The socio-historical relationship between the state and unfree labour systems creates space to analyze the ways in which unfree labour is reproduced across temporal periods. In 19th century Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka), unfree labour begins as a distinctly colonial project, seeking to manipulate an indentured Indian Tamil workforce for agricultural tea yields. Such a process involved high levels of colonial manipulation, which was made possible through illiberal gender dynamics, class structures, racial constructions, and religious affiliations. While contemporary society generally challenges such notions, Sri Lanka curiously continues to employ such practices on tea plantation estates in modernity. In particularly, the continuity of a gendered labour division in plantation communities remains as commonplace today as it was at the system’s inception in the mid-1800s. This paper examines the concept of nostalgia and the ways in which unfree labour systems have been reproduced even beyond its colonial inception. In analyzing Sri Lanka’s trajectory and cyclical return to gendered and unfree labour, one can appreciate the how the contemporary state maintains unfree systems for the benefit of the state. The analysis concludes that, while it may be economically advantageous for states Sri Lanka to maintain this nostalgic link to unfree and gendered labour systems, the social implications of these illiberal policies remain overwhelmingly detrimental for the rights and well-being of its citizens.

Published: 2024-02-28