Caste: A Global on Social Exclusion Call for Submissions for an issue with a focus on Sri Lanka


Deadlines for Submissions: Abstract: June 15, 2024 /// Full Paper: September 30, 2024


Compared to the expanding body of literature on caste in the Indian subcontinent, caste in Sri Lanka has received only sporadic academic attention and has been largely ignored in policy debates and social development interventions on the island. This can partially be explained by a widespread, public belief in Sri Lanka that despite its past importance, caste is no longer a vital social institution. While open discussion on the topic is largely absent, this does not mean that caste is dead or dying. Rather, caste remains hidden in much of Sri Lankan social life (Jiggins 1979; Silva, Sivapragasam, & Thanges 2009a). Reports from the north and east of the country indicate a certain resurgence of caste issues in post-war society, and new research findings suggest that caste plays a role in social, economic, and political dynamics that affect access to limited resources such as land, drinking water, employment, and political power (Thanges 2015; Hashmi and Kuganathan 2017; Kadirgamar 2019; Silva 2020; Tiruchandran 2021). Caste also continues to play an important role in the social life of south and central Sri Lanka through marriage partner selection, land tenure, temple rituals, politics, economic relations, and the performing arts (Silva, Sivapragasam, & Thanges 2009b; Reed 2010). Recent dissertation work, particularly in overseas universities, suggests that a body of new Sri Lankan caste-related evidence is just on the horizon (Räsänen 2015; Aimee 2017; Thanges 2018; Balmforth 2020; Esler 2020; Pathmanesan 2020).

Despite being a significant characteristic in the lives of Sri Lankans and a key factor in continuing social inequality, policy makers and civil society leaders have no municipal, district, or national caste data with which to work. Unlike in India, caste information is not collected as part of the state’s decennial census or in any other official social survey. This makes it exceptionally difficult to identify the role of caste in poverty assessments of land ownership, unemployment, migration patterns, and social mobility, and undermines efforts for governmental and civil society remedies.

Against this background, the guest co-editors of this issue seek 6000-8000 word contributions from across the humanities and social sciences that inform the study of caste in Sri Lanka and its diaspora. We hope to create a forum for scholars and social activists to engage and learn from one another. The following research prompts should be considered a guide for the type of research we solicit:

  1. In what ways might Sri Lanka confirm or challenge conceptualizations of caste largely based on India-centric research?
  2. How can environmental, transnational, religious, political, and economic history (e.g., Pieris 1956; Arasaratnam 1981; Roberts 1984; Rogers 2004; Wickramasinghe 2020) inform our understanding of caste on the island?
  3. How have state actions, policies, and law—from public health initiatives and universal free education to anti-discrimination legislation—impacted caste in Sri Lanka? How might future action, policy, and law promote caste equity?
  4. From the Federal Party to the Sarvodaya Movement, how have diverse political parties, unions, revolutionary and militant organizations, or civil society actors leveraged, addressed, and/or challenged caste inequality?
  5. How do gender and masculinity intersect with or mediate caste?
  6. How have the arts, including but not limited to fiction, cinema and theatre, been mobilized to reflect upon caste-based grievances and inter- and intra-caste relations?
  7. Climate change and natural disasters are increasingly impacting Sri Lanka. Oppressed-caste communities are facing multiplying risks, beginning with inadequate housing in hazardous environments. How can we assess and mitigate these risks?
  8. How can new technologies (AI, GIS, big data, social media, etc.) enable novel insights into caste and caste-based inequality? How can these same tools articulate caste prejudices or grievances?
  9. What is the role of caste in the Sri Lankan diaspora and how does it intersect with other recent social justice activity, such as Aragalaya, International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), Black Lives Matter, Rhodes Must Fall, #MeToo, and Justice for Palestine?

Contributions relating to other aspects of caste in Sri Lanka or among the Sri Lankan diaspora will also be welcome, provided they have a suitable analytical framework and an empirical foundation.

