Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Apr 28 13:41:05 UTC 2007

        DRAVIDA PERAVAI April 27, 2007

  Brief History of Ethnic Conflict

  It is virtually impossible to set a date for the genesis of Tamil
militancy in Sri Lanka. Tamils began weaving dreams of an independent
homeland much before militancy erupted, albeit in an embryonic form, in
the late 1960s and early 1970s. After 1956 riots, a group of Tamils
organized and opened fire at the Sri Lankan army in Batticaloa. Two
Sinhalese were killed when 11 Tamils, having between them seven rifles,
fired at a convoy of Sinhalese civilians and government officials one
night at a village near Kalmunai. There was another attack on army
soldiers in Jaffna after Colombo stifled the Federal Party satyagraha in
1961, but no one was killed.The failure of the 1961 satyagraha set several
of its leading lights thinking. Mahatma Gandhi, they argued, succeeded in
India with his concept of non-violence and non-cooperation because he was
leading a majority agains a minority, however powerful; whereas in Sri
Lanka, the Tamils were a minority seeking rights from a majority. And the
majority was not willing to give concessions.

Some of 20 men associated with the Federal Party thought Gandhisam had no
place in such a separate state. Most of them were civil servants and had
been influenced by Leion Uris Exodus. At a meeting in Colombo, they
christened their group Pulip Padai (Army of Tigers). On August 12, 1961,
the Pulip Padai members converged at the historic Koneswaran Temple in the
eastern port of town of Trincomalee and, standing in its holy precincts
facing the sea took a solemn oath to fight for a Tamil homeland. Pulip
Padai immediately got into the act, putting out leaflets and pamphlets
printed clandestinely, advocating militancy. A student wing called the
Manavar Manram (students council) was set up in 1963. Two Federal Party
leaders the Pulip Padai strongly backed were Amirthalingam and V.N.
Navaratnam (chavakachcheri MP).

The 1965 decision of the Federal Party to support the UNP government broke
up the Pulip Padai and it eventually withered away. But many of its
activists remained strongly committed to the concept of an independent
nation. Two of them were A. Rajaratnam and Sivagnanasundaram. Rajaratnam
died in 1975 in Madras of asthma. Sivagnanasundaram became the staunch
supporter of the LTTE. He was killed in Jaffna in 1988 by the EPRLF. In
1969, Thangathurai and Kuttimani and a few friends gathered in Jaffna to
form an informal group that the former wanted to name the Tamil Liberation
Organization (TLO). A college professors house at Point Pedro, in Jaffna,
was a regular meeting point for the group. It included among others Periya
(big) Sothi, Chinna (small) Sothi, Chetti, Kannadi (a radio mechanic), Sri
Sabaratnam (TELO leader) and V.Prabhakaran (LTTE supremo).  One man who
drifted by but broke away to chart an independent course was Ponnudorai
Sivakumaran, who was to become one of the first martyrs to the Tamil

In April, 1971, Thangathurai, known as mama (uncle) and some 15 others
were making explosives at the Thondamanaru high school when a bomb went
off, seriously injuring Chinna Sothi. The next year, a similar blast
occurred, causing burn injuries to Thangathurai, Chinna Sothi, Prabhakaran
and V. Nadesuthasan. Earlier, in 1970, Ponnudorai Satyaseelan founded the
Tamil Manavar Peravai (Tamil Students League), which was joined by
Sivakumaran. Bandaranaike had in the meanwhile begun to take a hard line
towards Tamils, cutting off foreign exchange for Tamil students going to
India for higher studies, banning the import of Tamils films, books and
Magazines from Tamil Nadu, and proscribing the small Dravida Munnetra
Kazhagam (DMK)  party in Jaffna. Sivakumaran attempted to assassinate Sri
Lankan deputy minister for Cultural Affairs Somaweera Chandrasiri in
September 1970 and Alfred Duraiyappah, the Jaffna Mayor, in February 1971.

The formation of TUF in 1972 led to the Tamil Elaingyar Peravai (TYL-Tamil
Youth League) in January 1973. It was founded by some 40 youths, many of
whom subsequently were in the forefront militant movement. The TYL drew
support from Thangathurai, the TLO leader. Satyaseelans arrest in February
1973 set off the second round of mass arrests in Jaffna and virtually
crippled the TYL as well as the older Tamil Students League. Several young
men languished in prison until 1977, although some gained amnesty on the
eve of the Kankesanthurai by-election in 1975. By then two developments
had occurred in the Indian subcontinent which had a bearing on the Tamils.
One was the JVP insurrection which was stamped out. The second was the
India Pakistan war which led to the birth of Bangladesh. Both events took
place in 1971. The JVP was never popular among Tamils, although it did
have marginal support in Jaffna.

In 1973, the Sri Lankan navy seized a boat belonging to Kuttimani filled
with dynamite. Kuttimani fled to India, but was arrested and deported from
Tamil Nadu to face a Sri Lankan prison sentence. Tamil Nadu was then
governed by M. Karunanithi's DMK party. Jaffna witnessed its first case of
death by cyanide poisoning the next year. Sivakumaran had been lying low
for a while, but took an active interest in the 1974 International Tamil
Conference in Jaffna. He had been influenced by his parents pro-Federal
Party views. He studied at Urumpirai Hindu College which was to several
recruits to the Eelam campaign-up to the advanced level, majoring in
Chemistry. He is the only one among the Tamils of that era who is
remembered fondly by everyone.

He was a very sensitive person. He believed that despite the need for
militancy, the Federal Party was important and often compared
Chelvanayagam with Mahatma Gandhi and the boys with Subash Chandra Bose.
He was a restless character. He would discuss all night, emphasizing the
need for an armed struggle. Since breaking off from Thangathurai,
Sivakumaran had set up his group, which came to be known as the
Sivakumarans group. The 1972 & 1973 mass arrests had slowed down his pace.
His contemporaries say he was a shattered man after the Tamil Conference
fiasco. He had worked for its success, and it pained him that nine people
died for no fault of theirs.  Since then he had passionately advocated
vengeance-against Duraiyappah, the Mayor, and a Sinhalese police officer
he held responsible for the deaths.

On June 5, 1974, Sivakumaran was trapped by the police while attempting a
bank robbery in Jaffnas Kopai town. He was 17 years of age and knowing
about police torture if he were caught, he used to carry a cyanide pill.
On that day he swallowed it without so much as an afterthought and died
almost instantly. Thus was born Sri Lanka's cyanide culture. Hundreds
thronged Sivakumaran's funeral. All shops in Jaffna downed their shutters
in mourning and hundreds of pamphlets were distributed in the town and its
outskirts, eulogizing the martyr as Eelams Bhagat Singh. At the funeral,
several TYL members slashed their fingers and with the blood that dripped
placed dots on their foreheads, pledging collectively to continue the
fight for an independent state. Tamils later put up a bronze statue
outside Jaffna in the memory of the young man-it showed a defiant youth,
his clinched fist outstretched and dangling a broken chain.

Formation of Tamil New Tigers 1970s

In 1974, Jaffna engulfed in protests when Bandaranike visited the town to
open a university campus. The Mayor, Duraiyappah did his best to bring
crowds to her meeting. The visit was preceded be several acts of violence
which the police blamed on the newly-formed Tamil New Tigers (TNT) of
Prabhakaran. Bombs were thrown at a police jeep in Kankesanthurai, a port
town. Another bomb went off at the residence of a communist leader who was
to be the premiers interpreter and some more incidents. The first
successful robbery blamed on Tamil militants took place in 1974 when
91,000 rupees was taken away from the Multipurpose Cooperative Society to
Tellipallai. Tamil source said Chetti and one of his cousins were among
the responsible for the robbery, while one published account attributed
the raid to Prabhakaran. Around the same time Chetti slipped to Tamil Nadu
and teamed up with a crowd from Valvettithurai that was camping in Salem.

