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Arjun Guneratne

This paper examines the emergence in Sri Lanka of transcultural thinking about environmental issues as well as the activism it engenders by examining the role of the Anglophone Sri Lankan elite as the chief protagonists historically of environmentalism in the country. It also examines one of Sri Lanka's leading NGOs, Environmental Foundation Ltd. (EFL) as an example of the activism of this class. EFL's perspective on environmental issues has its origins in the transformations wrought by colonialism in the country's class structure and in the introduction of European ideas of nature to the country's newly emergent middle-class. Modelled on the Natural Resources Defense Council of the United States, EFL was a new kind of environmental organization in Sri Lanka and a response to globalization and Sri Lanka's increasing integration into the global economy. Unlike the handful of environmental NGOS that existed in the late seventies, which were essentially pressure groups, EFL was conceived, on the model of NRDC, as a public interest law firm, and drew on international models to frame its arguments about the application of the law in the cause of environmental protection. This paper examines how these various factors—the social class of the activists and the processes of institution building—shaped a cosmopolitan environmental discourse in Sri Lanka whose roots lie in urban Sri Lankan middle class culture as it emerged and was transformed during colonial rule and in the various discourses of globalization that have been drawn on by Sri Lankan activists to craft their own arguments.

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Rohan Bastin

The current moment, seen by some as an interregnum between societies of discipline and control, is marked by intense forms of religious fanaticism and iconoclasm that are striving to create new forms of the state. This is evident in the militancy and political engagement of Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka, who promote war against Tamil separatists as well as violent resistance to the proselytization identified with global civil society agencies that, due to the war and the 2004 tsunami disaster, have been active in the country. The article looks at this rising Buddhist militancy, which is associated with a political party that is linked to the more famous party known as the JVP. It argues that instead of resisting the formation of the new global civil society, the iconoclasm of this Buddhist political formation is facilitating its establishment.

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Rohan Bastin

Developing Deleuze and Guattari's concepts of territorialization and the apparatus of capture, this article explores the role that Sri Lankan Hindu temples have played in the formation of ethnicity and ethnic conflict. Analyzing three contemporary events, the article introduces ways in which many different Sri Lankans (Sinhalese and Tamil) interpret their country's predicament and seek to resolve or prolong it. The events also reveal how scholarship becomes entangled in ethnic nationalism. I then examine in greater detail a village in which temple construction was a critical feature of identity formation during the creation of Sri Lanka as a colonialist and capitalist bureaucratic space. Through this account, I argue that the formation of polarized ethnicity in Sri Lanka is the product of multiple refractive forces, of which temples are one, and not the end result of a singular colonialist bureaucratic agency.

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Rohan Bastin

This essay examines the importance of sorcery in the dynamics of religious innovation in contemporary Hindu and Buddhist Sri Lanka.1 My interest stems from two observations. First, in almost stark contrast to other Hindu ritual forms that emphasise unchanging text-based rites, the sorcery practices I describe display an almost modernist preoccupation with innovation. Second, much of this innovation originates, or is seen to originate, from outside the cosmic order both of the pantheon and of society. Consequently, sorcery practices manifest a dynamism that often results in the appearance of sorcery having sprung up from nowhere or of being on the sharp increase. However, such an appearance of growth is less of an increase by degree than a shift in visibility. Moreover, it is a characteristic Sri Lankan sorcery practices share with practices elsewhere. When social scientists whose gaze has been primed for spotting anomalies light upon these shifts in visibility, the reaction is usually one of alarm. Scholars whose basic orientation is to the problem of social order and stability tend to judge these apparent aberrations in terms of social breakdown and anomie. Instead of considering what sorcery reveals anthropologically, they instead analyse sorcery as a symptom of a social pathology. The restless dynamism of sorcery and its role in religious innovation remain unaddressed, and this contributes to a conservative view of both the phenomenon of sorcery and the study of religion in general.

