By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
The Local Government elections to be held later this week is being conducted under new laws which make it mandatory for the Elections Commission to ensure that 25 per cent of the elected Councillors are women, has made female politicians in Jaffna very enthusiastic about the poll.
Ceylon Today visited the Northern capital at end of January and met some of the women candidates from major political parties contesting in the forthcoming LG polls and found that they are not only getting ready to challenge male contenders but also to put an end to issues plaguing women in our society.
We joined a media briefing at the Jaffna Press Club given by a collective body of women candidates who grouped under a non-governmental organization called ‘Viluthu.’ At the conference, the women talked about real life issues. One candidate said people should vote for the political parties that embraced women contenders who are fighting for justice.
They were clearly ‘firebrand’ women and one woman candidate said she will sit down with men equally and draw a plan for women in her electorate and she would not take ‘no’ for an answer.
Now that the clouds of war have cleared, one candidate said that they realize what a mess has been left behind. She noted that while socio-economic and cultural structures of Tamil society have been ruined, she now sees a clear blue sky.
“Before we could even plan how we could come out from the trap and rebuild ourselves, we have come to face an election. That is very important for women. If we need to secure a unique place in the political arena, we need to find a different approach than that of the past.
As women, we need to be patient if we need to fight for justice at the upcoming polls,” she said.
The women said that their politics will be ‘sweet, with friendship, understanding, support, deep thinking, hard work, self-respect, sincerity, and self-containment.’
They stated that they have left the hearth to do politics and it should not be in vain.
They also promised to set aside differences such as caste, language and religious backgrounds and urged the people to accept women candidates as they are.
Ceylon Today also visited some of the women candidates’ homes and was welcomed with bright smiles. They were also pleased to say that their husbands have given their fullest support to their missions and it was truly revolutionary.
We need guts Mathini Nelson (39) TNA
Mother of four, Mathini hails from Vadamarachchi and was introduced to politics by her father who is a member of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). This is not the first time she is in the fray, as she had contested the 2011 LG polls but could not secure a place.
Why TNA? “It’s a traditional party and TNA has always given women their due share. We have very intelligent people in the team. The new generation is fed with false information about TNA, and we will combat that.”
Despite not winning the last time it had given her the opportunity to be out in public. “I have learnt a lot about the systems and politics and it was an eye opener,” she notes. The ‘political gimmicks’ are not understood by many unless one is involved in it. So, we as women need to be around to know all those tricks and things others do. War has taught us to face life as heroes.
Her main political goal is to wipe out the practice of powerful men demanding sexual favours from women who want to do better in life. “Men have always ‘favoured’ women and who are willing to provide ‘sexual favours’ most of the time. We have been put in a position to ‘take it or leave it.’
“Asking for sexual favours should be completely wiped out. This is why women don’t come forwardand don’t speak about these crimes. Politics is where women can ask, challenge, debate and implement programmes far better than what others think.”
Domestic violence should end Komathy Rasathurai (35) TNLA
A very outspoken, far-thinking Komathy has domestic violence as the top issue on her mind. She says women are silenced when brutally attacked in their homes by their husbands and other males.
She says when the man is the sole breadwinner; women are forced to accept an untenable situation and not to rebel. This has given male partners power to impose restrictions on them.
“There are many women who struggle silently, unable to fight back abuse at all because if you react, you could be chased out with the children or the man can walk out on the family. This is a major issue that has never addressed properly. Women cannot go to the police station because that ends her family life.
“Hence women should be able to stand on their own feet.
That is how they can challenge men. So, my task is to create self-employment for women in my electorate. I need to win, be part of the game, and I know I can do that,” says Komathy.
Her political venture in joining MP Suresh Premachandran of EPRLF who has formed a new alliance with other parties, including veteran politician V. Anandasangaree’s TULF, she says, has given her a chance to explore her own talent to work with the society.
“Although TNLA is a new alliance, it is full of veteran politicians and former LTTE cadres who know the ground reality. That is why I chose TNLA,” says Komathy.
Women‘s right is everyone‘s right Kodeeswaran Latha (38) TNPF
Latha’s story is a sad one, as she lost her parents when she was an infant and grew up at the Sencholai Orphanage run by the LTTE in Kilinochchi. She says she rose up from the ashes, studied hard to reach her goals and came out shining as a graduate.
A teacher by profession she said she had a narrow escape when the Sencholai school was bombed. “I was teaching at that school and that day I wasn’t present at school.”
Latha lives with her two little sons because her husband walked out on her because she could not provide a dowry. “But I can say my strength is my asset.” Latha was one of those women who confronted Tamil politicians at the Mullivaikkal while remembering the dead. She spoke her heart about their political culture and criticized them for coming there to join the death anniversary. “That day everyone noticed my rage and anger I had in me about everything that was happening around me.”
Latha has been approached by many politicians to join the bandwagon because she was a good speaker. “I chose politician Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam because I see that he is standing by the people’s aspirations. I am strong and this strength is because of the war and the life I had experienced. It taught me to live life to the fullest,” says Latha.
She intends to serve the community and do her utmost best to all, not discriminating men too. “I want more libraries for children, good roads in the villages, sports grounds and gardens. I want women to work as well and support their families. These are matters that are not so hard to implement but we have not given the chances yet,” Latha noted.
Politicians should be given a chance Mahaluxmi Devapalan (50) SLPP
A strong Christian and a believer that if people repent, God accepts them, Mahaluxmi said her support to the Rajapaksas is mainly because ‘she feels’ everyone should be given a chance to do the right thing.
Mahaluxmi has faith in Basil Rajapaksa and Mahinda Rajapaksa because they have eradicated terrorism and given them a chance to live peacefully.
“They may have created some mess but we should not outcaste them because God will use them again and I feel God has given them a chance to do the right thing to people.”
A mother of five children and who is married to a pastor, she is a social worker in Chavakachcheri. She knows her community well and supports the war widows through her church. “If I have political backing, I can do better than this,” notes Mahaluxmi. A housewife, she is a strong woman who does not sit back when doors are shut on her.
When asked whether the Tamils like the Rajapaksas, she says “why not? When compared to the current leadership, people think he was better. When I analyzed it, I think God chose him again. Who does not make mistakes? We should not hate anyone. Maybe he realized some of the mistakes and will do a better job next time. Let’s give him a chance.”
Taking bribes should be eradicated Karunarathinam Srikanthi (50) SLFP
Srikanthi has been committing herself for women affairs from 2010.
Born to a Sinhalese mother Gunawathi who hails from Matara, Srikanthi is a well-known figure in Ariyalai West. Srikanthi wanted to be a lawyer but became a qualified nurse before she became a fully-fledged social worker.
When asked why she chose to contest under the SLFP she noted that unlike the former President, President Maithripala Sirisena has in his heart to serve the Tamils. “He is approachable and he has been humane too. What I think is that he is under immense pressure because of others that he cannot fulfil his promises as he wanted to.
“But mainly I am with the SLFP because of Jaffna organizer for SLFP Angajan Ramanathan as he is a Tamil. He never works against the Tamils.
While there are lots to be done for the Tamils, Srikanthi says the LG Polls is about development and this region is underdeveloped.
She also wants to eradicate corruption. Many ask for bribes to grant jobs in Jaffna she says. “That should be stopped and more job opportunities for the youth must be created.”