Ethnicity & violence in Sri Lanka


Dr. Rajkumar Singh

The decade 1970s was a decisive one in the political history of Sri Lanka. Sinhalese-Tamil relations deteriorated considerably during the period of United Front rule in 1970-77. The Federal Party withdrew in June 1971 from the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly when the latter voted out its resolution on language rights. In 1972, the majority of Tamil political groupings including powerful Indian Tamil CWC formed the Tamil United Front (TUF) under the leadership of FP leader SJV Chelvanayagam for purposes of joint political action. In same year Chelvanayagam on behalf of the TUF resigned his parliamentary seat to obtain a mandate for the establishment of a sovereign ‘Eelam Tamil, nation. The TUF, in its convention in May 1976, changed its name to Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) resolving the restoration and reconstruction of free and sovereign, secular, socialist state of Tamil Eelam in order to safeguard the very existence of Tamil nation in this country. The Sinhalese paradigm of one country, one nation, one language and one people compelled Tamil youths to rise against Sinhalese chauvinism.
Making of ethnic groups in Sri Lanka
As a result of policies of pro-Sinhala Governments in Sri Lanka, the two dominant sections of Tamil parties-the Federal Party and Tamil Congress united to form the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in 1975 and it, in its Vaddukoddai resolution, adopted in of 14 May 1976, called for creation of a separate Tamil state of Eelam. Besides citing the existence of historical Tamil Kingdom in the southern Jaffna districts as legal basis for a claim to the Eelam state, nine additional reasons were given: the disfranchisement of Indian Tamils (1948 and 1949); Sinhalese colonisation of traditional Tamil lands; the Sinhala Only Act; the favoured position of Buddhism: inequality of opportunity; severance of ties with South India; permitting and unleashing communal violence against Tamils; terrorism against Tamil youth; and 1972 constitution. In reaction to the long biased policy of pro- Sinhala Government Tamil terrorism emerged in Tamil areas with plenty of Tamil terrorist organisations to fight for their rights against the unending oppressive rule.
With the Tamil political leaders, failure in political bargaining and power politics, Tamil youths raised arms against the Government. The armed uprising gave birth to political violence as the only means. The armed struggle for the establishment of Tamil Eelam manifested in a variety of ways ranging from political protest to ethnic violence and terrorist insurgencies to guerilla warfare and ultimately the ethnic conflict became a central problem in Sri Lankan politics. It was the failure of many years of peaceful demonstration by Tamil leaders in order to win their freedom from successive Sinhala majority Governments, who showed no concern for the Tamil grievances. In addition, it was the result of political and cultural rivalry between Sinhalese and Lankan Tamils and the ineptitude of the national leadership in reconciling their differences. While some have interpreted this ethnic rivalry as a clash between two ‘subnationalism’ that of the dominated Buddhist elite and of the minority Tamil elite of the northern peninsula, more often it has been in political terms in which the Sinhalese have consistently sought to diminish the cultural and political salience of the Tamils in post-Independence Sri Lanka.
Tradition of ethnicity and violence.
In the initial years, following the independence of Sri Lanka, it was believed that the country would soon attain political stability and major ethnic groups would get integrated into one nation. But the chasm between the Sinhalese and Tamil-the two major ethnic groups in Sri Lanka has widened since then and a fundamental shift took place in state society relations. Some in the country believe that elements within the ruling party actively promoted violence, partly to destabilise their own Government in order to enhance their position in a factional struggle for control, and partly to embitter relations between Sinhalese and Tamils in order to promote Sinhalese hegemony.