Sacred bodies, profaned bodies : psychology, politics, and sex in the literatures of Sri Lankan ethnic conflict

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Han, Hyojin

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This project examines the literal and literary bodies associated with the Sinhalese-Tamil conflict in Sri Lanka as they are represented in literary, journalistic, and anthropological accounts. These texts are populated by historical personages and fictional characters spun from imagination or based on actual people who serve as representatives of those who live in the day to day reality of violence. The goal of this project is to offer a re-visioning of the power relations between the aggressor and victim, the victor and vanquished, in violent conflicts. Island of Blood: Frontier Reports from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Other South Asian Flashpoints, a memoir by Anita Pratap, and The Terrorist, a feature film by Santosh Sivan, illustrate how Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, fashioned his own absent or invisible body and the bodies of the suicide bombers as the focal point of Tamil nationalism. Prabhakaran developed the cult of personality around himself by fostering an aura of mystery and employing religious symbolism. In particular, feeding emerges as the quintessentially nurturing function misappropriated by this malignant maternal figure Prabhakaran. The other category of bodies is comprised of the victims: the dead, the raped, and the other defiled bodies that are anomalous in military conflicts. These are the profaned and violated bodies. In Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost, the unidentified bodies of human rights violations provide forensic evidence for legal proceedings and in turn attain sanctified status as the survivors use their remains to build legal cases against the atrocity. Their mute presence serves as a powerful amplifier for the survivors. A. Sivanandan’s When Memory Dies has as its focal point an ethnically incited rape and murder. During intergroup conflicts rape is often used to weaken the enemy group’s integrity. However, I argue that When Memory Dies challenges this norm and suggests that those who are considered threats to group integrity, whether they be minorities, outcasts, unwed mothers or raped women, could paradoxically be the agents of social integration, especially in the time of unrest.




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