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Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka - Acknowledgments and Preface

Sri Lanka

This edition supercedes the Area Handbook for Sri Lanka written by Richard F. Nyrop, et alia, in 1970. Some parts of that edition have been used in the preparation of the current book, and the authors of Sri Lanka: A Country Study are grateful for the seminal work done by the earlier edition's authors. The authors also wish to thank various members of the staff of the Embassy of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka in Washington, D.C. for their assistance.

Various members of the staff of the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress assisted in the preparation of the book. Richard F. Nyrop made helpful suggestions during his review of all parts of the book. Elizabeth A. Park prepared the telecommunication sections in chapters 3 and 4. Robert L. Worden researched the data used in preparing maps for the book, and Carolina E. Forrester checked the content of all of the maps and reviewed the text of the section on geography. Arvies J. Staton contributed to the figures on military ranks and insignia. David P. Cabitto, Kimberly Lord, and Paulette Marshall did the illustrations; David P. Cabitto, Sandra K. Ferrell, and Kimberly Lord prepared the graphics. Martha E. Hopkins edited portions of the manuscript and managed editing of the book; Marilyn L. Majeska edited portions of the manuscript and managed production; and Izella Watson and Barbara Edgerton performed word processing. Others who contributed were Harriet R. Blood, who assisted in the preparation of maps; Mimi Cantwell, Richard Kollodge, Ruth Nieland, and Gage Ricard, who edited portions of the manuscript; Catherine Schwartzstein, who performed final prepublication editorial review, and Shirley Kessel of Communications Connection, who prepared the index. Malinda B. Neale of the Library of Congess Composing Unit prepared camera-ready copy, under the direction of Peggy Pixley. The inclusion of photographs in this book was made possible by the generosity of various individuals and public and private agencies.


SRI LANKA: A COUNTRY STUDY replaces the edition of this work published in 1982. Like its predecessor, this study attempts to treat in a concise and objective manner the dominant social, political, economic, and military aspects of Sri Lankan society. Central to the study of contemporary Sri Lanka is the SinhaleseTamil conflict, its history, ramifications, and the toll it has taken on the country. For all intents and purposes, The National Capital of Sri Lanka is Colombo--the site of its government ministries and foreign embassies. In 1982, however, a new parliamentary compiles opened in Sri Jayenardenepura, bottle a suburb of Colombo, and the administrative capital was moved there. Contemporary place names used in this book are those approved by the United States Board Geographic Names. Sources of information included books, scholarly journals, foreign and domestic newspapers, and numerous periodicals. Measurements are given in the metric system. The Bibliography lists published sources thought to be particularly helpful to the reader.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - History

Sri Lanka

SRI LANKA'S HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL HERITAGE covers more than 2,000 years. Known as Lanka--the "resplendent land"--in the ancient Indian epic Ramayana, the island has numerous other references that testify to the island's natural beauty and wealth. Islamic folklore maintains that Adam and Eve were offered refuge on the island as solace for their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Asian poets, noting the geographical location of the island and lauding its beauty, called it the "pearl upon the brow of India." A troubled nation in the 1980s, torn apart by communal violence, Sri Lanka has more recently been called India's "fallen tear."

Sri Lanka claims a democratic tradition matched by few other developing countries, and since its independence in 1948, successive governments have been freely elected. Sri Lanka's citizens enjoy a long life expectancy, advanced health standards, and one of the highest literacy rates in the world despite the fact that the country has one of the lowest per capita incomes.

In the years since independence, Sri Lanka has experienced severe communal clashes between its Buddhist Sinhalese majority-- approximately 74 percent of the population--and the country's largest minority group, the Sri Lankan Tamils, who are Hindus and comprise nearly 13 percent of the population. The communal violence that attracted the harsh scrutiny of the international media in the late 1980s can best be understood in the context of the island's complex historical development--its ancient and intricate relationship to India's civilization and its more than four centuries under colonial rule by European powers.

The Sinhalese claim to have been the earliest colonizers of Sri Lanka, first settling in the dry north-central regions as early as 500 B.C. Between the third century B.C. and the twelfth century A.D., they developed a great civilization centered around the cities of Anuradhapura and later Polonnaruwa, which was noted for its genius in hydraulic engineering--the construction of water tanks (reservoirs) and irrigation canals, for example--and its guardianship of Buddhism. State patronage gave Buddhism a heightened political importance that enabled the religion to escape the fate it had experienced in India, where it was eventually absorbed by Hinduism.

The history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, especially its extended period of glory, is for many Sinhalese a potent symbol that links the past with the present. An enduring ideology defined by two distinct elements--sinhaladipa (unity of the island with the Sinhalese) and dhammadipa (island of Buddhism)-- designates the Sinhalese as custodians of Sri Lankan society. This theme finds recurrent expression in the historical chronicles composed by Buddish monks over the centuries, from the mythological founding of the Sinhalese "lion" race around 300 B.C. to the capitulation of the Kingdom of Kandy, the last independent Sinhalese polity in the early nineteenth century.

The institutions of Buddhist-Sinhalese civilization in Sri Lanka came under attack during the colonial eras of the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. During these centuries of colonialization, the state encouraged and supported Christianity- -first Roman Catholicism, then Protestantism. Most Sinhalese regard the entire period of European dominance as an unfortunate era, but most historians--Sri Lankan or otherwise--concede that British rule was relatively benign and progressive compared to that of the Dutch and Portuguese. Influenced by the ascendant philosophy of liberal reformism, the British were determined to anglicize the island, and in 1802, Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) became Britain's first crown colony. The British gradually permitted native participation in the governmental process; and under the Donoughmore Constitution of 1931 and then the Soulbury Constitution of 1946, the franchise was dramatically extended, preparing the island for independence two years later.

Under the statesmanship of Sri Lanka's first postindependence leader, Don Stephen (D.S.) Senanayake, the country managed to rise above the bitterly divisive communal and religious emotions that later complicated the political agenda. Senanayake envisioned his country as a pluralist, multiethnic, secular state, in which minorities would be able to participate fully in government affairs. His vision for his nation soon faltered, however, and communal rivalry and confrontation appeared within the first decade of independence. Sinhalese nationalists aspired to recover the dominance in society they had lost during European rule, while Sri Lankan Tamils wanted to protect their minority community from domination or assimilation by the Sinhalese majority. No compromise was forthcoming, and as early as 1951, Tamil leaders stated that "the Tamil-speaking people in Ceylon constitute a nation distinct from that of the Sinhalese by every fundamental test of nationhood."

Sinhalese nationalists did not have to wait long before they found an eloquent champion of their cause. Solomon West Ridgeway Dias (S.W.R.D.) Bandaranaike successfully challenged the nation's Westernized rulers who were alienated from Sinhalese culture; he became prime minister in 1956. A man particularly adept at harnessing Sinhalese communal passions, Bandaranaike vowed to make Sinhala the only language of administration and education and to restore Buddhism to its former glory. The violence unleashed by his policies directly threatened the unity of the nation, and communal riots rocked the country in 1956 and 1958. Bandaranaike became a victim of the passions he unleased. In 1959 a Buddhist monk who felt that Bandaranaike had not pushed the Buddhist-Sinhalese cause far enough assassinated the Sri Lankan leader. Bandaranaike's widow, Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias (S.R.D.) Bandaranaike, ardently carried out many of his ideas. In 1960, she became the world's first woman prime minister.

Communal tensions continued to rise over the following years. In 1972 the nation became a republic under a new constitution, which was a testimony to the ideology of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, and Buddhism was accorded special status. These reforms and new laws discriminating against Tamils in university admissions were a symbolic threat the Tamil community felt it could not ignore, and a vicious cycle of violence erupted that has plagued successive governments. Tamil agitation for separation became associated with gruesome and highly visible terrorist acts by extremists, triggering large communal riots in 1977, 1981, and 1983. During these riots, Sinhalese mobs retaliated against isolated and vulnerable Tamil communities. By the mid-1980s, the Tamil militant underground had grown in strength and posed a serious security threat to the government, and its combatants struggled for a Tamil nation--"Tamil Eelam"--by an increasing recourse to terrorism. The fundamental, unresolved problems facing society were surfacing with a previously unseen force. Foreign and domestic observers expressed concern for democratic procedures in a society driven by divisive symbols and divided by ethnic loyalties.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - ORIGINS

Sri Lanka

Ancient Indian and Sri Lankan myths and chronicles have been studied intensively and interpreted widely for their insight into the human settlement and philosophical development of the island. Confirmation of the island's first colonizers--whether the Sinhalese or Sri Lankan Tamils--has been elusive, but evidence suggests that Sri Lanka has been, since earliest times, a multiethnic society. Sri Lankan historian K.M. de Silva believes that settlement and colonization by Indo-Aryan speakers may have preceded the arrival of Dravidian settlers by several centuries, but that early mixing rendered the two ethnic groups almost physically indistinct.

Ancient Legends and Chronicles

The first major legendary reference to the island is found in the great Indian epic, the Ramayana (Sacred Lake of the Deeds of Rama), thought to have been written around 500 B.C. The Ramayana tells of the conquest of Lanka in 3000 B.C. by Rama, an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Rama's quest to save his abducted wife, Sita, from Ravanna, the demon god of Lanka, and his demon hordes, is, according to some scholars, a poetic account of the early southward expansion of Brahmanic civilization.

Buddhist Chronicles

The most valuable source of knowledge for scholars probing the legends and historical heritage of Sri Lanka is still the Mahavamsa (Great Genealogy or Dynasty), a chronicle compiled in Pali, the language of Theravada Buddhism, in the sixth century. Buddhist monks composed the Mahavamsa, which was an adaptation of an earlier and cruder fourth century epic, the Dipavamsa (Island Genealogy or Dynasty). The latter account was compiled to glorify Buddhism and is not a comprehensive narrative of events. The Mahavamsa, however, relates the rise and fall of successive Buddhist kingdoms beginning with Vijaya, the legendary colonizer of Sri Lanka and primogenitor of the Sinhalese migrant group. In the Mahavamsa, Vijaya is described as having arrived on the island on the day of the Buddha's death (parinibbana) or, more precisely, his nirvana or nibbana, his release from the cycle of life and pain. The Mahavamsa also lavishes praise on the Sinhalese kings who repulsed attacks by Indian Tamils.

Vijaya is the central legendary figure in the Mahavamsa. He was the grandson of an Indian princess from Vanga in northern India who had been abducted by an amorous lion, Simha, and son of their incestuous and half-leonine offspring. Along with 700 of his followers, Vijaya arrived in Lanka and established himself as ruler with the help of Kuveni, a local demon-worshiping princess. Although Kuveni had betrayed her own people and had given birth to two of Vijaya's children, she was banished by the ruler, who then arranged a marriage with a princess from Madurai in southeastern India. Kuveni's offspring are the folkloric ancestors of the present day Veddahs, an aboriginal people now living in scattered areas of eastern Sri Lanka. Many scholars believe that the legend of Vijaya provides a glimpse into the early settlement of the island. Around the fifth century B.C., the first bands of Sri Lankan colonists are believed to have come from the coastal areas of northern India. The chronicles support evidence that the royal progeny of Vijaya often sought wives from the Pandyan and other Dravidian (Tamil) kingdoms of southern India. The chronicles also tell of an early and constant migration of artisan and mercantile Tamils to Sri Lanka.

From the fifth century A.D onward, periodic palace intrigues and religious heresies weakened Buddhist institutions leaving Sinhalese-Buddhist culture increasingly vulnerable to successive and debilitating Tamil invasions. A chronicle, a continuation of the Mahavamsa, describes this decline. The main body of this chronicle, which assumed the less than grandiloquent title Culavamsa (Lesser Genealogy or Dynasty), was attributed to the thirteenth century poet-monk, Dhammakitti. The Culavamsa was later expanded by another monk the following century and, concluded by a third monk in the late eighteenth century.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - The Impact of Buddhism

Sri Lanka

Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in the third century B.C. from India, where it had been established by Siddartha Gautama three centuries earlier. The powerful Indian monarch, Asoka, nurtured the new comprehensive religio-philosophical system in the third century B.C. Asoka's conversion to Buddhism marks one of the turning points in religious history because at that time, Buddhism was elevated from a minor sect to an official religion enjoying all the advantages of royal patronage. Asoka's empire, which extended over most of India, supported one of the most vigorous missionary enterprises in history.

The Buddhist tradition of chronicling events has aided the verification of historical figures. One of most important of these figures was King Devanampiya Tissa (250-c. 207 B.C.). According to the Mahavamsa, Asoka's son and emissary to Sri Lanka, Mahinda, introduced the monarch to Buddhism. Devanampiya Tissa became a powerful patron of Buddhism and established the monastery of Mahavihara, which became the historic center of Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

Subsequent events also contributed to Sri Lanka's prestige in the Buddhist world. It was on the island, for example, that the oral teachings of the Buddha--the Tripitaka--were committed to writing for the first time.

Devanampiya Tissa was said to have received Buddha's right collarbone and his revered alms bowl from Asoka and to have built the Thuparama Dagoba, or stupa (Buddhist shrine), to honor these highly revered relics. Another relic, Buddha's sacred tooth, had arrived in Sri Lanka in the fourth century A.D.. The possession of the Tooth Relic came to be regarded as essential for the legitimization of Sinhalese royalty and remained so until its capture and probable destruction by the Portuguese in 1560. The sacred Tooth Relic (thought by many to be a substitute) that is venerated in the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy links legendary Sri Lanka with the modern era. The annual procession of Perahera held in honor of the sacred Tooth Relic serves as a powerful unifying force for the Sinhalese in the twentieth century. Asoka's daughter, Sanghamitta, is recorded as having brought to the island a branch of the sacred bo tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. According to legend, the tree that grew from this branch is near the ruins of the ancient city of Anuradhapura in the north of Sri Lanka. The tree is said to be the oldest living thing in the world and is an object of great veneration.

The connection between religion, culture, language, and education and their combined influence on national identity have been an age-old pervasive force for the Sinhalese Buddhists. Devanampiya Tissa employed Asoka's strategy of merging the political state with Buddhism, supporting Buddhist institutions from the state's coffers, and locating temples close to the royal palace for greater control. With such patronage, Buddhism was positioned to evolve as the highest ethical and philosophical expression of Sinhalese culture and civilization. Buddhism appealed directly to the masses, leading to the growth of a collective Sinhalese cultural consciousness.

In contrast to the theological exclusivity of Hindu Brahmanism, the Asokan missionary approach featured preaching and carried the principles of the Buddha directly to the common people. This proselytizing had even greater success in Sri Lanka than it had in India and could be said to be the island's first experiment in mass education.

Buddhism also had a great effect on the literary development of the island. The Indo-Aryan dialect spoken by the early Sinhalese was comprehensible to missionaries from India and facilitated early attempts at translating the scriptures. The Sinhalese literati studied Pali, the language of the Buddhist scriptures, thus influencing the development of Sinhala as a literary language.

Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka

Early Settlements

The first extensive Sinhalese settlements were along rivers in the dry northern zone of the island. Because early agricultural activity-- primarily the cultivation of wet rice-- was dependent on unreliable monsoon rains, the Sinhalese constructed canals, channels, water-storage tanks, and reservoirs to provide an elaborate irrigation system to counter the risks posed by periodic drought. Such early attempts at engineering reveal the brilliant understanding these ancient people had of hydraulic principles and trigonometry. The discovery of the principle of the valve tower, or valve pit, for regulating the escape of water is credited to Sinhalese ingenuity more than 2,000 years ago. By the first century A.D, several large-scale irrigation works had been completed.

The mastery of hydraulic engineering and irrigated agriculture facilitated the concentration of large numbers of people in the northern dry zone, where early settlements appeared to be under the control of semi-independent rulers. In time, the mechanisms for political control became more refined, and the city-state of Anuradhapura emerged and attempted to gain sovereignty over the entire island. The state-sponsored flowering of Buddhist art and architecture and the construction of complex and extensive hydraulic works exemplify what is known as Sri Lanka's classical age, which roughly parallels the period between the rise and fall of Anuradhapura (from ca. 200 B.C. to ca. A.D. 993).

The Sinhalese kingdom at Anuradhapura was in many ways typical of other ancient hydraulic societies because it lacked a rigid, authoritarian and heavily bureaucratic structure. Theorists have attributed Anuradhapura's decentralized character to its feudal basis, which was, however, a feudalism unlike that found in Europe. The institution of caste formed the basis of social stratification in ancient Sinhalese society and determined a person's social obligation, and position within the hierarchy.

The caste system in Sri Lanka developed its own characteristics. Although it shared an occupational role with its Indian prototype, caste in Sri Lanka developed neither the exclusive Brahmanical social hierarchy nor, to any significant degree, the concept of defilement by contact with impure persons or substances that was central to the Indian caste system. The claims of the Kshatriya (warrior caste) to royalty were a moderating influence on caste, but more profound was the influence of Buddhism, which lessened the severity of the institution. The monarch theoretically held absolute powers but was nevertheless expected to conform to the rules of dharma, or universal laws governing human existence and conduct.

The king was traditionally entitled to land revenue equivalent to one-sixth of the produce in his domain. Furthermore, his subjects owed him a kind of caste-based compulsory labor (rajakariya in Sinhala) as a condition for holding land and were required to provide labor for road construction, irrigation projects, and other public works. During the later colonial period, the Europeans exploited the institution of rajakariya, which was destined to become an important moral and economic issue in the nineteenth century.

Social divisions arose over the centuries between those engaged in agriculture and those engaged in nonagricultural occupations. The Govi (cultivators) belonged to the highest Sinhalese caste (Goyigama) and remained so in the late twentieth century. All Sri Lankan heads of state have, since independence, belonged to the Goyigama caste, as do about half of all Sinhalese. The importance of cultivation on the island is also reflected in the caste structure of the Hindu Tamils, among whom the Vellala (cultivator) is the highest caste.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Rise of Sinhalese and Tamil Ethnic Awareness

Sri Lanka

Because the Mahavamsa is essentially a chronicle of the early Sinhalese-Buddhist royalty on the island, it does not provide information on the island's early ethnic distributions. There is, for instance, only scant evidence as to when the first Tamil settlements were established. Tamil literary sources, however, speak of active trading centers in southern India as early as the third century B.C. and it is probable that these centers had at least some contact with settlements in northern Sri Lanka. There is some debate among historians as to whether settlement by Indo-Aryan speakers preceded settlement by Dravidian-speaking Tamils, but there is no dispute over the fact that Sri Lanka, from its earliest recorded history, was a multiethnic society. Evidence suggests that during the early centuries of Sri Lankan history there was considerable harmony between the Sinhalese and Tamils.

The peace and stability of the island were first significantly affected around 237 B.C. when two adventurers from southern India, Sena and Guttika, usurped the Sinhalese throne at Anuradhapura. Their combined twenty-two-year rule marked the first time Sri Lanka was ruled by Tamils. The two were subsequently murdered, and the Sinhalese royal dynasty was restored. In 145 B.C., a Tamil general named Elara, of the Chola dynasty (which ruled much of India from the ninth to twelfth centuries A.D.), took over the throne at Anuradhapura and ruled for forty-four years. A Sinhalese king, Dutthagamani (or Duttugemunu), waged a fifteen-year campaign against the Tamil monarch and finally deposed him.

Dutthagamani is the outstanding hero of the Mahavamsa, and his war against Elara is sometimes depicted in contemporary accounts as a major racial confrontation between Tamils and Sinhalese. A less biased and more factual interpretation, according to Sri Lankan historian K.M. de Silva, must take into consideration the large reserve of support Elara had among the Sinhalese. Furthermore, another Sri Lankan historian, Sinnappah Arasaratnam, argues that the war was a dynastic struggle that was purely political in nature. As a result of Dutthagamani's victory, Anuradhapura became the locus of power on the island. Arasaratnam suggests the conflict recorded in the Mahavamsa marked the beginning of Sinhalese nationalism and that Dutthagamani's victory is commonly interpreted as a confirmation that the island was a preserve for the Sinhalese and Buddhism. The historian maintains that the story is still capable of stirring the religio-communal passions of the Sinhalese.

The Tamil threat to the Sinhalese Buddhist kingdoms had become very real in the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. Three Hindu empires in southern India--the Pandya, Pallava, and Chola-- were becoming more assertive. The Sinhalese perception of this threat intensified because in India, Buddhism--vulnerable to pressure and absorption by Hinduism--had already receded. Tamil ethnic and religious consciousness also matured during this period. In terms of culture, language, and religion, the Tamils had identified themselves as Dravidian, Tamil, and Hindu, respectively.

Another Sinhalese king praised in the Mahavamsa is Dhatusena (459-77), who, in the fifth century A.D., liberated Anuradhapura from a quarter- century of Pandyan rule. The king was also honored as a generous patron of Buddhism and as a builder of water storage tanks. Dhatusena was killed by his son, Kasyapa (477-95), who is regarded as a great villain in Sri Lankan history. In fear of retribution from his exiled brother, the parricide moved the capital from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya, a fortress and palace perched on a monolithic rock 180 meters high. Although the capital was returned to Anuradhapura after Kasyapa was dethroned, Sigiriya is an architectural and engineering fete displayed in an inaccessible redoubt. The rock fortress eventually fell to Kasyapa's brother, who received help from an army of Indian mercenaries.

In the seventh century A.D., Tamil influence became firmly embedded in the island's culture when Sinhalese Prince Manavamma seized the throne with Pallava assistance. The dynasty that Manavamma established was heavily indebted to Pallava patronage and continued for almost three centuries. During this time, Pallava influence extended to architecture and sculpture, both of which bear noticeable Hindu motifs.

By the middle of the ninth century, the Pandyans had risen to a position of ascendancy in southern India, invaded northern Sri Lanka, and sacked Anuradhapura. The Pandyans demanded an indemnity as a price for their withdrawal. Shortly after the Pandyan departure, however, the Sinhalese invaded Pandya in support of a rival prince, and the Indian city of Madurai was sacked in the process.

In the tenth century, the Sinhalese again sent an invading army to India, this time to aid the Pandyan king against the Cholas. The Pandyan king was defeated and fled to Sri Lanka, carrying with him the royal insignia. The Chola, initially under Rajaraja the Great (A.D 985-1018), were impatient to recapture the royal insignia; they sacked Anuradhapura in A.D. 993 and annexed Rajarata--the heartland of the Sinhalese kingdom--to the Chola Empire. King Mahinda V, the last of the Sinhalese monarchs to rule from Anuradhapura, fled to Rohana, where he reigned until 1017, when the Chola took him prisoner. He subsequently died in India in 1029.

Under the rule of Rajaraja's son, Rajendra (1018-35), the Chola Empire grew stronger, to the extent that it posed a threat to states as far away as the empire of Sri Vijaya in modern Malaysia and Sumatra in Indonesia. For seventy-five years, Sri Lanka was ruled directly as a Chola province. During this period, Hinduism flourished, and Buddhism received a serious setback. After the destruction of Anuradhapura, the Chola set up their capital farther to the southeast, at Polonnaruwa, a strategically defensible location near the Mahaweli Ganga, a river that offered good protection against potential invaders from the southern Sinhalese kingdom of Ruhunu. When the Sinhalese kings regained their dominance, they chose not to reestablish themselves at Anuradhapura because Polonnaruwa offered better geographical security from any future invasions from southern India. The area surrounding the new capital already had a well- developed irrigation system and a number of water storage tanks in the vicinity, including the great Minneriya Tank and its feeder canals built by King Mahasena (A.D. 274-301), the last of the Sinhalese monarchs mentioned in the Mahavamsa.

King Vijayabahu I drove the Chola out of Sri Lanka in A.D. 1070. Considered by many as the author of Sinhalese freedom, the king recaptured Anuradhapura but ruled from Polonnaruwa, slightly less than 100 kilometers to the southeast. During his forty-year reign, Vijayabahu I (A.D. 1070-1110) concentrated on rebuilding the Buddhist temples and monasteries that had been neglected during Chola rule. He left no clearly designated successor to his throne, and a period of instability and civil war followed his rule until the rise of King Parakramabahu I, known as the Great (A.D. 1153-86).

Parakramabahu is the greatest hero of the Culavamsa, and under his patronage, the city of Polonnaruwa grew to rival Anuradhapura in architectural diversity and as a repository of Buddhist art. Parakramabahu was a great patron of Buddhism and a reformer as well. He reorganized the sangha (community of monks) and healed a longstanding schism between Mahavihara--the Theravada Buddhist monastery--and Abhayagiri--the Mahayana Buddhist monastery. Parakramabahu's reign coincided with the last great period of Sinhalese hydraulic engineering; many remarkable irrigation works were constructed during his rule, including his crowning achievement, the massive Parakrama Samudra (Sea of Parakrama or Parakrama Tank). Polonnaruwa became one of the magnificent capitals of the ancient world, and nineteenth-century British historian Sir Emerson Tenant even estimated that during Parakramabahu's rule, the population of Polonnaruwa reached 3 million--a figure, however, that is considered to be too high by twentieth-century historians.

Parakramabahu's reign was not only a time of Buddhist renaissance but also a period of religious expansionism abroad. Parakramabahu was powerful enough to send a punitive mission against the Burmese for their mistreatment of a Sri Lankan mission in 1164. The Sinhalese monarch also meddled extensively in Indian politics and invaded southern India in several unsuccessful expeditions to aid a Pandyan claimant to the throne.

Although a revered figure in Sinhalese annals, Parakramabahu is believed to have greatly strained the royal treasury and contributed to the fall of the Sinhalese kingdom. The post- Parakramabahu history of Polonnaruwa describes the destruction of the city twenty-nine years after his death and fifteen rulers later.

For the decade following Parakramabahu's death, however, a period of peace and stability ensued during the reign of King Nissankamalla (A.D. 1187-97). During Nissankamalla's rule, the Brahmanic legal system came to regulate the Sinhalese caste system. Henceforth, the highest caste stratum became identified with the cultivator caste, and land ownership conferred high status. Occupational caste became hereditary and regulated dietary and marriage codes. At the bottom of the caste strata was the Chandala, who corresponded roughly to the Indian untouchable. It was during this brief period that it became mandatory for the Sinhalese king to be a Buddhist.

Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka

Sinhalese Migration to the South

After Nissankamalla's death, a series of dynastic disputes hastened the breakup of the kingdom of Polonnaruwa. Domestic instability characterized the ensuing period, and incursions by Chola and Pandyan invaders created greater turbulence, culminating in a devastating campaign by the Kalinga, an eastern Indian dynasty. When Magha, the Kalinga king, died in 1255, another period of instability began, marking the beginning of the abandonment of Polonnaruwa and the Sinhalese migration to the southwest from the northern dry zone. The next three kings after Magha ruled from rock fortresses to the west of Polonnaruwa. The last king to rule from Polonnaruwa was Parakramabahu III (1278- 93). The migration is one of the great unsolved puzzles of South Asian history and is of considerable interest to academics because of the parallel abandonment of dry-zone civilizations in modern Cambodia, northern Thailand, and Burma.

A Weakened State: Invasion, Disease, and Social Instability

The Sinhalese withdrawal from the north is sometimes attributed to the cumulative effect of invasions from southern India (a rationale that has been exploited against the Tamils in modern Sinhalese politics). This interpretation has obvious weaknesses because after each of the south Indian invasions of the preceding centuries, the Sinhalese returned to the dry zone from the hills and repaired and revived the ancient irrigation system. K.M. de Silva suggests that the cumulative effects of repeated invasions "ate into the vitals of a society already losing its vigour with age." A civilization based on a dry-zone irrigation complex presupposes a high degree of organization and a massive labor force to build and maintain the works. The decline of these public works mirrored the breakdown in the social order. Another factor that seems to have retarded the resettlement of the dry zone was the outbreak of malaria in the thirteenth century. The mosquito found ideal breeding grounds in the abandoned tanks and channels. (Malaria has often followed the destruction of irrigation works in other parts of Asia.) Indeed, all attempts at large-scale resettlement of the dry area in Sri Lanka were thwarted until the introduction of modern pesticides.

During the thirteenth century, the declining Sinhalese kingdom faced threats of invasion from India and the expanding Tamil kingdom of northern Sri Lanka. Taking advantage of Sinhalese weakness, the Tamils secured control of the valuable pearl fisheries around Jaffna Peninsula. During this time, the vast stretches of jungle that cover north-central Sri Lanka separated the Tamils and the Sinhalese. This geographical separation had important psychological and cultural implications. The Tamils in the north developed a more distinct and confident culture, backed by a resurgent Hinduism that looked to the traditions of southern India for its inspiration. Conversely, the Sinhalese were increasingly restricted to the southern and central area of the island and were fearful of the more numerous Tamils on the Indian mainland. The fact that the Hindu kingdom at Jaffna was expending most of its military resources resisting the advances of the expansionist Vijayanagara Empire (1336-1565) in India enhanced the Sinhalese ability to resist further Tamil encroachments. Some historians maintain that it was the arrival of the Portuguese in the sixteenth century that prevented the island from being overrun by south Indians.

Foreign rulers took advantage of the disturbed political state of the Sinhalese kingdom, and in the thirteenth century Chandrabhanu, a Buddhist king from Malaya, invaded the island twice. He attempted to seize the two most sacred relics of the Buddha in Sinhalese custody, the Tooth Relic and the Alms Bowl. In the early fifteenth century, the Ming dynasty Chinese interceded on behalf of King Parakramabahu VI (1412-67), an enlightened monarch who repulsed an invasion from the polity of Vijayanagara in southern India, reunited Sri Lanka, and earned renown as a patron of Buddhism and the arts. Parakramabahu VI was the last Sinhalese king to rule the entire island.

During this extended period of domestic instability and frequent foreign invasion, Sinhalese culture experienced fundamental change. Rice cultivation continued as the mainstay of agriculture but was no longer dependent on an elaborate irrigation network. In the wet zone, large-scale administrative cooperation was not as necessary as it had been before. Foreign trade was of increasing importance to the Sinhalese kings. In particular, cinnamon--in great demand by Europeans--became a prime export commodity. Because of the value of cinnamon, the city of Kotte on the west coast (near modern Colombo) became the nominal capital of the Sinhalese kingdom in the mid-fifteenth century. Still, the Sinhalese kingdom remained divided into numerous competing petty principalities.

Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka

The Portuguese

By the late fifteenth century, Portugal, which had already established its dominance as a maritime power in the Atlantic, was exploring new waters. In 1497 Vasco da Gama sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and discovered an ocean route connecting Europe with India, thus inaugurating a new era of maritime supremacy for Portugal. The Portuguese were consumed by two objectives in their empire-building efforts: to convert followers of non-Christian religions to Roman Catholicism and to capture the major share of the spice trade for the European market. To carry out their goals, the Portuguese did not seek territorial conquest, which would have been difficult given their small numbers. Instead, they tried to dominate strategic points through which trade passed. By virtue of their supremacy on the seas, their knowledge of firearms, and by what has been called their "desperate soldiering" on land, the Portuguese gained an influence in South Asia that was far out of proportion to their numerical strength.

At the onset of the European period in Sri Lanka in the sixteenth century, there were three native centers of political power: the two Sinhalese kingdoms of Kotte and Kandy and the Tamil kingdom at Jaffna. Kotte was the principal seat of Sinhalese power, and it claimed a largely imaginary overlordship not only over Kandy but also over the entire island. None of the three kingdoms, however, had the strength to assert itself over the other two and reunify the island.

In 1505 Don Louren�o de Almeida, son of the Portuguese viceroy in India, was sailing off the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka looking for Moorish ships to attack when stormy weather forced his fleet to dock at Galle. Word of these strangers who "eat hunks of white stone and drink blood (presumably wine). . . and have guns with a noise louder than thunder. . ." spread quickly and reached King Parakramabahu VIII of Kotte (1484-1508), who offered gifts of cinnamon and elephants to the Portuguese to take back to their home port at Cochin on the Malabar Coast of southwestern India. The king also gave the Portuguese permission to build a residence in Colombo for trade purposes. Within a short time, however, Portuguese militaristic and monopolistic intentions became apparent. Their heavily fortified "trading post" at Colombo and open hostility toward the island's Muslim traders aroused Sinhalese suspicions.

Following the decline of the Chola as a maritime power in the twelfth century, Muslim trading communities in South Asia claimed a major share of commerce in the Indian Ocean and developed extensive east-west, as well as Indo-Sri Lankan, commercial trade routes. As the Portuguese expanded into the region, this flourishing Muslim trade became an irresistible target for European interlopers. The sixteenth-century Roman Catholic Church was intolerant of Islam and encouraged the Portuguese to take over the profitable shipping trade monopolized by the Moors. In addition, the Portuguese would later have another strong motive for hostility toward the Moors because the latter played an important role in the Kandyan economy, one that enabled the kingdom successfully to resist the Portuguese.

The Portuguese soon decided that the island, which they called Cilao, conveyed a strategic advantage that was necessary for protecting their coastal establishments in India and increasing Lisbon's potential for dominating Indian Ocean trade. These incentives proved irresistible, and, the Portuguese, with only a limited number of personnel, sought to extend their power over the island. They had not long to wait. Palace intrigue and then revolution in Kotte threatened the survival of the kingdom. The Portuguese skillfully exploited these developments. In 1521 Bhuvanekabahu, the ruler of Kotte, requested Portuguese aid against his brother, Mayadunne, the more able rival king who had established his independence from the Portuguese at Sitawake, a domain in the Kotte kingdom. Powerless on his own, King Bhuvanekabahu became a puppet of the Portuguese. But shortly before his death in 1551, the king successfully obtained Portuguese recognition of his grandson, Dharmapala, as his successor. Portugal pledged to protect Dharmapala from attack in return for privileges, including a continuous payment in cinnamon and permission to rebuild the fort at Colombo on a grander scale. When Bhuvanekabahu died, Dharmapala, still a child, was entrusted to the Franciscans for his education, and, in 1557, he converted to Roman Catholicism. His conversion broke the centuries-old connection between Buddhism and the state, and a great majority of Sinhalese immediately disqualified the young monarch from any claim to the throne. The rival king at Sitawake exploited the issue of the prince's conversion and accused Dharmapala of being a puppet of a foreign power.

