Escaping the Birdcage: Complicating Narratives of Agency and Victimhood through Maternal Metaphors of the Female Tigers in the LTTE



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It is hard to imagine genocide, war and violence without imagining women. Cruelty against women, or more essentially mothers, represents the darkest aspects of war against a people. To humanize a group, you invoke their mothers – symbols of the capacity of those people to love and be loved. However, in many contexts, womens and mothers are not only victims of violence, but its perpetrators as well. During the Sri Lankan civil war, it was Tamil women within the militant separatist organization of the LTTE who disproportionately enacted mass violence against both soldiers and civilians. Women became perpetrators, not victims. And yet, their violence was assigned a maternal virtue – a mother’s divine wrath and extreme urge to protect. The association of women as docile, servile and above all self-sacrificing dispelled any sense of empowerment that female combatants might have gained when they picked up their weapons. Their participation in an extremist movement was attributed to the manipulation of their maternal instincts, not to an active choice fueled by their beliefs. By reducing women to different aspects of motherhood – the mother of a people, the ever-giving mother, the mother goddess – they are stripped of their agency and bound to their “nature”. This thesis attempts to complicate narratives of violent women as only acting upon and being exploited through their most maternal instincts. To this end, this thesis will engage with propaganda about and by Tamil female militants, mythical and religious depictions of mothers within nationalist rhetoric and the bodily autonomy of women fighting the Sri Lankan civil war to assert their identities as militants, not mothers.



Sri Lankan Civil War, Motherhood, Victimhood and Agency, Tamil nationalism, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Propaganda, Birds of Freedom, Militancy, Historicism, Sexual Division of Labor, Mother Nation, Hindu Goddess Kali