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Blurred memories

War and disaster in a Buddhist Sinhala village

Mara Benadusi

This article analyzes the regimes of truth and efforts at falsification that emerged aft er the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka, where the experience of fear, the blurring of memory, and the fabrication of identity became normalized during the course of a long civil war. By shedding light on the memorialization processes in a Buddhist Sinhala village on the border of the northeastern Tamil zones, the article shows how the tsunami has reinforced governmental devices for controlling peoples and territories, insinuating itself into the core of the enduring process of securitization of fear in Sri Lanka. Yet, however much the politics of memory tends to cloud matters, the article also demonstrates that it never goes uncontested, as long as subjects can channel their capacity for action in unexpected directions.

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A new morning?

Reoccupying home in the aftermath of violence in Sri Lanka

Sharika Thiranagama

Charting the life course of Malathi, a young Sri Lankan Tamil woman, this article attempts to discuss the ways in which people and places in Sri Lanka are remade through experiences of violence. The article suggests moving away from a notion of 'home' as fixed on one place; instead, it considers the movement of people between different places. Further, it suggests that senses of home are also embedded within uneasy, constantly negotiated relationships with those people with whom we feel at home. Moreover, the article argues that ideas about 'the future' as equally as 'the past' inform the possibility of being at home.

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Buddhism, the Asokan Persona, and the Galactic Polity

Rethinking Sri Lanka's Constitutional Present

Roshan de Silva Wijeyeratne

Sri Lanka's civil war between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamil communities has now raged for nearly half a century. The Sri Lankan cum Sinhalese Buddhist state has since independence resisted all significant attempts by the Tamil political leadership at power sharing. Most constitutional lawyers and progressive Sri Lankan opinion (Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, etc.) hold that short of a separate state, administrative power should be devolved in the form of a federal state, so as to give autonomy to the northeast of Sri Lanka, while the forces of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism have sought to justify the centralized state by recourse to the history of Buddhism and the Sinhalese on the island. Such arguments have drawn on the ontological potential of the cosmic order of Sinhalese Buddhism, which is fundamentally hierarchical in intent. Here I argue that the diffused nature of this cosmic order provides the ontological grounding for a decentralized state structure that can accommodate ethnic difference in a non-hierarchical relation. Thus, the legacy of Sinhalese Buddhism can be rescued from the forces of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism.

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To Be or Not to Be a Hero

Recognition and Citizenship among Disabled Veterans of the Sri Lankan Army

Matti Weisdorf and Birgitte Refslund Sørensen

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.

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Dismissive Diaries, Desiccated Journeys, and Reductive Fictions

Sri Lanka in the Writings of Donald Friend, Shiva Naipaul, and Julian West

S. Walter Perera

Sri Lanka remains a popular site for international travelers despite its recent political instability. In examining texts based on sojourns spent in Sri Lanka by Donald Friend, Shiva Naipaul, and Julian West, this article argues that, though supposedly more informed about the island than their predecessors, these visitors from the latter half of the twentieth century eschew enlightened approaches in their writing for those that continue to exoticize, demonize, or stereotype the island's people, culture, environment, and politics. That their backgrounds and countries of origin are dissimilar makes little difference in their attitudes. The narrative strategies that they employ, which are often calculated to attract a certain kind of Western reader, irretrievably enervate their works and render futile the hopes expressed by recent postcolonial critics: that contemporary writing based on travel could lead to greater intercultural understanding between travelers and the local inhabitants that they encounter on their journeys.

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Facing East, Facing West

Mark Twain's Following the Equator and Pandita Ramabai's The Peoples of the United States

Brian Yothers

Mark Twain's Following the Equator (1897), a narrative of a journey to the South Pacific, Australia, South Asia, and South Africa, has occupied a small but significant space in the consideration of Twain's wider career as both a travel writer and social critic. Twain's work has not, however, been considered in conjunction with the works of later nineteenth-century South Asian travelers in North America. The present article puts Twain's discussion of India and Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) in dialogue with Indian scholar and women's rights activist Pandita Ramabai's 1889 travelogue The Peoples of the United States.