Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA)
Oral Presentation Session
"We came with our hands tied. When we came, this place was a forest. We were told that if we cleared it, we could settle here. So we cleared the forest." This paper presents how landless Northern Hill Country Tamils in Sri Lanka's Northern Province form attachments to lands that they inhabit and sustain as home but do not own or have legal claim to. Based on exploratory research conducted in two districts in Sri Lanka's Northern Province since 2018, this paper tracks what viable ends emerge at intersections of caste discrimination, landlessness and debt in conditions of postwar resettlement. Northern Hill Country Tamils have a shared heritage of plantation labor, political marginalization, landlessness and displacement, and they consider their homes to be on dispersed lands with shifting values in postwar Sri Lanka. Intergenerational relations of labor, kinship, and exchange drive practices of home-building in Northern Province. Land use, on the other hand, is measured and evaluated by contrasting scales of investment, productivity, and replaceability. In the postwar context, land attachment involves labor and social relations that reach well beyond the temporalities and mechanisms of recognition put forth by transitional justice and economic development. This paper examines how transitional justice, postwar militarization, and disputed land claims complexly inform how Tamil landless residents attach to the lands they call home. In doing so, it suggests that narratives of collective invisibility, displacement, and memory can productively dismantle and reorient capitalist-oriented frames of land resettlement and transitional justice in postwar Sri Lanka.