kind you may want to rethink where to get your
1 . CHOICE OF DESIGN - Choose a tattoo tattoo done and whether it is worth being the
that will suit your personality. Remember a black sheep of the family with a tattoo in plain
tattoo is supposed to last your entire life. So view of all when you could have easily concealed
choose one which matches your personality in it on a less visible place on your body. Also
the present and in the future. A friend of mine consider that different positions in your body
tattooed her partners name on her arm. Now have different pain thresholds. Thus your genitals
she is stuck with it for life, even though she has are the most painful location for a tattoo,
2004 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 9
Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala
The writer’s
“best bud” - proud to be
a feminist

secondly your sternum, ribs, hands, and feet are 4. GETTING TATTOOED - Personally I
very sensitive thirdly your ankles, lower back, recommend that you go in with the thinking
neck, under arm, around the groin area, and that you are going to enjoy the experience. Of
head. The least sensitive areas, and generally most course it’s going to hurt, they are going to stick
popular for that reason, are your upper arms or a needle into you after all. Tattoo artistes are
forearms, calves, shoulder blade, outer thigh, and generally very interesting people to talk to since
bottom. they are often people who are fond of travelling
and known to be a wealth of information owing
to the amount of stories they have collected from
CAREFULLY – Make sure the artiste of your
CAREFULLY their customers experiences and travels. It is a
choice has certificates of sterilization. The artiste plus to have some Hendrix being played in the
should wear rubber gloves at all times and it is background or even Sade. Anything that would
absolutely essential that the equipment is clean help you relax. It helps to take a friend with you,
and the needle is new. Ointments, ink, water, a hand to grip if the pain gets unbearable.
should be taken from separate containers. The
ink that is to be injected into your skin should 5. AFTERCARE - now that you have the
be fresh and new, not leftovers from the previous tattoo, it is recommended that you leave the
customer. In spite of raising concern about AIDS, bandage alone for upto three hours. This is in
the biggest threat by means of disease passed order to prevent air borne bacteria from invading
through tattooing is Hepatitis B, so it would be your wound. For those of you who are impatient
advisable to seek an artiste who has been to show off your new tattoo, ask your artiste to
vaccinated against this disease. cover it with a clear cellophane wrap. I avoided
wetting my tattoo for a couple of days and
rubbed a medical ointment rich in vitamin A &
D on it three times a day for a week. After a few
days you will experience a little scabbing, peeling
and itching. This is normal, do not pick at it or
scratch it. Protect your tattoo from the sun’s
Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala

ultraviolet rays. These can fade and damage a

brilliant tattoo very fast. Before spending a lot
of time in excessive heat, protect your tattoo with
a minimum 30SPF sunblock. This will keep your
tattoo vibrant for many years, and it will
continue to be a source of great pride.
Now that I have finished giving you the do’s
The writer’s own tattoo on her forearm - ‘Justice and don’ts, I will sign off leaving you to speculate
being served?’

10 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 2004

Sunila Abeysekera

anipur is one of
seven states in the
North East of the
Indian sub continent which,
along with Assam, Meghalaya,
Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura
and Arunachal Pradesh, is
linked to India by a small strip
of land. According to their
features, culture and history the Lonely Planet

people of these seven states

closely resemble the people of
North Eastern Asia. Situated
on the borders between India,
Bhutan, China, Burma and
Bangladesh, these states have
had a long history of tension
with the Indian government,
which is accused of using force
and deceit to make them a part
of the Indian federation.
The various struggles that
we have seen emerging in these
states in the period after 1949
are a result of these historical
relations. The struggles have
sometimes been violent and
sometimes peaceful but always
with self-determination,
autonomy and independence
being at the core of their
The Meira Paibis of
The strug gle of the
Manpuris against Indian
domination commenced
during the period that it was a 1927 and 1932, and in 1934 too majority that lives in the
protectorate during the British there was what is known today plateau belongs to the Metei
colonial era. In 1904 the people as the ‘Great Uprising’. tribe. In the 1970s, Metei
of Manipur protested against women re-ignited their old
the Rice Tax. In 1913 they In the history of these
militancy in order to lead a
revolted against a system strug gles there is special
campaign against alcohol. The
known in Ceylon as mention of the decisive roles
women became known as the
‘Rajakariya’ under which the played by Manipuri women.
Meira Paibis in the aftermath of
state could extract a certain The struggle against the Rice
this agitation. The original
number of days of free labour Tax is known even today as the
objective of this campaign was
from each individual living ‘Women’s War’. There are
against liquor sellers and
under their regime. A various tribal groups living in
consumers. Later, it was turned
rebellion of the Nagas of Manipur: the Metei, Kuki and
against the repressive measures
Manipur took place between Naga are a few of them. The
adopted by the Indian Army
2004 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 11
which moved into Manipur in order to control dragged out of bed, taken out of the house and
the activities of separatist militants in the state. tortured for about two hours. It is mentioned in
The methodology adopted by these women was the post mortem examination report that there
to communicate through a prearranged signal were abrasions and knife cuts all over her body.
when unknown persons or a vehicle came to Her vagina and rectal area had been destroyed
their villages. At the sound of the signal, they by gunshots. Her family and other supporters
would all come out of their houses with lighted feel that this was done to hide the fact that she
torches and chase away the intruders. had been sexually molested. The army says that
she was a member of the banned militant group,
Even today, the Meira Paibis play an active
the People’s Liberation Army and that she was
role in protesting against irregularities and
shot when she tried to escape.
human rights violations caused under the Armed
Forces Special Powers Act. All women living in This incident and many other earlier
the Manipur plateau irrespective of their age and incidents bear witness to the fact that the Indian
social status are said to be a part of this army was using its unlimited powers to violate
movement. Women wearing the ‘uniform’ of the the human rights of the people in Manipur.
Meira Paibis - the pink cloth (Mekahala) and the When there are clashes between the government
white shawl (chador) take the lead in all public and armed groups these kinds of incidents of
protests. As a result of their activism, and using human rights abuse can take place in any
their status as women and as mothers, they country.
became the only force within Manipur that
We know about similar incidents in
could engage in any kind of bargaining with both
Sri Lanka. Here the experience of the Manipuri
the army and the militant groups.
women is similar to ours not only because they
The nude protest launched by 14 Meira Paibis are harassed and their rights violated but also
on 16th July 2004 in front of the Kangla Gateway because they rise against this injustice.
in the city of Imphal, where the Manipuri Undeterred by the obstructions placed in their
Headquarters of the Indian Army’s Assam Rifles path by patriarchal ideology and a male
Unit is located, was a strong expression of their dominated society, and facing army suppression
anger and courage that resounded throughout with great courage, Manipuri women have united
the world. The immediate cause for the nude in action to protect their families and to win the
protest was an incident that took place in the aspirations of their community. They set an
Eastern Imphal district on 11th July 2004, when example and a challenge to all of us. They used
32-year-old Thangjam Manorama was taken their nudity as a weapon against the armed
away from her home at night by members of forces, as an expression of their rage,
the army identified as being from the Assam transforming their weakness into strength. This
Rifles Unit. She was tortured, shot and killed is what enables the Meira Paibis to be such a
and her body was dumped on the highway, about critical force in their society, to be the mediators
four kilometers away from her home. Family between militants of their tribe and other tribes
members bear witness to the fact that she was and the army authorities. Their courage put the
patriarchal armed forces to shame.
The Meira Paibis always take the lead during
protests and during negotiations with the army.
However, even within Manipur society and
especially among the militant groups, they are
not given due recognition when it comes to
leadership and decision making with regard to
the objectives of the struggle and the path they
should follow. The women of Manipur have
shown their courage not only to India, but also
to the entire world. The challenge they are facing
today is to find a way to convert this symbolic
The Meira Paibis, using their nudity as a weapon
against the corrupt armed forces.
strength to real political strength.•

