No More Tears Sister: a Feminist Analysis

Published: 2021-06-17 06:30:08
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“No More Tears Sister” is a 2005 documentary on the life and legacy of Dr. Rajani Thirangama- a revolutionary left-leaning Sri Lankan activist. She was a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and extended her support to them both within the country by tending to the casualties of those wounded in militant action, and later, from outside the country by writing about and furthering their idea of a separate Tamil state. She first joined the LTTE after becoming convinced ideologically by her sister, Nirmala’s membership in the militant outfit. However, in the mid- 70’s she became disillusioned with the violence perpetrated on all sides- by the LTTE, by the Sri Lankan Army, and subsequently, by the Indian Peacekeeping Forces. This slowly led her to question the LTTE members and hold them accountable for their actions. She started an organization of people called “University Teachers for Human Rights” where she started to document cases of violence along with eyewitness accounts and large volumes of evidence.
This document was titled “The Broken Palmyra”. Her keen observations and dissent raised by her angered the members of the LTTE and her being perceived as a threat to the secrecy and activities of the outfit were what subsequently led them to assassinate her near her house in Jaffna. It is also pertinent to note that she was a vocal feminist. Having been raised in a Tamil Christian household with three sisters, she along with her siblings were exposed to literature like “Little Women” and they had a vociferous reading habit which enlightened them and made them liberal in their thinking and action. It also helped that she came from a relatively progressive household with parents who saw purposefulness in their daughters’ intellectual endeavours. Rajani and her sister Nirmala exercised their individual agencies in choosing whom they wanted to get married to. They were empowered enough to demand that they wanted their future husbands to share their political views. Surely enough, they did find such men. Dayapala Thirangama- Rajani’s husband- was a student leader who envisioned a Sri Lanka where poverty and unemployment were eradicated and he believed that Tamils and Sinhalese had to work together towards that end. He did not champion the cause of a separate Tamil state and this- among many other areas- was where Rajani and he differed. Dayapala was a progressive man who was so dedicated to the revolution that he understood Rajani’s dedication to her own causes and never pressured her to fulfil her “ideal” responsibilities of a mother when she gave birth to their children.In fact, they both saw themselves as equal partners and slaves of the revolution. Rajani especially was extremely idealistic and she and Dayapala both sacrificed personal happiness and the bliss of marital life to work for their country. Rajani believed- and rightfully so- that women were the worst sufferers of violence in Sri Lanka. She- along with her association, the University Teachers for Human Rights- documented every single instance of violence as much as possible. She had recognized that for most men involved in the war at the time- whether they belonged to the LTTE, the Indian Peacekeeping Forces, or the Sri Lankan Army- the conquest over a woman’s body was considered a mark of achievement. When the LTTE raped hundreds of thousands of women, every violated woman was expected to don the LTTE uniform and join the cadre in their fight for Tamil Eelam (which anyway, was an aim that was mostly abandoned and which sunk into just mindless violence). This established the clear principle of how the violation of a woman’s body was seen as a way of establishing ownership of her very being and hence, she had to become “one of them” by virtue of her body being “conquered” by them already. By virtue of being raped, she had already become the “property” of the LTTE. In this way, women were forced to engage in violence and were also manipulated and brainwashed to embrace death and be prepared to lose their lives at any moment for the sake of the larger aims of the LTTE. Besides, most women cadre- just like those in the Naxalite movement- were not at all recognized, acknowledged or appreciated for their efforts. They were seen as sexual objects within the outfit and could be disposed of at any time, like a used tissue.
As for the atrocities committed by the Indian Peacekeeping Forces and the Sri Lankan Army, raping women was their way of establishing power and scaring civilians into compliance. It was a humiliating and dehumanizing tactic that they used to show them “who was boss” and to maintain order in the strife-filled pockets. Besides, what has not been talked about extensively in the documentary but which I am sure is an issue Rajani and Nirmala contended with is working in a masculine space like the LTTE. Violence and mindless massacre as well as fanatic dedication were an intrinsic part of life in the LTTE and it could not have been easy for Rajani and Nirmala to work in such a toxic, male-dominated space. As women, their sovereignty and bodily integrity may have been undermined many times. After all, to most men in the LTTE, women were castaways who had to sacrifice their lives at the drop of a hat for the sake of the organization. A lot of women inside the LTTE were reported to have faced sexual harassment. I am actually surprised that this issue was not talked about at all in the documentary-not even as a passing mention. The way Rajani lived her life is an example to all those committed to any political cause. She placed the cause above everything- above herself, her personal happiness and her family too even though as a mother, it caused her great pain to do so. Her life itself was a sacrifice and she knew nothing but the suffering of her people. Her indomitable spirit was such that she returned to Jaffna from London along with her children in spite of knowing that she or her children could easily die as this was a time when activists and professionals were fleeing the violence in Jaffna. This was a supreme sacrifice on her part as she was fully aware of the dangers to her family but chose to confront them head-on because she knew that this was what her people lived through every minute of every day. Her commitment to her people was unparalleled.
In a way, her story reminds me of Baby Kamble’s. Baby Kamble is a Dalit activist who does not even know to think of herself as distinct from her people- the Mahars. Her autobiography is more of a socio-biography as there are hardly any references to her personal life. The cause of Dalit liberation and the liberation of her people was more important to her than anything else- even more than the fulfilment of her roles in her family. In an interview with Maya Pandit, she reveals that there is not a single mention in her autobiography of the sufferings she underwent because she really thought they were not that important. Her personal suffering did not matter to her as she wanted to highlight what the women of her community went through every single day, and these were voices that needed to be heard. It is women like these- like Rajani – who are the very embodiments of sacrifice and who deserve to be worshipped as strong heroes who keep the flag of feminism flying high in their own ways. Rajani never let anything stop her from pursuing her one and only goal- to work for her people. In a societal set up that makes mothers feel guilty for not performing traditional roles and being there for their children and families all the time, Rajani came out strongly and never backed down. To her, her personal life was not above the upliftment of her people. She also had people in her life who understood that and stood by her through the tough times in her life and through the turmoil in the country. Tragic though her end might have been, her legacy lives on to inspire generations to fight against human rights violations in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

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