Sri Lanka: History and the Roots of Conflict
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Where did they come from and when? The original inhabitants of Sri Lanka were the Veddas, who are now concentrated in central hill region of the island. A few centuries later, Buddhism was also brought in from India by missionaries sent by Ashoka, the Mauryan emperor. The religion flowered around Anuradhapura kingdom from circa BC to circa AD and Polonnaruwa from about to The Tamil speaking population of Sri Lanka form two distinct groups. The ancestors of this group were brought from India by the British to work on plantations in the central hills. Like most other conflicts of South Asia, the origins of this rift can be traced backed to colonial times.
The Sinhalese say Tamils received preferential treatment under British rule and point to the disproportionate number of Sri Lankan Tamil civil servants, doctors and lawyers at the time of independence. Correspondence filed in London's British Library gives credence to this claim.
The principal one was the large number of affordable English-language missionary schools set up in Jaffna and other Tamil areas in the north. Students from these schools were much better equipped for university admissions than those from Sinhala schools. Was there always a demand for a separate Tamil homeland? Initially, the Tamils did not demand a separate homeland. Tamil leaders then felt that a separate state was the only solution available.
This move was driven by the educated, unemployed youth who felt that the Sinhalese-dominated government would never accede to their demands. Over the next few months, the entire TELO leadership and several hundred volunteers were hunted down, and the group ceased to be a potent force. Keenan, A. In: State of Human Rights Kleinfeld, M. Kois, L. WPF Report Peiris G.
Ethnic Studies Report , 19 1 : 1— Google Scholar. Silva, C. Wickremasinghe, S. Personalised recommendations. As he knew many of the prominent figures personally and actively participated in much of the history, his memoir is a valuable resource in analyzing the causes of the separatist conflict. Historical Factors There were multiple, overlapping factors which led to the abandonment of the Sri Lankan state by the Tamils.
However, the colonization of the Tamil homeland by Sinhalese settlers and the use of violence by the state against the minority also contributed to the demand for secession and cannot be left out of the analysis.
Under British colonial rule, the strategy of divide and rule was implemented to exacerbate differences between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority. The British would privilege a minority group with better education and government employment. This way, the majority group that was being discriminated against would direct their grievances towards their ethnic counterparts instead of the British colonizers. In the Sri Lankan case, the location of more Christian missionaries in the North meant that Tamils had more access to an English education, which was paramount to gaining employment in the civil service.
As the 20 th century progressed and more of the population became enfranchised, the Tamils began to see their political dominance fade. However, they remained dominant in the universities and the business sector. The Tamil domination would later be used as a major justification for the Sinhalese preferential policies, which attempted to reverse these positions. Therefore, the colonial circumstance laid the groundwork for the eventual Sinhalese domination and cannot be ignored as one of the preconditions leading to the secessionist movement.
At the time of independence, one crucial mistake was made: the Tamil and Sinhalese elites failed to amend the political set-up of the new state to prevent complete domination by an ethnic majority. In , universal suffrage had been granted to Sri Lanka. Although it was supposed to provide a check against majority domination, this changed soon after independence: one of the first laws passed by the new administration was to remove the vote from almost all Indian Tamils living in Sri Lanka, guaranteeing that the Sinhalese could achieve the two-thirds majority needed to enact constitutional changes without the minority vote.
Historical context: Accord Sri Lanka | Conciliation Resources
Navaratnam is extremely critical of the Tamil leadership at this crucial moment, stating that,. The record of the Tamil leadership of this period stands out as the most shameful performance of the century…At a time when the highest calibre of statesmanship and the most unselfish devotion to the interests of the people at large was called for this inane leadership only looked after their own interests and those of their class. He goes on to chastise the Tamil leadership for trusting the Sinhalese instead of ensuring Tamil representation.
Tamil elites trusting the Sinhalese government would become a recurrent theme in Tamil-Sinhalese relations, and would lead to the eventual distrust of both the Sri Lankan political system and the Tamil political parties as means to achieving any worthy ends. The failure to realize that these institutions would not guarantee the safety of the Tamil people allowed for thirty years of Sinhalese domination and continued subordination of the Tamil minority. Sinhalese political domination is the root cause of the ensuing developments and the eventual Tamil demand for secession.