By the start of 1975, general strikes and other forms of protests were the
order of the day in Jaffna. Time and again police cracked down on
suspected militants whose number was slowly on the upswing. In January
1975, several TYL members released from Colombo prisons on the eve of the
Kankesanthurai by-election returned to Jaffna to heroes welcome. Dozens of
youths campaigned for the aging Chelvanayagam, who was contesting the
polls, not because they argued with his politics of moderation but wanted
him to win to prove that Tamils no longer desired a federation with Sri

Two underground groups were active in 1975. The Thangathurai group,
benefit of Kuttimani, and the TNT, which in informed circles came to be
known as the Prabhakarans group. Both enjoyed the tacit blessings of
Amirthalingam. In January 1975, a group of Sri Lankan Tamils residing in
London formed the Eelam Revolutionary Organizers, which took the acronym
EROS. Although it failed to take roots in Sri Lankan Tamils areas for a
long time, it played a key role in shaping the growth of militancy.

The Duraiyappah assassination was the first political murder in Sri
Lankans northeast. Chelvanayagams election victory had queered the pitch
for the Eelam campaign. Although the sickly Tamil leader was a Gandhian by
faith, neither afford to criticize the murder. The number of militants in
Jaffna then could not have been more than 50. The popular perception among
the ordinary Tamils was that the boys, as the young guerrillas were called
with adoration, were acting under the orders, if not the control, of the
TUF and that they could and would be caged if need be.

On March 5, 1976 Prabhakaran led a raid on the state run Peoples Bank at
Puttur and escaped with a half a million rupees in cash and jewellery
worth of 200,000 rupees after holding the employees at gun point. It was
the first successful bank robbery in Jaffna. Prabhakaran founded the LTTE
on May 5, 1976. Barely 10 days later, the TUF held its first convention at
Pannakam, Amirthalingams birth place. On May 14, 1976, exactly four years
after the TUFs formation, the main star of the TUF convention was
Amirthalingams, although Chelvanayagam was presiding over the meeting.
Since Chlevanayagams victory, leaders of the erstwhile Federal Party and
its traditional rival, The Tamil Congress, had come closer. On that day,
they jointly announced the formation of the Tamil Liberation Front (TULF),
which described the Sri Lankan Tamils as a nation distinct and apart from
the Sinhalese.

This convention resolved that the restoration and reconstitution of the
Free, Sovereign, Secular, Socialist State of Tamil Eelam based on the
right of self-determination inherent in every nation has become inevitable
in order to safeguard the very existence of the Tamil nation in this
country. And it was with this resolution that the TULF went to the
electorate in the July 1977 elections, now overdue by two years.

>>From the Tamil standpoint, the 1977 polls were momentous in 3 ways.

1. For the 1st time, one of Sri Lankas main parties admitted publicly that
there existed a Tamil problem.
2. For the 1st time, a Tamil party was propelled as the mail opposition in
the Sri Lankan parliament.
3. The sweeping outcome in the northeast polls catapulted Tamil militancy.

The UNP, now galvanized by Jayawardene, came into power accepting the
position that there are numerous problems confronting the Tamil-speaking

The TULF, led by Amirhtlaingam (Chelvanayagam had died in April 1977)
asked the Tamils to proclaim with the stamp of finality and fortitude that
we alone shale rule over our land our forefathers ruled. Sinhalese
imperialism shall quit our Homeland.

The TULF was recognized as the opposition party in parliament and
Amirthalingam became the opposition leader in the house, a post which
carried the status of a cabinet minister. The TULF secretary general was a
much sought after man, and although his sympathies to the militants were
an open secret, he made occasional noises about Gandhian concepts.

We are attached to a program of non-violent agitation, but I envisage a
stage sooner or later when we are going to have to fight it out, he said
after the elections.

Emergence of Uma Maheswaran and LTTE

Early on the morning of August 15, 1977, three unarmed constables stopped
3 boys riding bicycles at Puttur, Jaffna. Without warning, one of the boys
took out a revolver and fired, injuring one of the policemen in the thigh.
The cyclists escaped. The next day, police shot and killed four persons
and wounded 21 others in a bloody shoot-out in Jaffna after the policemen
were obstructed from seizing arms carried by some youths.

JR, angry at what he thought was the audacity of the boys, ordered the
army into Jaffna, where the old market was almost totally gutted in a fire
the Tamils blamed on the security forces. The 1977 anti-Tamil riots had

Sinhalese mobs began attacking Tamils outside the northeast. For the first
time, a large number of Hindu temples came under attack during the two
weeks of arson and rioting, which left more than 300 people dead and many
more wounded. Thousands of Tamils left their homes and fled to the
northeast for safety. They included an estimated 40,000 Indian Tamils,
many of whom became destitute overnight even though they were opposed to
the Eelam campaign. Many of them went to Vavuniya in the North, where
several voluntary groups helped them to begin a new life. Many were sent
to Jaffna by 3 ships, as in 1958.

In parliament, JR accused Amir of promoting secessionism and thundered
amidst applause from his MPs: If you want to fight, let there be a fight.
If it is peace, let there be a peace. It is not what I am saying. The
people of Sri Lanka say that.

Amir told parliament 5 days later: We tried our best to live in a united
Sri Lanka like brothers but failedWe are still prepared. We are trying to
explore a peaceful solution.

The riots provoked indignation in Tamil Nadu, which until then had
remained largely indifferent to the plight of the island Tamils. The Tamil
Nadu assembly expressed rude shock over the violence, in which some
Indians had also been hit.

The DMK, which only 4 years ago had handed over Kuttimani to the Sri
Lankan authorities, organized a general strike and a mammoth procession
that wound its way through the city to the office of the Deputy High
Commissioner of Sri Lanka.

But in 1977, no Sinhalese living in Jaffna came under attack from Tamils.
Until Tamil militancy took deep roots in Jaffna, almost 10% of its
population was Sinhalese, who were bakers, traders, civil servants and

The 1977 anti-Tamil riots were different from earlier Sinhalese
onslaughts. Previously Tamils had rarely hit back in an organized way. But
now the Tamil society had its boys who were more than willing to take

On August 31, 4 young men came in blue Morris car robbed the Peoples Bank
in Manipay and walked away with 26,000 rupees. Around that time
unidentified decamped with 8 rifles and revolvers from a customers office
in Jaffna. Also several cases of theft of chemicals from schools were
reported in the peninsula.

In September, Thangathurai presided over a meeting at a temple in
Thondamanaru and decided to formally set up a militant group called the
Tamil Eelam Liberation Army (TELA) and a political affiliate known as the
Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO). According to a participant
they would function on the lines of the Irish Republican Army and its
political wing, the Sinn Fein.

By now, The most active militant groups in Jaffna were the one led by
Thangathurai and the LTTE.

In 1977, a soft spoken land surveyor, Kadirgamapillai Nallainathan, better
known as Uma Maheswaran, joined the LTTE. He was made the chairman of the
central committee. Prabhakaran, younger to Uma by some 10 years, continued
to be the groups military commander but remained largely in the
background. The English speaking and suave Uma was referred to in the LTTE
as Mukundan.

In January 1978, Uma and Prabha made their way to Colombo, where the
former had headed the TULFs city unit. In fact, few knew that he had
quietly joined the LTTE.