12 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 2004

Yolanda Blanco (1954)

I used to be a happy girl

unaware of gender
untroubled by penis envy
or Electra complexes.
As a young child I used to be wise
but I had to grow up
and got to know about ‘women’s things’,
cups of coffee, anxieties, “you shouldn’t”,
scarves and embroidery
And I learned to cry and my hips developed
I was told to produce children rather than books -
to rear rather than create.
I then knew that ‘women who know Latin will
find themselves a husband and will come to no
And I agreed. And here I am.
Giving life without living
between “good morning, my love”
notebooks and
dirty dishes in the kitchen
Here I am, a contended mother
deaf to the thousands of women
dying in our country
due to abortion.
A decent civilian,
I despise children who carry
only their mother’s name,
I am, after all,
a nearly dead body
letting others talk to me
instead of talking to them
and live.

Source: Siete Poetas - women poets of Nicaragua, from the magazine FEM, August 2000, Mexico
Translated by Carina Oostveen

2004 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 13


Survival in the Jungle: Gender, Militaries

and Nihal de Silva’s

The Road from Elephant Pass

Neloufer de Mel

he presence, since the late 1980s, of
female combatants within the LTTE
and its use of female suicide bombers
has made Sri Lankans aware for some time that
women’s role in armed conflict is complex.
Essentialist notions of women as passive and
non-violent have been undermined in the face
of Tamil women taking up arms for a cause they
see as just and beneficial for the collective
community. Elsewhere, an interest amongst
feminist scholars and activists has grown regarding
women within militaries and militias. In the West,
this interest grew largely on the back of an equal
opportunities debate which saw the military as the
last bastion of masculine privilege. Cases of
discrimination against women applicants to
militaries, sexual harassment of service women, dress,
sexual orientation etc. made the headlines and went
hand in hand with movements that called for the transformation of
State militaries into an equal opportunities force. The recruitment
of gays and lesbians, the use of make-up and jewelry, the promotion
of women into high ranks within the military were all issues taken
up and fiercely debated in the public domain. Apart from the
conditions for women within conventional State militaries, their
presence in non-State militaries and militias has also drawn
international attention. From women as instigators of anti-Muslim
communal violence in the RSS and the Hindutva movement in India,
to women fighters and suicide bombers of the Palestinian intafada
and the struggle for independence in Chechniya, the world has been
intrigued and fascinated by the presence of these women in the
traditional male preserves of combat and warfare.

14 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 2004

That war and the military are deeply gendered is at the heart
of the public debates and scholarship that has grown round the
subject. Surveys, studies and interviews with women combatants
have shown that they keenly feel the pressure of ‘performing’
gender. Within a discourse and practise of hyper masculinity
where aggression, discipline, physical prowess, decisiveness,
leadership – all seen as ‘manly’ traits - are valued, women within
the military occupy an ambivalent space. As Melissa Herbert
writes in Camouflage isn’t only for Combat (New York University
Press, 1998), on the one hand, women within militaries are
expected to perform ‘masculine’ tasks, and many of them feel the
need to do so in order to secure promotions and be taken seriously

“ Women within as capable soldiers. On the other hand, women who come across
as ‘too masculine’ are punished for transgressing accepted gender
militaries are therefore roles. They are insulted for being ‘unfeminine’, bad mouthed as
called upon to be both lesbians and treated as a threat to the status quo of the corps.
Women within militaries are therefore called upon to be both
feminine – so that they feminine – so that they can be firmly compared and contrasted
can be firmly compared to their male counterparts - and masculine in a way that makes
and contrasted to them part of an effective fighting unit. Their lives in the military
require of them this duality and burden of gender that is not
their male counterparts
demanded of the men. The women have to constantly ‘negotiate’
- and masculine in a and perform their gender, oscillating between what is
way that makes them conventionally accepted and understood as feminine in order to
part of an effective emphasize the men’s masculinity and maintain gender
‘appropriateness’, and be masculine when necessary so that they
fighting unit. Their lives will not be regarded as weak and burdensome. For women, being
in the military require too feminine or too masculine brings with it punishment and
of them this duality marginalization within the corps.
and burden of gender Nihal de Silva’s novel The Road from Elephant Pass (Vijitha
that is not demanded Yapa) which won the 2003 Gratiaen Prize for the best Sri Lankan
creative writing in English, is the story of how a LTTE female
of the men.
” combatant and a Sri Lanka Army Captain escape from the
battlefields of Elephant Pass and journey through rebel held
territory, jungle, and hostile villages to the capital Colombo. The
pairing of adversaries in the form of a Tamil LTTE woman
combatant and Sinhala military man immediately sets up all kinds
of interesting possibilities: ethnic tension, deception and betrayal,
death, sexual attraction. The novel handles all these elements very
effectively to provide a fast paced, action packed thriller. Captain
Wasantha, whose mission is to bring the LTTE woman combatant
to Colombo on the premise that she has crucial military
intelligence to divulge that will be helpful to the Sri Lankan State,
in turn helps and relies on Kamala to accomplish their journey.
Unable to take the main road in the aftermath of the military
debacle at Elephant Pass, they take interior roads. They have to
disguise the fact that they belong to the military(s), evade animals
that prowl the jungle and robbers. They go for days without
proper food. As they trek through thick jungle and swollen rivers,
their story becomes one of bare survival. As combatants and

