Tea and Solidarity

Tamil Women and Work in Postwar Sri Lanka

Mythri Jegathesan

  • Published: June 2019
  • Subject Listing: Anthropology; Asian Studies / Southeast Asia; Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 272 pp., 10 bandw illus., 5 tables, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Decolonizing Feminisms
  • Contents

Beyond nostalgic tea industry ads romanticizing colonial Ceylon and the impoverished conditions that beleaguer Tamil tea workers are the stories of the women, men, and children who have built their families and lives in line houses on tea plantations since the nineteenth century. The tea industry's economic crisis and Sri Lanka's twenty-six year long civil war have ushered in changes to life and work on the plantations, where family members now migrate from plucking tea to performing domestic work in the capital city of Colombo or farther afield in the Middle East. Using feminist ethnographic methods in research that spans the transitional time between 2008 and 2017, Mythri Jegathesan presents the lived experience of these women and men working in agricultural, migrant, and intimate labor sectors.

In Tea and Solidarity, Jegathesan seeks to expand anthropological understandings of dispossession, drawing attention to the political significance of gender as a key feature in investment and place making in Sri Lanka specifically, and South Asia more broadly. This vivid and engaging ethnography sheds light on an otherwise marginalized and often invisible minority whose labor and collective heritage of dispossession as "coolies" in colonial Ceylon are central to Sri Lanka's global recognition, economic growth, and history as a postcolonial nation.
Mythri Jegathesan is assistant professor of anthropology at Santa Clara University.

"Examines the lives of women residing (and often working) on tea plantations in Sri Lanka's central highlands, with emphasis on how the prevailing cultural norms and labor relations limit and disempower them."
-Michelle Gamburd, author of The Golden Wave: Culture and Politics after Sri Lanka's Tsunami Disaster

"Using compelling stories, impressive fieldwork, and thorough archival research, Mythri Jegathesan explores the desires of contemporary plantation workers and their efforts to pursue social and economic dignity."
-Caitrin Lynch, author of Juki Girls, Good Girls: Gender and Cultural Politics in Sri Lanka's Global Garment Industry