MODES OF APPREHENSION, POSSIBILITIES OF JUSTICE: SRI LANKA’S
JULY 1983, AND MAY, 2009

Pradeep Jeganathan

This paper is under girded by a comparison of two profound punctuation points in the
modern history of Sri Lanka: July, 1983 and May 2009.  It can be argued that these two
moments of “violence”– the first an attack on Tamil civilians in urban centers, the second
a military offensive, which led to Tamil civilian casualties, mark the beginning and the
end, of a long civil war.

While Governmental Commission of Inquiry in the style of a truth commission, has
reported on, and recommended reparations in the case of the first, this is hardly known,
a better known modes of apprehension of 1983 continues to be anthropological –
(Kapferer) and aesthetic (Chandragupta Thenuwara). Turning to May, 2009 we find that
while one of the dominant modes of apprehension of the event is visual (BBC Channel
Four films) here the aesthetisization of horror has led wide spread calls for an
International Inquiry, thematized around “war crimes,” and the discounting of the LLRC
and even the UN SG’s panel report. (Dharusman Commission).

This paper seeks to elaborate comparison between modes of apprehension and
possibility of justice, given the aftermath of these two events. One the one hand,
cultural/aesthetic modes of apprehension will be compared, and on the other hand legal
modalities of inquiry, commissions past and proposed will be compared. It is my
suggestion that this comparison yields a nuanced account of the limits and possibilities of
justice in the aftermath of prolonged violence.

pradeepPradeep Jeganathan is Professor of Sociology at Shiv Nadar University, Delhi NCR, India.
Previously, he held faculty appointments at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis, the New School for Social Research in New York, the International Center for Ethnic Studies & the Post Graduate Institute of Archaeological Research, at the University of Kelaniya, in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

His research interests include colonial forms of knowledge, subaltern nationalism, and emergence of violence and the presence of loss in lived worlds. Books, authored or edited include Living With Death (2007), At the Water’s Edge (2004), Unmaking the Nation (1995|2009) and Subaltern Studies X1 (2001).

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