Cornell University

SAP Speaker Series, Caste, Temple, Church and Remittance Practices of the Tamil Diaspora: Resisting and Reproducing Hierarchies in Post-War Jaffna, by Thanges Paramsothy

Monday, March 25, 2019 at 12:15pm to 1:30pm

Uris Hall, G08

This paper examines the caste-based religious remittance practices of the Tamil diaspora and considers how such remittances fulfil multiple needs of the dispersed Tamils who live in exile and at ‘home’. The remittances sent by the Tamil diaspora are utilized, inter alia, for the renovation of caste-based Hindu temples and churches in their ūr (village or homeland). The paper observes that all caste groups including the oppressed castes receiving remittances from their overseas relatives renovate and rebuild their caste-based temples and churches in Jaffna at present, as the dominant caste, Veḷḷāḷar (farmers and landlords), continues investing in rituals and religious activities. The remittances sent by the oppressed caste diaspora for this purpose reveal their investment in creating infrastructure that would allow their communities in Jaffna to have greater autonomy and cultural equality. This study views these practices and processes as a form of invisible resistance to the cultural hegemony of the dominant castes in the realm of religious rituals. These practices, on the other hand, lead to the reproduction and consolidation of caste-based religious identities. This paper explores this contradictory reality with case studies conducted in Jaffna, Northern Sri Lanka.

Thanges Paramsothy obtained his PhD in anthropology and Master's degree in refugee studies at the University of East London. He completed his undergraduate degree in sociology at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.  He co-edited a book, Casteless or Caste-blind. He recently published an article, Caste within Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora in a refereed journal, Anthropology Matters. His research interests include caste dynamics, the Tamil diaspora, conflict-induced IDPs, subaltern politics, land issues and visual anthropology predominantly in Sri Lanka and Tamil diaspora localities.

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, South Asia Program



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