Under the Tamil Tigers, women enjoyed a rare degree of emancipation. They carried out the same duties, did the same work, suffered and died as their male comrades. They saw it as a challenge to prove they were as good, if not better, than the men and so deserved their new status as equals. In Malaimahal’s Puthiya Kathaikal (‘New Stories’), the Indian army for the very first time in its history battles an all-women unit. (Female Tiger units are known to have routed all-male government forces.) It is indeed a new story because it is about a new breed of women freed from the notions and constrains of conservative society. Words from the poem ‘Easter, 1916’ by Yeats come to mind: “All changed, changed utterly: / A terrible beauty is born”. (The Easter uprising was an attempt by the Irish to free themselves from British imperial rule but it couldn’t prevail against superior numbers and fire-power.) A mother is shocked that her daughter who as a child was even afraid to go out in the dark (presumably to the toilet) is now a Sea Tiger, wearing shorts and diving deep into the dark depths of the ocean. Another woman comments that the sea, outraged at this unbecoming behaviour by a woman, will surely storm and rage. In Pillai’s perceptive and tragic Malayalam novel of the 1950s, Chemmeen, the belief is recounted that the life of a fisherman far out at sea is in the hands of his wife ashore. Should she behave improperly, Kadalamma (literally, sea-mother, meaning the goddess of the sea) would visit vengeance on her husband. Such pseudo-religious beliefs were (are?) used by older folk to control the younger, particularly women. Patriarchy, supported by complicit, conservative and collaborative women, often disguises its drive to domination as religious piety and social propriety. As Louis Althusser showed, state and society maintain themselves through Ideology which includes religious belief. The exploited – in this case, females – are persuaded to believe in and support their own exploitation and subordination.
see also: tamiltigerwomen.com