Archiving memories

‘Herstories’ of Resilience and Hope

“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.” – Chimamanda Nģozi Adichie

Herstories project is based on the idea that generally, women and children are the most affected by war and peace. Yet, women’s voices are the least heard mostly because they are oral histories, and are hardly ever recorded. As it passes from their memory and ours, it will also vanish from history.

HERSTORIES attempts to address this gap, by collecting mothers’ narratives from the ground (South, East and North Sri Lanka). Primarily because mothers are guardians of memory – narrating stories, collecting photographs and keeping the family history alive – when a mother is asked her story, she speaks not only of herself but of her family, neighbours and village. As a result she creates a composite view of a time period, a place and a set of identities that is truly unique. Together, these lives of others even though very personal individual stories, create a collective set of narratives that add faces, names, places, character, hopes, dreams, challenges, strength, courage and ‘flesh’ to an era in Sri Lankan history that must not be forgotten.


Photo-essays Kilinochchi District

I want the best for my children

A mother of three from Kilinochchi speaks of her struggle to survive and wishes for a better future

English: I have three children. We had a terrible time during the war, no food, no water. We were in Manukulam when a shell struck my husband. I was 22 when he died. We lived in a refugee camp in Chettikulum for about a year after that. When their father died I told my children that they should not worry because I will take care of them. I always do my best to provide them with what they need. 

Tamil: எனக்கு மூன்று பிள்ளைகள். போர்நடந்த காலத்தில் உண்ண உணவோ குடிநீரோ இல்லாது நாம் மிகக் கஷ்டத்தை அனுபவித்தோம். நாம் மாங்குளத்தில் இருந்தபோது எனது கணவர் செல்லடிபட்டார். அவர் இறக்கும்போது எனக்கு 22 வயது. அதன் பின்னர் ஒரு வருட காலமாக நாம் செட்டிகுளத்திலுள்ள அகதி முகாமில் வசித்தோம். தகப்பன் இறந்தபோது எனது பிள்ளைகள் எதற்கும் கவலைப்படக்கூடாதெனவும் நான் அவர்களைப் பராமரிப்பேன் எனவும் கூறினேன். அவர்களுக்குத் தேவையானவற்றை வழங்குவதற்கு நான எப்போதும் என்னாலானதைச் செய்வேன்.


More Posts

Follow Me:

Languages and identities – Fiction and non-fiction references

Identities within a language – in Tamil

In Caste and its multiple manifestations. A study of the Caste System in Northern Sri Lanka (2021, Baby Owl Press, Sri Lanka), Selvy Thiruchandran studies how language structures go hand-in-hand with caste structures:

“A question raised by a low caste person to an upper caste person mainly the Vellalar takes an interesting form. It is considered rude or impolite to ask a question or make a statement on equal terms or with an equal status with a Vellalar. For example, questions like “are you going?” or “what do you say?” have to add a phrase akum in order to sound respectful. Instead of directly asking poreenkala (Are you going?), “akum is added at the end, thus saying poreenkalakum\ Or, instead of asking ennasollureenka (What do you say?) they say “ennavaakum sollureengal The interrogative marker has supposedly made the address polite and dispels the status of being equal in the conversation. Etymologically aakum cannot be explained or broken into syllables to signify a meaning other than a derived contextual meaning as it appears or it seems expressing a sense of uncertainty like, maybe’. Unlike other forms of speech formation aakum was a Panchamar construction. How it originated and why it originated remains a mystery ” (p 63).

Forms of respect as well as derogatory comments can be conveyed through the use of specific language structures. People belonging to low-castes could be referred to in the adu (it / animal or object form): “A person of high caste, when he wants to ask the question “Where are they?” phrases it as “atukal enge?”(thus referring to them as inanimate objects) instead of “avarkal enge” Where are they?)” (p 64).