Before long, rival King Mayadunne had annexed much of the Kotte kingdom and was threatening the security of the capital city itself. The Portuguese were obliged to defend Dharmapala (and their own credibility) because the ruler lacked a popular following. They were subsequently forced to abandon Kotte and retreat to Colombo, taking the despised puppet king with them. Mayadunne and, later, his son, Rajasinha, besieged Colombo many times. The latter was so successful that the Portuguese were once even forced to eat the flesh of their dead to avoid starvation. The Portuguese would probably have lost their holdings in Sri Lanka had they not had maritime superiority and been able to send reinforcements by sea from their base at Goa on the western coast of India.

The Kingdom of Sitawake put up the most vigorous opposition to Western imperialism in the island's history. For the seventy- three-year period of its existence, Sitawake (1521-94) rose to become the predominant power on the island, with only the Tamil kingdom at Jaffna and the Portuguese fort at Colombo beyond its control. When Rajasinha died in 1593, no effective successors were left to consolidate his gains, and the kingdom collapsed as quickly as it had arisen.

Dharmapala, despised by his countrymen and totally compromised by the Portuguese, was deprived of all his royal duties and became completely manipulated by the Portuguese advisers surrounding him. In 1580 the Franciscans persuaded him to make out a deed donating his dominions to the king of Portugal. When Dharmapala died in 1597, the Portuguese emissary, the captain-general, took formal possession of the kingdom.

Portuguese missionaries had also been busily involving themselves in the affairs of the Tamil kingdom at Jaffna, converting almost the entire island of Mannar to Roman Catholicism by 1544. The reaction of Sangily, king of Jaffna, however, was to lead an expedition to Mannar and decapitate the resident priest and about 600 of his congregation. The king of Portugal took this as a personal affront and sent several expeditions against Jaffna. The Portuguese, having disposed of the Tamil king who fled south, installed one of the Tamil princes on the throne, obliging him to pay an annual tribute. In 1619 Lisbon annexed the Kingdom of Jaffna.

After the annexation of Jaffna, only the central highland Kingdom of Kandy--the last remnant of Buddhist Sinhalese power-- remained independent of Portuguese control. The kingdom acquired a new significance as custodian of Sinhalese nationalism. The Portuguese attempted the same strategy they had used successfully at Kotte and Jaffna and set up a puppet on the throne. They were able to put a queen on the Kandyan throne and even to have her baptized. But despite considerable Portuguese help, she was not able to retain power. The Portuguese spent the next half century trying in vain to expand their control over the Kingdom of Kandy. In one expedition in 1630, the Kandyans ambushed and massacred the whole Portuguese force, including the captain-general. The Kandyans fomented rebellion and consistently frustrated Portuguese attempts to expand into the interior.

The areas the Portuguese claimed to control in Sri Lanka were part of what they majestically called the Estado da India and were governed in name by the viceroy in Goa, who represented the king. But in actuality, from headquarters in Colombo, the captain-general, a subordinate of the viceroy, directly ruled Sri Lanka with all the affectations of royalty once reserved for the Sinhalese kings.

The Portuguese did not try to alter the existing basic structure of native administration. Although Portuguese governors were put in charge of each province, the customary hierarchy, determined by caste and land ownership, remained unchanged. Traditional Sinhalese institutions were maintained and placed at the service of the new rulers. Portuguese administrators offered land grants to Europeans and Sinhalese in place of salaries, and the traditional compulsory labor obligation was used for construction and military purposes.

The Portuguese tried vigorously, if not fanatically, to force religious and, to a lesser extent, educational, change in Sri Lanka. They discriminated against other religions with a vengeance, destroyed Buddhist and Hindu temples, and gave the temple lands to Roman Catholic religious orders. Buddhist monks fled to Kandy, which became a refuge for people disaffected with colonial rule. One of the most durable legacies of the Portuguese was the conversion of a large number of Sinhalese and Tamils to Roman Catholicism. Although small pockets of Nestorian Christianity had existed in Sri Lanka, the Portuguese were the first to propagate Christianity on a mass scale.

Sixteenth-century Portuguese Catholicism was intolerant. But perhaps because it caught Buddhism at its nadir, it nevertheless became rooted firmly enough on the island to survive the subsequent persecutions of the Protestant Dutch Reformists. The Roman Catholic Church was especially effective in fishing communities--both Sinhalese and Tamil--and contributed to the upward mobility of the castes associated with this occupation. Portuguese emphasis on proselytization spurred the development and standardization of educational institutions. In order to convert the masses, mission schools were opened, with instruction in Portuguese and Sinhalese or Tamil. Many Sinhalese converts assumed Portuguese names. The rise of many families influential in the twentieth century dates from this period. For a while, Portuguese became not only the language of the upper classes of Sri Lanka but also the lingua franca of prominence in the Asian maritime world.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - The Dutch

Sri Lanka

The Dutch became involved in the politics of the Indian Ocean in the beginning of the seventeenth century. Headquartered at Batavia in modern Indonesia, the Dutch moved to wrest control of the highly profitable spice trade from the Portuguese. The Dutch began negotiations with King Rajasinha II of Kandy in 1638. A treaty assured the king assistance in his war against the Portuguese in exchange for a monopoly of the island's major trade goods, particularly cinnamon. Rajasinha also promised to pay the Dutch's war-related expenses. The Portuguese fiercely resisted the Dutch and the Kandyans and were expelled only gradually from their strongholds. The Dutch captured the eastern ports of Trincomalee and Batticaloa in 1639 and restored them to the Sinhalese. But when the southwestern and western ports of Galle and Negombo fell in 1640, the Dutch refused to turn them over to the king of Kandy. The Dutch claimed that Rajasinha had not reimbursed them for their vastly inflated claims for military expenditures. This pretext allowed the Dutch to control the island's richest cinnamon lands. The Dutch ultimately presented the king of Kandy with such a large bill for help against the Portuguese that the king could never hope to repay it. After extensive fighting, the Portuguese surrendered Colombo in 1656 and Jaffna, their last stronghold, in 1658. Superior economic resources and greater naval power enabled the Dutch to dominate the Indian Ocean. They attacked Portuguese positions throughout South Asia and in the end allowed their adversaries to keep only their settlement at Goa.

The king of Kandy soon realized that he had replaced one foe with another and proceeded to incite rebellion in the lowlands where the Dutch held sway. He even attempted to ally the British in Madras in his struggle to oust the Dutch. These efforts ended with a serious rebellion against his rule in 1664. The Dutch profited from this period of instability and extended the territory under their control. They took over the remaining harbors and completely cordoned off Kandy, thereby making the highland kingdom landlocked and preventing it from allying itself with another foreign power. This strategy, combined with a concerted Dutch display of force, subdued the Kandyan kings. Henceforth, Kandy was unable to offer significant resistance except in its internal frontier regions. The Dutch and the Kingdom of Kandy eventually settled down to an uneasy modus vivendi, partly because the Dutch became less aggressive. Despite underlying hostility between Kandy and the Dutch, open warfare between them occurred only once--in 1762--when the Dutch, exasperated by Kandy's provocation of riots in the lowlands, launched a punitive expedition. The expedition met with disaster, but a better-planned second expedition in 1765 forced the Kandyans to sign a treaty that gave the Dutch sovereignty over the lowlands. The Dutch, however, maintained their pretension that they administered the territories under their control as agents of the Kandyan ruler.

After taking political control of the island, the Dutch proceeded to monopolize trade. This monopoly was at first limited to cinnamon and elephants but later extended to other goods. Control was vested in the Dutch East India Company, a joint-stock corporation, which had been established for the purpose of carrying out trade with the islands of Indonesia but was later called upon to exercise sovereign responsibilities in many parts of Asia.

The Dutch tried with little success to supplant Roman Catholicism with Protestantism. They rewarded native conversion to the Dutch Reformed Church with promises of upward mobility, but Catholicism was too deeply rooted. (In the 1980s, the majority of Sri Lankan Christians remained Roman Catholics.) The Dutch were far more tolerant of the indigenous religions than the Portuguese; they prohibited open Buddhist and Hindu religious observance in urban areas, but did not interfere with these practices in rural areas. The Dutch banned Roman Catholic practices, however. They regarded Portuguese power and Catholicism as mutually interdependent and strove to safeguard against the reemergence of the former by persecuting the latter. They harassed Catholics and constructed Protestant chapels on confiscated church property.

The Dutch contributed significantly to the evolution of the judicial, and, to a lesser extent, administrative systems on the island. They codified indigenous law and customs that did not conflict directly with Dutch-Roman jurisprudence. The outstanding example was Dutch codification of the Tamil legal code of Jaffna- -the Thesavalamai. To a small degree, the Dutch altered the traditional land grant and tenure system, but they usually followed the Portuguese pattern of minimal interference with indigenous social and cultural institutions. The provincial governors of the territories of Jaffnapatam, Colombo, and Trincomalee were Dutch. These rulers also supervised various local officials, most of whom were the traditional mudaliyar (headmen).

The Dutch, like the Portuguese before them, tried to entice their fellow countrymen to settle in Sri Lanka, but attempts to lure members of the upper class, especially women, were not very successful. Lower-ranking military recruits, however, responded to the incentive of free land, and their marriages to local women added another group to the island's already small but established population of Eurasians--the Portuguese Burghers. The Dutch Burghers formed a separate and privileged ethnic group on the island in the twentieth century.

During the Dutch period, social differences between lowland and highland Sinhalese hardened, forming two culturally and politically distinct groups. Western customs and laws increasingly influenced the lowland Sinhalese, who generally enjoyed a higher standard of living and greater literacy. Despite their relative economic and political decline, the highland Sinhalese were nonetheless proud to have retained their political independence from the Europeans and thus considered themselves superior to the lowland Sinhalese.

Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka

Early Contacts

In 1592 an English privateer attacked the Portuguese off the southwestern port of Galle. This action was England's first recorded contact with Sri Lanka. A decade later, Ralph Fitch, traveling from India, became the first known English visitor to Sri Lanka. The English did not record their first in-depth impressions of the island until the mid-seventeenth century, when Robert Knox, a sailor, was captured when his ship docked for repairs near Trincomalee. The Kandyans kept him prisoner between 1660 and 1680. After his escape, Knox wrote a popular book entitled An Historical Relation of the Island of Ceylon in which he described his years among his "decadent" captors.

By the mid-eighteenth century, it was apparent that the Mughal Empire (1526-1757) in India faced imminent collapse, and the major European powers were positioning themselves to fill the power vacuum in the subcontinent. Dutch holdings on Sri Lanka were challenged in time by the British, who had an interest in the excellent harbor at Trincomalee. The British interest in procuring an all-weather port was whetted when they almost lost the Indian port of Madras to the French in 1758. The Dutch refused to grant the British permission to dock ships at Trincomalee (after The Netherlands's decision to support the French in the American War of Independence), goading the British into action. After skirmishing with both the Dutch and French, the British took Trincomalee in 1796 and proceeded to expel the Dutch from the island.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - The British Replace the Dutch

Sri Lanka

In 1766 the Dutch had forced the Kandyans to sign a treaty, which the Kandyans later considered so harsh that they immediately began searching for foreign assistance in expelling their foes. They approached the British in 1762, 1782, and 1795. The first Kandyan missions failed, but in 1795, British emissaries offered a draft treaty that would extend military aid in return for control of the seacoast and a monopoly of the cinnamon trade. The Kandyan king unsuccessfully sought better terms, and the British managed to oust the Dutch without significant help in 1796.

The Kandyans' search for foreign assistance against the Dutch was a mistake because they simply replaced a relatively weak master with a powerful one. Britain was emerging as the unchallenged leader in the new age of the Industrial Revolution, a time of technological invention, economic innovations, and imperialist expansion. The nations that had launched the first phase of European imperialism in Asia--the Portuguese and the Dutch--had already exhausted themselves.

While peace negotiations were under way in Europe in 1796, the British assumed Sri Lanka would eventually be restored to the Dutch. By 1797 however, London had decided to retain the island as a British possession. The government compelled the British East India Company to share in the administration of the island and guaranteed the company a monopoly of trade, especially the moderately profitable--but no longer robust--cinnamon trade. The governor of the island was responsible for law and order, but financial and commercial matters were under the control of the director of the East India Company. This system of "dual control" lasted from 1798 to 1802. After the Dutch formally ceded the island to the British in the 1801 Peace of Amiens, Sri Lanka became Britain's first crown colony. Following Lord Nelson's naval victory over the French at Trafalgar in 1805, British superiority on the seas was unchallenged and provided new security for the British colonies in Asia.

Once the British had established themselves in Sri Lanka, they aggressively expanded their territorial possessions by a combination of annexation and intervention, a policy that paralleled the approach pursued by Lord Wellesley in India in the early nineteenth century. This strategy directly threatened the continued existence of the Kingdom of Kandy. Unrest at the Kandyan court between a ruling dynasty of alien, southern Indian antecedents and powerful, indigenous Sinhalese chieftains provided opportunities for British interference. The intrigue of the king's chief minister precipitated the first Kandyan war (1803). With the minister's knowledge, a British force marched on Kandy, but the force was ill prepared for such an ambitious venture and its leaders were misinformed of the extent of the king's unpopularity. The British expedition was at first successful, but on the return march, it was plagued by disease, and the garrison left behind was decimated. During the next decade, no concerted attempt was made to take Kandy. But in 1815 the British had another opportunity. The king had antagonized local Sinhalese chiefs and further alienated the Sinhalese people by actions against Buddhist monks and temple property. In 1815, the Kandyan rebels invited the British to intervene. The governor quickly responded by sending a well-prepared force to Kandy; the king fled with hardly a shot fired.

Kandyan headmen and the British signed a treaty known as the Kandyan Convention in March 1815. The treaty decreed that the Kandyan provinces be brought under British sovereignty and that all the traditional privileges of the chiefs be maintained. The Kingdom of Kandy was also to be governed according to its customary Buddhist laws and institutions but would be under the administration of a British "resident" at Kandy, who would, in all but name, take the place of the monarch.

In general, the old system was allowed to continue, but its future was bleak because of the great incongruity between the principles on which the British administration was based and the principles of the Kandyan hierarchy. Because the changes under the treaty tended to diminish the power and influence of the chiefs, the British introduced the new procedures with great caution. The monks, in particular, resented the virtual disappearance of the monarchy, which was their traditional source of support. They also resented the monarchy's replacement by a foreign and impartial government. Troubled by the corresponding decline in their status, the monks began to stir up political and religious discontent among the Kandyans almost immediately following the British annexation. The popular and widespread rebellion that followed was suppressed with great severity. When hostilities ended in 1818, the British issued a proclamation that brought the Kandyan provinces under closer control. British agents usurped the powers and privileges of the chiefs and became the arbitrators of provincial authority. Finally, the British reduced the institutional privileges accorded Buddhism, in effect placing the religion on an equal footing with other religions. With the final British consolidation over Kandy, the country fell under the control of a single power--for the first time since the twelfth-century rule of Parakramabahu I and Nissankamalla.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Modernization and Reform

Sri Lanka

According to Sri Lankan historian Zeylanicus, each of the three epochs of European rule on the island lasted roughly 150 years, but rather than being assessed separately, these epochs should be thought of collectively as a "mighty cantilever of time with the Pax Britannica as the central pillar." Many British institutions have survived and currently have a direct and lasting influence on cultural and political events. Historian E.F.C. Ludowyck concurs, stating that whatever the Portuguese and Dutch did, the British improved upon. He attributed this accomplishment to British grounding in liberalism, a belief in the emancipation of slaves, the absence of religious persecution, and conscious attempts to maintain good relations between the rulers and the ruled.

When the British first conquered the maritime provinces of Sri Lanka, the indigenous population of the island was estimated at only 800,000. When the British left a century and a half later, the population had grown to more than 7 million. Over a relatively short period, the island had developed an economy capable of supporting the burgeoning population. Roads, railways, schools, hospitals, hydroelectric projects, and large welloperated agricultural plantations provided the infrastructure for a viable national economy.

In the early years of British colonization, Sri Lanka was not considered a great economic asset but was viewed instead almost exclusively in terms of its strategic value. By the 1820s, however, this perception was changing. As governor, Sir Edward Barnes was responsible for consolidating British military control over the Kandyan provinces through a program of vigorous road construction. He also began experimenting with a variety of commercial crops, such as coffee. These experiments provided the foundation of the plantation system that was launched a decade later. In administrative matters, the British were initially careful not to change the existing social order too quickly and were not inclined to mingle socially. A sharp distinction was made between the rulers and the ruled, but in time the distinction became less defined. The governor, who held all executive and legislative power, had an advisory council made up of colonial officials with top posts filled by members of a civil service recruited in Britain. The governor was under the director of the Colonial Office in London but was given whatever discretionary powers he needed to balance the colony's budget and to make sure that the colony brought in enough revenue to cover its military and administrative expenses.

By the early 1830s, the British had almost finished consolidating their position in Sri Lanka and began to take more of an interest in securing the island's political stability and economic profitability. A new wave of thought, influenced by the reformist political ideology articulated by Jeremy Bentham and James Mill, promised to change fundamentally Britain's relationship to its colonies. Known as utilitarianism, and later as philosophical radicalism, it promoted the idea of democracy and individual liberty. This philosophy sponsored the idea of the trusteeship, i.e., that new territories would be considered trusts and would receive all the benefits of British liberalism. These philosophical abstractions were put into practical use with the recommendations of a commission led by W.M.G. Colebrooke and C.H. Cameron. Their Colebrooke Report (1831-32) was an important document in the history of the island. G.C. Mendis, considered by many to be the doyen of modern Sri Lankan history, considers the Colebrooke-Cameron reforms to be the dividing line between the past and present in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - The Colebrooke-Cameron Reforms

Sri Lanka

In 1829 the British Colonial Office sent a Royal Commission of Eastern Inquiry--the Colebrooke-Cameron Commission--to assess the administration of the island. The legal and economic proposals made by the commission in 1833 were innovative and radical. The proposed reforms opposed mercantilism, state monopolies, discriminatory administrative regulations, and, in general, any interference in the economy. Many of the proposals were adopted and helped set a pattern of administrative, economic, judicial, and educational development that continued into the next century.

The commission worked to end the protested administrative division of the country along ethnic and cultural lines into lowcountry Sinhalese, Kandyan Sinhalese, and Tamil areas. The commission proposed instead that the country be put under one uniform administrative system, which was to be divided into five provinces. Colebrooke believed that in the past, separate administrative systems had encouraged social and cultural divisions, and that the first step toward the creation of a modern nation was the administrative unification of the country. Cameron applied the same principle to the judicial system, which he proposed be unified into one system and be extended to all classes of people, offering everyone equal rights in the eyes of the law. His recommendations were adopted and enforced under the Charter of Justice in 1833.

The commissioners also favored the decentralization of executive power in the government. They stripped away many of the autocratic powers vested in the governor, replacing his advisory council with an Executive Council, which included both official and unofficial nominees. The Executive Council appointed the members of the Legislative Council, which functioned as a forum for discussion of legislative matters. The Legislative Council placed special emphasis on Sri Lankan membership, and in 1833 three of the fifteen members were Sri Lankans. The governor nominated them to represent low-country Sinhalese, Burghers, and Tamils, respectively. The commissioners also voted to change the exclusively British character of the administrative services and recommended that the civil service include local citizens. These proposed constitutional reforms were revolutionary--far more liberal than the legal systems of any other European colony.

The opening of the Ceylon Civil Service to Sri Lankans required that a new emphasis be placed on English education. In time, the opening contributed to the creation of a Westernized elite, whose members would spearhead the drive for independence in the twentieth century. The Colebrooke-Cameron Commission emphasized the standardization of educational curriculum and advocated the substitution of English for local languages. Local English schools were established, and the missionary schools that had previously taught in the vernacular also adopted English.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Economic Innovations

Sri Lanka

The Colebrooke-Cameron reforms had an immediate impact on the economic development of the island. Many features of the economic structure the reforms helped put into place still exist. The commission advocated a laissez-faire economy. To encourage free trade, the government monopolies over cinnamon cultivation and trade were abolished. Traditional institutions, such as land tenure by accommodessan (the granting of land for cultivation, as opposed to its outright sale), was abolished, as was the rajakariya system. Rajakariya was opposed not only on moral grounds but also because it slowed the growth of private enterprise, impeded the creation of a land market, and interfered with the free movement of labor.

In the mid-1830s, the British began to experiment with a variety of plantation crops in Sri Lanka, using many of the technological innovations developed earlier from their experience in Jamaica. Within fifteen years, one of these crops, coffee, became so successful that it transformed the island's economy from reliance upon subsistence crops to plantation agriculture. The first coffee plantation was opened in the Kandyan hill region in 1827, but it was not until the mid-1830s that a number of favorable factors combined to make the widespread cultivation of the crop a highly profitable enterprise. Governor Edward Barnes (1824-31) foresaw the possibilities of coffee cultivation and introduced various incentives for its cultivation, particularly the lifting of coffee export duties and exemption from the land produce tax. When slavery was abolished in the West Indies and coffee production there declined, Sri Lankan coffee exports soared, filling the gap in the world market. The problem of limited availability of land for coffee estates was solved when the British government sold lands that it had acquired from the Kandyan kings.

The coffee plantation system faced a serious labor shortage. Among the Sinhalese, a peasant cultivator of paddy land held a much higher status than a landless laborer. In addition, the low wages paid to hired workers failed to attract the Kandyan peasant, and the peak season for harvesting plantation coffee usually coincided with the peasant's own harvest. Moreover, population pressure and underemployment were not acute until the twentieth century. To compensate for this scarcity of native workers, an inexpensive and almost inexhaustible supply of labor was found among the Tamils in southern India. They were recruited for the coffee-harvesting season and migrated to and from Sri Lanka, often amid great hardships. The immigration of these Indian Tamils began as a trickle in the 1830s and became a regular flow a decade later, when the government of India removed all restrictions on the migration of labor to Sri Lanka.

British civilian and military officials resident in Kandy provided initial capital for coffee cultivation, provoking contemporary observations in the 1840s that they behaved more like coffee planters than government employees. This private capitalization led to serious abuses, however, culminating in an 1840 ordinance that made it virtually impossible for a Kandyan peasant to prove that his land was not truly crown land and thus subject to expropriation and resale to coffee interests. In this period, more than 80,000 hectares of Kandyan land were appropriated and sold as crown lands.

Between 1830 and 1850, coffee held the preeminent place in the economy and became a catalyst for the island's modernization. The greater availability of capital and the increase in export trade brought the rudiments of capitalist organization to the country. The Ceylon Bank opened in 1841 to finance the rapid expansion of coffee plantations. Since the main center of coffee production was in the Kandyan provinces, the expansion of coffee and the network of roads and railroads ended the isolation of the old Kandyan kingdom. The coffee plantation system had served as the economic foundation for the unification of the island while reinforcing the administrative and judicial reforms of the Colebrooke-Cameron Commission.

The plantation system dominated the economy in Sri Lanka to such an extent that one observer described the government as an "appendage of the estates (plantations)." Worldwide depression in 1846 temporarily checked the rapid development of the plantation system. Falling coffee prices caused financial disruption, aggravating the friction that had been developing between the static traditional feudal economy and modernized commercial agriculture. In order to make up for lost revenue, the government imposed a series of new taxes on firearms, dogs, shops, boats, carriages, and bullock carts. All of these taxes affected Sinhalese farmers. Other measures that further alienated the Kandyans included a land tax and a road ordinance in 1848 that reintroduced a form of rajakariya by requiring six days' free labor on roads or the payment of a cash equivalent. But the measure that most antagonized the Kandyans (especially those associated with the Buddhist sangha) was the alienation of temple lands for coffee plantations.

British troops so severely repressed a rebellion that broke out among the Kandyans in 1848 that the House of Commons in London commissioned an investigation to look into the matter. The governor and his chief secretary were subsequently dismissed, and all new taxes, except the road ordinance, were repealed. The government adopted a new policy toward Buddhism after the rebellion, recognizing the importance of Buddhist monks as leaders of Kandyan public opinion.

The plantation era transformed the island's economy. This was most evident in the growth of the export sector at the expense of the traditional agricultural sector. The colonial predilection for growing commercial instead of subsistence crops later was considered by Sri Lankan nationalists to be one of the unfortunate legacies of European domination. Late nineteenth- century official documents that recorded famines and chronic rural poverty support the nationalists' argument. Other issues, notably the British policy of selling state land to planters for conversion into plantations, are equally controversial, even though some members of the indigenous population participated in all stages of plantation agriculture. Sri Lankans, for example, controlled over one-third of the area under coffee cultivation and most of the land in coconut production. They also owned significant interests in rubber.

In 1869 a devastating leaf disease--hemleia vastratrix struck the coffee plantations and spread quickly throughout the plantation district, destroying the coffee industry within fifteen years. Planters desperately searched for a substitute crop. One crop that showed promise was chinchona (quinine). After an initial appearance of success, however, the market price of the crop fell and never fully recovered. Cinnamon, which had suffered a setback in the beginning of the century, was revived at this time, but only to become an important minor crop.

Among all of the crops experimented with during the decline of coffee, only tea showed any real promise of success. A decline in the demand for Chinese tea in Britain opened up possibilities for Indian tea, especially the fine variety indigenous to Assam. Climatic conditions for the cultivation of tea were excellent in Sri Lanka, especially in the hill country. By the end of the century, tea production on the island had risen enormously. Because of the inelasticity of the market, however, British outlets soon became saturated. Attempts to develop other markets, especially in the United States, were largely unsuccessful, and a glut emerged after World War II.

The tea estates needed a completely different type of labor force than had been required during the coffee era. Tea was harvested throughout the year and required a permanent labor force. Waves of Indian Tamil immigrants settled on the estates and eventually became a large and permanent underclass that endured abominable working conditions and squalid housing. The census of 1911 recorded the number of Indian laborers in Sri Lanka at about 500,000--about 12 percent of the island's total population. In the 1980s, the Indian Tamils made up almost 6 percent of the island's population.

The Tamil laborers emigrated to Sri Lanka from India not as individuals but as part of family units or groups of interrelated families. Thus, they tended to maintain their native cultural patterns on the estates where they settled. Although the Indian Tamils spoke the same language as the Sri Lankan Tamils, were Hindus, and traced their cultural origins to southern India, they considered themselves to be culturally distinct from the Sri Lankan Tamils. Their distinctiveness as a group and their cultural differences from the Sinhalese and the Sri Lankan Tamils were recognized in the constitutional reforms of 1924, when two members of the Indian Tamil community were nominated to the Legislative Council.

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, experimentation in crop diversification, on a moderate level in the years before the collapse of the coffee market, became of greater importance. Responding to international market trends, planters attempted to diversify the crops they produced to insulate their revenues from world price fluctuations. Not all their experiments were successful. The first sugar plantation was established in 1837, but sugar cultivation was not well-suited to the island and has never been very successful. Cocoa was also tried for a time and has continued as one of the lesser exports. Rubber, which was introduced in 1837, became a major export during the slump in the tea export market in the 1900s. The rubber export trade exceeded that of tea during World War I. But after suffering severe losses during the depression of the 1930s, rubber exports never again regained their preeminent position.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Rise of the Sri Lankan Middle Class

Sri Lanka

By the nineteenth century, a new society was emerging--a product of East and West. It was a society with strict rules separating the rulers from the ruled, and most social association between the British and Sri Lankans was taboo. The British community was largely a microcosm of English society with all its class divisions. At the top of the social pyramid were the British officials of the Ceylon Civil Service. Elaborate social conventions regulated the conduct of the service's members and served to distinguish them as an exclusive caste. This situation, however, changed slowly in the latter part of the nineteenth century and quite rapidly in the next century.

In Sri Lanka as in India, the British created an educated class to provide administrative and professional services in the colony. By the late nineteenth century, most members of this emerging class were associated directly or indirectly with the government. Increased Sri Lankan participation in government affairs demanded the creation of a legal profession; the need for state health services required a corps of medical professionals; and the spread of education provided an impetus to develop the teaching profession. In addition, the expansion of commercial plantations created a legion of new trades and occupations: landowners, planters, transport agents, contractors, and businessmen. Certain Sinhalese caste groups, such as the fishermen (Karava) and cinnamon peelers (Salagama), benefited from the emerging new economic order, to the detriment of the traditional ruling cultivators (Goyigama).

The development of a capitalist economy forced the traditional elite--the chiefs and headmen among the low-country Sinhalese and the Kandyan aristocracy--to compete with new groups for the favors of the British. These upwardly mobile, primarily urban, professionals formed a new class that transcended divisions of race and caste. This class, particularly its uppermost strata, was steeped in Western culture and ideology. This anglicized elite generally had conservative political leanings, was loyal to the government, and resembled the British so much in outlook and social customs that its members were sometimes called brown sahibs. At the apex of this new class was a handful of Sri Lankans who had been able to join the exclusive ranks of the civil service in the nineteenth century. The first Sri Lankan entered by competitive examination in 1840. At that time, entrance examinations were held only in London and required an English education, so only a few members of the native middle class could aspire to such an elitist career. Consequently, in spite of the liberal policies that Colebrooke and Cameron recommended, the British held virtually all high posts in the colonial administration.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Buddhist Revivalism

Sri Lanka

Beginning around the middle of the nineteenth century, the Buddhist clergy attempted to reform the sangha (religious community), particularly as a reaction against Christian missionary activities. In the 1870s, Buddhist activists enlisted the help of an American, Colonel Henry Steele Olcott. An ardent abolitionist in the years leading up to the American Civil War, Olcott cofounded and later became president of the Theosophical Movement, which was organized on a worldwide basis to promote goodwill and to champion the rights of the underprivileged. Shortly after his arrival in Sri Lanka, Olcott organized a Buddhist campaign against British officials and British missionaries. His Buddhist Theosophical Society of Ceylon went on to establish three institutions of higher learning: Ananda College, Mahinda College, and Dharmaraja College. Olcott's society founded these and some 200 lower schools to impart Buddhist education with a strong nationalist bias. Olcott and his society took a special interest in the historical past of the Sinhalese Buddhist kingdoms on the island and managed to persuade the British governor to make Vesak, the chief Buddhist festival, a public holiday.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Constitutional Reform

Sri Lanka

The rediscovery of old Buddhist texts rekindled a popular interest in Sri Lanka's ancient civilization. The study of the past became an important aspect of the new drive for education. Archaeologists began work at Anuradhapura and at Polonnaruwa, and their finds contributed to the resurgent national pride. In the 1880s, a Buddhist-inspired temperance movement was also initiated to fight drunkenness, and the Ceylon Social Reform Society was founded in 1905 to combat other temptations associated with Westernization. Encouraged by the free reign of expression that the government extended to these reformists, a growing number of communal and regional political associations began to press for constitutional reform in the closing years of the nineteenth century. The colonial government was petitioned for permission to have Sri Lankan representation in the Executive Council and expanded regional representation in the Legislative Council. In response, the colonial government permitted a modest experiment in 1910, allowing a small electorate of Sri Lankans to send one of their members to the Legislative Council. Other seats held by Sri Lankans retained the old practice of communal representation.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - World War I

Sri Lanka

World War I had only a minimal military impact on Sri Lanka, which entered the war as part of the British Empire. The closest fighting took place in the Bay of Bengal, where an Australian warship sank a German cruiser. But the war had an important influence on the growth of nationalism. The Allies' wartime propaganda extolled the virtues of freedom and self-determination of nations, and the message was heard and duly noted by Sri Lankan nationalists. There was, however, an event, only indirectly related to the war, that served as the immediate spark for the growth of nationalism. In 1915 communal rioting broke out between the Sinhalese and Muslims on the west coast. The British panicked, misconstruing the disturbances as part of an antigovernment conspiracy; they blamed the majority ethnic group and indiscriminately arrested many Sinhalese, including D.S. Senanayake--the future first prime minister of Sri Lanka--who had actually tried to use his influence to curb the riots. The British put down the unrest with excessive zeal and brutality, which shocked British and Sri Lankan observers alike. Some sympathetic accounts of the unrest take into consideration that the judgment of the governor of the time, Sir Robert Chalmers (1913-16), may have been clouded by the loss of his two sons on the Western Front in Europe. At any rate, his actions insured that 1915 was a turning point in the nationalist movement. From then on, activists mobilized for coordinated action against the British.

