Friday, March 23, 2012

Women demand fair representation in politics and decision making

Creative cloth banner by women

The population of women in Sri Lanka is 51% of the total population of 21.3 million. There are 56% women voters in Sri Lanka. But the discrimination continues at various levels in various fields including decision making. Some women are courageous enough to challenge the patriarchy and win the battles. But some women simply shy away.

Women need support to break the glass ceiling

Women who contested at local elections and won:~

I have decided to contest in the elections in Vavuniya. Women were with me and they supported. But the men asked me “are you willing to be widowed and wear a white saree and loose the pottu (bindi) and flowers? Men are not willing to accept our (women’s) decision. Men politicians are not talking about women's issues. Women need to encourage women. Threats continue, but I am not worried. There a lot of political interference, but we need to work hard to overcome” says Nagaranjani Iyankaran, Valigamam West.

"Men politicians open bars in villages during the election period in order to stop the women from contesting. My cut outs were destroyed, nevertheless I won the elections” says Chandrakanthi Dasanayake from Seruwila.

Women have to take part in Politics. More and more women should actively participate in politics and decision making” says Mareen Abdeen Basheer, Dehiwala Mount Lavinia Municipal Council member.

Mareen Abdeen Basheer, Dehiwala Mount Lavinia Municipal Council member shares her experience

Neighbours, villagers and relatives did not talk to me during my election campaign. My eldest daughter was fasting during my election campaign, because she wanted me to win. My four daughters worked hard with me during the election campaign. Even after winning the elections in 2009, the women's organisations in the North did not recognise our talents, but women's organisations in the South came to Jaffna and recognised us” says A. Maria Goratty, Jaffna Municipal Council member.

There are 247 families in Maanthai East, Paandiyankulam, and there are 48 widows. Intimidation and threats continued, but I was not afraid, decided to contest and won. There were 612 candidates, and I was the only woman contested and elected. My husband is very supportive” Saraswathy Theiventhram, Maanthai East, Paandiyankulam.

Saraswathy Theiventhram, Maanthai East, Paandiyankulam receives he award from Deshabandu Jezima Ismail

Women who contested at local elections and lost:~

Supporters of a main political party stayed near my house during the election campaign in order to prevent me from going to villages to meet the voters. People don't vote for us, because we don't give promises which cannot be delivered. Men politicians say "women need to dress properly. My question is what happens and why are the women at home being abused?.” Male politicians use “women’s dress” to stop us from contesting elections” M.M.Kanthi De Silva~ Kanthale.

Third Eye performs at the event

My party United National Party did not support me. Women did not support me. What can you do?, the voters kept asking me. If you are contesting under UPFA or TNA then you can do something to us, but you are contesting UNP, so it’s difficult to deliver”. I spent Rs.800,000 from my own money. We did not even give panadol to our people who suffered during the floods. People do not know how to vote. Most voters have voted for more” Kanakambal Vijeratnam~Vavuniya.

Male politicians and candidates tried many times to stop me from contesting. Some have even tried through my husband to withdraw my candidature. Rigging happens, women candidates have to talk about it. We are 51% of the population, why don't women support women?” queries Tharanga Kaikawela.

People always asked me “what can you deliver?”. People need to be part of the process” says Shanthi Satchithanandam.

I was encouraged to contest by women from Sinhala community. UPFA promised, but they failed, therefore contested independently. Our men have changed and changed the women overnight the day before the elections. I was threatened over the telephone and in person. I was not afraid. I told the army officers, I will take claymores before the women suicide cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) exploding them. I wanted to offer this service to the women from Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who carried claymores in 2006 in the east, because I wanted to prevent the women from being abused” Kanthimathy Nageswaran from Seruwila.

I hated politics when I was young. Upcountry is backward in education. But I have decided to be active in politics. We face inequality in every field. There is politics everywhere, therefore I have decided to take part in politics in order to uplift the living standards of the upcountry people” says Balambikai Subramaniam from Nuwara Eliya .

There were 3 women contested in the elections. No support was extended to us, because we are women. Society does not accept change and change makers. No women's organisations supported me. I and my husband went from house to house by bicycle for campaigning. Men on motorbike tried to abduct me, but I was bold enough to beat them. I neither cried nor screamed, instead I have thoroughly beaten them. Women cook deliciously, the men enjoy the variety cooking. Why does not the society give space for women to progress?” queries Sinnathamby Seetha from Aalaiyadivembu.