In When I Hit You, Meena Kandasamy reflects on how language shapes her identity or rather how she can see herself:

Language determines who you are, but also who you are shapes the language you use
“English makes me a lover, a beloved, a poet. Tamil makes me a word huntress, it makes me a love goddess.
There is a linguistic theory that the structures of languages determine the mode of thought and behaviours of the cultures in which they are spoken. In an effort to understand my life at the moment, I have come up with its far-fetched corollary, a distant cousin of this theory: I think what you know in a language shows what you are in relation to that language. Not an instance of language shaping your worldview but its obtuse inverse, where your worldview shapes what parts of the language you pick up. Not just: your language makes you, your language holds you prisoner to a particular way of looking at the world. But also: who you are determines what language you inhabit, the prison-house of your existence permits you only to access and wield some parts of a language.
Now in Mangalore, I know the Kannada words eshtu: how much; haalu: milk; aanda: eggs; namaskaram: greetings; neerulli: onions; hendathi: wife; illi: here; aadu: that one; illa: no; saaku: enough; naanu naandigudda hogabekku: I want to go to Naandigudda” (p 92).

Identities beyond a single language

What happens then when one moves from one language to another and faces what Yaa Gyasi has eloquently phrasely: (speaking of her mother from Ghana, who moved to America) “I think, rather, that she just never figured out how to translate who she really was into this new language” (Transcendent Kingdom, Yaa Gyassi).

Despite the inevitable sense of loss in this process of translating identities, there is also the possibility of creating new ones, as Lauren Collins brings out in When In French. Love in a Second language:

“ Bilinguals overwhelmingly report that they feel like different people in different languages. They do so for a multitude of reasons, some of which are less attributable to any language in particular than to having a new language itself. A person may be a loan shark in his new language when he was an opthalmologist in his native tongue. Perhaps he spoke Polish to his first wife but speaks Portuguese with the second. He may have scaled or slid down the ladder of class. He may have changed his politics, or his name.”

It is often assumed that the mother tongue is the language of the true self. And in many ways it remains the primal vehi­cle, the first and most effective responder in moments of cele­bration or crisis. A person who has spoken English most of her life is always going to speak English when she stubs her toe. But if first languages are reservoirs of emotion, second lan­guages can be rivers undammed”, and even “A fresh language can be a solvent to heart­ache.”









More Posts

Follow Me:

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).


More Posts

Follow Me:

Books on the war

Beyond Check-points: Stories of Human Resilience in troubled Sri Lanka by Duleep de Chickera.The Diocese of Colombo, 2023.


Counting shells – How plantation Tamils joined the LTTE controlled areas
“The daily lives of these twice oppressed humans redefined human desperation. They were on their own, among their own and in need of protection from their own. Their presence served the cause of those near and far. They had to be there to churn out cadres with no questions asked; just as they produced the best tea in the world for the lowest possible wages with no questions asked. Decades of suppression had conditioned them to passively obey. They were the idea ingredients for a fascist regimes; the ‘indispensable-dispensable’, dressed in rubber slippers and fed with layers of indoctrination.”

People of conscience
“As several like Fr. Clifford were learning, it was daily doses of restrictions and not carefully clichée statements in impressive assembly halls that stimulated these conscience corners of human resilience. All the UN’s motions and all the parliaments of the world brought little relief when tyranny strode down lonely byways in the darkness of night.”

“If you happened to be the Tamil from beyond the border, you had to be Tiger on this side. This is the plain message I got again and again,” he sobbed. Hell, for the young Tamil fleeing the LTTE, was a place that moved with you.”

Beyond Checkpoints
“The check point culture was much, much more than the visible or the moment. Those who met there carried heavy baggage that had to be unpacked in a matter of moments. For the few who stood there through the day, the ability to observe, question, screen and ensure all was well with courtesy, a thousand times over, was commendable. For the many who passed through, the ability to be patient and understanding when questioned or searched several times a day, was equally commendable. That these interactions occurred without incident through the day and night, spoke volumes about the goodwill and co-operation between those who stood and those who moved.”

“But for now this is our life, looking into peoples’ bags and getting scolded by everyone. What to do, this is our fate.”



More Posts

Follow Me:

De Lanerolle and the French Connection

“The Odyssey and Living Legacy of sieur de la Nérolle.” Neptune Publications.
Yasmin Rajapakse, 2019.



Le livre en français

La Nérolle – Huguenot charentais de l’escadre de Perse à Ceylan (1672) 

Yasmin Rajapakse,
Gérard Narjoux (Traducteur)

Les Indes Savantes


L’ambassadeur de France, le Sieur de La Nérolle, gravit la passerelle pour monter à bord du bateau le Triomphe de la Marine royale et n’en redescendit que pour mettre le pied sur le sable fin de Ceylan (Sri Lanka) à Trincomalee, le 21 mars 1672, durant le règne du roi Rajasinghe II (1635-1687). Il y passera le reste de sa vie, et y fera souche. Jusqu’à nos jours, ses descendants restent en contact avec La Nérolle (commune de Segonzac en Charente).
Cet ouvrage retrace l’histoire de ce noble charentais parti avec l’escadre de Perse, formidable flotte envoyée par Louis XIV pour concurrencer les Hollandais et établir un empire commercial dans l’océan Indien.