One development that resulted from this Sinhalese domination was the Sinhala Only Movement. Prior to independence, Swabasha self-language referred to the switch from English to both Tamil and Sinhalese at the time of independence. Up until independence, party politics had not taken hold so the Sinhalese elites saw no reason not to co-operate with their Tamil counterparts. However, there was increasing resentment from the Sinhalese population regarding the inclusion of Tamil as a national language. The Sinhalese, who were far behind the Tamils in university enrolment and government employment, began to mobilize to demand preferential language policies to counter this inequality.
With the upcoming election and the need to secure the Sinhalese vote, Sinhala party leaders now began adopting the Sinhala Only Act as their platform. The election and the adoption of the Sinhala Only Movement also marked the beginning of ethnic outbidding in Sri Lankan party politics. They encouraged Tamils outside of their constituencies to vote for Mrs. Bandaranaike, solidifying her majority in government. Bandaranaike cavalierly disregarded the unwritten promises made to the Federal Party FP leaders.
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While 30 percent of the Ceylon Administration Service, 50 percent of the clerical service, 60 percent of the engineers and doctors, 40 percent of the armed forces, and 40 percent of the labour force in …By , they had plummeted to 5 percent, 5 percent, 10 percent, 1 percent, and 5 percent respectively. The Sinhala Only movement also bled into other forms of Tamil subordination, such as the colonization of the Tamil homeland, discussed below. Colonization of the Northern and Eastern provinces was another way in which the Sinhala government pushed for cultural assimilation while completely neglecting the needs of the Tamil people.
The resettlement scheme had two aims: firstly, to decrease the voting strength of the Tamil people in these areas; secondly, to delegitimize Tamil claims that these were their traditional homelands where they had a significant majority. Before the demand for secession was made, the Tamil leadership tried on numerous occasions to work through the government to achieve its goals.
On all these occasions, although promises of parity and protection were often made to the Tamil people, their demands were ultimately ignored. In the mids, the FP, then lead by Chelvanayakam, made demands for a federal structure, linguistic parity, the end to Sinhalese colonization, and the re-enfranchisement of the Tamil Indians. The initial result of these demands was a compromise reached between the FP and the MEP known as the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact BC Pact , which saw the FP making large sacrifices in its demands in order to work peacefully with the government.
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First, the provisions laid out in it were wholly inadequate. Moreover, although it did not infringe upon Sinhalese rights at all, it still led to the assassination of Bandaranaike by Sinhalese monks.
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The election confirmed that attempting to work through government institutions was futile for gaining Tamil rights and protections. Similarly to the BC Pact, no mention of secession or separatism was made by the FP, which still hoped to work within the Sri Lankan government. Not surprisingly, the DC Pact, like its predecessor, was abandoned due to pressure from the Sinhalese majority.
Prior to the extreme violence and terrorism of the LTTE in their fight for Tamil Eelam, the Tamil people attempted to use non-violent protest to achieve their political goals. Satyagraha non-violent campaigns were mainly espoused by Chelvanayakam, who hoped to emulate the successes of Ghandi in India.
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This was met with immediate violence from Sinhalese. The irony here is that it is hard to pinpoint exactly what the Sinhalese were rioting over, for it was the Tamil language that had just been suppressed by law. What was even more disturbing was the conduct of the security forces, who were accused of allowing for much of the violence to occur and of being partial to the Sinhalese rioters.
When the Sinhala Only Act took effect in , the second major satyagraha campaign commenced. The Sinhalese-Tamil divide had become so sharp that the government and military, which are meant to protect their citizens impartially, had taken to defending the Sinhalese while showing no regard at all for the lives and livelihood of the Tamil people.
This also led the Tamil people to reject non-violence as a useful means to their political goals:.
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Tamils had become especially convinced that resorting to satyagraha was meaningless against successive Sinhalese governments that did not respect fundamental civil liberties, displayed no qualms about using violence to suppress peaceful protest, and were determined to create a Sinhalese ethnocracy.