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Sri Lanka

The history of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka dates back to the time of its independence, when Tamils had demanded balanced representation in the legislature - 50% seats for the Sinhala, the majority community and 50% for the combined minority ethnic groups.

india Updated: Sep 08, 2002 22:01 IST
PTI

The history of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka dates back to the time of its independence, when Tamils had demanded balanced representation in the legislature - 50% seats for the Sinhala, the majority community and 50% for the combined minority ethnic groups. The majority-run government, however, did not meet the demand.

The Tamil political leaders then reached a conclusion that only a separate state could ensure the security and welfare of the Tamil people, a state carved out of the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka to be called Tamil Eelam.

The most vociferous voice to demand this was the Liberation Tigers of Tail Elam (LTTE). Founded in 1976, the LTTE is the most powerful Tamil group in Sri Lanka. The LTTE began its armed conflict with the Sri Lankan Government in 1983 and relied on a guerrilla strategy that included the use of terrorist tactics.

The Tigers control most of the northern and eastern coastal areas of Sri Lanka but have conducted operations throughout the island. Headquartered in the Wanni region, the LTTE has an extensive network of checkpoints and informants to keep track of any outsiders who enter the group's area of control.

The demands of the Tamil people had become a major factor in Sinhala politics. Sinhala political hegemony was also becoming institutionalized. The republican Constitution of 1972, while proclaiming Sinhala as the official language, declared that Buddhism had the 'foremost place' in Sri Lanka, thus almost affirming a Sinhala-Buddhist state.

It is precisely this history that persuaded the Tamils that co-existence with the Sinhala in a single polity was no longer possible. The violence of July 1983 led many Tamils to migrate to Tamil Nadu for safety and shelter.

These moves immediately strengthened, on the one hand, the notion of a Tamil homeland in which Tamils would have their own state, and on the other, it established a link between the Tamils of Sri Lanka and the Tamils of India, resulting in the Sri Lanka Tamil issue becoming a major issue in Tamil Nadu politics.

First Published: Sep 08, 2002 22:01 IST