"Ain't I am man!?" Razwi exclaimed in frustration one day at the railway station rickshaw in Jaffna. “I am not a bomb! Not a terrorist!” he continued. The subsequent conversation among drivers, sitting in the open space of the rickshaw stand just outside, was an insightful, pained examination of their marginalization as low-caste, low-class (and in Razwi’s case Muslim) young Tamil men in postwar Jaffna, a town much altered by the history of Sri Lanka’s 35-year civil war. In this paper, I follow bell hooks and other feminists of color in examining multiple forms of social hierarchy as they intersect in the lives of a group auto-rickshaw drivers in Jaffna, Sri Lanka.
Drawing on 12 months of ethnographic research conducted in 2016 and 2018, I argue that these men are conscious of the many misperceptions of them and endeavour to manage, and in some cases counter, the stereotypes which are rhetorically and politically used to justify increasingly burdensome regulations. At the core of these efforts are common notions of Tamil manliness that drivers attempt to leverage toward greater respectability and, therefore, economic opportunity. These performances of respectable masculinity are both embodied and, in a regionally-specific practice, inscribed on their rickshaws. This paper examines these practices of embodying and inscribing respectable masculine identities, arguing that drivers are keenly attuned to the affective and political contours of the postwar moment. This attunement, in turn, allows them to successfully navigate, and occassionaly resist, state and non-state efforts to regulate their lives and livelihoods.