On the eve of the 27th, the two shot M. Canagaratnam, a Tamil MP who had
won on a TULF ticket but switched allegiance to the UNP. He was shot and
wounded in the chest, neck and ribs. But died a few months later.
Canagaratnams botched murder blew up Umas cover and he gave up the open

The police, embarrassed that Tamil militants could strike in Colombo,
launched a vicious crackdown under the supervision of Inspector T.I.
Bastiampillai of the CID.

After rounding up several suspects in Jaffna, police issued wanted posters
for 4 men. Uma, Chellappah Nagarajah, Thanam (who had been once driver to
Chelvanayagam) and Kannadi. Little did the police know that one of the
four was already dead? Chetti murdered Kannadi in cold blood at Poonagari
after breaking the prison in the city of Anuradhapura 1973.

Increased violence and proscription of LTTE

In March, Thangathurai, who the previous year had escaped a police trap
after an attempted bank robbery, decided to kill a suspected police
informer called Thadi (beard) Thangarajah. He and Jegan went to Thadis
house at Kokuvil and shot the man.
On April 7, Bastiampillai, the Tamil CID officer, two of his colleagues
and their Sinhalese driver reached a desolate spot at Murunkan, in the
northwest district of Mannar, only to stumble upon a group of Tamil
youths. It was a secret training camp of the Tigers, but it was never
found out if Bastiampillai staggered there by accident or was tipped off.
Among those present at the camp were Uma and Nagarajah, both were well
known to the police. Fortunately for them, they were on a makeshift
platform on a tree and remained there, frozen by Bastiampillais unexpected
arrival. The others on the ground, in shorts and lunges were not known to
the CID officer.

Bastiampillai wanted to know the identity of the men, who replied
nonchalantly that they were farm employees. One of the Tigers, in a bid to
distract attention, said loudly in Tamil: Give some water to these

The ruse succeeded. It was just the way a labourer would treat visitors,
particularly men in uniform. Bastiampillai fell for the trick. He kept his
Sub-Machine Gun (SMG) by a well and bent down for the water that was

Chellakili (who led the attack in 83 in Jaffna that killed 13 soldiers
which triggered the 83 riots), a Prabhakarans confidant who was present
there, moved like a lightning. In one swoop, he pounded on the SMG and hit
Bastiampillai on his head and simultaneously opened fire, killing him and
a sergeant before they could realize what was happening. A Tamil inspector
Perampalam, however put up a fight, but crashed down the well where he was
shot. The driver started running, but was chased and moved down.

When it was all over, Uma and Nagarajah came down from the tree. The
tigers quickly shifted to another hideout. Bastiampillais Peugeot 404 was
taken away.
The killings sent shock waves in Sri Lanka. Bastiampillai was considered
an authority on the Tamil rebel groups and was in-charge of the CIDs TULF
desk. In fact, the murder came to be known only after a wood cutter
informed the police about some decaying bodies. These were identified
after Perampalams was hauled up from the well and his ID card was
recovered. The Tamils had committed their first murder with a SMG.

On April 25, the LTTE came out in open for the first time. accepting
responsibility for the murders of Mayor Duraiyappah, an alleged police
agent N. Nadarajah and nine policemen including Bastiampillai. The claim
was made in a LTTE letterhead marked  To whom it may concern, inscribed
with the now famous insignia of the roaring Tiger.

The claim, posted in Colombo newspapers and published 3 days later by the
Tamil language Veerakesari made a special mention of Bastiampillai killing
a carried a crudely worded warning: No other groups, Organisations, or
Individuals claim this death ( these deaths). Serious action will be taken
against those who claim the above other than Tigers in Ceylon or Abroad.

The last sentence read:  We are not responsible for past robberies of any

At this time the Sri Lankan government could not ignore the threat of the
Tamil militant groups anymore. As if to prove that, the Thangathurai group
now struck. On May 6, a group of 4 or 5 men went to the residence of
Inspector K. Pathmanathan, officer in charge of the District Crime
Detective Bureau of Jaffna police. He was not at home but his children
telephoned the parents at a friends place which they were visiting. When
he returned, the waiting men fired without warning from revolvers from
point blank range.

Alarmed by the killings, the government enacted a legislation, called the
Proscription of LTTE and other organisations, to give sweeping powers to
the security forces.
Amirthalingam claimed that the Tiger statement was a fake. But he was
wrong. The letter was genuine and had been typed by a young divorcee
called Urmila Devi on the TULF leaders official typewriter in the
parliament house without his knowledge.

In May, Kuttimani (who had been released in 1977) and Jegan gunned down a
retired police inspector at the Valvettithurai junction. In June Kuttimani
shot and killed another police officer who had allegedly tortured a woman
suspect following in a bank robbery. By April, the militants have
accumulated about 5 million rupees by robbing banks and cooperative

IGP Stanley Senanayake said:  Members of this (Tigers) movement are not
common criminals. They are educated, sophisticated youth, a factor which
makes them all the more dangerous.

On September 7, when parliament introduced a new constitution, an AVRO 748
of Air Ceylon was blasted by a time bomb after it landed at Ratmalana
airport, on the outskirts of Colombo, with 35 passengers from Jaffna. The
device was apparently timed to go off when the AVRO would be in the air
for Male, but a catering delay had put off the takeoff.

The culprits were 2 passengers, and one of them was S. Subramaniam alias
Baby, who would emerge as one of the most loyal confidants of Prabhakaran.
After the AVRO blast Subramaniam came to be called Avro Baby.

Uma, who was in hiding, immediately rang up London and asked LTTE
supporters there to claim responsibility. The LTTE capped off 1978 with
another bank robbery. On December 5, six gunmen stormed to the
Thirunelveli Peoples bank branch gunned down two policemen and robbed the
bank of 1.18 million rupees.

The Split of LTTE

In 1979, after the Thangathurai group shot dead 3 more policemen in
Jaffna, JR replaced the Proscription of LTTE act with a more draconian
Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), clamped a state of emergency
through-out Jaffna peninsula and sent more troops to the region.
He also hand-picked Brigadier T.I. Weeratunge, chief of the army, to stamp
out the menace of terrorism in all its forms from the island by Dec.31.

The crackdown, for the first time, seriously disrupted the militant
network. The mutilated bodies of 6 youths picked up from their homes on
July 14 were found under a bridge. Because of this disruption,
Thangathurai, Kuttimani and Prabhakaran fled to Tamil Nadu.

Tamil militancy died down almost totally in 1980, but picked up again from
early next year. Police repression was not the only cause for the fall in
militant sponsored violence. There were growing differences within the
militant ranks, particularly the LTTE which resulted in its split and the
subsequent formation of PLOTE by Uma.

On March 25, the TELO pulled off a sensational robbery. A Peoples bank van
was returned to Jaffna with the days collection when it was ambushed on a
lonely stretch of road at Neervely, 12 miles from Point Pedro. Kuttimani
who led the operation gave rapid fire orders in Sinhala when the van came
to a halt. The loot was put by a bank official at a staggering 7.8 million

On April 5, he, Thangathurai and Thevan were arrested at Mannalkadal, near
Point Pedro, while tried to escape in a boat to India. Sri Sabaratnam had
dropped them in a car, but left before they prepared to sail away.
Kuttimani had some gold on him, tried to shoot himself but was
overpowered. It was the end of journey both for Kuttimani and
Thangathurai, two of the original pillars of Tamil militancy. They were
brutally beaten to death in Colombos Welikade jail during the July 1983
anti-Tamil riots.

