by Sanath Nanayakkare
Adopting a new post-war approach, the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora has generated an unconventional model for matrimonial partnerships between local girls and young men working and living overseas, the Island Financial Review learns.
“Diaspora bridegrooms are adopting a new post-war approach by passing previous caste, class and wealth stratifications defining an entirely new arrangement for dowry and marriage,” Dr. Kopalapillai Amirthalingam, senior lecturer, Department of Economics, Colombo University revealed last week at a forum held at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) in Colombo.
“They write home to tell their parents and relatives that all they care for is a beautiful young woman for marriage and that they have no other concerns”, Dr. Amirthalingam told the audience on a lighter note.
“This trend has meant new opportunities for girls, including those without dowry, and bonuses for their families due to the migration opportunities for the bride’s siblings and the steady flow of remittances to the parents,” he said.
Taking an unthinkable leap from what it used to be in the North decades ago and transcending the deep-rooted norms of tradition, these young people who have acquired professional qualifications and decent means of income overseas seek nothing but beauty from their potential life-partners.
Dr. Amirthalingam has co-conducted a study to examine the impact of displacement caused by both the civil war and the 2004 tsunami – on Sri Lanka’s dowry systems – and the subsequent consequences for women’s livelihoods, family life and social traditions.
“While there are existing studies on displacement, gender and dowry systems in Sri Lanka, to the best of our knowledge, there are no studies examining the impact of displacement on dowries in Sri Lanka. This study is an attempt to shed light on this subject”, he explained.
Speaking on the findings of the study, he said,” Displacement, whether due to conflict, natural disasters or development, not only directly and negatively affects those who are displaced, but also can have far-reaching effects on the culture and society as a whole”.
“Displacement caused by both the 30-year conflict which began in the early 1980s and by the 2004 tsunami has directly impacted the dowry system. Additionally, women affected by these events have experienced profound cultural and social disruption. Women lost family members, houses, valuables and livelihoods – all of which constrained the ways in which they were able to plan for the future. Displacement has affected almost every aspect of women’s lives, ranging from identity and status to security and well-being”.
“Cultural and social systems are not static. Sri Lankan women are increasingly becoming more educated and are entering the workforce in greater numbers. On the one hand, they are questioning archaic practices that are misaligned with contemporary social, economic and political transformations. On the other hand, different forms of dowry are emerging and young girls and boys are beginning to reshape the institution”.
Dr. Amirthalingam’s study on “The Impact of Displacement on Dowries in Sri Lanka’ is accessible via the Internet.