More Posts

Follow Me:

Article sur les femmes migrantes travailleuses domestiques

Women Migrant Workers and Market Forces: Toward an Inter-disciplinary Representation of Female Labor Migration

In: Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology: Including a Selection of Papers Presented at the First History of Economics Diversity Caucus Conference

Nadeera Rajapakse

The economic literature on labor migration has incorporated insights from various disciplines with regard to content and method, although the representation of migrants has not fully moved away from the neoliberal, market-dominated framework. This paper addresses the issue of women migrant workers using the particular example of Sri Lankan migrant women workers to the Middle East. It aims to highlight the need for more diversity in economic research without which conceptual representation, as well as empirical reach, is limited. After a brief overview of the representation of migrants in economic literature, I develop the concept of vulnerability. I refer to qualitative and quantitative analyses on Sri Lankan migrant women workers to the Middle East from a variety of disciplines in order to differentiate the “vulnerable,” that is, the workers in need of protection, from the “vulnerabilities.” The latter concept refers to the debilitating effects on workers, produced by market forces, which are often perpetuated by underlying assumptions, as well as policies. A broader, inter-disciplinary perspective, which considers the agency of women, can go a long way toward removing some of the limitations and preconceptions ingrained in most economic representation. This in turn could help to improve the protection of the vulnerable and empower them to better face market forces.


More Posts

Follow Me:

“Retour à Jaffna” par FAURE Jean-Paul

Retour à Jaffna c’est le voyage de Lunna, une femme résolue, à la recherche d’un homme qu’elle ne connaît que par sa littérature. C’est aussi une aventure sociale et humaine, une représentation singulière, intime et franche d’un pays encore très mal connu : Sri Lanka.
Lunna  devient responsable des Alliances françaises alors que le pays est en guerre civile depuis plusieurs décennies. Une période de cessez-le-feu et de pourparlers de paix intervient. L’engagement de Lunna la conduit à traverser le territoire pour découvrir Jaffna, une ville en partie détruite. Sur les traces de la culture française, elle recherche les liens et les survivants. Une relation d’estime et d’honneur, peut-être d’amour, la conduit à retrouver Sandana Poninbalham, ancien responsable de l’Alliance française de Jaffna qui a laissé, avant sa disparition, des textes dont elle apprécie le caractère littéraire.

Par l’ancien Directeur des Alliances françaises du Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka related articles in new issue of SOUTH ASIA

South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies is pleased to announce the publication of Vol. 42/4 (August 2019), available via the Taylor & Francis website


Representing the Sportsperson: Television Advertisements and the Evolution of Sports Discourse in India, by Sonal Jha

Sexual Nationalism, Masculinity and the Cultural Politics of Cricket in Bangladesh, by Adnan Hossain

‘An Evil Thing’: Gandhi and Indian Indentured Labour in South Africa, 1893–1914, by Goolam Vahed 

Nehru’s Non-Alignment Dilemma: Tibetan Refugees in India, by Ria Kapoor

‘To Shock the Conscience’: Rhetoric in Death Penalty Judgements of the Supreme Court of India, by Rajgopal Saikumar 

Priceless Enthusiasm: The Pursuit of Shauk in South Asia, by Kirin Narayan and Muhammad Kavesh

Special Section: Lankapura: Sri Lanka and the Ramayana in Historical Perspective 

Guest Editors: Sree Padma and Justin Henry

Introduction. Lankapura: The Legacy of the Ramayana in Sri Lanka, by Sree Padma and Justin Henry 


Explorations in the Transmission of the Ramayana in Sri Lanka, by Justin W. Henry

Borders Crossed: Vibhishana in the Ramayana and Beyond, by Sree Padma

Mapping Lanka’s Moral Boundaries: Representations of Socio-Political Difference in the Ravana Rajavaliya, by Jonathan Young and Philip Friedrich

Ravana’s Sri Lanka: Redefining the Sinhala Nation, by Dileepa Witharana

Reclaiming Ravana in Sri Lanka: Ravana’s Sinhala Buddhist Apotheosis and Tamil Responses, by Pathmanesan Sanmugeswaran, Krishantha Fedricks and Justin Henry

source: AISLS


“Friday et Friday” de Antonythasan Jesuthasan alias Shobasakthi, en librairie à partir du 5 avril 2018


“Friday et Friday” de Antonythasan Jesuthasan alias Shobasakthi.

