Sri Lanka

By Brian Le and Nathan May

Brief Historical Background

Sri Lanka is a country of 20.5 million inhabitants, the country is an island off of the Indian coast. The island used to be under British colonial rule and was known as Ceylon. Around 550 B.C. an ethnic group called the Sinhalese migrated to Southern Sri Lanka from Northern India. This group eventually adopted Buddhism and Sri Lanka became one of the world’s main hubs for the religion. They speak an Indo-European Indo-Iranian language called Sinhalese. Around 200 B.C. another group came to Sri Lanka, the Tamils. This group migrated across the 50 mile wide Palk Strait from India to Northern Sri Lanka. The Tamils are mostly Hindu and their language is part of the Dravidian family. Today the Sinhalese make up about 75% of Sri Lanka’s population and the Tamils make up about 18%. For 2000 years there has been tension and conflict between these two groups, but it was subdued during the island’s 300 years under European control. The country gained independence from Britain in 1948 and conflict arose again. Since the Tamils were a minority, the government was ruled by Sinhalese and Tamils felt they weren't being heard. Tamils felt outraged when the Sri Lankan prime minister declared Sinhalese the official language of the land. Civil unrest began to grow, and the prime minister was assassinated. As the conflict grew more and more it eventually broke out into a deadly civil war in 1983. The Sinhalese won the war in 2009.

Sri Lankan Civil War

Monday, July 23rd 198 at 9pm to Monday, May 18th 2009 at 4:30pm

Sri Lanka

Spatial Extent of Ethnic Conflict

Being a civil war, it’s pretty well contained in Sri Lanka. To add to that, Sri Lanka is an island which meant that bordering countries were of no concern. Mainly each side was ambushed by the other and, in the LTTE's case, they used an abundance of suicide attacks - over 370 which is more than any other organization's suicide attack count. However, the country’s suffering economy has an impact on India, nearby countries, and other trade partners. It’s worth mention that India became involved with the conflict in the 80s. Throughout the conflict India helped each side of the battle in different ways (i.e. India sent food to the Tamils and troops to the Sinhalese, etc.).

Conflict Over Different Scales

Globally this affects everyone that is involved with trade with Sri Lanka, as the country is in deep debt from the war - especially India.. Regionally the broken economy is also a problem. Also, India's involvement has caused a lot of controversy because even though they meant to stay impartial and help both sides, it only prolonged the war by constantly giving supplies to the rebels (25 tons) while giving entire platoons to the Sri Lankan army. Socially and culturally this also causes obvious huge divides and hostility that still continue today, methods such as torture and terrorism were used which causes for unrest and fear among the people. Newspapers and protesters in various Buddhist countries as well as America raised protests against the genocides that happened.


~1500's - Sri Lanka colonised by Portuguese

~1936 - English became the national language

~1944 - Sinhala replaced English, giving the English speaking Tamils a huge disadvantage in terms of respect, career choice, and reputation.

~1948 - Sri Lanka gains independence: Ceylon Citizenship Act made citizenship impossible for Tamils to achieve after the Anti-Tamil legislation passed it

~1950's - Tension begins to boil exponentially between the ethnicities

~1958 - Anti-Tamil riots broke out when Tamils were driven away from the south.

~1959 - Buddhist monk assassinates Sinhalese S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike causing a violent uproar of uprising tension.

~1970’s - Tamil makes fighting army to pursue being separate state (LTTE). Army performs riots, raids on military convoys, attacks, etc.

~1983 - War starts after guerilla warfare

~1983 - 2009 - War between the Tamil Tigers and the Sinhalese

~2003 - Talks of peace begin to break down

~2006 - After extensive violence starts escalating, both the Tamil Tigers and the Sinhalese agree to reaffirm ceasefire.

~2009 - War ends after treaty

What form does the conflict take and how does it impact the ethnic group(s)?

Open violence - originally, the attacks started out as guerilla warfare until it broke out into all out war. The Tamil’s state started their own Militia as well as had several platoons. Both sides had support from the different states of India and the Indian Army. Sri Lanka had the actual army whereas the Tamil had food supplies and packages. The 26 year long war ended up with around 25,000 deaths on each side as well as 60,000 wounded on the Sri Lankan Armed Forces side. There were an an estimated 80,000–100,000 people killed during the course of the civil war

The Reconstruction of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: Reconciling and Rebuilding