The nationalist movement in India served as a model to nationalists in Sri Lanka. In 1917 the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League mended their differences and issued a joint declaration for the "progressive realization" of responsible government in India. Nationalists in Sri Lanka learned from their Indian counterparts that they had to become more national and less partisan in their push for constitutional reform. In 1919 the major Sinhalese and Tamil political organizations united to form the Ceylon National Congress. One of the first actions of the congress was to submit a proposal for a new constitution that would increase local control over the Executive Council and the budget. These demands were not met, but they led to the promulgation of a new constitution in 1920. Amendments to the constitution in 1924 increased Sri Lankan representation. Although the nationalists' demand for representation in the Executive Council was not granted, the Legislative Council was expanded to include a majority of elected Sri Lankan unofficial members, bringing the island closer to representative government. Yet the franchise remained restrictive and included only about 4 percent of the island's population.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - The Donoughmore Commission

Sri Lanka

In 1927 a royal commission under the Earl of Donoughmore visited Sri Lanka to ascertain why representative government as chartered by the 1924 constitution had not succeeded and to suggest constitutional changes necessary for the island's eventual self-rule. The commission declared that the constitution had authorized a government characterized by the "divorce of power from responsibility," which at times seemed "rather like holy matrimony at its worst." The 1924 constitution, considered by the commission to be "an unqualified failure," failed to provide a strong, credible executive body of representatives. To remedy these shortcomings, the commission proposed universal adult franchise and an experimental system of government to be run by executive committees. The resulting Donoughmore Constitution, promulgated in 1931 to accommodate these new proposals in government, was a unique document that provided Sri Lankans with training for self-government. The document, however, reserved the highest level of responsibility for the British governor, whose assent was necessary for all legislation. The legislative branch of the government--the State Council-- functioned in both an executive and legislative capacity. Seven committees performed executive duties. Each committee consisted of designated members of the State Council and was chaired by an elected Sri Lankan, who was addressed as minister. Three British officers of ministerial rank, along with the seven Sri Lankan ministers, formed a board of ministers. The British ministers collectively handled responsibility for defense, external affairs, finance, and judicial matters.

The Donoughmore Constitution ushered in a period of experimentation in participatory democracy but contemporary political scientists have criticized it for not having provided an atmosphere conducive to the growth of a healthy party system. The system of executive committees did not lead to the development of national political parties. Instead, a number of splinter political groups evolved around influential personalities who usually followed a vision too limited or an agenda too communally partisan to have an impact on national politics.

Among the Sinhalese, a form of nationalism arose that sought once again to restore Buddhism to its former glory. The Great Council of the Sinhalese (Sinhala Maha Sabha), which was founded by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in 1937, was the strongest proponent of this resurgent ideology. Other groups followed suit, also organizing on communal grounds. These groups included the Burgher Political Association in 1938, the Ceylon Indian Congress in 1939, and the All Ceylon Tamil Congress in 1944.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Growth of Leftist Parties

Sri Lanka

During the Donoughmore period of political experimentation, several leftist parties were formed. Unlike most other Sri Lankan parties, these leftist parties were noncommunal in membership. Working-class activism, especially trade unionism, became an important political factor during the sustained economic slump between the world wars. The first important leftist party was the Labour Party, founded in 1931 by A.E. Goonesimha. Three Marxistoriented parties--the Ceylon Equal Society Party (Lanka Sama Samaja Party--LSSP), the Bolshevik-Leninist Party, and the Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CPSL)--represented the far left. All three were divided on both ideological and personal grounds. The Soviet Union's expulsion of Leon Trotsky from the Communist Party after Lenin's death in 1924 and Stalin's subsequent decision to enter World War II on the Allied side exacerbated these differences, dividing the Communists into Trotskyites and Stalinists. The LSSP, formed in 1935 and the oldest of the Sri Lankan Marxist parties, took a stance independent of the Soviet Union, becoming affiliated with the Trotskyite Fourth International, which was a rival of the Comintern. Most LSSP leaders were arrested during World War II for their opposition to what they considered to be an "imperial war." Although in more recent years, the LSSP has been considered a politically spent force, gaining, for example less than 1 percent of the vote in the 1982 presidential elections, it has nevertheless been touted as the world's only successful Trotskyite party.

The CPSL, which began as a Stalinist faction of the LSSP that was later expelled, formed its own party in 1943, remaining faithful to the dictates of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Bolshevik-Leninist Party was formed in 1945 as another breakaway group of the LSSP. The leftist parties represented the numerically small urban working class. Partly because these parties operated through the medium of trade unionism, they lacked the wider mass appeal needed at the national level to provide an effective extraparliamentary challenge to the central government. Nonetheless, because the leftists occasionally formed temporary political coalitions before national elections, they posed more than just a mere "parliamentary nuisance factor."

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - World War II and the Transition to Independence

Sri Lanka

When Singapore fell to the Japanese in February 1942, Sri Lanka became a central base for British operations in Southeast Asia, and the port at Trincomalee recaptured its historically strategic importance. Because Sri Lanka was an indispensable strategic bastion for the British Royal Navy, it was an irresistible military target for the Japanese. For a time, it seemed that Japan planned a sweeping westward offensive across the Indian Ocean to take Sri Lanka, sever the Allies' lifeline to Persian Gulf oil, and link up with the Axis powers in Egypt. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, mastermind of the raid on Pearl Harbor, ordered Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo to command a large armada to seek and destroy the British Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean. The two nations' fleets played a game of hide-and-seek, but never met. Some military historians assert that if they had met, the smaller British fleet would have met with disaster. The British instead fought several desperate air battles over Colombo and Trincomalee and lost about thirty-six aircraft and several ships.

Yamamoto's grand strategy failed to isolate and destroy any major units of the British fleet. But if the Japanese had persisted with their offensive, the island, with its limited British naval defenses, probably would have fallen. The Japanese carrier force, however, suffered such high aircraft losses over Sri Lanka--more than 100 warplanes--that it returned to Japan for refitting rather than press the attack. By returning to Japan, the force lost its opportunity for unchallenged supremacy of the Indian Ocean. The focus of the war in this theater then shifted away from the island.

On the whole, Sri Lanka benefited from its role in World War II. The plantation sector was busy meeting the urgent demands of the Allies for essential products, especially rubber, enabling the country to save a surplus in hard currency. Because Sri Lanka was the seat of the Southeast Asia Command, a broad infrastructure of health services and modern amenities was built to accommodate the large number of troops posted into all parts of the country. The inherited infrastructure improved the standard of living in postwar, independent Sri Lanka.

Unlike India, where nationalists demanded a guarantee of independence as recompense for their support in the war effort, Sri Lanka committed itself wholeheartedly to the Allied war effort. Although the island was put under military jurisdiction during the war, the British and the Sri Lankans maintained cooperative relations. Sri Lankan pressure for political reform continued during the war, however, and increased as the Japanese threat receded and the war neared its end. The British eventually promised full participatory government after the war.

In July 1944, Lord Soulbury was appointed head of a commission charged with the task of examining a new constitutional draft that the Sri Lankan ministers had proposed. The commission made recommendations that led to a new constitution. As the end of the war approached, the constitution was amended to incorporate a provision giving Sri Lanka dominion status.

British constitutional principles served as a model for the Soulbury Constitution of independent Sri Lanka, which combined a parliamentary system with a bicameral legislature. Members of the first House of Representatives were directly elected by popular vote. Members of the Senate, or upper house, were elected partly by members of the House and partly by the governor general, who was primarily a figurehead. The British monarch appointed the governor general on the advice of the most powerful person in the Sri Lankan government--the prime minister.

Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka

The British negotiated the island's dominion status with the leader of the State Council, D.S. Senanayake, during World War II. Senanayake was also minister of agriculture and vice chairman of the Board of Ministers. The negotiations ended with the Ceylon Independence Act of 1947, which formalized the transfer of power. Senanayake was the founder and leader of the United National Party (UNP), a partnership of many disparate groups formed during the Donoughmore period, including the Ceylon National Congress, the Sinhala Maha Sabha, and the Muslim League. The UNP easily won the 1947 elections, challenged only by a collection of small, primarily leftist parties. On February 4, 1948, when the new constitution went into effect (making Sri Lanka a dominion), the UNP embarked on a ten-year period of rule.

Divisions in the Body Politic

The prospects for an economically robust, fully participatory, and manageable democracy looked good during the first years of independence. In contrast to India, which had gained independence a year earlier, there was no massive violence and little social unrest. In Sri Lanka there was also a good measure of governmental continuity. Still, important unresolved ethnic problems soon had to be addressed. The most immediate of these problems was the "Indian question," which concerned the political status of Tamil immigrants who worked on the highland tea plantations. The Soulbury Commission had left this sensitive question to be resolved by the incoming government.

After independence, debate about the status of the Indian Tamils continued. But three pieces of legislation--the Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948; the Indian and Pakistani Residents Act No. 3 of 1948, and the Ceylon Parliamentary Elections Amendment Act No. 48 of 1949--all but disenfranchised this minority group. The Ceylon Indian Congress vigorously but unsuccessfully opposed the legislation. The acrimonious debate over the laws of 1948 and 1949 revealed serious fissures in the body politic. There was a cleavage along ethnic lines between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, and also a widening rift between Sri Lankan Tamils and Indian Tamils.

In 1949 a faction of the Ceylon Tamil Congress (the major Tamil party in Sri Lanka at the time) broke away to form the (Tamil) Federal Party under the leadership of S.J.V. Chelvanayakam. The creation of the Federal Party was a momentous postindependence development because it set the agenda for Tamil exclusivity in Sri Lankan politics. Soon after its founding, the Federal Party replaced the more conciliatory Tamil Congress as the major party among Sri Lankan Tamils and advocated an aggressive stance vis-�-vis the Sinhalese.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - United National Party "Majority" Rule, 1948-56

Sri Lanka

The largest political party in independent Sri Lanka, the United National Party (UNP), emerged as an umbrella party from the colonial era. It was similar in some respects to the Indian National Congress. Like its Indian counterpart, the UNP represented a union of a number of groups espousing different personalities and ideologies. Known later as the "uncle-nephew party" because of the kinship ties among the party's top leadership, the UNP served as the standard-bearer of conservative forces. In late 1947, when the party won the country's first general election, the UNP attempted to establish an anticommunist, intercommunal parliamentary form of government. Prominent nationalists, such as D.S. Senanayake and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike (the country's first and fourth prime ministers, respectively), led the UNP. The party's internal differences gradually worsened, however. The first and most serious break came in July 1951, when Bandaranaike's left-of-center bloc seceded to form the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the first major non-Marxist political movement to oppose the UNP.

Despite the benevolent guidance of Senanayake, the UNP could not defuse the nascent dissension between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. Some of Senanayake's policies, particularly his awarding of land grants to Sinhalese settlers for the resettlement of the northern dry zone, precipitated renewed competition between the two ethnic groups.

When Senanayake died in a horseback-riding accident in March 1952, not only the UNP, but also the entire nation suffered from the loss of the only man who could pose as a credible symbol for the country's unity. In the election that was held immediately after Senanayake's death, the UNP, led by his son Dudley, and the SLFP, led by Bandaranaike, vied for Sinhalese votes, while the Tamil Congress and Federal Party competed for the Tamil vote. The UNP won the election, and the SLFP emerged as major opposition party. The SLFP managed to win only nine out of forty-eight seats in Parliament. The Tamil Congress, having supported the UNP, lost much of its following to the Federal Party, which continued to advocate an autonomous homeland within a Sri Lankan federation. Ethnic tensions, although mounting, remained manageable.

After D. S. Senanayake's death, the nation's economic problems became apparent. The terms of world trade were turning against Sri Lanka. The population was growing faster than production in most sectors. A World Bank study completed in 1952 noted that social and welfare services were consuming 35 percent of the budget. The report recommended that the government rice subsidy--which accounted for the major portion of the expenditure--be reduced. Prime Minister Senanayake followed the advice, but the move proved to be his political undoing. A massive, sometimes violent civil disobedience movement was launched to protest the reduction of the rice subsidy and provoked the resignation of Senanayake. In October 1953, his cousin, Sir John Kotelawala, became prime minister and remained in office until the UNP defeat in the 1956 election.

The UNP government under Kotelawala disagreed with India's interpretation of political solidarity in the developing world. This divergence became painfully clear to India at the Colombo Conference of 1954 and the Bandung Conference in Indonesia in 1955. Kotelawala's strident condemnation of communism, as well as the more fashionable condemnation of Western imperialism, especially irritated India's Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Kotelawala was also anxious to have Ceylon join the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), but he encountered strong domestic opposition to the plan. The Soviet Union was especially sensitive to what it considered the government's pro-Western attitude and repeatedly vetoed Sri Lanka's application to join the United Nations (UN). Sri Lanka was finally admitted in 1955 as part of an East-West agreement.

The UNP continued a defense agreement with the British that spared Sri Lanka the cost of maintaining a large military establishment. National defense consumed less than 4 percent of the government budget in the postindependence years, and hence the military was not in a position to interfere with politics.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Emergence of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party

Sri Lanka

Following its defeat in 1952, the SLFP marshaled its forces in preparation for the next national election. The 1956 election was destined to become a turning point in the modern history of Sri Lanka and is seen by many observers as a social revolution resulting in the eclipse of the Westernized elite. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike campaigned as the "defender of a besieged Sinhalese culture" and demanded radical changes in the system. Bandaranaike came from a family of Westernized Sinhalese and was educated at Oxford, but early in his political career, he rejected many of the Western elements of his background and embraced the Buddhist faith and adopted native garb (regarded at the time as an affectation among members of his class). Bandaranaike brought to the election a deep knowledge of the passions that communal politics could provoke. His Sinhala Maha Sabha, founded in 1937 as a movement within the Ceylon National Congress, was the only wing of the congress at that time that sought to infuse a Sinhala consciousness into Sri Lankan nationalism. The Sinhala Maha Sabha formed the backbone of Bandaranaike's SLFP and helped spread his 1956 election warning that Buddhism was in danger. Accusations of a "conspiracy" between the UNP and the Roman Catholic Church helped raise emotions feverishly. As one commentator put it, "Bandaranaike built up a popular following based on the Sinhalese dislike of Christian influence, essentially stoking the fires of communal and religious bigotry."

Bandaranaike and his supporters used the UNP's pro-Western stance as a potent propaganda weapon against the party. He claimed that the independence granted in 1948 was "fake" and that real independence could only be attained by severing all links with the Commonwealth of Nations. In economic matters, Bandaranaike planned to nationalize plantations, banks, and insurance companies. He advocated the control over trade and industry vested in Sinhalese hands. With such a radical platform, Bandaranaike managed to unite many disparate groups into his People's United Front (Mahajana Eksath Peramuna--MEP), a political coalition under the leadership of his SLFP formed to defeat the UNP. In addition, he was able to forge a no-contest pact with two Marxist parties, the LSSP and the CPSL.

The central and most explosive issue of the 1956 election was a linguistic one. After independence, it was commonly accepted that Sinhala and Tamil would replace English as the language of administration, but Bandaranaike announced that only Sinhala would be given official status if his coalition won the election. Bandaranaike introduced a dangerous emotionalism into the election with his "Sinhala only" platform, which labeled both Tamil and English as cultural imports.

The 2,500th anniversary of the death of the Buddha (which also marked the legendary landing of Vijaya and his followers on the island) coincided with the 1956 election, electrifying the political atmosphere. The UNP was susceptible to the emotional power of these issues. In what was later seen as a shameless last-minute reversal, the party also espoused the "Sinhala only" program. This political about-face came too late to help the UNP, for the party lost the election, winning only eight seats in parliament. The People's United Front won the majority share of fifty-one seats.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Tamil Politics

Sri Lanka

Some political commentators hold that it was in the wake of the 1956 elections that two completely separate and basically hostile political systems emerged in Sri Lanka: one for the Sinhalese and another for the Tamils. The trend toward Tamil exclusivity, however, despite periods of accommodation with Sinhalese political parties, had begun developing before independence. The first political organization to be formed specifically to protect the welfare of an ethnic minority was the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), which G.G. Ponnambalam founded in 1944. The Tamil Congress attempted to secure adequate constitutional safeguards before the country attained its independence. These attempts reflected Tamil anxieties that British domination would simply give way to domination by the Sinhalese majority.

After independence, a dissident Tamil group in the ACTC emerged under the leadership of S.J.V. Chelvanayakam. The new group disagreed with Ponnambalam's policy of collaboration with the intercommunal, but Sinhalese-dominated, UNP. In 1949 the dissidents broke away from the ACTC and formed the rival Federal Party, which proposed establishing an autonomous Tamil linguistic state within a federal union of Sri Lanka. The Federal Party regarded this alternative as the only practical way to preserve Tamil identity.

In 1956 the Federal Party emerged as the dominant Tamil political group as a result of its convincing victory over the conservative Tamil Congress. The Federal Party had a distinct advantage because the Tamil Congress had suffered considerably from the stigma of its association with the UNP (which had abandoned its policy of making both Sinhala and Tamil national languages in an attempt to obtain the support of the numerically greater Sinhalese vote).

The Federal Party continued to consolidate its strength and became an important player in national politics. In 1965 the party became a component of the UNP-led coalition government by committing its bloc of parliamentary seats to the UNP, which at that time needed the Federal Party's support to form a stable parliamentary majority. In 1968 however, the Federal Party withdrew from the UNP government because its leaders were convinced that the party could no longer derive any tangible benefits from further association with the UNP. In 1970 the Federal Party campaigned independently, unlike the Tamil Congress, whose leaders called on the Tamils to join a united front with the Sinhalese.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Sri Lanka Freedom Party Rule, 1956-65

Sri Lanka

Legislation and Communal Agitation

Some of the first actions taken by the new SLFP government reflected a disturbing insensitivity to minority concerns. Shortly after its victory, the new government presented parliament with the Official Language Act, which declared Sinhala the one official language. The act was passed and immediately caused a reaction among Tamils, who perceived their language, culture, and economic position to be under attack.

The passage of the Official Language Act precipitated a current of antagonism between the Tamils and the Sinhalese. The Sri Lankan Tamils, represented by the Federal Party, launched a satyagraha (nonviolent protest) that resulted in a pact between S.V.R.D. Bandaranaike and S.J.V. Chelvanayakam. The agreement provided a wide measure of Tamil autonomy in Northern and Eastern provinces. It also provided for the use of the Tamil language in administrative matters. The BandaranaikeChelvanayakam Pact also promised that "early consideration" would be extended to Indian "plantation" Tamils on the question of Sri Lankan citizenship. But the pact was not carried out because of a peaceful protest by Buddhist clergy, who, with support from the UNP, denounced the pact as a "betrayal of Sinhalese-Buddhist people."

In May 1958, a rumor that a Tamil had killed a Sinhalese sparked off nationwide communal riots. Hundreds of people, mostly Tamils, died. This disturbance was the first major episode of communal violence on the island since independence. The riots left a deep psychological scar between the two major ethnic groups. The government declared a state of emergency and forcibly relocated more than 25,000 Tamil refugees from Sinhalese areas to Tamil areas in the north.

Populist Economic Policies

The Bandaranaike government actively expanded the public sector and broadened domestic welfare programs, including pension plans, medical care, nutrition programs, and food and fuel subsidies. This social agenda threatened to drain the nation's treasury. Other popular but economically unfeasible schemes promoted by the Bandaranaike government included restrictions on foreign investment, the nationalization of critical industries, and land reform measures that nationalized plantations and redistributed land to peasants.

When a Buddhist extremist assassinated Bandaranaike in September 1959, the nation faced a period of grave instability. The institution of parliamentary multiparty politics proved strong enough to endure, however, and orderly, constitutional actions resolved the leadership succession. The office of prime minister passed to the minister of education, Wijeyananda Dahanayake, who pledged to carry on the socialist policies of his predecessor. But policy differences and personality clashes within the ruling circle forced the new leader to dissolve Parliament in December 1959. The short-lived Dahanayake government, unable to hold Bandaranaike's coalition government together, was defeated by the UNP in the March 1960 general elections. The UNP won 33 percent of the seats in the lower house, giving the party a plurality but not a majority.

United National Party Interlude

The new prime minister, Dudley Senanayake, honored his election pledge to avoid compromise with the leftist parties and formed an all-UNP government with support from minor right-of- center parties. His overall parliamentary majority, however, was below the minimum seats required to defeat an opposition motion of no-confidence in the UNP cabinet. Less than a month after its formation, the UNP government fell. A new election was scheduled for July 1960.

Return of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party

The UNP fell because it lacked the support of any other major party in Parliament. The leftists tried to bring it down, and the Tamils withheld their support because the UNP had earlier hedged on the issue of the use of the Tamil language. Most important, the UNP had earned the reputation among Sinhalese voters of being a party inimical to Sinhalese nationalism.

Meanwhile the SLFP had grown stronger because of its unwavering support for making Sinhala the only official language. The SLFP found in the former prime minister's widow, Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias (S.R.D.) Bandaranaike, a candidate who was more capable of arousing Sinhalese emotions than Dahanayake had been in the March elections.

In the July 1960 general election, Bandaranaike was profiled as a woman who had nobly agreed to carry on the mandate of her assassinated husband. She received the support of many of the same small parties on the right and left that had temporarily joined together to form the People's United Front coalition (which had brought her husband victory in 1956). She won the election with an absolute majority in Parliament and became Sri Lanka's seventh, and the world's first woman, prime minister. The new government was in many ways the torchbearer for the ideas of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, but under his widow's direction, the SLFP carried out these ideas with such zeal and force that SinhaleseTamil relations sharply deteriorated. One of Sirimavo Bandaranaike's first official actions was to enforce the policy of Sinhala as the only officially recognized language of government. Her aggressive enforcement of this policy sparked immediate Tamil resistance, which resulted in civil disobedience in restive Northern and Eastern provinces. Bandaranaike reacted by declaring a state of emergency and curtailing Tamil political activity.

Bandaranaike also antagonized other significant minority groups, particularly the Christians. In response to a recommendation by an unofficial Buddhist commission, her government took over the management of state-assisted denominational schools. The move deprived many Christian missionary schools of support. Roman Catholic activists spearheaded demonstrations, which forced the government to reconsider some of its measures. Still, relations between the prime minister and the Christian denominations remained unstable.

Bandaranaike moved vigorously early in her administration to nationalize significant sectors of the economy, targeting industries that were under foreign control. The 1961 creation of the State Petroleum Corporation adversely affected the major petroleum companies--Shell, Esso, and Caltex. The new corporation was guaranteed 25 percent of the country's total petroleum business. Under Bandaranaike's instruction, state corporations began to import oil from new sources, effectively altering for the first time the pattern of trade that had been followed since British rule. Sri Lanka signed oil import agreements with the Soviet Union, Romania, Egypt, and other countries not traditionally involved in Sri Lankan trade. The government also put important sectors of the local economy, particularly the insurance industry, under state control. Most alarming to Bandaranaike's conservative opponents, however, were her repeated unsuccessful attempts to nationalize the largest newspaper syndicate and establish a press council to monitor the news media.

In foreign relations, Bandaranaike was faithful to her late husband's policy of "dynamic neutralism," which aimed to steer a nonaligned diplomatic stance between the superpowers. Sri Lanka exercised its new foreign policy in 1962 by organizing a conference of neutralist nations to mediate an end to the SinoIndian border war of 1962. Although the conference failed to end the war, it highlighted Sri Lanka's new role as a peacebroker and enhanced its international status.

The UNP opposition was apprehensive of Bandaranaike's leftward drift and was especially concerned about the SLFP alliance with the Trotskyite LSSP in 1964. The UNP approached the March 1965 election as a senior partner in a broad front of "democratic forces" dedicated to fight the "totalitarianism of the left." It enjoyed significant support from the Federal Party (representing Sri Lankan Tamils) and the Ceylon Workers' Congress (representing Indian Tamils).

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - United National Party Regains Power, 1965-70

Sri Lanka

The UNP "national government" emerged victorious in the March 1965 elections, capturing more than 39 percent of parliamentary seats, compared to SLFP's 30.2 percent. One of the first actions of the new government, led by Senanayake, was to declare that the nation's economy was virtually bankrupt. Senanayake also announced his intention to improve relations with the United States. (In 1963 the United States had suspended aid to Sri Lanka because of Bandaranaike's nationalization of foreign oil concerns.)

The government tried to develop a mixed economy with an emphasis on the private sector. Between 1965 and 1970, private sector investment was double that of the public sector, thereby reversing the trend set in the previous administration. Despite the UNP's emphasis on the private sector, the economy generally failed to show a major improvement. This failure was partly caused by a nearly 50 percent increase in the cost of rice imports after a worldwide shortage in 1965 and a concurrent steep decline in the price of Sri Lanka's export commodities. In 1966 the UNP government was forced to declare a state of emergency to ward off food riots. Senanayake reduced the subsidized weekly rice ration by half. The reduction remained in effect throughout the remainder of the "national government" period and contributed greatly to UNP's defeat in the 1970 general elections.

The UNP paid more attention to Buddhist sensitivities than it had in the past, and in an effort to widen the party's popularity, it replaced the Christian sabbath with the Buddhist poya full-moon holiday. This action satisfied Buddhist activists but alienated the small but powerful Roman Catholic lobby. The UNP also tried to earn favor with the Tamils by enacting the Tamil Regulations in 1966, which were designed to make Tamil a language officially "parallel" to Sinhala in Tamilspeaking regions. Sinhalese activists immediately expressed hostility toward the Tamil Regulations. Civil violence ensued, and the government was forced to proclaim a state of emergency that lasted for most of the year.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - United Front Rule and Emerging Violence, 1970-77

Sri Lanka

In order to prepare for the 1970 general election, Sirimavo Bandaranaike formed a coalition in 1968 with the LSSP and CPSL to oppose the UNP. The new three-party United Front (Samagi Peramuna) announced that it would work toward a "people's government" under the leadership of Bandaranaike and that it would follow a so-called Common Programme, which promised radical structural changes, including land reform, increased rice subsidies, and nationalization of local and foreign banks.

The United Front resurrected communal emotionalism as a timely and potent campaign weapon. It attacked the UNP for its alliance with the two main Tamil political groups, the Federal Party and the Ceylon Workers' Congress. At the same time, the United Front also announced that it would adopt a new constitution to make Sri Lanka a republic and that it would restore "Buddhism to its rightful place." The United Front won 118 of the 135 seats it contested, with the SLFP, the biggestsingle party, winning 90 seats, the LSSP 19, seats and the CPSL 6 seats. The UNP won a meager seventeen seats.

The United Front government moved quickly to implement key features of its Common Programme. The philosophy of the coalition government was seen most transparently from its foreign and economic policies. The United Front issued declarations that it followed a nonaligned path; opposed imperialism, colonialism, and racism; and supported national liberation movements. The government quickly extended diplomatic relations to the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (then North Vietnam), the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), and the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam. It also pledged to suspend recognition of Israel. In economic matters, the United Front vowed to put private enterprise in a subsidiary role.

Prime Minister Bandaranaike tolerated the radical left at first and then lost control of it. Sensing mounting unrest, the government declared a state of emergency in March 1971. In April, the People's Liberation Front (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna--JVP), a Maoist and primarily rural Sinhalese youth movement claiming a membership of more than 10,000, began a "blitzkrieg" operation to take over the government "within 24 hours." The JVP followed a program--known as the Five Lectures--that included an agenda to deal with "Indian expansionism," the island's unstable economic situation, and the inability of the traditionalist leftist leadership to assert power or attract widespread support (an allusion to the LSSP and the CPSL). The JVP threatened to take power by extraparliamentary means. Fierce fighting erupted in the north-central, south-central, and southern rural districts of the island, causing an official estimate of 1,200 dead. Unofficial tallies of the number of dead were much higher. The JVP came perilously close to overthrowing the government but the military finally suppressed the movement and imprisoned JVP's top leadership and about 16,000 suspected insurgents.

In May 1972, the United Front followed through on its 1970 campaign promise to promulgate a new constitution to make Sri Lanka a republic. Under the new constitution, the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government were vested in the National State Assembly. Many important and vocal sectors of society opposed this concentration of power. The 1972 constitution disturbed the UNP, which feared an authoritarian government might emerge because of the new document. The UNP was especially alarmed that a Trotskyite, Dr. Colvin de Silva (Bandaranaike's minister of constitutional affairs), had drafted the constitution.

The distinct lack of protection for the rights of minorities in the new constitution dismayed many sectors of the population. The Tamils were especially disturbed because the 1972 constitution contained no elements of federalism. Instead, a newly conferred status for Buddhism replaced the provisions for minorities provided by Article 29 in the 1948 constitution. The constitution also sanctioned measures that discriminated against Tamil youth in university admissions. Tamil youth were particularly irked by the "standardization" policy that Bandaranaike's government introduced in 1973. The policy made university admissions criteria lower for Sinhalese than for Tamils. The Tamil community--the Federal Party, the Tamil Congress, and other Tamil organizations--reacted collectively against the new atmosphere the new constitution produced, and in May 1972, they founded the Tamil United Front (which became the Tamil United Liberation Front--TULF--in 1976).

By the mid-1970s, the antagonism between the right and left was destroying the United Front coalition. The growing political influence of the right wing led by Sirimavo Bandaranaike's son, Anura, precipitated the expulsion of the LSSP from the United Front in September 1975. The withdrawal of the CPSL in 1977 further weakened the coalition.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - The UNP Returns to Power

Sri Lanka

After Dudley Senanayake died in 1973, a struggle for the leadership of the UNP ensued between his nephew, Rukman Senanayake, and Junius Richard (J.R.) Jayewardene, a more distant relative. Jayewardene had been involved in politics for years, having been elected to the State Council, the parliament's colonial predecessor, as early as 1943. A leader of the UNP since independence, Jayewardene had deferred to the Senanayake family. But in 1970, when the UNP suffered a resounding defeat to the United Front, Jayewardene became more assertive. His party manifesto--The UNP in Opposition, 1970--contended that the majority of Sri Lankans perceived the party as the party of the "haves, the affluent, and the employers." He also contended that the people had come to perceive the SLFP as the party of the "have nots, the needy, and the unemployed." Jayewardene moved forcefully to refurbish UNP's image and announced that the party would inaugurate an era of a just and righteous (dharmishta) society. After becoming president of the party, Jayewardene began to restructure the UNP and make the party more attractive, especially to young people. By the time of the general election of 1977, Jayewardene had developed an extensive grass roots party organization.

Election of 1977 and More Violence

After molding the UNP around his personality and having successfully built up the party's infrastructure, Jayewardene easily became prime minister. The UNP won an unprecedented landslide victory in the 1977 elections, winning 140 of 168 seats. The SLFP was reduced to eight seats. The Sri Lankan Tamils, however, gave little support to Jayewardene or any other non-Tamil politician. The Sri Lankan Tamils entered the parliamentary election fray under the banner of TULF, which had elevated its earlier demand for regional self-rule to a demand for an independent state, or Eelam. TULF became the largest opposition party in Parliament and captured all fourteen seats in the heavily Tamil Northern Province and four east coast seats. TULF won in every constituency with a Tamil majority on the island, except one. In Jaffna District, TULF candidates won all eleven seats, although forty-seven other candidates contested the seats. TULF originally included the largest Indian (plantation) Tamil political organization, the Ceylon Workers' Congress, but after the 1977 election, the leader of the Ceylon Workers' Congress accepted a cabinet post in the UNP government. The Sri Lankan Tamil demand for Tamil Eelam had never been of central concern to the Indian Tamils, who lived mostly outside the territory being claimed for the Tamil state.

The opportunities for peace that the 1977 UNP electoral victory provided were soon lost. Just before the 1977 elections, Chelvanayakam, the charismatic leader of TULF, died, leaving the party without strong leadership. A Tamil separatist underground (which had split into six or more rival and sometimes violently hostile groups that were divided by ideology, caste, and personal antagonisms) was filling the vacuum left by the weakened TULF and was gaining the allegiance of an increasing number of disenchanted Tamil youths. These groups were known collectively as the Tamil Tigers. The strongest of these separatists were the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), founded in 1972 by Velupillai Prabhakaran. The LTTE was responsible for some of the earliest and most gruesome acts of Tamil terrorism. The LTTE first gained notoriety by its 1975 assassination of the mayor of Jaffna, a supporter of the SLFP. During the 1977 elections, many Tamil youths began to engage in extraparliamentary and sometimes violent measures in their bid for a mandate for a separate state. These measures precipitated a Sinhalese backlash. An apparently false rumor that Sinhalese policemen had died at the hands of Tamil terrorists, combined with other rumors of alleged anti-Sinhalese statements made by Tamil politicians, sparked brutal communal rioting that engulfed the island within two weeks of the new government's inauguration. The rioting marked the first major outbreak of communal violence in the nineteen years since the riots of 1958. Casualties were many, especially among Tamils, both the Sri Lankan Tamils of Jaffna and the Indian Tamil plantation workers. The Tamil Refugee Rehabilitation Organization estimated the death toll at 300.

Constitution of 1978

After coming to power, Jayewardene directed the rewriting of the constitution. The document that was produced, the new Constitution of 1978, drastically altered the nature of governance in Sri Lanka. It replaced the previous Westminsterstyle , parliamentary government with a new presidential system modeled after France, with a powerful chief executive. The president was to be elected by direct suffrage for a six-year term and was empowered to appoint, with parliamentary approval, the prime minister and to preside over cabinet meetings. Jayewardene became the first president under the new Constitution and assumed direct control of the government machinery and party.

The new regime ushered in an era that did not auger well for the SLFP. Jayewardene's UNP government accused former prime minister Bandaranaike of abusing her power while in office from 1970 to 1977. In October 1980, Bandaranaike's privilege to engage in politics was removed for a period of seven years, and the SLFP was forced to seek a new leader. After a long and divisive battle, the party chose her son, Anura. Anura Bandaranaike was soon thrust into the role of the keeper of his father's legacy, but he inherited a political party torn apart by factionalism and reduced to a minimal role in the Parliament.

