Experiences of Sri Lankan Tamils Displaced to Colombo: Three Narratives


  • Diotima Chattoraj Institute of Development Studies (IEE), Ruhr University Bochum




Sri Lanka, internally displaced persons, Colombo, Tamil


This paper focuses on the experiences, challenges and aspirations of three middle-aged Sri Lankan Tamil Displaced persons in Colombo who are reluctant to return to their places of origin in the northern provinces of Sri Lanka due to several personal and professional reasons. The paper aims to analyze the diverse experiences they faced due to displacement. It also uncovers strategies used to cope in a new city and portrays the differences they experience between the places they came from and the city they now live in. The empirical point of departure has been drawn from the stories of three middle-aged Sri Lankan Tamil Displaced persons in Colombo. The paper argues that they have adapted to their place of displacement and view the city as a more suitable place to live compared to their places of origin. In addition, they also identify displacement as a blessing in disguise as they believe integrating in Colombo helped them to aspire to a better future which would have never been possible in their places of origin. Thus, this paper provides a picture of how they have reconstructed their lives in Colombo and how this has led them to reconsider and renegotiate their relationship to their 'homes'.

Author Biography

Diotima Chattoraj, Institute of Development Studies (IEE), Ruhr University Bochum

Diotima Chattoraj received her doctorate (Magna-cum-Laude) from the department of International Development Studies (IEE), Ruhr-University, Bochum, Germany. Her thesis examines the different kinds of attachment that post-war displaced Sri Lankan Tamils have to their places of origin. She has presented parts of her research findings in conferences in Germany and Canada and has several articles in process for publication. Diotima has been a voluntary reviewer for the Mayor's Office on African Affairs and Juma ventures in the USA. In addition, she has experience working for non-profit organisations.


Ainsworth, M.D.S. (1979). Infant-Mother Attachment. American Psychologist, 34(10), 932-937.

Appadurai, A. (1986). The Social Life of Things. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Appadurai, A. (1996). Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis & London: Minnesota University Press.

Appadurai, A. (2004). The Capacity to Aspire: Culture and the Terms of Recognition, In Rao, V. and Walton, M. (eds.), Culture and Public Action. (pp. 59-84). California: Stanford University Press.

Azmi, F. (2012). To Go or Not to Go : Struggle for Belonging among Second Generation Muslim IDPs in Kalpitiya in Puttalam District in the Context of Post-War Resettlement. In Herath, D. & Silva, K.T. (eds.), Healing the Wounds: Rebuilding Sri Lanka After the War. (pp. 167-192), ICES, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and Loss. Vol. 1. New York, NY: Random House.

Brun, C. (2001). Reterritorilizing the Relationship between People and Place in Refugee Studies. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, 83(1), 15-25.

Chattoraj, D. & Gerharz E., Difficult Return: Muslims’ Ambivalent Attachments to Jaffna in Post-Conflict Sri Lanka, (forthcoming).

Creed, G.W. & Ching, B. (1997). Recognizing Rusticity. Identity and the Power of Place. In Ching, B. and Creed, G.W. (eds.), Knowing your Place. Rural Identity and Cultural Hierarchy. (pp. 1-38), London: Routledge.

Gerharz, E. (2008). Opening to the World: Translocal Post-War reconstruction in Northern Sri Lanka. In Anghel, R.G., Gerharz, E., Rescher, G. & Salzbrunn, M. (eds.), The Making of World Society: Perspectives from Transnational Research. Bielefeld, Germany: Bielefeld transcript.

Gerharz, E. (2010). When Migrants Travel Back Home: Changing Identities in Northern Sri Lanka After the Ceasefire of 2002. Mobilities, 5(1), 147-165.

Herath, D. (2012). Wounded Society: Social Wounds of the War and the Breakup of Community Social Structures in Northern Sri Lanka. In Herath, D. & Silva, K.T. (eds.), Healing the Wounds: Rebuilding Sri Lanka after the war. (pp. 58-95), ICES, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

hooks, b. (2009). Belonging: A Culture of Place. New York, NY: Routledge.

Mallett, S. (2004). Understanding Home: A Critical Review of the Literature. Sociological Review, 52(1), 62-89.

Mesch, G. S., & Manor, O. (1998). Social ties, environmental perception, and local attachment. Environment and behavior, 30(4), 504-519.

Nathan, D. (2005). Capabilities and aspirations. Economic and Political Weekly, 36-40.

Pfaff-Czarnecka, J. (2013). Multiple Belonging and the Challenges to Biographic Navigation. MMG Working Paper 13-05.

Pfaff-Czarnecka, J. & Toffin, G. (2011). Introduction: Belonging and Multiple Attachments in Contemporary Himalyan Societies. In Pfaff-Czarnecka J. & G. Toffin (eds.) The Politics of Belonging in the Himalayas: Local Attachments and Boundary Dynamics (pp. 11-38). New Delhi: Sage.

Schrijvers, J. (1999). Fighters, Victims and Survivors: Constructions of Ethnicity, Gender and Refugeeness among Tamils in Sri Lanka. Journal of Refugee Studies, 12(3), 307-333.

Sriskandarajah, D. (2002). The Migration–Development Nexus: Sri Lanka Case Study. International Migration, 40(5), 283-307.

Thiranagama, S. (2013). The Self at a Time of War in Northern Sri Lanka. Journal of Historical Sociology, 26(1), 19-40.

Wiborg, A. (2004). Place, Nature and Migration: Students' Attachment to their Rural Home Places. Sociologia Ruralis, 44(4), 416-432.




How to Cite

Chattoraj, D. (2018). Experiences of Sri Lankan Tamils Displaced to Colombo: Three Narratives. ETropic: Electronic Journal of Studies in the Tropics, 17(1). https://doi.org/10.25120/etropic.17.1.2018.3646