2004 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 15

trained soldiers they have learnt he recovers quickly from the when addressing each other - he
certain survival skills. Yet, this shock of this recognition. does not call her Kamala but by
journey which pits male and Kamala and he learn to her surname Valaithan, and she
female combatant in close acknowledge each other’s skills refers/defers to him by rank,
proximity, also provides a and soon fall in to a pattern calling him Captain.
classic example of how gender where there is a division of
works within militaries to shore labour. In any case, that Kamala The Taming of the
up the gender stereotypes is a smart, capable, even Shrew
commonly held by society. cunning woman is essential for
the element of suspense in the Love certainly tames the
Performing Gender story which keeps the reader shrew in Kamala. She lets down
guessing as to whether there her guard, begins to trust
Kamala, the LTTE woman will be a double crossing at the Wasantha and acquiesces to his
combatant, is invested in the end. But even as Kamala’s judgment, putting her very life
tale with qualities admired in his hands in a manner she
within militaries. She comes has not done before in the
across as invincible, is mentally
and physically strong, displays “ Love certainly tames whole story. Love disarms the
woman combatant here. She
initiative and resourcefulness. the shrew in Kamala.... begins to laugh again and once
At the beginning of the story,
her strength stands, in fact, in
She is tamed in the in Colombo, to talk to
Wasantha’s friends with ease
counterpoint to the relative end, and we are not (p.327). She prays in church.
weakness of Captain Wasantha. surprised because She is tamed in the end, and we
Kamala exudes self-confidence.
Captain Wasantha observes her her domestication that are not surprised because her
domestication that had been
at the very beginning of the had been kept up in kept up in the narrative through
story like this: ‘She sat very still the narrative through the division of labour in the
and straight, with her head jungle, is returned to recoup her
thrown back. There was an air the division of labour
within normative gender roles.
of calmness about her, a in the jungle, is The story, despite the good
forbidding self-sufficiency. For
returned to recoup editing and vivid details of
the first time since I got caught jungle life (specially its birds)
up in this mad enterprise, I her within normative
keeps to the well known clichés
began to have some hope that
we’d make it through to safety.’
gender roles.
” of the survival tale. However,
the end rescues The Road from
(p.46) Note that the Captain Elephant Pass from being
finds the ‘enemy’ woman’s self resourcefulness is put to good altogether hackneyed. Love, in
sufficiency forbidding even as use on this obstacle course to this case, cannot overcome the
he acknowledges it as a source Colombo, she is a woman situation of war, enmity and
of hope for their ultimate (necessarily for the logic of the division. Captain Wasantha has
survival. Why? Because Kamala story), who retains her to return to the battle at
is not the stereotypical, docile, feminine side. She is squeamish Elephant Pass during which he
vulnerable woman Captain and scared of snakes. She does is declared missing in action. A
Wasantha is used to expecting. the vegetable cooking while he letter from the ar my
It says something about the attends to erecting the tent, communicating this news to his
military man that even though clearing the ground and stoking family acknowledges him as a
the military woman is trained the fire. (p.185) The inevitable war hero, a perfect military
and expected to behave just as happens. Physical proximity, man. As for Kamala, once she
Kamala does, he is surprised, the shared travails of survival, passes on her secrets she has to
caught off-guard and ill at ease the loneliness and frustration emigrate, signing off on a tale
when this does happen. spill into an attraction and a that tells us what women can,
But it also says something tenderness that cuts through and cannot be within
about Captain Wasantha that even the formality they adopt militaries.•
16 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 2004
Harini Dias Bandaranayake on that particular subject. This could either be
because everyone around me seems to be talking
about it all at once or because my mind seems
to be particularly conscious of any aspect related

he reality and experiences of different
women across the globe being to this subject these days. I suppose I am
different, how does one attempt to vehemently trying to gather my own opinions
generalise and vocalise issues that affect women? about its need in my life, learning from various
The simple answer in my opinion? One does people, both men and women, who have some
not! or little knowledge of what they are talking
about. I seem to be at best a little daunted, jaded
However, I for one have always admired and or cynical about marriage at this point to
been impressed by the many women, especially incorporate it into my life. I want to make the
in South Asian society, who have stood up to very best choice I can make, simply because it is
give voice to the variety of issues that plague our a logically good idea to make the best choice
society, our environment, our cultures, our one can if and when one makes it.
religions, our beings. From Deepa Mehta to
Arundhati Roy to the Bandit Queen, from Sunila The other day, my friend was updating me
Abeysekera to Kumari Jayawardena to Chitra on both the external and internal struggles she
Fernando, women in my society have braved all has been undergoing for the past two years or
odds to speak for the voiceless. They still do. so, ever since she completed college and returned
Thank God for them. home, when her parents thought she had spent
enough of her life pursuing her ‘futile’ passions
I am, like several of my friends, a single and wanted her to ‘get serious’ with life and
woman in the mid-twenties, devoted to ‘settle down’. Her father especially has taken on
enhancing my academic career, while the great task of providing her a vast array of
simultaneously passionate about what I do for a possible husbands from whom to choose. This
living. So passionate in fact, I wonder sometimes is deemed as a lot of ‘freedom’ and
if I have somehow lost the very point of what ‘unconventionalism’ as opposed to the staunch
my elders and friends seem to be talking of to customs her grandparents stuck to in the old
no end these days - marriage. days, stressing the need to keep with the great
Muslim tradition of ‘a good marriage for a young
Now, I inevitably choke a few times before I girl’. My friend, however, is being absolutely
can engage in a healthy, meaningful conversation

2004 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 17

ungrateful for the leeway extended to her by her Do I need marriage to protect me from societal
folks, I think sarcastically. They could choose vices? Do I need marriage to give a veneer of
to marry her off to the first seemingly socially social sanction to the legitimacy of my children?
correct Ismail or Mohammed, but instead they So, what real purpose is marriage to my life?
love their daughter enough to even grant her the That’s all I’m asking. A concrete, sensible,
freedom of limited choice. intelligent answer will do for that question.
But my friend has no problem with her But I realise I need to figure that out for
parents going to the extent of presenting her with myself. I still stand at being ‘pro-choice’. I still
options, like they have been doing for the past have not included myself in a category. But I find
two years. Come to think of it, neither did one the looks and words expressed by those who dare
third of my class of 105 students who studied to ask me about my possible marriage quite
with me and dropped out by final year at a repulsive whenever I tell them I am not sure if I
women’s college in India. With every student want to marry. “Horror of Horror! How can
who dropped out, many of them my friends, I you say such a sacrilegious thing?!”, their faces
had a great desire to find out read. What an abomination I
the reason for their decision must be. But there it is - I am
to discontinue their studies.
All of them dropped out
“ If I needed life-long not sure.
companionship is What makes me angry is
stating marriage as a reason.
They even genuinely smiled marriage really not only the fact that many
while telling me of their necessary to disregard the very real
possibility that there are
chosen path in life. I used to achieve that end? various alternatives in the
be pained at the thought,
Do I need choices life presents one with.
looking down on them for
having opted to end their to have the social But what angers and disturbs
career for a decision pounded sanction of me more is that to be
on them by their families, uncertain of things like
marriage to enjoy whether I will get married or
looming over many of them
as an eventuality since their
sexual relations whether I will have children
childhood. I later educated with men or are deemed unwholesome
thoughts, all the more so
myself to reason that the
important thing was that each
of them could make a decision
as to what to do with the rest of their lives. Many So at the end of the day, the fact is, that
women would opt to marry at some point in between being pro-choice among men and
their lives; these friends of mine had simply made women in our society, the male sex can be more
that decision early. I told myself it is important pro-choice than the female. Religion, culture,
to be ‘pro-choice’ instead of single-minded about background, upbringing, education or the lack
any one approach to anything in life. of it, history, social institutions and the level of
With speculation rife about my future in ascription to them by the society one lives in
many of the social circles I move in, and my are all large Goliaths to take on in life for a single
uncertainty about the importance of marriage person in her twenties. Yet for some reason, I
to my life at this stage, I have begun defending feel I would not have it any other way. The
‘pro-choice’ in the question of whether marriage Goliaths must be challenged after all; they must
is really an inevitability in a woman’s life, be made aware. When choices are made, they
perhaps just for the sake of argument. must be understood first. When changes are
made they must be suitable and acceptable to
Oh, I DO admit, it does have its uses. . or one’s life. When I die, I pray I will atleast have
does it? If I needed life-long companionship is lived a life where I made the decisions and
marriage really necessary to achieve that end? understood why I made them. THAT, I believe,
Do I need to have the social sanction of marriage is real freedom.•
to enjoy sexual relations with men or women?
18 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 2004