The 1978 Constitution included substantial concessions to Tamil sensitivities. Although TULF did not participate in framing the Constitution, it continued to sit in Parliament in the hope of negotiating a settlement to the Tamil problem. TULF also agreed to Jayewardene's proposal of an all-party conference to resolve the island's ethnic problems. Jayewardene's UNP offered other concessions in a bid to secure peace. Sinhala remained the official language and the language of administration throughout Sri Lanka, but Tamil was given a new "national language" status. Tamil was to be used in a number of administrative and educational circumstances. Jayewardene also eliminated a major Tamil grievance by abrogating the "standardization" policy of the United Front government, which had made university admission criteria for Tamils more difficult. In addition, he offered many top-level positions, including that of minister of justice, to Tamil civil servants.

While TULF, in conjunction with the UNP, pressed for the allparty conference, the Tamil Tigers escalated their terrorist attacks, which provoked Sinhalese backlash against Tamils and generally precluded any successful accommodation. In reaction to the assassination of a Jaffna police inspector, the Jayewardene government declared an emergency and dispatched troops, who were given an unrealistic six months to eradicate the terrorist threat.

The government passed the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act in 1979. The act was enacted as a temporary measure, but it later became permanent legislation. The International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, and other human rights organizations condemned the act as being incompatible with democratic traditions. Despite the act, the number of terrorist acts increased. Guerrillas began to hit targets of high symbolic value such as post offices and police outposts, provoking government counterattacks. As an increasing number of civilians were caught in the fighting, Tamil support widened for the "boys," as the guerrillas began to be called. Other large, well-armed groups began to compete with LTTE. The better-known included the People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam, Tamil Eelam Liberation Army, and the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization. Each of these groups had forces measured in the hundreds if not thousands. The government claimed that many of the terrorists were operating from training camps in India's Tamil Nadu State. The Indian government repeatedly denied this claim. With the level of violence mounting, the possibility of negotiation became increasingly distant.

The Riots of 1981

In June 1981, local elections were held in the north to elect members of the newly established district development councils. TULF had decided to participate and work in the councils. In doing so, TULF continued to work toward autonomy for the Tamil areas. Extremists within the separatist movement, however, adamantly opposed working within the existing political framework. They viewed participation in the elections as compromising the objective of a separate state. Shortly before the elections, the leading candidate of the UNP was assassinated as he left a political rally. The sporadic communal violence that persisted over the following three months foreshadowed the devastating communal riots of 1983. When elections were held a few days later, concomitant charges of voting irregularities and mishandling of ballots created the nation's first election scandal since the introduction of universal suffrage fifty years earlier.

Presidential Election of 1982

TULF decided to boycott the 1982 presidential elections, partly in reaction to the harsh Prevention of Terrorism Act and partly in response to pressures exerted by Tamil extremists. Only 46 percent of the voters in Jaffna District turned out. In Sinhalese districts, 85 percent of voters turned out. Increasing violence by Tamil youths in the north and east of the island accompanied the call for a Tamil Eelam. The rising level of violence in 1983 led the government to pass a sixth amendment to the Constitution, which specifically banned talk of separatism. All sixteen TULF members of parliament were expelled for refusing to recite a loyalty oath, thus removing a critical channel for mediation.

The Riots of July 1983

In July 1983, the most savage communal riots in Sri Lanka's history erupted. Conservative government estimates put the death toll at 400-- mostly Tamils. At least 150,000 Tamil fled the island. The riots began in retaliation for an ambush of an army patrol in the north that left thirteen Sinhalese soldiers dead. The army was reputed to have killed sixty Tamil civilians in Jaffna, but most of the violence occurred in Colombo, where Sinhalese mobs looked for Tamil shops to destroy. More than any previous ethnic riot on the island, the 1983 riots were marked by their highly organized mob violence. Sinhalese rioters in Colombo used voter lists containing home addresses to make precise attacks on the Tamil community. From Colombo, the anti-Tamil violence fanned out to the entire island. The psychological effects of this violence on Sri Lanka's complex and divided society were still being assessed in the late 1980s. Nevertheless, in the aftermath of the communal rioting, a selfevident truth was that the island's history, and the complexity of its society, had a portentous message for the present: Sinhalese and Tamil Sri Lankans were fated by history and geography to coexist in close proximity. This coexistence could be discordant or amicable, and examples of both could be drawn from Sri Lanka's history. It was a message, however, whose meaning was forgotten as the ethnic communities were drawn increasingly into a vortex of rancor and violence that made the restoration of harmony a persistently elusive goal for the Sri Lankan government.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Geography

Sri Lanka

SRI LANKA LIES practically in the center of the Indian Ocean and thus has climatic and cultural links with three continents. Monsoon winds, driving against Sri Lanka's peaks, support lush vegetation on the southern half of the island, but the northern half is a dry zone. The winds affect human culture as well, having brought wave after wave of immigrants and merchants following the southerly trade routes. Outsiders found a wide range of ecological niches on the coast, on the plains, or in the mountains, and they built a remarkably variegated civilization. Merchants long have sought Sri Lanka as the source of pearls, jewels, spices, and tea. Visitors for centuries have marvelled at the beauty and great diversity of the island.

The South Asian landmass to the north has strongly influenced Sri Lankan culture in the past and continues to do so. From an outlander's perspective, some of the main aspects of Sri Lankan society--language, caste, family structure--are regional variants of Indian civilization. From the perspective of the islander, however, the Indian influence is but the largest part of a continuing barrage of stimuli coming to Sri Lanka from all sides. The people of the island have absorbed these influences and built their own civilization.

<"34.htm">Ecological Zones
<"35.htm">Land Use and Settlement Patterns

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Geology

Sri Lanka

More than 90 percent of Sri Lanka's surface lies on Precambrian strata, some of it dating back 2 billion years. The metamorphic rock surface was created by the transformation of ancient sediments under intense heat and pressure during mountain-building processes. The theory of plate tectonics suggests that these rocks and related rocks forming most of south India were part of a single southern landmass called Gondwanaland. Beginning about 200 million years ago, forces within the earth's mantle began to separate the lands of the Southern Hemisphere, and a crustal plate supporting both India and Sri Lanka moved toward the northeast. About 45 million years ago, the Indian plate collided with the Asian landmass, raising the Himalayas in northern India, and continuing to advance slowly to the present time. Sri Lanka experiences few earthquakes or major volcanic events because it rides on the center of the plate.

The island contains relatively limited strata of sedimentation surrounding its ancient hills. Aside from recent deposits along river valleys, only two small fragments of Jurassic (140 to 190 million years ago) sediment occur in Puttalam District, while a more extensive belt of Miocene (5 to 20 million years ago) limestone is found along the northwest coast, overlain in many areas by Pleistocene (1 million years ago) deposits. The northwest coast is part of the deep Cauvery (Kaveri) River Basin of southeast India, which has been collecting sediments from the highlands of India and Sri Lanka since the breakup of Gondwanaland.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Topography

Sri Lanka

Extensive faulting and erosion over time have produced a wide range of topographic features, making Sri Lanka one of the most scenic places in the world. Three zones are distinguishable by elevation: the Central Highlands, the plains, and the coastal belt.

The south-central part of Sri Lanka--the rugged Central Highlands--is the heart of the country. The core of this area is a high plateau, running north-south for approximately sixty-five kilometers. This area includes some of Sri Lanka's highest mountains. (Pidurutalagala is the highest at 2,524 meters.) At the plateau's southern end, mountain ranges stretch 50 kilometers to the west toward Adams Peak (2,243 meters) and 50 kilometers to the east toward Namunakuli (2,036 meters). Flanking the high central ridges are two lower plateaus. On the west is the Hatton Plateau, a deeply dissected series of ridges sloping downward toward the north. On the east, the Uva Basin consists of rolling hills covered with grasses, traversed by some deep valleys and gorges. To the north, separated from the main body of mountains and plateaus by broad valleys, lies the Knuckles Massif: steep escarpments, deep gorges, and peaks rising to more than 1,800 meters. South of Adams Peak lie the parallel ridges of the Rakwana Hills, with several peaks over 1,400 meters. The land descends from the Central Highlands to a series of escarpments and ledges at 400 to 500 meters above sea level before sloping down toward the coastal plains.

Most of the island's surface consists of plains between 30 and 200 meters above sea level. In the southwest, ridges and valleys rise gradually to merge with the Central Highlands, giving a dissected appearance to the plain. Extensive erosion in this area has worn down the ridges and deposited rich soil for agriculture downstream. In the southeast, a red, lateritic soil covers relatively level ground that is studded with bare, monolithic hills. The transition from the plain to the Central Highlands is abrupt in the southeast, and the mountains appear to rise up like a wall. In the east and the north, the plain is flat, dissected by long, narrow ridges of granite running from the Central Highlands.

A coastal belt about thirty meters above sea level surrounds the island. Much of the coast consists of scenic sandy beaches indented by coastal lagoons. In the Jaffna Peninsula, limestone beds are exposed to the waves as low-lying cliffs in a few places. In the northeast and the southwest, where the coast cuts across the stratification of the crystalline rocks, rocky cliffs, bays, and offshore islands can be found; these conditions have created one of the world's best natural harbors at Trincomalee on the northeast coast, and a smaller rock harbor at Galle on the southwestern coast.

Sri Lanka's rivers rise in the Central Highlands and flow in a radial pattern toward the sea. Most of these rivers are short. There are sixteen principal rivers longer than 100 kilometers in length, with twelve of them carrying about 75 percent of the mean river discharge in the entire country. The longest rivers are the Mahaweli Ganga (335 kilometers) and the Aruvi Aru (170 kilometers). In the highlands, river courses are frequently broken by discontinuities in the terrain, and where they encounter escarpments, numerous waterfalls and rapids have eroded a passage. Once they reach the plain, the rivers slow down and the waters meander across flood plains and deltas. The upper reaches of the rivers are wild and usually unnavigable, and the lower reaches are prone to seasonal flooding. Human intervention has altered the flows of some rivers in order to create hydroelectric, irrigation, and transportation projects. In the north, east, and southeast, the rivers feed numerous artificial lakes or reservoirs (tanks) that store water during the dry season. During the 1970s and 1980s, large-scale projects dammed the Mahaweli Ganga and neighboring streams to create large lakes along their courses. Several hundred kilometers of canals, most of which were built by the Dutch in the eighteenth century, link inland waterways in the southwestern part of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Climate

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka's position between 5 and 10 north latitude endows the country with a warm climate, moderated by ocean winds and considerable moisture. The mean temperature ranges from a low of 15.8� C in Nuwara Eliya in the Central Highlands (where frost may occur for several days in the winter) to a high of 29� C in Trincomalee on the northeast coast (where temperatures may reach 37� C). The average yearly temperature for the country as a whole ranges from 26� C to 28� C. Day and night temperatures may vary by 4 to 7 . January is the coolest month, causing people, especially those in the highlands, to wear coats and sweaters. May, the hottest period, precedes the summer monsoon rains.

The rainfall pattern is influenced by the monsoon winds of the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal and is marked by four seasons. The first is from mid-May to October, when winds originate in the southwest, bringing moisture from the Indian Ocean. When these winds encounter the slopes of the Central Highlands, they unload heavy rains on the mountain slopes and the southwestern sector of the island. Some of the windward slopes receive up to 250 centimeters of rain per month, but the leeward slopes in the east and northeast receive little rain. The second season occurs in October and November, the intermonsoonal months. During this season, periodic squalls occur and sometimes tropical cyclones bring overcast skies and rains to the southwest, northeast, and eastern parts of the island. During the third season, December to March, monsoon winds come from the northeast, bringing moisture from the Bay of Bengal. The northeastern slopes of the mountains may be inundated with up to 125 centimeters of rain during these months. Another intermonsoonal period occurs from March until mid-May, with light, variable winds and evening thundershowers.

Humidity is typically higher in the southwest and mountainous areas and depends on the seasonal patterns of rainfall. At Colombo, for example, daytime humidity stays above 70 percent all year, rising to almost 90 percent during the monsoon season in June. Anuradhapura experiences a daytime low of 60 percent during the intermonsoonal month of March, but a high of 79 percent during the November and December rains. In the highlands, Kandy's daytime humidity usually ranges between 70 and 79 percent.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Ecological Zones

Sri Lanka

The pattern of life in Sri Lanka depends directly on the availability of rainwater. The mountains and the southwestern part of the country, known as the "wet zone," receive ample rainfall (an annual average of 250 centimeters). Most of the southeast, east, and northern parts of the country comprise the "dry zone, which receives between 120 and 190 centimeters of rain annually. Much of the rain in these areas falls from October to January; during the rest of the year there is very little precipitation, and all living creatures must conserve precious moisture. The arid northwest and southeast coasts receive the least amount of rain--60 to 120 centimeters per year-- concentrated within the short period of the winter monsoon.

The natural vegetation of the dry zone is adapted to the annual change from flood to drought. The typical ground cover is scrub forest, interspersed with tough bushes and cactuses in the driest areas. Plants grow very fast from November to February when rainfall is heavy, but stop growing during the hot season from March to August. Various adaptations to the dry conditions have developed. To conserve water, trees have thick bark; most have tiny leaves, and some drop their leaves during this season. Also, the topmost branches of the tallest trees often interlace, forming a canopy against the hot sun and a barrier to the dry wind. When water is absent, the plains of the dry zone are dominated by browns and grays. When water becomes available, either during the wet season or through proximity to rivers and lakes, the vegetation explodes into shades of green with a wide variety of beautiful flowers. Varieties of flowering acacias are well adapted to the arid conditions and flourish on the Jaffna Peninsula. Among the trees of the dry-land forests are some valuable species, such as satinwood, ebony, ironwood, and mahogany.

In the wet zone, the dominant vegetation of the lowlands is a tropical evergreen forest, with tall trees, broad foliage, and a dense undergrowth of vines and creepers. Subtropical evergreen forests resembling those of temperate climates flourish in the higher altitudes. Montane vegetation at the highest altitudes tends to be stunted and windswept.

Forests at one time covered nearly the entire island, but by the late twentieth century lands classified as forests and forest reserves covered only one-fifth of the land. The southwestern interior contains the only large remnants of the original forests of the wet zone. The government has attempted to preserve sanctuaries for natural vegetation and animal life, however. Ruhunu National Park in the southeast protects herds of elephant, deer, and peacocks, and Wilpattu National Park in the northwest preserves the habitats of many water birds, such as storks, pelicans, ibis, and spoonbills. During the Mahaweli Garga Program of the 1970s and 1980s in northern Sri Lanka, the government set aside four areas of land totalling 190,000 hectares as national parks.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Land Use and Settlement Patterns

Sri Lanka

The dominant pattern of human settlement during the last 2,500 years has consisted of village farming communities. Even in the 1980s, the majority of people lived in small villages and worked at agricultural pursuits. Traditional farming techniques and life-styles revolve around two types of farming--"wet" and "dry"--depending upon the availability of water.

The typical settlement pattern in the rice-growing areas is a compact group of houses or neighborhood surrounding one or several religious centers that serve as the focus for communal activities. Sometimes the houses may be situated along a major road and include a few shops, or the village may include several outlying hamlets. The life-sustaining rice fields begin where the houses end and stretch into the distance. Some irrigated fields may include other cash crops, such as sugarcane, or groves of coconut trees. Palmyra trees grow on the borders of fields or along roads and paths. Individual houses also may have vegetable gardens in their compounds. During the rainy seasons and thereafter, when the fields are covered by growing crops, the village environment is intensely verdant.

The nature of agricultural pursuits in Sri Lanka has changed over the centuries and has usually depended upon the availability of arable land and water resources. In earlier times, when villagers had access to plentiful forests that separated settlements from each other, slash-and-burn agriculture was a standard technique. As expanding population and commercial pressures reduced the amount of available forestland, however, slash-and-burn cultivation steadily declined in favor of permanent cultivation by private owners. Until the thirteenth century, the village farming communities were mainly on the northern plains around Anuradhapura and then Polonnaruwa, but they later shifted to the southwest. In the 1980s, wide expanses of the northern and eastern plains were sparsely populated, with scattered villages each huddled around an artificial lake. The Jaffna Peninsula, although a dry area, is densely populated and intensively cultivated. The southwest contains most of the people, and villages are densely clustered with little unused land. In the Central Highlands around Kandy, villagers faced with limited flat land have developed intricately terraced hillsides where they grow rice. In the 1970s and 1980s, the wet cultivation area was expanding rapidly, as the government implemented large-scale irrigation projects to restore the dry zone to agricultural productivity. In the 1980s, the area drained by the Mahaweli Ganga changed from a sparsely inhabited region to a wet rice area similar to the southwest. Through such projects, the government of Sri Lanka has planned to recreate in the dry zone the lush, irrigated landscape associated with the ancient Sinhalese civilization.

Beginning in the sixteenth century and culminating during the British rule of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the plantation economy came to dominate large sections of the highlands. Plantation farming resulted in a drastic reduction in the natural forest cover and the substitution of domesticated crops, such as rubber, tea, or cinnamon. It also brought about a changed life-style, as the last hunting-and-gathering societies retreated into smaller areas and laborers moved into the highlands to work on plantations. Through the late twentieth century, workers on large plantations lived in villages of small houses or in "line rooms" containing ten to twelve units. The numerous plantations of small landholders frequently included attached hamlets of workers in addition to the independent houses of the plantation owners.

The coastal belt surrounding the island contains a different settlement pattern that has evolved from older fishing villages. Separate fishing settlements expanded laterally along the coast, linked by a coastal highway and a railway. The mobility of the coastal population during colonial times and after independence led to an increase in the size and number of villages, as well as to the development of growing urban centers with outside contacts. In the 1980s, it was possible to drive for many kilometers along the southwest coast without finding a break in the string of villages and bazaar centers merging into each other and into towns.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - The Society

Sri Lanka

The Sinhalese, a distinct ethnic group speaking the Sinhala language and practicing a variant of Theravada Buddhism, comprise the majority--74 percent--of the population, and their values dominate public life. There are, however, substantial minority groups. The Tamils, speaking the Tamil language and generally practicing Hinduism, comprise almost 18 percent of the population. Muslims, many of whom speak Tamil as their main language, make up 7 percent of the populace. Each of the main ethnic groups is subdivided into several major categories, depending on variables of religion or geography. There also are sizable Christian minorities among the Sinhalese and Tamil. People living in the central highland region of the country generally adhere more closely to their traditional ethnic customs than lowland dwellers.

Caste creates other social divisions. The Goyigama caste of the Sinhalese--traditionally associated with land cultivation--is dominant in population and public influence, but in the lowlands other castes based on commercial activities are influential. The Tamil Vellala caste resembles the Goyigama in its dominance and traditional connection with agriculture, but it is completely separate from the Sinhalese caste hierarchy. Within their separate caste hierarchies, Sinhalese and Tamil communities are fragmented through customs that separate higher from lower orders. These include elaborate rules of etiquette and a nearly complete absence of intercaste marriages. Differences in wealth arising from the modern economic system have created, however, wide class cleavages that cut across boundaries of caste, religion, and language. Because of all these divisions, Sri Lankan society is complex, with numerous points of potential conflict.

The population of Sri Lanka has grown considerably since independence in 1948, and in the 1980s was increasing by approximately 200,000 people or 1.37 percent each year. Because of this population pressure, the government has faced a major development problem as it has attempted to reconcile the divergent interests of caste, class, and ethnic groups while trying to ensure adequate food, education, health services, and career opportunities for the rapidly expanding population. Politicians and officials have attempted to meet these needs through a form of welfare socialism, providing a level of support services that is comparatively high for a developing nation. Building on colonial foundations, Sri Lanka has created a comprehensive education system, including universities, that has produced one of the best-educated populations in Asia. A free state-run health system provides basic care that has raised average life expectancy to the highest level in South Asia. Ambitious housing and sanitation plans, although incomplete, promised basic amenities to all citizens by the year 2000. In 1988 the government addressed the nutritional deficiencies of the poor through a subsidized food stamp program and free nutrition programs for children and mothers.

The crucial problem facing Sri Lanka's plural society is whether it can evolve a form of socialism that will address the needs of all groups, or whether frustrated aspirations will engender further conflict. In the field of education, for example, excellent accomplishments in elementary schooling have emerged alongside bitter competition for coveted places in the university system; this competition has fueled ethnic hatred between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities. In a land with limited resources, the benefits of social welfare programs highlight the inadequacies of progress for some regional or ethnic groups. In these circumstances, caste, ethnic, or religious differences become boundaries between warring parties, and a person's language or place of worship becomes a sign of political affiliation. The social organization of Sri Lanka is thus an important component of the politics and economy in the developing nation.

<"38.htm">Ethnic Groups
<"41.htm"> Family
<"42.htm"> Buddhism
<"43.htm"> Hinduism
<"44.htm"> Islam
<"45.htm"> Christianity
<"46.htm"> Education
<"47.htm"> Health
<"48.htm"> Living Conditions

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Population

Sri Lanka

During the early nineteenth century, the population of Sri Lanka was small and concentrated in the southwestern part of the island and in the Jaffna Peninsula in the north. The first official census, conducted by the British in 1871, recorded a total population of 2.8 million. Between then and the 1980s, the population increased sixfold. Population growth until around 1900 was given impetus by considerable immigration from southern India, as the British brought in hundreds of thousands of Tamils to work the plantation economy. These immigrants accounted for an estimated 40 to 70 percent of the population increase during the nineteenth century. Another significant factor in the growth of population after 1900 was a decline in mortality rates. The period of fastest growth was the decade after independence, when the annual rate of increase was 2.8 percent. The official total in the 1981 census was 14,846,750, and some projections suggested a total of 18 million by 1991 and between 20 and 21 million by 2001. Furthermore, if the 1980s trends continue, the population will double in forty years.

Although the increase in the number of people remained a major problem for Sri Lanka, there were indications in the 1980s that the country had moved beyond a period of uncontrolled population expansion into a pattern similar to that of more industrialized nations. The crude fertility rate declined from 5.3 in 1953--at the height of the postindependence baby boom--to 3.3 in 1981. Emigration, which outpaced immigration after 1953, also contributed to the decline in population growth. Between 1971 and 1981, for example, 313,000 Tamil workers from the plantation areas emigrated to south India. Increased employment opportunities in the Arab nations also attracted a substantial annual flow of workers from Sri Lanka (a total of 57,000 in 1981 alone). The lowering of the population growth rate was accompanied by changes in the age distribution, with the older age-groups increasing, and by the concentration of people in urban areas. Those phenomena also accompanied lower population growth in Europe and the United States.

Population is not uniformly spread but is concentrated within the wet zone and urban centers on the coast and the Jaffna Peninsula. The country's mean population density--based on 1981 census data--was 230 persons per square kilometer, but in Colombo District density was 2,605 persons per square kilometer. In contrast, the dry zone districts of Vavuniya, Mannar, Mullaittivu, and Moneragala had fewer than fifty-five persons per square kilometer. One reason for the unequal settlement pattern was the rainfall distribution, which made it possible for the wet zones to support larger village farming populations. Another reason was the slow but steady concentration of people in urban centers during the twentieth century. The ratio of Sri Lankans living in cities increased from 11 percent in 1871 to 15 percent in 1946 and 21.5 percent in 1981.

By 1985 a slowly declining crude birth rate hinted at a gradual aging of the population and changed requirements for social services. For the time being, however, there was considerable pressure for jobs, education, and welfare facilities from the large number of people who were raising families or pursuing careers. In the remaining decades of the century and beyond there was likely to be greater pressure for housing and health care for an aging population.

Urbanization has affected almost every area of the country since independence. Local market centers have grown into towns, and retail or service stores have cropped up even in small agricultural villages. The greatest growth in urban population, however, has occurred around a few large centers. In 1981 the urbanized population was 32.2 percent in Trincomalee District and 32.6 percent in Jaffna District, in contrast to the rural Moneragala District where only 2.2 percent of the people lived in towns. Colombo District, with 74.4 percent urban population, experienced the largest changes. Between 1881 and 1981, the city of Colombo increased its size from 25 to 37 square kilometers and its population from 110,502 to 587,647.

Since independence was granted in 1948, there have been four main trends in migration. First, every year more people move from rural areas to the cities. Second, the cities have changed from concentrated centers to sprawling suburbs. During the 1970s, the city of Colombo actually lost population, mostly to neighboring cities in Colombo District. Part of the suburban growth has resulted from a planned strategy to reduce urban congestion. For example, a new parliamentary complex opened in Sri Jayewardenepura in the suburb of Kotte east of Colombo in 1982 (although Colombo is still considered the national capital). Much of the growth, however, has been the unplanned proliferation of slums inhabited by poor and unskilled masses and lacking public utilities or services. Third, government irrigation projects attracted many farmers from the wet zone to the pioneer settlements in the dry zone. During the decade ending in 1981, the highest rates of population increase occurred in the districts of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, where the Mahaweli Garga Program attracted immigrant farmers. Fourth, SinhaleseTamil ethnic struggles displaced many people during the 1970s and 1980s. During a Tamil repatriation program in the 1970s, large numbers of Tamil plantation workers left for India or moved out of the hill areas toward the north and the east. After the intensification of communal fighting in 1983, an estimated 100,000 Tamil refugees fled to India, where they lived in refugee camps in Tamil Nadu State, and thousands more were relocated through refugee agencies in Sri Lanka. During the counterinsurgency operations of the Sri Lankan and Indian armies in 1987 and 1988, many residents of the Jaffna Peninsula fled their homes for temporary shelter in refugee camps.

As in South Asia as a whole--and in contrast to global patterns--Sri Lankan males outnumbered females in the mid-1980s. In Sri Lanka, for every 100 female births registered there were 104 males. In the past, the gender ratio of the general population was even more unequal--113 men to 100 women in 1941. In part, this imbalance is attributed to the emigration of plantation workers, many of whom were men. Much of the change, however, may be due to a growing sensitivity to the health of women. Since 1963, the average female life expectancy has increased by seven years, while male life expectancy has risen by three years.

<"38.htm">Ethnic Groups

Updated population figures for Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Ethnic Groups

Sri Lanka

The people of Sri Lanka are divided into ethnic groups whose conflicts have dominated public life since the nineteenth century. The two main characteristics that mark a person's ethnic heritage are language and religion, which intersect to create four major ethnic groups--the Sinhalese, the Tamils, the Muslims, and the Burghers. Ethnic divisions are not based on race or physical appearance; some Sri Lankans claim to determine the ethnicity of a person by his facial characteristics or color, but in reality such premises are not provable. There is nothing in the languages or religious systems in Sri Lanka that officially promotes the social segregation of their adherents, but historical circumstances have favored one or more of the groups at different times, leading to hostility and competition for political and economic power.


The Sinhalese are the largest ethnic group in the country, officially comprising 11 million people or 74 percent of the population in 1981. They are distinguished primarily by their language, Sinhala, which is a member of the Indo-European linguistic group that includes Hindi and other north Indian tongues as well as most of the languages of Europe. It is likely that groups from north India introduced an early form of Sinhala when they migrated to the island around 500 B.C., bringing with them the agricultural economy that has remained dominant to the twentieth century. From early times, however, Sinhala has included a large number of loan words and constructs from Tamil, and modern speech includes many expressions from European languages, especially English. The Sinhalese claim to be descendants of Prince Vijaya and his band of immigrants from northern India, but it is probable that the original group of Sinhalese immigrants intermarried with indigenous inhabitants. The Sinhalese gradually absorbed a wide variety of castes or tribal groups from the island and from southern India during the last 2,500 years.

The Buddhist religion reinforces the solidarity of the Sinhalese as an ethnic community. In 1988 approximately 93 percent of the Sinhala speakers were Buddhists, and 99.5 percent of the Buddhists in Sri Lanka spoke Sinhala. The most popular Sinhalese folklore, literature, and rituals teach children from an early age the uniqueness of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, the long relationship between Buddhism and the culture and politics of the island, and the importance of preserving this fragile cultural inheritance. Buddhist monks are accorded great respect and participate in services at the notable events in people's lives. To become a monk is a highly valued career goal for many young men. The neighboring Buddhist monastery or shrine is the center of cultural life for Sinhalese villagers.

Their shared language and religion unite all ethnic Sinhalese, but there is a clear difference between the "Kandyan" and the "low-country" Sinhalese. Because the Kingdom of Kandy in the highlands remained independent until 1818, conservative cultural and social forms remained in force there. English education was less respected, and traditional Buddhist education remained a vital force in the preservation of Sinhalese culture. The former Kandyan nobility retained their social prestige, and caste divisions linked to occupational roles changed slowly. The plains and the coast of Sri Lanka, on the other hand, experienced great change under 400 years of European rule. Substantial numbers of coastal people, especially among the Karava caste, converted to Christianity through determined missionary efforts of the Portuguese, Dutch, and British; 66 percent of the Roman Catholics and 43 percent of the Protestants in the early 1980s were Sinhalese. Social mobility based on economic opportunity or service to the colonial governments allowed entire caste or kin groups to move up in the social hierarchy. The old conceptions of noble or servile status declined, and a new elite developed on the basis of its members' knowledge of European languages and civil administration. The Dutch legal system changed traditional family law. A wider, more cosmopolitan outlook differentiated the low-country Sinhalese from the more "old fashioned" inhabitants of highlands.


The people collectively known as the Tamils, comprising 2,700,000 persons or approximately 18 percent of the population in 1981, use the Tamil language as their native tongue. Tamil is one of the Dravidian languages found almost exclusively in peninsular India. It existed in South Asia before the arrival of people speaking Indo-European languages in about 1500 B.C. Tamil literature of a high quality has survived for at least 2,000 years in southern India, and although the Tamil language absorbed many words from northern Indian languages, in the late twentieth century it retained many forms of a purely Dravidian speech--a fact that is of considerable pride to its speakers. Tamil is spoken by at least 40 million people in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu (the "land of the Tamils"), and by millions more in neighboring states of southern India and among Tamil emigrants throughout the world.

There was a constant stream of migration from southern India to Sri Lanka from prehistoric times. Once the Sinhalese controlled Sri Lanka, however, they viewed their own language and culture as native to the island, and in their eyes Tamil-speaking immigrants constituted a foreign ethnic community. Some of these immigrants appear to have abandoned Tamil for Sinhala and become part of the Sinhalese caste system. Most however, continued to speak Tamil and looked toward southern India as their cultural homeland. Their connections with Tamil Nadu received periodic reinforcement during struggles between the kings of Sri Lanka and southern India that peaked in the wars with the Chola. It is probable that the ancestors of many Tamil speakers entered the country as a result of the Chola conquest, for some personal names and some constructions used in Sri Lankan Tamil are reminiscent of the Chola period.

The Tamil speakers in Sri Lanka are divided into two groups that have quite different origins and relationships to the country. The Sri Lankan Tamils trace their immigration to the distant past and are effectively a native minority. In 1981 they numbered 1,886,872, or 12.7 percent of the population. The Indian Tamils are either immigrants or the descendants of immigrants who came under British sponsorship to Sri Lanka to work on plantations in the central highlands. In 1981 they numbered 818,656, or 5.5 percent of the population. Because they lived on plantation settlements, separate from other groups, including the Sri Lankan Tamils, the Indian Tamils have not become an integral part of society and indeed have been viewed by the Sinhalese as foreigners. The population of Indian Tamils has been shrinking through programs repatriating them to Tamil Nadu.

Ethnic Tamils are united to each other by their common religions beliefs, and the Tamil language and culture. Some 80 percent of the Sri Lankan Tamils and 90 percent of the Indian Tamils are Hindus. They have little contact with Buddhism, and they worship the Hindu pantheon of gods. Their religious myths, stories of saints, literature, and rituals are distinct from the cultural sources of the Sinhalese. The caste groups of the Tamils are also different from those of the Sinhalese, and they have their rationale in religious ideologies that the Sinhalese do not share. Religion and caste do, however, create divisions within the Tamil community. Most of the Indian Tamils are members of low Indian castes that are not respected by the upper- and middle-level castes of the Sri Lankan Tamils. Furthermore, a minority of the Tamils--4.3 percent of the Sri Lankan Tamils and 7.6 percent of the Indian Tamils--are converts to Christianity, with their own places of worship and separate cultural lives. In this way, the large Tamil minority in Sri Lanka is effectively separated from the mainstream Sinhalese culture and is fragmented into two major groups with their own Christian minorities.


Muslims, who make up approximately 7 percent of the population, comprise a group of minorities practicing the religion of Islam. As in the case of the other ethnic groups, the Muslims have their own separate sites of worship, religious and cultural heroes, social circles, and even languages. The Muslim community is divided into three main sections--the Sri Lankan Moors, the Indian Moors, and the Malays, each with its own history and traditions.

The Sri Lankan Moors make up 93 percent of the Muslim population and 7 percent of the total population of the country (1,046,926 people in 1981). They trace their ancestry to Arab traders who moved to southern India and Sri Lanka some time between the eighth and fifteenth centuries, adopted the Tamil language that was the common language of Indian Ocean trade, and settled permanently in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan Moors lived primarily in coastal trading and agricultural communities, preserving their Islamic cultural heritage while adopting many southern Asian customs. During the period of Portuguese colonization, the Moors suffered from persecution, and many moved to the Central Highlands, where their descendants remain. The language of the Sri Lankan Moors is Tamil, or a type of "Arabic Tamil" that contains a large number of Arabic words. On the east coast, their family lines are traced through women, as in kinship systems of the southwest Indian state of Kerala, but they govern themselves through Islamic law.

The Indian Moors are Muslims who trace their origins to immigrants searching for business opportunities during the colonial period. Some of these people came to the country as far back as Portuguese times; others arrived during the British period from various parts of India. The Memon, originally from Sind (in modern Pakistan), first arrived in 1870; in the 1980s they numbered only about 3,000. The Bohra and the Khoja came from northwestern India (Gujarat State) after 1880; in the 1980s they collectively numbered fewer than 2,000. These groups tended to retain their own places of worship and the languages of their ancestral homelands.