I contested in 1994 under Tamil National Alliance, and got 8,000 votes, although I did not win, I am active in politics. We voted for the politicians not to cross over. Why cannot the political parties nominate the women as the main candidates? “queries Annamma Sountharrajah from Ampara.

Annamma Sountharrajah shares her extensive experience

View of audience at the event

Women Action Network (WAN) has brought the women who have challenged the status quo in their efforts to demand justice and fair representation in decision making. The event was organised to celebrate the International Women’s Day 2012. The Women’s Action Network is a collective of 12 women’s organisation from the North and East of Sri Lanka. Awards were presented to courageous women at the event.

16 women politicians and 7 women for their brave action to demand justice were felicitated

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Fighting the good fight for Feminism

By Thulasi Muttulingam

Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai is a well known blogger who specializes in covering Tamil events and issues.

DushiYanthini Kanagasabapathipillai is a passionate journalist

Coming from a supportive family who made her believe she could do anything she set out to do, she was in for a rude surprise when she plunged into her first job as a journalist in a Tamil newspaper.

That was back in 1993, when she was just 21 years old. The country was in the middle of a long drawn out war, she came from the ethnic minority that was fighting the war, and if that wasn’t enough, she was female. A female from a very conservative and traditionalist community which believed in keeping its women safe, chaste and protected, ergo tied up with lots of rules and regulations.

But the 21 year old Dushiyanthini wanted to do what few in her profession and even less of her particular ethnicity and gender wanted to do; she wanted to cover the war.

I had to face exam after exam and several rounds of interviews before I got taken on” she recalls. “I had studied at St.Bridget’s Convent, so I was fluent in both Tamil and English. I wore jeans with short hair – not a typical look for a girl of my community; the management viewed me with suspicion. Journalism was considered a dangerous job so they repeatedly asked if my family was Ok with it.”

Even so, the management had several stipulations to ensure her safety – she was not to write on controversial issues, she was not to go into the war zone, she had to be accompanied by a male photographer on all assignments, whether one was needed or not and she was not to work late into the night.

Being unused to shackles of that kind, she rebelled. But it took her a long time to make any progress. Her stories were first carried without a byline, later with only her initials and only later with her full name. One would think that a media organization would be ecstatic at one of their journalists wanting to cover the kind of stories she did, with the kind of passion and dedication she brought to it. It’s an indication of the situation of the country that they were not. On her own initiative, she went into the war zone and made it a point to cover whatever events were erupting at the time. She covered displaced peoples, landmines, forcible cadre recruitments, disappearances – the whole gamut.

At that time, most of these stories were exclusive. Very few journalists were interested in covering it on this level by going to the places of conflict. Many of my work were lifted by other media organisations, often without bothering to attribute it to me,” she recalls.

She also tried as much as possible to stick to the journalism ethics she passionately believes in; that meant no partisanship.

The LTTE thought that being Tamil, I would fully support them. They didn’t take kindly to some of my write-ups but I didn’t let it deter me. I stuck to my ideals of being as objective in my coverage as possible”.

That got her into trouble when she covered certain doings of theirs such as the expulsion of the Muslims in Muttur. She travelled to Muttur to cover it and believing in the adage of a photograph speaking a thousand words, uploaded several on-site photos to her blog, along with a write-up the situation.

The post was getting hit after hit. People were linking it all over the internet; no-one else was covering it at that time. I got calls from senior leaders of both the Northern and Eastern factions of the LTTE, requesting me to take it down.

I said, “If you want, give me your side of the story and I’ll include it but I am not taking the post down

That sort of intransigence got her several death threats from both sides but while many of her colleagues who got similar threats fled abroad, she chose to stay on and continue what she was doing.

And somehow she earned grudging respect too, even from the LTTE. Over her career, she has met, interviewed or interacted with Prabhakaran, Pulidevan, Tamilselvan and several other senior leaders of the LTTE.

I collaborated on an exclusive story on the Black Tigers for the BBC. They were kept cordoned off and inaccessible to everybody. Other LTTE leaders I approached for this assignment refused but Soosai, one of the most approachable of the LTTE leaders finally agreed and risked the displeasure of his colleagues to arrange the interview for me.

“Unfortunately, the BBC used the words “World’s Ruthless Killers” in the headline and the LTTE wouldn’t speak to me for the next six months. When they finally did, they let me know how upset they were.

It might have been true but I wouldn’t have used those words myself. I needed to keep in contact with them to keep getting their side of the story and sensationalism like that did more damage than it was worth

Since the war, she has moved on to covering various other issues as well as cultural lifestyles of the Tamils. She started her blog in 2005, in order to upload her stories as they were not always sponsored or picked up by other media organizations.