Jaffna was clearly confused. It was only 5 yrs since the TULF had taken a
mandate to achieve Eelam, which was no where in sight. Tamils were
pondering on this and a lot more when unexpected news came from Tamil
Nadu. Two men well known to Amir as well as to the Lankan authorities were
involved in a gunfight. News papers identified them as Uma and

Conflict and civil war

In the post-Cold War period, international relations theorists and
strategic studies analysts have begun to pay attention to the impact of
ethnic and communal crises on international security. In the past, the
ethnic crisis was generally considered as an internal affair of a country.
Therefore, the international community of foreign countries was not
supposed to interfere in the conflict. However, many ethnic crises
entangled a neighbouring country either because of the involvement of a
common ethnic group inhabiting both the countries or the inflow of
refugees into the other country. Consequently, international organisations
or regional organisations made efforts to resolve such crises. At times
international mediation measures or outside intervention in ethnic
conflicts was also exercised. But the most serious threat to international
security was considered the likelihood of a nuclear war as a result of the
East-West confrontation during the Cold War period. With the end of the
Cold War and the demise of Communism in Europe, ethnic crises erupted in
the former Communist countries in Europe and it was found that the
European security structure was incapable of resolving such crises. For
almost four years, the bloody Bosnian ethnic crisis remained intractable.
The fragile peace could be established with the deployment of North
Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)-led forces in Bosnia.

In South Asia, there have been many ethnic crises involving more than one
country. The Sri Lankan ethnic crisis has involved Sinhalese and Tamils.
The latter ethnic group also inhabits Tamil Nadu of India. The Sri Lankan
ethnic strife began because the majority Sinhalese felt that their
interests were being scarified in an independent country by not adopting
Sinhala only as an official national language in place of English. Though
the national (Sinhala) leadership was aware of the impending inherent
dangers in adopting Sinhala only as an official language, yet they
succumbed to the demand of the majority because it was considered a
political exigency in the face of the language movement with religious
overtones. The immediate reaction of the main minorityTamilwas
non-violent, perhaps helplessness in the existing democratic polity. As
the situation became more grim, the frustrated youth came to believe that
they could not achieve any tangible solution to the problem without
adopting violent means to achieve their cherished goal of independence.
Presently the conflict is not only of language but also

This article does not dwell on the various details of ethnic conflict in
Sri Lanka, the reactions of many countries and at international forums.
Nor does it chronicle the day-to-day twists and turns of the Sri Lanka
ethnic crisis, before and since the outbreak of civil war. It seeks,
instead, to highlight and explain the main features of the Sri Lankan
ethnic crisis, the real problem and likely prospects of the complex,
bloody ethnic problem that finally erupted violently in the late 1970s and
remains intractable.
Nevertheless, to understand the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka, the
composition of different ethnic groups in the country and the major events
that led to the ethnic crisis will be deliberated upon here. According to
the 1981 census, the Sinhalese comprised 74 per cent, Tamils 18.2 per cent
(Ceylon Tamils 12.6 per cent and Indian Tamils 5.2 per cent), Muslims 7.4
per cent and others 0.4 per cent of the Sri Lankan population. The total
population of Tamils in Sri Lanka is 2.7 million of the total 14.85
million population of the country. The Sri Lankan Tamils can be divided
into two groups: the indigenous Ceylon Tamils who number 1.9 million and
the Indian Tamils who number 825,000. The Indian Tamils are plantation
workers descended from labourers indentured by the British colonial
government during the 19th and 20th centuries. They are mainly Hindus but
a minority is Christian. The Sinhalese are mainly Buddhists (92 per cent),
the rest being Christians. Apart from Tamils and Sinhalese, there are
small minorities of the Moors (both Ceylon and Indian) and Malays who are
all Muslims. Then there are also Burghers and Eurasians who are

At this juncture it will not be out of place to write a brief history of
the people of Sri Lanka. Notwithstanding the controversy about who were
the first migrants from India to CeylonSinhalese or Tamilsor whether
Tamils were the original inhabitants of the island, it is a generally
accepted fact that both migrated from India mostly in the 5th or 6th
century B.C. The Sinhalese are traditionally believed to be the
descendants of migratory Aryans from northern India. It is, however,
controversial whether the founder of the Sinhala race came from Bengal or
from Gujrat. Be that as it may, the Sinhalese traditionally trace their
ethnic origin to Vijaya Singha who was an Indian by birth. The Sinhalese
settled in the North-Central, North-Western, and Southern Provinces of
The Tamils also migrated from India to Ceylon. They belong to the
Dravidian stock of India. They are divided into the two categories Ceylon
Tamils (also called indigenous Tamils) and Indian Tamils. While the Ceylon
Tamils arrived in Ceylon in the pre-Christian period, the Indian Tamils
migrated into Ceylon in the 19th and early 20th centuries in the wake of
the introduction of plantation economy into the island by the British
Empire. The Ceylon Tamils settled in Jaffna, Mannar, Vavuniya, Batticaloa
and Mullaitivu in the northern and eastern coast of the country. The
Indian Tamils settled in the traditional tea garden areas of Colombo,
Kalutara, Kandy, Matale, Nuwara Eliya, Badulla Ratnapura and Kegella.
Not again entering into the controversy of who came first in Sri Lanka,
there are numerous accounts of wars between the Armies of Sinhalese and
Tamils. The Chola rulers of south India, launched many invasions into the
island. At one time the Chola invasions of Ceylon reached their peak as
they conquered the whole or most of the island. Different Kingdoms were
established in the country. When in 1505, Portuguese sailors landed on the
coast of Sri Lanka, they found three Kingdoms in Sri Lankaa Tamil one in
Jaffna and two Sinhala, one in the Kotte (near present day Colombo) and
the other in Senkadagalle (present day Kandy). The Tamilian and Sinhalese
Kingdoms remained separated under both the Portuguese administration and
that of the Dutch who succeeded them. It was only under British colonial
rule that, after the administrative reforms of the 1930s, the island was
brought under a single administrator. Thus, the current demand of the
Ceylon Tamils to establish an independent state for TamilEelamhas a
historical basis.

In many quarters there is a misperception about the legitimacy of the
Ceylon Tamils agitation for an independent state for themselves in the
island. According to this misperception, the Sinhalese are the original
inhabitants of Sri Lanka and the Tamils migrated to Sri Lanka from the
Indian state of Tamil Nadu. After the independence of both countries from
the British Empire, the Tamils of the two countries were separated but
wanted to get together to establish a greater country for Tamils of both
countries, it is felt. Incidentally in the 1960s, there was a massive
agitation in Tamil Nadu for regional autonomy. The Ceylon Tamils agitation
for independence also evoked the emotional sympathy of Tamils of Tamil
Nadu. There were also reports about material assistance given by Tamils of
India to the Ceylon Tamils. But there is hardly any substance in the
establishment of a greater country for Tamils of both countries on the
lines of the alleged design of Slobdan Milosevic for the establishment of
a Greater Serbia. In reality, the Ceylon Tamils, who have been fighting
for independence, would never want to join Tamil Nadu which has a greater
area and larger population than their own in Sri Lanka.

The present ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka can be traced back to the policy of
local administration adopted by the British Raj. The Christian
missionaries mainly opened schools in the Tamil homeland and not in the
Sinhalese dominated areas. Perhaps the British rulers found that the
Tamils were more willing to learn English and join government jobs than
the Sinhalese because the Ceylon Tamils were living in a dry zone which
was not as fertile as the low country Sinhalese area which was a fertile
wet zone. In other words, unemployed Tamils were in search of state
employment unlike the Sinhalese who were engaged in trade and plantation.
Subsequently, the Tamils gained entry into government jobs and also found
opportunities to acquire higher education in the professional fields.
Initially the Sinhalese were not attracted towards state employment but by
the early 20th century, they also leaned towards state employment; thus,
began the unhealthy competition between the two main ethnic groups in the
country but it never converted into clashes between the two groups.

