Born 1982

Sharmila Seyyid is a writer, a social activist, and a fearless social critic. Sharmila is from Eravur, in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province. She has worked as a journalist and a writer since 2001. As an activist, Sharmila interacts closely with minority Tamil Speaking women in the aftermath of Srilankan Civil War (1983-2009)

Sharmila's writing interrogates themes related to women’s rights, children’s rights, humanitarian conflicts, youth activism, gender, and sexuality, and more. Sharmila’s dedication to advancing gender equality has been met with several challenges. She has become a target of the very persecution she seeks to fight. Sharmila rapidly became a target of vitriolic criticism, harassment, and death threats because of her literary work and activism. In December 2012, as a result of massive backlash, Sharmila made the difficult decision to go into self-exile, traveling to India with her son, who was two years old at the time. While in exile, she completed her higher education and published her first novel, Ummath, in 2014.

After living at the edges of society for four years in India, Sharmila returned to Sri Lanka in 2016 to continue her work as a human rights advocate and writer. Upon her return, she established Mantra Life, an organization that seeks to lessen the gender gap in Sri Lanka’s economic, political, and social spheres by helping women become financially independent.

After four years in India, Sharmila returned to Sri Lanka in 2016 to continue her work as a human rights advocate and writer. Upon her return, she established Mantra Life, an organization that seeks to lessen the gender gap in Sri Lanka’s economic, political, and social spheres by helping women become financially independent.

Unfortunately, Sharmila continued to feel threatened in her home country. On Easter Sunday in 2019, a group of churches in Sri Lanka were bombed by National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NDJ), a militant Islamist group. Resulting in the death of hundreds, the Easter Sunday bombings were the most violent incident in Sri Lanka since the civil war, inciting suspicion, insecurity, and fear across the country. In the wake of this, authorities contacted Sharmila to notify her that she had been named as one of the NDJ’s targets, possibly due to her outspoken statements on gender equality and human rights. Feeling that her family was at great risk, Sharmila was again forced to go into exile and separate from her sons in August 2019. For two months, she was a resident at the Art Omi residency in New York and traveled from there to India and then Thailand, and Turkey.

In 2014, Sharmila Seyyid was awarded the "Inspirational Women" Award by Women in Management in Sri Lanka and her literary work has received awards including 'best novel of the year' for Ummath by the Tamil Progressive Writers and Artists Association in 2014. Ummath is published in English by HarperCollins. Two of her latest works have been translated to English as well. After Ummath, Seyyid went on to publish nine books: fiction (1), non – fiction (2), poetry (2), stories (1) and volumes of articles (3) Sharmila Seyyid was awarded a prestigious IIE-Artist Protection Fund Fellowship (IIE-APF) and placed in residence with UNO’s Leonard and Shirley Goldstein Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and UNO’s Sam and Frances Fried Holocaust and Genocide Academy.

UMMATH (Ummath)

( Novel )

Number of pages: 352

Spanning the three decades of the deadly Sri Lankan civil war, Ummath highlights the plight of women across communal and ethnic divides.

Through the lives of three women, Thawakkul, Yoga and Theivanai – one a social activist, the other a Tamil Tiger forced into joining the movement as a child, and the third a disillusioned fighter for the Eelam – the novel lays bare the complex equations that ruled life in Sri Lankan society during and in the aftermath of the civil war.

In Ummath, Sharmila Seyyid – once forced to live in exile for her outspoken, liberal views – interrogates Islamist fundamentalism, Tamil nationalism and Sri Lankan majoritarian chauvinism with her characteristic courage, honesty and sensitivity.

Published in English (Harpercollins). Published in Albanian (N.T.S.H PENA). Rights sold to Malayalam (SPCS).
English rights other than Indian sub- continent open. All other languages and territories open.

EASTER SUNDAY ( ( Uyirtha Gnayiru ) )

( Nonfiction )

Number of Words: 65,294

On that fateful Easter Sunday in 2019, a series of bomb blasts rocked the capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo, and its suburbs. Three churches and three luxury hotels were the main targets. The timings for the bombs to go off were carefully set for maximum impact, when hundreds of worshippers were crowded inside the churches and people taking an Easter break were relaxing in luxury hotels. Two hundred and sixty-nine innocents - and eight suicide bombers - were killed, and more than five hundred were injured. In the space of just a few minutes, they had ensured that the future of that beautiful green island paradise and its people would never be the same again. 

It is against this highly charged, toxic atmosphere that we see the protagonist of this autobiographical work, Sharmila Seyyid, an activist with many years of experience in rehabilitating women in the aftermath of the civil war, struggling to salvage her life and work which have been rudely thrown off their moorings.  She had been running Mantra, an organisation for the rehabilitation of women from all different communities and help them to stand on their own feet. She, who had dedicated her life savings to acquire a splendid property for her lifelong dream of establishing a home for her rehabilitation work, now faces the heartbreaking inability to proceed and see her dream come to fruition. Sinhalese strongly oppose the presence of an organization headed by a Muslim woman even though it is run for and by all the different ethnic groups in Sri Lanka.  Her desire to somehow save Mantra begins to rule her existence.

As a single mother, supporting her two sons, one a perceptive ten-year-old and the other a toddler, was challenging enough. Now, she must also provide courage to her mother, who lives in constant fear of retaliation from their Sinhala neighbors.

Ultimately, it is her ten-year-old son, Badhri, who forces her to reconsider and take action. His keen awareness of his mother’s danger causes him to become obsessed with fear, imagining lurking assassins at every corner. Badhri’s behaviour brings the realization that he is her first priority and Sharmila springs back to her world of positive thinking.

Full translation available.
All languages and territories open.


Number of pages: 110

The Elephant Tamer’s Granddaughter is set in the hometown of the writer - Eravur in Sri Lanka - and unfolds through the life of Zaharwan, the eponymous Panikkar Pethi. Sharmila portrays a range of characters and their complex spectrum of emotions in just about hundred pages in the Tamil original.

Offering tantalising glimpses into her family history, grandfather’s fame, childhood, marriage, struggles as a single mother and her old age, this novel deftly weaves the story of its protagonist with the experience of Sri Lankan Muslim women. It illustrates how the community is tied to the country’s history and culture - something that the state and Sinhala majority have tried to erase.

Zaharwan, an orthodox Muslim, Tamil, merchant family in Sri Lanka, shows exemplary courage and will-power when she confronts male chauvinism and the suppression of women overtly as well as through different, insidious social practices like dowry.

Full translation available.
All languages and territories open.