‘Tamils & the Nation:’ India & Sri Lanka Compared

by Madurika Rasaratnam, Oxford University Press, 352 pages, published August 15, 2016

ISBN 9780190498320

Why are relations between politically mobilized ethnic identities and the nation-state sometimes peaceful and at other times fraught and violent? This book sets out a novel answer to this key puzzle in world politics through a detailed comparative study of the starkly divergent trajectories of the “Tamil question” in India and Sri Lanka from the colonial era to the present day. Whilst Tamil and national identities have peaceably harmonized in India, in Sri Lanka these have come into escalating and violent contradiction, leading to three decades of armed conflict and simmering antagonism since the civil war’s brutal end in 2009. The book links these differing outcomes that emerged from similar starting conditions and comparable historical conditions to distinct and contingent patters of political contestation and mobilization in the two states. Indian patterns of political mobilization and contestation produced a nation-state inclusive of the Tamils, whilst in Sri Lanka a different pattern of politics produced a hierarchical Sinhala Buddhist nation state hostile to Tamils and their claims. The analyses situate these dynamics within changing international contexts and set out how these once largely separate patterns of national-Tamil politics, and Tamil diaspora mobilization, are increasingly interwoven in the post-war internationalization of Sri Lanka’s ethnic crisis. The processes of national identity are therefore central to the analysis of ethnic conflict and have implications for its management.

  • A finely tuned investigation of why the Tamils of Sri Lanka and of India took such divergent paths in their respective political evolution.
  • Considers why the relations between politically mobilised ethnicities and the nation-state are sometimes peaceful and at other times fraught and violent.
  • Comparative study of national Tamil-politics within changing international contexts.


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