The first sign of discontent amongst the Sinhalese was noticed when the
Sinhala Buddhists bourgeoisie challenged the Christian hegemony in the
late 19th century. A strong Sinhala nationalism emerged against Westernism
and Christians. This was the beginning of the chauvinistic tendency in the
majority community. The first ethnic crisis erupted in 1915 when trading
and merchant elements of the petty bourgeoisie resorted to violence
against the Muslims. Later in the 1930s, the Sinhala working class
demonstrated its hostility towards the Malayalis.2 Until the 1930s, the
language issue had not become controversial in spite of the majority
Sinhalese feeling discriminated against in their own country because of
their lack of knowledge of English. In fact, under the British rule,
English had not only been the official language or the language of
administration but also the language of professions, commerce, higher
education and politics. In fact, the English language was the language of
Sinhalese elites and a large number of Tamils.

In 1935, the Lanka Samasamaja Party was formed whose fundamental objective
was to introduce use of Sinhalese and Tamil in the lower courts, police
stations and government departments. Thus, began the movement for adopting
of Swabhasa (or own language) prior to independence, leading to the
decision that English would gradually be replaced as the official language
by both Sinhala and Tamil. However, in 1944, J.R. Jayewardene proposed
that Sinhala be made the official language in a reasonable time. But his
proposal was amended and it was recommended that both Sinhala and Tamil be
made the official languages for medium of instruction in schools, public
service examinations and legislative proceedings. At the same time,
S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, who later introduced Sinhala as the only official
language of Sri Lanka, reportedly remarked I have no personal objection to
both these languages, nor do I see any particular harm or danger or real
difficulty from this.3

In the course of discussions for the independence of Ceylon the issue of
various communities in the future set-up of the country was considered but
in the interest of the political unity of the country it was avoided. It
does not mean that the colonial government was not aware of the existence
of a multi-ethnic society in the country and the danger of the emergence
of an ethnic crisis in the future. As a matter of fact, as early as in
1931, when the Donoughmore Commission advised for suffrage in the country,
it recognised the various communities in the country and guaranteed their
interest in the legislative body. In 1944, the Soulbury Commission came to
Ceylon to discuss its future political set-up. It was considered that in
the democratic polity, it was unnecessary to recognise the interest of the
various communities because the democratic system itself protects the
interests of various ethnic groups. The Westminster model of the
Parliamentary system was adopted for the country. Since the Tamils were
concentrated in certain parts of the country, they could always vote a
number of members into the Parliament. However, it was very soon realised
that Tamil members of Parliament would constitute a minority in the
Parliament and, therefore, their interests might be overlooked or
sacrificed by the majority Sinhalese.

The British legacy also determined the establishment of a unitary system
instead of a federal system. Perhaps it was considered that a small
country of the size of Sri Lanka did not require a federal system like
that of India. Great Britain also has a unitary form of government. Till
then, the current Northern Ireland crisis had not erupted. However, since
then not only has the violent Northern Ireland crisis been eluding a
solution for about three decades but the demand for autonomy of Scotland
and Wales also surfaced. Lack of understanding of the existing ethnic
differences could be considered as the major reason for not recognising
the independent identity of the minority Tamils in the overwhelming
majority of Sinhalese. In fact, the leaders of newly independent countries
generally do not want devolution of state power. The recognition of the
identity of a minority is considered as a step toward weakening of state
sovereignty and encouraging the tendency of secession amongst the ethnic
minorities. Until then, by and large, the Tamils also did not feel that
their interests would not be preserved in the Sinhala dominated democratic
polity in the country. No doubt, the Sinhalese Kings and the Tamils of the
Chola Kingdom fought each other in many wars but the people of both
communities lived as peacefully possible. In fact, before independence in
1948, the Tamil minority had been reportedly assured by the Sinhala
leadership that it would not be discriminated against with regard to
representation and legislation.4

Immediately after gaining independence, the Sinhalese nationalism began to
grow. The first victims of that development were the Indian Tamils who
were disenfranchised under the Ceylon Citizenship Act No 18 of November
15, 1948. The Indian Tamils were virtually declared stateless because they
were required to establish citizenship of the country by proving that they
were citizens of Ceylon either by descent or by registration. They could
claim citizenship of the country by proving that they had family
connections with the country for at least two generations. Since in those
days there was hardly any practice of registering births, the Indian
Tamils failed to produce the birth certificates of their fathers stating
that their place of birth was in Ceylon. Consequently, a majority of
Indian Tamils became stateless in a country where they had been living for
generations. Incidentally, the majority of Ceylon Tamil politicians
reportedly did not oppose the Act, thus, declaring people of their own
ethnic groups as stateless.

In many constituencies Indian Tamils formed the majority and elected
members of the leftist Trostskyist Lanka Sama Samaya Party to the
Parliament. Their sympathy for the leftist party was not favourably viewed
by the Sinhalese as well as the Ceylon Tamils and, therefore, they lost
their right to vote. In other words, the Indian Tamils became stateless in
a country where till then they enjoyed the status of citizenship and the
right to vote at the time of elections. It was a clear case of
discrimination against a minority ethnic group in a multi-ethnic country.
No doubt the Indian Tamils became the first victims of independent Sri
Lanka and they were also persecuted at times but there was no ethnic
cleansing like in the erstwhile Yugoslavia where Muslims suffered the
maximum in the course of carrying out of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and

As noted, the official national language issue was the major bone of
contention between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. At the time of
independence of the country in 1948, the Ceylon Tamils who constituted 10
per cent of the population but held 31 per cent of the posts in
universities and acquired a higher percentage in professional fields like
medical and engineering. Therefore, many Sinhalese resented the fact that
the Tamils enjoyed disproportionate educational and employment advantages
because of their proficiency in the English language in the majority
Sinhala country. After independence, the Ceylon government adopted a
policy of denying Tamils admission into higher and professional education.
Their percentage in the government services also began to decline. In the
meantime, an official language commission was appointed to decide on
procedures for making both Sinhala and Tamil the official languages.
Reading the mind of the majority Sinhala community on the issue of
language, in 1951, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike parted company with the United
National Party (UNP) and formed a new political party called the Sri Lanka
Federal Party (SLFP). He alleged that the UNP had failed to take action on
the language question. His partys first manifesto called for immediate
adoption of Sinhala and Tamil as official languages of the country so that
people would cease to feel alien in their own land.

