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The conference will host over 40 scholars of various disciplines from North America, Europe, South Asia, and Australasia:


Artist: Vasuki
Artist: Kiko
Artist: Vasan

Abraham, S.
Ambalavanar, D.
Arasu, V.
Champakalakshmi, R.
Cheran, R.
Fukao, J.
George, G.
George, U.
Ghose, R.
Guruge, S.
Jegathesan, M.
Kanaganayakam, C.
Kanthasamy, P.
Karunakaran, K.
Karunanithi, G.
Kingsolver, A.
Mason, R.
Maunaguru, S.
Maunaguru, Sitralega
McNaughton, S.
More, J.B.P.
Orr, L.
Pai, G.
Palaniappan, S.
Pandian, M.S.S.
Rajesh, V.
Renganathan, V.
Sangarasivam, Y.
Seylon, R.
Shanmugam, K.
Sivalingam, H.
Sriramachandran, R.
Sundar, A.
Tambiah, S.J.
Tyyskä, V.
Vaitheespara, R.
Vivekananthan, P.
Whitaker, M.
Xavier, S.
Young, K.
Younger, P.

Mythri Jegathesan

Graduate Student
Department of Anthropology
Columbia University

Struggle for Recognition:
Constitutional and Legal Definition of Difference and Encountering Fasting Unto Death as a Life-giving Force
Friday, June 1st |  12:30 - 2:30 PM

The articulation of grief and grievance within the discursive construct of memorialization prompts a number of questions for understanding rituals of grievance and remembrance in Sri Lanka. As individuals often face incapacitating and multiple forms of loss, rituals of grievance and remembrance provide unique insight into the way in which Sri Lankan Tamils qualify or make sense of their social experiences. In Sri Lanka, fasting onto death and rituals that commemorate this practice are simultaneously expressions of grievance and modes of recognition through which individuals affirm, resist, and negotiate the spaces created for resistance and accessing power. Constitutional and legal definition of difference and perceptions of “being Tamil” in postcolonial Sri Lanka remain critical to understanding these continuing struggles for recognition.

The layering of differences found in constitutional and legal shifts of defining “being Tamil” for Tamils living in Sri Lanka present opportunities to proposition the death of oneself as both a life-giving action and stipulating force in refusing the terms of the law. In acknowledging fasting onto death as a life-giving force, how do grievances and commemorative rituals come to pass in rhetoric and practice? How are they legitimized, critiqued, and placed within political discourse, at historical junctures, and alongside the current civil conflict? This paper explores the constitutional and legal terms of defining Tamils in postcolonial Sri Lanka and the way in which refusals of these claims engage alternate channels through which Tamils access power and modes of operation. In examining rituals of grievance and remembrance, I contend that these instances of memorialization and resistance hold significant consequences for understanding the complexities of managing and articulating grievance and encountering loss in Sri Lanka.

Ms. Jegathesan's current research interests include understanding rituals of grievance and commemorations of loss within Tamil communities in Northeast Sri Lanka and plans to conduct her dissertational field research on grievance, rituals, and representations of Tamils of Hill Country Origin in Central Sri Lanka.