Gender and Terrorism (Female Suicide Missions)

The Decision to Recruit Women

Women assembled for LTTE

Photo: c.2007 Women assemble for a LTTE drill. http://www.flickr.com/photos/thuppahi/5852549972/in/photostream/

Pressure from Several Factors

The decision for recruiting women was not easy and was made under the pressure of several factors. First and foremost was the tense competition among Tamil armed groups for combatants. While the number of males was decreasing due to emigration and violence, the number of women joining LTTE sharply increased to approximately 20-30% of its membership.[viii] By the beginning of 1990s women constituted the majority of the largest of the suicide units, called the Black Tigers. Additionally, LTTE, just like other radical organizations, started using female bombers as a new tactic, in order to reach targets that otherwise could not be accessed.[ix] An illustration of this is the murder of Rajiv Ghandi (May, 21st, 1991) by a young woman who was allowed by himself to approach him. Holiday dressed and wearing a garland of flowers, she detonated the explosive device which caused the death of the Indian prime minister, 14 of his followers and also the death of the perpetrator. 

Nationalistic Pride

However, women’s participation went far beyond the tactical; it was seen as a deeply symbolic process expressing the faith[x] and control of Tamils themselves over their own destiny.  It should be specially pointed out that the recruitment of women encouraged recruitment of male combatants[xi] as far as women’s participation was seen as a challenge to local men’s audacity and capacity to fight for Tamil liberation. It also increased the support of the diasporas[xii] addressing their nationalistic pride of being members of a nation in which even women are ready to die for the cause. It also helped to fill up the ideological vacuum[xiii] that suffered LTTE since the very beginning of its existence.[xiv] In the absence of a sophisticated ideology, which LTTE has never been able to develop, the “heroes” become the cement of internal solidarity. In Tamil culture, as in many others, there are no special limitations for female participation in armed activities; men are expected to fight and to die, while women are not.  Women’s participation fosters internal solidarity because it creates in the community a sense of shared readiness to fight or to die; and gives the Tamil cause universal character – at least for the Tamils themselves.

Changes in Gender Societal Roles

Even now, after the military defeat of LTTE, there is little information available on the female bombers.[xv] What can be claimed is that the internal war led to changes in the gender roles system of Tamil society urging women to assume new responsibilities commensurate with their widening of their freedom.[xvi] Participation in violent forms of struggle is a clear demonstration of this fact.

Individual Motivation

Due to language problems and secrecy imposed by LTTE, little can be said about individual motivation of female suicide terrorists. Some experts believe that the recruits were children recruited forcibly and then indoctrinated in unconditional loyalty to the charismatic leader.[xvii] Especially developed procedures and rituals were created in order to foster and maintain this loyalty.

Child Recruitment

Photographer captures child soliderNewspaper editor S. Manoranjan, a Tamil who has been fighting against Sinhalese discrimination for three decades, describes the process in this way: “...People assume that a cadre who wears a bunkhet and gun and explodes is mature and understands politics; is committed to the cause. No, that is not the thing at all. Where in the beginning that might have been [the case] with one or two cadre, now there is a process of creating human bombs….They [LTTE] collect children from refugee camps where they have lost their parents. [Many of these are small children], five years old, six years old. They have been brought up in this Red Garden. And after two or three years they are separated ... and taken to a hidden place in the jungle. That particular place is named as "Puti de Pumi," a sacred land. This is the place where these human bombs are being produced. They [the children] are not exposed to the war. They only know about their leader. They have a last supper with the leader. They ... feel that they are dying for the leader. That's all. They don't have any idea of fighting for separate state or the commitment towards the cause of the Tamils. Nothing. They are just robots.”[xviii]  Photo: 1987 Renowned photographer, Bominic Sansoni photographing an LTTE child soldier who was on duty at a public meeting held at Sudumalai Amman Kovil in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?fname=20070118_05