No doubt, language was not the main issue in the 1952 elections but during
the period of Premiership of Sir John Kotelawala, the language question
became the dominant political issue in the country. In fact, emotions were
raised amongst the Sinhalese that their emancipation could be achieved by
the adoption of Sinhala only as the official language and the revival of
the Buddhist religion. Preparations had already begun for celebrating the
2,500th death anniversary of Buddha in 1956. The trends of Buddhist
resurgence began in the early 1950s. They were articulated in a
provocative book entitled The Revolt of the Temple written by D.C.
Vijayvardhane in 1953.5 He highlighted legend and superstition as
historical facts as well as romanticised the unhistorical view of the past
based on mythology, fantasy and social destiny. Surprisingly, the Sinhala
intelligentsia did not question the authenticity of Vijayvarardhanes
version of the Sinhala history and destiny.6 However, such passiveness of
the intellectuals in the face of strong chauvinistic
ethno-religio-nationalism is not surprising. In fact, at times they have
also been influenced by such emotionalism and articulate their own views,
thus, legitimising jingoism and feel secure in avoiding the wrath of the
fanatics. Such anomaly in the behaviour of the intellectuals was recently
noticed in the Balkans where ethno-religious-nationalism has violently

In the 1950s, the social and political atmosphere was surcharged with the
emotional issues of language, religion and Sinhala nationalism in Sri
Lanka. The Buddhist religious upsurge gained momentum because of the
preparations for the celebration of the 2,500th death anniversary of
Buddha in 1956. The Buddhist monks, who are supposed to renounce all
worldly affairs and devote themselves to spiritualism, became the most
articulate spokesmen for the adoption of Sinhala only as the official

Interestingly, Buddhism advocates non-violent means to achieve objectives
in all walks of life and a middle path of moderation in the society. The
Buddhist monks not only relinquished the middle path of moderation but
also did not hesitate in resorting to violent means for achieving worldly
objectives. They were in the forefront in advocating Sinhala nationalism
in a multi-ethnic state. In fact, following the middle path of moderation,
in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural state like Sri Lanka, they should
have worked for state or territorial nationalism and not Sinhala
ethno-nationalism alone.7
The Buddhist monks agitation for the acceptance of Sinhala only as the
official language of the country received support from teachers, students,
youth and Ayurvedic physicians of the Sinhala community because they felt
that they were being denied their due in the country on account of lack of
their knowledge of English and the Western medical system. The Swabhashi
(own language) movement in the 1940s, resulted in an increasing number of
schools imparting education through the medium of instruction of Sinhala
and Tamil. With the expansion of education, the demand for employment in
state administration and other services increased but employment
opportunities did not step up proportionately. In the 1950s, the problem
of unemployment of the youth became a political issue which was suitably
exploited by Sinhala parochialism though the Tamil youths also faced the
unemployment problem. It was felt that English educated students were in a
better position to gain employment than Sinhala educated students.

As the language movement intensified in the country, the political parties
caved in and gave up their earlier stand of two official languages and
adopted the policy of Sinhala only. Bandaranaike, who earlier left the
ruling political partythe UNPon its failure to take action on the language
question and formed a new political partythe SLFPpersuaded his party to
change its two-language policy to the Sinhala only line in 1955. The
ruling UNP also adopted the resolution on Sinhala only in January 1956, a
few months before the elections. The Sinhala chauvinism determined the
language policy of the major political parties, except the leftist and
Tamil parties. However, the leftist party of Philip Gunewardem, the
Viplavakari Samasamaja Party (VLSSP) abandoned its policy of parity of
both the major languages in the country and opted for the Sinhala only
line. Thus, the divide between two ethnic groupsthe Sinhala and the
Tamilbegan to widen.

The stage was set to contest elections on the issue of official language
policy. Since the ruling UNP failed to adopt the act on Sinhala only, even
after it adopted the policy in favour of one official language, the party
lost the elections in 1956. The coalition led by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike,
the Majahana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) won the absolute majority in the
elections. The Tamil minority was not in a position to influence the
proceedings of the newly constituted Parliament. In a democratic polity,
if the majority community becomes autocratic and the promoter of its own
interest at the cost of the minority, it is not only an infringement of
democratic norms but may also create fertile ground for ethnic violence,
which may convert into a civil war.

Immediately after the new Parliament was constituted, the ruling coalition
introduced the Official Language Bill of 1956 which made Sinhala the sole
official language. While the Bill was being debated in the Parliament,
ethnic violence erupted in Colombo and Eastern Sri Lanka. The Bill was
contested by both the Tamil Congress and the left members of Parliament
but their views were not taken into account by the chauvinist Sinhala
members of Parliament.

Apart from the members of the Tamil Congress, the left members of
Parliament forewarned the Sinhala chauvinists about the imminent danger of
growth of secessionist tendency in the country. The majority Sinhala
members of Parliament did not realise that they were laying a strong
foundation of racial, ethnic and religious gulf between the two major
communities in the country. For the first time, no Tamil was included in
the Cabinet. Even a silent Satyagraha demonstration of protest by Tamils
outside the Parliament building was stoned by Sinhalese mobs during the
course of debate on the language Bill.
The language issue led to not only ethnic divide but also social and
religious discord. No doubt, the majority of Sinhalese and Tamils were
inhabitants of different parts of country but in modern times they came to
live in the same places. There were also inter-marriages amongst them. The
religious divide was not the cause of violence though the majority of
Tamils are Hindus and the Sinhalese are Buddhists. In fact, according to
Hindu mythology, Lord Buddha is one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu,
the other important incarnations of his being Lord Rama and Lord Krishna.
However, the Buddhists generally do not subscribe to the Hindu belief
because Lord Buddha himself reportedly considered the theory of
incarnation as an anachronism.

In certain quarters it is rightly believed that Ceylonese or Sri Lankan
nationalism had never developed in the country in the past because before
the colonial rulers brought the country into a unitary administrative
body, it was governed independently by Sinhala and Tamil Kingdoms in their
respective jurisdiction. There was hardly a national movement for
independence from the colonial rule. Such a movement would have given an
opportunity to the growth of nationalism. In the absence of such a
development, the country remained divided on ethnic lines which was
aggravated with the adoption of Sinhala only as the official language.
Unfortunately, the language issue gave birth to religio-ethno-nationalism
and the beginning of communal riots.

While the bloody ethnic clashes ceased for some time, the political
opposition to the language Act continued. In December 1956, the Federal
Party leader, S.I.V. Chelvanayakan, threatened to launch Satyagraha on
August 20, 1957, in support of four demands, amongst them being the repeal
of the Official Language Act and the grant of equal status to the Tamil
language with the Sinhala. It may be recalled that the Federal Party was
founded by him in 1949. He was critical of the Sri Lanka governments
Citizenship Act of 1948 which made it difficult for Indian Tamils to
establish their credentials of Ceylonese citizenship. About two months
before the beginning of the proposed peaceful movement, Prime Minister
Bandaranaike offered four concessions regarding the language issue but
they were rejected by the Federal Party. On July 25, 1957, the
Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakan compromise agreement on the language issue was
signed. According to the settlement, Tamil was to be recognised as the
language of a national minority in the country and it would be an official
language for administrative purposes in the Northern and Eastern

Though the Federal Party approved the compromise settlement and cancelled
the proposed peaceful agitation, it reaffirmed its decision to work for
the establishment of an autonomous Tamil linguistic state or states within
the federal structure of the country, equal status for Tamil and Sinhalese
languages and recognition of the right to full citizenship of all Tamil
speaking persons who had made Sri Lanka their permanent residence.
Immediately after the compromise settlement, extremists of the ruling
party registered their protest against the agreement. At the same time, an
agitation by the extremists Buddhist nationalists led to rioting in which
several hundred people were killed. Consequently, Prime Minister
Bandaranaike was compelled to abrogate the agreement in April 1958. All
later efforts to assuage the feelings of the Tamils failed to achieve
desirable results because the Tamil language was reduced to the language
of the Northern and Eastern Provinces only. Tamils, who were residing
elsewhere, were discriminated against because Sinhala was made the sole
official language. All public servants were required to acquire requisite
proficiency in the Sinhala language within three years, failing which they
would be penalised or lose their jobs. The Tamils were discriminated
against in all walks of life, including government jobs, university and
professional education where they used to have a higher percentage because
of their proficiency in the English language which was as alien to them as
to the Sinhalese.

