Today marks thirty-five years since the death of 2nd Lt. Maalathy, the first female fighter of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to lose her life in the Tamil armed struggle.
Across the world, the day is being commemorated as Tamil Women’s Day, an opportunity to honour women’s involvement in the fight for Tamil rights.
She was killed at the age of 20, on the 10th of October 1987, during a confrontation with the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF) in Jaffna.
The following account is told by a cadre that was by her side.
“We were in our bunkers firing at the (Indian) army. Hundreds of Indian troops had jumped out of their vehicles and were firing as they moved towards us. Mortar shells were exploding everywhere. We knew the army was advancing quickly. Maalathy was shot in both legs. She couldn’t move and she was bleeding profusely. Realising that she was mortally wounded, she swallowed cyanide. A decision had been made to withdraw because we were heavily out-numbered. Myself and another girl Viji went over to carry Maalathy. Maalathy refused to come with us. She begged us to leave her and asked us to withdraw. Nevertheless, we lifted Maalathy and carried her and when we arrived at a safe place she was dead.”
(Women Fighters of Liberation Tigers, Adele Anne Balasingham, 1993)
Marking her death in 2003, the LTTE released a statement saying,
“The struggle has freed people from the shackles of superstitious customs, infused new blood and taken the society in new directions… Liberation does not mean just freedom from foreign domination and tyranny, but also freedom from religious and gender discrimination and oppression of women.”
Her namesake, the Malathy Brigade was one of the two brigades of the LTTE’s women’s wing. Speaking in 2008, Yalini, a Senior Member of the Malathy Brigade, described the achievements of the elite brigade. She told reporters,
“Our cadres, specially trained in anti-tank warfare, destroyed several tanks during the course of SLA’s ill-fated Jayasikurui operation. In the second phase of Jayasikurui, Captain Thayawathy, destroyed an T-85 type tanker using an RPG while Captain Kalyarasi destroyed an APC-type tank.”
“In the confrontation against American trained Special Task Force (STF) in Mannaku’lam battle, our brigade inflicted considerable destruction to the enemy. When the SLA troops attempted to surround our cadres in Mu’langkaavil on Jan 01, 2000, our fighters fought back and brought the situation under control. Again when the enemy attempted to land in Kudaarappu on Mar 27, 2003, our brigade once again successfully fought against a well-armed enemy.”
“From Captain Gobi in Vatharavaththai-Jaffna on April 2nd, 1997, including Captain Inpakuyil, Lt.Oviya, 2nd Lt.Alaivaani in Mannaar- Uyilangku’lam on Dec.29, 2007, 1354 women cadres of this brigade has laid down their lives for the struggle.
A memorial statue was built commemorating Maalathy in 2004 and was later destroyed by Sri Lankan military forces upon taking over Killinochi.
Her death was commemorated widely amongst the Tamil community in the North-East and was marked as women’s uprising day in the de-facto LTTE state.