Larger Questions and Peripheral Engagement: Trade Unionism at Jaffna University by Ahilan Kadirgamar (The Island)

With the university teachers on strike for over two months, what has been most impressive about this struggle is its national character and independence from party politics. The public debate created by the breadth and commitment of this struggle provides great hope for rethinking our political culture and people’s participation in shaping post-war Sri Lanka. We provide here a link toward the article published on “Larger Questions and Peripheral Engagement: Trade Unionism at Jaffna University” by Ahilan Kadirgamar in The Island

source: The Island

Trade union island wide general strike on 28/09/2012 to show solidarity with FUTA

Collective trade union representative conference held on spetember 13th 2012 took a pledge to have a island wide one day general strike on september 28th to show solidarity with FUTA’s demand for 6% of GDP for education

This is a link toward Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri’s speech, in sinhalese, from the conference.

Fourth International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Emotional Geographies 1-3 July 2013 at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands



The Fourth International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Emotional Geographies will be held 1-3 July 2013 at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands, hosted by the Faculty of Spatial Sciences. After the success of the first three conferences (in Lancaster, UK, 2002; Kingston, Canada, 2006; and Adelaide, Australia, 2010), this fourth conference provides a forum for a range of people from different disciplinary backgrounds as well as societal partners and artists to creatively explore the role of emotion in thinking about and experiencing space and society.

We are facing spatial and social transformations as a result of climate change, financial crises, geopolitical instabilities and digital revolutions, which evoke emotional responses. These events led Vermeulen and Van den Akker (2010) to introduce the concept of metamoderism; a “spacetime that is … neither ordered nor disordered” (p.12) and that is characterized by the oscillation “between a modern enthusiasm and a postmodern irony, between hope and melancholy, between naïveté and knowingness, empathy and apathy, unity and plurality, totality and fragmentation, purity and ambiguity” (p.5-6).

We seek papers that investigate the multiplicity of spaces and places that produce and are produced by emotional and affective life, representing an inclusive range of theoretical and methodological engagements with emotion as a social, cultural and spatial phenomenon. Themes include but are not limited to: migration, landscapes, development, governance, arts, ageing, embodiment, cities, population decline, ruralities, wellbeing, real estate, non-human actors, memory, entrepreneurship, methods.


Key note speakers:

Rosi Braidotti (University of Utrecht)

Nigel Thrift (University of Warwick)

Divya Tolia-Kelly (Durham University)



Deadline for session proposals: October 15th, 2012

Deadline for abstracts: January 20th, 2013






New ICES research paper series

A new series of research papers being published by the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo.  We like to share links to the first three publications in this series are given below.  More papers will be published in the coming months.
John Rogers

call for applications to the Theravada Civilizations Project Dissertation Workshop, March, 2013

The Theravada Civilizations Project announces:

A Dissertation Workshop

To be held at Arizona State University, Tempe/Phoenix, Arizona, March 6, 2013

DEADLINE for proposals: November 30th, 2012.
The Theravada Civilizations Project is pleased to announce plans for an intensive dissertation workshop, which will be held in conjunction with the international meeting of the Theravada Civilizations Project in March 2013 in Arizona.

Theravada Buddhism is practiced throughout the world with over 150 million practitioners settled primarily in Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, Burma, Nepal, and Thailand. The South and Southeast Asian diaspora communities as well as the rise in global interest in vipassana meditation has led to the growth of Theravada Buddhism in the Americas, Australia, Japan, and Europe. The scholarly study of Theravada Buddhism began with the scrutiny of Pali literature, but now covers many disciplines including literature, ethics, anthropology, philology, philosophy, history, cultural studies, political science, urban studies, and art and material culture.

The Theravada Civilizations Project  is comprised of scholars from Arizona State University, Bowdoin College, the University of Chicago, Cornell University, the École Française d’Extrême-Orient, Harvard University, the University of Leeds, the University of London,  the University of Louisville, Missouri State University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Toronto, the University of Vermont, the University of Washington and the University of Wisconsin, and in consultation with scholars from a range of other Asian, Australian, and European institutions.  A description of the larger project can be found in Juliane Schober and Steven Collins, “The Theravāda Civilizations Project: future directions in the study of Buddhism in Southeast Asia,” in The Journal of Contemporary Buddhism, vol. 13 (1), May 2012. Since project members and other scholars in the field are based at many different locations, graduate students preparing their dissertations often do not have the opportunity to present and gain detailed feedback on their work from several experts in the field.

This workshop is intended to bring together doctoral students and/or post-doctoral academics in the humanities and social sciences who are (1) developing dissertation proposals or are in early phases of research, dissertation writing, or revising dissertations for publications; and who are (2) engaging some aspects of Theravada classical and/or vernacular literature and/or researching aspects of Theravada history and cultural practice among South or Southeast Asian communities.

The workshop will be limited to 6 doctoral students and/or post doctoral academics, ideally from a broad array of disciplines and working on a wide variety of materials in a variety of time periods on themes related to Theravada traditions and communities in Southeast Asia.  It will provide a day of intense discussion, presentation, and close review of dissertation proposals, outlines, and/or draft review on March 6, 2013.

Priority will be given to doctoral candidates at North American universities.

The Theravada Civilizations Project will be able to provide 1,000 US dollars in support for participants to help cover travel and accommodation. Meals will be provided at the workshop. Students needing additional funds to attend the workshop are encouraged to approach their home institutions for support.

Applicants need not have advanced to candidacy but must have at least drafted a dissertation research proposal to apply. Applications are also welcome from doctoral students in the early phases of writing their dissertations.Applications consist of two items only:

(1) A current Curriculum Vitae, and

(2) A dissertation proposal, or a statement of the specific issues being addressed, the intellectual approach, and the materials being studied. Neither the proposal nor statement should exceed 10 double-spaced pages in length.

Application materials must reach Ashley Thompson at no later than November 30, 2012. Workshop participants will be selected on the basis of the submitted projects, the potential for useful exchanges among them, and a concern to include a wide range of disciplinary perspectives, intellectual traditions, and regions. Applicants will be notified in early January 2013. For further information about the workshop, or eligibility, please contact Dr. Thompson at the above email address.

source: AISLS

journées sur l’immobilité à Migrinter – 19 et 20 novembre 2012

Chers collègues,

Nous vous rappelons que les journées “Et l’immobilité dans la circulation?” se dérouleront à Poitiers les 19 et 20 novembre prochains. La date limite d’envoi des propositions de communication a été reportée au 1er Octobre : il est encore temps d’envoyer vos projets de communication. L’enjeu principal de ces deux journées est d’ouvrir des dialogues entre disciplines, champs thématiques et spécialistes de différentes régions du globe intéressés par les questions de (Im-)mobilité. Nous examinerons avec intérêt toutes vos propositions.
Et l’immobilité dans la circulation?
Lundi 19 et mardi 20 novembre 2012
Salle Mélusine
MSHS – Bâtiment A5, 5 rue Théodore Lefebvre
Rappelons qu’il est souhaitable, pour des raisons d’organisation, que les personnes dérisant simplement assister aux journées sans proposer de communication s’inscrivent en réponse à cet e-mail.
Ci-joint l’appel détaillé.
Guillaume Le Roux
sécrétaire scientifique des journées

La diaspora intellectuelle tamoule sri lankaise : un nouveau monde transterritorial (1983-2004) par Vilasnee Tampoe-Hautin

Nous remercions très chaleureusement Madame Vilasnee TAMPOE-HAUTIN, Maitre de conférence à l’université de La Réunion et membre du Centre des Recherches Littéraires et Historiques de l’Océan Indien (CRLHOI), de nous permettre de publier son article  sur “la diaspora intellectuelle tamoule sri lankaise : un nouveau monde territorial (1983-2004). Il convient de préciser que cet article est la suite d’une communication présentée à la Journée d’Études Discours Nomades organisée par le CRLHOI, en 2004, date originelle de rédaction. Par conséquent, certains points ne sont plus d’actualité. Par la même occasion, Madame Vilasnee TAMPOE-HAUTIN souhaiterait rendre hommage aux deux organisateurs de cette journée d’étude, Norbert Dodille et Nivelivesoa Galibert. disparus en 2010 et 2012. 


Cette réflexion se consacre à examiner la question de l’errance des Tamouls sri lankais, peuple déraciné habitant les espaces anglo-américains ou européens, conséquence de la guerre ethnique sri lankaise (1983-2009). Le discours nomade qui nous occupe ici concerne la littérature émanant cette diaspora, résultat de conflits socio-politiques qui ont fait affronter la minorité tamoule et la majorité cinghalaise à partir de 1983. Ainsi, enseignants, artistes, écrivains, cinéastes, journalistes ou simple senior citizens tamouls sri lankais se sont emparés de cet espace de liberté – celui  de l’expression littéraire et artistique sur le net, – pour revendiquer une reconnaissance politique et culturelle que l’on leur aurait ôté. Une documentation abondante rassemble poésie, romans, essais, discours, réflexions et débats gravitant autour de la question des droits du peuple tamoul sri lankais. Cette littérature numérique construit l’imaginaire d’un peuple éclaté et se réfère à une culture fragilisée par les drames de l’exode. À cette fragilité s’ajoute un nouveau sentiment de vulnérabilité, car certains écrits rappellent la menace posée par le nouvel environnement et la culture de la terre d’accueil. Mêlant fiction et réalité, elle puise son énergie dans la colère et dans la crainte de voir disparaître la culture tamoule sri lankaise. Il s’agit d’une écriture d’errance et de rebellion, reprenant les thèmes de la non-reconnaissance, du rejet social et de la nostalgie. Outre les thématiques inspirées de la persécution et de la discrimination, ce discours qui transcende l’espace remet en question le rôle des frontières politiques et nationales comme élément de cohésion d’un groupe ethnique. Il suscite également une réflexion sur la fonction politique et sociale de la littérature. On ravive les flammes du nationalisme tamoul qui, comme on le sait, gravite autour des notions de territorialisme et de séparatisme. En agissant à partir d’une pluralité de motifs, le discours nomade tamoul donne une dimension fluide à la notion d’état-nation et crée une aire linguistique et culturelle à la fois fragmentée, et, du fait même de son éclatement, très soudée. Il s’agirait d’un état qui rejoint l’idée exprimée par Anderson Benedict que la nation est une communauté imaginée et dynamique dont les contours et les caractéristiques sont sujets aux changements.[1]


