The Sri Lankan Civil War

Sri Lanka is a free, independent and sovereign nation. Unfortunately, it has been plagued with the longest and most publicised civil war, having been caught in civil war that has gone on for decades between the Sri Lankan government and LTTE. Sri Lanka gained independence from the British Empire on January 4, 1948. Ever since its independence, the conflict between the majority Sinhala speaking Buddhists and minority Tamil speaking Hindus has been an essential part of its existence.

This conflict has come to affect people from all walks of life, rendering over a million homeless and impeding the nation’s growth and economic development. And due to the war, the government has spent a large part of the GDP on defense.

Sinhalese are mostly found in the country’s south, west, centre and east. Tamils are mostly settled in the north and east of the country. The British had brought in Tamil labourers to work on coffee and tea plantations which made the island a major tea producer. The majority Sinhalese community resented this favouritism towards Hindu Tamils under British administration. Sinhala Buddhists claim that Tamils under the British received special and preferential treatment and this could be seen in a large number of schools. Tamils dominated the civil service as they had better access to higher education and therefore dominated the law enforcement agencies and medical and scientific fields.

The Sinhala Act of 1956 restricted many government jobs to Sinhala speakers. It also made changes in university admission rules which reduced the number of Tamils entering the portals of higher educational institutes. The Tamils felt that these anti-Tamil measures by Sinhala government were discriminating and were leading to Tamils being reduced to second-class citizens. The new law led to large scale violence between Tamils and Sinhala-speaking population. The ethnic violence shook the government so much so, that it entered into a pact with the main party of Tamils. B-C Pact provided equal status to Sinhala and Tamil languages. It released greater powers to the local provincial councils in the Tamil dominated north and the east of the country. However, in 1972, the Sri Lankan Constitution made Sinhala the only language and declared that the state would give Buddhism the foremost place. A trade union called the Jatiya Sevaka Sangamaya added fuel to the anti-Tamil sentiment among the sinhala speakers by accusing the Tamils of controlling trade and commerce.

The demand for a separate Tamil homeland called Tamil Eelam was first made by the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in 1976. In the 1970s and 1980s, there were a number of Tamil resistance groups which were waging an underground war against the Sri Lankan government. The LTTE is the pioneer of the most dangerous method of violence i.e. suicide bombing. Suicide bombers are motivated cadres who tie explosives to their bodies and blow themselves up in the targeted place. This has led the Human Rights organisation to accuse the LTTE of committing human rights violation. In the rebel held territory, the LTTE carries out attacks against the Sinhalese and Muslims regularly.

The plight of the Sri Lankan Tamils has become an emotional issue for the people of Tamil Nadu in India as well. In 1980s, the Sri Lankan government made overtures to China and Pakistan. The Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord was signed by Rajiv Gandhi and the then Sri Lankan president J.R.Jayawardene on 29 July 1987. And then in February 2002, the Sri Lankan government and LTTE signed a Norway brokered permanent ceasefire agreement which called for de-commissioning of weapons of the rebels and lifting of ban on LTTE by the government. As a result, LTTE gave up their demand for a separate state. Now, the Sri Lankan government has promised to usher in lasting peace. Its search for a peaceful solution to decades-long running conflict would only bear fruit when it takes all parties on the path of national reconciliation.

Ashima Mathur

[Image Source:]