The conflicts that plagued Sri Lanka for twenty-seven years of civil war can be traced back to the time when the country was decolonized by Britain. Although the conflict in Sri Lanka is ethnic in essence, the evolution of the conflict over that extended period of time added layers of grievances that resulted in intractability. This paper will try to identify some of the most important sources of conflict before and during the civil war in Sri Lanka. These sources will then be defined using a general framework at the introductory level of conflict resolution analysis. A quick snapshot of history will allow further developing of the topic. Contrary to the many territories occupied by the British Empire during the time of decolonization, Sri Lanka never experienced a mass uprising when it achieved independence. The nationalist movement in India led to the decolonization of the region that extended to Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon. It is then said that the nationalist movement of the habitants of Sri Lanka did not start until after the time of their independence in 1948. Since then, different racial groups in the island nation have struggled to keep the country at peace. The demographics of Sri Lanka at the turn of the twentieth century listed four major races: the Sinhala (66%), the Sri Lanka Tamils (13%), the Muslims (6%) and the Indian Tamils (13%). The Sri Lanka Tamils and the Indian Tamils spoke Tamil. Most were Hindu. The Sinhala spoke the Sinhala Language and practiced Buddhism. The Sinhala were the majority throughout most of the island with the exception of the Northern Province and the Eastern Province, where Sri Lanka Tamils dominated. Muslims were a significant minority in the Eastern Province and urban areas. The Indian Tamils lived mainly in the agricultural areas in central Sri Lanka. There was also a significant minority of Christians in both the Sinhala and the Sri Lanka Tamils. In the years following independence from Britain, Sinhalese “believed that the Tamils had too much power” (Jayawickreme et.al, p.209). The British had assigned many Sri Lanka Tamils to positions of civil authority because of their ability to speak English. Many English language schools were located in the Jaffna peninsula, where the majority of the population was Tamil. Between 1948 and 1956, a Sinhalese Buddhist revival ended with the election of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). The SLFP promised to align the government more with the Sinhala population and wanted to make Sinhala the country’s official language. (Rogers, et.al, p.772) It did so in 1956, giving rise to many conflicts that are still unresolved today. The Power Struggle: The SLFP, the Sinhalese and the Tamil.
Although the Sinhalese was the major ethnic group in Sri Lanka, their leaders believed too much power was given to the Sri Lanka Tamils. On the other side, the Tamils were worried about the increase in Sinhalese nationalist sentiment following independence. The two groups were concerned about their level of influence on the newly freed country. With the election of the SLFP in 1956, Sinhala became the official language of Sri Lanka until 1987, four years after the beginning of the civil war. The Tamil Federal Party conducted a non-violent protest of the measure in 1958 when they felt unrecognized by the majority in power. The new government had effectively dismissed their language and their culture and made them second class citizens.
We can identify the orientation of power from the Sinhalese government to be either/or as explain by Wilmot and Hocker (p.105). Prior to the elections of 1956, the Sinhalese felt their identity as the majority in the population was unrecognized. That year they rose to power and established a new system to repress everything that was not Sinhalese. Of course, it wasn’t long before the Tamil protested this action. The civil disobedience by the Tamil Federal Party and its members in 1958 was quickly followed by...
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