The Malays originated in Southeast Asia. Their ancestors came to the country when both Sri Lanka and Indonesia were colonies of the Dutch. Most of the early Malay immigrants were soldiers, posted by the Dutch colonial administration to Sri Lanka, who decided to settle on the island. Other immigrants were convicts or members of noble houses from Indonesia who were exiled to Sri Lanka and who never left. The main source of a continuing Malay identity is their common Malay language (bahasa melayu), which includes numerous words absorbed from Sinhalese and Tamil, and is spoken at home. In the 1980s, the Malays comprised about 5 percent of the Muslim population in Sri Lanka.


The term Burgher was applied during the period of Dutch rule to European nationals living in Sri Lanka. By extension it came to signify any permanent resident of the country who could trace ancestry back to Europe. Eventually it included both Dutch Burghers and Portuguese Burghers. Always proud of their racial origins, the Burghers further distanced themselves from the mass of Sri Lankan citizens by immersing themselves in European culture, speaking the language of the current European colonial government, and dominating the best colonial educational and administrative positions. They have generally remained Christians and live in urban locations. Since independence, however, the Burgher community has lost influence and in turn has been shrinking in size because of emigration. In 1981 the Burghers made up .3 percent (39,374 people) of the population.


The Veddah are the last descendants of the ancient inhabitants of Sri Lanka, predating the arrival of the Sinhalese. They have long been viewed in the popular imagination as a link to the original hunting-and-gathering societies that gradually disappeared as the Sinhalese spread over the island. In the 1980s, Veddah lived in the eastern highlands, where some had been relocated as a result of the Mahaweli Garga Program. They have not preserved their own language, and they resemble their poorer Sinhalese neighbors, living in small rural settlements. The Veddah have become more of a caste than a separate ethnic group, and they are generally accepted as equal in rank to the dominant Goyigama caste of the Sinhalese.

More about the <"37.htm">Population of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Ethnic Group Relations

Sri Lanka

The different ethnic groups are not evenly spread throughout the island, but live in concentrated areas, depending upon where they settled historically. The Indian Tamils are heavily concentrated in the highland districts, especially in Nuwara Eliya, where they constitute almost half the population. This settlement pattern reflects their strong relationship with the plantation economy for which they provided much of the unskilled labor. The Sri Lankan Tamils, on the other hand, make up more than 95 percent of the population in the Jaffna Peninsula, more than 70 percent of the population in Batticaloa District, and substantial minorities in other northern and eastern districts. This pattern reflects the historical dominance of Tamil kingdoms in the northern half of the island. The Muslims are not in the majority anywhere, although they make up large minorities in Mannar District on the northwest coast and in the east coast districts; their strongest presence is in Amparai District, where they comprise 42 percent of the population. The Sinhalese exist in substantial numbers everywhere except in the Jaffna and Batticaloa districts, and in some southern districts they comprise almost the entire population. Colombo District approaches the closest to an ethnic melting pot, with a Sinhalese majority and substantial Tamil and Muslim minorities. Colombo is also home to most of the Burghers (72 percent) and Malays (65 percent).

In many cases, the different ethnic communities live in separate villages or sections of villages, and in towns or cities they inhabit different neighborhoods. The fact that primary education is in either Tamil or Sinhala effectively segregates the children of the different communities at an early age. Business establishments run by, or catering to a specific ethnic group, tend to broadcast their ethnicity by signs either in Sinhala or Tamil, each of which possesses its own distinctive script. Sports teams tend to include members of only one community, while Buddhist and Hindu religious services are automatically limited to one ethnic group. Relatively few persons are fluent in both Tamil and Sinhala, and accents betray which native community a person belongs to very quickly. Countering the intense pressures favoring segregation, however, are official government policies that treat all citizens equally and numerous personal networks within neighborhoods and among individuals that link members of different ethnic groups and foster friendships.

Ethnic segregation is reinforced by fears that ethnic majorities will try to dominate positions of influence and repress the religious, linguistic, or cultural systems of minorities. The Sinhalese are the overwhelming majority of residents within Sri Lanka, but they feel intimidated by the large Tamil population in nearby India; the combined Tamil populations of India and Sri Lanka outnumber the Sinhalese at least four to one. The recent memories of Tamil prominence in colonial and postcolonial administration, combined with a modern renaissance in Tamil consciousness in south India, are constant reminders of the potential power of the Tamil community. The Sinhalese feel quite isolated as the only group in the world speaking their language and professing their variant of Theravada Buddhism. The Tamils, on the other hand, are a minority within Sri Lanka. They cannot be sure of Indian support, and they experience increasing restrictions on social mobility as the Sinhalese majority increases its hold on the government. AntiTamil riots and military actions in the 1980s alienated a large sector of the Tamil community. In the middle are the Muslims, who speak Tamil but whose religious and cultural systems are alien to both other ethnic groups. Muslim leaders increasingly seek to safeguard the cultural heritage of their own community by adopting a public stance of ethnic confrontation.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Caste

Sri Lanka

Nature of Caste

When the Portuguese began to trade extensively with South Asia, they quickly noticed a fundamental difference between South Asian societies and those of other world areas. In India and Sri Lanka, societies are broken up into a large number of groups who do not intermarry, who are ranked in relation to each other, and whose interactions are governed by a multitude of ritualized behaviors. The Portuguese called these groups casta, from which the English term caste is derived. In South Asia, they are described by the term jati, or birth. According to traditional culture, every person is born into a particular group that defines his or her unchangeable position within society.

One of the most basic concepts underlying caste is purity. On one level this idea translates into a concern for personal hygiene, but the concept ultimately refers to a psychic or spiritual purity that lies beyond the physical body. A religious interpretation associated with Indian thought asserts that personal salvation or enlightenment is the ultimate goal of life, and that the individual goes through many lives and experiences before attaining sufficient knowledge to transcend the material world. Those beings who have gone farther on this road to enlightenment have purified their consciousness and regulate their lives in order to prevent more gross experiences from interfering with their progress toward salvation. Those groups of people whose life-styles are the purest are farthest along on the spiritual road and are most deserving of respect. These ideas about purity offer a rationale for dividing society into a large number of groups, ranked according to the purity of their lifestyles or occupations. The persons in each group must be careful to preserve the relative purity of their own group and to avoid close contact with persons of lower purity; otherwise, they may sully or "pollute" themselves or the members of purer groups.

The idea of psychic purity blends with a series of traditional notions about pure or polluting substances and about behaviors and rituals, resulting in a rich system that explains caste segregation and modes of caste interaction. It is possible for people to transmit their qualities to others by touching them or by giving them objects. In extreme cases, even the shadow of a very low-caste individual can pollute an individual of the highest, priestly castes. If the physical contact is intimate or if people have manipulated certain objects for a long time, the intensity of the transmitted qualities increases. Simple objects such as tools, for example, may change hands between persons of different caste without problem. Food, however, which actually enters and becomes part of a person's body, is a more serious matter. Cooked food, involving processing and longer periods of contact, is more problematic than uncooked food. There is thus a series of prohibitions on the sharing of food between members of different castes. Members of higher castes may avoid taking food from members of lower castes, although lower-caste persons may not mind taking food from members of the higher orders. The most intimate contact is sexual because it involves the joining of two bodies and the transmission of the very substances that determine caste for life. Sexual contact between persons of different castes is discouraged, and intercaste marriage is rare. When intercaste sexual affairs do occur, they are almost always between men of higher caste and women of lower caste, for it is less polluting to send forth substances than to receive them. In the distant past, women who had sexual contact with men of lower caste were killed, and they would still be ostracized today in some villages. When polluting contacts occur between members of different castes, personal purity may be restored by performing cleansing rituals. In general, these concepts of purity prevent partaking of meals together and intermarriage between different castes, regulate intercaste relations through a wide variety of ritual behaviors, and preserve deep-seated social cleavages throughout Sri Lanka.

There has been a strong tendency to link the position of different castes in the social hierarchy to their occupations. Groups who wash clothes or who process waste, thus coming in contact with undesirable substances from many persons, are typically given low status. In both Hindu and Buddhist thought, the destruction of life is very ignoble, because it extinguishes other beings struggling for consciousness and salvation. This idea has rationalized views of fishermen or leather workers, who kill animals, as low and impure groups. In many cases, however, the labeling of an occupational group as a caste with a particular status has depended on historical developments rather than theories of purity. As the village farming economy spread over time, many tribal societies probably changed from hunters and gatherers to low-status service castes, ranked below the landowning farmers. Many poor agricultural laborers in Sri Lanka remain members of low castes as well. Other immigrant groups came to Sri Lanka, fit into particular occupational niches, and became known as castes with ranks linked to their primary occupations. Castes with members who accumulated wealth and power have tended to rise gradually in their relative positions, and it is not uncommon for members of rising caste groups to adopt vegetarianism or patronize religious institutions in an attempt to raise their public ritual status.

Caste among the Sinhalese

The dominant caste among the Sinhalese population is the Goyigama. Although the government keeps no official statistics on caste, it appears that the Goyigama comprise at least half the Sinhalese population. The traditional occupation of this caste is agriculture, and most members are still peasant farmers in villages almost everywhere in Sri Lanka. In traditional Sinhalese society, they monopolized the highest positions at royal courts and among the landowning elite. In the democratic society of the twentieth century, their members still dominate the political scene. In most villages they might be no richer than their nonGoyigama neighbors, but the richest landlord groups tend to be Goyigama, while the poorest agricultural laborers tend to include few Goyigama.

In the Central Highlands, some traditions of the Kingdom of Kandy survived after its collapse in 1818, preserved in unique forms of the caste system until the postindependence period. The most important feature of the old system was rajakariya, or the "king's work," which linked each caste to a specific occupation and demanded services for the court and religious institutions. The connection of caste and job is still stronger in the Central Highlands, and at events such as the Kandy Perahera, an annual festival honoring gods and the Buddha, the various castes still perform traditional functions. The Goyigama in the highlands differ from those of the low country because they preserve divisions within the caste that derive from the official ranking of noble and commoner families in the old kingdom. Honorific titles hearkening back to ancestral homes, manors (vasagama), or noble houses (gedara) still marked the pedigrees of the old aristocracy in the 1980s, and marriages between members of these families and common Goyigama were rare. In the low country, these subcastes within the Goyigama have faded away, and high status is marked by European titles and degrees rather than the older, feudal titles.

There are still major differences between the caste structures of the highlands and those of the low country, although some service groups are common to both. The southwest coast is home to three major castes whose ancestors may have immigrated but who have become important actors in the Sinhalese social system: the Karava (fishermen), the Durava (toddy tappers), and the Salagama (cinnamon peelers). Originally of marginal or low status, these groups exploited their traditional occupations and their coastal positions to accumulate wealth and influence during the colonial period. By the late twentieth century, members of these castes had moved to all parts of the country, occupied high business and academic positions, and were generally accorded a caste rank equal to or slightly below the Goyigama. The highland interior is home to the Vahumpura, or traditional makers of jaggery (a sugar made from palm sap), who have spread throughout the country in a wide variety of occupations, especially agriculture. In the Kandy District of the highlands live the Batgam (or Padu), a low caste of agricultural laborers, and the Kinnara, who were traditionally segregated from other groups because of their menial status. Living in all areas are service groups, such as the Hena (Rada), traditional washermen who still dominate the laundry trade; the Berava, traditional temple drummers who work as cultivators in many villages; and the Navandanna (Acari), traditional artisans. In rural environments, the village blacksmith or washerman may still belong to the old occupational caste groups, but accelerating social mobility and the growing obsolescence of the old services are slowly eroding the link between caste and occupation.

Caste among the Tamils

The caste system of the Sri Lankan Tamils resembles the system of the Sinhalese, but the individual Tamil castes differ from the Sinhalese castes. The dominant Tamil caste, constituting well over 50 percent of the Tamil population, are the Vellala. Like the Goyigama, members are primarily cultivators. In the past, the Vellala formed the elite in the Jaffna kingdom and were the larger landlords; during the colonial period, they took advantage of new avenues for mobility and made up a large section of the educated, administrative middle class. In the 1980s, the Vellala still comprised a large portion of the Tamil urban middle class, although many well-off families retained interests in agricultural land. Below the Vellala, but still high in the Tamil caste system, are the Karaiya, whose original occupation was fishing. Like the Sinhalese Karava, they branched out into commercial ventures, raising their economic and ritual position during the nineteenth century. The Chetti, a group of merchant castes, also have a high ritual position. In the middle of the caste hierarchy is a group of numerically small artisan castes, and at the bottom of the system are more numerous laboring castes, including the Palla, associated with agricultural work.

The caste system of the Tamils is more closely tied to religious bases than the caste system of the Sinhalese. Caste among the Sri Lankan Tamils derives from the Brahman-dominated system of southern India. The Brahmans, a priestly caste, trace their origins to the dawn of Indian civilization (ca. 1500 B.C.), and occupy positions of the highest respect and purity because they typically preserve sacred texts and enact sacred rituals. Many conservative Brahmans view the caste system and their high position within it as divinely ordained human institutions. Because they control avenues to salvation by officiating at temples and performing rituals in homes, their viewpoint has a large following among traditionally minded Hindus. The standards of purity set forth by the Brahmanical view are so high that some caste groups, such as the Paraiyar (whose name came into English as "pariah"), have been "untouchable," barred from participation in the social functions or religious rituals of other Hindus. Untouchability also has been an excuse for extreme exploitation of lower-caste workers.

Although Brahmans in Sri Lanka have always been a very small minority, the conservative Brahmanical world-view has remained strong among the Vellala and other high castes. Major changes have occurred, however, in the twentieth century. Ideas of equality among all people, officially promoted by the government, have combined with higher levels of education among the Tamil elites to soften the old prejudices against the lowest castes. Organizations of low-caste workers have engaged in successful militant struggles to open up employment, education, and Hindu temples for all groups, including former untouchables.

The Indian Tamils are predominantly members of low castes from southern India, whose traditional occupations were agricultural labor and service for middle and high castes. Their low ritual status has reinforced their isolation from the Sinhalese and from the Sri Lankan Tamils.

Caste Interactions in Daily Life

The divisions between the castes are reaffirmed on a daily basis, especially in rural areas, by many forms of language and etiquette. Each caste uses different personal names and many use slightly different forms of speech, so it is often possible for people to determine someone's caste as soon as the person begins speaking. Persons of lower rank behave politely by addressing their superiors with honorable formulas and by removing their headgear. A standard furnishing in upper caste rural houses is a low stool (kolamba), provided so that members of lower castes may take a lower seat while visiting. Villages are divided into separate streets or neighborhoods according to caste, and the lowest orders may live in separate hamlets. In times past, low-caste persons of both sexes were prohibited from covering their upper bodies, riding in cars, or building large homes. These most offensive forms of discrimination were eliminated by the twentieth century after extensive agitation.

Outside the home, most social interactions take place without reference to caste. In villages, business offices, and factories, members of different groups work together, talking and joking freely, without feeling uncomfortable about their caste inequalities. The modern urban environment makes excessive concern about caste niceties impossible; all kinds of people squeeze onto buses with few worries about intimate personal contact. Employment, health, and educational opportunities are officially open to all, without prejudice based on caste. In urban slums, the general breakdown of social organization among the destitute allows a wide range of intercaste relationships. Despite the near invisibility of caste in public life, castebased factions exist in all modern institutions, including political parties, and when it comes to marriage--the true test of adherence to ritual purity--the overwhelming majority of unions occur between members of the same caste.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Family

Sri Lanka

Among all ethnic and caste groups, the most important social unit is the nuclear family--husband, wife, and unmarried children. Even when economic need causes several families (Sinhala, ge; Tamil, kudumbam) or generations to live together, each wife will maintain her own cooking place and prepare food for her own husband as a sign of the individuality of the nuclear family. Among all sections of the population, however, relatives of both the wife and the husband form an important social network that supports the nuclear family and encompasses the majority of its important social relations. The kindred (pavula, in Sinhala) of an individual often constitute the people with whom it is possible to eat or marry. Because of these customs, local Sinhalese society is highly fragmented, not only at the level of ethnic group or caste, but also at the level of the kindred.

The kinship systems of Sri Lanka share with most of South Asia and the Middle East the institution of preferred crosscousin marriage. This means that the most acceptable person for a young man to marry is the daughter of his father's sister. The most suitable partner for a young woman is the son of her mother's brother. Parallel cousins--the son of the father's brother or the daughter of the mother's sister--tend to be improper marriage partners. There is a close and special relationship between children and their aunts or uncles, who may become their fathers- or mothers-in-law. Special kinship terminology exists in both Tamil and Sinhalese for relatives in preferred or prohibited marriage categories. In many villages, people spend their entire childhood with a clear knowledge of their future marriage plans and in close proximity to their future spouses. The ties between cross-cousins are so close in theory that persons marrying partners other than their crosscousins may include a special ritual in their marriage ceremonies during which they receive permission from their cousins to marry an outsider. The system of cross-cousin marriage is ideally suited to maintaining the closed ritual purity of an extended kinship group and retaining control over property within a small circle of relatives.

The vast majority of marriages in Sri Lanka are monogamous, that is, they involve one woman and one man. Unions between one man and more than one woman (polygyny) are neither illegal nor unknown, however, and wealthy men can take several wives if they can afford to support the families. Unions involving one woman and more than one man (polyandry) are also legal and possible.

In the Kandyan region, descent and inheritance are traced through both spouses: both husband and wife possess their own property and may bequeath at in equal shares to their descendants. In the low country, where Dutch Roman Law is in effect, marriages create joint property between husband and wife, which on their death is divided among their heirs. On the east coast, Tamil Muslim families trace descent and inheritance through the mother, and men will typically reside with their inlaws . There is a preference for living near the husband's family in most areas of the country, although a family with no sons may prefer that a son-in-law live nearby and manage their lands. Among all the variations of inheritance and descent, the husband is typically the manager of the nuclear family's property and represents his family in most public duties and functions.

In the rural areas of Sri Lanka, traditional marriages did not require a wedding ceremony or legal registration of the union. The man and the woman simply started living together, with the consent of their parents (who were usually related to one another). This type of customary marriage still survives, although it has been declining in recent years. In 1946, about 30 percent of marriages in Sri Lanka were not registered, but in 1981 that figure had declined to 10 percent. Most such unions were concentrated along the north and east coasts and in the Central Highlands. Legal divorce is easy to obtain, and divorces of customary marriages occur through mutual consent of the partners in consultation with their extended families. Most marriages, however, are quite stable because of the considerable social pressure and support exerted by kindred of both the husband and the wife. In 1981 the divorce rate per 10,000 persons amounted to only 30.5.

Most Sri Lankan families have small means and do not spend large sums on wedding parties. Among wealthier families in both the countryside and the cities, marriages occur more often between families that were not previously related, and more elaborate ceremonies take place. In such cases the bride may receive a substantial dowry, determined beforehand during long negotiations between her family and her future in-laws. Preceding these well-publicized affairs are detailed discussions with matchmakers and astrologers who pick the most auspicious times for the marriage. Except for some of the well-educated urban elite, the parents arrange all marriages, although their children may meet future spouses and veto a particularly unattractive marriage. The average age at marriage has been increasing in recent years because of longer periods required for education and establishing a stable career. In 1981 the average age of grooms was twenty-seven or twenty-eight, and the average age of brides was twenty-four. Betrothals arranged by parents could begin much earlier, and in rural areas marriages between persons in their early teens still occurred. Whatever the arrangements, however, marriage and the propagation of children were the desired state for all groups, and by age thirty-nine, 86 percent of both sexes had married at least once.

All ethnic groups in Sri Lanka preserve clear distinctions in the roles of the sexes. Women are responsible for cooking, raising children, and taking care of housework. In families relying on agriculture, women are in charge of weeding and help with the harvest, and among poor families women also perform full-time work for the more well-to-do. The man's job is to protect women and children and provide them with material support, and in this role men dominate all aspects of business and public life. At the center of the system are children, who mix freely until puberty and receive a great deal of affection from both sexes. As they enter their teens, children begin to adopt the adult roles that will keep them in separate worlds: girls help with household chores and boys work outside the home. Among the middle- and upper-income groups, however, education of children may last into their early twenties, and women may mix with males or even take on jobs that were in the past reserved for men. There has been a tendency to view the educational qualifications of women as a means for obtaining favorable marriage alliances, and many middle-class women withdraw from the workplace after marriage.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Buddhism

Sri Lanka

The Life and Message of the Buddha

The founder of Buddhism was a man named Siddartha Gautama, a prince of the Sakya clan in what is now Nepal during the sixth century B.C. Popular stories of his life include many miraculous events: before his birth his mother experienced visions that foretold his future greatness; when he was born, he could immediately walk and talk; wise men who encountered the child predicted that he would become either a great sage or a great emperor. Behind these legends is the tale of a young man reared in luxury, who began to question the meaning of life. At the age of thirty, he abandoned his home (including his beautiful wife and child) and wandered throughout northeast India as a beggar, searching for truth.

Gautama studied under several religious teachers and became adept at techniques of meditation and self-imposed austerity. Finally, he sat down under a bo (pipal) tree and resolved not to move from that spot until he had achieved perfect enlightenment. He entered into deeper and deeper concentration, until he finally reached an understanding of the nature of existence and the purpose of life. He thus became the one who knows, the Buddha (from the verb budh, to know or understand). At first he debated whether other beings would be able to comprehend the knowledge that he had gained, but compassion moved him to bring his message to the world and lead others to enlightment. He spent the next fifty years traveling throughout northeast India, discussing his knowledge with all sorts of people. By the end of his life, his message and example had attracted large numbers of converts, from kings to beggars, from rich men to robbers. At his death around 483 B.C., he left behind a dedicated group of disciples who carried on his work.

The Buddha summed up his message in Four Noble Truths that still form the core of Buddhist belief. The first truth is that life is suffering (dukkha). The material world, thoughts, emotions, and ideas are all transitory and do not express or contain any eternal truths. All beings repeatedly experience pain and loss as they pass through innumerable lives, never able to emerge from a conditioned existence (samsara) created through their own consciousness. The second truth describes the cause of suffering as attachment to the world and the products of one's own consciousness. This attachment, or craving for existence, causes beings to create mental views of the world and believe they are correct, to form relationships with other beings, to struggle and desire. Such efforts are in vain because none of these strategies allows them to escape from their limited, suffering world. The third truth says that the way to break the limiting trap of samsara is to stop attachment. Once one has concentrated awareness so intensely that all material and spiritual phenomena appear empty, without real substance, then existence becomes liberated and suffering ceases. The fourth truth is the Noble Eightfold Path of behavior, which roots out attachment and the conditioned view of the world and leads toward the state of enlightenment ( nibbana) gained by the Buddha. The true follower of the Buddha rejects the world, becomes a full-time searcher after truth, and practices meditation that concentrates awareness.

The Buddhist Community

In the absence of the Buddha, the custodian of his message is the assembly (sangha) of monks who carry on his work. The members of the Buddhist assembly practice the discipline (vinaya) set forth by the Buddha as a system of rules for a monastic order. The discipline calls for strict control over the senses and dedicated meditation by the individual monk (bhikku). Following the Buddha's example, the monk should spend the morning begging for food from the lay community, then abstain from meals after noon. He should shave his head, wear orange (or yellow) robes, and own only his clothes and a begging bowl. He should avoid all sexual contact or any other forms of sensual pleasure. The bhikku should rest in one place for an extended period only during the rainy season, when groups of mendicants may stay together in communal houses (vihara). Elaborate rules evolved for admitting novices to the monastic community and conferring ordination on bhikku who passed through a period of initiation and training. The strict organization of the monastic order created a solid basis for the preservation of the Buddha's message and a readily adaptable institution that was transplanted in a variety of social environments throughout Asia.

Buddhism in Sri Lanka has its roots deep in one of the earliest variants of Buddhism that survives in the world today. The Sinhalese call their beliefs Theravada, or "the doctrine of the elders." Their tradition, frequently described as Hinayana (meaning "lesser vehicle"), preserves a clear understanding of the Buddha as a man who achieved enlightenment and developed monks (arhat) as accomplished followers of his teachings. This tradition differs from the more widespread Mahayana ("great vehicle"), which often treats the Buddha as a superhuman being and fills the universe with a pantheon of enlightened figures (bodhisattvas) who help others achieve enlightenment. In Sri Lanka, people do not officially worship the Buddha, but show reverence to his memory. The most striking expressions of public reverence are dagoba or thupa (stupa), large mounds built over sites where relics of the Buddha or a great monk are buried. The dagoba in Sri Lanka preserve a spherical shape and a style of architectural embellishment that link them directly to the monuments originally erected over the Buddha's remains in ancient India. The traditions of the Sinhalese indicate that their oldest dagoba are at least 2,000 years old, from a period when genuine relics of the Buddha came to Sri Lanka. The conservative nature of Sinhalese Buddhism is strengthened through the preservation and living tradition of ancient scriptures in the Pali language. A dialect related to Sanskrit, the classical language of India, Pali is probably close to the popular language in northeastern India during the Buddha's time. The monks of Sri Lanka have kept alive an unbroken Pali transmission of monastic rules, stories of the Buddha's life, and philosophical treatises that may constitute the oldest body of written Buddhist traditions.

For people who do not become monks, the most effective method of progressing on the road to enlightenment is to accumulate merit (pin) through moral actions. One who performs duties faithfully in this world, who supports the monastic order, and who is compassionate to other living beings may hope to achieve a higher birth in a future life, and from that position accumulate sufficient merit and knowledge to achieve enlightenment. Meritorious activities include social service, reverence of the Buddha at shrines or at dagoba, and pilgrimage to sacred places. Gifts to monks rank among the most beneficial meritmaking activities. Lay devotees invite monks to major events, such as a death in the family or the dedication of a building, and publicly give them food and provisions. In return, the monks perform pirit, the solemn recitation of Pali Buddhist scriptures. Although the average person may not understand a word of the ancient language, simply hearing the words and bestowing presents on the monks accumulates merit for the family or even for deceased family members. Some wealthy donors may hold giftgiving ceremonies simply for the public accumulation of merit. The monks thus perform important roles for the laity at times of crisis or accomplishment, and they serve as a focus for public philanthropy.

Popular Sinhalese Religion

There is no central religious authority in Theravada Buddhism, and the monastic community has divided into a number of orders with different styles of discipline or recruitment. The broad outlines of the modern orders originated in the eighteenth century. By that time, monastic personnel came entirely from the upper levels of the Goyigama caste, and enjoyed easy lives as recipients of income from monastic estates worked by lower castes. The official line of monastic ordination had been broken, since monks at that time no longer knew the Pali tradition. In 1753 the Kandyan king fulfilled his duty as a protector of Buddhism by arranging for Theravada monks from Thailand to ordain Sinhalese novices. These initiates set up a reformed sect known as the Siyam Nikaya (the Siamese order), which invigorated the study and propagation of the ancient Sinhalese heritage. The order remained a purely Goyigama enclave. By the nineteenth century, members of rising low-country castes were unhappy with Goyigama monopoly over the sangha, and rich merchants arranged for Karava youths to receive ordination from Thai monks. These initiates formed a new sect called the Amarapura Nikaya, that subsequently split along caste lines. Disputes over doctrinal matters and the role of meditation led to the establishment of another order, the Ramanna Nikaya, in the late nineteenth century. In the 1980s, the Sinhalese sangha of 20,000 monks fell into three major orders, subdivided into "families": the Siyam Nikaya contained six divisions; the Amarapura Nikaya, twenty-three; and the Ramanna Nikaya, two. Each family maintained its own line of ordination traced back to great teachers and ultimately to the Buddha. Caste determined membership in many of the sects.

The members of the Buddhist monastic community preserve the doctrinal purity of early Buddhism, but the lay community accepts a large body of other beliefs and religious rituals that are tolerated by the monks and integrated into Sinhalese religion. Many of the features of this popular religion come from Hinduism and from very old traditions of gods and demons. Sinhalese Buddhism is thus a syncretic fusion of various religious elements into a unique cultural system.

There is a thin boundary between reverence for the Buddha's memory and worship of the Buddha as a god, and the unsophisticated layperson often crosses this line by worshiping him as a transcendent divine being. The relics of the Buddha, for example, have miraculous powers; the literature and folklore of the Sinhalese are full of tales recounting the amazing events surrounding relics. During the construction of a Buddha image, the painting of the eyes is an especially important moment when the image becomes "alive" with power. At the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, where the Buddha's Tooth Relic is enshrined, rituals include elements from Hindu temple worship, such as feeding and clothing of the Buddha. In general, devotees believe that the Buddha's enlightenment makes him an all-powerful being, able to control time and space and all other supernatural beings.

The Buddha is so pure and powerful that he does not intervene personally in the affairs of the world. That is the job of a pantheon of gods (deva) and demons (yakka) who control material and spiritual events. The Buddha never denied the existence of the gods or demons, but said that attention to these matters simply detracts from concentration on the path to enlightenment. The Sinhalese believe that the all-powerful Buddha has given a warrant (varan) to a variety of spiritual entities that allows them to regulate reality within set boundaries (sima). For help in matters of everyday life, the Sinhalese petition these spiritual entities rather than the Buddha. Near many dagoba, or shrines of the Buddha, there are separate shrines (devale) for powerful deities. After reverencing the Buddha, devotees present prayers and petitions to the gods for help with daily life. The shrines for the gods have their own priests (kapurala), who practice special rituals of purification that allow them to present offerings of food, flowers, or clothing to the gods. Propitiation of demons occurs far away from Buddhist shrines and involves special rituals featuring the assistance of exorcists.

The popularity of different deities changes over time, as people come to see particular deities as more effective in solving their problems. The principal gods include Vishnu (also a Hindu god, identified by Buddhists as a bodhisattva, or "enlightened being," who helps others attain enlightenment), Natha, Vibhisana, Saman (the god of Adams Peak and its vicinity), and the goddess Pattini (originally an ordinary woman whose devotion to her husband, immortalized in poetry, elevated her to divine rank). During the twentieth century, the god Vibhisana has declined in popularity while the god Kataragama, named after his hometown in Moneragala District, has become extremely powerful. The annual Kataragama festival brings tens of thousands of worshipers to his small town, including Hindus who worship him as a manifestation of the god Murugan and Muslims who worship at the mosque there. This common devotion to sacred sites and sacred persons is one of the most important features of popular religion in Sri Lanka.

Another example of this religious syncretism is the cult of Sri Lanka's leading oracle, Gale Bandara Deviyo, who originally was a Muslim prince slain by the Sinhalese to prevent his accession to the throne. He is revered by Buddhists and Muslims alike at his shrine in the town of Kurunegala (in Kurunegala District). As transportation and communication facilities have expanded in modern Sri Lanka, there has been a big expansion of major pilgrimage sites that are jointly patronized by Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims, thus providing a commonality that may lead to closer cultural cooperation among competing ethnic groups.

Buddhism and Politics

Buddhism plays an eminent political role in Sri Lanka and serves as a unifying force for the Sinhalese majority . Although the monks must renounce worldliness, they of necessity maintain close relationships with the lay community, whose members must supply them with food, shelter, and clothing. During the past century, as Sinhalese nationalism fueled lay devotion to Buddhism, there was a proliferation of lay support organizations, such as the All-Ceylon Buddhist Congress, the Colombo Buddhist Theosophical Society, the All-Ceylon Buddhist Women's Association, and the Young Men's Buddhist Association. The state has similarly retained close ties with the sangha. Since the time of Asoka, the first great Indian emperor (third century B.C.), the head of state has been seen by Buddhist thinkers as the official protector of Buddhism, the "turner of the wheel of the law". One of the recurring problems in the history of Sri Lanka has been a definition of the state as the official supporter of Buddhism, which in turn has been the religion of the ethnic Sinhalese. To be successful among the Sinhalese, a government must provide visible signs of its allegiance to the sangha by building or maintaining dagoba, judging disputes among the orders of monks, and fostering education in the Pali Buddhist tradition.

Individual monks and entire sects have involved themselves in party politics, but seldom do all families and orders unite behind a coherent policy. When they do unite, they are a potent political force. In 1956, for example, a rare union of monastic opinion gave crucial support to the election of the Sinhalese political leader Solomon West Ridgeway Diaz (S.W.R.D.) Bandaranaike. As of 1988, the sangha controlled extensive estates in the interior of Sri Lanka and retained an independent power base that, combined with high status in the eyes of the Sinhalese population, gave the Buddhist orders influence as molders of public opinion. Monks remained prominent at rallies and demonstrations promoting ethnic Sinhalese issues.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Hinduism

Sri Lanka

Whereas Buddhism claims a historical founder, a basic doctrine, and a formal monastic structure, Hinduism embraces a vast and varied body of religious belief, practice, and organization. In its widest sense, Hinduism encompasses all the religious and cultural systems originating in South Asia, and many Hindus actually accept the Buddha as an important sectarian teacher or as a rebel against or reformer of ancient Hindu culture. The medieval Arabs first used the term Hindu to describe the entire cultural complex east of the Sindhu, or Indus, River (in contemporary Pakistan). Hindu beliefs and practices in different regions claim descent from common textual sources, while retaining their regional individuality. In Sri Lanka, Hinduism is closely related to the distinctive cultural systems of neighboring Tamil Nadu.