Les Tamouls sri lankais se trouvent nichés entre la mère patrie indienne et le Sri Lanka (autrefois Ceylan) où une majorité démographique d’origine cinghalaise bouddhiste se réclame d’être les véritables « fils du sol ». La répartition demo-géographique des deux groupes, nette et « clivée », a eu pour résultat un sens d’appartenance territorial, les Tamouls revendiquant la partition de l’île et l’indépendance de la partie septentrionale qui avoisine l’Inde. En ce qui concerne la genèse de ce conflit, rappelons ici qu’en dépit des avis mitigés, exprimés par les historiens, les Tamouls et les Cinghalais ont d’abord insisté sur les mythes originels qui les divisent, soulignant leurs origines dravidiennes pour les uns, aryennes pour les autres.[2] De même, la théorie de l’antériorité a souvent été utilisée dans les débats politiques, aboutissant à des heurts ethno-centrés et à l’aggravation d’un problème sans issue. K.M. De Silva, historien sri lankais, nuance en faveur d’une occupation cinghalaise qui précéderait celle des Dravidiens.[3] D’autres spécialistes proposent l’hypothèse d’une occupation simultanée et mettent en exergue la nature futile d’un tel argument qui n’a aucune importance aujourd’hui, sinon pour alimenter les idées nationalistes. L’amertume ressentie par les Tamouls est d’autant plus vive qu’ils revendiquent des origines qui remontent aussi loin que les Cinghalais.[4] Force est de constater que l’immigration tamoule vers des pays anglo-saxons ou anglophones, est le résultat de l’échec d’une lutte politique commencée en 1958, conséquence aussi d’un malaise social et politique qui remonte au 19e siècle. L’immigration tamoule vers d’autres pays est d’abord le résultat d’un malaise social et politique[5] Il a ses origines dans la répartition démographique de l’île: les Tamouls occupent traditionnellement la partie septentrionale, les Cinghalais habitent le sud et le centre.

Se rajoute à cette volonté d’indépendance territoriale d’autres facteurs d’ordre ethno-linguistique et religieux. A sans doute renforcé l’idéologie séparatiste des Tamouls la forme péninsulaire de cette partie de l’île, rattachée au reste de l’île par une mince étendue de terre, mais séparée à peine de l’Inde par le Détroit de Palk. Cette proximité géographique avec l’Inde à laquelle vient s’ajouter des affinités religieuses, linguistiques et culturelles devaient également rapprocher les Tamouls sri lankais des Tamouls de l’Inde du sud.  Entre 1983 et 2009, les deux communautés se sont confrontées dans leurs discours sur des questions de langue, religion, culture, territoire et ethnie, l’enjeu étant le refus ou l’acceptation d’une division de l’île en deux états séparés. D’autres causes de cet affrontement tiennent également à la manière dont l’île a été administrée par la Couronne Britannique : le départ des Anglais auxquels les communautés minoritaires, les Tamouls et les Burghers, devaient leur statut privilégié fut suivi par reprise du pouvoir par la majorité cinghalaise. Alors que les Britanniques avaientt favorisé la minorité tamoule durant le régime colonial, (une idée contestée par certains historiens), ce dernier a toujours nourri l’espoir de voir se créer une terre-patrie indépendante pour le peuple tamoul dans la région septentrionale de Jaffna, ancien siège des royaumes dravidiens. D’ailleurs, la population de Burghers, Sri Lankais d’origine cinghalo-hollandaise, autre diaspora sri lankaise dont on parle peu, diminue également au fur et à mesure que l’on observe leur expatriation vers les pays anglo-saxons.[6]

Les revendications tamoules pour un État indépendant ou autonome avaient été toujours refusées par la majorité cinghalaise. Le rejet également par les Cinghalais de reconnaître pleinement les minorités en tant qu’entités culturelle, religieuse et linguistique semble constituer la raison principale de cette migration ethnique tamoule qui nous préoccupe. Ainsi, suite à ces conflits d’ordre géographique, politique et culturel, une diaspora du peuple tamoul s’est produite dans les quatre coins de la terre, diminuant la population tamoule sri lankaise d’autant, dont le chiffre s’était stabilisé autour d’environ 20% de la population depuis les années 1980. Les statistiques les plus récentes remontent à 1981, mobilisées lors du dernier recensement, mais avant la guerre ethnique de 1983. La diaspora tamoule compte environ 4 millions de personnes, réparties principalement dans des pays anglo-saxons, mais non exclusivement. En effet, on note des regroupements de Tamouls en Norvège, en France et en Allemagne. 400 000 Tamouls au Canada, d’autres en Malaisie, à Singapour, en Inde, en Australie et en Nouvelle Zélande.[7] Bien que ces communautés fragmentées nourrissent l’espoir d’un retour au pays une fois que les conflits soient résolus, la crainte de se retrouver de nouveau dans une situation précaire ainsi que le confort acquis dans ces nouvelles terres d’accueil encourageront beaucoup de Tamouls à opter pour élire domicile en dehors de leur pays d’origine.[8] Toutefois, en 2012, devant la reprise de l’activité touristique de nombreux Sri Lankais expatriés, tamouls mais aussi cinghalais, reviennent au pays. Parmi les Tamouls sri lankais, l’on évoque de plus en plus l’idée d’un retour définitif à Jaffna, sans doute encouragés par les conditions de vie améliorées dans la péninsule dont l’accès a été grandement facilité par la construction d’une autoroute la reliant au sud. Dès le début des années 1980, le sentiment d’insécurité et de persécution incitera les Tamouls à partir en quête de reconnaissance politique et culturelle. Emanera à partir des terres d’asile, un discours nomade littéraire, poétique et philosophique et qui nourrit le nationalisme tamoul, dont le thème principal est celui du séparatisme territorial. Si les échanges intellectuels et épistolaires entre Tamouls habitant en dehors du territoire sri lankais, sont convoyés par les moyens de communication à la fois traditionnels et modernes, l’errance tamoule ainsi que les malaises pressentis par ce peuple semblent se traduire le mieux au travers de modes d’expression virtuels : la cohésion de la diaspora doit beaucoup à la révolution informatique et aux nouvelles technologies. Les Tamouls sri lankais ont tissé une nouvelle trame “nationaliste” à l’aide du Web, utilisant le cyber espace pour mettre en place un réseau culturel dynamique. [9]


Alors que l’objectif principal de ces échanges est de nouer des liens, il s’agit, pour ces auteurs de renouer avec leur passé. Ce nationalisme, éclaté et virtuel, passe ainsi de plus en plus par des ondes et des pixels. Depuis les années 1990, les nouvelles technologies ont largement contribué à rallier les membres de cette diaspora autour de la question fondamentale de la patrie perdue (Tamil Homeland ). L’internet est devenu le moyen le plus utilisé par non seulement le grand public, les intellectuels et les artistes mais aussi par les groupes séparatistes. Les nombreux sites, qu’ils soient « officiels » ou non, sont les porte-paroles des droits du peuple tamoul sri lankais, véhicules des messages patriotiques de tous ordres : allant de la littérature de combat, aux échanges épistolaires en passant par des annonces matrimoniales. Des talents artistiques, intellectuelles et médiatiques ont été mis au service de ce peuple, qui parle à l’unisson d’une voix nomade. Les griefs politiques et sociaux sous-tendent la création littéraire tamoule, celle-ci devenant  un moyen de véhiculer la pensée politique : ainsi des double-rôles inhabituels sont tout à fait acceptables dans le monde de la diaspora tamoule où littérature et militantisme vont de pair. Velupillai Thangavelu, Président de l’association mondiale des écrivains tamouls (World Tamil Creative Writers Association) est également le porte parole des terroristes Tamil Tigers oeuvrant à la libération du peuple tamoul.[10]  Il existe un certain nombre de journaux, publiés et diffusés à partir du Canada Ulagath thamilar et « Namnaadhu et Muzhakkam dont les idéologies politiques sont centrées autour de la dichotomie aryano-dravidienne, source de conflit entre les communautés.[11]

Depuis 1983, une branche importante de littérature tamoule s’est créée, émanant des réfugiés qui habitent l’Europe et les pays scandinaves. Les thématiques portent inlassablement sur le thème du retour au pays natal. Certains écrivains, plus jeunes, intègrent des éléments occidentaux aux images traditionnelles, mêlant sapins et cocotiers,  mousson et chutes de neige, traduisant le dilemme de la double appartenance. Tant sur le plan de l’écriture, de l’iconographie que de l’image animée, qu’elles soient littéraires ou journalistiques, séculaires ou religieuses, les expressions de cette diaspora rappellent la frustration et la douleur du déni culturel. Cette littérature nous arrive sous forme papier, audio, visuelle ou encore virtuelle. On y oscille entre deux visions paradoxales : celle d’un peuple de pariahs opprimés par l’histoire ou celle un peuple militant, fier et valeureux. Alors que cette expression se nourrit principalement de la douleur de l’expropriation et  des vicissitudes de l’exil, elle exprime également sur des difficultés d’intégrer un paradis retrouvé. En effet, malgré la solidarité reconquise à travers le cyberespace, la prolifération des messages ethno centrés n’a pas empêché un nouvel isolement de la communauté tamoule, rejetée par les pays d’accueil.