The seasoned and matured Sinhalese politicians could not counter the
Sinhala chauvinism which became too strong in the 1950s. It could have
been neutralised by adopting the middle path which was first renounced by
none other than S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who himself became victim of
Sinhalese extremism as he was assassinated by a monk of the extremist
Buddhist group called the Eksath Bikku Peramuna. Since then, any effort to
work out some agreement to ameliorate the suffering of Tamils has been
rejected by the extremist Sinhalese Buddhists. The Tamils were reduced to
second-class citizens in their own country where they had not only been
residing for centuries but also claimed to have their roots there only.

The birth of the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka was discussed in detail above
in order to understand the ethnic problem in the country. Since 1956, the
ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka has never waned. Instead, it continued to
intensify because no government took a measure which could have redressed
the grievances of the Tamil and redeemed their position in the country.
Like the late 1950s, the 1960s was not a period of ethnic harmony. The
ethnic clashes continued to vitiate the political, economic, social and
communal atmosphere in the country. The Sinhala only policy was
implemented during the period. The leftists also abandoned their support
for the parity of the Tamils language. The Federal Party decided to sever
its relations with the ruling party. Demonstrations and bandhs became a
regular feature in the country. The Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement, popularly
known as the Srimavo-Shastri Pact of 1964 provided for the repatriation to
India over a period of 15 years of some 975,000 stateless Tamils of Indian
origin. Their problem has still not been resolved. In the meantime, they
also joined the movement for granting Tamil the status of official

The new United Front government headed by Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike, which
came to power in 1970, wrote a new Constitution, enforcing the Sinhala
only rule and made Buddhism the state religion. A new phase of communal
antagonism began. The immediate Tamil reaction was to observe a day of
mourning in protest against the new Constitution. The Federal Party, the
Tamil Congress and three other parties jointly formed the Tamil United
Front (TUF) which was renamed as the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF)
in 1976.

The demand for self-rule in the Northern and Eastern Provinces gained
momentum. The Tamil Tigers movement began around 1972 as an extremist wing
of the TUF. They reportedly formed a strong and cohesive guerilla
organisation. Vellupillai Prabhakaran emerged as an unchallenged
charismatic leader of the Tamil National Tigers (TNT). He renamed it as
the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1976. There were some other
extremist organisations but they were eliminated by the LTTE. Gradually,
the moderate Tamil political organisations lost their relevance in the
unending bloody ethnic war.
In the Parliamentary elections of July 1977, the UNP came to power with an
overwhelming majority and Junius Jayewardene became the Prime Minister of
Sri Lanka. The communal violence erupted again the next month. Since then,
violence against the Tamils has become a regular feature of communal
politics in the country. The Presidential form of government was adopted
in the new Constitution of 1978. The Tamils were agitating for autonomy in
their region and a federal form of government. Instead, the unitary form
of government was reaffirmed and the Parliamentary form of government was
abolished. In other words, the majority community leader would not only be
all powerful but also not a member of Parliament where he would have to
personally listen to the grievances of the minority community. Though the
new Constitution recognised both Sinhala and Tamil as the national
languages, Sinhala remained the sole official language in the country.
Moreover, Buddhism was given the foremost place in the country, though the
rights of all other religions were assured.

The Tamil youths began to feel that their political leaders had miserably
failed to protect their rights, and give them an appropriate place in the
country. In the existing desperate conditions, frustrated youths can
easily be motivated by a charismatic leader who may mobilise them towards
a cherished goal like their own independent, sovereign country (Eelam for
Tamils) for a persecuted ethnic minority community. Consequently, the
Tamil Tigers launched a terrorist movement to achieve their objective. The
extremist activities assumed intensity in the 1970s. But in the eleven
days of violence in July-August 1983, the Tamil community suffered
enormous destruction and loss of life. Horrible atrocities were committed
on the Tamils and efforts were made for completely destroying the economic
base of the Tamils.

The Jayewardene government adopted a plan to eliminate Tamil extremists
through ruthless military action. Some 40,000 Sri Lankan refugees were
reportedly moved into Tamil Nadu by August 1984. The ethnic crisis took a
new turn as the Hindu Tamils and Muslims also clashed in the Eastern
Province in 1985. The Indian government expressed its concern about the
Sri Lankan ethnic crisis. The crisis assumed more seriousness as a result
of the massacre at Anuradhapura. Consequently, the Indian Prime, Minister
Rajiv Gandhi, met President Jayewardene in Sri Lanka. It was agreed that
India would stop supply of arms and men to Sri Lanka and the latter would
impose strict control over military operations against the Tamils.
Subsequently, representatives of the Sri Lanka government and the leading
Tamil groups met in Thimpu (capital of Bhutan) to work out a solution to
the bloody ethnic crisis. But no progress could be made towards resolving
the ethnic imbroglio.

The ethnic crisis became more serious as President Jayewardene imposed an
economic blockade on the Jaffna peninsula in January 1987 in view of the
LTTEs threat to take control of the civil administration of Jaffna. As the
situation in Jaffna became serious, the Indian government decided to send
relief supplies to the suffering Tamils in the area. However, an Indian
flotilla carrying the supplies could not reach its destination because the
Sri Lanka naval authorities did not permit it to proceed to Jaffna.
Consequently, India paradropped the packages of some essential commodities
in the Jaffna peninsula. Though the Sri Lanka government criticised the
Indian action, it agreed on the modalities for the supply of relief

Finally, the Indian direct action in resolving the ethnic crisis in Sri
Lanka was enshrined in an agreement signed by Rajiv Gandhi and Jayewardene
on July 29, 1987. The agreement evoked criticism and sparked off riots in
Colombo. An attempt was made on Rajiv Gandhis life on the eve of his
departure from Colombo. In the terms of the agreement, India sent its
Army, better known as the Indian Peace - Keeping Force (IPKF), to Sri
Lanka for the cessation of the civil war and the surrender of arms by
extremists in the Jaffna peninsula and the Eastern Province. Initially the
IPKF did not receive a hostile reception but later it clashed with the
Tamil Tigers and the estranged local civilian population. Incidentally,
the Tamil Tigers were reportedly assisted by the Sri Lankan forces to
launch attacks on the IPKF. The Indian armed forces suffered heavy
casualties and pulled out from Sri Lanka under an agreement reached in
1989. The IPKFs stay in Sri Lanka became a contentious issue that spoiled
bilateral relations between the two countries. Perhaps Indian leaders
believed that Indian armed forces could successfully resolve the ethnic
crisis in Sri Lanka as they did in the former East Pakistan (now known as
Bangladesh). But all outside interventions in ethnic conflicts cannot be
the same, thus, outside intervention is not always crowned with success,8
as many Indians had believed before the IPKF debacle in Sri Lanka.

In the meantime, elections were held for constituting Provincial Councils
in the Northern and Eastern Provinces in 1988, though the elections were
boycotted by the SLFP and threats were issued by the LTTE and the militant
Sinhalese outfitthe Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (JPV) or People Liberation
Frontagainst casting of votes by electors. The IPKF could conduct
elections peacefully but the civilian administration could not be
established against the wishes of the LTTE. The ethnic crisis continued
unabated. During the rule of the UNP, the divide between the Sinhalese and
Tamils was further widened. In the meantime the UNP also lost its
popularity and its opponents blamed it for widespread corruption and
political power abuse. The UNP was also weakened because of a series of
assassinations of its leadersPresident Ranasinghe Premadasa in May 1993
and the partys Presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake during the
November 1994 election campaign. In the meantime, the Peoples Alliance led
by Chan- drika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga won the Parliamentary elections in
August 1994. She defeated Dissanayakes wife, Srima, in the Presidential
election three months later. She had made three main campaign pledges: to
end the ethnic conflict; to replace the existing Presidential system by a
Parliamentary system of government; and to eliminate the abuse of
political power by the government.

