Books on caste in Sri Lanka

Selvy Thiruchandran’s book, Caste and its multiple manifestations. A study of the caste system in Northern Sri Lanka (2021) is insightful and informative. Going through language forms and cultural practices that depict caste structures, the book also brings out a contrast between strategies in India and Sri Lanka with regard to avoiding caste: Referring to Periyar (1993) and Ambedkar, the author explains: “They both held the view that Hinduism was the biggest or the only cause for casteism. Ambedkar was perhaps ignorant of how Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka have to be of a specific high caste to adorn the high positions of Buddhist order and institutions. Daniel’s ancestry was originally Hindu of the Turumbar caste, the lowest in the caste ladder. He was converted to Christianity and assumed the Christian name Daniel. Daniel raises the question through his novel whether conversion is the means of caste liberation. He answers in the negative and calls it, Kanai — a mirage/an illusion or an illusory image of water with inverted reflections.”

After mentioning the key figures who perpetrated caste-based structures (Arumugam Navalar) and those who fought against them (   , the author also deals with long-lasting consequences of caste, especially in the context of conflict. Speaking of the refugee camps set up after the end of the war, she refers to the socio-economic disadvantages that are accentuated by caste: “Does caste play a role in the lives of the people who live in the refugee camps? One could say that it starts very early in the composition of the inmates. Those of the high caste have escaped the violence of the war by migrating to other countries or by moving to the city of Colombo. They were also able to return to their former habitats during the periods of ceasefire and continue to live there. Those who belong to the lower strata of a caste became internal refugees. It is estimated that there is a disproportionate presence of the Panchamar caste in the refugee camps. (Silva, Sivapragasma and Thanges (2009:65) That they have to live for long periods in these centres (e.g. Alady camp) is symptomatic of continuing inability to move out due to lack of resources. In addition to this they also face a disadvantaged status by being subjected to other socially unjust discrimination relating to caste ” (page 137).

Ajith Balasuriya in Legacy of Palmyra: The Victims of Dual Horizontal Inequalities in Northern Sri Lanka (Colombo University Press, 2023) uses caste as the main focus in analysing the conflict in Sri Lanka. “Considering the duality of the protracted conflict in Sri Lanka, this study clearly identifies caste-based socio economic inequalities within the Tamil community as one of the fundamental causes of the conflict. Caste based socio-economic inequalities are not a unique phenomenon in the Tamil community, but parallels can be seen among the Sinhalese as well” (p 106).

“(…) this study argues that Horizontal Inequalities can be seen in a dual form within the ethnic Tamil community, among lower and upper castes. Lower-caste Tamils have been discriminated or affected by HIs twice. First, from the inequalities imposed by majority Sinhalese, and secondly from the inequalities from upper-caste Tamils who are a part of their own ethnic group” (107).


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OpenEdition vous propose de citer ce billet de la manière suivante :
NR (10 juin 2024). Books on caste in Sri Lanka. SRI LANKA & DIASPORAS. Consulté le 13 juillet 2024 à l’adresse

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