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In My Mother's House

In My Mother's House: Civil War in Sri Lanka

Sharika Thiranagama
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    In My Mother's House
    Book Description:

    In May 2009, the Sri Lankan army overwhelmed the last stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam-better known as the Tamil Tigers-officially bringing an end to nearly three decades of civil war. Although the war has ended, the place of minorities in Sri Lanka remains uncertain, not least because the lengthy conflict drove entire populations from their homes. The figures are jarring: for example, all of the roughly 80,000 Muslims in northern Sri Lanka were expelled from the Tamil Tiger-controlled north, and nearly half of all Sri Lankan Tamils were displaced during the course of the civil war. Sharika Thiranagama's In My Mother's House provides ethnographic insight into two important groups of internally displaced people: northern Sri Lankan Tamils and Sri Lankan Muslims. Through detailed engagement with ordinary people struggling to find a home in the world, Thiranagama explores the dynamics within and between these two minority communities, describing how these relations were reshaped by violence, displacement, and authoritarianism. In doing so, she illuminates an often overlooked intraminority relationship and new social forms created through protracted war. In My Mother's House revolves around three major themes: ideas of home in the midst of profound displacement; transformations of familial experience; and the impact of the political violence-carried out by both the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan state-on ordinary lives and public speech. Her rare focus on the effects and responses to LTTE political regulation and violence demonstrates that envisioning a peaceful future for post-conflict Sri Lanka requires taking stock of the new Tamil and Muslim identities forged by the civil war. These identities cannot simply be cast away with the end of the war but must be negotiated anew.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0511-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    Gananath Obeyesekere

    It is a pleasure to write a foreword to this elegantly written, jargon free work on the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. For me In My Mother’s House is the most significant contribution written to date for understanding that conflict, mostly from the perspective of Tamils and the Muslims of the north, the latter brutally evicted from their homes by the Tamil Tigers (the LTTE). I hope this work will be read not only by Sri Lankans and South Asians but also by those interested in political violence, the disrupted lives that result from it, and the resilience of those...

  5. Introduction: In My Mother’s House
    (pp. 1-40)

    On 21 September 1989, my sister and I waited for our mother to come home from work to the temporary house we were renting at the time. We were living in the northern Jaffna peninsula, by then, already a war zone. We were half minority Tamil (my mother), half majority Sinhalese (my father), but brought up speaking Tamil. The years when our Sinhalese father lived in Jaffna with us, as opposed to our once or twice yearly trip to Colombo to see him, or when my Sinhalese grandmother and uncles would travel up to Jaffna to visit or to go...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Growing Up at War: Self-Formation, Individuality, and the LTTE
    (pp. 41-76)

    I begin here in the middle of a conversation with Vasantha, a Jaffna Tamil in her mid-twenties living in London. Our interviews, running over months, were themselves in the middle of a long, loving, and complex friendship. I have known Vasantha since we were five-year-old neighbors, classmates, and best friends in Jaffna, our mutual home. My sister and I left Jaffna in November 1989, and I didn’t see Vasantha for twelve years. As we started to reconnect and talk of our homes, she consented to be interviewed. On these occasions, she dwelled exclusively on her adolescence in Jaffna. This book...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The House of Secrets: Mothers, Daughters, and Inheritance
    (pp. 77-105)

    Malathi’s tone was measured. Malathi is in her mid-thirties, living in Colombo with her mother, her husband, and her two daughters, Ovia and Rosa. Malathi and I often meet, but our more formal interview takes place over two houses in two kitchens. In the first kitchen (and our most extensive interviews) we discuss the building of the second house, which was at the time waiting empty for the family to move in. This second time, we were sitting in the kitchen of the house she had just moved into. It was in one of Colombo’s busy, thriving old neighborhoods, on...

  8. CHAPTER THREE From Muslims to Northern Muslims: Ethnicity, Eviction, and Displacement
    (pp. 106-144)

    In 2003, I went to the northwestern province of Puttalam, home to thousands of Muslim refugees ethnically cleansed from the north by the LTTE. All 70,000–80,000 Muslims had been forcibly cleared from the five districts of the north that the LTTE (at the time) controlled in October 1990 within 24–48 hours, in an act now known as the “Eviction.”¹ The majority of northern Muslims, around 65,000 and growing, live in refugee camps and settlements in the Puttalam and Kalpitiya districts curving under the disputed northern territories that they still call home.

    On my first trip, I was taken...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Becoming of This Place? Northern Muslim Futures After Eviction
    (pp. 145-182)

    Farook and I were in a Jaffna Muslim majority refugee camp in the Puttalam district one evening in 2003. We had arrived there late, dusk was approaching fast, and the camp rang with the busy sounds of the women beginning their household labor for the evening. The camp leader explained this to us, asking me to come another time. Looking at me, while Farook explained my purpose in the camps, the leader had the same question for me that all the refugees had begun with “what was my sonta ur?” By sonta ur he meant my “real/ancestral” home, where I...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Generation of Militancy: Gender Militancy, and Self-Transformation
    (pp. 183-227)

    Kugamoorthy, now in his forties and living in London, was reflecting on his youth in Sri Lanka. He was one of many young Tamils now in their forties and fifties who joined militant movements by the thousands in the mid- to late 1980s. Kugamoorthy had joined TELO as an eighteen-year-old in the early 1980s, been imprisoned by the Sri Lankan state for most of the late 1980s, and on his release renounced militancy and migrated abroad. This chapter is about these young people and the biography, personal and collective, of militancy. Not least, it is about the enormous social transformation...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Conclusions from Tamil Colombo
    (pp. 228-256)

    Colombo, a recurring site of anti-Tamil riots in Sri Lanka, is at the same time a city of many Tamil-speaking and other minorities, Malaiyaha Tamil, Muslim, “Colombo Tamil,” and Sri Lankan Tamil, along with Malays, Borahs, Burghers, and Europeans. Prime target of attacks by the LTTE in wartime, Colombo is also one of the places where Tamil remittances flow, where the call for prayer, the azaan, is broadcast daily on national Tamil radio, where famous Indian Tamil eateries and businesses abound.

    There are many sights that recall Colombo for me. They are, in keeping with my own linguistic bias, visions...

  12. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 257-258)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 259-272)
    (pp. 273-288)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 289-292)
    (pp. 293-296)