Could you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?
My name is Jessica Chandrashekar and I would describe myself as a social justice academic because my activist work and academic work both inform and ground each other. For several years I have been committed to truth, justice and raising awareness about Sri Lanka’s genocide against Tamils. I have written in student newspapers, organized events, conducted research, worked with survivors, engaged in solidarity building, as well as refugee advocacy work. Currently I am a doctoral candidate in the Gender, Feminist and Women’s Studies program at York University.
Is there a particular approach or methodology that guides your work?
My work affirms taking a survivor-centric approach to women, peace and security. This means listening and learning from the most marginalized and in the case of my work, Tamils from the North East. Survivors of violence have valuable knowledge and insight into the multiple forms and nuances of war, genocide and militarization. Any sustainable peace and security program needs to be guided and driven by survivors because they are the most vulnerable and thus the most knowledgeable of what a permanent ‘peace’ would look like. This is why I focus on the relationship between justice, peace and security as it is understood by Tamil women who survived the 2008 – 2009 phase of the genocide.
Building on that last question, are there any projects you are currently working on?
The project that I am currently most focused on would be my dissertation. I use an anti-colonial feminist analysis to examine the Tamil genocide by Sri Lanka. I pay particular attention to the 2008 – present period, while situating my work within a post-colonial genealogy of state violence. My work urges a re-envisioning, and thus re-strategizing, of transitional justice and peacebuilding programs by making central the lived experiences, material realities and socio-political analytical knowledge of Eelam Tamil women survivors.
Why is this an important issue right now, in your opinion?
This issue is important because of the lack of justice and accountability for Sri Lanka’s genocide against Tamils. The findings of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal on Sri Lanka, the Channel 4 documentaries, the Tamil Civil Society Forum statement on the UN investigation, and the recent resolution on genocide passed by the Northern Provincial Council exemplify not only the urgency, but on-the-ground demand, for peace and justice. Yet, the Sri Lankan government successfully pushed for a delay in the report of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) that was to be released this March.
Due to the genocide, there are 100,000 Tamil women heads-of-household living in the North East where the civilian to army ratio is 3:1. The army is male and from the majority Sinhalese community. Sexual violence by the security forces is systemic, there is evidence of forced sterilization programs, widespread poverty because the army has monopolized economic activity, and large-scale land appropriation under the guise of ‘security’. When we look at this from the perspective of Tamil women living under Sri Lankan army occupation, we can see that this is a highly insecure environment.
We may commonly speak about ‘after the war in Sri Lanka’ or talk about the Presidential elections as bringing an avenue to peace through a change in regime. Yet, Tamil women are living in communities that are now more heavily militarized after the supposed end of war. This continuum of state violence has prevented any material experiences of peace and security for Tamil survivors, particularly Tamil women.
This year the theme for International Women’s Day was “Make it happen” and it had two main goals: to celebrate women’s achievements and call for greater equality. Can you share with us what this means to you?
“Make it Happen” is an important theme because it is a call to action on a day where women’s rights campaigners organize transnationally. To me, this means working in solidarity with those who are struggling for survivor-centric peace through truth and justice. When we speak and work in solidarity, it makes our movements stronger. To make change happen, we must continue to speak out even when our voices are not always heard, because the struggle for peace and justice can unfortunately be a long and arduous one.
Thanks Jessica. Do you have any parting words or final thoughts?
I would like to end off by sharing, that while my activist and academic work is spent working through the horrors of genocide, I am guided by hope that one day there will be actual peace in the North East, faith that there will be justice and accountability for Tamils, and the conviction that self-determination is a human right that is achievable.
This interview is part of the Women Peace and Security Network’s International Women’s Day – IWD Blog Series. Take some time to read the other interviews and blog posts on our page and learn about how you too can Make it Happen.