This tribute to Priya Thangarajah, well known in queer feminist, democratic rights and academic circles in India and Sri Lanka, comes from her friends in Law and Social Sciences Research Network. Priya has written on Kafila too, and was a good friend to many of us. We will remember her incredible energy and inspiring presence.
We are heartbroken to share with you that Priyadarshini Thangarajah, to her friends Priya or Thanga, passed away on 4 November 2015 in Colombo. It is hard to think of Priya in the past tense—she was always brimming with life, laughter and love. Each LASS conversation was all the more special, brilliant and spirited solely because of Priya.
Priya graduated from the National Law School University of India, Bangalore, India, in the summer of 2010. As an aspiring young lawyer, who took the bar examination, Priya wanted to challenge the estranged relationship between law and justice by becoming a magistrate. In 2014-15, Priya was a fulbright scholar and completed her LLM at Georgetown University. Priya worked with different organisations based in Sri Lanka and India on issues of gender, sexuality, violence and human rights. However, her passion for law and legal research was shaped through years of association with the Law and Society Trust in Colombo; and later her work at the Alternative Law Forum at Bangalore.
Priya was a sensitive and brilliant researcher. We have lost a courageous lawyer, scholar and activist, who believed in the value of cultivating principles that straddled these different spheres. She brought a radical, feminist politics of care to the politics of transformation she practised. Her research ranged from sexuality, violence, state repression, torture, human rights, and censorship. Her untimely passing is a huge loss not only to the futures of alternate lawyering and legal research in Sri Lanka but also South Asia.
Priya was a powerful writer. In 2010, she wrote:
I spent my initial activist days worrying that there were not enough young people given that we lost them in the 70s, then in this war, displacement and emigration then I suddenly found through facebook a hundred young people who cared. We may disagree but we care and that I must say has sustained me. And today as we light candles in street corners evading arrests and threats and silently light the flame of dissent I am hoping we will revolt in every street corner for we don’t have six years and I am done waiting for the terms to stop, the war to get over.
And more recently on the issue of marriage equality and queer struggles, she wrote
Ours should not be a movement to make people feel comfortable and to prove that we, too, are capable of fidelity and devotion; what we should strive for is to love and to love whom we want, how we want to, and in as many ways as we desire.
To all her friends, courage to deal with this inconsolable loss; for LASS, it is a huge blow; to Priya, adieu dear friend.
Uma, Ponni, Anusha, Svati, Brenna and Pratiksha with so many friends on LASS
More about Priya’s work:
In 2002, Priya served as a Tamil language interpreter for Women and Peace Mission to the East of Sri Lanka; while she interned at the Law and Society Trust at Colombo (2001-2003) researching sexual violence, human rights treaties, custodial deaths, child rights and electoral violence among other issues. Thereafter, Priya was also associate director and interpreter in a documentary film project entitled ‘the art of forgetting’ where she served as Tamil and Sinhala language interpreter during research, filming and editing of trilingual documentary film, assisted the director/producer in all aspects of post production. In 2003, Priya travelled to Delhi to work as a researcher at the CSDS where she researched poverty related migration of women; and interned at PLD helping organise a seminar on rights based development. In 2005, Priya returned to the Law and Society Trust (LST) where she researched the right to die. She also worked on the Official Languages Commission at the LST. In 2007, Priya was research Assistant at LST when she researched and helped monitor the 16 cases being investigated by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry. She also interned with the then Commissioner, Presidential Commission of Inquiry, Colombo, by providing research support relating to the 16 cases under consideration by the Commission.
Priya worked with a number of notable organisations, lawyers and academics, which included Women’s Support Group in Colombo when she documented the struggles lesbian and bisexual women and transgendered persons face in Sri Lanka; researched human rights defenders for the Human Rights Alert in Manipur, worked for Meneka Guruswamy on the arms industry in India, wrote legal briefs for human rights cases relating to detention under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and the extrajudicial killings of 17 humanitarian workers (Action Contra la Faim) in Sri Lanka for K.S Ratnevel, Advocate, Colombo and worked with feminist historian Uma Chakravarti on gender, law and legal education. Priya also provided legal advice and gender and legal training for women in the Mannar Women’s Development Federation, Mannar in 2011-2012.
Read Priya at:
With Arasu, Ponni. Queer Women and Habeas Corpus in India: The Love that Blinds the Law,Indian Journal of Gender Studies October 2012 vol. 19 no. 3 413-435,http://ijg.sagepub.com/content/19/3/413.abstract