Les thématiques qui nourrissent l’expression littéraire vont au-delà de la quête pour une patrie. D’une manière générale, face aux Cinghalais, les Tamouls fondent leur militantisme sur le discours Aryen-Dravidien : ils revendique l’identité dravidienne, s’oppose à  l’aryanisation du nord de l’île. Le discours tamoul s’inspire des exploits et prouesses militaires des rois Tamouls antiques, les Cholas, magnifient leur héroïsme et s’appuient sur la période d’or de ces conquérants pour glorifier le peuple tamoul. Il véhicule la fierté tamoule, ou le Maanam : la fierté de l’héritage tamoul, porteur de valeurs nobles. La recherche d’une patrie n’empêche pas la résurgence des clivages tribaux ou castéïques car certaines idéologies sont fondées aussi sur des différends de castes. Elle se décline autour de la religion et la langue – la littérature  hindoue-saiva-tamoule, la littérature chrétienne-tamoule, la littérature islamo-tamoule. Sur ce dernier point, il faut savoir que les Musulmans du Sri Lanka sont de langue maternelle tamoule. Il existe deux journaux tamouls, Murasoli et Vettrimurasu, publiés à Toronto, fondés sur la pensée d’Arumugam Navalar, philosophe tamoul, qui vécut au 19e siècle, et qui promût le tamilisme durant la période coloniale. Navalar invoquait la supériorité de la caste des « Vellalas » sur les autres castes tamoules de Jaffna.

Aujourd’hui, une partie de la diaspora tamoule s’identifie à Navalar alors que d’autres contestent son conservatisme comme la Youth Congress de Jaffna, regroupant des jeunes tamouls expatriés, qui revendique la suppression des castes et des inégalités sociales issues de cette pratique ancestrale et à leurs yeux dépassée.[12] De nombreux jeunes Tamouls auteurs, tels que M. Jeyapalan, I. Vijayendran, Aravinthan, développent des thèmes liés à la situation politique des Tamouls Sri Lankais. D’autres romanciers – Shyam Selvadurai, Karunakara Moorthy, Partipan, V.N. Giritharan[13]et S. Ganesalingan- qui habitent les pays anglo-saxons ou ceux du Commonwealth, ont connu un vif succès. M. Ganesalingan, dans un article électronique intitulé « Thoughts on Tamil Literature » réitère la cohésion du groupe tamoul. “For me there is no difference between writers from Tamilnadu or from Singapore or from Malaysia or from Sri Lanka. We all belong to one family: Tamil writers family.Tamil writers living in many different parts of the world should feel united”.[14]Dans le domaine universitaire, notons la présence d’un nombre important de professeurs tamouls rattachés à Harvard, au Massachusetts Institute of Technology, à Oxford et Cambridge. Ces intellectuels, tout en se consacrant à leur travail d’enseignement et de recherche, ont participé à une réflexion sur le sort des Tamouls sri lankais, et, au fil des années, se sont impliqués de près ou de loin dans le mouvement indépendantiste. Les intellectuels tamouls rattachés aux universités étrangères proposent des conférences et colloques, font la promotion des associations d’écrivains, de poètes, de musiciens, de peintres tamouls. On y découvre l’existence des centres de recherches et d’échanges (des journalistes et écrivains œuvrant pour la promotion de la langue tamoule dans la presse écrite internationale, l’Université virtuelle tamoule (Tamil Virtual University), site élaboré pour ceux qui s’intéressent à la langue, l’histoire, l’art tamouls.

Le monde du divertissement et des loisirs se référant à la communauté tamoule est également largement servi auquel vient s’ajouter des informations plus utilitaires contenues dans le Thamilar Mathiyil, ou l’annuaire et les pages jaunes en tamoule, crée en 1991[15]. Ce fonds proposent les coordonnées des magasins, restaurants, celles d’anciens élèves des écoles secondaires de Jaffna, les adresses de dentistes et médecins tamouls, des agences immobilières et autres commerces tenus par des Tamouls et enfin, des annonces matrimoniales et des rencontres. En ce qui concerne le cinéma, les Tamouls sri lankais n’ont pu disposer de moyens suffisants pour s’exprimer par le cinéma. Dans leur pays d’origine, les films de langue tamoule sont peu nombreux, en raison du monopole cinghalais de l’industrie. Alors que l’État sri lankais a toujours manifesté un mépris et une méfiance envers les films tamouls importés de l’Inde du sud par les hommes d’affaires tamouls au Sri Lanka, ces derniers ont paradoxalement négligé le film tamouls sri lankais, entravant involontairement l’épanouissement tamoul cinématographique. Enfin, la florissante industrie cinématographique de l’Inde, le célèbre « Bollywood », a posé une sérieuse entrave à la créativité cinématographique tamoule sri lankaise, restée dans l’ombre du géant indien.

En revanche, dans les zones d’immigration, notamment au Canada et aux Etats-Unis, la cohésion de groupe s’effectue autour des films d’origine indienne, en s’identifiant à l’autre mère patrie qui est l’Inde. Il existe de nombreuses salles de cinéma au Canada dont les propriétaires sont des Tamouls sri lankais. Au sein de la diaspora tamoule, aucune restriction ni de barrière à l’échange culturel n’est dressé, contrairement à la censure exercée sur tout produit filmique par le gouvernement sri lankais. Ainsi des milliers de films tamouls sous forme de cassettes vidéo ou de DVD en tamoul circulent librement à l’intérieur du cadre diasporique. La location et la vente des cassettes et des DVD sont aussi une source de fierté tamoule sans oublier les aspects pécuniaires[16]. La survivance des rites et rituels religieux constitue également un élément important unissant les membres de la diaspora, allant au delà de la simple commémoration de fêtes au rappel des dates importantes dans le calendrier tamouls des festivals traditionnels et religieux, ou l’emplacement des temples hindous et autres lieux de cultes. Ainsi, on remémore les drames qui ont touché la communauté: le massacre des tigres terroristes tamouls est célébré le 5 juillet (Black Tigers Day). On a consacré le 23 Octobre aux femmes engagées dans la lutte tamoule (Women’s Day of Tamil Eelam) et The Great Warriors Day rappelle ceux qui ont été les martyres de la cause tamoule, victimes de l’armée sri lankaise. Il va de soi que les médias sont devenus des organes de propagande utilisés de façon efficace par les membres de la diaspora : les radios furent les premiers moyens de communication à se développer durant les années 1980, puisque la presse écrite nécessitait une infrastructure plus sophistiquée. On dénombre une dizaine de radios au Canada, dont la radio 24h sur 24 en Tamoul à partir du Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Par ailleurs, ce sont les immigrés de la première génération, les senior citizens tamouls, souvent des retraités qui ont largement contribué à rendre la radio populaire, dans le désir d’entretenir des contacts, et aussi nourrir la nostalgie pour leur pays natal.

Enfin, le désir d’une expansion dans le territoire d’adoption n’exclut pas l’hypothèse de rentrer au pays. Les Tamouls de cette diaspora, comme tout immigré, se confrontent aux dilemmes de la double allégeance et des crises identitaires. Les habitants de ce  pays,  à la fois virtuel et éclaté, sont unis par un vécu commun. Le nomadisme est produit du rejet social et ethnique, provoqué par des frontières politiques  dressées en dépit des démarcations linguistiques et culturelles. Les Tamouls aujourd’hui, occupent donc un nouvel espace soudé par des échanges intellectuels. Ainsi défient-ils les frontières géographiques, trouvant leur cohésion non dans un espace national, mais dans une idéologie qui transgresse les frontières réelles et aboutit à un nationalisme trans-territorial. Le discours nomade tamoul fait émerger une nouvelle patrie virtuelle qui permet à ses habitants de se réunir pour militer ou tout simplement….méditer.


[1] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, London and New York: Verso, 1991

[2] Certains arguent que les distinctions aryano-dravidiennes d’ordre linguistique établies par les orientalistes au 19e siècles se sont vues élargies à la « race ». Voir E. Méyer, Sri Lanka entre particularismes et mondialisation, Paris: La Documentation Française, 2001, Silva, in A History of Sri Lanka, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2003, p.13. et Arun Guneratne, « What’s in a Name, Aryans and Dravidians in the Making of Sri Lankan Identities » in The Hybrid Island, Neluka Silva, (éd.), Colombo: Social Scientists Association, 2002)

[3] « Thus, Sri Lanka has been from very early in its recorded history a multi-ethnic society in which a recognisable Dravidian componendtwas present but not sufficiently powerful to alter the basic Aryan or North Indian character of the population. The evidence available at present would tend strongly to support the conclusion that Aryan settlement and colonisation preceded the arrival of Dravidian settlers by a few centuries. ». Silva, op.cit.,p.13.

[4] « Sri Lankan Tamils have always believed that they were among the earliest inhabitants of this island. ». Voir D. Nesiah, Tamil Nationalism, Marga Monograph series, vol. 6, Colombo: Marga Institute, 2001, p. 3

[5] R. Cheran, The Sixth Genre: Memory, History and the Tamil Diaspora Imagination vol. 7, Colombo: Margha Institute, 2001,p.10. Voir aussi les travaux de Nira Wickramasinghe, Sri Lanka in the Modern Age: A History of Contested Identities, Londres : C. Hurst & Co. 2006.

[6] Bien que cette présentation concerne les Tamouls, notons qu’une autre communauté sri lankaise, les Burghers croisement Métis cinghalo-hollandaise, a été, elle aussi, touchée par le phénomène diasporique. Nombreux sont ceux qui ont élu domicile en Australie et ont écrit, peint ou composé à partir de ce pays. Plusieurs exemples existent de Sri Lankais illustres dont Michael Ondaatjie installé au Canada. Auteur du Patient Anglais et le Phantom d’Anil, et Running in the Family, Michael Ondaatjie utilise le thème du rejet culturel et le nomadisme de sa communauté dans ses romans et sa poésie. Ondaatjie a consacré plusieurs romans à la question de l’exode burgher et du dilemme d’un peuple partagé entre trois cultures: le métissage cinghalo-hollandais et la culture anglaise. Le Patient Anglais  est une exception.

[7] Statistiques fournies par R. Cheran et Devenesan Nesiah, op.cit.

The Sixth Genre: Memory, History and the Tamil Diaspora Imagination

[8] Devenesan Nesiah, op. cit. p. 26.

[9] Le moteur de recherche pour des Tamouls – TOPTAMIL

[10] Walter Jayawardhana « We Jumped From Sri Lankan Frying Pan To Canadian Fire Says LTTE Front Organization President In Canada » article sur internet, Los Angeles, 2004.

[11] R. Cheran, op.cit.

[12] Devenesan Nesiah, Tamil Nationalism, Marga Monograph series éd., vol. 6, Colombo: Marga Institute, 2001, p. 9

[13] V. N. Giritharan’s Corner, site web.

