Up-country Tamils: Charting a New Future
2-3 August 2017: ICES Colombo
Since the British period, the Up-country Tamils have lived at the margins of Sri Lankan society and politics, while being an integral part of the import-export economy that came to be established in the country. Since the end of the war in May 2009, most political and academic debate and discussion about ethnic reconciliation have centred on a simplistic Sinhala-Tamil binary, ignoring other ethnic groups and the multiplicity of Tamil identities on the island.
Up-country Tamils have always held a precarious position in Sri Lankan society, politics and economics, and this conference examined the vicissitudes of their status in relation to other ethnic communities on the island and to India.
The conference looked at the ways in which the Up-country Tamils continue to be marginalised, how far they have entered the mainstream and the difficulties that they have faced along the way. It was the first major meeting on the subject in several years and attracted interest, not just from the Up-country Tamil community, but from several other stakeholders as well. The conference brought together scholars of Up-Country Tamils in Sri Lanka, including historians, economists, sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists and social activists to examine this community from multiple disciplinary perspectives.
The conference addressed several of the problems that Up-country Tamils face today politically, economically and socially as well as the historical origins and precedents for their current predicament. Presentations were made on the themes of politics and governance, Up-country economics, land rights and environmental issues, migration, urbanisation, domestic workers and culture and society. The conference highlighted the following:
- The importance for a consensus among the Up-country community on a distinct national identity (reconciling different articulations of this identity) and the need for the community to be recognised as an important ethnic group by the state.
- The need for reform in policies related to the management of plantations, ownership of land and laws which legitimise the exclusion of the Up-country community.
- The need for further research on the transformation of the dynamics of this community due to mechanisation and migration.
ICES is currently editing and compiling a few selected papers into an edited volume.
2nd and 3rd of August, 2017
9.30 a.m. – 5.30 p.m.
The ICES Auditorium, 2 Kynsey Terrace, Colombo 8