South Asia Seminar: Plotting Malaiyaham: Life and Work among Northern Hill Country Tamils in Postwar Sri Lanka

Mythri Jegathesan, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Santa Clara University

This talk is based on exploratory research conducted in two districts in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province since July 2018 and is in conversation with ethnographic fieldwork conducted over eleven years in Sri Lanka’s South-Central tea plantation sector. Nearly eleven years after the end of Sri Lanka’s twenty-six year long civil war in May 2009, Northern Hill Country Tamils—who have a shared heritage with Hill Country Tamils on the plantations but live in Northern Province—have been resettled on plots of land to which they have no deeds postwar. Intergenerational relations of labor, caste, kinship, and exchange drive practices of home-building among Tamils in the North and East, but the Government of Sri Lanka and international development organizations measure and evaluate land use and attachments with different scales of investment, productivity, and replaceability. In this postwar, militarized development context, land attachment for Northern Hill Country Tamils involves labor and social relations that reach well beyond the temporalities and mechanisms of recognition put forth by transitional justice and economic development. Katherine McKittrick writes: "What is at stake in linking a plantation past to the present? What comes of positioning the plantation as a threshold to thinking through long-standing and contemporary practices of racial violence?" (2013:4). Thinking about how plantation scholars have envisioned interdisciplinary and transregional ways to track and investigate the afterlives of the plantation, I argue that the plantation plots of Northern Hill Country Tamils are puncturing and reinscribing the more dominant narratives of postwar resettlement, reconciliation, and transitional justice in postwar Sri Lanka.

Dates: 
Thursday, February 6, 2020 - 5:00pm
Foster 103