[14] S. Ganesalingan – New Tamil Writer, site web.

[15] On trouve sur ces sites des paroles de chansons en MP3, des films et des vidéos, des chansons, des photos d’acteurs et actrices, des recettes de cuisine, descartes de vœux, des e-pals tamouls, du chatting en tamoul, de l’humour tamoul (Tamil Jokes), des associations de la jeunesse tamoule, des listes de noms pour des nouveaux-nés…

[16] R. Cheran, in The Sixth Genre, p. 14-15.

© V. Tampoe-Hautin, Université de La Réunion


Journée d’étude sur les Politiques Identitaires en Inde et 3èmes Journées du cinéma indien et Bollywood

Journée d’étude sur les Politiques Identitaires en Inde
23 novembre 2012
Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3
EMMA, Centre Saint Charles, salle des colloques n° 2
en collaboration avec le Département d’Etudes Anglophones, la Ville de Montpellier et l’association So Bollywood
11h – Arundhati Virmani, Historienne, EHESS, Marseille

Peut-on parler d’une identité nationale en Inde coloniale et post-coloniale?
L’accent mis ces dernières décennies sur les fractures identitaires – communautaires, religieuses, ethniques, linguistiques, pour ne pas évoquer la caste – occulte l’affirmation et la consolidation de l’identité nationale en Inde depuis l’époque coloniale. Rassembler les Indiens de régions, de groupes sociaux et de classes différents et parfois opposés à la fois par leurs projets d’avenir  et par leur perception du passé, a constitué un premier défi pour les nationalistes indiens à l’époque coloniale. Construire une identité partagée s’avéra alors d’autant plus difficile que l’exercice allait à l’encontre des politiques identitaires du gouvernement anglais qui privilégiaient les différences.
Cette intervention discute les potentiels de cette entreprise nationaliste et les obstacles qu’elle a rencontrés. Elle examine les processus de sélection et d’élaboration de quelques signes, symboles ou icones (le drapeau, le rouet, Gandhi) pour rassembler les Indiens dans une identité commune. Leur trajectoire dans le champ politique colonial marqué par la surveillance et la censure et les réponses d’adhésion ou de rejet qu’ils ont suscitées révèlent les forces et les faiblesses de la culture politique nationale.
Suivre les développements de cet héritage après l’indépendance dans les politiques de l’état indien avec des confrontations et contestations nous conduit à comprendre la ‘vernacularisation’ des identités. Face à la montée d’identités conflictuelles dans l’espace indien qui mettent en question les politiques de l’état indien et les possibilités présentées par un système d’échanges et de déplacements globaux, où en sommes-nous avec l’héritage héritage identitaire indien?

Arundhati Virmani, historienne, est spécialiste de l’Inde coloniale et postcoloniale. Elle enseigne actuellement à l’Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (pôle régional de Marseille). Elle a publié  L’Inde, une puissance en mutation, (Paris, La Documentation française, 2001 ; India: 1900-1947. Un Britannique au cœur du Raj (Paris, Autrement, 2002); A National Flag for India. Rituals, Nationalism and the Politics of Sentiment (Delhi, Permanent Black, 2008); Atlas historique de l’Inde (Paris, Autrement, 2012). Elle achève actuellement la rédaction d’Emotional Pasts: Questions for Indian Political Culture (New Delhi, Three Essays, à apparaître, 2013)

13h30 – Harsh Kapoor, Sociologue, activiste et chercheur indépendant en France et en Inde, fondateur du South Asia Citizens Web

Fractures de la citoyenneté et prolifération identitaire : quelques réflexions autour de l’Inde

Pendant la période coloniale, la perspective orientaliste a contribué à mettre en place les catégories qui ont donné un cadre administratif et légal aux identités sociales et religieuses de l’Inde multiculturelle. La codification de ce qui était auparavant des distinctions sociales floues a favorisé la constitution de véritables « communautés ». La « Partition » du pays en 1947 s’est faite selon des lignes religieuses et, juxtaposant les communautés, les politiques identitaires ont formé la base de la nouvelle nation indienne. L’état postcolonial a été profondément marqué par l’administration coloniale. Parallèlement, un modèle d’appartenance nationale plus différencié qu’unitaire se fit jour pour façonner l’imaginaire national, comme en témoigne l’expression « unis dans la diversité ». Le traitement égalitaire des religions et des communautés  est devenu le cœur de la laïcité à l’indienne. Les politiques identitaires ont orienté les mouvements sociaux : le nationalisme hindou, la droite musulmane, les mouvements nationalistes ou régionalistes, ethniques, et autres mouvements tribaux. Les problématiques de la laïcité ont cédé la place aux politiques identitaires. Les exemples sont nombreux parmi les syndicats, les associations de défense des droits de l’homme, et même la gauche, les élites dominantes, les universitaires, etc. La conséquence de cette évolution est une diminution radicale de la liberté d’expression.

14h30 – Martine van Woerkens, Anthropologue, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Section des Sciences Religieuses, Paris

Genre, identités et luttes féminines en Inde

À la fin des années 70 en Inde, des intellectuelles et des activistes manifestaient dans les rues et révélaient au sein de l’espace public que des femmes étaient quotidiennement  brûlées vives, violées, ou supprimées avant de naître, sans qu’aucune sanction ne soit prise envers les coupables. Le  concept de genre, c’est-à-dire, la construction sociale des identités sexuées selon un principe de division et de hiérarchisation, permit alors de nommer, dénoncer, et tenter de redresser ces dérives du patriarcat indien.  Le genre fut alors porteur d’une utopie, celle d’une identification de toutes les femmes avec cette lutte dirigée contre la domination masculine.
Dans les  années 80, éclata l’affaire Shah Bano. Cette veuve musulmane répudiée par son mari, tentait d’obtenir des tribunaux l’octroi d’une pension alimentaire qui lui fut finalement refusée au nom du Code de la famille musulmane. Le genre revêtait donc un sens différent selon la communauté religieuse où il se déployait, l’antagonisme hommes femmes devait désormais être conjugué à l’islam, à l’hindouisme… entraînant des divergences d’enjeux au sein du mouvement des femmes.
Les publications des auteures dalit, le film de Kapoor sur Phoolan Devi, la sortie du placard des minorités sexuelles, déterminèrent dans les années 90 un autre élargissement du paradigme « genre » dans lequel non seulement la religion, mais aussi la caste, la classe économique et  la sexualité devaient être prises en compte.
En Inde comme aux USA et en Amérique latine, la notion de genre se transforma, s’hybrida avec d’autres sources d’inégalité sociale afin de rendre compte de la visibilité nouvelle de ces multiples identités féminines. L’utopie des débuts avait fait long feu. Certes,   l’antagonisme des sexes et la domination masculine touchent toutes les couches de la société, mais la variabilité des enjeux et des intérêts provoqua à juste titre le foisonnement et la dispersion des luttes des femmes indiennes, tandis que déclinait le sentiment de leur appartenance commune.

Martine van Woerkens est chercheuse à l’Ecole Pratique des Hautes études, section des sciences religieuses, Paris, et travaille principalement sur l’histoire coloniale indienne et sur le statut des femmes indiennes. A publié de nombreux articles et deux ouvrages portant sur ces questions : Le voyageur étranglé. L’Inde des Thugs, colonialisme et imaginaire (Albin Michel, 1995) et  en mars 2010, chez le même éditeur, Nous ne sommes pas des fleurs. Deux siècles de combats féministes en Inde.

16h – Laetitia Zecchini, Chercheur en littérature et pensée postcoloniale, CNRS-ARIAS, Paris

L’espace de l’écriture et l’espace de la nation : Poésie, censure et hospitalité à Bombay.

Bombay, ville-archipel, ville-monde, ville-hyperbole, métropole magnétique et cosmopolite est aussi devenu le théâtre d’un certain fondamentalisme culturel, en particulier mis en oeuvre par le Shiv Sena (« armée de Shivaji »), organisation agressivement régionaliste créée pour préserver les droits des « fils du sol » Maharashtriens, protéger le territoire de la pollution culturelle et la “décadence” d’éléments supposés étrangers, inauthentiques ou anti-nationaux. Au nom d’une idée du propre et de la propriété en tout cas d’un proprement indien, mais également d’une définition majoritaire, donc hindoue de la nation, il s’agit de purger l’espace, l’histoire et l’identité de tout ce qui serait exogène ou minoritaire, purger par exemple les noms de la ville des dénaturations de l’histoire. L’art, au nom de transgressions supposées à l’hindouisme et à la nation devient cible: voir parmi d’autres exemples la violence récente suscitée par l’essai remarquable d’A. K. Ramanujan « Three hundred Ramayanas and some thoughts on translation », par un roman de Rohinton Mistry, par une biographie de Shivaji chez OUP en 2003 ou par l’œuvre du peintre M. F. Hussain, forcé à l’exil. Beaucoup d’écrivains à Bombay parlent par ailleurs d’une forme d’auto-censure.
Face donc à l’excision multiforme de l’étranger, à une indianité définie comme cette « pulsion totalitaire de la racine unique » dont parle Edouard Glissant ou à une idéologie nationaliste promouvant une hindouité associée à la majorité religieuse et culturelle, certains poètes, dont Arun Kolatkar (1931-2004), poète bilingue en anglais et en marathi, refusent de tracer une frontière entre ce qui serait inclus et exclu dans l’espace de la nation et l’espace de l’écriture et montrent qu’aucune tradition, aussi sacrée soit-elle, n’échappe à la traduction et à la ré-interprétation. Cette poésie de l’hospitalité fait de la place et donne du temps à ce « multiple qui surabonde » dont parle Rancière et qu’il associe à l’immigré « de trop », retraçant la filiation poétique et celle de Bombay avec tout ce qui est infime, décentré, itinérant, étranger, avec tout ce qui « reste ». Kolatkar célèbre en anglais – langue déplacée, langue minoritaire, langue “exogène” – Bombay et non Mumbai, célèbre un lieu déplié et altéré par l’histoire et par l’étrangeté qu’elle charrie.

