Nimmi Gowrinathan and Zachariah Mampilly:

Civilian Agency in Tamil Eelam: Individual and Collective Resistance to Rebel Rule

While studies have examined how civilians may violently resist the rule of armed groups, few have examined non-violent challengers. By examining instances of non-violent opposition to rebel rule by civilians living under rebel control in 'Eelam,' the areas of northern and eastern Sri Lanka ruled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), this paper puts forth a broader conception of agency that reveals far more about the civilian / rebel relationship. We focus on two examples of 'oppositional agency' in which women and clergy non-violently challenged the rebel government regarding its detention and recruitment practices, with some success. Key to their ability to challenge rebel rule are the distinctive social and cultural positions that women and clergy occupied within the Tamil nationalist imagination that undergirded the LTTE's attempts to legitimize its civilian governance system. As such, they were immunized from the type of internal repression that became synonymous with the Tamil rebels. By disaggregating the category of 'civilians' based on their relationship to the rebel government, we illustrate the dynamics of civilian agency under the control of an autocratic rebellion. The choice of the LTTE is useful as it functions as a "hard case" that allows us to illustrate the phenomenon of concern (civilian agency) by focusing on a case where we expect to see little or none.


Dr. Nimmi Gowrinathan is a policy consultant , working on peace building and gender inclusion in South Asia. She is also an advisory board member at the Center for Conflict, Negotiation, and Recovery at Central European University. She was formerly the Director of South Asia Programs and UN Representative for Operation USA (2004-2011), an international disaster relief and development organization. In this capacity she raised over two million (USD) and managed these funds in the form of small grants to community-based organizations in India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. Dr. Gowrinathan has a PhD in Political Science from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her study, "How Women Rebel: Gender and Agency in Sri Lanka" which looks at the impact of displacement, militarization, and gender-based violence on women's political identities, received the Jean and Irving Stone Dissertation Award for Innovation in Gender Studies.

She has also worked as a lead researcher and analyst for the International Crisis Group, researching and writing policy reports around women's insecurities in conflict zones, and briefing high-level policy makers. She has published both academic articles and opinion editorials on humanitarian intervention and the intersection of gender and violence for the Huffington Post, Humanitarian Practice Network, World Policy Institute, and among others. Her most recent article "Inside Camps, Outside Battlefields: Security and Survival for Tamil Women" was the lead article in Oxford's St. Anthony's International Review.