A Grammar of Emergence

Culture and the State in the Post-Tsunami Resettlement of Burgher Women of Batticaloa, Sri Lanka

Author: Neloufer de Mel


This essay studies the impact of the 2004 Asian Tsunami on a marginalized ethnic community of Burghers in Batticaloa, Eastern Sri Lanka. Through a case study of the displacement and re-settlement of Burgher women, their role in a cooperative society, and property ownership strategies, the essay argues that while gender positions may not have altered significantly at the macro level, changes have occurred at a micro-political level, and that these "small changes from below" mark the emergence of the women as a political community. It also points to the need, if these transformative practices are to be deepened and sustained, for developmental actors such as the state and international donors to recalibrate their approaches to rural women. This includes placing greater value on local social practices such as matrilineal inheritance that favor women in Eastern Sri Lanka.

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