Laetitia Zecchini est chargée de recherche au CNRS à Paris (Laboratoire Arias). Ses publications et ses recherches portent sur la poésie indienne contemporaine, sur les théories postcoloniales, sur les généalogies non-occidentales des modernités artistiques, sur les littératures dalits et plus généralement sur la politique de la littérature. Elle travaille actuellement à un ouvrage provisoirement intitulé “Arun Kolatkar and Literary Modernism in India”. Sa traduction (en collaboration avec Pascal Aquien) d’un recueil de Kolatkar, Kala Ghoda: Poèmes de Bombay sortira en collection Poésie/Gallimard au printemps 2013.

Contact : Judith Misrahi-Barak

Statement regarding higher education ministers’ attacks on the academic community (FUTA)

In most countries, a highly educated, exemplary minister is assigned education related ministries. However, the trade union action by FUTA has shown beyond doubt that we are burdened not only with a minister that does not portray any of these qualities, but actively renounces strategies that would benefit the entire education sector in this country.

Even after two months into the trade union action, his utterances shows that he does not understand (or pretends that he does not understand) what our demands are about. Though our demands centres around enhancing recruitment and retention capabilities of the university system, safeguarding university autonomy and enhancing free education in Sri Lanka, the minister rather than meaningfully intervening makes arbitrary and unfounded accusations against academics using foul language unbecoming of a public figure.

The uncouthness of the minister has no bounds, which has previously landed him even in jail. Placing a jailbird as a minister of higher education and the meagre funding allocations (to education) in itself shows the attitude of the government to education in the country.

FUTA vehemently objects to the ministers’ uncouth and aggressive conduct and behaviour and request the minister to follow the norms of engagement in resolving the issues that we raise.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri


“Sri Lanka. Women Workers and the Struggle For Labour Rights” by ROHINI HENSMAN (

The economic liberalisation policy of J.R. Jayewardene’s United National Party regime, starting in 1977, was accompanied by brutal attacks on the trade union movement and workers’ rights in Sri Lanka. By the end of the 1980s, Sri Lanka’s once-strong labour movement had been decimated. The fight to revive it has had its victories and defeats, and continues to this day. And women workers in particular have played, and continue to play, a major part in this struggle.

Economic liberalisation and attacks on workers’ rights In 1981, the Civil Rights Movement compiled a list of dozens of incidents since 1977 in which trade unionists and workers had been physically assaulted, leading to injury, hospitalisation, and at least one death. The Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya – supposedly a trade union affiliated to the ruling UNP, but behaving more like storm troopers – carried out these assaults with the open connivance of the police. Victimisation of workers and trade unionists who failed to fall in line with the new regime was the order of the day.

Participants of a half-day strike and picketing called by the Joint Trade Union Action Committee for 5 June 1980 were attacked with stones, clubs and a bomb. A protest general strike called by the JTUAC for 18 July was preceded by the declaration of Emergency Rule and the designation of practically all enterprises as “essential services”, crushing any possibility of a strike. It was followed by the dismissal of tens of thousands of workers. Many others lost their jobs as the “open economy” made it impossible for the enterprises in which they were employed to compete with imports.

Similar violent tactics were used to prevent workers from unionising in the new export-oriented production sector dominated by the garment industry, in which the overwhelming majority of workers were women. Polytex Garments, established in the Ekala Industrial Estate in Ja-Ela under the Greater Colombo Economic Commission in 1978 (changed to the Board of Investment in 1992), provides an interesting example of the growth of militancy in this sector, where most of the workers came from rural areas and were new to industrial employment. In March 1980, the workers walked out in protest against low wages, long working hours, a half-hour lunch break, no leave, compulsory overtime, and restrictions on using the toilets of which there were only four for a workforce of 800. Management responded with a lockout. The women turned to more experienced workers in other factories in the vicinity, who helped them form a branch of the Ceylon Mercantile Union. With the CMU’s help, they got victimised workers reinstated, a one-hour lunch break, more holiday pay, a higher annual bonus, and more toilets.

However, in 1982, conditions deteriorated. There was another round of victimisations of trade unionists and workers, and the women came out on strike again. This time strikers and picketers, including those who were pregnant, were brutally beaten by the police and JSS thugs, and activists were hunted down and put in jail. The Women’s Centre, which had been set up a few months previously by socialist feminist activists, including Kumudini Rosa and Kumudini Samuel, became the operational centre where the Polytex workers planned their struggle. With its help, women worker activists got legal help to get detained organisers released, helped the families of detainees and women workers to survive, and obtained solidarity from the locality, other trade unions, and other women’s organisations. In the course of the struggle, the women left the CMU and joined the Industrial, Transport and General Workers’ Union. Eventually the strike was won in January 1983, with reinstatement of the victimised activists, recognition of the union, a wage hike, and other gains. But it was not long before harassment, assaults, and suspensions and layoffs based on trumped-up charges resumed.

If trade union organising was difficult outside the free trade zones, it was impossible inside. The first to be established was the Katunayake Free Trade Zone, inaugurated in January 1978; subsequently, two more were established at Biyagama and Koggala. The government saw these sites as “trade-union-free” zones, in which the labour laws of the country would not apply; investors were promised a docile and hard-working labour force. Electrified fences and security guards at the gates kept out union organisers, while workers who showed any propensity to organise or protest against intolerable working conditions were dismissed. Here, too, the vast majority were women workers from rural areas, who lived in boarding houses where four to eight women were crammed into one small room, often without a fan, in which they had to cook, eat and sleep. They complained that the machines were treated better than the workers, because when machines broke down, they were repaired, whereas when workers fell ill, they just had to go on working or lose their wages. Long hours, compulsory overtime, and restrictions on going to the toilet made them feel like slaves. At the end of the 1980s, after Ranasinghe Premadasa became President, things became much worse. Workers who made the slightest protest against injustice could expect to lose not just their jobs, but also their lives; dozens of workers were abducted and killed, or disappeared.

In a situation where union organising in the free trade zones was impossible, women’s organisations like the Women’s Centre and Da Bindu played a critical role, contacting workers in their boarding houses and providing multiple services: supplying legal advice and representation as well as personal counselling; fostering solidarity for struggles; organising discussions and educational sessions; and starting street drama, song and dance troupes that allowed women workers to express their problems and sufferings. It is also noteworthy that the Women’s Centre provided shelter to Tamils during the 1983 anti-Tamil pogroms, and helped local Tamil families rebuild their destroyed homes in the aftermath of the violence. Following this, it organised exchange programmes between Tamil tea plantation workers and free trade zone workers, and later also with Tamil and Muslim women workers in the North and the East.

The struggle for democracy

At the end of 1994, a new government and President Chandrika Kumaratunga from the People’s Alliance came to power, and a slow and painful process of restoration of democracy began. But any move to establish trade unions in the free trade zones was resisted fiercely by employers. In the face of threats that they would pull out their investments, the government backed down, allowing only “employees’ councils” and not trade unions in the free trade zones. The expectation was that these “employees’ councils” would be dominated by management, and would give the illusion of collective bargaining without the substance of it. In many cases, this is what happened. In other cases, however, workers struggled to gain control over the employees’ councils and sometimes succeeded, turning them into de facto plant-based unions. The Joint Association of Workers and Employees’ Councils of the Free Trade Zones of Sri Lanka was set up to support them. In cases where the employees’ council acted as a union, it was treated like one by the employers. For example, in 1999, in Fine Lanka Luggage (Pvt.) Ltd., two members of the employees’ council were dismissed on trumped-up charges, and when workers went on a one- day token strike in protest, they were locked out.

Employees’ councils also started getting affiliated to the Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees’ Union in order to obtain the advice and support they needed to win their struggles. But workers were still being made to believe that they would be dismissed if they joined a union. (Consequently, even by the end of 2010, there were only eight recognised unions in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone with some four more in the process of being formed, and no unions in about 60 other enterprises.) However, one sign of progress was the decline in sexual harassment, abductions and rape of women workers, which were at one time rampant.

On 31 December 2004 the Multi-Fibre Arrangement, under which individual developing countries were allotted quotas for textile and garment exports to developed countries, was terminated. Shortly after, a large number of small and medium factories were closed; the total number of garment factories in Sri Lanka fell from 832 in 2004 to 403 in 2006. Most were shut down without notice and without making statutory payments to workers. When the Labour Department took legal action to recover the statutory entitlements of workers who had lost their jobs, it was impossible to do so in many cases because the owners had left the country, or had mortgaged their moveable and immoveable property to banks. The FTZGSEU and Women’s Centre made a series of proposals to prevent such problems arising in the future, including introducing legal provisions that require companies to give three months notice before closure, amending the Companies Act so that amounts payable to workers become the top priority among the obligations of a company being closed, establishing trust funds maintained by investors and using those funds to fulfill obligations to workers if the companies fail to do so, and providing a social security allowance to dismissed workers until they find new jobs.

Recent problems

The global economic crisis of 2008 was used as a pretext for a new assault on jobs and employment conditions, and on this occasion too, workers who lost their jobs were in many cases deprived of their Employees Provident Fund and Employees Trust Fund payments, and sometimes even of outstanding wages. The President of the Garment Factory Owners’ Association told local newspapers in March 2009 that 40 factories had been closed down and 50,000 workers had lost their jobs. Yet the government reported that export income had grown by 7.9 percent between February 2008 and February 2009, and that there was record-breaking growth in the apparel sector! How was this result achieved? Most of the fringe benefits, including attendance allowance, transport facilities, food allowance and incentive payments, were cut; workers were made to start work at 6.00 a.m. but allowed to punch their cards only at 7.00 a.m., so that they were doing one hour of unpaid and unrecorded labour. And verbal abuse and coercive measures were used to make the remaining workers work harder. An ominous development, as in the case of APM Private Ltd. in Katunayake, was that production was subcontracted to informal workplaces outside the zones – where piece- rated workers, who were not covered by any labour laws, carried it out.