The Kumaratunga government began the peace process with a bang as she
could work out an agreement on cessation of hostilities with the LTTE
supremo Prabhakaran on January 5, 1995, but it lasted little more than a
hundred days as the LTTE resumed its attacks on April 29, 1995. In fact,
the LTTE insisted on plans for economic reconstruction in the areas of
their control, but the government wanted to do so only after some progress
was made towards resolving of the political issues.9
The armed clashes between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the Tamil Tigers
intensified. First the Tamil Tigers inflicted heavy losses on Sri Lankan
military hardware and personnel. In retaliation, the Sri Lankan armed
forces launched a massive operation against the Tamil Tigers. The military
operation was disastrous because it resulted in the capture of only a
small area of territory but killed more than 200 Tamil civilians. In
December 1995, the Sri Lankan armed forces launched the largest military
operation and could re-establish government control over the northern city
of Jaffna. It was a great achievement for the armed forces and a setback
for the Tamil Tigers. However, the Tamil Tigers retaliated by setting off
a massive explosion in Colombo, killing more than 80 people and destroying
a commercial establishment. Since then, the armed forces operations and
the Tamil Tigers hit-and-run attacks have been continuing unabated.

After many years of bloody ethnic war in Sri Lanka, the election of
Kumaratunga as the President of the country appeared as the new window of
opportunity. But her initiatives to resolve the ethnic crisis could not
produce positive results because she delayed the release of her detailed
peace proposals until August 1995, though they were ready as early as
December 1994. Had these been released at the beginning of cessation of
hostilities, the war-weary Tamil civilians would have been able to bring
some pressure on the LTTE to negotiate seriously on those proposals.

Be that as it may, the Kumaratunga government announced the legal text of
the proposals on devolution of power in January 1996. According to them,
Sri Lanka would become an indissoluble union of regions. It was a modified
version of the earlier proposals. It authorised the central government to
remove any regional government that would try to secede from the republic
and assumed direct rule over the region. In the original proposals, the
central government was not empowered to remove any regional government
regardless of the circumstances. While the Sinhalese appreciated the
change, the Tamils expressed apprehension on the misuse of power by the
centre. The government apparently modified the text of the proposals to
accommodate the views of the nationalist Sinhalese. In the process, the
government alienated the moderate Tamils. Thus, the other devolution
proposalslike the councils considerable jurisdiction over economic
development, education, and the use of land as well as its right to
negotiate directly with foreign governments for aid and investment; and
some control over maintenance of law and ordercould not make much impact
on the moderate Tamils.

The devolution proposals were referred to the Parliamentary Select
Committee on Constitutional Reform. After many months of deliberations on
the issue, despite protests from UNP members and a few others, the Sri
Lankan Constitutional Affairs Minister, Prof. G.L. Perris, on October 24,
1997, presented proposals to the Parliament containing the governments
draft of a new Constitution and riders on it by various parties. The main
feature of the government draft is the proposed conversion of the unitary
state into an indissoluble union of regions.10 It was also proposed that a
new Muslim majority South-Eastern Region would be constituted without a
referendum in that pocket of territory, in the event of a new and
permanent North-Eastern Region being formed as a result of a
mini-plebiscite in Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts of the eastern
part. In view of this reorganisation of the administrative set-up, the
mainly Sinhala Ampara electoral district would be given an option to
either convert itself into a full-fledged region or join the adjoining
Sinhala-dominant Uva region.11 It was also reported that a major proposal
was to confer citizenship on all those permanently resident in Sri Lanka
as on October 30, 1964, and their descendants, on the condition that they
and their descendants should not be citizens of any other country. The
details of the draft new Constitution were not available at the time of
writing this piece.

Though the Tamils of the North and East are war-weary, they would not
easily be convinced about the feasibility of a separate region for Muslims
and Sinhalese in their homeland. They sincerely believe that the region
belongs to them and they have become a minority, especially in the
Sinhala-dominated area, because of the government policy of colonisation
of the Eastern region. The proposed division of the Eastern part is likely
to create problems. In fact, there has been a lack of compromise and
accommodation amongst both Sinhalese and Tamils. Moderates in both ethnic
groups are generally called traitors and thus condemned by extremists who
do not hesitate to use violent means to derail any practical solution to
the ethnic crisis. In this respect, the Buddhist monks and the main
Opposition political parties, whether the UNP or PA, have also played a
negative role. As far as the Tamils are concerned, they have been denied a
political party during the ethnic war because the LTTE has made its
leaders irrelevant in the current bloody ethnic war.

The Tamils Tigers have enormous confidence in achieving their goal of
total independenceTamil Eelam (Tamil Homeland)in the North and East
combined. They reportedly use Ethiopia and Israel as their models.12 After
years of fighting, Eritrians could achieve their goal of an independent
sovereign country, carved out of Ethiopia. For years, the Palestine
Liberation Organisation had been considered as a terrorist organisation
but in the recent past it could secure its recognition as the true
representative of Palestinians and negotiated with the leaders of the
United States of America and Israel on the future status of their place of

In the post-Cold War era, various ethnic groups have achieved
independence, sovereign status or recognition of the regional autonomy. In
this respect, there was a setback for secessionists of Quebec because they
lost the Quebec sovereignty referendum by a narrow margin in 1995. But
there have been more successes than losses for advocates of ethnic
identity and regional autonomy for an ethnic group living in a region. In
September 1997, the Labour government headed by Tony Blair successfully
conducted referendums in Scotland and Wales to constitute new legislatures
for them with the objective of bringing government closer to the people.
In fact, Prime Minister Blair of Great Britain himself canvassed for
establishing home rule in the two regions. Incidentally, earlier in 1979,
the Labour government had held the referendum on the same issue in
Scotland and Wales but then both rejected it.

The ethnic crises cannot be resolved by military means only. The Irish
Republican Army in Northern Ireland of Britain and Hamas in Israel cannot
be controlled by efficient Armies and police forces. The LTTE may have
received a setback because it was declared a terrorist organisation by the
United States as well as the latters assistance in special training for
controlling terrorist activities in Sri Lanka. The LTTE has also suffered
a defeat in Jaffna as it was lost to the Sri Lankan Army. But such
developments have not weakened the spirit of extremist Tamils. In certain
quarters it is believed that no solution can be found to the ethnic
problem in Sri Lanka until Prabhakaran is physically eliminated. Such
crises cannot be resolved by removing of a person. They may be weakened
for some time but are likely to revitalise soon.

There is no universal solution to ethnic crises. Each crisis may be
resolved differently. At times it may be resolved by outside intervention
like the Indian intervention in the Bangladesh war. A peaceful solution to
the ethnic crisis may be worked out if the conflicting parties make
efforts to accommodate each others grievances. It is very difficult to
find a solution to a protracted bloody ethnic crisis. Tamil and Sinhala
extremists are likely to frustrate any sincere effort in resolving the
ethnic crisis. The recent efforts of Kumaratunga may produce some positive
results if the Sinhala Opposition political parties and Buddhist monks do
not violently oppose her proposals and she can win the confidence of the
Tamil masses. She has to contain her opponents by civilians means and not
resorting to military means for achieving her objectives because that
would be counter-productive. Apparently, she has been making slow but
sincere efforts in resolving the bloody ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka. She
has moved in the right direction. But the crisis is a complex one and the
path to its solution is tortuous. It may be defused with patiently
handling and delicately involving of the Tamil extremists.


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