Classical Hinduism includes as a central tenet of belief the concept of nonviolence (ahimsa), a concept that was of great importance to the Buddha and to such reformers as Mahatma Gandhi some 2,500 years later. Veneration of pure life, especially of the cow, has come to be intimately associated with orthodox Hinduism of all sects. The cow is regarded as, among other things, the sacred embodiment of motherhood and fruitfulness. The deliberate killing of a cow is scarcely less terrible than the killing of a Brahman. For the miscreant it results in immediate and irrevocable outcasting; even the accidental killing of a cow requires elaborate purification ceremonies.

The earliest and most sacred sources of Hinduism are the Vedas, a compilation of hymns originating in northern India around 1,500 B.C. They are the oldest surviving body of literature in South Asia, created by the culture of the Arya (the "noble" or "pure" ones) in northwest India. Composed in an archaic form of the Sanskrit language, the Vedas were sung by a caste of priests (Brahmans) during sacrifices for the ancient gods. Families of Brahmans have passed down the oral recitation of these hymns for thousands of years, and Brahman claims to high status ultimately rest on their association with Vedic hymns. The vast majority of Hindus know almost nothing of Sanskrit or the Vedas, but even in the late twentieth century Brahmans frequently officiate at important ceremonies such as weddings, reciting ancient hymns and making offerings into sacred flames.

By the time of the Buddha, intellectual speculations gave rise to philosophical concepts that still influence all of South Asia. These speculations became books called Upanishads, originally written as commentaries on the Vedas but later viewed as sacred works in their own right. The Upanishads discuss brahman, an impersonal, eternal force that embodies all good and all knowledge. The individual "soul," or atman, partakes of the same qualities as brahman but remains immersed in ignorance. Action (karma) is the cause of its ignorance; reason continually searches for meaning in the material world and in its own mental creations, instead of concentrating on brahman, the one true reality. The individual soul, immersed in action, migrates from life to life, until it achieves identity with brahman and is released. There is a close relationship between the Buddha's understanding of suffering and enlightenment, and the ideas of atman, karma, and brahman that became basic to Hindu philosophy. The Buddha, however, claimed that even the idea of the soul was a mental construct of no value, whereas Hindu thought has generally preserved a belief in the soul.

As India became a major center of civilization with extensive political and economic systems, Hinduism became associated with new visions of the gods and worship in temples. Tamil Nadu was a major center of this transformation. By about A.D. 1000, the Tamils had reworked Brahmanical culture into a southern Indian type of devotional (bhakti) religion. This religion claimed to be based on the Vedas and the philosophy of the Upanishads, but its roots lay just as deep in strong attachments to local deities and a desire for salvation (moksha) through their intercession.

Several gods predominate in the many myths, legends, and styles of worship. One of the main Hindu gods is Vishnu, often represented as a divine king accompanied by his beautiful wife, Lakshmi, the bestower of wealth and good fortune. Besides presiding as a divine monarch, Vishnu periodically descends to earth, assuming a physical form to help beings attain salvation. Vishnu has ten main incarnations, two of which--Rama and Krishna- -are particularly popular. Rama was a great hero, whose exploits in rescuing his wife from the demon king of Lanka are recounted in the epic Ramayana. Vishnu's most popular incarnation is Krishna, who combines in a single divine figure the mythic episodes of a warrior prince and a rustic cowherd god. As warrior, Krishna figures prominently in what is perhaps the single most important Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, where he stresses the importance of doing one's duty and devotion to god. As divine cowherd, Krishna served as an inspiration for a vast body of religious poetry in Sanskrit and the regional South Asian languages. From the eighth to the twelfth centuries, Tamil devotees of Vishnu (alvars) composed poetry in praise of the god. These Tamil poems, collected in anthologies, are still recited during worship and festivals for Vishnu.

The second major Hindu deity, and by far the most important god among the Tamils in Sri Lanka, is Siva. He differs considerably from Vishnu. In many stories he reigns as a king, but often he appears as a religious ascetic, smeared with ashes, sitting on a tiger skin in the jungle, with a snake around his neck. He is the lord of animals. Although he is an ascetic, he is also a sexual figure, married to the beautiful Parvati (the daughter of the mountain), and his image is often a single rock shaped like a phallus (lingam). He is often a distant figure whose power is destructive, but paradoxically he is a henpecked husband who has to deal with family squabbles involving his sons. His devotees enjoy retelling his myths, but worshipers visualize him as a cosmic creator who will save his creatures when they have abandoned themselves totally to his love. One of the most powerful expressions of his creative role is the image of Nataraja, "Lord of the Dance," who gracefully manifests the rhythm of the universe. Great Tamil devotees (nayanmar) of the early middle ages created a large collection of poems dedicated to Siva and his holiest shrines. These collections are still revered among the Tamils as sacred scriptures on the same plane as the Vedas.

Female deities are very important among the Hindu Tamils. At temples for Siva or Vishnu there are separate shrines for the god and for his consort, and in many cases the shrine for the goddess (amman) receives much more attention from worshipers. Hindu philosophy interprets the goddess as the Shakti, or cosmic energy, of the god in the world and therefore the most immediate creative or destructive force, to be thanked or placated. Many of the manifestations of the goddess are capricious or violent, and she is often seen as a warrior who destroys demons on her own or whom Siva himself has to defeat in combat. As Mariamman, she used to bring smallpox, and she is still held responsible for diseases of the hot season.

In addition to the main gods, there are a number of subordinate divine beings, who are often the most popular deities. Ganesha, or Pillaiyar (or Ganapati), the elephant-headed son of Siva and Parvati, is the patron of good fortune and is worshiped at the beginning of a religious service or a new venture, such as a business deal or even a short trip. Murugan, his brother, is a handsome young warrior who carries a spear and rides a peacock. He is worshiped near hills or mountains, and his devotees are known for fierce vows and austerity that may include self-mutilation. Every village has its own protective deities, often symbolized as warriors, who may have their own local stories and saints.

Worship of the gods is known as puja. Worship can occur mentally or in front of the most rudimentary representations, such as stones or trees. Most people assemble pictures or small statues of their favorite deities and create small shrines in their homes for daily services, and they make trips to local shrines to worship before larger and more ornate statues. Public temples (kovil) consist of a central shrine containing images of the gods, with a surrounding courtyard and an enclosing wall entered through ornately carved towers (gopuram). During worship, the images become the gods after special rituals are performed. Worshipers then offer them presents of food, clothing, and flowers as they would honored guests. The gifts are sanctified through contact with the gods, and worshipers may eat the sacred food or smear themselves with sacred ash in order to absorb the god's grace. In public temples, only consecrated priests (pujari) are allowed into the sanctum housing the god's image, and worshipers hand offerings to the priests for presentation to the god. Most of the time, worship of the gods is not congregational, but involves offerings by individuals or small family groups at home or through temple priests. During major festivals, however, hundreds or thousands of people may come together in noisy, packed crowds to worship at temples or to witness processions of the gods through public streets.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Islam

Sri Lanka

The religion of Islam began, like Buddhism, with the experience of a single man, but the religious environment of early Islam was the Judeo-Christian world of Arabia. Many of the basic premises and beliefs of Islam are thus quite different than those of Buddhism or Hinduism and more closely resemble the systems of Judaism or Christianity. During the last 1,000 years, however, Islam has played a major part in the cultures of South and Southeast Asia, including Sri Lanka. Islam in Sri Lanka has preserved the doctrines derived from Arabia, while adapting to the social environment of South Asia.

During the early seventh century A.D., Muhammad experienced a series of messages from God in the city of Mecca, a trading center in western Arabia. He became a prophet, one of the line of Biblical prophets including Abraham, Moses, and Jesus Christ (in Arabic, Ibrahim, Musa, and Isa), and he conveyed to the people of Mecca the last and greatest of the revelations given by God to the world. The message was simple and powerful: "submission" (Islam) to the mercy of a single, all-powerful God (Allah). God exists for eternity, but out of love he created the world and mankind, endowing both men and women with immortal souls. Human beings have only one life, and when it ends their souls go to either heaven or hell according to their behavior on earth. Correct behavior is known through the revelation of prophets inspired by God, and Muhammad is the last of these prophets. To believe in Islam, to become "one who submits" (a Muslim), one must accept the will of the one true God and the message of Muhammad, which is encapsulated in the shahada: "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His Prophet." His message is immortalized in the Quran, a series of revelations conveyed by the angel Gabriel, and in the hadith, the sayings and example of the prophet Muhammad.

Muhammad described some of the most important actions necessary for a believer who wished to submit to God's love and will. In addition to commandments against lying, stealing, killing and other crimes, the moral code includes prayer five times daily, fasting, giving alms to the poor, pilgrimage to Mecca if financially possible, abstention from gambling and wine, and dietary restrictions similar to those of Judaism. The Prophet linked behavior to salvation so closely that bodies of Islamic law (sharia) grew up in order to interpret all human activity according to the spirit of the Quran. In practice, to be a Muslim requires not simply a belief in God and in Muhammad's status as the final prophet, but acceptance of the rules of Islamic law and following them in one's own life. Islam thus encompasses a rich theology and moral system, and it also includes a distinctive body of laws and customs that distinguish Muslims from followers of other faiths. Islam is theoretically a democratic union of all believers without priests, but in practice scholars (ulama) learned in Islamic law interpret the Quran according to local conditions, legal officials (qazi) regulate Muslim life according to Islamic law, and local prayer leaders coordinate group recitation of prayers in mosques (masjid, or palli).

By the fifteenth century, Arab traders dominated the trade routes through the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia. Some of them settled down along the coasts of India and Sri Lanka, married local women, and spoke Arabized Tamil rather than pure Arabic. Their families followed Islam and preserved the basic doctrines and Islamic law, while also adopting some local social customs (such as matrilineal and matrilocal families) that were not part of early Islamic society in the Arabian Peninsula. When the Portuguese took control in the sixteenth century, they persecuted the Muslim traders of the southwest coast, and many Muslims had to relocate in the Central Highlands or on the east coast. They retained their separate religious identity, but also adopted some aspects of popular religion. For example, pilgrimage sites, such as Kataragama, may be the same for Muslims as for Hindus or Buddhists, although Muslims will worship at mosques rather than reverence the Buddha or worship Hindu gods.

The growth in ethnic consciousness during the last two centuries has affected the Muslim community of Sri Lanka. Muslim revivalism has included an interest in the Arabic roots of the community, increased emphasis on the study of Arabic as the basis for understanding the Quran, and an emphasis on separate schools for Muslim children. Whether there should be an independent Islamic law for Muslims, preserving the distinct moral culture passed down from Muhammad, is a continuing issue. On a number of occasions, agitation has developed over attempts by the Sri Lankan government to regulate Muslim marriage and inheritance. In order to prevent further alienation of the Muslim community, in the 1980s the government handled its dealings with Muslims through a Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs Department.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Christianity

Sri Lanka

According to Christian traditions, the Apostle Thomas was active in Sri Lanka as well as southern India during the first century A.D. Small Christian communities existed on the coasts of Sri Lanka during the succeeding centuries, flourishing on the edges of the Indian Ocean trade routes as Islam did in later times. Christianity made significant inroads only after the fifteenth century, as aggressive Portuguese missionary efforts led to many conversions, especially among the Karava and other low-country castes. When the Dutch took control of Sri Lanka, they encouraged their own missionaries of the Dutch Reformed Church. Under their patronage, 21 percent of the population in the low country was officially Christian by 1722. The British, in turn, allowed Anglican and other Protestant missionaries to proselytize.

The relative number of Christians in Sri Lanka has declined steadily since the end of colonial rule. In 1900 a reported 378,859 people, or 10.6 percent of the population, were officially Christians. Although in 1980, the number of Christians had increased to 1,283,600, the percentage of Christians in the total population had declined to approximately 8 percent. This decline occurred primarily because the non-Christian population expanded at a faster rate. Emigration abroad, conversions of some Christians to Buddhism and fewer conversions to Christianity among Buddhists, Hindus, or Muslims also were reasons for the decline. In the 1980s, Christians still were concentrated heavily in the low country in the southwest. They comprised 30 percent of the population in Colombo.

Some 88 percent of the Christians were Roman Catholics who traced their religious heritage directly to the Portuguese. The Roman Catholic Church has a well-established organization that encompasses the entire island. In 1985 there were 9 dioceses comprising 313 parishes, 682 priests, and 15 bishops (including two archbishops and a cardinal). The remainder of Christians were almost evenly split between the Anglican Church of Ceylon (with two dioceses) and other Protestant faiths. The Dutch Reformed Church, now the Presbytery of Ceylon, consisted mostly of Burghers, and its numbers were shrinking because of emigration. Other Christian communities--Congregationalists, Methodists, and Baptists--were small in number. Since the 1970s, there has been a movement of all Protestant Churches to join together in a united Church of Sri Lanka. The Sinhalese community, however, has strenuously opposed this movement.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Education

Sri Lanka

Traditional and Colonial Systems

The education system of Sri Lanka until colonial times primarily was designed for a small elite in a society with relatively low technology. The vast majority of the population was illiterate or semiliterate. Among the Sinhalese, learning was the job of Buddhist monks. At the village level, literate monks would teach privileged students in the pansal, or temple school. The curriculum there, still taught to young children, included the Sinhala alphabet and memorization of elementary Buddhist literature--the Nam potha (Book of Names) of Buddhist shrines, the Magul lakuna (Book of Auspicious Symbols on the Buddha's body), and classic stories of the Buddha's life. The pursuit of higher education typically was reserved for men who became monks and took place at universities (pirivena) dedicated almost exclusively to memorization and commentary on the Pali scriptures. Among the Tamil population, village schools, which were located near temples, were run by literate Brahmans or educated Vellalas. Technical training was highly developed for students of the arts (such as architecture or sculpture); for engineers, who applied geometry to problems of irrigation; and for craftsmen in various trades. This training, however, was generally the preserve of closed corporations, castes, or families. Knowledge was often passed down from fathers to sons.

Although colonization brought European-style education to Sri Lanka, especially to prepare students for positions in the colonial administrations, few women went to school and most people remained uneducated. During the sixteenth century, Portuguese missionaries established up to 100 schools designed to foster a Roman Catholic culture among the growing Christian community in the low country. When the Dutch took over in 1656, they set up a well-organized system of primary schools to support the missionary efforts of the Dutch Reformed Church. By 1760 they had 130 schools with an attendance of nearly 65,000 students. The British takeover led to the closing of many Dutch schools and a short-term contraction of European-style education in the low country. By the mid-nineteenth century, government-funded schools and Christian schools were again expanding; in 1870, however, their combined student bodies had fewer than 20,000 students. Because they were educated in English, the graduates of the European-style schools, a large portion of them Christians from the low country in the southwest, went on to fill lower and middle-level positions in the colonial administration. Apart from the European-style schools, education continued through the traditional system in Tamil and Sinhala.

In 1870 a series of events revolutionized the education system in Sri Lanka. The government began to expand the number of state-run schools and instituted a program of grants for private schools that met official standards. Medical and law colleges were established in Colombo. There was a big increase in the number of students (which totalled more than 200,000 by 1900), but the lopsided development that had characterized the early nineteenth century became even more apparent by the early twentieth century. Private schools taught in English, which offered the best road for advancement, were dominated by Christian organizations, remained concentrated in the southwest, and attracted a disproportionate number of Christian and Tamil students. Although institutions that used Tamil and Sinhala continued to function as elementary schools, secondary institutions that taught exclusively in English attracted an elite male clientele destined for administrative positions. The education of women lagged behind; by 1921 the female literacy rate among the Christians was 50 percent, among the Buddhists 17 percent, among the Hindus 10 percent, and among the Muslims only 6 percent.

The colonial pattern began to change in the 1930s, after legislative reforms placed the Ministry of Education under the control of elected representatives. The government directly controlled an ever-larger proportion of schools (about 60 percent by 1947) and teacher-training colleges. As part of a policy to promote universal literacy, education became free in government schools, elementary and technical schools were set up in rural areas, and vernacular education received official encouragement. In 1942 with the establishment of the University of Ceylon, free education was available from kindergarten through the university level. When independence came in 1948, Sri Lanka had a welldeveloped education infrastructure. Although still hampered by gross ethnic, geographic, and gender inequalities, it formed the basis for a modern system.

The Modern Education System

Since independence in 1948, the government has made education one of its highest priorities, a policy that has yielded excellent results. Within a period of less than 40 years, the number of schools in Sri Lanka increased by over 50 percent, the number of students increased more than 300 percent, and the number of teachers increased by more than 400 percent. Growth has been especially rapid in secondary schools, which in 1985 taught 1.2 million students, or one-third of the student population. Teachers made up the largest government work force outside the plantation industry. The literate population has grown correspondingly, and by the mid1980s over 90 percent of the population was officially literate (87 percent for those above ten years of age), with near universal literacy among the younger population. This is by far the most impressive progress in South Asia and places Sri Lanka close to the leaders in education among developing nations.

The government has taken an ever larger role in education. Because private institutions no longer receive grants from the government, they are forced to charge fees while competing with free state-run schools. The percentage of students in the state system has grown constantly, and by the 1980s 99 percent of female students and 93 percent of male students at the primary school level were being trained in government-run schools. The government did not have a monopoly over education because Buddhist pansala and pirivena, Muslim schools, and Christian schools still thrived (the Roman Catholic Church alone operated several hundred institutions from kindergarten to secondary level, teaching over 80,000 children). The education system of the state, however, had an overwhelming influence on the majority of the population, especially the Sinhalese.

The state has tried to change the language of instruction in its primary and secondary schools from English to Tamil or Sinhala. By the 1960s, the vernacular languages were the primary medium in all government secondary schools. In the 1980s, English remained, however, an important key to advancement in technical and professional careers, and there was still competition among well-to-do families to place members in private English-language programs in urban areas. Ethnic minorities long associated with European-style education still formed a large percentage of the English-speaking elite. In the 1980s, for example, almost 80 percent of the Burghers knew English, while among the Sinhalese the English-speakers comprised only 12 percent.

Children from age five to ten attend primary school; from age eleven to fifteen they attend junior secondary school (terminating in Ordinary Level Examination); and from age sixteen to seventeen they attend senior secondary school (terminating in the Advanced Level Examination). Those who qualify can go on to the university system, which is totally state-run. In the late 1980s, there were 8 universities and 1 university college with over 18,000 students in 28 faculties, plus 2,000 graduate and certificate students. The university system included the University of Peradeniya, about six kilometers from Kandy, formed between 1940 and 1960; the universities of Vidyalankara and Vidyodaya, formed in the 1950s and 1960s from restructured pirivena; the College of Advanced Technology in Katubedda, Colombo District, formed in the 1960s; the Colombo campus of the University of Ceylon, created in 1967; the University of Ruhunu (1979); and Batticaloa University College (1981). There was also the Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka, established in Colombo in 1982.

Among the major problems still facing the educational system in the late 1980s were a serious dropout rate in the primary grades and a continuing bias toward urban environments at the expense of the countryside. The median level of educational attainment in Sri Lanka was somewhere between grades 5 and 9, and almost 40 percent of the students dropped out of school after 9 years. The reasons were not hard to discern in a primarily agricultural society, where many young people were more urgently needed in the fields or at home than in school once they had achieved an operational level of literacy and arithmetic skills. Many urban youth from low-income backgrounds also dropped out at an early age. This pattern provided two-thirds of the students with an education through grade 5 but less than 10 percent of the population with a high school degree and less than 1 percent with a college diploma. Despite government efforts in the 1980s to expand opportunities for youth from rural areas and more sparsely inhabited districts, the pressures for early dropout were more pressing in precisely those areas where illiteracy was most prevalent. In Colombo, for example, the overall literacy rate was 94 percent in 1988, while in Amparai District it was only 75 percent. Rural schools were more widely scattered, with poor facilities and inadequate equipment, especially in the sciences. Teachers preferred not to work in the countryside, and many rural schools did not even go up to the level of twelfth grade.

The most dynamic field in education during the 1970s and 1980s was technical training. In the late 1980s, the Ministry of Higher Education operated a network of twenty-seven technical colleges and affiliated institutes throughout the country. Courses led to national diplomas in accountancy, commerce, technology, agriculture, business studies, economics, and manufacture. Other government institutions, including the Railway, Survey, and Irrigation Departments, ran their own specialized training institutes. The Ministry of Labour had three vocational and craft training institutes. The number of students in all state-run technical institutes by the mid-1980s was 22,000. In addition, the government operated schools of agriculture in four locations, as well as practical farm schools in each district. A continuing problem in all fields of technical education was extreme gender differentiation in job training; women tended to enroll in home economics and teaching courses rather than in scientific disciplines.

Education and Ethnic Conflict

During the first fifteen years after independence, students sought a university degree primarily to qualify for service in government, which remained by far the major employer of administrative skills. Liberal arts, leading to the bachelor of arts degree, was the preferred area of study as a preparation for administrative positions. Because the university exams were conducted in English--the language of the elite--the potential pool of university applicants was relatively small, and only 30 percent of all applicants were admitted. By the mid-1960s, the examinations were conducted in Sinhala and Tamil, opening the universities to a larger body of applicants, many of whom were trained in the vernacular languages in state-run secondary schools. At the same time, university expansion slowed down because of lack of funds, and it became impossible to admit the increasing numbers of qualified candidates; by 1965 only 20 percent of applicants were admitted, and by 1969 only 11 percent. Those students who did manage to enter the university followed the traditional road to a bachelor's degree, until neither the government nor private enterprises could absorb the glut of graduates. In this way, the direction of educational expansion by the late 1960s led to two major problems surrounding the university system: the growing difficulty of admissions and the growing irrelevance of a liberal arts education to employment. The big losers were members of the Sinhalese community, who were finally able to obtain high school or university degrees, but who found further advancement difficult. Frustrated aspirations lay behind the participation of many students in the abortive uprising by the People's Liberation Front (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna--JVP) in 1971.

During the colonial period and the two decades after independence, the Sri Lankan Tamil community--both Hindu and Christian--outstripped the Sinhalese community in the relative percentage of students in secondary schools and university bachelor of arts degree programs. As the government increasingly fell into the hands of the Sinhalese, however, possibilities for government service declined for Tamil students. Tamil secondary schools then used their strength in science curriculums to prepare their students in science and medicine, and by the 1960s Tamils dominated the university student bodies in those fields. Thus, at precisely the time when Sinhalese bachelor of arts candidates found their careers thwarted by changes in the job market, Tamil science students were embarking on lucrative professional careers. Sinhalese agitation aimed at decreasing the numbers of Tamil students in science and medical faculties became a major political issue.

Overt political favoritism did not eliminate the dominance of well-trained Tamil students until 1974, when the government instituted a district quota system of science admissions. When each district in the country had a number of reserved slots for its students, the Sinhalese community benefited because it dominated a majority of districts. Tamil admissions ratios remained higher than the percentage of Tamils in the population, but declined precipitously from previous levels. In the 1980s, 60 percent of university admissions were allocated according to district quotas, with the remaining 40 percent awarded on the basis of individual merit. This system guaranteed opportunity for all ethnic groups in rough approximation to their population throughout the country.

Although the admissions controversy and the quota system resulted in a more equitable distribution of opportunities for Sri Lankans in general, they damaged the prospects of many excellent Tamil students coming out of secondary schools. The education policies of the government were perceived by educated members of the Tamil community as blatant discrimination. Many Tamil youths reacted to the blockage of their educational prospects by supporting the Tamil United Liberation Front and other secessionist cells. Large-scale improvements in education had, paradoxically, contributed to ethnic conflict.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Health

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has one of the most effective health systems among developing nations. The crude death rate in the early 1980s was 6 per 1,000, down from 13 per 1,000 in 1948 and an estimated 19 per 1,000 in 1871. The infant mortality rate registered a similar decline, from 50 deaths per 1,000 births in 1970 to 34 deaths per 1,000 births in the early 1980s. These figures placed Sri Lanka statistically among the top five Asian countries. Improvements in health were largely responsible for raising the average life span in the 1980s to sixty-eight years.

Traditional medicine ( ayurveda) is an important part of the health system in Sri Lanka. The basis of traditional medicine is the theory of "three humors" (tridhatu), corresponding to elements of the universe that make up the human body: air appears as wind, fire as bile, and water as phlegm. Imbalances among the humors (the "three ills," or tridosha) cause various diseases. The chief causes of the imbalances are excesses of heat or cold. Treatment of disease requires an infusion of hot or cold substances in order to reestablish a balance in the body. The definition of "hot" or "cold" rests on culturally defined norms and lists in ancient textbooks. For example, milk products and rice cooked in milk are cool substances, while certain meats are hot, regardless of temperature. Treatment may also involve a variety of herbal remedies made according to lore handed down from ancient times. Archaeological work at ancient monastic sites has revealed the antiquity of the traditional medical system; for example, excavations have revealed large tubs used to immerse the bodies of sick persons in healing solutions. Literate monks, skilled in ayurveda, were important sources of medical knowledge in former times. Village-level traditional physicians also remained active until the mid-twentieth century. In the late 1980s, as part of a free state medical system, government agencies operated health clinics specializing in ayurveda, employed over 12,000 ayurvedic physicians, and supported several training and research institutes in traditional medicine.

Western-style medical practices have been responsible for most of the improvements in health in Sri Lanka during the twentieth century. Health care facilities and staff and public health programs geared to combat infectious disease are the most crucial areas where development has taken place. The state maintains a system of free hospitals, dispensaries, and maternity services. In 1985 there were more than 3,000 doctors trained in Western medicine, about 8,600 nurses, 490 hospitals, and 338 central dispensaries. Maternity services were especially effective in reaching into rural areas; less than 3 percent of deliveries took place without the assistance of at least a paramedic or a trained midwife, and 63 percent of deliveries occurred in health institutions--higher rates than in any other South Asian nation. As is the case for all services in Sri Lanka, the most complete hospital facilities and highest concentration of physicians were in urban areas, while many rural and estate areas were served by dispensaries and paramedics. The emergency transport of patients, especially in the countryside, was still at a rudimentary level. Some progress has been made in controlling infectious diseases. Smallpox has been eliminated, and the state has been cooperating with United Nations agencies in programs to eradicate malaria. In 1985 Sri Lanka spent 258 rupees per person to fight the disease. Although the number of malaria cases and fatalities has declined, in 1985 more than 100,000 persons contracted the disease.

Sri Lanka had little exposure to Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) during the 1980s. As late as 1986, no Sri Lankan citizens had contracted the disease at home, but by early 1988 six cases had been diagnosed, including those of foreigners and of Sri Lankan citizens who had traveled abroad. Government regulations in the late 1980s required immediate expulsion of any foreigner diagnosed as an AIDS carrier, and by 1988 the government had deported at least one foreign AIDS victim. Government ministers have participated in international forums dealing with the problem, and the government formed a National Committee on AIDS Prevention in 1988.

Mortality rates in the late 1980s highlighted the gap that remained between the urban and rural sectors and the long way good medical care still had to go to reach the whole population. Over 40 percent of the deaths in urban areas were traced to heart or circulatory diseases, a trend that resembled the pattern in developed nations. Cancer, on the other hand, accounted for only about 6 percent of deaths, a pattern that did not resemble that of developed nations. Instead, intestinal infections, tuberculosis, and parasitic diseases accounted for 20 percent of urban deaths and over 12 percent of rural deaths annually. The leading causes of death in rural environments were listed as "ill-defined conditions" or "senility," reflecting the rather poor diagnostic capabilities of rural health personnel. Observers agreed that considerable work needed to be done to reduce infectious diseases throughout the country and to improve skilled medical outreach to rural communities.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Living Conditions

Sri Lanka

In the late 1980s, vast differences remained in the wealth and life-styles of citizens in Sri Lanka. In urban areas, such as Colombo, entire neighborhoods consisted of beautiful houses owned by well-off administrators and businessmen. This elite enjoyed facilities and opportunities on a par with those of middle- and upper-middle-class residents of Europe or North America. In the countryside, families that controlled more extensive farms lived a rustic but healthy life, with excellent access to food, shelter, clothing, and opportunities for education and employment. In contrast, at lower levels in the class pyramid, the vast majority of the population experienced a much lower standard of living and range of opportunities. A sizable minority in both the cities and rural villages led a marginal existence, with inadequate food and facilities and poor chances for upward mobility.

Intervention by successive governments has had marginal success in decreasing the differences between income groups. In the rural sector, legislation has mandated a ceiling on private landownership and has nationalized plantations, but these programs have provided extra land to relatively few people. Although resettlement programs have benefitted hundreds of thousands of people, they have not kept pace with population growth. In rural environments, most people remained peasants with small holdings, agricultural laborers working for small wages on the lands of others, or landless plantation workers. Migration to the cities often did not lead to a great improvement in people's life-styles because most immigrants had little education and few skills. As a result, urban slums have proliferated; by the 1980s almost half the people in greater Colombo were living in slums and shanties. Because economic growth has not kept pace with these population changes, double-digit unemployment continued with the poorest sections of the urban and rural population suffering the most. A hard-core mass of poor and underemployed people, totalling between 20 and 25 percent of the population, remained the biggest challenge for the government.

Cramped and insufficient housing detracted from the quality of life in Sri Lanka. In the 1980s, most housing units in Sri Lanka were small: 33 percent had only one room, 33 percent two rooms, and 20 percent three rooms. More than five persons lived in the average housing unit, with an overcrowding rate (three or more persons per room) of 40 percent. In urban areas, permanent structures with brick walls, tiled roofs, and cement floors constituted 70 percent of houses, but in the countryside permanent houses made up only 24 percent of the units. The rural figures included a large number of village dwellings built of such materials as thatch, mud, and timber, designed according to traditional styles with inner courtyards, or verandas, and providing ample room for living and sleeping in the generally warm climate. The rates of overcrowding were declining in the 1980s, as the government sponsored intensive programs for increasing access to permanent housing.

Many of the infectious diseases that caused high mortality in Sri Lanka were water-borne, and improvements in water facilities occupied a high priority in government welfare programs of the 1980s and planning for the 1990s. In urban areas, about half the drinking water was piped and half came from wells, while in the countryside 85 percent of the water came from wells and 10 percent from unprotected, open sources. Almost one-third of the well water was also unprotected against backflows that could cause leakage of sewage. Only about one out of three houses had toilets. With help from United Nations Childrens' Fund (UNICEF), United States Agency for International Development (AID), Britain, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), and the Netherlands, the government of Sri Lanka set a goal of clean, piped water and sewage facilities for the entire urban population and for at least half the rural population by 1990. Observers doubted, however, that this goal could be reached in the northern and eastern districts torn by ethnic conflict.

Food was another major issue. Beginning in the 1940s, the government ran a food subsidy program that paid farmers a minimum price for their crops and also operated a rationing system that allowed people to obtain rice at a guaranteed low price. The importance of this program to the people was dramatically demonstrated in 1953, when the state's attempt to reduce subsidies led to food riots and the fall of the government. Since 1979 when the subsidy program was abolished, the government has operated a food stamp scheme that allows people in lower-income brackets to obtain free rice, wheat flour, sugar, milk powder, condensed milk, dried fish, and kerosene for cooking. This program has reached almost half the population, accounting for approximately 7 percent of the state budget. The government also operated supplementary feeding programmes, including a School Biscuit Programme designed to reach malnourished children and a Thriposha Programme to provide for 600,000 needy infants, preschool children, and pregnant mothers. (Thriposha is a precooked, protein-fortified cereal food supplement.)

Despite government intervention in the food market, malnutrition continued to be a problem among the poor, the bottom 60 percent of the population who earned less than 30 percent of the national income. As in so many other sectors, the problem remained worse in rural areas, although urban slums possessed their own share of misery. In Colombo city and district, 1 or 2 percent of preschool children experienced severe symptoms of malnutrition, while the rate was 3 or 4 percent in Puttalam District. Mild forms of malnourishment, resulting in some stunted growth, affected around 33 percent of the young children in Colombo but up to 50 percent in rural Vavuniya or Puttalam districts. Malnutrition also affected adults: one out of three agricultural laborers consumed less than 80 percent of recommended calories daily. This problem became worse after the inflation of the early 1980s that reduced the real value of food stamps by up to 50 percent. Observers doubted that poverty and malnutrition would be alleviated during the 1980s or early 1990s, while the country experienced economic uncertainty and the government was forced to spend more on security matters.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - The Economy

Sri Lanka

THE DOMINANT SECTOR of the Sri Lankan economy historically has been wet rice (paddy) cultivation. Its importance in ancient times is demonstrated by the extensive irrigation works constructed in the north-central region of the island in the first millennium A.D. In the thirteenth century, the civilization based on these reservoirs began to decline, and population shifted to the wet zone of the southern and southwestern areas, where irrigation was less necessary to grow rice. Cinnamon and other spices which were valuable in the European market became important export commodities in the sixteenth century, when Europeans, first the Portuguese and then the Dutch, established control over the coastal areas of the island.

Commercial agriculture came to dominate the economy during the British period (1796-1948). Extensive coffee plantations were established in the mid-nineteenth century. Coffee failed when a leaf disease ravaged it in the 1870s and 1880s, but it was quickly replaced by the important commercial crops of tea, rubber, and coconut. Although wet rice cultivation remained important, Sri Lanka had to import more than one-half of the rice it needed during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries because of the land and labor devoted to the commercial crops. At independence in 1948, almost all of the islands' foreign exchange earnings were derived from commercial agriculture.