The other major problem, that continues today, is a drastic reduction in real wages as a result of rapid inflation. One index of this is that the monthly rent for boarding-house accommodation, around Rs 300 in the 1980s, has gone up to around Rs 3,000. At the end of 2010, workers were getting a basic salary of only Rs 6,700 per month, despite the fact that the government’s own estimate was that a family of four needed an income of Rs 32,270 per month to survive. Workers were not only unable to send sufficient money home to their families, but could not feed themselves adequately. Labour Department figures showed that 60 percent were anaemic, and undernourished women were producing low-birth-weight infants with an abnormally high rate of disabilities. A vicious circle had developed, whereby women who went to their villages for marriage were coming back to work because they were unable to make ends meet in the village, while other women were leaving their jobs because the pay was so low and conditions so harsh. President Mahinda Rajapaksa had promised an increase of Rs 2,500 in wages when he was campaigning for re-election in January 2010, but workers in the free trade zones had received only Rs 500. A massive campaign by trade unions and other organisations for a 30 percent increase in wages for all workers, inside and outside the free trade zones, was underway in late 2010 and early 2011 – using petitions, pickets, demonstrations and human chains to press for the demand.

Meanwhile, an increase in the number of married women with small children has created a childcare problem. Although women get three months maternity leave, there are no day-care facilities at the factories. The Women’s Centre started a day-care centre to meet the need, and at the end of 2010 it was looking after 17 children, but could not meet the demand.

Recently, after the end of the war in 2009, Tamil workers from the North and the hill-country were being brought in to fill vacancies in factories. There were around 150 in Katunayake. Nittambuwa Crystal Martin Pvt. Ltd. had brought Tamil workers from Vavuniya, giving them different uniforms from Sinhalese workers and accommodating them separately. Wattala Timex was reported to have brought workers, including children as young as 13 years, from the camps. These workers were given lower salaries, made to work longer hours, and taken straight from their boarding houses to work and back by the company, making it difficult for Sinhalese workers to contact them. In fact, Sinhalese workers were threatened with disciplinary action if they spoke to Tamil workers, creating fresh problems for union organising.

The European Union Generalised System of Preferences + Facility

From the early 1990s onwards, consumer campaigners and labour rights activists in Europe and North America put pressure on their brand-name companies and retail stores to ensure that the garments and other products they sold were produced by workers whose rights were respected. After some resistance, these companies adopted codes of conduct, which stated that the production units in Third World countries from which they sourced their products were abiding by ethical standards. However, the company codes were weak and tended to focus only on emotive issues like forced labour and child labour, without referring to the right to unionise and bargain collectively.

In response, activists formulated model codes – based on the International Labour Organisation’s Core Conventions – dealing with freedom of association and the right to organise and bargain collectively, the elimination of forced labour, the abolition of child labour, and freedom from discrimination in employment and occupation. Many of these codes also brought in gender issues left out by company codes. But who would monitor the implementation of these codes? Unless governments support these rights and workers are empowered to monitor codes, implementation will be elusive.

The EU’s GSP+ facility can be seen as an extension of the idea of codes of conduct. It was extended by the EU to economically vulnerable developing countries, which had ratified and effectively implemented 27 international conventions in the field of human and labour rights, sustainable development and good governance. It allowed for duty-free access to the EU market for a wide range of products, and was thus an incentive to comply with these conventions rather than a penalty for failing to do so. The fact that this status was granted to Sri Lanka in July 2005 is testimony both to the success of the efforts of labour rights activists and human rights defenders in the country, and to the government’s efforts to democratise the country after the mid-1990s despite the war. The GSP+ facility allowed Sri Lanka to export more than 7,200 products duty-free to the EU. This was seen as a form of development assistance, with a built-in mechanism to ensure that it would not simply go into the pockets of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats and unscrupulous employers, but would benefit the majority of the population. The implementation of the conventions, like good governance, would prevent corruption and empower ordinary citizens to control and monitor development programmes.

However, as the account above suggests, standards began to slip again during the regime of President Rajapaksa, who first came to power in 2005. An exhaustive investigation by the European Commission launched in October 2008 and completed in October 2009 found that Sri Lanka was not in compliance with the Convention Against Torture, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which includes the right to life, freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, freedom from slavery, servitude or forced or compulsory labour, freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention, equality before the law, equal protection of the law, freedom from discrimination, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression, freedom of association including the right to join trade unions, right of peaceful assembly, right to take part in the conduct of public affairs either directly or through freely chosen representatives, and the right to enjoy one’s own culture and use one’s own language.

The government spurned repeated invitations to discuss these problems, denouncing them as interference with Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, and the GSP+ facility was withdrawn on 15 August 2010. It is notable that the regime in power was interpreting “sovereignty” in the now obsolete manner used by absolute monarchies. By contrast, Sri Lanka’s Constitution, despite its failings, states that sovereignty resides in the people; and if the people were to exercise their sovereignty, they would need all the rights upheld by the three conventions mentioned above. If it is assumed that the Sri Lankan government represents the people, one would have to conclude that the people are demanding the “right” to be tortured, the “right” to have their children exploited and abused, and the “right” to be stripped of all their rights, including the right to life. A far more plausible explanation is that the government does not represent the people, at least on this issue. Indeed, the workers blame the government for the loss of the GSP+ facility, citing its failure to respond to numerous letters from the EU, and are demanding that the government get it back.

A campaign to put pressure on the government to comply with the conditions for reviving the GSP+ facility could, if successful, result in far more durable gains than a 30 percent wage increase, which might easily be eroded by inflation in a short period of time. Strengthening rights would help to ensure a pattern of development in which the benefits are shared by all, instead of being monopolised by a small elite, as they are at present. And by projecting a goal that is shared by people of all communities, it would build solidarity between them and combat the divide-and- rule strategy that has allowed an authoritarian state to substitute its own sovereignty for the sovereignty of the people.

I am grateful to Padmini Weerasuriya, Sriya Ahangamage and Chandra Dewanarayana of the Women’s Centre in Sri Lanka for providing me with information as well as copies of their book, We Have Arrived, and their magazine, Shramika.

Rohini Hensman is a writer and researcher who was born and brought up in Sri Lanka, which is the setting for her second novel, Playing Lions and Tigers. She lives in Bombay and has been active in the trade union and women’s liberation movements, as well as anti-war campaigns and struggles against the oppression of religious and ethnic minorities in India and Sri Lanka. Her publications include books and numerous articles on these issues.

This article was published in Dissenting Dialogues, issue n° 2, February 2011.

CFP: (Re)constructions: Researching and Rethinking Asia, April 2013

(Re)Constructions: Researching and Rethinking Asia

York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR) Graduate Student Conference

York University, Glendon Campus, Toronto, Canada: April 26 and 27, 2013

Keynote Speaker: Vinay Gidwani, Department of Geography and Institute of Global Studies, University of Minnesota

How does scholarship of or about “Asia” contribute to dispelling geographies of ignorance?* How can our own work better contribute to understanding, and pointing out the /mis/understandings, of the categories, spaces and frameworks constructed as part of Asian Studies within and beyond the territorial limits of “Asia”?

The question of reconstructing the conceptual frameworks for research in Asia and Asian Diaspora has been actively debated in the last few decades, reflecting dynamic changes in both scholars’ and broader society’s notions of “Asia.” These discussions pay critical attention to the modern politics of constructing Asian spaces and identities, and of disseminating knowledge of the area throughout the world. The disciplinary divides traditionally associated with Area Studies are also being contested, and more interdisciplinary approaches are being demanded for researching Asia.

Taking up this challenge, the conference seeks graduate student research that can speak to ways of rethinking the epistemologies and methodologies of researching Asia, and reconstructing conventional categories and frameworks from a broad range of disciplines. The theme for this conference seeks to build upon the successful YCAR Graduate Student Conference in 2008.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:
o Art history and visual culture
o Epistemologies of Asian Studies
o Global capitalism and resistance
o Globalization and “worlding cities”
o Indigeneity as right and discourse
o Literature and translation
o Media and technology
o Methodology and fieldwork
o Migration and diaspora
o Mobilities and borders
o Music and performing arts
o Orientalism and re-Orientalism
o Political ecology and politics of nature
o Positioning and subjectivity
o Race, gender and class
o Sexuality and the body
o Social movements and social justice
o Urban spaces and industrialization

Interested participants should submit a paper title, abstract with keywords (250 words maximum) along with brief biographical information (name, affiliation, stage of graduate study) by December 1, 2012. Successful candidates will be contacted by January 15, 2013 and must submit completed papers by March 25, 2013. Please email submissions to the conference organizers at:<>

There may be an opportunity to collaborate on a common peer-reviewed publication, which will be discussed at the conference.

More information about the conference can be found on the conference website:<>

*The term “geographies of ignorance” draws on Willem van Schendel’s 2002 article titled “Geographies of knowing, geographies of ignorance: jumping scale in Southeast Asia” published in /Society and Space/.

source: H-Asia

FINAL WEEK to see Mediated: Data meets Art

Mediated is an art project that essentially seeks to create greater awareness around and engagement with aspects of post-war Sri Lanka’s ideational, constitutional, economic, social and religious challenges.

Four individuals – a researcher, an economist, a constitutional theorist and an award winning novelist – were invited to give submissions that were anchored to issues vital to a greater and deeper social and political understanding of Sri Lanka today. Four artists were invited to engage with this primary resource material and interpret it so that it through what they produced, attention was focused on the inconvenient, critical engagement expanded and public apathy challenged.

Do not miss seeing it.

Gallery open daily from 18:00 – 20:00 | Exhibition closes 15 September 2012

61 Dharmapala Mawatha,
Colombo 7,
Sri Lanka.

prices on request

details of the art, underlying data and full colour catalogue on exhibition website
curated by Sanjana Hattotuwa, Editor, Groundviews
featuring work by
  • Ameena Hussein with Jagath Weerasinghe
  • Anushka Wijesinha with Mika Tennekoon
  • Asanga Welikala with Sunela Jayewardene
  • Iromi Perera with Asvajit Boyle
visit exhibition website  »

source: Groundviews

Book Review: Prapod Assavavirulhakarn’s “The Ascendancy of Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia” Reviewed by Daniel Veidlinger

We republish here a review of Prapod Assavavirulhakarn’s “The Ascendancy of Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia” that was written by Daniel Veidlinger  and which appeared on H-Buddhism (December, 2011).

