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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.

Sujith Xavier

Research Associate
Faculty of Law
University of Toronto

The Hyphenated Other:
The Ontology and Responsibility of Being the Other
Saturday, June 2nd | 12:30 - 2:30 PM

Within any plural normative framework, the existence of the multiple identities often leads to conflicts and contradictions. The Canadian multicultural framework, with the hyphenated identities, is the perfect example in which the multiple ethno-cultural communities assert themselves and cohabitate within the plural nation state. In this environment, there are number of questions that must be asked of the communities and within the communities, especially within the post 9/11 context. Whilst being centred in the leftist paradigm, I am interested in asking the Tamil-Canadian/Canadian-Tamil community, a number of questions that have yet to be asked.

Often, the discourse of belonging and identity are expounded by those that are not part of the communities that they are trying to “save”. Thus the metaphor of a legitimate argument of identity politics is left in the hands of those from a majoritarian milieu and the “Other”, the ethno-cultural community member, does not really have a voice. Consequently, the first question that must be dealt with in trying to grapple with the hyphenated identity is: who can speak for us. From this general platform, the second issue to consider is what are the implications for speaking for self and in doing do so, is there any ethical responsibility that is owed? Thus ultimately, my aim is to move the dialogue away from the “savage-victim-saviour” metaphor of human rights to one that is premised on agency. Essentially, the narratives of ethno-cultural communities until now have been largely that of victims: the nation state discriminates; the nation state does not meet the needs of the marginalized, are two such examples. Yet what about our responsibility to the state? Do we as citizens and members of our communities, have an ethical responsibility? The final question, based on the preceding conclusions, examines whether the reassertion of the ethnic identity perpetuates the stereotypes of the nation state.

By using post-modern thought (namely Levinas), I will conclude that the image of the Other, as seen by the Self, is not only based on the ontology of Self, but also on the ontology of the Other. In other words, the way the nation state views the Tamil community is not only premised on its bias but also based on the image that “we” project and construct. The more we reassert our Tamilness, the more the nation state will view us as that: the “Other” (the terrorist, the thug) that must be controlled and tolerated.

Sujith Xavier, BA 1999 (Ottawa), LL.B. and Human Rights 2005 (Essex), LL.M. 2007 (McGill), is a Research Associate in Health Law at the Faculty of Law, University of Toronto. Sujith has worked as a Legal Researcher for the McGill Clinic for the Sierra Leone Special Court and McGill University’s Faculty of Education. He spent some time in Pisa, Italy working for the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna on an European Commission initiative in fundamental rights and private law. Prior to undertaking his legal studies, Sujith worked in the field as a researcher and documentation officer for an advocacy NGO in Sri Lanka documenting human rights violations in the conflict zones.