Sharni Jayawa rdena’s

Producer) together with Carolyn Darnell and
Heidi Westfiled was also one of the three finalists,
the other being Srilal Sah’s Dudha Balak Ko Bihe
from Nepal.
When I interviewed Sharni Jayawardena for
this article, she showed me some notes she had
made for a reflection on her award-winning
documentary. Her notes opened with the
following quote which she said almost perfectly
encompassed the basic premise of her film:
“There are things that it’s better not to dwell
on, things it’s normal to forget. The people who are
starving or being tortured, the animals that live a
life of hell to feed us, the unimaginable extension
of the universe……..Forgetting makes us robust. A
Sepali Kottegoda

whiff of anesthetic before we start the day does us a

world of good. Those who can’t for get we call
madmen and artists.” - Nicholas Spice, 2004 -
DEFIANT ART continues a long tradition
Sharni Jayawardena, winner of the 2003 IFJ Journalism of inquiry into the nature and purpose of Art
Award under the South Asia Broadcast Journalism today, especially in a time of crisis and conflict
in a society, as Sri Lanka is in. The philosophers
of Art have argued for decades about ‘the crisis
in Aesthetics’ and asked whether there is any
Robert Crusz purpose to the ‘aesthetic object’ or the work of
art. Peter Fuller once described the “General
Anaesthesia” of Late Modernism, arguing that

T he International Federation of
Journalists recently gave its 2003
annual IFJ Journalism award for
Tolerance Prize under the South Asia, Broadcast
from the Renaissance onwards and through the
Industrial Revolution, Aesthetic form slowly
began to acquire “its autonomy from, and indeed
opposition to, life as lived” (Fuller,1983). In this
Journalism category, to Sharni Jayawardena of
neatly literary and visual piece of television,
YATV (Young Asia Television), Sri Lanka. The
Sharni Jayawardena introduces us to five
work that won the award was DEFIANT ART,
contemporary Sri Lankan artists who refuse the
the documentary written and directed by
‘anaesthesia’ which makes them indifferent to,
Jayawardena as part of The Reconciliation Series
or even ‘forget’ the crisis that is all too real around
of “six documentaries that explore the on-going
reconciliation process in Sri Lanka”. Such was
the quality of these programs that another CHANDRAGUPTA THENUWARA, the
documentary in this series – Women Waging painter and sculptor, talks about the motivation
Peace – directed by Sharmini Boyle (the Series behind his work, especially the series of paintings
2004 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 19
and installations he has created over the past few arguing that “Islam is the way of peace”. An
years with common tar barrels used by the interesting aspect was the sug gested links
military as roadblocks or to bolster security between this violence (mainly fundamentalist
perimeters. In her narration, Jayawardena argues and male) and the opposition she and her fellow
that the work of art compels people to pay actresses faced from her community about
attention and that this attention, however Muslim women acting on stage. “People who
imperfect, is better than indifference. weren’t forward thinking and didn’t know the
Thenuwara’s barrels certainly makes one pay religion gave us trouble” Haq says. “We acted
attention, and as the narrative underscores, because we knew our religion well.”
prevents the easy response of turning away from
his moral reflection on the nature of war – SUMATHY SIVAMOHAN, the writer,
specially of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. For playwright, performance artist and university
Thenuwara, these barrels were the perfect academic also gives us an important insight into
metaphor for a society at war. For him they hold her work in another segment of the
“the blood of hundreds of thousands of people”, documentary. Sivamohan’s thoughts can be read
and while security is necessary, it prompts the as the crucial purpose of DEFIANT ART and
questions security for whom ? For the people indeed perhaps of the whole of The
or for those in power ? Who is being protected - Reconciliation Series if it is taken as an example
and from whom ? Thenuwara perhaps speaks of “the art of television”. When asked by Sharni
for all the artists in this short documentary when Jayawardena “…how much can such art achieve?
he says “Today if artists want to work with What precisely can it do ?”, Sivamohan replies
people, they would need to move out of their “Raise complexities, subtleties and the difficult
studios into the public sphere. They should push moments. It is by recognizing the difficult
aside notions of high art and start thinking in moments that communities can come together.”
terms of the ‘art of involvement’. As the third artist featured in this documentary,
Sumathy Sivamohan acts out on stage a few brief
In an oblique critique of the disastrous scenes from her Gratiaen Award winning play
Sinhala-only language policy of the 1950’s and In the Shadow of the Gun and discusses her efforts
its weak rationale that English should be the link to bring people together by holding “workshops
language between the Sinhala and Tamil speaking that used theatrical and other artistic strategies.”
communities of Sri Lanka, LAREENA HAQ, Drawing on her deep personal experiences of
the second artist featured in this documentary the murderous violence of the ethnic conflict,
makes the crucial point that “the main reason Sivamohan’s aim through the workshops is to
for most conflicts is language. If you know my help people “get in touch with (their) own
language you will be able to know my feelings prejudices, fears, insecurities in order to
and what I think about you. If not there would overcome them.” A deeply committed artist who
be doubts and fears”. Haq is a poet and song refuses the anaesthesia of all the “modernisms”
writer and a university teacher of Tamil. The – Early, Late, Post etc. etc. – Sivamohan accepts
segment highlights two of her current projects the threats of violence and the resistances to
“of consequence” – translating a book by the understanding, but she refuses to stop there: “I
Buddhist monk Ven. Hiselle Dharmarathana on do whatever I can, even alone. I try not to shy
the influence of Tamil on the Sinhala Language, away – for that would be suicidal.”
and performing in a play staged by her university
about conflict between Tamil and Muslim JAYATHILAKE BANDARA takes up the
communities. The book, which is full of fourth slot in this representation of DEFIANT
“wonderful and rare facts” tells how the Tamil ART. A well known composer, lyricist, musician
and Sinhala languages have been in a healthy and singer in the Sinhala music world, Bandara
symbiotic relationship for years, and is an and his band of traveling minstrels have been on
attempt by Haq to dispel, through her the road for decades conveying messages of peace,
examination of language, the myths of ethnic reconciliation and hope from people of the South
purity which lie in one chamber of the heart of to the North and from those in the North to
this conflict. The play critiques the Muslim the South through a musical program performed
community’s responses of violent revenge on the streets called Sadhu Janarava. It is driven

20 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 2004

by the creativity of the ordinary, “small people” for many years. She also made a conscious
as he calls them – a creativity born of their decision to have representatives from both sexes
feelings and experiences of the war. These and from each of the three main ethnic
thoughts are of mothers who have lost sons and communities in Sri Lanka. DEFIANT ART
husbands, people who have lost their land, their displays a keen artistic sensibility on the part of
jobs. Bandara argues that those who cannot its writer/director. This is not surprising since
comprehend the pain of people cannot be true in the six years she was at YATV (1997 -2003)
artists. The true artist, he believes, achieves Sharni Jayawardena was the Series Producer of
something considerable if he or she helps Sivu Setha - a weekly magazine-style arts
“remove the seeds of hatred and revenge from program. She was also the producer of the weekly
the hearts of people.” For him, art is an act of program on the environment - Mihisara.
defiance – as the narrative explains. He “does
not believe that people have a right to innocence, DEFIANT ART is packed with ideas about
ignorance and loss of memory in the face of what the place of art in today’s world and its role in
we have experienced.” the process of reconciliation between warring
communities. It is certainly a programme which
The final representative of such artistic makes one think. But given its half-hour format
defiance is MARIYANAYAGAM SAM it only touched the surface. I would have
PRATHEEPAN who is part of the Centre for preferred a longer more in-depth piece since the
Performing Arts (CPA) in Jaffna. The CPA issues are complex and the debates quite detailed,
experiments with a variety and combination of not just on the relationship between aesthetics
art forms mainly on themes around conflict and and our daily lives but also on the debates which
its resolution. Sam Pratheepan is a playwright revolve around the nature of broadcast television
and performance artist . He left Jaffna at the itself and the problem of whether or not it is
height of the war as a refugee and returned after capable of creating the kind of solidarity based
the ceasefire “to work with people from all on ethical principles and moral practices which
communities in the artistic pursuit of is the necessary first step towards reconciliation.
reconciliation” and to “help people recover from But maybe that is the subject of another series.•
traumatic situations.” He believes that “one can
express grief in a sad way and heal the mind or
express it in a happy way and heal the mind.”
1) Spice, Nicholas, “I Must Be Mad”, from a
When asked why she chose these five artists, review of Wild Analysis by Sigmund Freud,
Sharni Jayawardena said that she wanted to have trans. Alan Bance, (London Review of Books,
representatives from different kinds of artistic vol. 26, no. 1, Jan 2004)
activity such as painting, theatre and literature.
Many of them are also Jayawardena’s personal 2) Fuller, Peter, Aesthetics after Moder nity,
friends whose work she has been familiar with London, Writers & Readers, 1983, p 22.

by Chandragupta
Thenuwara .