A Passage from India: The Coming of Buddhism to Southeast Asia

In this important publication, Prapod Assavavirulhakarn addresses several key questions that have dogged the study of Buddhism in Southeast Asia for many years, such as the precise nature of Buddhism in the first millennium and the relationship of Buddhism to the indigenous religions. He presents a general religious history of Southeast Asia and places Buddhism in the context of both indigenous religions and the Indian cultural formations that influenced the development of the region. Based upon the inscriptional record, he emphasizes that Theravāda Buddhism was present in the western part of Southeast Asia alongside the earliest forms of Buddhism and did not come only in the eleventh century after the reforms in Sri Lanka that unified the Saṅghas there. The author writes that the merit of the book may lie “not in discovering something new but in searching and becoming more perplexed” (p. xi), and accordingly he proceeds to open up a great number of avenues of inquiry into the kinds of Buddhist schools that came to Southeast Asia and exactly how and when they arrived. Some of these avenues he convincingly suggests might not be answerable in the current or foreseeable state of our knowledge.

The book provides a wide-ranging overview of what is known about the contours of Southeast Asian history and locates Buddhism within its social and political context during a period of more than a thousand years. As such, its seven chapters and 194 pages of text are necessarily thin on detail but that is not a weakness, because adequate evidence is marshaled for most of the points that are made, and the interested reader is directed to the relevant, more detailed works on the history of the region, upon which the author draws. He does not undertake a large amount of original research, relying mainly on published inscriptions, general histories, traditional chronicles in Pali as well as vernacular Thai, accounts of premodern Chinese travelers, archeological reports, and other sources that are impressive and comprehensive, but also fairly standard for the historiography of the region.

At several places in the book, Prapod asserts that he is overthrowing the dominant theory that Theravāda Buddhism came to the region only during the eleventh century, but in the last few decades this theory has already lost some strength. Here, the book does suffer from the fact that it is based upon the author’s UC Berkeley dissertation that was completed twenty years ago. I was a little surprised to find no references to the two most important works about the roots of Buddhism in the region that have come out since his dissertation was completed, namely Robert Brown’s The Dvāravatī Wheels of the Law and the Indianization of South East Asia(1996) and Michael Aung-Thwin’s The Mists of Rāmañña (2005), both of which also problematize older narratives.

The audience for the book should be quite wide, encompassing those with a general interest in Buddhism or Asian history. It is written using very accessible language for the non-specialist, is refreshingly devoid of jargon, and does not go into the kind of minutiae that might scare off the more casual reader. However, a serious shortcoming is that there are numerous crucially important Pali and Sanskrit passages cited from inscriptions or other texts that remain untranslated, both in the body of the book and in the notes. This fact greatly reduces the potential audience for what is otherwise a book that could appeal to a more general readership interested in the history of this important but understudied region.

The introduction begins with a considered reflection on the meaning of the terms “Southeast Asia” and “Buddhism,” and clarifies that

the focus will be on the areas of Southeast Asia that were most influenced by Buddhist culture, namely what is modern-day Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. It also provides a succinct explanation of the confusing differences within Buddhist sectarian nomenclature. For example, “Theravāda” is a term that is remarkably undefined considering how often it is used. It is sometimes equated with the Sanskrit Sthaviravāda, which may connote all of the early non-Mahāyāna schools aside from Mahāsaṃghika, and other times with the particular school derived from Sri Lanka. The author also highlights the uncertainty about the exact relationship between different languages, such as Sanskrit, Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, and Pāli, with the different schools of Buddhism. As the author shows later in the book, this issue has very profound consequences, for it is not uncommon for scholars to attribute a text or inscription to one school or another based solely on linguistic evidence. To be clear, he therefore calls the religious system that can be derived from the Pali canon “Theravāda” and distinguishes it from ideas or practices that might be found in Pali inscriptions but whose source cannot be definitively traced to the canon as we now have it. These he refers to as “Pali Buddhism.”

There is a fair bit of attention paid in the book to Indianization, which Prapod describes as “a process of cultural relations between India and Southeast Asia” (p. 11), and the book importantly emphasizes that this involved the acculturation of Brahmanical, Sanskritic, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. In fact, he sees Buddhism as part of a package of Indian ideas that took root in Southeast Asia, rather than as an abstract religion, which is a fruitful way to frame the phenomenon. He does remind us that Indianization was not a uniform process but took different shapes and adapted to the local cultures in different ways. He sets up a bit of a straw man in saying that “it is pointless to try to determine an exact moment Southeast Asia became ‘Indianized’” (p. 13) because I do not think that any serious scholar can be accused of trying to do such a thing. It is certain that large numbers of Indians never invaded and forced their culture upon the local inhabitants after some great battle that can be located in time, but rather it was taken up enthusiastically by certain local groups and spread in that manner. While these “Indianized” states were not ruled by Indian princes, they coalesced around key ideas such as Dharmic kingship, Indian notions of jurisprudence, and the use of Indic writing. Indian ideas, such as these, he reminds us, could just as easily have been imported by Southeast Asian traders who went to India as by Indians who went to Southeast Asia, and the possibility that both of these factors were at work here must be considered.

Chapter 2 deals with the cultures of the region prior to the coming of Indian religions. This chapter is convincing, but it should be noted that because there is little direct historical evidence attesting to their nature, it is of necessity highly speculative. These cultures were the ground upon which the Indian religions were seeded, and therefore still influence the practices of a contemporary Southeast Asian “Buddhist.” The best way to think of the complex interaction between the native and Indian beliefs, according to Prapod, is as a system where each culture influenced the development of the other. The book looks at the earliest archaeological evidence from Paleolithic hunter-gatherer societies, examining what we can learn about their religious beliefs from the implements and bodily positioning evident at burial sites. The author speculates that the powers believed to lie within sīmā stones in Thailand that demarcate the monastic boundaries might derive from an early Megalithic earth cult (p. 30) and that ancestor worship was probably common as well, based upon evidence of structures that were built above the graves. A number of speculations rely upon extrapolating backwards from practices that are still current, a strategy that suffers from the possibility that the culture of the early Common Era was in fact very different. In looking at the myths and legends that are peculiar to Southeast Asia, the author himself rightly points out that those that are not Indic in origin are not necessarily pre-Indianization. Some creation myths are clearly of indigenous origin, and others are derived from Buddhist cosmogonic tales, but whether the indigenous ones arose before or after Indian influence started to be felt, is, ultimately, unknown and probably unknowable. He also focuses on the pervasive concept of spirits, known in Thailand as phī and in Burma as nat, and looks at how Indian conceptions of devas and devatās were incorporated into this existing system, as well as how the Buddhist term viññāna has been used to refer to the consciousness that leaves the body of the deceased.

Chapter 3 deals with the very thorny problem of the introduction of Buddhism to Southeast Asia, which Prapod points out consisted of a number of different kinds of Buddhism all taking root at one point or another. The traditional Buddhist account holds that King Asoka sent two missionaries, Soṇa and Uttara, to a place called Suvarṇabhūmi, which is located somewhere in Southeast Asia, but there is no independent confirmation of this event, nor is it known exactly where this place is. Prapod surveys the rather extensive literature on this topic and concludes that Suvarṇabhūmi refers not to a specific polity but to the general area east of the Bengal region of India. As to the traditional attribution of traders as the main vessels of Indianization by the academic community, the author also points out that this could not be the whole story because it is unlikely that traders would have been familiar with the high Sanskritic culture that came to the region along with the other cultural ideas. There is little doubt that Indian merchants brought the Buddhist and Hindu traditions and cults with them along with other aspects of culture as they sailed along the trade routes, starting probably with the Malay Peninsula and then expanding to Cambodia, Burma, and Thailand. Buddhism had an advantage over Hinduism because as is well known, there was a restriction on overseas travel upon Brahmans. This did not stop them from traveling in this way eventually, of course, but may have favored the spread of Buddhism through the merchants and later through missionary monks who would likely have accompanied traders on their routes. Prapod emphasizes that conversion of a region to Buddhism would not have occurred overnight but would have been the result of a fairly long process of acculturation and certainly would involve at minimum the establishment of a Saṅgha with the ability to perform the appropriate rites and rituals.

Prapod argues against the idea that it took until the fifth century for some form of Buddhism to first reach the area. He says that although the earliest iconographic evidence consists of Buddha images in the Amarāvatī style dating from this period, since regional differences can already be seen in the statuary from Vietnam, Thailand, and Java, the style must have been introduced even earlier. He also points to the Dharmacakras from Dvāravatī which he believes “represent a very old tradition that was implanted in the area no later than the fourth century CE” (p. 67). Some more evidence to support this date would have been helpful, for it seems a little early to this reviewer. There are some seals that mention the Saṅgha from the second century CE, so by this period at the latest, at least some Buddhists must have been present in the region. Buddhism of some kind, argues the author, was probably introduced both from India and Sri Lanka, with southern India playing a particularly significant role.

Chapter 4 details the features of Southeast Asian Buddhism prior to the eleventh century, which Prapod derives from Pāli, Sanskrit and vernacular inscriptions, archeological remains, statuary, and reliefs. A number of inscriptions contain canonical and extra-canonical quotations that would have been accepted by all the Buddhist groups, so unfortunately this cannot tell us much about the kind of Buddhism that was found in the region at the time. In Dvāravatī and Cambodia, the quotation inscriptions are in Pāli, but in Java they are in Sanskrit, and in the Pyu areas they are usually in Pāli but some Sanskrit examples have been found. The chapter contains a fairly detailed list of the various quotation inscriptions from these regions but the author warns us to be careful about associating them with one or another school of Buddhism, as has often been done based upon the linguistic evidence alone, for languages very similar to Pāli were used by other Hīnayāna sects, and Sanskrit was used by groups other than Mahāyāna, such as Sarvāstivāda and even possibly the Theravādin Abhayagiri Vihāra. Some Pyu gold plate inscriptions that are in Pāli and contain excerpts from the Abhidhamma, however, can definitely be associated with the Theravāda school. Prapod here provides the first evidence that Theravāda Buddhism specifically from Sri Lanka must have arrived in Thailand prior to the eleventh century. An inscription dated between the eighth and ninth centuries contains non-canonical verses from the Telakaṭāhagāthā that was composed in Sri Lanka. He also cites inscriptions showing that Mahāyāna and especially Yogācāra were known amongst the Khmer in the early eleventh century. He concludes from this study of the archeological remains that “Theravāda was the main sect in the Pyu and Dvāravatī cultures, and that Mahāyāna was dominant in the Khmer areas and the archipelago“ (p. 105), adding as well that Brahmanical traditions are attested more in the record from this latter area. It is important to note that he does not rule out the presence of other sects in all these regions either.

