Ethnic Conflict between Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka

The real Civil War in Sri Lanka considered beginning on July 23, 1983. The assassination of 13 Sinhalese government soldiers in the northern capital of the island, Jaffna, by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was the outbreak of Civil War.. The war between the state army and forces of LTTE continued till 2009 when LTTE was defeated. In spite of this, the conflict on the island remains today’s problem. 

The Emergence and Development of the Conflict

The root causes of the current religious and ethnic conflict were formed during the British rule, which lasted from 1796 to 1948. Until 1802, the island was a part of British India, and after it was a separate British colony of Ceylon. Under the British Empire the island has become one of the world's major suppliers of tea. In addition, large plantations of coffee and rubber were established. The cultivation of these plants was a labor-intensive process. The reluctance of the local Sinhalese population to work on the plantations led to the massive importation of labor. The Tamils from the southern Indian states serve as an example of such a policy. As a result, the diaspora existed on the island of radical Tamil has been artificially increased by several times. Therefore, the conflict on the religious basis appeared. Sinhalese people, who constitute 74% of Sri Lanka population nowadays, are Buddhists, unlike Tamils, who profess Hinduism.

The island has never been politically stable. In 1796, 1818, and 1848 there have been major uprising. After gaining independence the situation has worsened. Firstly, the efforts of the Sinhala and Tamil political elite were united by struggle against the British Empire. After gaining independence, the interests of ethnic and religious groups were rapidly polarized.

The election victory of the opposition political party, the Sri Lanka Freedom party (SLPF) in 1956 led to reforms in the country, disturbing the delicate balance. Sinhala replaced English as the only official language, limiting job opportunities for Tamils in government positions. Moreover, although formally Buddhism was not declared as the state religion, its priority was obvious. For instance, the government actively supported only the Sinhala Buddhist and cultural events. Even the Constitution, which established freedom of religion, gives Buddhism preference as occupying "dominant position".

A significant part of Tamil workers brought from India by the British labor contracts, were generally deprived of the right to a nationality and be repatriated to their homeland. The formation of the Tamil minority movements was the response to the existing situation. Among them, there was Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) - a purely political organization whose leaders were in favor of creating a single non-violent Tamil state. TULF aimed at including Tamil, northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka, and part of southern India - Tamil Nadu – to the territories of the state. In contrast to TULF, Sinhalese radicals have also begun to unite and formed the National Liberation Front (NLF). Paradoxically, Tamils were perceived not as a national minority, but quite on the contrary. After all, there are about 75 million Tamils in the world settling in India, Sri Lanka, Singapore and other countries. In comparison, there are about 14 million of the Sinhalese people, and the number of them living outside the native island comprises less than 100 000. Outside observers do not take into account the existence of this kind of national "complex", although it is extremely important to understand the logic of this conflict.

There is evidence that at the initial stage of formation of militias LTTE’s preparation was carried out in India in the state of Tamil Nadu. Official Delhi had to live with it, because even in addition to 100,000 refugees, Tamil population in India itself exceeded 60 million people. Thus, ignoring nervous reactions to Tamil riots in Sri Lanka was difficult. Establish reliable communication links between the mainland and Sri Lanka was not hard: indigenous Tamils of coastal settlements in the north and east of the island have long specialized in fishing. These people have always been considered in Sri Lanka "masters of Palk Bay". With their help it was easy enough to start a serious struggle against the government. The question of the specific sources of funding the LTTE is still open.

Most experts are inclined to believe that the basic income (up to $1 million per month) is formed from two sources: voluntary-compulsory contributions of the Tamil diaspora in India and in the West (the largest of them are united in the World Association of Tamils, the World Movement of Tamils and the Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils) plus income from the LTTE participation in drug trafficking and illegal transfer of migrants in developed countries (Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the UN Geneva Switzerland).

During the struggle of Sri Lanka for the independence, the Tamil community began to make demands for its political isolation, It offered different options, starting from the federalization of the island to creating a single federation with Tamils in South India. Therefore, the Tamil question was serious, and the governments of all the proposed options for the island were either half-hearted in its essence, or late.

The reasons for the defeat of the LTTE were:

-Internal split in the organization between the supporters of the peace process and radical members of the organization;

-Radical and uncompromising actions of the government;

-Development of military technologies, in particular the use of space technologies to improve the effectiveness of government forces;

-Tsunami 2004, which inflicted significant damage to the resource base of the LTTE;

-No active intervention in the war of the world community

Ways of Resolving the Conflict

It is impossible to solve ethnic problems completely, at least at this stage of development of humanity. While there are ethnic groups, there will be contradictions in their interactions. Therefore, the problem is to identify the ethnic tensions, prevent violence, and find effective ways to settle disputes. It comes, in fact, to managing ethnic conflicts in multi-ethnic society. At the same time, it is obvious that the world comes to its globalization closer and closer every year. So it might be also pretty reasonable to state that any ethnic or national problems will be solved naturally by time, since all the nations might be one group.

In general, the work in the ethnic environment and can be carried out at three levels.

At the state (federal) level, government provides the legal regulation of the relations between the different social and ethnic communities. Moreover, it gives legal and social protection of citizens, representatives of social and ethnic communities and groups, in the terms of interethnic, and inter-ethnic relations.

At the regional level, all the provisions produced at the federal level should be implemented. In this case, a number of issues are carried out as subjects of the country and the state as a whole. At this level, it is important to create a positive public opinion about the relationship between different social and ethnic groups, indigenous and non-indigenous inhabitants of the region in all areas of concentration.

At the local level, the government should solve specific problems of adaptation of representatives of social and ethnic groups to local conditions. Moreover, it should ensure their resettlement, housing, school, and medical care. An important aspect of the work in the ethnic environment is to assist members of the ethnic group in the preservation of national identity, customs, traditions, psychology and culture, the most important ethnic components of these groups. In addressing these issues all local authorities and social institutions, including social services should play a vital role. The inter-ethnic relations are manifested in all spheres of public life and social relations. Thus, they have become a testing ground for the solution of ethnic problems between the communities to prevent tensions and conflicts.

Therefore, in the political sphere the attention should be paid to the issues of forming an adequate relationship of the central and local authorities. Particularly important is the development of national and state government entities in all areas of public life.

If ethnic conflict failed to identify and prevent its infancy, the primary task is to stop the violence. Next, it is needed to translate conflictual interaction between the parties in the form of a dialogue. There are two levels of dialogue: dialogue as a target interaction and dialogue as a means to end conflict. In this case, the government was too intransigent and was not even going to conduct negotiations. The war has ended, but the conflict remains and needs to be solved in order to preserve stability in country.

In the political sphere, essential selection and placement in the national-territorial entities are of great importance. Such measures would ensure equality in the selection of candidates for executive positions, regardless of nationality.

In addition, political structures must learn to predict the development of national and ethnic relations, which will allow preventing or mitigating conflicts.

In conclusion, the ethnic problem between Sinhalese people and Tamils in Sri Lanka is still actual. The conflict appeared on the religious and ethnic bases, as Tamils minority felt discrimination on the governmental level. Thus, the armed conflict between two groups took place in the 20th century leading to the Civil War. One of the significant grounds for the conflict was also the inappropriate policy of the government. To solve this problem, several measures should be put into operation at the state, regional or local levels.

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Last updated:8/1/2019 4:55:04 AM


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