Accepted Paper:

Eloquent bodies: responses to violence in northern Sri Lanka  


Jane Derges

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the effects of thirty years of war on a small Tamil community in the north of Sri Lanka. Through the transformation of a well-known religious ritual, many Tamil youths articulate the experience of violence both for themselves and their village comminity.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines how youths - many of whom were imprisoned and tortured during the war, have transformed a well-known ritual that has seen a dramatic increase since occupation of the northern Jaffna peninsula, by Sri Lankan government troops in 1996. The ritual, previously exclusively an act of religious devotion to a popular Tamil Hindu God: Murugan, has been transformed into a demonstration of strength and youthful challenge within an unstable atmosphere of 'no war, but no peace' that exists throughout the north of Sri Lanka. In this instance, toleration of ritual pain is contrasted with the externally imposed pain and suffering of war, which is articulated not only for the self, but also the entire village community.

This diverges with the work of the international aid agencies operating across the northern peninsula, where concepts and notions of 'trauma' conflict with local interests in relation to efficacy as well as safety. This is posited against a backdrop of silence and fear where open articulation of traumatic experience incurs huge risk; problematic in the practice of counselling and other talking therapies as the continuing mainstay of many international assistance programmes.

Panel W032
Processing trauma in (post-)conflict societies