(The yellow
figures have been
painted on a green

2004 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 21

Home away from

Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala
Children at the Keelpodupatti Refugee Camp, Tamil Nadu,
smiling for the camera.

well being of refugees and to prepare them for

Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala their eventual return to Sri Lanka.

I t was my first visit to a Refugee Camp.

We were in Tamil Nadu, South India.
After a three hours drive along the coastal
road south of Chennai, the Tata Sumo jeep we
New arrivals since 1998, numbering
more than 8000 have been accommodated in
existing camps as well as new camps set up for
this purpose. Most of the refugees were from the
were traveling in came to a halt outside the Northern, Eastern and Central provinces of
Keelpodupatti Refugee Camp, which looked like Sri Lanka. They had fled to India in 1984, 1987,
a little village. This camp was home to more than 1990, and between 1997 and 1999. However, they
3,000 Sri Lankan refugees, some who have been are not registered as either Sri Lankans or as
living here since 1984. The Keelpodupatti Indians, but as refugees, thereby denying them
Refugee Camp is just one of the 116 Sri Lankan any citizenship.
refugee camps located in Tamil Nadu.
We got off our jeep and walked along sandy
There are presently about 140,000 such white paths lined with wattle and daub huts.
refugees in the state of Tamil Nadu, out of which Being a Sunday morning, the camp was deserted,
65,000 are sheltered in the 116 Government-run except for a few roosters str utting about
refugee camps spread throughout the state. All importantly. We made our way to a small
these camps are supported by the Organization building which looked like a community hall,
for Eelam Refugee Rehabilitation (OfERR), a and before long were welcomed warmly by the
Chennai-based organization run by Sri Lankan children of the camp who came running out to
refugees. Their mission is to improve the life and greet us. The camp had been informed of our
22 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 2004
visit, and had organized a day’s programme for Most of them, especially the middle aged and
us, including a special home cooked lunch. We elderly people who had vivid memories of
managed to speak to the women, youth and the Sri Lanka were eagerly waiting to return home.
adults separately to find out what their major Those who had their children living in Sri Lanka
concerns were. eagerly asked us for information on the country’s
present situation, how safe it is for them to return
Some of them have been living in this camp and whether they will be accepted by the
for more than 14 years. Since there were hardly Sri Lankan government if and when they do
any employment opportunities, the men work return. They repeatedly asked us to appeal to
as fishermen and do odd-jobs whenever possible, the government of Sri Lanka on their behalf, to
through which they earn a meager salary of bring an end to the war so that they could return
about Rs.100/- per day. They lived in to their homeland.
approximately 10 x 12 feet huts with a 5 x 6 feet
kitchen space. Each hut accommodated between The youth however, who were mostly either
five to ten people. There were inadequate toilet college students or employed graduates voiced
facilities and water was a constant problem. their anxieties about returning to a country they
had barely lived in. They seemed skeptical of
A major problem faced by refugee children giving up their life in India to start anew in an
born in India was that their births were registered alien country. Some of them who had been
in India. Would they then be recognized as Sri brought to India when they were as young as
Lankan citizens when they finally returned to two or three years old, could barely remember
Sri Lanka? The youth were worried about what Sri Lanka was like. For them, India was
whether their Indian educational qualifications more of a “home” than Sri Lanka. Having to
would be recognized by the Sri Lankan face conscription as well as some degree of racism
government. There had been instances in the past was also something they feared. “When we come
where 11th standard students had been made to there will the Sinhalese people shoot us?” one
join the 9th standard when they returned to Sri of the college students asked us. Such questions
Lanka. clearly reflected their fears of returning to a
Reclaiming the land that belonged to them country from which their parents had fled years
in Sri Lanka was another problem they faced. ago. The return to one’s mother country must
They appealed to us to plead for compensation therefore be an option and not a compulsion.
on their behalf for the lands that they would Something I will never forget was the way in
not get back. In addition, most of those who which one the girls, who seemed about my age
had no land in Sri Lanka and lived on State (mid twenties), came up to me shyly and asked
owned property were uncertain about where me if I’d come to India by plane. For a split
they would be re-settled. second of a moment I thought to myself “Well
They also hoped that the government ferry obviously by plane. What else?”, until it dawned
service between India and Northern Sri Lanka on me that she would have made it to India by
would recommence, enabling their safe return boat, probably risking her life by having to cross
back home. They said that they had acquired in one of the overcrowded boats which
possessions (however transported refugees
meagre) that they Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala from Sri Lanka to
wished to bring back to South India, very often
Sri Lanka, so that they at the risk of their lives.
could start a new life I will never forget the
without getting into look of awe she had on
debt. Not only would her face when I said I’d
the ferry enable them to come by plane. For
carry more goods, it some reason, it made
would also be more me feel ashamed of my
affordable than air Sinhalese identity, and
travel. Children at the Keelpodupatti Refugee Camp the Sinhala chauvinistic

2004 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 23

society I belonged to which had forced thousands in India. Known as the Nallayan Declaration, it
of Sri Lankan Tamils to flee their homes. draws attention to the uncertain situation
prevailing in Sri Lanka and demands, among
In February 2003, refugee and development other matters, that refugee returns should be
agencies attending an OfERR workshop at the “voluntary, upholding international standards of
Nallayan Research Centre in Tamil Nadu issued safety and dignity”, and that “lasting peace is a
a declaration on the return of Sri Lankan refugees prerequisite for returns.” •

Nallayan Declaration on the Return of Refugees

Refugee and development agencies attending a workshop at the Nallayan
Research Centre in Tamil Nadu on 22 and 23 February, issued a declaration
on the return of Sri Lankan refugees in India. The workshop was arranged by
the Organisation for Eelam Refugees Rehabilitation (OfERR).
The Nallayan Declaration notes that child conscription and coercive taxation
continues in north-east Sri Lanka. Almost all of the 502 ceasefire violations by the
LTTE and 54 violations by the security forces recorded by the ceasefire monitors
upto December 2002, were directed against civilians.

The Declaration records several principles that must be upheld in considering

the return of refugees to the island. Lasting peace is a prerequisite and there must be
agreement between the two parties for resolution of the conflict, and the restoration
of democracy and the rule of law in the north-east. The peace talks must be broadened
and made more transparent to enable Sri Lankan citizens to participate in the
determination of their own destiny.

The agreement between the parties must guarantee human rights to all Sri Lankans,
particularly Plantation Tamils, including the right to citizenship, property, franchise
and self-determination. It must also guarantee the safety and security of returning
refugees and their social and material well-being. Refugees themselves must be involved
in the negotiating and return processes for this end.

