Ummath, written by Sharmila Seyyid, navigates the sensitive topic of the precarious lives of three separate women amid the chaos of war-torn Sri Lanka. The stories of main characters Yoga and Theivanai demonstrate women’s challenges in and out of militancy. Their struggles led them to Thawakkul, a Muslim social worker devoted to the cause of rehabilitating disabled and widowed women who once served the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam). Ummath provides a powerful social critique of the conditions that aggravated the separatist conflict, the stigmatization of women who become part of the LTTE, the inexorable violence perpetrated by all sides in a chaotic and prolonged internal conflict, and the failure of rehabilitating the militants into the community. The present article investigates the precarity faced by women in the anarchic context of civil violence and internal conflicts. The article discusses the disruption of education, militancy experience, the social stigma of being an ex-militant, and the challenges faced by reformers working to build peace in post-war society. The study employs Judith Butler’s theory on precarity to investigate the social life of women militants and activists in the separatist war. Butler’s concept of precarity addresses how people’s vulnerability is politically induced, and hence different groups of people are exposed in different degrees to violence and death. In Butler’s work, she argues that those who are not considered living in the first place, or whose lives are precarious and are not ascribed great value, are not mourned when they pass away. This article analyzes the problems that women militants and social workers face as well as the social ostracization they encounter daily through the focal points of Yoga, Theivanai, and Thawakkul’s lives as narrated in Ummath. The exploration of the microcosmic experiences of the three women’s lives highlights the need to study women’s issues in the unstable context of a social uprising and the vulnerabilities they are exposed to in the context of human rights.
"Women and the Precarity of War: Reading Women Militants and Activists in Sharmila Seyyid’s Ummath,"
Journal of International Women's Studies: Vol. 25:
3, Article 11.
Available at: https://vc.bridgew.edu/jiws/vol25/iss3/11