Nouvelles traduites du tamoul (Sri Lanka) par Faustine Imbert-Vier,

Élisabeth Sethupathy, et Farhaan Wahab

Une enfance à Allaipiddy, au nord de Sri Lanka, la guérilla tamoule, l’errance, l’exil en France… Autant de motifs et de personnages qui habitent l’œuvre d’Antonythasan Jesuthasan : Diana la Ronde, pétrifiée par le bruit des bombes, qui remue ciel et terre pour obtenir son abri ; Pratheeban, le demandeur d’asile, floué pour une poignée de kilomètres ; les 37 Mouvements de rébellion, bien décidés à se tailler la part du lion ; Layla, la petite dame du numéro 7, que son nom de code – Oiseau jaune – finit par trahir, ou encore le chevalier de Kandi, condamné à devenir un coq en pâte aux frais du Comité central.
À travers tous ces portraits, c’est aussi celui du narrateur qui se dessine, tout en humour et en finesse – le roman d’une vie, le miroir d’une âme et d’un peuple qui sait que c’est parfois en perdant de vue le rivage que le cœur se remet à flot.

A propos de l’auteur

Si l’on connaît son visage grâce au superbe Dheepan de Jacques Audiard (Palme d’or à Cannes en 2015) dont il est l’acteur principal, Antonythasan Jesuthasan est surtout écrivain reconnu – auteur de quatre romans, plusieurs recueils de nouvelles et de nombreux essais, pièces de théâtre et scénarios.

Antonythasan Jesuthasan – alias Shobasakthi – est né en 1967 à Allaipiddy, un village à l’extrême nord de Sri Lanka. Ancien enfant soldat du Mouvement de libération des Tigres tamouls, il arrive en France en 1993 où il obtient l’asile politique. Il vit désormais à Paris.

Son œuvre est traduite pour la première fois en français. L’adaptation cinématographique de la magnifique nouvelle Friday, qui se déroule dans la communauté tamoule du quartier de la Chapelle, à Paris, est en cours de réalisation.

Le dossier de presse du livre est accessible à travers ce lien : dossier_presse-572162dp-mars-18pdf

Une première revue du livre a été rédigé par Véronique-Atasi et peut-être lu sur son blog

Pour plus d’information, vous pouvez consulter le site de la maison d’édition Zulma qui a publié Friday and Friday.

online resources on human rights and politics in Sri Lanka

We provide below few references to some online resources on human rights and politics in Sri Lanka.

Amnesty International

Asian Human Rights Commission

Government of Sri Lanka


Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka

Human Rights Watch

Un recueil de textes sur Sri Lanka soulève des questions fondamentales

Un chercheur américain vient de publier un recueil volumineux de documents et d’études, censé apporter au lecteur une connaissance encyclopédique de l’histoire, de la culture et de la politique de Sri Lanka:

John Clifford Holt: The Sri Lanka Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2011; pp 772 + index, illustrations, $34.95

Gananath Obeyesekere, professeur émérite d’anthropologie à l’Université de Princeton, a publié dans la revue indienne Economic and Political Weekly un compte-rendu très critique de cet ouvrage, dont nous vous conseillons la lecture, sous le titre: ‘Sri Lanka Reader plans to do much and therefore achieves too little’: on le trouve sur le site Transcurrents, qui reprend souvent des notes de lecture et des études importantes concernant Sri Lanka:

Nous aurons l’occasion de revenir ultérieurement sur cette publication et sur d’autres ouvrages récents portant sur l’histoire de Sri Lanka, mais nous encourageons dès à présent nos lecteurs à réagir à la lecture de ce compte-rendu qui soulève une série de questions fondamentales concernant les interprétations de l’histoire de la domination coloniale et de la place de la violence dans la société contemporaine