Returns must be voluntary, upholding international standards of safety and dignity,

and underwritten by an accord between India and Sri Lanka. Transfer of refugees
from camps in India to camps in Sri Lanka would impede peace. Therefore returns
should take place only when refugees can go to home areas.

Landmines should be fully cleared and internally displaced people resettled before
refugee returns. The agreement must commit to speedy reintegration through
recognition of documents acquired in exile, such as refugee identity cards, certificates
of births, marriages and deaths as well as qualifications acquired outside Sri Lanka.

The Nallayan Declaration says that the agreement must contain a commitment
to restorative justice. Refugees who have lost property, relatives and livelihood must
be compensated. Provision should also be made for a Truth Commission that
promotes a healing process in all segments of society.

Source : www.refugeecouncil.org

24 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 2004

W hat is
The following is an excerpt from Toril Moi’s essay “What is a Woman?
Sex, Gender and the Body in Feminist Theory,” What is a Woman?
And Other Essays, Oxford University Press, New York, 1999.

ince the 1960s English-speaking natural, and ahistorical: the mere surface on
feminists have routinely distinguished which the script of gender is written.
between sex as biological and gender as Poststructuralist theorists of sex and gender reject
a social or cultural category. The sex/gender this picture of sex. Their aim is to understand
distinction provides the basic framework for a ‘sex or the body’ as a concrete, historical and
great deal of feminist theory, and it has become social phenomenon, not as an essence.
widely accepted in society at large. The original
1960s understanding of the concepts has the In this paper, I too am trying to work out a
merit of stressing that gender is a social theory of the sexually different body. Unlike the
construction and the demerit of turning sex into poststructuralist theorists of sex and gender,
an essence. Considered as an essence sex becomes however, I have come to the conclusion that no
immobile, stable, coherent, fixed, prediscursive, amount of rethinking of the concepts of sex and

2004 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 25

gender will produce a good theory of the body Sex shows that every general theory of gender of
or subjectivity. The distinction between sex and ‘femininity’ will produce a reified and clichéd
gender is simply irrelevant to the task of view of women.
producing a concrete, historical understanding
of what it means to be a woman (or a man) in a Finally, I want to say a few words about the
given society. No feminist has produced a better wider feminist and theoretical issues I seek to
theory of the embodied, sexually different engage with. Taking Wittgenstein’s deceptively
human being than Simone de Beauvoir in The simple phrase ‘the meaning of a word is its use
Second Sex. Because contemporary English in the language’ as my source of inspiration, I
language critics have read Beauvoir’s 1949 essay have tried to show that what Susan Gubar has
through the lens of the 1960s wittily labeled feminist theory’s ‘bad case of
sex/gender distinction, they critical anorexia,’ namely the
have failed to see that her tendency to make the word
essay provides exactly the Women’s bodies are ‘woman’ slim down to
kind of non-essentialist, human as well as female. nothing, is a problem of our
own (I mean ‘us feminist
concrete, historical and social Women have interests,
understanding of the body theorists’ own’) making.
capacities, and ambitions
that so many contemporary Through a careful
that reach far beyond the investigation of the concepts
feminists are looking for. In realm of sexual differences,
short, Beauvoir’s claim that of sex and gender, this essay
however one defines these. tries to show (rather than just
‘one is not born, but rather
Investigations of the claim) that the belief of any
becomes a woman’ has been
sorely misunderstood by meaning of femininity in use of the word ‘woman’ (and
contemporary feminists. specific historical and any answer to the question
Lacan returned to Freud; it is theoretical contexts are ‘What is a woman?’) must
time for feminist theorists to indispensable to the entail a philosophical
return to Beauvoir. feminist project of commitment to metaphysics
and essentialism, is mistaken.
understanding and
I start my investigation of It follows that efforts to rescue
transforming sexist cultural
sex and gender in feminist the word ‘woman’ from its so-
theory by asking: In what practices and traditions called inherent essentialism,
circumstances do we need to for instance by claiming that
draw on distinctions of this one only uses it ‘strategically’,
kind? In this essay, my main project is to show or that one really thinks of it as an ‘umbrella
that there is at least one case in which the term,’ or that one really ought only to speak of
distinction does no useful work at all, and that various kinds of women, or that one always
is when it comes to producing a good theory of mentally must add quotation marks to the word
subjectivity. In other contexts, the sex/gender in order to place it under deconstructive erasure,
distinction nevertheless remains of crucial are misguided because they are unnecessary.
importance to feminism.
Whether it is to reaffirm or to deconstruct
Simone de Beauvoir’s understanding of what the concept, most feminist theories today rely
a woman is makes a political and practical on a universalized and reified concept of
difference in the conflicts of everyday life. In ‘femininity.’ A feminist theory that starts from
contemporary feminist theory so much energy an ordinary understanding of what a woman is,
is spent keeping the spectre of biologically based namely a person with a female body, will not
essentialism at bay that it is easy to forget that necessarily be either metaphysical or essentialist.
generalizations about gender may be just as Such a theory does not have to be committed to
oppressive as generalizations about sex. In many the belief that sex and/or gender differences
situations today biological determinism is not always manifest themselves in all cultural and
the most pressing obstacle to an emancipatory personal activities, or that whenever they do,
understanding of what a woman is. The Second then they are always the most important features

26 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 2004

of a person or a practice. Women’s bodies are concrete, everyday concerns. That feminism, I
human as well as female. Women have interests, am happy to say, exists. Moreover, usually even
capacities, and ambitions that reach far beyond the most anti-metaphysical feminist theorists
the realm of sexual differences, however one support it in practice. No feminist I know is
defines these. Investigations of the meaning of incapable of understanding what it means to say
femininity in specific historical and theoretical that the Taliban are depriving Afghan women
contexts are indispensable to the feminist project of their most elementary human rights just
of understanding and transforming sexist cultural because they are women. The problem is not
practices and traditions. Yet any given women the meaning of these words, but the fact that
will transcend the category of femininity too many academic feminists, whether students
however it is defined. A feminism that reduces or professors, fear that if they were to use such
women to their sexual difference can only ever sentences in their intellectual work, they would
be the negative mirror image of sexism. It is sound dreadfully naïve and unsophisticated. Such
because Simone de Beauvoir never forgot that fear, incidentally, is not only grounded on a
one of the many possible answers to the question certain theoretical confusion about sex and
‘What is a woman?’ is ‘a human being’, that I gender, but also on the idea that academic
have been able to make such extensive use of writing and ordinary language and experiences
The Second Sex in this essay. Yet it is as oppressive are somehow opposed to each other.
and theoretically unsatisfactory to reduce women
to their ‘general humanity’ as it is to reduce them This essay, academic and theoretical as it is,
to their femininity. Beauvoir herself writes: won’t tell anyone what to do about the Taliban.
‘Surely woman is, like man, a human being, but It does show, however, that we do not have to
such a declaration is abstract. The fact is that believe that the word ‘woman’ always carries
every concrete human being is always in a heavy metaphysical baggage. If I am right about
specific situation.’ 1 As Beauvoir shows, the this, then it follows that an anti-essentialist
question of what a woman is instantly raises the feminist may very well claim that the point of
question of the relationship between the feminism is to make the world a better place for
particular and the general. women without being caught in the slightest
theoretical contradiction. For me, at least, this
The answer to the question of what a woman is an immensely liberating conclusion. My aim
is, is not one. To say this, moreover, is specifically in this essay, then, is to show that the question
to deny that the answer is that woman is not of what a woman is, is crucial to feminist theory,
one. It may be that, in some situations, it makes and that anyone who is willing to think it
sense to understand a given woman or a given through once more from the beginning stands
group of women as, say, plural and decentred. to gain a real sense of intellectual freedom.•
Yet to generalize this or any other view is to
fabricate yet another reified concept of
femininity. Too many forms of contemporary Endnotes
feminism appear unable to understand women 1
In French: ‘Le fait est que tout être humain concret est
who do not conform to their own more or less toujours singulièrement situé (my emphasis).
Parshley translates this as ‘The fact is that every
narrow vision of what a woman is or ought to concrete human being is always a singular, separate
be. The predictable result is the proliferation of individual.’
accusations of ‘exclusionism’ against this or that
theory. What we need today more than ever is a
feminism committed to seeking justice and
equality for women, in the most ordinary sense
of the word. Only such a feminism will be able
to adequately grasp the complexity of women’s