When I first started it, people said no-one would read it, but I went ahead and took care to maintain the blog according to journalism guidelines. It is very popular among people interested in the North and East of Sri Lanka, both locally and abroad”.

Having moved on from print media to radio, television and finally the web, she is also a great believer in using modern tools for journalism. Along with that, she progressed from a small camera to a professional one, and found another strike against her in the male dominated field of photojournalism.

"I had to contend with a lot of professional jealousy, especially when I took up my camera and went into the war zone. Senior photojournalists who had had no competition from women in their sphere were seriously put off.

DushiYanthini Kanagasabapathipillai is in action covering a protest in Colombo ~ Sri Lanka

They had this almost unbelievable attitude of ‘Who are you – a woman and a Tamil to come into this?’” she recalls.

Consequently, both within her community as well as outside, she has been labeled a feminist, not necessarily in a positive way. She is proud to identify herself as a feminist but says that the people’s conception of it, similar to NGOs, is severely negative.

When I first started to write about HIV and gay /lesbian issues in the Tamil papers, the backlash from my own colleagues was terrible. I had to hear things like, ‘are you a feminist? You must be a lesbian.’ Etc etc.

There is this impression that feminists smoke, drink and are lesbians, i.e westernized, valueless women. I am still trying hard to correct this impression among Tamil people, especially Tamil men”.

She tells an amusing anecdote of a man who does a lot of work for female emancipation in his rural community.

He took offence when I called him a feminist. I had to sit him down and talk to him at length about what being a feminist entailed before he smiled and admitted, ‘Ok, I am a feminist then’”.

Courtesy ~ Ceylon Today

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Passionate painter from the peninsula experiments the experiences of war and post war

Varatharajan Balamurugan is an upcoming talented artist from Jaffna. He has been drawing and painting on the walls and paper since he was a 2 year old child according to his mother Sakunthaladevi Varatharajan. “I can remember painting and making sculptures when I was 6 year old” fondly recalls Varatharajan Balamurugan. His father Sellathurai Varatharajan who is a renowned artist from Jaffna inspired his son Balamurugan at an early age.

My Childhood Memories II

He studied at the Vasaavilaan Madhya Maha Viyalayam in Jaffna, and wanted to become an artist. After finishing the General Certificate of Education (Advanced Level) he went to India and studied contemporary painting at the College of Fine Arts, Karnataka Chithrakala Parishath affiliated to the Bangalore University. He holds Master of Visual Arts and currently works as a lecturer at the Art & Design unit of the University of Jaffna.

His works have been exhibited at the National group exhibition organised by the North and East Provincial Council in 2003, which was held in Trincomalee, Varna Mozhi group exhibition organized by the Art & Design unit of the University of Jaffna in 2006 and the annual exhibition of the College of Fine Arts, Karnataka Chithrakala Parishath affiliated to the Bangalore University in 2011.

He participated in the recently concluded Colombo Art Biennale or CAB as it is popularly known. He tries to connect the four paintings with war and peace in Sri Lanka. He has named “Light in My Land” as an overall title for his paintings. “While peace prevails without bomb blasts and violence, man is trying to lead a happy and peaceful life. But he wages a war within, tries to be relieved from mental and physical trauma, which were imposed due to the protracted war.

The people who have been living in the war zones and experienced the cruelty of the war are now slowly moving to lead a peaceful life. PEACE is “BECOMING” to the people who have suffered endlessly. But peace is seen with fear psychosis
” shares Varatharajan Balamurugan.

His four paintings namely “My Childhood Memories I, My Childhood Memories II, Light in My Land I and Light in My Land II” have stood out at the second edition of the Colombo Art Biennale themed “Becoming”. The upright figure with cracks on the body, bunkers, aircraft, National identity card, snake, spider web connect the experience of war, while butterflies and the opened window express freedom and peace. The painting named “Light in My Land II” has the National identity card fixed to the chest, explains many things. The National identity card is an important document in Sri Lanka which plays big role, especially during the war. He paid attention to tiny details including district number 4 (means Jaffna)which clearly identifies the district of the person he or she belongs to and the follow up questions.These paintings express the experiences of the war and post war. He experiments with rare colours to capture the reality. It’s quite easy to get connected to the paintings, especially for those who have experienced the brutal war in Sri Lanka.

Light in My Land II

My Childhood Memories I

Varatharajan Balamurugan continues to connect himself with the experience of war

Light in My Land I