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Paper No: 2005/2 - Political of Nostalgia: The Citizen as Peasant

Political of Nostalgia: The Citizen as Peasant


Nira Wickramasinghe


The postcolonial Sri Lankan state defined the contours of the ‘citizen’ through a marking out of the ‘migrant’, essentially in opposition to the proud and self-sufficient peasant-farmer, a vision that stemmed from the political and administrative elite of Sri Lanka’s ‘tutelary, custodial and paternalistic’ attitude towards the peasantry. This paper uses colonial and postcolonial legislation, educational texts and political party literature to bring to light the discrete framings of citizenship that contributed to marking out, at different times, what it meant to be a ‘Ceylonese’ or a ‘Sri Lankan’ citizen in the official sense. It argues, furthermore, that with welfare thrust upon him, the citizen/peasant became a ‘population’, an inert, depoliticized and reactive object of state attention and patronage, the doubly damaging result being the creation of a peasantry devoid of a political identity and of a non-participatory citizenship, founded on exclusion rather than on a common political identity.

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Address: Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, 
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Delhi - 110007

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