The fundamental economic problem since the 1950s has been the declining terms of trade. The proceeds from the traditional agricultural exports of tea, rubber, and coconut have had less and less value in the international marketplace. Beginning in the early 1960s, governments responded by intervening directly in the largely free-market economy inherited from the colonial period. Imports and exports were tightly regulated, and the state sector was expanded, especially in manufacturing and transportation. This trend accelerated between 1970 and 1977, when a coalition headed by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party nationalized the larger plantations and imposed direct controls over internal trade.

The United National Party (UNP) contested the 1977 general election with a platform calling for less regulation of the economy. After its electoral victory, the new UNP government made some effort to dismantle the state sector in agriculture and manufacturing. At the same time, it encouraged private enterprise, welcomed foreign investment and slackened import controls. It also shifted spending away from subsidies and social welfare to investment in the nation's infrastructure, most notably a massive irrigation project, the Mahaweli Ganga Program, which was expected to make Sri Lanka self-sufficient in rice and generate enough hydroelectric power to fill the nation's requirements. These policies resulted in higher rates of economic growth in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but at the cost of a mounting external debt. Foreign aid from the United States, Western Europe, Japan, and international organizations kept the economy afloat.

Sri Lanka's economy became more diverse in the 1970s and 1980s, and in 1986 textiles surpassed tea for the first time as the country's single largest export. Nonetheless, the performance of the traditional agricultural exports remained essential to the country's economic health. Other important sources of foreign exchange included remittances from Sri Lankans working overseas, foreign aid, and tourism.

<"50.htm">Nature of the Economy
<"54.htm"> Labor

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Nature of the Economy

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka's economic prospects in early 1988 were linked at least in part to the political and security situation. If political violence could be brought under control, the government had commitments from foreign investors and donors to finance a reconstruction program that would ensure economic growth in the short term. If the violence were to continue, the diversion of resources into defense and the negative impact on tourism and foreign investment appeared likely to result in economic stagnation.

Structure of the Economy

Agriculture, both subsistence and commercial, has played a dominant role in Sri Lanka's economy for many centuries. The Portuguese and Dutch, who ruled the coastal regions of the island from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, were primarily interested in profiting from cinnamon and other spices. Trade with India, Sri Lanka's nearest neighbor, was also important during this period. Sri Lanka exported pearls, areca nuts, shells, elephants, and coconuts, and in return received rice and textiles.

The island's economy began to assume its modern form in the 1830s and 1840s, when coffee plantations were established in the Central Highlands. Coffee soon became the dominant force in the economy, its proceeds paying for increasingly large imports of food, especially rice. When coffee fell victim to a leaf disease in the 1870s, it was quickly replaced by tea, which soon covered more land than had coffee at its height. Coconut plantations also expanded rapidly in the late nineteenth century, followed by rubber, another cash crop introduced in the 1890s. Stimulated by demand generated by the development of the automobile industry in Western Europe and North America, rubber soon passed coconuts in importance. These three products--tea, coconuts, and rubber-- provided the export earnings that enabled Sri Lanka to import food, textiles, and other consumer goods in the first half of the twentieth century. At independence in 1948, they generated over 90 percent of export proceeds.

Wet rice was grown extensively as a subsistence crop throughout the colonial period. In the nineteenth century, most of it was consumed in the villages where it was grown, but in the final decades of British rule the internal market in rice expanded. Nonetheless, more than half of the rice consumed was imported, and the island depended on the proceeds of plantation crops for its food supply.

The economy gradually became more diverse after the late 1950s, partly as a result of government policies that encouraged this trend. The main reason successive administrations tried to reduce the country's dependence on tea, rubber, and coconuts was the long-term decline in their value relative to the cost of imports. Even when Sri Lanka increased the production of its major cash crops, the amount of imports that could be bought with their proceeds declined.

Much of the diversification of the economy, especially in the 1960s and the early 1970s, took the form of import substitution, producing for the local market goods that the island could no longer afford to import. Sri Lanka also had some success in diversifying exports after 1970. The proportion of exports linked to the three traditional cash crops fell from over 90 percent in the late 1960s to 71 percent in 1974 and 42 percent in 1986. Textiles, which made up only 0.7 percent of exports in 1974, accounted for over 28 percent in 1986.

In 1986 agriculture, forestry, and fishing made up 27.7 percent of the gross national product (GNP), down from 39.4 percent in 1975. In 1956 wholesale and retail trade accounted for 19.9 percent of GNP, and manufacturing for 15.6 percent. Transport, storage, and communications stood at 11.2 percent of GNP, and construction at 7.7 percent. The relative importance of the various sectors of the economy was fairly stable during the 1980s.

Role of Government

The role of government in the economy during the final decades of British colonial rule was considerable. The plantation economy required extensive infrastructure; the colonial state developed and owned railroad, electrical, postal, telegraphic, telephone, and water supply services. Quasi-state financial institutions served the colony's commercial needs, and during World War II the government set up production units for plywood, quinine, drugs, leather, coir, paper, ceramics, acetic acid, glass, and steel. Welfare policies also began during colonial rule, including a network for free and subsidized rice and flour established in 1942. Free education, relief for the poor, and subsidized medical care were introduced in the late British period. Moreover, after 1935 the government took an active role in the planning and subsidizing of colonization schemes. This policy was designed to remove landless peasants from heavily populated areas to newly irrigated tracts in the dry zone.

Economic policy since Independence is divided into two periods. During the first, which lasted from 1948 to 1977, government intervention was often seen as the solution to economic problems. The expansion of government participation in the economy was fairly steady, resulting in a tightly regulated system. This trend was especially marked during the period of S.R.D. Bandaranaike's second government, from 1970 to 1977, when the state came to dominate international trade and payments; the plantation, financial, and industrial manufacturing sectors; and the major trade unions outside the plantation sector. It also played a major role in the domestic wholesale and retail trade.

The trend toward greater government involvement was largely a response to the deteriorating terms of trade. The plantation economy had financed social programs such as subsidized food in the late colonial period, but when the value of exports declined after 1957, the economy's capacity to support these programs was strained. When the foreign exchange reserves of the early 1950s dwindled, import-substituting industrialization was seen as a solution. Because the private sector viewed industrial development as risky, the government took up the slack. When balance of payment deficits became chronic, some nationalizations were justified by the need to stem the drain of foreign exchange. Similar concerns led to the tighter regulation of private business and the establishment of state-owned trading corporations. When there were shortages of necessities, governments expanded state control over their distribution in order to make them available at low prices.

The 1977 elections were largely a referendum on the perceived failures of the closed economy. The UNP, which supported a deregulated, open economy, won decisively. The new government rejected the economic policies that had evolved over the previous twenty years. Some observers believed that the economy had been shackled by excessive regulation, an excess of consumption expenditure over investment, and wasteful state enterprises. Under the UNP, market forces were to play a greater role in allocating resources, and state enterprises were to compete with the private sector.

The main elements of the new policy were investment incentives for foreign and domestic capital, a shift in the composition of public spending from subsidies to infrastructure investment, and a liberalized international trade policy designed to encourage export-led growth. Employment creation was a central objective, both through encouragement of domestic and foreign capital investment, and through an ambitious public works program, including the Accelerated Mahaweli Program, which aimed to bring new land under irrigation and substantially increase hydroelectric generating capacity. Two other policies that sought to create employment were the establishment of investment promotion zones (free trade zones) and extensive government investment in housing.

The role of government during the decade after 1977 remained significant; the public investment program, for instance, was implemented on a greater scale than anything attempted previously, and in early 1988 the state remained heavily involved in many areas of economic activity. But while the government increased its efforts to develop the nation's infrastructure, it reduced its role in regulation, commerce, and production. Its initiatives received the enthusiastic support of the international development community. As a result, Sri Lanka received generous amounts of foreign aid to finance its post-1977 development program. This foreign assistance was integral to the government's economic strategy. Because budget deficits were large even before 1977, external financial resources were necessary to pay for the increased spending on infrastructure and to make up for the revenue lost as a result of the tax incentives given business. Similarly, relaxing import controls put pressure on the balance of payments, which could be relieved only with the help of foreign aid.

Development Planning

During the early years of independence, successive governments placed little emphasis on development planning, in part because the immediate economic problems appeared to be manageable. The National Planning Council was established in 1956 as part of the Ministry of Finance. Between 1957 and 1959, the council and the Central Bank of Sri Lanka invited a number of foreign economists to visit Sri Lanka and offer the government both their diagnoses of the country's economic problems and their prescriptions for the planning and implementation of recommended remedies. These studies provided many of the rationales for economic policies and planning in the 1960s.

In 1959 the National Planning Council issued a Ten-Year Plan, the most ambitious analysis of the economy and projection of planning that had yet been officially published. This plan sought to increase the role of industry in the economy. Unfortunately, its forecasts were based on faulty projections of population and labor force growth rates. Moreover, attempts to implement it collided with the exchange and price crunch of 1961 and 1962, and the plan became increasingly out of touch with the changing economic situation.

A new Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs (no longer in existence) was established in 1965. The ministry decided not to draft another single long-term plan involving a five- or ten-year period. Instead, it drew up a number of separate, detailed, well-integrated, five-year plans involving different ministries. The government targeted agriculture, especially wet rice, as the area in which growth could best be achieved.

The UNP government that came to power in 1970 shifted toward a more formal and comprehensive state direction of the economy. The Five-Year Plan for 1972-76 had two principal aspects. First, it sought to remove disparities in incomes and living standards. Second, the plan sought to promote economic growth and to reduce unemployment. It envisioned rapid growth in agriculture, not only in the traditional crops of wet rice, tea, rubber, and coconut, but in such minor crops as sunflower, manioc, cotton, cashew, pineapple, and cocoa. Like the Ten-Year Plan of 1959, this plan proved to be based on overly optimistic assumptions, and it soon ceased to exercise influence on the government's economic policy. In 1975 it was replaced by a Two-Year Plan that placed even greater emphasis on agricultural growth and less on industrial development.

After 1977 the government continued to accept the principle of state direction of economic activity, but in contrast to the 1970-77 period the government encouraged the private sector to participate in the economy. Its first Five-Year Plan (1978-83) included an ambitious public investment program to be financed largely by overseas grants and loans. Its immediate objective was to reduce unemployment, which had risen during the tenure of the previous government.

A series of five-year rolling investment plans was set in motion by the Ministry of Finance and Planning in the 1980s. The plan for the 1986-90 period envisaged investment of Rs268 billion with the emphasis on infrastructure projects such as roads, irrigation, ports, airports, telecommunications, and plantations. Of this total, 50 percent was to be spent by the state sector. Foreign sources were to supply Rs69 billion. The target annual average growth for the gross domestic product (GDP) was 4.5 percent, a decrease from the 5.2 percent envisaged by the plan for the 1985-89 period and the 6 percent actually achieved between 1977 and 1984.

The Economy in the Late 1980s

Growth in GDP was estimated at 3 percent in 1987, down from 4.3 percent in 1986, and the lowest level in a decade. By 1987 it was clear that the ongoing civil unrest was causing serious economic difficulties, mainly because rapidly increasing defense outlays forced the government to cut back capital expenditure and to run a large budgetary deficit. Concern over the decline in foreign investment and extensive damage to infrastructure mounted as sectors such as tourism, transportation, and wet rice farming suffered production losses directly related to the decline in security.

By early 1988, the ethnic conflict had resulted in extensive property damage. Infrastructure damage in Northern and Eastern provinces was estimated at Rs7.5 billion in August 1987 and was expected to be revised upwards to include the widespread destruction in the Jaffna Peninsula. In the predominantly Sinhalese areas, riots against the 1987 Indo-Sri Lankan Accord caused damage to government property estimated at Rs4.8 billion.

In early 1988, future economic prospects were closely linked to the security situation. Late the previous year, the government succeeded in obtaining commitments from foreign nations and international organizations to finance an extensive reconstruction program for the 1988-90 period. If there were a pronounced ebb in the political violence plaguing the island nation, it would be probable that the official target of Rs80 billion foreign aid over this three-year period would be reached. Aid on this scale, which would be a substantial increase on the already generous levels received, would not only enable the rebuilding of infrastructure destroyed by the violence but also fuel growth and allow the large trade and budget deficits to continue. Accordingly, the 1988 budget foresaw a sharp decline in defense spending and an increase in capital expenditure. These economic plans, however, depended on a peaceful solution to the country's political problems. If political violence escalated in subsequent years, not only would the government have to shift its spending back to defense, but some of the expected foreign aid probably would be suspended.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Agriculture

Sri Lanka

Agriculture - including forestry and fishing - accounted for over 46 percent of exports, over 40 percent of the labor force, and around 28 percent of the GNP in 1986. The dominant crops were paddy, tea, rubber, and coconut. In the late 1980s, the government-sponsored Accelerated Mahaweli Program irrigation project opened a large amount of new land for paddy cultivation in the dry zone of the eastern part of the island. In contrast, the amount of land devoted to tea, coconut, and rubber remained stable in the forty years after independence. Land reforms implemented in the 1970s affected mainly these three crops. Little land was distributed to small farmers; instead it was assumed by various government agencies. As a result, most tea and a substantial proportion of rubber production was placed under direct state control.

Changing Patterns

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, agriculture has been dominated by the four principal crops: rice, tea, rubber, and coconut. Most tea and rubber were exported, whereas almost all rice was for internal use. The coconut crop was sold on both domestic and international markets. The importance of other crops increased in the 1970s and 1980s, but no single crop emerged to challenge the four traditional mainstays.

Tea, rubber, and to a lesser extent, coconut are grown on plantations established in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Before the plantations existed, villagers carried out three main types of cultivation. The valley bottoms and lowlands were occupied by rice paddies. These paddies were surrounded by a belt of residential gardens permanently cultivated with fruit trees and vegetables. The gardens in turn were surrounded by forests, parts of which were temporarily cleared for slash-and- burn cultivation, known as chena. Various grains and vegetables were grown on chena lands. The forests were also used for hunting, grazing for village cattle, gathering wild fruit, and timber. In some villages, especially in the dry zone, there was little rice cultivation, and people depended on the gardens and forests for their livelihood.

Under legislation passed in 1840, the title of most forestland was vested in the government. In order to stimulate the production of export crops, the colonial administration sold large tracts to persons who wished to develop plantations. At first most buyers were British, but by the end of the nineteenth century many middle-class Sri Lankans had also acquired crown land and converted it to plantation use. The early coffee and tea plantations were often situated at high elevations, some distance from the nearest Sinhalese villages, but as time went on more estates were developed on land contiguous to villages. The precise impact of the plantations on village society remains controversial, but it is widely believed in Sri Lanka that the standard of living of villagers suffered as they lost use of the forestland.

Although the large coffee, tea, and rubber plantations relied mainly on Tamil migrants from southern India for their permanent labor supply, Sinhalese villagers were employed in the initial clearing of the forests, and some performed casual daily labor on the plantations in seasons when there was little work in the villages. The coconut plantations, being spatially closer to villages, employed considerable Sinhalese labor.

By the early twentieth century, there was no longer much land suitable for the expansion of cultivation in the wet zone, and in the 1930s the focus of agricultural development shifted from the wet zone to the dry zone and from plantation crops to rice. There was ample uncultivated land in the dry zone of the north-central region, but three major obstacles had to be overcome--the prevalence of malaria, the lack of a reliable supply of water to carry out rice cultivation, and the absence of farmers to cultivate the soil. The first of these problems was solved by the success of the antimalarial campaigns of the 1940s. The others were tackled by government policies that sought to restore and build irrigation works and resettle peasants from the wet zone in the newly irrigated areas. In the 1980s, the pace of this program was quickened by the Accelerated Mahaweli Program.

The most important change in agriculture in the forty years after independence was the increase in rice production. This increase resulted from better yields and the enlarged amount of land under cultivation. In contrast, with the exception of rubber in the 1950s and 1960s, the principal export crops showed only modest gains in productivity, and the amount of land devoted to tea and rubber fell. After around 1970, there was growth in the production of other crops, including onions, chilies, sugar, soybeans, cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, cloves, and nutmeg.

Fishing, a traditional industry in coastal waters, accounted for 2.1 percent of GNP in 1986. Government efforts to offer incentives for modernization had little impact. The civil disturbances of the 1980s badly affected the industry. Before 1983 the northern region produced nearly 25 percent of the fish catch and around 55 percent of cured fish, but in the mid-1980s fishing was not possible there for long periods. The value of the fish catch off the northern coast fell from Rs495 million in 1981 to Rs52 million in 1986. Production off the southern and western coasts and from inland fisheries grew during this period, but not enough to prevent a decline in the island's total catch. In 1987 the government announced plans to provide funds for investment in fishing in the North and East, but implementation was likely to depend on improved security in these areas.

Land Use

Although there have been periodic agricultural censuses, they were limited in purpose and did not provide an overall picture of land use. In 1961, however, a survey of the use of the island's physical resources was compiled based on a 1956 aerial photographic survey of the entire country. The survey indicated that, of the country's total area of nearly 66 million hectares, 29 percent was under permanent cultivation, just over 15 percent under chena cultivation, 44 percent under forest cover, and about 6 percent under various types of grasses. Nearly 33,000 hectares consisted of swamp and marshlands, and about 63,000 hectares, or 1 percent, unused land. Just over 3 percent of the island's surface was covered by water. Of the total area, approximately 23 percent was in the wet zone, about 63 percent in the dry zone, and the balance lay in an area that the survey labeled "intermediate," as it had characteristics of both zones.

Of the land under permanent cultivation in 1961, which included cropland, land under plantation, and homestead gardens, the survey indicated that some 75 percent was in the wet and intermediate zones and about 25 percent was in the dry zone. Chena cultivation, on the other hand, was predominantly in the dry zone, as were the grass, scrub, and forestlands. Although forest covered almost half the country, only about 0.2 percent and 3.1 percent of the forests were characterized as of high and intermediate yield, respectively. The study further indicated that approximately 70 percent of the land in the wet zone was under permanent cultivation, whereas in the dry zone under 12 percent was being cultivated on a permanent basis.

Since 1961 irrigation has enabled a much greater proportion of land in the dry zone to be cultivated and in 1978 it was estimated that nearly one-third of the country's dry-zone area was under permanent cultivation. This proportion increased in the 1980s, when lands irrigated by the Accelerated Mahaweli Program were added to the total. As a result, the proportion of forestland declined and was estimated at just under 40 percent in 1987.

Although the forests had few high-yield timber stands, many areas suffered from deforestation because of the heavy demand for firewood in the 1980s. In 1987 it was estimated that 94 percent of households used firewood for cooking. Scarcities of firewood led to price increases well above the general level of inflation in the 1980s.

Government Policies

Government support for farmers takes several forms, including the provision of credit for producers, the setting of minimum prices for agricultural produce, the building of irrigation works, and the encouragement of internal migration to newly irrigated areas. Since the late colonial period, the government has played a growing role in the provision of credit to smallholders on favorable terms. Until 1986 the main instrument of this policy was the subvention of cooperative societies. Agricultural credit took three forms: short-term loans to farmers for the purchase of seeds and fertilizers; medium-term loans, intended for the purchase of machinery; and long-term loans for capital expenditure on storage, transport, and rice-milling apparatus. The long-term loans were not available for individual farmers, but were used by the cooperative societies to acquire infrastructural facilities.

The actual performance of credit provision through cooperatives generally fell short of expectations. Institutional credit did not displace the older sources of credit, such as the village moneylender, friends, and relatives. The inability to repay loans, procedural difficulties, and the existence of unpaid loans already taken from the cooperatives were some reasons given by farmers for preferring noninstitutional credit sources. Another problem with the credit furnished by cooperatives was the high rate of default. This rate may have been attributable partly to real difficulties in repayment, but it also was the result of a widely held impression that government loans were a form of social welfare and that it was not necessary to repay them.

The New Comprehensive Rural Credit Scheme implemented in 1986 sought to increase the flow of credit to smallholders. The Central Bank guaranteed up to 50 percent of each loan in the event of losses incurred by banks lending under the program, and eligible farmers received a line of credit for three years. Loans were automatically rescheduled at concessional rates when crops were damaged by events beyond the farmer's control. In 1986 cultivation loans under this program amounted to nearly Rs257 million, about 74 percent for paddy and the rest for other food crops.

Another important policy was the Guaranteed Price Scheme, which came into effect in 1942. Under this program the government agreed to purchase rice and some other produce at set prices. The intention was to support the farmer's standard of living. For a period in the early 1970s, when the island was threatened by food shortages, the government ordered peasants to market all of their rice through this scheme and at times set the price at a level lower than that of the free market. This policy had the effect of reducing the incentive to grow rice. The program lost some of its impetus in the 1980s. In 1986 the government set the price below the free-market rate for most of the year. As a result of the policy, purchases under the program accounted for only about 6 percent of the rice crop, mostly from districts where private traders were unwilling to operate because of the poor security situation.

Since the 1930s, governments have promoted irrigation works and colonization projects in the dry zone in an attempt to increase rice production and reduce land pressure and unemployment in the more densely settled wet zone. The lack of infrastructure and the prevalence of malaria hampered these programs in the early years. After the near eradication of malaria, increased government investment in infrastructure and enhanced financial support for migrants made the new lands more desirable. Between 1946 and 1971, the proportion of the population living in the dry zone increased from 12 to 19 percent.

At the end of 1968, about 352,000 hectares were under irrigation for rice cultivation; some 178,000 hectares under major storage reservoirs and barrages, and approximately 174,000 hectares in minor irrigation projects. In the 1970s and 1980s, governments pursued major irrigation programs, most notably the Mahaweli Ganga Program, which was lent added impetus and became the Accelerated Mahaweli Program in 1978. The increasing size of the Mahaweli project dwarfed its earlier endeavors. According to the plan, approximately 593,000 hectares of previously arid land would be brought under irrigation by 1992. In 1986 some 76,000 hectares of new land were under cultivation as a result of this project.

Other long-standing government policies designed to help farmers included subsidies for fertilizer, seed paddy, and other inputs. Government efforts also partly contributed to the adoption of improved cultivation practices and high-yielding seed varieties in paddy farming in the 1960s.

Land Tenure

Modern land tenure policy dates from the Land Development Ordinance of 1935, which forbade the transfer of crown lands for purposes of cultivation except to enlarge the landholdings of near-landless or landless peasants. The intent of this ordinance was to help small farmers whose livelihood was seen to be at risk from the exploitation of rich peasants and urban landowners.

In 1958 the Paddy Lands Bill was enacted, mainly to benefit the tenant farmers of some 160,000 hectares of paddy land. The bill purported to assist tenants to purchase the land they worked, to protect them against eviction, and to establish a rent ceiling at around 25 percent of the crop. It also established cultivation committees, composed of rice farmers, to assume general responsibility for rice cultivation in their respective areas, including the direction and control of minor irrigation projects. Shortcomings in the law and official indifference in enforcing the act hampered its effectiveness, and many observers termed it a failure. In some regions tenants who tried to pay the lower, official rents were successfully evicted by landlords, and the old rents, often about 50 percent of the produce, remained in force. In the 1980s, however, the rent ceiling of 25 percent was effective in most districts.

The Land Reform Law of 1972 imposed a ceiling of twenty hectares on privately owned land and sought to distribute lands in excess of the ceiling for the benefit of landless peasants. Because both land owned by public companies and paddy lands under ten hectares in extent were exempted from the ceiling, a considerable area that would otherwise have been available for distribution did not come under the purview of the legislation. Between 1972 and 1974, the Land Reform Commission took over nearly 228,000 hectares, one-third of which was forest and most of the rest planted with tea, rubber, or coconut. Few rice paddies were affected because nearly 95 percent of them were below the ceiling limit. Very little of the land acquired by the government was transferred to individuals. Most was turned over to various government agencies or to cooperative organizations, such as the Up-Country Co-operative Estates Development Board.

The Land Reform Law of 1972 applied only to holdings of individuals. It left untouched the plantations owned by joint-stock companies, many of them British. In 1975 the Land Reform (Amendment) Law brought these estates under state control. Over 169,000 hectares comprising 395 estates were taken over under this legislation. Most of this land was planted with tea and rubber. As a result, about two-thirds of land cultivated with tea was placed in the state sector. The respective proportions for rubber and coconut were 32 and 10 percent. The government paid some compensation to the owners of land taken over under both the 1972 and 1975 laws. In early 1988, the state-owned plantations were managed by one of two types of entities, the Janatha Estates Development Board, or the Sri Lanka State Plantation Corporation.

Cropping Pattern

Rice cultivation has increased markedly since Independence, although in the late 1980s yields remained well below those of the major rice-producing countries. Much of the improvement came in the late 1970s and 1980s. Rice remained a smallholder's crop, and production techniques varied according to region. In some villages, it was still sown by hand, with harvesting and threshing often engaging the entire family, plus all available friends and relatives.

Because no completely perennial sources of water exist, there was uncertainty regarding the adequacy of the supply each year. In the wet zone, flooding and waterlogging was experienced in the 1980s, whereas in the dry zone even the irrigated areas were subject to the possibility of insufficient water. In the mid- and up-country wet zone areas, most fields were sown twice a year in the 1980s; in the dry zone most holdings were sown only once; and in the low-country wet zone the amount of flooding or waterlogging determined whether to plant once or twice. The maha (greater monsoon) crops are sown between August and October and harvested five or six months later; the yala (lesser monsoon) crops sown between April and May and harvested about four or five months later.

Despite some increases in productivity, rice output was disappointing in the 1960s and early 1970s. Greater incentives to farmers after 1977 contributed to increases in production. Both the area under cultivation and the yield increased steadily between 1980 and 1985, when annual output reached 2.7 million tons, compared to an annual output of around 1.4 million tons in the early 1970s. In 1986 unfavorable weather and security difficulties led to a slight decline in production. A severe drought affected the crop in 1987, when output was estimated at only 2.1 million tons.

Tea is Sri Lanka's largest export crop. Only China and India produce more tea. The plants, originally imported from Assam in India, are grown in the wet zone at low, middle, and high altitudes, and produce a high-grade black tea. The higher altitudes produce the best tea, and terracing is used to eke out the limited area of upper altitude land. Tea cultivation is meticulous and time consuming, requiring the constant and skilled attention of two or three workers per hectare. Because of this requirement, tea is most efficiently grown on estates, based on large capital investment and having a highly organized and disciplined management and labor supply.

Because working and living on estates was not attractive to Sinhalese peasants, the labor supply for the tea industry from its inception was provided by Indian Tamil immigrants who lived on the estates. Since independence the number of Sinhalese workers has increased, but in the late 1980s Tamils still dominated this sector.

The performance of the tea industry was disappointing in the 1970s and early 1980s, because of poor producer prices and low productivity. Tea production was 211 million kilograms in 1986, down from 220 million kilograms in 1969. The fundamental problem of the tea estates was the advanced age of the tea bushes. In 1987 their average age was around sixty years and only 15 percent of the total area under tea had been replanted with high-yielding varieties. Replanting had been neglected in the 1960s and 1970s partly because low tea prices and high export duties meant that profit margins were not high enough to make it a profitable enterprise. Between 1972 and 1974, the growing risk of nationalization also discouraged investment.

Rubber continues to be an important export crop in the late 1980s. It thrives under plantation conditions in the wet zone, although a significant proportion of the crop is produced by smallholders. Although rubber yields improved greatly in the first twenty years after independence, both the output and area planted with rubber declined in the 1980s. Output fell from 156 million kilograms in 1978 to 125 million kilograms in 1982. Improved prices caused production levels to recover to about 138 million kilograms in 1986.

Despite the importance of rubber, a large number of rubber plantations suffer from old age and neglect. The government offered incentives to encourage replanting and improve maintenance procedures. Nevertheless, the area replanted in 1986 was 12 percent less than in 1985. This drop in replanting resulted from a shortage of seeds and the reluctance of farmers to retire land from production at a time of relatively attractive prices. In early 1988, however, the short- and medium-term outlook for world rubber prices was considered good.

Most of the coconut production was sold in the domestic market, which consumed about 1.4 billion nuts in the mid-1980s. Most of the rest of the crop, usually between 2 billion and 3 billion nuts, was exported as copra, coconut oil, and desiccated coconut. Local uses for coconut include timber for construction, leaves for thatch and siding, coir for rope and rough textiles, and toddy and arrack for alcoholic beverages.

Coconut output fluctuates depending on weather conditions, fertilizer application, and producer prices. In the 1980s, smallholders dominated its production, which was concentrated in Colombo and Kurunegala districts and around the city of Chilaw in Puttalam District. Because of a drought in 1983, production suffered a setback during 1984 and fell to 1.9 billion nuts, its lowest level since 1977. The recovery during 1985 was impressive, leading to the record production of almost 3 billion nuts. This level was itself surpassed in 1986, when production rose a further 3 percent. But the average export price fell by 45 percent in 1985 and by 56 percent in 1986. In 1986 the farm gate price probably fell below the cost of production, and in early 1988 it appeared that fluctuations in the world price of coconut products would remain a problem for the foreseeable future. The 1987 drought was expected to reduce coconut production by at least 20 percent in both 1987 and 1988. Like tea and rubber, the coconut sector suffered from inadequate replanting. Consequently, a large proportion of the trees were old and past optimum productivity levels.

The importance of crops other than tea, rubber, and coconut increased after 1970, and in 1986 they accounted for around 51 percent of agricultural output. There was a substantial increase in of minor food crops, including soybeans, chilies, and onions, all of which are grown as subsidiary crops on land irrigated by the Mahaweli project. In the 1960s and earlier, vegetables were imported from India in large quantities, but in the 1980s the island's import requirements were much smaller. Spices, including cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, and pepper, also registered large gains in the 1970s and 1980s. A large proportion of the spice output was being exported in the 1980s. Other crops of importance included corn, millet, sweet potatoes, cassava, dry beans, sesame seed, and tobacco. A wide variety of tropical fruits, including mangoes, pineapples, plantains, and papayas, also were grown; most were consumed in the domestic market. Sugar output increased in the early 1980s, although in 1986 it still accounted for only 11 percent of the domestic consumption. The expansion in sugar took place despite the problems of the state-run sugar mills and their associated sugar lands in Eastern Province, which have been disrupted by civil strife. Two new mills in Western Province accounted for the increase in production, and in early 1988 the outlook for further expansion was good.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Industry

Sri Lanka

Industry, including manufacturing, mining, energy, transportation, and construction, accounted for around 38 percent of GNP in 1986. The most important products included refined oil, textiles, gems, and processed agricultural products. Construction and tourism both grew rapidly in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but contracted after the onset of ethnic violence in 1983. State-owned corporations accounted for over 50 percent of total industrial output. An investment promotion zone was established in 1979 with the goal of attracting foreign capital; textile factories accounted for a large proportion of investment there in its early years. The island's electricity supply was mainly fueled by hydropower.

Changing Patterns

Sri Lanka developed little industry under British rule, relying instead on the proceeds from agricultural exports to buy manufactured goods from other countries. Most industry during the colonial period involved processing the principal export commodities: tea, rubber, and coconut. Although these sectors remained important, in the 1980s there was a much greater variety of industrial establishments, including a steel mill, an oil refinery, and textile factories.

Industrial diversification began in the 1960s with the production of consumer goods for the domestic market. This trend was a consequence of government measures aimed at saving foreign exchange, which made it difficult to import many items that had previously been obtained from overseas. Heavy industries were established in the late 1960s, mostly in the state sector. During the 1970-77 period the state assumed an even greater role in manufacturing, but after the economic reforms of 1977 the government attempted to improve prospects for the private sector. The fastest growing individual sector in the 1980s was textiles, which made up approximately 29 percent of industrial production in 1986. The textiles, clothing, and leather products sector became the largest foreign exchange earner in 1986. Over 80 percent of the manufacturing capacity was concentrated in Western Province, particularly in and around Colombo.

Industrial Policies

The enactment of the State Industrial Corporations Act of 1957 provided for the reconstitution of existing state enterprises as well as the establishment of new corporations to promote the development of large-scale and basic industries. The period 1958 to 1963 witnessed the first phase in the rapid growth of state industrial corporations. By 1963 fourteen such corporations were engaged in such fields as textiles, cement, sugar, paper, chemicals, edible oils and fats, ceramics, mineral sands, plywood, and leather. By 1974 there were twenty-five state corporations, including such major undertakings as a steel mill and an oil refinery.

Despite the 1977 policy shift in favor of the private sector, in early 1988 government-controlled enterprises continued to play a major role in industry. State-owned corporations accounted for nearly 60 percent of total industrial output. The most important public company was the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, which accounted for about 55 percent of all public-sector production.

From the beginning, many industrial corporations in the state sector were troubled by such problems as management inefficiency, technical deficiencies in planning, overstaffing, and defective pricing policies. These difficulties contributed in many undertakings to poor economic results. Moreover, public sector enterprises were associated with objectives that reflected both growth and welfare considerations for the economy as a whole. They became the chief instruments furthering state ownership and social control in the economy, and they were expected to promote capital formation and long-term development. At times they were also looked upon chiefly as major sources of employment and enterprises providing goods and services to the public at relatively low prices. As a result, a number of the state industrial corporations have lost money. In 1987 the debts of state-owned corporations were Rs19 billion, of which Rs15 billion were owed to foreign sources and Rs4 billion to the two state-owned banks.

The liberalization of the economy in 1977 was largely prompted by the perceived inefficiency of the public sector, not by any ideological commitment to free enterprise. As a result, the government let private enterprise compete with the state corporations but took few steps to dismantle the state sector. Instead, it attempted to improve its efficiency. One major state venture, the National Milk Board, was dissolved in 1986, however. It had been established in 1953, but had never succeeded in developing the milk industry. In 1987 it was reported that consideration was being given to transferring to private control several state-run industrial enterprises. These included the four government textile mills, the State Distilleries Corporation, the National Paper Corporation, the Mineral Sands Corporation, Paranthan Chemicals, Sri Lanka Tyre, and Union Motors. In early 1988, however, doubts remained about the extent of the government's commitment to this program. Although the plan to sell the textile mills was expected to be implemented within two years, some of the government's economic advisers reportedly were urging the government to proceed cautiously in its privatization policy, in view of the limited capital markets, the concentration of private wealth, and the weak regulatory framework.


