The topic of my presentation at the ICAH (International Conference on Arts and Humanities) in Sri Lanka was “The Exclusivity of Sri Lankan Feminine Identity in Nihal De Silva’s The Road from Elephant Pass”. This presentation was an attempt to create an international dialogue on the exclusivity of Sri Lankan feminine identity as portrayed in Nihal De Silva’s award winning novel The Road from Elephant Pass. Using Carol Gilligan’s theory of Postconventional Morality, the paper argues how Sri Lankan women try to seek emancipation in the post conflict era.
Traditional gender roles that had limited women’s participation in the production process have undergone substantial changes over the years. Consequently, the identity of the Sri Lankan woman has also shifted from one of a typical ‘caregiver’ in the patriarchal family to one who has steadily been forced to occupy the ‘male domains’ in terms of social, economic and cultural dynamics of contemporary society. In the capitalist economic system, a dichotomy between activities in public and private spheres prevents women from contributing to social production. This study uses Poststructuralist Feminist critique to explore Sri Lankan femininity by examining Kamala Velaithan’s search for identity in The Road from Elephant Pass by Nihal De Silva. The protagonist is initially determined to sacrifice herself for the duty of her community, society and family but eventually relegates herself to accepting her own desire as her life’s motive, by accepting the Responsibility for Consequences of Choice (Postconventional Morality) which initiates her endeavour to the stages of moral development for women. Kamala’s transformation from a hardboiled LTTE (The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) cadre filled with hatred for the Sinhalese to one who falls passionately in love with a captain of the Sri Lankan army assumes a ‘social space’ in which a range of cultural, political and gender ideologies come into play in determining her transition. Kamala’s consolidated decision to choose what she confidently needs instead of what society has constructed as her purpose is a response to the tenets of Sri Lankan feminine identity.
Key words: Gender Roles, Patriarchal Family, Public/Private Dichotomy, Social Production, Post Conventional Morality, Sri Lankan Feminine Identity.
This conference created an excellent platform for me to present my research findings and thoughts to scholars from various parts of the world. The audience was pleased with my presentation and thanked me for being sensitive to women’s issues. My exchange of ideas with foreign scholars during the tea break was very useful as they gave me several suggestions on how to elaborate certain points. Particularly, the Malaysian presenter who was dealing with Sri Lankan expatriate writers was very helpful in this connection as she volunteered to share her expertise with me. Dr. Sangita T. Ghodake, the Chairperson of this session, was also instrumental in improving the paper because she shared her research experiences on Indian feminine identity.
As this conference ran for two days, I was able to listen to presentations on diverse research areas. I benefited a lot from the Culture, Religion and Ethnic Studies Session which presented papers of interest to me. Particularly, the papers titled “Sri Lanka, the Imagined Homeland”, “Rethinking Cultural Universality Today and the Question of Theological Transcendence”, “Changing Dynamics of Islam Discourse in Modern Global World” and “Being Woman: (Empowered) Matrons and Damsels (Not quite in “Distress”) in three Blaan Folktales. These presentations tempted me to have a fruitful dialogue with these scholars, which broadened my horizons.
As a whole, this trip was quite useful and helpful as it provided me with an opportunity to accrue much knowledge and share research experiences with foreign scholars. The links I created with them still help me to exchange research expertise and thoughts on literature. I am very positive about this type of opportunity because it helps students to meet scholars from different parts of the world, share their experiences, expertise and scholarly pursuits.
Jayantha Wannisinghe is a PhD student at the English Department.