2004 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 27

It was a real mess in the
S H O R T S T O R Y refugee camp. Children
were crying and
By Pushpa Ramlani howling here and there…. For a
piece of bread….for a
Kabul, Afghanistan biscuit…for a drop of milk….or
after knocking each others heads
while playing. Whatever the reason,
there was a big noise everywhere.
Mothers did not have any time to
spare to console their crying
children. They were busy with their
daily routine…. cooking lunch,
preparing porridge for the
children…washing clothes…
fetching water…washing pots and
pans. When mothers have lots of
things to do, the children can play
as much as they wish.
Nazreen chopped two big
onions and wiped her tears from the
veil around her head. The oil in the
pot was bubbling and dancing with
the flames of the fire. She put all
the onions to the boiling oil. It
made a big noise in the small tent.
The baby, who was sleeping in the
corner of the tent, woke up at the
noise of frying onions. She took out
the last two cups of her free rice
rations, washed the rice and put it
in the pot with sufficient water.
Hayathullah will come after a little
while to have lunch, will gulp some
food and go back.
‘It would be great if he brings
some kebabs with him. Otherwise
we have to eat plain boiled rice.’
Nazreen was thinking. Hayath had
to go for his part time job this

Even God is afternoon. Yesterday he could not

transport any smuggled valuables to
earn money. With two bundles of
cigarettes and three bundles of

Helpless !
opium, Hayath can easily cross the
Afghan-Pakistan border and reach
the smuggling-chief in the bazaar.
His hands and body were still
strong enough to carry goods such
as refrigerators, sewing machines
and bicycles whenever the

28 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 2004

smuggling chief asked him to do so. Today he She unfolded a plastic cloth on the floor and
had gone to the bazaar to sell some packets of brought a big plate full of warm rice and kept it
cigarettes that he had stolen yesterday. If he on the cloth. Hayathulla also put all the food he
managed to sell them he will be able to bring brought and kept them around the big plate of
some hot Naans (Afghan bread) with some rice: naan, kebabs and some potato chips.
kebabs. Nazreen picked up the crying baby in Nazreen called all the children to have lunch.
her arms and pushed one of her nipples into the She served a plate full of rice and kept it in front
baby’s mouth. She knew that it did not have of Hayath, opened the other packets and served
any milk, but it was the only alternative she the kebabs as well. Without washing or cleaning
could find to stop the baby crying. As refugees their hands, all of them started eating.
they got rice, cooking oil, potatoes and onions,
but they did not receive any milk powder at all. “Nazreen..., I have been asked to do some
Rumours were that the Pakistani officers who work tomorrow. Maybe I will get a good amount
dealt with them took the milk powder and did of money. Maybe you may remember the last
whatever they wanted with it. “May Allah time?”
protect them! At least they are kind to give us “What is that? To traffick some opium to
the other rations.” Nazreen wished them well Peshawar?”
without cursing them.
“No, no… this time a refrigerator….” He
From childhood she had never experienced a winked at her.
peaceful environment, only bomb explosions,
shooting and fighting. At the time when the “Don’t you think it’s better hire a helper?”
Russians started war and conquered Afghanistan,
“You know, if I hire a helper, I have to give
Nazreen was just a small child. Her mother, who
him his share also. I told the chief that I can
would be terrified when she heard the noise of
manage it alone”.
the convoys, would grab all her children and try
to put them inside the mud hut. “As you wish.”
Her mother would spit out and say, “These “At least if we can build a mud hut instead of
rascals do not even care whether the girls are this tent for our kids”
still infants. They are not reluctant to fulfill their
desires. Crazy wolves.” Nazreen could still “Insha Alla! We’ll see.” Nazreen kept a glass
remember her mother’s words. ‘The Russians, of green tea near his plate.
and then the Mujahideens. The Russians are of
About four o’clock in the morning
course foreigners, but Mujahids…our own
Hayathulla left home. Nazreen came back to the
Muslim brothers…brother against brother,
children and lay down hugging the baby. It was
killing each other…fighting each other…..What
not as cold as it was in the summer. It was the
a shame! What a power struggle! After these
day that she had to teach the children in the camp
power hunters the Talibans ……they suspended
how to read the Quran. Two or three days a
girls going to schools….forced women to wear
week she would bring all the children in the
burqas…cover ourselves from head to toe…’
refugee camp together and teach them to read
Nazreen was trying to calm herself down from
the Quran, train them to read and write and also
the bad experiences of her past. She tried to hum
teach them nursery rhymes. For years and years
a lullaby to console her self. The child was
they were only experiencing war, and were not
sleeping again. After putting the baby child on
able to study. Nazreen thought that if these
a blanket allowing her to sleep comfortably,
children learned how to read and write it will be
Nazreen stirred the boiling rice.
helpful to them to find at least an odd job.
Hayath entered the tent with something
“Allahu Akbar! Bismillah Rahamani
folded under his arm. There was a smile on his
face. ‘There must be a story behind this smile’
thought Nazreen. The children started learning the Quran. In
another place in the compound she was teaching

2004 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 29

children how to write. She was writing with her invalid? What value is there in morality and
forefinger on the sand and the children were fidelity when one brandishes a sword and asks
following her. Some children with running noses your wife or sister to undress and forcefully rapes
and ragged clothes were playing a little bit away them?
from Nazreen.
The values they had prized have been
“Nazreen Jan……Nazreen Jan……” subverted…the war and eternal conflicts, blood
and tears have changed them. Men folk well
Suddenly some youngsters came shouting knew their wives were betraying them when
upto Nazreen. they were away either fighting or trafficking
“Why all this noise? Do you need some smuggled goods in order to earn a little money
opium?” or to get some rice or lentils to feed their children.
Yet who are they to condemn their wives acts?
“Nazreen Jan…You know what happen?” They knew that things had changed the hearts
and minds of all the people; why should their
“What is this? Tell me without giggling.”
wives be an exception?
“Brother Hayath….brother Hayath…”
“Lord Allah…..! Please protect us!”.•
“Yes… what happen to Hayath?”
“He slipped with the refrigerator and fell
“Yes, he is injured…..one hand or leg is
“So..tell me where is he now?” Nazreen tried
to dry her tears.
“He has been taken to the Red Cross
“Will one of you accompany me to the
hospital? One of you can stay here with the
children. One of you please go and ask Halla
(Aunt) Wahida to come here for a while.”
Nazreen could not think how to prioritize what
she had to do now. She took the burqa and
covered herself from head to toe and left the
refugee camp.
This type of life is not strange to them, though
it is a new kind of living. Lying, deceiving and
stealing have replaced the common values they
had before the conflicts in their country. First
the invaders from foreign lands and later the
torments of their own people had hardened their
minds. They witness brutal killings; people lying
in pools of blood without arms and limbs are
common scenes to them; what is smuggling a
refrigerator across the border to earn a few rupees
compared to cold blooded murders? What is
deceiving or stealing from another compared
with torture and making your neighbour an
30 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 2004
On the Fringes:


