This talk examines how the matrifocal labor narratives of Malaiyaka Tamils punctuate Sri Lanka's postwar politics. Thinking with Black feminists' challenges to early anthropological readings of matrifocality and Malathi de Alwis' discussion of "maternalist agonism" in Sri Lanka (2012), I explore how Malaiyaka Tamil matrifocal narratives engender paternalistic modes of care within the country's broader majoritarian politics but, at the same time, unsettle hegemonic images of Sri Lanka's tea plantations and their geo-political futures.
Based on oral histories, interviews, participant observation, and media analysis, this talk describes scenes from the life narratives of two Malaiyaka Tamil mothers whose experiences are coterminous with the plantation sector's politics of paternalism and workers' struggles for dignity. Focusing on mothering across visual, ethnographic and material registers, I think about the gender, caste and kin lines and boundaries that Malaiyaka Tamils must cross, share, and resist when representing themselves and their labor in and beyond Sri Lanka. In doing so, I ask what social and economic conditions make mothering on the tea plantations legible to Sri Lanka's broader postwar politics and what is at stake for Malaiyaka Tamil political futures when matrifocal narratives are centered and confronted on their terms.
About the Speaker:
Mythri Jegathesan is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Santa Clara University. Her research interests include plantations, labor, gender, human rights and minority politics. She holds a PhD in Anthropology from Columbia University and her book, Tea and Solidarity: Tamil Women and Work in Postwar Sri Lanka (University of Washington Press, 2019), is an ethnography of plantation life and work in the context of ethnonationalist violence and civil war in Sri Lanka.