To Be or Not to Be a Hero

Recognition and Citizenship among Disabled Veterans of the Sri Lankan Army

in Conflict and Society

Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in and around a so-called War Hero Village (Ranavirugama) in northwestern Sri Lanka, this article traces the social (un)becomings of Sri Lankan Army veterans injured during the civil war with the Tamil liberation front. It argues that such veterans have long been able to draw on a materially rewarding narrative of sacrifice and carnal capital—epitomized in the honorific ranaviru (war hero)—in order to produce a particular kind of veteran citizenship, let alone subjectivity, and thus to pursue socially meaningful post-injury existences. In the eyes of the veterans themselves, however, this celebratory narrative is eroding and a “collective narrative” characterized by a kind of social forgetting of the injured veteran is emerging. Material benefits notwithstanding, this narrative contestation entails a “struggle for recognition” that threatens to leave them not only disabled but also with no one to be, or become.