Sonal Makhija As L Kelly, a feminist writer states in the

Psychology of Women Quarterly: “In order to define
something a word has to exist and the name, once
“ Sexual intercourse by a man with his wife, known, must be applicable to one’s experience.”
the wife not being under 15 years of age, is
not rape. Like Bhattacharya, many women simply do
” - Section 375, Indian Penal Code -
not define their experience, as the term ‘marital
rape’ came into being much after the existence of
such experience itself. It does not help women

was being battered and what followed that the law does not allow the naming of names.
was sexual abuse. I wasn’t aware of
For according to Section 375 of the Indian
the term marital rape. But I knew that
Penal Code: “Rape is sexual intercourse without
what was happening to me wasn’t right,” says
the consent or against the will of the woman.” It
Rinki Bhattacharya founder of a helpline that
lays down six instances of rape, which qualify as
counsels victims of domestic violence.
offences. There is an exception to this section,
Bhattacharya walked out of her 19-year-old which reads, “Sexual intercourse by a man with
marriage when she realised that she was a victim his own wife, the wife not being under the age of
of marital rape. She registered a case under Section 15 years of age is not rape.”
498 A of the Indian Penal Code that deals with
This law stems from a patriarchal society
domestic violence. However, she could not charge
where a woman’s existence is defined by her
her husband with sexual abuse in the absence of
marriage. She is not only economically
any such law.
dependent, but also socially dependent on the
This is not a rare occurrence. The rape of a man. The problem also lies in the fact that the
woman by her husband is as banal as it is routine; Indian Penal Code was drafted by Lord Macaulay
a right is violated, a body is abused and a legal in the late 19th century. Its ethical underpinnings
system remains blindfolded. It is not a new were a reflection of Victorian morality, a code of
phenomenon. Marital rape is probably as old as social behaviour which in turn reflects the Judaeo-
the institution of marriage itself. But the term is Christian partiality for patriarchy. This also found
fairly new. resonance in the patriarchal moorings of Indian
2004 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 31
society and in the priviledging of male rights of property.” And laws have not changed much since
sexual intercourse over women’s autonomy and then.
sexual choices.
But the enemy has an outpost in most women’s
The Code is as responsible for women’s situation heads. Most Indian women do not regard forced
as the underlying patriarchal principles of Indian marital sex as rape. They have been conditioned to
society. Indeed, it is a reflection of social norms for believe that providing sex is obligatory in a marital
law cannot be seen as separate from society, it is contract.
produced and sustained by society. Feminist texts
Ar una Soni, an activist from the Women’s
have reiterated that this means a negation of personal
Centre, Mumbai, sums it up articulately, “Wife rape
freedom, a subsuming of a woman’s sexual identity
should be seen as a violation of human rights and
and ownership of her body to the fact of her
not just as women’s issues. And this is only possible
marriage. As Vrinda Nabar the author of Caste as
if women themselves step out of the status quo into
a Woman, puts it, “Women are socialised and
which they are socialised. Patriarchy and selective
conditioned into believing that they exist only to
readings of religion place much emphasis on
fulfill their husbands’ desires, moreover, sexual
‘happiness of the husband’ as the prime duty of the
needs. And, it is an unwritten rule that he can always
wife. Therefore, in cases of wife rape women are
do what he wants to do without being questioned.”
scared to accept the truth or identify violence.” And
The woman has no say, and when she does refuse yet an eminent woman lawyer fighting for women’s
to submit she supposedly denies her husband his issues says, “There are more serious concerns
right. This confusion about conjugal rights and a involving women besides marital rape.”
woman’s social role as a ‘good wife’ has been restated
It’s not just the law that needs to be changed but
not just by patriarchal society but also reinforced
also societal psyche and the psyche of women
by law. As Veena Gowda, a lawyer advocating
themselves. As long as the silent majority looks
women’s issues, says, “Matrimonial laws are
askance, the offender will get away with impunity.
personal laws. They are based on religion. Though
And marital rape will remain on the fringes of not
criminal law in India does not recognize marital
just the law and of society, but above all, of our
rape, civil law can intervene to order restitution of
minds. •
conjugal rights. This means that if either spouse
refuses to comply with sexual demands made by
the partner, it amounts to cruelty and is considered Editorial Note: This article, although written in
a marital offence.” 2000, continues to be relevant even today despite
Kelly states in her book, “Rape laws were so much visibility on the issue of violence against
originally enacted as property laws, to protect man’s women. Options, would however like to apologize
property (a daughter or a wife) from other men, for not being able to carry any references, as this
not as laws to protect women or their rights to article was written as a university assignment, when
control their bodies. Thus, the penalty of rape was the writer was a Law and Media undergraduate at
intended to punish a man for defiling another man’s the University of Mumbai, India.

THE SRI LANKAN LAW q with her consent when the man knows he is not her
husband and she is under the belief that she is
In Sri Lanka, the Penal Code was amended in 1995 married to him
to accommodate Marital Rape, in the instance of a judicial q with or without her consent when she is under 16
separation or divorce. Section 363 of the Sri Lankan Penal years except when she is his wife who is over 12
Code defines rape as “sexual intercourse with a woman years and not judicially separated from him.”
q without her consent;
Although the age of statutory rape was increased from
q where her consent has been obtained by use of 12 to 16 years, the age of statutory marital rape of 12
force, threats or intimidation; years remained the same. This provision is applicable only
q where she is judicially separated from the man; to Muslims as Muslims allow marriage at 12 years. This
q with her consent when her consent was obtained legal loophole means that sexual intercourse with a girl
when she was of unsound mind, in state of who is over the age of 12 years and below 16 years, and
intoxication induced by drugs or alcohol; married to the person in question would not be considered
rape, unless the wife is judicially separated.

32 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 2004

2004 • OPTIONS • 3rd Issue • 33
Vol: 35 • 3rd Issue 2004
ISSN 1391-5673


Comment 1
Challenges - Sunila Abeysekera 2
Acting Asian - Sepali Kottegoda 4
The Murder of Fannyann Eddy 8
Tit for Tat !!! - Nehama Jayewardene 9
The Meira Paibis of Manipur - Sunila Abeysekera 12
Poem - Women’s Things 13
Book Review - The Road from Elephant Pass - Neloufer de Mel 14
Wonderings - Harini Dias Bandaranayake 17
Film Review - Defiant Art - Robert Crusz 19
Home away from Home?- Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala 22
What is a Woman? - Toril Moi 25
Even God is Helpless - Pushpa Ramlani 28
On the Fringes: Marital Rape - Sonal Makhija 31

Edited by
Sepali Kottegoda
Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala

Page Layout by
Velayudan Jayachithra

The cover painting is by Amitha Indirani of Kegalle. Having graduated from the Institute of
Aesthetic Studies in 1995, with a Degree in Art, Amitha completed her Postgraduate Diploma
and Masters in Archeology at the University of Kelaniya in 1997 and 2004 respectively. Amitha
has participated in a number of art exhibitions since 1994, including all the International
Women’s Day exhibitions held by the Vibhavi Academy of Fine Arts.

Amitha currently works as an Animator at Creata AV Productions, Battaramulla.

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