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Mahendran Thiruvarangan Oral History Interview

At the time of this interview, Mahendran Thiruvarangan ('Thiru') is a senior lecturer at the University of Jaffna Department of Linguistics and English, and is a scholar who focuses on postcolonial literatures, the relationships between land and literature, radical democracy, and nationalism and co-existence. He received his PhD in English in 2019 from the City University of New York. He begins the interview with a discussion of how he became interested in academia and studying conceptions of nationalism based on his experiences as a child getting displaced from Jaffna and in the Vanni in response to or in spite of orders from the LTTE. This interview is important for going into more of the theoretical elements of nationalism, why it isn’t ideal for a Tamil struggle that embraces the most marginalized members of the community, and how being anti-nationalist does not mean you disregard the real oppression of Tamils and the desire to pursue justice for the Tamil community in Sri Lanka and in the Tamil diaspora. He speaks to how nationalism and separatism might be useful in specific contexts while also having limitations, and explains why this is the case by focusing on the limits for solidarity across borders and the challenges confronted by those oppressed along lines of gender and sexuality.

In a second interview session, held on March 24, 2022, Thiru expands on some of the topics discussed in the first interview (which have been edited into the first interview for clarity), and discusses the national economic crisis in Sri Lanka that has resulted in an unprecedented shortage of resources and mass protests, as well as the local crisis at his boyhood school of Jaffna College (not to be confused with the University of Jaffna). Both of these events, having intensified in the weeks between the two interview sessions, have deep connections to the United States, complicating our understandings of postcolonialism, globalization, and imperialism. The economic crisis has brought demands for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (accused of war crimes) and Minister of Finance Basil Rajapaksa, both dual citizens of the United States, to leave their government posts and "go back to America." This is one of the greatest political threats the Rajapaksa political dynasty is facing, and is foregrounded by slogans advocating a distrust predicated on the Rajapaskas' affiliations with the United States. Meanwhile, the crisis at Jaffna College, a school founded in 1871 with the help of American missionaries, is the result of school board mismanagement, leading to the school's American trustees to withdraw the trust that has sustained the school for more than 140 years. Thiru speaks about the history of the school, how the school had traditions of deep democracy and critical discourse, and how the school is now suffering under the pressures of anti-democratic leadership and shrinking flows of transnational capital.

The first part of this interview vitally adds a theoretical/scholarly dimension to what Tamil dissent is and/or could be, complementing the emotional and psychological approach and the spiritual approach presented by other interviewees an participants of this project. The second part of this interview provides an important look into how the United States has impacted Sri Lanka and the Tamil diaspora in ways that often go unnoticed, complicating the characterization of "South Asian American" as simply the product of unidirectional migration from South Asia to the United States, rather than as interrelated geographies that reciprocally shape each other.

Political Engagement, Education, Activism, Civic Engagement, Law & Justice

Duration: 02:42:03

Date: February 13, 2022 to March 24, 2022
Subject(s): Mahendran Thiruvarangan
Type: Oral History
Source: Archival Creators Fellowship Program
Creator: Kartik Amarnath
Contributor: Mahendran Thiruvarangan
Location: Jaffna, NO, Sri Lanka

Collection: Kartik Amarnath Fellowship project
Donor: Mahendran Thiruvarangan
Item History: 2022-06-24 (created); 2022-06-29 (modified)

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