Negotiating Access to Land in Easten Sri Lanka

social mobilization of livelihood concerns and everyday encounters with an ambiguous state

Shahul H. Hasbullah and Urs Geiser


Negotiating Access to Land-1

Discourses of the rural in eastern Sri Lanka differ in their emphases but are alike in their reification of a monolithic state and their denial of localised agency. In the influential state-centric discourse, rural people are imagined as clients of a powerful state. The state provides essential services to peasants while also subordinating them through patronage networks. In a variant of this view, the state is controlled by Sri Lankas ethnic majority, which has expanded its control over land through ethnicised colonisation, exemplified by the Gal Oya scheme in Eastern Sri Lanka. In a developmentalist discourse, villagers and settlers cultivate land through customary practices, and the states role is to awaken their entrepreneurial spirit. Together, these discourses imagine the rural space of eastern Sri Lanka as one produced by ethnic conflicts over land and in need for state-led modernization.