20 May, 2024


Gendered Violence In The North And East Of Sri Lanka

By Pradeep Jeganathan

Dr.Pradeep Jeganathan

The Sinhala service of the BBC, reported a few hours ago, of an “alarming rise of sexual abuse in Jaffna.” They quoted Dr S Sivaruban, the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) of the Jaffna Teaching hospital: “There were 102 cases of sexual abuse reported in Jaffna in 2010 and it has increased to 182 in 2011,” said Dr Sivaruban.

This sad, troubling statistic and statement is indicative of the breakdown of social structure in Jaffna, something that I’ve been picking up on through anecdotal evidence, on the one hand, and published reports on the other. The break down can be attributed to wild swings in explicitly and implicitly enforced social norms, given a pre war, and war time social structure which saw an intertwining of both extreme patriarchal and puritanical ideologies. With the destruction of kin groups during the war, due to death, injury or migration, and then sudden removal of the enforced puritanism, an intimate, predator patriarchy seems to have emerged, throughout the war affected areas. This is intensified by the world being ‘turned upside down’ during the war. Older, literate elites do not command authority any more, even if they have not migrated. A good deal of ‘unofficial’ authority –social and real capital — seems to be embodied and embedded in shadowy groups intimately familiar with the use of weapons and involved in illegal or quasi illegal business activities.  Tellingly, few people under the age of retirement even use the rebuilt Jaffna library any more.

The break down can be attributed to wild swings in explicitly and implicitly enforced social norms, given a pre war, and war time social structure which saw an intertwining of both extreme patriarchal and puritanical ideologies.

Remarkably and even more troublingly, this telling development is not even refereed to in astatement issued and publicized by a group calling itself the North East Women’s Network. Other issues highlighted in the statement either make little sociological sense or are shown to be partial and partisan by other published reports, which are of course, at best, short term studies driven by rigid advocacy pressures placed upon researchers by donors.

Yet, is seems safe to conclude that there has been a rather large increase in intra-community,  gendered violence after the end of the war, catalyzed by the break down of social structure I pointed to above. The military presence in the north must be understood as a layer that wraps around this break down exacerbating the situation in some areas. It is quite akin to the social context of military bases in other parts of the world; right after a war, even many years after a war. For example, in Germany and Japan after the second world war, and in South Korea during the Korean War and after, as it does in Okinawa; a context addressed by scholars such as Cynthia Enloe.

This relationship between civilians and the military is complicated and skirts the uncomfortable edge of a divide between coercion and consent. Consider this quote taken from a recent ICG report which captures this:

There is also a sense now among many who live and work in the north that women “are not scared of the army like before and the army is not seen to openly engage in violence against women” as they were in the immediate aftermath of the war….”There are many single women – widows or wives of men who are in detention. Life for them is difficult. They have needs and
look for support. If someone talks to them nicely or assures of help, then they are willing to fall into a relationship. It is only natural”. (pages 28 & fn. 196)

The sections in quotation marks here, come from an ICG interview with a “Tamil Politician.” By highlighting it here, I do not mean to imply that all interactions between the armed forces and tamil women have been benign. Indeed not, coercion is coupled with consent.

But I do wish to underline the complex, multi faceted terrain of relations which overlays a broken social structure. Simplifying all this to make an easy, sound bite friendly, political point, does a disservice to the serious issues at stake.

Hence my intervention.

You can read Dr.Pradeep Jeganathan‘s wrtings @ www.pjeganathan.org

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 0

    same old predaap again,this is an ideologically blind , a priori statement

    • 0

      ideologically blind? what does mean? And Its Pradeep, by the way.

      • 0

        They have someone to complain to today. Are you trying to make out that there was no physical violence in Northern and Eastern Tamil couples when the LTTE was running the show? You forget that they brain washed women the considered ugly and sent them on suicide missions. The woman who blew herself up in the Sarath Fonseka assassination attempt was pregnant and on mission. How bad was that. At least the women now have people to complain to. The BBC has exposed itself to a lot of criticism after they screened Syria on the programme Panorama yesterday. The scenes were clearly staged and the presenter was mocking the intelligence of the viewers with his explanations about heavy bombardment going at the time. The ligting somehow was perfect and so was the sound so not one but at least three BBC people were on that story.
        By the way are you a Medical Doctor?

  • 0

    The defeated Tamil Tiger terrorists have nothing else to say?When these areas were under the jackboot of the barbaric Tamil Tiger monsters it must have been paradise,eh!Still can’t come to terms with the elimination of the sadist terrorists?Keep on complaining spoil sport.CT has a nice set of DRs.Or are they DRs of terror who wants to create conflict once again to resume the terror campaign?Bloody lying terrorists!

  • 0

    Pradeep as someone who is widely read, one should expect better from you and you should give something better too. What was the point and purpose of this rather puzzling article. Which planet do you come from? This is the plight of women everywhere and it doesn’t help when men take it up only when it’s timely for their Agenda and serves their point and purpose. Pre- war nobody bothered too much about us because the war naturally hogged all of the Headlines. But now there is much more space and scope to talk about women and their plight – this is not specific to the North mind you. Nevertheless, putting women in the spotlight is appreciated.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.