For consideration, please send an abstract (250 words) and a brief biographical statement (100 words) to and by 15 June, 2024. Selected proposals will be notified by 25 June. Final publication decisions will be subject to double-blind peer review.

Guest Editors

Dr. Kalinga Tudor Silva

Professor Emeritus, University of Peradeniya

Dr. Mark E. Balmforth

Visiting Scholar, McGill University


Publication Schedule

6 May 2024: Call released

15 June 2024: Abstract (250 words) and a brief bio deadline

25 June 2024: Selection of abstracts and communication to applicants

30 September 2024: Submission of full paper (roughly 6000-8000 words)

October 2024–December 2024: Peer reviews and revisions

31 January 2025: Revision return deadline

February 2025–March 2025: Typesetting and proof review

April 2025: Publication

NB: Opportunities for virtual and in-person panels (e.g., at the Annual Conference on South Asia at UW-Madison) may be encouraged as part of the publication process.


Aimee, C.D. (2017). Caste in the Same Mold Again: Artisans and the Indigeneities of Inheritance in Sri Lanka. PhD thesis in Anthropology, Cornell University

Arasaratnam, S. (1981). “Social History of a Dominant Caste Society: The Vellalar of North Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the 18th Century.” The Indian Economic and Social History Review 18(3–4): 377–391.

Balmforth, Mark E. (2020). Schooling the Master: Caste Supremacy and American Education in British Ceylon, 1795–1855. Ph.D thesis, Columbia University.

Esler, Dominic (2020). Under the Giant’s Tank: Village, Caste, and Catholicism in Postwar Sri Lanka. Ph.D thesis, University College London.

Hashmi, Z. and Kuganathan, P. (2017). “Caste in a Tamil Family: On Purity and Pollution in Post-War Jaffna.” Economic and Political Weekly 52(21): 15-18.

Jiggins, Janice (1979). Caste and Family in the Politics of the Sinhalese. Cambridge: CUP.

Kadirgamar, Ahilan (2019, April 1). “Inequality and its Persistence in Jaffna.” Daily Mirror.

Pathamanesan, S. (2020). Village-Temple Consciousness in Two Jaffna Tamil Villages in Post-War Sri Lanka. Lexington: University of Kentucky, PhD thesis.

Pieris, Ralph (1956). Sinhalese Social Organization: the Kandyan Period. Colombo: University of Ceylon Press.

Räsänen, B. J. (2015). Caste and Nation-building: Constructing Vellalah Identity in Jaffna. Gothenburg: University of Gothenburg, PhD thesis.

Roberts, Michael (1984). Caste Conflict and Elite Formation: The Rise of Karawa Elite in Sri Lanka. Cambridge: CUP.

Rogers, John D. (2004). “Caste as a Social Category and Identity in Colonial Lanka,” The Indian Economic and Social History Review 41(1): 51-77.

Reed, Susan A. (2010). Dance and the Nation: Performance, Ritual and Politics in Sri Lanka. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Silva, K.T. (2020). “Nationalism, Caste-Blindness, and the Continuing Problems of War-Displaced Panchamars in Post-War Jaffna Society.” Caste: A Global Journal on Social Exclusion 1(1): 51–70.

Silva, K.T., Sivapragasam, P.P. & Thanges, P. (eds) (2009a). Casteless or Caste-Blind? Dynamics of Concealed Caste Discrimination, Social Exclusion and Protest in Sri Lanka. Colombo: Kumaran Press.

Silva, K.T., Sivapragasam, P.P. & Thanges, P. (eds) (2009b). Caste Discrimination and Social Justice in Sri Lanka: an Overview. New Delhi: Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, 2009.

Thanges, P. (2015, December 8) “Caste and Camp People in Jaffna: Land Ownership and Landlessness.” Colombo Telegraph.

Thiruchandran, Selvy (2021). Caste and its Multiple Manifestations: A Study of Caste System in Northern Sri Lanka. Colombo: Bay Owl Press, 2021.

Wickramasinghe, Nira. (2020). Slave in a Palanquin: Colonial Servitude and Resistance in Sri Lanka. New York: Columbia University Press.