22. Andrew Willford: Betrayal, Sacred Landscapes, and Stories of Justice among Tamils in Malaysia

Abstract

Malaysia’s multiethnic ideology is premised upon an ideal of hospitality that simultaneously announces its own impossibility through the marking of legal ethnonationalist rights and privileges. The performativity of the Law has been increasingly revealed to Malaysian Tamils through a series of recent events that have left them questioning the civility of their country. Specifically, the demolitions of temples and the acquisitions of land by the State, forced conversions, and the dispossession of Tamil plantation workers have precipitated doubts. I argue that the force of law within the ethno-nationalist state is haunted by a fragmentation of memory and experience among Tamils. This is wrought by a sense of 'betrayal' by the State upon an increasingly sacralized landscape. Among Tamil Hindus, notions of divine justice have become fused with possessive and sometimes violent imaginaries. Tamil notions of divine justice are revealed to be a form of compensation, albeit one grounded in a growing victim's narrative. Through my interlocutors and collaborators, I have come to critique the Law, as mutually understood through the ethnographic encounter. At the same time, I have strategically utilized empathy in the face of great hospitality, whilst recoiling, at times, from the implications that accompany calls of justice. I conclude with a meditation upon the ethics of critique by suggesting the ethnographic betrayal is both painful and necessary.

ISSN 2196-6893

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