I arrived fresh on Monday morning ready to take on the most exciting and interactive part of my project at Tamil Women Development Forum. This was the interviewing of some of the members of the TWDF, as well other key women’s rights activists with regards to the situation of Tamil-speaking women in the North and East and plantations of Sri Lanka. I arrived a little early on the first day of interviews, a little nervous and unsure what to expect. Thankfully, as was always the case when interacting with people attached to the Centre for Community Development (the overall charity of which TWDF is one initiative, among others, that they are responsible for) the interviewees were very warm and welcoming.
All interviewees were very friendly and enthusiastic and seemed genuinely happy that someone had taken note of their, as of yet, small-scale but profound initiative. What surprised me the most was the confidence and insightfulness of their thoughts and ideas that they articulated to me. This was despite having had their lives disrupted by a brutal war, as well as having to function within a deeply conservative and patriarchal Tamil society which, while prizing and encouraging education for peoples of all backgrounds, usually reserved roles in administration and leadership for males only.
The only exception to this in recent history was a Tamil rebel group which emphasised and enabled equal participation of women in their cause. While I do not wish to make a political statement, it was especially interesting to interview a lady who had taken her emancipation into her own hands and risen to an empowered position as a result of it. Unfortunately her new found freedom was temporary and came crashing down with the rebel group’s defeat in 2009.
Yet here was a lady that, despite seeing and undergoing the horrors of war, still aspired to greater things and to help other women in similar positions to her. Her biggest wish was to learn English, but she was struggling to balance being a mother, her financial situation and the time to pursue those aspirations. I have suggested that the TWDF might look into providing free English lessons to Tamil speakers as this seems to be a recurring issue among the more recent members of the forum.
It also highlighted the diversity of experiences within the forum. While some women were well settled, financially secure and had the opportunity of an education, others were more recent migrants, and in some cases refugees, and were single mothers without ever having access to a formal education. I understood then that I would have to recommend a way to build a common understanding and bond across the forum.