This book focuses on the experiences of Tamil-speaking people who have lived through and continue to face conflict and violence in Sri Lanka on a daily basis. It focuses on the years between 2005 and 2007 when the country was facing massive change in the lead up to the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamils Eelam (LTTE). At this time, while violence waxed and waned, intensifying at times and at others casting a dark shadow over daily encounters, people carried on with their lives, negotiating through and around the violence. The way in which the topics in the book flow reflects the author's journey of research and the various issues that became important along the way. Thus, in following the author's experiences through the conflict and the tsunami, the book builds up a larger and richer picture of life in Batticaloa that moves between accounts of everyday violence and suffering. Using ethnographic experiences and narratives collected over twenty-two months between 2004 and 2007, the book argues that to look to the moments of hope and imagination as well as the everyday endurance must constitute a core element of anthropological representations of violence and suffering. This includes highlighting the non-violent spaces or parts of daily life, which are less dramatically framed by violence, and are often lost in contexts of conflict, faded out as weak shadows to the more forceful violence.
On 19 May 2009, the government of Sri Lanka defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamils Eelam (LTTE) in a brutal and bloody final battle ending a civil war that has ravaged the island of Sri Lanka for almost three decades. The Sri Lankan conflict has been well documented, and as a popular setting for research, including numerous anthropological case studies and political studies of ethnic conflict, terrorism, and peace, has been represented in many different ways. In the course of dealing with violence, the Sri Lankan state has resorted to large-scale extra-judicial killings against Tamils from the early 1980s and also against Sinhalese youth during the two Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)-led insurgencies in 1971 and 1980s. The chapter also presents some key concepts discussed in this book.
This chapter focuses on an understanding of space and activism or 'active living' in relation to the Valkai group. It sketches out the east of Sri Lanka in terms of the ethnic makeup of the area and some of the particularities of kinship patterns, caste, and marriage. As one of the nine provinces in Sri Lanka, the Eastern Province is divided into three administrative districts, forty-five Divisional Secretary's (DS) Divisions, and 1,085 Grama Niladhari(GN) Divisions, also known as Grama Sevaka (GS) Divisions. Together with the Ampara and Trincomalee districts, Batticaloa district forms the Eastern Province. The chapter looks more closely at the 2004 events of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) split and the tsunami. It considers the kinds of spaces that were opened up in the advent of chaos and confusion, but then rapidly shut down (controlled and militarised) once again.
This chapter traces author's journey in terms of the specific situations and problems she encountered, which, in turn, reflect on a number of key ideas. These include configuring social and cultural relationships with others, negotiating fear and violence, making moral and ethical judgments, learning how and who to trust, and learning how to listen, to the silences as well as the words being said. In Batticaloa, documenting details and stories in writing could also be a risky business given that the army would regularly search houses or stop people at checkpoints. Silences, whispers, rumours, and gossip were all part of the social practices of living and enduring in Batticaloa in which bonds of intimacy and claims to knowledge were intertwined with risk and protecting the self.
The narratives of many women that author had spoken with had provided an insight that showed how people's response to 'suyal nilamai' went beyond the present and took in the years of violence and struggle that people had faced. Taking the notions of the everyday and the ordinary as the driving concepts, in this chapter the author considers how the daily lives of civilians in Batticaloa might be interpreted and understood in the given context of protracted conflict. Breaking with attempts to think of the social and cultural system as totalitarian and controlling, de Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life associated the everyday less with the ensemble of scripted human activities than with unpredictability and creative potential. Influenced by reflexive anthropology, de Certeau explored the position of the subject in relation to the complex weave of everyday elements, and drawing from examples, he illustrated experiences of embodiment and enactment.
Weaving stories together, Meena revealed a rich tapestry of daily life, which reflected not only her own but many other women's lives in the east. Meena's birthplace, Kokkadichcholai, a home to some important temples, holds historical and cultural significance for the Tamils of the east. Kokkadichcholai is an area that has been continuously fought over by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and government forces, falling into the hands of one then the other, rendering civilians vulnerable and facing continual violence in the process. It is clear that Meena's situation was relieved somewhat when she was able to access training through various women-based organisations. This reflects some of the work that was being done to provide support to widows in eastern Sri Lanka during the 1990s.
The life of forty-year-old Rani illustrates many of the hardships and suffering experienced by women living in the east of Sri Lanka. For Rani, the symbolism of the coconut tree lay not only in its relationship to her son, but in the way that it seemed to open up a space for conversation and shared meaning which may not have existed before. Through its personification as 'kuti annar', the tree allowed Rani and her family to keep their son and brother in mind, both as remembrance and as a marker of present and future activity and movement. Like Rani, Sivam and his team's experience of the everyday was revealed through their daily performance of activities and tasks. The activities of Sivam and the other fishermen presented an interesting contrast to the daily lives and experiences of Anuloja, Meena, Rani, and the other women and mothers in the border villages.
Returning to the ideas of the Valkai women in this chapter, the author attempts to tie together the threads of everyday understanding, meanings of the ordinary, and hope for the future. She reveals the extent to which her understanding of everyday life in Batticaloa has been based upon the lives and visions of this group of people, and particularly the women who worked with them and what they had to say. She explains why she believes this understanding is vital to a wider sense of Sri Lanka, especially in relation to the present context of 'post-war' and a 'post-conflict' future. A frequent topic of conversation that arose in the Batticaloa household where the author lived with members of the Valkai group, was about balance. That is, how to feel balanced or to sustain balance while confusion and chaos cut through everyday experiences and meaning.