Tamils and the Haunting of Justice: History and Recognition in Malaysia's Plantations

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By Andrew C. Willford

This compelling book explores the dilemma faced by Malaysian Tamils as they confront the moment when the plantation system where they have lived and worked for generations finally collapses. The old, long-term community-based model of rubber plantation production introduced by British and French companies in colonial Malaya has been replaced by a model based upon migrant labor, mechanization, and a gradual contraction of the plantation economy. Tamils find themselves increasingly resentful of the fact that lands that were developed and populated by their ancestors are now claimed by Malays as their own.


"This is a timely study that engages directly with non-Malay sentiment about racial politics and development in a country that many see as becoming more polarised."
Tan Chee-Beng, Sun Yat-sen University


"...the story of how economic dispossession becomes conjugated with ethnic and religious marginalisation is a timely one."
Sarah Besky, Brown University

"This is a brave, often brilliant book, with an incomparable set of insights to offer into the current state of ethnic politics in Malaysia. These insights are relevant to an analysis of all those places around the world where ethno-nationalism and religious revival are emerging in response to the failure of promised democratic inclusion."
Rosalind Morris

"An engaging, haunting, and deeply nuanced account of the force and caprice of law, the violence of order and erasure, and the exceedingly thin line between racialized developmentalism and ethnic cleansing. At once passionate, provocative, and disturbing, Andrew Willford's newest book is a most welcome addition to the ethnographic literature on everyday forms of violence and discrimination, postcolonial social suffering, and the Malaysian Indian experience in particular."
Michael G. Peletz


Andrew C. Willford is associate professor of Anthropology at Cornell University. He is also the author of Cage of Freedom: Tamil Identity and the Ethnic Fetish in Malaysia.


Publication Year: 2015
336 pages, 229mm x 152mm
ISBN: 978-9971-69-839-3, Paperback

NUS Press