Conference Agenda

9.00     Registration

9.20     Welcome, Minute Silence and Introduction               

9.30     Paper 1: Thamil Ananathavinyagan

The Role of the Tamil Academic in Times of Academic Resistance + Book synopsis: Sri Lanka, Human Rights and the United Nations

In times of populism, rising xenophobia and racism, this paper argues that it is the duty of an academic to become political; in particular, it is the duty of the academic to engage in debate, inform and enlighten the intellectual substratum of society.

Failure to push back against authoritarian right-wing populism now may very well lead us to the point of contemplating the university in an age of fascism. In light of this viewpoint, Ananthavinayagan argues that Tamil academics should be spearheading the resistance.

10.00   Panel Discussion:

The Opportunities and Challenges of Bringing about Truth, Accountability, and Justice in the Island of Sri Lanka

It has been ten years since the events at Mulivaikal where tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were brutally killed during the final stages of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009. Given a victor’s peace, the Sri Lankan army’s human rights abuses and war crimes have not been acknowledged or adequately addressed by the state, and the international community has failed to nudge Sri Lanka to do this.

The people who have survived the horrors of 2009 still need many issues addressed ranging from economic needs to finding out what happened to their loved ones. Despite the state’s inadequate efforts to redress grievances, there has been some excellent work done to help victims and hold perpetrators to account. Adayalam and the ITJP are just two examples of the organisations that have built up a resistance to the Sri Lankan state’s apathy and impunity.

What has our experience in the last ten years shown? What should be our next steps? And What issues should now be our priority? 

We bring together experts from different academic disciplines and backgrounds to discuss these questions and ultimately ask how meaningful transitional justice can be attained.

11.30   Paper 2: Malcolm Rodgers

The victors and the spoils: militarisation and colonisation in contemporary north east Sri Lanka

 This paper invokes anthropological explorations of resistance to identify what are the events and processes that should be contested in Tamil Sri Lanka in a post war landscape. It argues that, ten years after the civil war with the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), north east (NE) Sri Lanka is an occupied territory and that its population is subject to individual and collective punishment.  It points to the militarisation and colonisation of the NE as drivers of retribution and extraction – the means towards the end of changing the ethnic balance of the NE and hence Tamil claims to sovereignty.  

NE Sri Lanka has become is in Giorgio Agamben’s (2005) terms, a “state of exception” where an entrenched military presence pervades every level of civil society with the aim of “normalising the abnormal” (Jegatheeswaran and Arulthas 2017).   

But militarisation and colonisation are not an end product of the war. They are why and even how the war began. Utilising reports from the Tamil Information Centre (TIC) in the 1980s, De Mels work on militarisation (2007) and material from the Adayaalam Research Centre in 2017, this paper identifies a clear political trajectory dating from Sri Lanka’s independence, to disenfranchise Tamil identity. The work of Lori Allen (2013) on Palestine and Patrick Wolfe (1999) on settler colonialism in Australia offer instructive comparisons.

12:00   Paper 3: Davini Laksmi Jayagomar

The place of Tamil in the Linguistic Landscape of Singapore’s Little India 

As an official mother tongue and a heritage language, Tamil occupies a special place in the Indian diasporic community of Singapore, a multilingual city-state. A linguistic landscape (LL) refers to the geographical territory of a language community marked by languages on public and commercial signs (Landry & Bourhis 1997). Through the lens of LL research, this paper critically comments on the place of the Tamil language and resistance toward it both within Singapore’s social space and the Little India tourist attraction. Given the complexity of Singapore’s Indian community, it examines how the Singaporean Tamil identity is preserved and re-created through Tamil language representation on commercial shop signs in Little India. Based on a corpus of image data, this study analyses the distributional patterns of languages – including translation and transliteration practices – and complements this with survey data of Indian youth living in Singapore on their perception of signs. This paper posits that the Tamil language is manipulated to preserve a specific Singaporean Tamil identity and reimagine an authentic brand identity of Tamil that appeals to the tourist gaze rather than reflect the evolving Tamil identity in Singapore.

12.30   Lunch                      

13:30    A conversation: Reaching out to students 

13:45   Paper 4: Lavanya Sankaran

‘Homeland’ and ‘host-land’ identifications in the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora

Spatial images have traditionally defined many early works on identity and migration. Given that the “problematics of space and territory have been a key focus of the renewed debates on diaspora” (Werbner, 2002: 120), this paper will investigate how changes in SLT mobility patterns interact with diasporic identifications with the ‘homeland’ and ‘host-land’, crucially emphasising the need to go beyond purely spatial conceptualisations.

Sri Lankan Tamil (SLT) migration has been driven by war for over twenty-six years, leading to the formation of a substantial SLT diaspora of around one million people (Orjuela 2012) (Venugopal 2006) (David, 2012: 377). Issues of space, i.e. resettlement, relocation and dislocation feature powerfully in the lives of SLTs and many have experienced formidable challenges in their countries of re-settlement, which has involved relocation to multiple new homes and the redefinition of their identities in new host-lands. In order to probe the depths of ‘homeland’ and ‘host-land’ concepts, this paper explores the complex ways in which the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora use spaces and reconstruct their identities, drawing on both theoretical models of diasporic identity as well as ethnographic data.

14:15 Paper 5: Thanges Paramosothy

Oppressed Castes in Jaffna: Shifting from Collective Resistance to Multiple (in)visible Forms against Domination

The resistance of oppressed castes shifted from visible and collective acts to (in)visible individual and ritual acts in contemporary post-war Jaffna where ‘an enforced structure of opportunity’ which was created for the oppressed castes due to asylum migration and diaspora (oppressed castes) remittance practices played a vital role in homeland.

The contemporary resistances, which take place at religious ritual domain, have on the one hand weakened and shifted the traditional caste-based heretical relationship and on the other hand led to reproduction of caste-based hierarchies. This article brings these complex acts of oppressed caste resistances against caste hegemony by discussing both scholarly and factual literature and data from long-term fieldwork in Jaffna and Tamil diaspora.

14:45    BREAK

15:00   Panel Discussion:

Moving Forward: Directions for Impact-Driven Academic Research and Publishing.

This panel will explore the need for a Tamil Journal and assess the impact academic research can have in areas of policy. It will ask where we want the journal to go and how the journal can be best used as a platform to help the global Tamil community. This panel wants to go beyond the traditional understandings of journals, and ask how findings and initiatives can practically assist the Tamil community.

16:00    Q&A + Interactive session with the audience on the future

16:50    Closing & Thank you Speech

17:00    Networking