Bibliography on Sri Lankan Malays

Bibliography on Sri Lankan Malays

Adelaar, K.A. 1991. “Some notes on the origin of Sri Lankan Malay.” In H. Steinhauer (ed.), Papers in Austronesian Linguistics. Pacific Linguistics. The Australian National University. Vol. I: 23-37.Ansaldo, U. 2008. “Sri Lanka Malay revisited: Genesis and classification.” In A. Dwyer, D. Harrison & D. Rood (eds.), A World of Many Voices: Lessons from Documented Endangered Languages. Benjamins: Amsterdam / Philadelphia. (Studies in Language). 13-42.Ansaldo, Umberto. 2011. “Metatypy in Sri Lanka Malay.” In Rajendra Singh & Ghanshyam Sharma (eds.), Annual Review of South Asian Languages and Linguistics. 2011. Berlin / Boston: De Gruyter Mouton. (Trends in Linguistics, Studies and Monographs, 241). 3-15.

Ansaldo, U. & L. Lim. 2006. “Globalisation, empowerment and the periphery – The Malays of Sri Lanka.” In R. Elangayiyan, R. McKenna Brown, N.D.M. Ostler & M.K. Verma (eds.), Vital Voices: Endangered Languages and Multilingualism. Proceedings of the FEL X Conference. Bath / Mysore: Foundation for Endangered Languages / Central Institute of Indian Languages. 39-46.

Bakker, P. 2006. “The Sri Lanka Sprachbund.: The newcomers Portuguese and Malay.” In Y. Matras, A. McMahon & N. Vincent (eds.), Linguistic Areas – Convergence in Historical and Typological Perspective. Houndmills, New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 135-159.

Bichsel-Stettler. 1989. Aspects of the Sri Lanka Malay Community and its Language. Master’s thesis, Universität Bern.

Hussainmiya, B.A. 1987. Lost Cousins: The Malays of Sri Lanka, Occasional Paper, vol. 2. Kebangsaan: Universiti Kebangsaan.

Hussainmiya, B.A. 1990. Orang Rejimen: The Malays of the Ceylon Rifle Regiment. Universiti Kebangsaan.

Kekulawala, S.L. 1982. “Kinship terminology in Sri Lankan Malay: A contribution to the study of language universals.”Kelaniya Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Kelaniya, 1/2: 207-224.

Lim, L. & U. Ansaldo. 2006. “Keeping Kirinda vital: The endangerment-empowerment dilemma in the documentation of Sri Lanka Malay.” Amsterdam Centre for Language & Cognition Working Papers, 1: 51-66.

Lim, L. & U. Ansaldo. 2007. “Identity alignment in the multilingual space: The Malays of Sri Lanka.” In E. Anchimbre (ed.),Linguistic Identity in Multilingual Postcolonial Spaces. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press. 218-243.

Nordhoff, Sebastian. 2009. A Grammar of Upcountry Sri Lanka Malay. Utrecht: LOT (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Amsterdam). Three volumes.

Paauw, S.H. 2004. A Historical Analysis of the Lexical Sources of Sri Lanka Malay. Master’s thesis, York University.

Saldin, B. 2001. The Sri Lankan Malays and Their Language. Kurunegala: Nihon, 2nd edition.

Saldin, B. 2003. Portrait of a Sri Lankan Malay. Kurunegala: Nihon.

Saldin, B. 2007. A Concise Sri Lankan Malay Dictionary – Kamus ringkas bahasa melayu Sri Lanka. Kurunegala: Nihon.

Slomanson, Peter. 2006. “Sri Lankan Malay morophosyntax: Lankan or Malay?” In A. Deumert & S. Durleman (eds.),Structure and Variation in Language Contact. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 135-158.

Slomanson, Peter. 2008. “The perfect construction and complexity drift in Sri Lankan Malay.” Lingua, 118/10: 1640-1655.

Smith, I.R., S. Paauw & B.A. Hussainmiya. 2004. “Sri Lanka Malay: the state of the art.” Yearbook of South Asian Languages and Linguistics. Rajendra Singh (chief editor). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 197-215

Tapovanaye, S. 1986. Analysis of the Segmental Phonemes of the Sri Lanka Malay Language. Master’s thesis, University of Kelaniya (written in Sinhala).

Tapovanaye, S. 1995. Vowel Length in Sri Lankan Malay. Master’s thesis, University of Hawaii.