An important theme of the book with regard to this subject is that the specific sectarian affiliations of the different early Buddhist communities in Southeast Asia are unlikely ever to be known. Indeed, Prapod questions whether it is really all that important to know them, for the majority of the Buddhist community would probably not have cared much or in some cases even known with which sect of the religion they were involved. Monks sometimes lived in the same monasteries and lay support was given to members of different sects even by the same person. He reminds us that even today, most Buddhists in the region do not think of themselves as “Theravāda” Buddhists but rather simply as supporters of the Buddha’s Sāsana (teachings). They include in their practice ideas from a variety of different Buddhist sects from the Hīnayāna as well as the Mahāyāna traditions. They also include many practices that are not derived from Buddhism at all, such as the worship of local spirits.

Chapter 5 deals with the nature of religion in the region, with a focus on the ways that indigenous and Indian religions adapted to each other. Rather than assimilation or syncretism, the author says it is best to see the religious landscape as one in which different traditions existed alongside each other and interacted in complicated and symbiotic ways. Likewise, he also cautions against seeing the Indian traditions such as Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, and Brahmanism as hermetically sealed entities but rather as part of a greater Indian cultural system that was introduced into Southeast Asia. “People perceived religion as the institution in which to place their trust, with all religions being regarded as auspicious, and which could be applied to different situations in everyday life…. The idea that one professes to belong to a single religion is foreign to the Southeast Asian mind, which sees no need to synthesize multiple beliefs into one exclusive belief” (p. 147). As can be seen from comparing the Upanishads with the early Pāli texts, Prapod suggests that they were really grappling with very much the same kind of philosophical ideas, and later developed practices–yoga, bhakti, tantra–that reflected each other as well. The division of this package of Indian beliefs into strictly delineated religions, as well as the attempt to tease out the indigenous beliefs, may not entirely be a product of Western ways of thinking about religion, as the author appears to suggest, but it is certainly not terribly constructive when applied to the Southeast Asian situation. More properly, the different systems had spheres in which they were operative to varying degrees; for example, Buddhism provided the moral context and merit-making framework for most people, and Brahmanism was used for rituals connected with governance and kingship.

Chapter 6 looks at the shape of what is called Theravāda Buddhism in Southeast Asia and commences by questioning the idea forwarded most famously by Melford Spiro that normative Buddhism has no concern for worldly matters but rather focuses exclusively on salvation. Therefore, the propitiation of divinities is not central to the religion. In contrast, Prapod points out that Buddhists not only venerate the Buddha and his images, but they have worshipped the spirits and practiced supernaturalism since the time of the early canonical texts. Regardless of what is found in the canon, the author insists that popular practice is as central to the construction of Buddhism as are the texts. This is a very loaded issue but is also, it seems to me, a “pseudo-problem,” as Prapod might call it (p. 154), whose resolution lies simply in defining what counts as Buddhism in the context of any particular scholarly study being undertaken on the subject. He also criticizes Stanley Tambiah for creating “pseudo-problems” through the construction of a dichotomy between native and Buddhist concepts such as the paahm/maukhwan, who is an expert in local spirit rites, and the bhikkhu, or Buddhist monk (pp.154-155). He cautions furthermore against dividing Buddhism into an elite and popular mode, when the merit-making rites performed by the king are almost identical to those performed by simple villagers.

A crucial point made in the book that the author himself would likely admit is not supported strongly enough is that “Aniruddha was not converted to Theravāda via contact with Ceylon, but instead, through the Pyu or Mon cultures of lower Burma” (p. 162). This is unattested by any really reliable, non-ideological, contemporary evidence either way, as Michael Aung-Thwin has demonstrated in The Mists of Rāmañña (2005). The Burmese tradition as found in the Sāsanavaṃsa holds that he got the texts either from the Pyu or the Mon people, depending on which portion one reads, but a Thai tradition as recorded in the Jinakālamālī does say that he got them directly from Sri Lanka, which Prapod strangely omits in his detailed discussion of this issue. Exactly what happened under Aniruddha may be one of the unknowable issues in Southeast Asian history.

Prapod also studies the history of Buddhism at Sukhothai (1238-1438 CE) and comes to the conclusion that Buddhism was known in the area already before the time of Ramkhamhaeng (1279 CE) because the king mentions the Saṅgha in his inscriptions, but does not mention Theravāda specifically in any context, either as having arrived recently or as having been present for a long time. What is clear is that there are very few, if any, discernable differences from the historical record in the region between the Buddhism before and after the eleventh century. Merit-making practices, the social position of monks, and the texts that are still extant in inscriptions–all of these appear to be very similar, and there is certainly no explicit reference in contemporary records to a new form of “Theravāda” Buddhism arriving. Scholars have probably “conflated the history of a nation with the history of religion” (p. 172). Since the Thai and Burmese nations are often conceived in nationalist historiography as having their roots during this period, it has worked well to posit that a new form of Buddhism was established at this time as well, thus allowing king and creed to arise anew together. The book under review, however, successfully demonstrates that this is not supported by the evidence.

The author concludes that most Southeast Asian Buddhists just think of themselves as Buddhist, rather than as belonging to one school or another, and most probably would not be able to recite the Four Noble Truths, much less explain subtle distinctions between different forms of Buddhism. “The study of Buddhism in Southeast Asia cannot be fruitful if doctrinal differences are overemphasized. Neither can its development be understood by imposing the dichotomy of ‘Great’ and ‘Little’ traditions, nor by positing tensions between ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ levels of belief or practice. These dichotomies do not accurately reflect the actual beliefs of the people” (p. 179). The idea of Theravāda, he says, has had little cache amongst the common followers of the religion and should properly be understood as referring to a specific ordination tradition within which some monks were ordained. Sri Lanka was not the source of the Buddhist religion itself for most of these regions in the second millennium, but rather was the source of a specific ordination tradition, around which the religion itself continued to exist. According to Prapod, the only place where Theravāda as a set of doctrines, practices, and ordination lineages can be said to have been formally introduced in this period was Cambodia, which was primarily Mahāyāna until the weakening of the Khmer empire in the thirteenth century.

This is a wide-ranging, clearly written, and convincingly argued book that deserves to be read by all scholars interested in the history of Buddhism in Southeast Asia. It sums up much of the work that has been done about the early history of Buddhism in the region and as such sets a new baseline from which future discussions should rightly commence.

If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the list discussion logs at:

Citation: Daniel Veidlinger. Review of Prapod Assavavirulhakarn, The Ascendancy of Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia. H-Buddhism, H-Net Reviews. December, 2011.

source: H-Buddhism (December, 2011)

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


ICES Working Paper 01: Only Until the Rice is Cooked

Only Until the Rice is Cooked?: The Domestic Violence Act, Familial Ideology
and Cultural Narratives in Sri Lanka
The International Centre for Ethnic Studies is pleased to announce the launch of Only Until the Rice is Cooked? The Domestic Violence Act, Familial Ideology and Cultural Narratives in Sri Lanka, Working Paper No. 1 by Chulani Kodikara. This paper maps contemporary discourses on domestic violence in Sri Lanka, especially in connection with the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 2005 (PDVA). The negotiation of the PDVA was a site of struggle where differing discourses on domestic violence were in competition with each other, vying for the status of truth. While the final Act privileged a Politico-Bureaucratic understanding of violence rather than a feminist one, it is nevertheless a significant departure from the status quo on familial violence. More than six years after the enactment, the act is a remedy of last resort for women victim-survivors of domestic violence. Yet the official discourse on domestic violence still perceives it as a threat to the existing social order, echoing the resistance to its passage in parliament. Arguing that this discourse is marked not so much by a denial of the prevalence of domestic violence but by the tendency to normalise and legitimise it, the paper explore how familial ideology, cultural narratives and ‘common sense’ are being deployed to this end. Yet the emergence of this discourse signals the co-existence of ‘competing possibles’ and the PDVA continues to be an important discursive space for speaking about domestic violence in Sri Lanka which is crucial to strengthening the voices of victim-survivors and women’s rights advocacy.

You can download this paper as a PDF document by clicking on the image above or via the following link:
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The ICES Working Paper Series presents on going research at ICES for discussion and debate. This working paper forms part of a broader research programme on Feminist Responses to Domestic Violence in Sri Lanka, including a mapping of domestic violence intervention services undertaken by ICES between 2009 -2011.

The International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) is an independent, not-for-profit research centre based in Sri Lanka. ICES was established in 1982 with a mission to deepen the understanding of ethnicity, equality, identity politics and conflict, and to foster the  conditions for an inclusive, just and peaceful society through  research, publication, dialogue, creative expression and knowledge transfer.
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source: ICES

Dropping the final hints: A Sri Lankan Anthology of Hint Fiction

Submit your story
In July, published, unpublished, casual and budding writers were invited to contribute to what will be the first Sri Lankan Anthology of Hint Fiction, based on Hint Fiction edited by Robert Swartwood.Details of this writing project can be accessed here, which includes some story ideas from Swartwood’s tome.

Around 150 submissions have come in to date. Perera-Hussein Books has offered to seriously consider publishing the anthology once there are around 160 stories. The project thus needs just around 10 more stories to make it into print, including those who have promised to send in content, but haven’t yet.

Submissions accepted till 15th September 2012,

Please pass this on to friends and colleagues. It is NOT necessary for authors to be Sri Lankan, so long as they can write in 25 words or less a story in line with the guidelines here. There is no limit to the number of stories each author can submit.Sanjana Hattotuwa,
Founding Editor, Groundviews

source: Groundviews