The forced recruitment is confirmed by Menake, the only LTTE female bomber interviewed till now. Her story, reproduced by the journalist Godween is as follows: “Home was an impoverished fishing village in northeast Sri Lanka. Her alcoholic father drank more than he fished, and he often hit his wife. Menake was 3 when her mother died from one of his frequent attacks. When Menake was 7, her father raped her repeatedly for four days during a drunken binge. Finally, her grandfather rescued her, and her father disappeared. She never saw him again...When Menake was 15, her grandparents died. Her uncle and aunt reluctantly took her in, making it known that she was a burden. Two years later, in 2000, faced with a shortage of fighters, the LTTE levied a human tax - Tamil families were ordered to give a member, male or female, to the organization to be trained for combat. Menake’s relatives gave her up for the cause. “They just said, ‘She is yours,’” Menake tells me. “I cried. I begged [the LTTE] not to take me. I told them I didn’t want to die so young. But a woman officer told me, ‘Sorry, we can’t help you. Your relatives said you came here of your own volition.”[xix]

 


[viii] ALISON, Miranda. 2003. Cogs in the Wheel? Women in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Civil Wars, Vol.6, No.4 (Winter), pp.37-54

[ix] HOPGOOD, Stephen. 2005. Tamil Tigers 1987-2002. In GAMBETA, Diego. (ed) 2005. Making sense of Suicide Missions. Oxford, Oxfor Univerity Press, р. 46

[x] Suicide bombings: case of Sri Lanka. Insights Issue N5 March 2007. www.se1.isn.ch/serviceengine/FileContent?serviceID=PublishingHouse&fileid=3A48D6

[xi] CHANDRAN, Suba. 2003. “Born to die: The Black Tigers of the LTTE”, Peace and Conflict, vol. 6, No.6, http://www.ipcs.org/whatsNewArticle2.jsp?action=showView&kValue=599&status=publications&mod=b 

[xii] BRUN, Katherine. 2005. Women in the global/local fields of the war and displacement in Sri Lanka. http://gtd.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/9/1/57, pp. 56-80

[xiii] GUANAWARDENA, Arjuna. Female Black Tigers:A Different Breed of Cat? In SCHWEITZER, Yoram. (ed). 2006. Female Suicide Bombers& Dying for Equality? Memorandum N84. Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies. Telaviv University, http://www.tau.ac.il/jcss/memoranda/memo84.pdf, pp. 81-91

[xiv] GUANAWARDENA, Arjuna. Female Black Tigers:A Different Breed of Cat? In SCHWEITZER, Yoram. (ed). 2006. Female Suicide Bombers& Dying for Equality? Memorandum N84. Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies. Telaviv University, http://www.tau.ac.il/jcss/memoranda/memo84.pdf, pp. 81-91

[xv] A  military ofansive that let to the military defeat of LTTE started in August 2006 when the LTTE blocked the sluice gates of an irrigation canal in the east over a dispute with the government on execution of a development project in the province. After passing several stages, it ended on May, 19, 2009, when the leader Prabakharan was killes together with some of trusted commanders. (Murlidhar Reddy. 2009. How the Lankan army crushed the LTTE. May, 21st. http://news.rediff.com/slide-show/2009/may/20/slide-show-1-how-war-against-ltte-was-won.htm#contentTop

[xvi] For more details on the impact of the war see BRUN, Katherine. 2005. Women in the global/local fields of the war and displacement in Sri Lanka. http://gtd.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/9/1/57, pp. 56-80; DE ALWISMalathi. 2002. The changing role of women in Sri Lankan society. Social Research,  Fall, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2267/is_3_69/ai_94227137/pg_1?tag=artBody;col1; SORNARAJAH, Nanthini. 2004. The experience of  Tamil women: nationalism, construction of gender, and women’s political agency. Line-magazine. http://www.lines-magazine.org/textfeb04/nanthini.htm; MANCHANDARita. 2001. Where are the Women in South Asian Conflicts? Manchanda, Rita. (ed.), Women, War and Peace in South Asia: Beyond Victimhood to Agency, Sage, New Delhi, pp. 9–41; ALISON, Miranda. 2003. Cogs in the Wheel? Women in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Civil Wars, Vol.6, No.4 (Winter), pp.37-54

[xvii] The film “My dauther, the terrorist”, by Beate Arnestad, produced by Morten Daae, (Norway, 2007) is probably the first documentary containing the confessions of LTTE cadres.

[xviii]FRONTLINE WORLD. 2002. Interview with  S. Manoranjan. May.  http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/srilanka/feature.html

[xix] GODWEEN, Jan. 2007. When a suicide bomber is a woman. Asian Tribune, 18.08., http://www.asiantribune.com/index.php?q=node/7021

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