ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr Chulani Kodikaea
University of Edinburgh
My research explores a struggle for truth and justice waged by Tamil family members of the disappeared during the last phase of Sri Lanka’s civil war (1983-2009), the vast majority of them women. Conceptualising this struggle, increasingly waged at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, as a subaltern, dissident, and transnational struggle against impunity, I ask how does the postcolonial Sri Lankan state defer accountability and entrench impunity for mass atrocity in the age of universal human rights? How do we understand impunity for mass atrocity? What is at stake in such struggles? How do victim survivors of war challenge impunity? Why is truth and justice so elusive, even where there appears to be political will to address demands for justice? And what are the limits and possibilities of internationalised justice? Taking an interdisciplinary, intersectional feminist approach, and drawing on anthropology, law, and political science, I grapple with these questions based on a multi-sited ethnography conducted in Sri Lanka and Switzerland. This research conceptualise impunity not merely as a breakdown of the rule of law or a state of legal exception, but as an extra-legal phenomenon entangled with hegemonic, Sinhala Buddhist majoritarian nationalist conceptions of the nation and its postwar nation building project. I argue that what is at stake in the postwar struggle for justice in Sri Lanka is not merely questions relating to guilt or innocence or amnesty or punishment, but national identity, and nationalist visions of who is included and excluded within the nation. In demanding for truth and justice for disappearances, I contend that the women next of kin of the disappeared are posing a radical challenge to the postwar Sinhala Buddhist nationalist nation building project itself.
Fellowship accomplishments / highlights:
‘The Office on Missing Persons in Sri Lanka: Why Truth is a Radical Proposition.’ International Journal of Transitional Justice (2003) 17: 157-172.
‘Snapshots from the struggle, Sri Lanka, April – May 2022.’ Anthropology Now, (2022) 14(1 & 2): 21-38. Co-authored With Jonathan Spencer, Farzana Haniffa, Krishantha Fedricks. Anushka Kahandagama and Kaushalya Kumarasinghe.
‘Searching for Winning Horses: Women, Electoral Democracy, and the Local Government Quota in Sri Lanka’ in Jayadeva Uyangoda (ed) Democracy and Democratization in Sri Lanka, Colombo: Bandaranaike Centre for International Relations.
Work in Progress and Under Review
‘Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council: (Counter) Politics of Shame (and Honour),’ Submitted to the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (JRAI).
‘Disappearances, Dissident Memory and Magic: Sandya Ekneligoda’s Struggle for Justice.’ Submitted to Memory Studies.
Draft book proposal to publish PhD thesis.
Delivered two guest lectures for the undergraduate course on ‘South Asia in the World’ convened by the Centre for South Asian Studies of the University of Edinburgh.
Refusing to know their place: A struggle for truth and justice for enforced disappearances in postwar Sri Lanka,’ seminar delivered as part of the Centre for South Asian Studies Seminar Series, University of Edinburgh.
Hilary Rodham Clinton Postdoctoral Fellowship at Queens University, Belfast.
Advice for future fellows:
The ESRC postdoctoral fellowship is an incredible opportunity to spend a bit more time with your PhD research. But the year just flies and ends before you expect it, so try to plan. But also expect to be a little bit exhausted. I found the post PhD writing oriented towards publishing very slow, and sometimes frustrating and tedious. The review process can be particularly challenging and disheartening, and it is necessary to have faith in yourself. While taking all review comments seriously, it is also necessary to challenge reviewers who you don’t agree with. Ultimately, seeing one’s work published, is of course immensely rewarding.