The 2nd Tamil Studies Symposium
Bearing Witness: Unspeakable Crimes, Invisible Atrocities
6-7 May 2016 at York University
The most challenging paradox of the 21st Century may well be the saturation of our media with news of atrocities, even as many conflicts around the world are described as ‘wars without witnesses’. While news reports from ‘embedded’ journalists or social media prompt social media users to change their status updates in keeping with the flag or caption of the moment, the narratives of those most vulnerable to atrocities, or survivors of contemporary genocides rarely seem to surface. When they do, they are most likely to be heard if they are cast in the interests or the literary and/or ideological language of neocolonialism. At its most sympathetic, Western media coverage of atrocity often tends toward reductions and slippages that mischaracterize local struggles. At its most dangerous, Western media representation of conflicts in modes that serve the military aggression of their own states can have disastrous consequences for vulnerable populations, as fundamentalist states appropriate this language for their own purposes.
The characterization of the conflict in Sri Lanka as a ‘war on terror’, in alignment with Western paradigms post 9/11, sanctioned violence against Tamils as a patriotic duty necessary for the maintenance of national unity. While non-state actors must also be held accountable for their crimes, the state’s framing of the Tamil struggle for self-determination as ‘terrorist’ and separatist contributed significantly to the collapse of an ethnic identity into a singular militarized and antagonistic one. This helped bring about the deaths of thousands of civilians in violation of international law; their deaths deemed a ‘necessary evil’. In the wake of systematically planned and implemented ethnic extermination, narratives of development have served to further entrench Tamils as regressive and opposed to national progress.
The 2nd Tamil Studies Syposium will explore these themes through interdisciplinary panels, roundtables, keynotes and book launches.
Panels and roundtables:
- Transitional Justice and the Military: Can There be Accountability While the North-East Remains Under Military Occupation?
- Security, State Structures and the Language of Protest
- Arts Roundtable/Workshop
- Health and Well-being in the Transnational Tamil Context
- Resistance and Resilience: Academia, Activism and Community Outcomes
- Literatures of Conflict
- ‘Art and the Politics of Memory in Contemporary Sri Lanka’ by T. Sanathanan, Jaffna University, Sri Lanka
- ‘The Smoke of Burning Bridges: Refugee Lives and the Media of Survival’ by Suvendrini Perera, Curtin University, Australia
- Survival Media: The Politics and Poetics of Mobility and the War in Sri Lanka by Suvendrini Perera (Curtin University, Australia) with Sunera Thobani (University of British Columbia)
- Lost Evenings, Lost Lives: Tamil Poems of the Sri Lankan Civil War, (Trans. Lakshmi Holmstrom and Sascha Ebeling)
The detailed program is available here:
The 2nd Tamil Studies Symposium is presented by Tamil Studies Programming at York with the support of the York Centre for Asian Research, the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, the Office of the Vice-President for Research and Innovation, and the Canadian Tamil Congress.