The share of manufacturing in the economy declined from 21 to 15 percent of GDP between 1977 and 1986. This fall is somewhat misleading because it resulted in large part from the rapid growth in the service sector and the decline in output of the state-owned Ceylon Petroleum Corporation. The latter accounted for as much as one-third of the value of manufactured goods in some years and thus strongly affected aggregate manufacturing statistics. These statistics fluctuated along with changes in the value of the output of the oil refinery, which in turn varied with oil price levels and the extent of plant closings for maintenance. Some manufacturing sectors grew rapidly during this period.

Manufacturing was dominated for most of the twentieth century by the processing of agricultural produce for both the export and domestic markets. The most important industries were engaged in preparing and packaging for outside markets the principal export commodities--tea, rubber, and coconuts--for which Sri Lanka is noted. Such preparation generally involved low technology, comparatively modest capital investment on machinery, and uncomplicated, sequential procedures. Tea leaves, for example, follow a four-part process of withering, rolling (to extract bitter juices), fermentation, and heating (or roasting), before being packed in chests for export.

The processing of coconut and of rubber also were important industries, although their ratio in proportion to all manufacturing fell in the 1970s and early 1980s. The processing of the latter two commercial crops generally involved refining the basic commodities into a range of semi-finished products to be used in manufacturing finished goods at home or abroad. Coconuts, for example, are transformed into copra, desiccated coconut, coconut oil, fiber, poonac (a meal extract), and toddy. Copra and desiccated coconut are used as oils or as ingredients in food such as margarine; coconut oil is used to make soap; coconut fibers such as coir are used to make yarn, rope, or fishnets, while poonac is used as food for livestock. The coconut palm flower is also used in the production of alcoholic beverages.

Rubber is also processed in various ways, including latex or scrap crepe and ribbed or smoked sheet, which together account for much of Sri Lanka's export of this commodity. Processing methods for rubber are outdated, however, and Western consumer countries have protested against the hardness, high moisture content, and inconsistent quality of the Sri Lankan product.

Manufacturing received a boost in the early 1960s when import controls, which were the result of shortages in foreign exchange, made it difficult for consumers to obtain or afford foreign products. The result was a protected and profitable ready-made home market. This situation led to an expansion of both privateand public-sector manufacturing, with the private sector concentrating on consumer goods. These new enterprises, however, depended heavily on imported raw materials, and when the country's balance of payments difficulties became even more serious in the early 1970s, industry suffered from the lack of foreign exchange. In 1974 it was estimated that only 40 percent of the capacity of the industrial sector was used. After the 1977 liberalization, raw materials were more freely available, and in 1986 capacity utilization was estimated at 78 percent.

In 1978 the government established the Greater Colombo Economic Commission primarily to serve as the authority for the free trade zones to be set up near the capital. The first investment promotion zone consisted of a large tract that was established in 1979 at Katunayaka, near the Bandaranaike International Airport. A second zone was inaugurated in 1986 at Biyagama, in Colombo District. Foreign companies that built factories in the zones received generous tax concessions. The commission succeeded in attracting some foreign investment, especially from Hong Kong and other Asian countries. At the end of 1985, a total of 119 enterprises had signed agreements with the commission, but only 7 were signed in 1986, when there were 72 units in production. The total number of people employed was nearly 42,000. Gross export earnings from the investment promotion zones in 1986 were around Rs5.5 billion, up 43 percent from 1985. Foreign investments outside the free trade zones were coordinated by the Foreign Investment Advisory Committee.

The principal change in manufacturing in the 1980s was the rapid growth of the textile sector, from 10.5 percent of output in 1980 to 29.2 percent in 1986. In the mid-1980s, the government was attempting to diversify foreign investment away from textiles. Most textile factories were located in the investment promotion zones.

During the July 1983 riots, 152 factories were destroyed, but there was little long-term effect. Some observers expressed the view that the equipment destroyed was inefficient, and that modernization was long overdue.


Total expenditure for construction was estimated at 7.7 percent of GDP in 1986. The sector was given a boost by the ambitious public investment program of the government that came to power in 1977. Between 1977 and 1980, construction expanded at an annual rate of 20 percent in real terms. It stagnated in the 1980s as the number of new projects dwindled and the early ones were completed.

The largest construction project of the post-1977 period was the Mahaweli irrigation program. Conceived in the 1960s as the Mahaweli Ganga Program, the project originally was expected to bring approximately 364,000 additional hectares of land under irrigation and to provide an extra 540 megawatts of hydroelectric power to the national grid. Completion of the program was to require thirty years. Construction of the first two dams was completed in 1977 and opened about 53,000 hectares of new land to irrigation in a general area south of the old capital of Anuradhapura in the dry zone. When the United National Party swept into power in 1977, the project was given renewed impetus and renamed the Accelerated Mahaweli Program. Construction work was undertaken at five new sites between 1979 and 1982, with the intent of increasing the hectares under irrigation and generating an extra 450 megawatts of hydroelectric power for the national grid. By the end of 1987, new dams and reservoirs had been completed at Kotmale, Randenigala, Maduru Oya, and Victoria. The operational power stations at Randenigala and Victoria together generated 330 megawatts of power, with an additional 147 megawatts expected when the Kotmale station came on line. All construction related to the Accelerated Mahaweli Program was scheduled for completion by 1989. The total cost of the entire project was estimated at US$1.4 to 2 billion.

The Urban Development Authority was established in 1978 to promote integrated planning and development of important urban locations. Its responsibilities have included the new parliamentary buildings and the reconstruction of St. John's fish market in Colombo. Total expenditure of the Urban Development Authority was Rs529 million in 1986, well under its annual budget in the early 1980s. The Million Houses Program was established in 1984 to coordinate both public and private housing construction. In early 1988 the government's policy was to subsidize private housing rather than undertake extensive public housing programs.


Mining is carried out in both the public and private sectors. The most valuable products are precious and semiprecious stones, including sapphires, rubies, cats' eyes, topaz, garnets, and moonstones. Official exchange earnings from gems were negligible in the first two decades after independence because most of the output was smuggled out of the country. The setting up of a publicly owned State Gem Corporation in 1971 and export incentives for those exporting through legal channels brought a marked improvement. In 1986 legal exports were valued at Rs755 million, but many observers believed that a considerable quantity was still being exported illegally. In the late 1980s, Japan remained the most important market for Sri Lanka's gems. The Moors traditionally have played an important role in the industry.

Graphite also is of commercial significance. Almost the entire output is exported as crude graphite (plumbago). Ilmenite, a mineral sand used in the manufacture of paint and the fortification of metals, also is exported. Salt is produced by evaporation for the domestic market. Thorium deposits have been reported in Sabaragamuwa Province and in the beach sands of the northeast and southwest coasts. Exploration also has disclosed the presence of apatite (source of phosphate), dolomite (fertilizer component) and small pockets of economically extractable iron ore.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Energy

Sri Lanka

Over 70 percent of the island's total energy consumption was satisfied by firewood, agricultural residues, and animal waste, mostly for household use. The country had no coal or petroleum deposits, and the only other indigenous energy source was hydropower.

In 1927 the Department of Government Electrical Undertakings, now called the Ceylon Electricity Board, took over the transmission of electricity throughout the country. Hydroelectric power came into use in 1951 with the commissioning of the Laksapana project in Central Province. Demand for power increased from approximately 20 megawatts in 1951 to nearly 73 megawatts in 1963, about 90 percent of which was met from hydroelectric sources. In the 1970s, the island increasingly came to rely on imported oil for the generation of electricity, but new hydroelectric capacity from the Mahaweli project in the 1980s reduced the importance of oil. In 1986 total installed capacity was 1,010 megawatts, of which 74 percent was from hydropower.

In early 1988, it appeared that the Mahaweli project would solve Sri Lanka's electricity supply problem for the foreseeable future. This integrated power generation and irrigation project started contributing to power supplies in 1984 when the first two phases of the Victoria Dam were completed, adding 140 megawatts to installed power capacity. In April 1985, the final stage of the Victoria Dam increased capacity by 70 megawatts. A slightly greater capacity was expected to result in the late 1980s.

United States and British-owned oil companies in Sri Lanka were nationalized in 1963, and since then the importing, refining, and distributing of all oil products has been the responsibility of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, the state oil company. Its oil refinery started production in 1969. The main products in 1986 were fuel oil (559,497 tons), heavy diesel (60,995 tons), auto diesel (406,569 tons), kerosene (153,692 tons), and gasoline (123,089 tons).

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Labor

Sri Lanka

The formally employed population of Sri Lanka in the late 1980s was shifting gradually from agriculture to manufacturing, trade, and service employment. Nevertheless, over 40 percent of the work force remained agricultural in early 1988; most of these workers were smallholders, tenants, and plantation workers. The labor force growing most rapidly in the early and mid-1980s was in the service sector.

Characteristics and Occupational Distribution

A precise breakdown of the labor force and movement within it was not possible in the late 1980s because the official statistics were not reliable. Early censuses, taken when the island was a British colony, compiled long lists of occupations with little comparability from one census to the next. The postindependence censuses also suffer from inconsistencies. They show a decline in the proportion of the work force engaged in agriculture, hunting, forestry, and fishing from 52 percent in 1953 to just over 45 percent in 1981. The proportion of the work force engaged in manufacturing remained steady over the same period, at 10 percent. The largest increase was in services, including commerce, banking, and finance. The proportion of workers in this category rose from 11.2 percent in 1953 to 15.7 percent in 1981. There was also an increase in construction, from 1.9 percent to just over 3 percent. Transport, storage, and communications increased from 3.5 percent to 4.8 percent over the same period. All such figures should be regarded as tentative and subject to revision.

Demographic and educational changes after independence altered the composition of the work force as much as economic development. Rapid population growth brought additional workers into the job market every year and lowered the average worker's age. The growth of the economy was too limited to provide opportunities for the new workers. Similarly, the extension of education qualified many thousands of youths for jobs that did not exist. This fact has been particularly true for women, who in the 1980s made up about 25 percent of the labor force despite equal access to education.

Government Labor Policies

During the nineteenth century, labor legislation dealt with the large plantations, and more general labor laws were passed only in the closing years of colonial rule. In 1941 the government enacted the Wages Boards Ordinance, the first comprehensive piece of legislation regarding the payment of wages, the regulation of working hours, and sick and annual leave; the ordinance also empowered the government to establish wages boards for any trade. The boards are composed of an equal number of representatives of workers and employers and three appointees proposed by the commissioner of labor.

Ordinances of 1942 and 1946 required all factories to be registered and established minimum standards for health and safety. The laws also gave the commissioner the right to send inspectors to the factories and to judge whether a plant was meeting minimum standards. The Shops and Offices Employees Act of 1954 extended the provisions of the factories legislation to small shops.

The Maternity Benefits Ordinance, as amended in 1957, entitled a woman who worked in a factory, mine, or estate to full compensation for a period of two weeks before her confinement and for six weeks afterward. The employee must have worked for the employer 150 days before her confinement to be eligible to receive the benefits.

The Employees Provident Fund, established in 1958, provided a national retirement program for the private sector. The Provident Fund required an employer to contribute 6 percent of total earnings and an employee to contribute 4 percent of earnings exclusive of overtime pay. Participation in this plan grew quickly, and in the 1980s most salaried workers in the formal sectors of the economy were members. Government employees had their own pension plans.

Although legislation protecting the health and welfare of workers was extensive, enforcement was inconsistent. The government departments charged with enforcement were chronically underfunded in the late 1980s. Moreover, many labor regulations were suspended in the investment promotion zones. Most labor legislation also did not apply to rice farming and other economic activities carried out informally.

Working Conditions

Working conditions varied greatly according to the type and size of employment activity in the 1980s. The Factories Ordinance of 1942 established guidelines for industrial safety and sanitation and made each factory liable to government inspection. Because this ordinance and other similar legislation has not been enforced consistently, workers frequently protested their working conditions. In the 1980s, strikes and boycotts often took place because of inadequate meals at factories that had their own lunchrooms or because of the lack of other facilities.

The Factories Ordinance prohibited work for women between 9:00 P.M. and 6:00 A.M. In the years after independence, a further series of laws restricted the employment of women and children to designated time periods and places. A 1957 law, for example limited working time for women to nine hours. Other laws prohibited women and children from working time underground, in mines, for example.

Unemployment has been a problem since the 1960s, especially for young people, but the statistics available in 1988 were not very reliable. Observers estimated that unemployment increased from around 12 percent of the labor force in the early 1960s to 24 percent in the mid-1970s. Unemployment fell back to around 12 percent in the first few years after the economic liberalization that began in November 1977, but it was again on the increase in the mid-1980s. According to official data, in 1987 the labor force consisted of around 6.2 million persons, of whom 5.4 million, or 87 percent, were gainfully employed, but these figures understated unemployment, which the Ministry of Finance estimated at 18 percent in late 1987. All of these figures excluded persons said to be underemployed or partially employed, conditions that were prevalent in the rice-farming sector and in some of the urban-based service activities. The extent of labor underutilization, was believed to be much greater than indicated by the statistics for unemployment.

In the mid-1980s, sectors, such as tourism, that were sensitive to the security situation suffered job losses. Migration to the Middle East, which also provided jobs in the early 1980s, was also on the decline, although still of substantial importance. In 1987 observers estimated that 100,000 Sri Lankans worked and lived in the Middle East--particularly in the small oil-rich states of the Arabian Peninsula, where wages for comparable work were much higher than in Sri Lanka.

A representative index showing changes in the general level of wages was not available in the late 1980s. Wages were low compared with those paid in developed countries, even in the unionized sectors, and incomes were unevenly distributed. Some indication of wage movements can be gained from the indices of minimum wage rates. These more than doubled between 1978 and 1986, but inflation probably kept their value little changed in real terms. The only price index, the Colombo Consumer Price Index, was based on data gathered in Colombo and was widely believed to understate inflationary increases, especially for the lower wage earners. It recorded an increase of 8 percent in 1986. Although this rate was considerably higher than the 1.5 percent increase recorded in 1985, it was low compared to the two-digit rates that prevailed during the 1978-84 period.

Low wages in the formal sector were partially offset by overtime payments, increments, bonuses, and other incentive programs, which often added considerable supplements to salaries. A five-day work week was standard in the 1980s. Sri Lanka had a large number of public holidays; twenty-four were celebrated in 1985. These included twelve full moon days, which are of religious significance to Buddhists.

Labor Relations

The labor movement was large and politically active in the 1980s, although it suffered a loss of influence after 1977. Urban strikes began in the 1890s and increased in number after World War I. The first major labor organization, the Ceylon Labour Union, was formed in 1922. In the 1930s, the legislature passed a series of laws, including the Trade Union Ordinance of 1935, to regulate the unions. This law made it mandatory for trade unions to register with the government and to keep political and labor funds separate. After World War II, the unions represented a large proportion of the labor force, especially in Colombo and on the large plantations. The leadership of nearly all trade unions has come from the English-educated elite.

Union membership in 1988 was subject to fluctuations because of competition among unions affiliated with different political parties and because of personal rivalries among union leaders, as well as a fairly rapid turnover of unions. The unions have traditionally been strong in the state sector, especially rail and road transport, the ports, and the government clerical service. In 1983 observers estimated that about 1.8 million workers, or just under one-third of the gainfully employed labor force, were union members. Membership was fragmented into over 1,000 unions. Many of the unorganized workers were small farmers and rural laborers.

Before 1977 many unions were affiliated with the Marxist parties, especially the Trotskyite Lanka Sama Samaja (Ceylon Equal Society Party), but in the late 1970s and early 1980s the influence of the Jatika Sevaka Sangamaya (National Employees' Union), which was affiliated with the ruling UNP, increased greatly, and it became the single largest trade union. This organization was especially strong in the state sector, and it had a reputation for intimidation, violence, and discrimination against Tamils. Another important trade union was the Ceylon Workers' Congress, which represented a large proportion of the Indian Tamil estate workers. After 1977 it was politically allied with the government, but it nonetheless used the political turmoil after 1983 to bargain for better working conditions.

Labor disputes were arbitrated through a variety of state agencies, but these agencies have not prevented frequent and costly strikes. Plantation strikes have been most common, involving as many as 477,000 workers (in 1949) and as many as 1.12 million lost workdays (in 1966). In the remainder of the private sector, the most turbulent period was in 1962 and 1963, when over 1.28 million workdays were lost by strikes. In 1970 new highs were reached, with 143 strikes and the loss of 1.31 million workdays. In the mid-1970s, when many trade unions pledged not to strike in return for substantial concessions, the number of nonplantation strikes fell dramatically, although plantation strikes increased. Since 1977 the unions in the nonplantation sectors have been in apparent decline, in part because of changes in the nature of the work force. Most employees of the new textile factories in the free trade zone were young, unmarried women doing shift work, who did not expect to be employed there for more than a few years and who were little interested in joining a union. Similarly, employees in the import and tourist industries, sectors that grew in the years after 1977, had not been successfully organized.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Tourism

Sri Lanka

In 1966 the government established the Ceylon Tourist Board, vesting in it the responsibility for invigorating the tourist industry. The board, operating as an autonomous corporation, was charged with promotional as well as organizational responsibilities. Most provisions for tourists were in the private sector, but the board had facilities in areas where private ones were considered inadequate.

Tourism expanded rapidly after 1966. The main attractions are the beach resorts of the southwestern coastal region, but many tourists also visit the ancient cities of the dry zone, the historic city of Kandy, and the mountainous region dominated by tea plantations. Between 1976 and 1982, the number of tourist arrivals increased at an annual rate of almost 24 percent, reaching a peak of 407,230 before declining to 337,342 arrivals in 1983 as a result of the Tamil insurgency. More than half the arrivals were from Western Europe.

Serious civil disturbances starting in July 1983 and the subsequent violence badly affected tourism. Total arrivals were 230,106 in 1986, down 43 percent from 1982. To ease the plight of the industry, the government provided various concessions to hotels, such as the rescheduling of loans and the reduction of the turnover tax from 10 percent to 5 percent. The Ceylon Tourist Board also undertook a crash promotion program in an attempt to restore the island's image in world tourist markets. Tourist arrivals in the first six months of 1987, however, showed a decline of 23 percent compared with the same period the previous year. In early 1988, the outlook was for further contraction.

In 1988 it remained unclear whether the policies of economic liberalization Sri Lanka has pursued since 1977 would succeed in their principal goals of employment, wealth creation, and economic diversification. Although increased rice production, the growth of textile manufacturing, and an improved infrastructure were successes that could be attributed to the post-1977 policies, these gains came at the cost of a mounting foreign and domestic debt and declining living standards for the poor. In the mid-1980s, the declining security situation began to have an increasingly negative impact on the economy, and in early 1988 economic prospects for the 1990s appeared to be linked at least in part to a resolution of the ethnic conflict.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Government

Sri Lanka

IN THE YEARS following Sri Lanka's attainment of independence on February 4, 1948, the country's political system appeared to be the very model of a parliamentary democracy. The country stood virtually alone among its South and Southeast Asian neighbors in possessing a viable two-party system in which the conservative United National Party (UNP) and the left-of-center Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) alternated with each other in power after fairly contested elections. Respect for legal institutions and the independence of the judiciary were well established. Sri Lanka's military, never sizable, refrained from intervening in politics, and the country's leadership pursued generally moderate policies in its relations with other states. Although per capital income was low compared to that of India and other South Asian countries, over the decades successive governments invested heavily in health, educational, and other social service facilities. As a result, standards of health and literacy were high and seemed to provide a firm foundation for democracy and political stability.

Sri Lanka was, however, heir to cultural and historical traditions at variance with its constitutionally defined parliamentary political institutions. Family and caste played major roles in determining the leadership of the major parties and the ebb and flow of political patronage. But ethnicity and religion were the most important and politically relevant determinants in this traditionally diverse society. After 1948 and especially after passage of the Official Language Act, popularly known as the "Sinhala Only" bill, in 1956, the Sri Lankan Tamil community, which was largely Hindu, came to feel that its political interests were being ignored and belittled by the mainstream political parties led by Buddhist Sinhalese. The feeling of grievance festered during the 1970s in the wave of preferential policies that favored Sinhalese applicants for university positions and government jobs. Abandonment of the idea of a secular state--the 1972 constitution guaranteed "the foremost place" for the Buddhist religion of the Sinhalese-- further aroused Tamil alienation. Conversely, the Sinhalese, who regarded the Tamils as an economically and educationally privileged group, were determined to secure what they considered "majority rights," including freedom from alleged economic exploitation by Tamils. They also feared that the Sri Lankan Tamils could be a "fifth column" for the much larger Tamil population in neighboring India. From the Buddhist Sinhalese perspective, it was they, living in a "sea" of Hindu Tamils, who were the true minority, not the Sri Lankan Tamils.

In a sense, the effectiveness of democratic institutions in conveying the viewpoints of middle class and working-class Sinhalese, electorally a majority of voters, promoted ethnic polarization. Politicians such as the S.W.R.D. and Sirimavo Bandaranaike effectively used appeals to Sinhalese chauvinism to unseat their UNP opponents. Neither the UNP nor the SLFP parties dared make concessions to the Tamils for fear of alienating the majority Sinhalese. Thus the UNP government of Junius Richard (J.R.) Jayewardene, which came to power in July 1977, was as determined as the earlier SLFP governments not to yield to Tamil demands for language parity and regional autonomy. By the early 1980s, armed groups of young Tamil extremists, committed to establishing an independent Tamil Eelam, or state, were well established in Tamil-majority areas in the northern and eastern parts of the country or operating out of bases in India's Tamil Nadu State.

In July 1977, Jayewardene won an unprecedented majority in the national legislature, gaining 140 out of 168 seats. In 1978 a new Constitution, the third in Sri Lanka's postindependence history, was promulgated providing for a strong presidency. Jayewardene became the first chief executive under the new system. Some observers interpreted controversial amendments to the Constitution, such as the extension of the life of Parliament for another six years, passed in December 1982, as an illegitimate manipulation of the legal political process designed to give the UNP a virtually uncontested monopoly of political power. In terms of the ethnic crisis, an August 1983 amendment outlawing the advocacy of separatism, which resulted in the expulsion of members of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) from Parliament, was most fateful. Against a background of escalating communal violence, it deprived Sri Lankan Tamils of political representation.

July 1983 was a turning point in the worsening ethnic crisis. Anti-Tamil riots in Colombo and other cities, prompted by the killing of thirteen Sinhalese soldiers by Tamil Tiger guerrillas in the north, resulted in hundreds and perhaps as many as 2,000 deaths. The government was unprepared for the scale of violence and faced accusations of sublime unconcern for the Tamils' welfare, while foreign observers told of the active connivance of government figures in mob violence. The inability or unwillingness of President Jayewardene and the UNP to forge a workable settlement of ethnic issues brought India, which had immense interests of its own in the matter, directly into the crisis. According to the Indian press, under the government of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi India unofficially permitted the establishment of training camps for the Sri Lankan Tamil insurgents in the state of Tamil Nadu. With the assumption of power by Gandhi's son and successor, Rajiv Gandhi, New Delhi adopted a more even-handed approach and sought to mediate the escalating crisis in Sri Lanka by bringing government and Tamil insurgent negotiators together for talks. Eventually, the New Delhi government went further and came down squarely on the side of Colombo with the signing of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of July 29, 1987. The pact committed New Delhi to the deployment of a peacekeeping force on the island, as asked by the Sri Lankan government, and made the Indian government the principal guarantor of a solution to the ethnic crisis.

The accord was designed to meet Sri Lankan Tamil demands for self-determination through the merging of the Northern and Eastern provinces and the devolution of substantial executive, legislative, and judicial powers. Tamil was made an official language, on a par with Sinhalese. A cease-fire was arranged, and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and other guerrilla groups surrendered some but not all of their arms. Many doubted that the accord, which the guerrillas had not played a role in formulating and the LTTE opposed, would bring lasting peace. By mid-1988, the Indian Army, in a series of hard-fought engagements that had caused it several hundred casualties, generally cleared the Jaffna Peninsula in Northern Province of Tamil guerrillas. The Indian Peacekeeping Force established a semipermanent garrison, and a measure of tranquility returned to the area. In Eastern Province, the Indian Peacekeeping Force had less success in suppressing the insurgents and the situation remained precarious. Bands of Tamil guerrillas remained at large, surfacing apparently at will to initiate violent incidents that led to an unremitting loss of life among innocent civilians, Sinhalese and Tamil, as well as among military personnel of both the Sri Lankan and Indian armed forces. In the predominantly Sinhalese, southern fringe of the island, the Jayewardene government faced escalating violence at the hands of Sinhalese militants who opposed the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord as a sellout to the Tamil extremists.

<"60.htm"> THE 1978 CONSTITUTION
<"61.htm"> Government Institutions

Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka

Race, Religion, and Politics

Like other nations in the South Asia region, Sri Lanka has a diverse population. Various communities profess four of the world's major religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. The major ethnic groups include not only the Sinhalese and the Sri Lankan Tamils, who compose 74 and 12.6 percent of the population, respectively, but also Indian Tamils (5.5 percent of the population) who view themselves as separate from the Sri Lankan Tamils, as well as "Moors" or Muslims (7.1 percent), "Burghers" and other people of mixed European and Sri Lankan descent (0.4 percent), Malays (0.4 percent), and tiny percentages of others including the aboriginal Veddahs, who are considered to be the island's original inhabitants.

The society also possesses a caste system similar to that of India's. Caste in Sri Lanka is politically important for two reasons. First, members of the national political elite tend to be members of the higher status castes. Since independence the overwhelming majority of the prime ministers and the one president have been members of the Sinhalese Goyigama (cultivator) caste. Also, voters tend to support people of their own caste, though caste identification rarely becomes a campaign issue because electoral districts tend to be homogeneous in terms of caste and the major parties generally put up candidates of that caste.

Among Sinhalese, there is also a historically significant distinction between people who live in the coastal and lowland areas and those who live in the mountainous central part of the island, the area that constituted the Kingdom of Kandy before its conquest by the British in the early nineteenth century. During the British colonial period and to a lesser extent in independent Sri Lanka, the two groups, which possess somewhat different cultures and ways of life, frequently perceived their interests to be divergent. During the 1920s, for example, the Kandyan National Assembly advocated a federal state in which the Kandyan community would be guaranteed regional autonomy.

Apart from religion, ethnicity, and caste, there are social differences that emerged as a result of British colonialism. Despite a history of popular support for Marxist parties, especially the Trotskyite Ceylon Equal Society Party (Lanka Sama Samaja Party--LSSP), economically based classes in the European sense are poorly developed in Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, welldefined elite groups, including families with planter, merchant, and professional backgrounds, continued to be important in the late 1980s despite the redistributive policies of recent governments. Marks of their special status included not only wealth but education in the island's most prestigious schools or overseas, fluency in English, and a higher degree of Westernization than among other Sri Lankans. In a 1985 survey of government party parliamentarians since 1970, political scientist Robert Oberst discovered not only that there was a disproportionate number of graduates of a handful of elite schools among UNP and SLFP legislators, but also that elite secondary school graduates were more likely to assume ministerial posts and play a central role in the passage of bills than nonelite school graduates. Nonelite graduates tended to be backbenchers with limited influence.

In a society as diverse as Sri Lanka's, social divisions have had a direct and weighty impact on politics. In the late 1980s, the ethnically, linguistically, and religiously based antagonism of the Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamils overshadowed all other social divisions: the civil war that resulted, especially since mid-1983, seemed to bode a permanent division of the country. Yet in the routine operation of day-to-day politics, allegiances based on family, caste, or region also continued to be of major importance.

As in India, matters of religion, ethnicity, region, and language have become public rather than private issues. Persons have typically viewed personal advancement not only in terms of individual initiative but also in terms of the fortunes of their ethnic, caste, or religious community. In India, however, there are so many different groups, spread out over the country like a vast mosaic, that no single group has been strong enough to seriously destabilize the national-level political system. Dissident movements, such as the Sikh militants in the northwestern Indian state of Punjab have tended to be limited to a single region. India's ruling party, Congress (I), preserved national unity by forming electoral coalitions with disparate groups such as high-caste Hindus, Muslims, and untouchables and balancing them off against other groups loyal to opposition parties.

In Sri Lanka, however, both the nature of diversity and the attitude of the government have been different. Within the island's much smaller geographical area, politics have become polarized because the politically prominent groups are few in number and clearly defined in terms of language, custom, religion, and geographical region. Successive governments moreover, have never attempted to adopt an impartial role in relation to ethnic rivalries.

Concrete economic and social equity issues have played a major role in the ethnic antagonisms of Sinhalese and the Sri Lankan Tamils since independence. Ethnic rivalry, however, draws upon older and deeper roots. Each community views itself as possessing a unique and superior culture, based on religion, language, and race. The integrity of this culture is perceived to be threatened by the encroachments of the other group. Both Sinhalese and Tamils, occupying relatively well-defined geographical areas (the Sri Lankan Tamils in the Northern Province and parts of the Eastern Province, but with vulnerable enclaves in large cities; and the Sinhalese in the central and southern parts of the island), regard themselves as besieged minorities. The Sinhalese perceive themselves as the only group of "Aryans" and Buddhists in an overwhelmingly Dravidian and Hindu region (including the populous state of Tamil Nadu and other parts of southern India), while the Tamils see themselves as an endangered minority on the island itself. During the 1980s, this state of mutual paranoia, sharpened the ethnic boundaries of both groups and intensified economic and social conflicts.

<"58.htm"> The Sinhalese
<"59.htm"> Tamil Exclusivism

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - The Sinhalese

Sri Lanka

Many Sinhalese view themselves as a "chosen people." The Mahavamsa, an epic piece of "mythohistory" composed by Buddhist monks around the fifth century A.D., traces the origins of the Sinhalese to the regions of northern and eastern India inhabited in ancient times by Aryan peoples. Evidence to back this claim includes not only their language, which is related to the languages of northern India including Sanskrit, but the supposedly "fairer" complexions of the Sinhalese compared to their Dravidian neighbors. The Mahavamsa depicts the history of Sri Lanka as a bitter struggle between the Sinhalese and darker-skinned Dravidian intruders from the mainland. In the eyes of Sinhalese chauvinists, this struggle for survival continues to the present day.

Religion has defined Sinhalese identity over the centuries far more than race. Buddhism was brought to Sri Lanka around the third century B.C. by missionaries sent by Indian emperor Asoka and was fervently adopted by the Sinhalese king, Devanampiya Tissa (250-c.210 B.C.). The Theravada school of Buddhism was established after a great council of monks and scholars was held on Sri Lanka in 88-77 B.C. to codify the Pali scriptures. The faith was later transmitted by Sri Lankan monks to Southeast Asian countries such as Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia. Sinhalese Buddhists regard Theravada (or Hinayana) Buddhism as the purest form of their religion, unencumbered by the superstitions and false beliefs that allegedly contaminate the Mahayana sects of Buddhism found in East Asia.

Anthropologist S. J. Tambiah, himself a Sri Lankan Tamil whose family includes both Hindus and converts to Christianity, argues that in both traditional and contemporary Sinhalese Buddhism the religion's original message of universalism, compassion, and nonviolence was eclipsed by a narrower appeal to nationalism and race: "the Sinhalese chronicles. . . in postulating the unity of nation and religion constitute a profound transformation of the Asokan message of dharma (rule by righteousness and nonviolence) in a multireligious society of Buddhists, Jains, adherents of Brahmanical values, and others." This was clearly evident, he argues, in the Mahavamsa, which describes King Dutthagamani's heroic defense of Buddhism against invaders from southern India in the second century B.C. as a holy war. Tambiah, a specialist in Southeast Asian Buddhism, asserts that Buddhism in contemporary Sri Lanka has lost its ethical and philosophical bearings ("the substantive contents which make Buddhism a great religion and a source of a rich civilization") and has become either a set of ritualized devotions, undertaken by believers to obtain worldly good fortune, or an aggressive political movement that attracts the poorest classes of Sinhalese.

Politicized Buddhism in its modern form emerged in the opening years of the twentieth century when adherents of the religion, deploring the social evils of alcoholism, organized a temperance movement and criticized the colonial government for keeping taverns open as a source of tax revenue. The campaign was, implicitly, anti-Western and anti-Christian. With the passing of the colonial order, Buddhist activism was increasingly preoccupied with Sinhalese "majority rights," including the "Sinhala Only" language policy backed by SLFP leader S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike (who was assassinated by a Buddhist monk on September 26, 1959), and the agitation to give Buddhism special status in the 1972 constitution. But the equation of nation and religion also meant that any issue involving the welfare of the Sinhalese community, including issues of social equity, were fair game for activist monks and their supporters.

Thus, in 1986 leaders of the sangha (the community of Buddhist monks) joined with former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike to establish the Movement for Defense of the Nation to deter President J.R. Jayewardene from making significant concessions to the Tamils. One Buddhist leader, the Venerable Palipane Chandananda, head of one of the major orders of monks, was labelled "Sri Lanka's Khomeini" both for his extremism and his predilection for getting involved in political issues. Lowerranking monks also were frequent hardliners on the ethnic issue. A survey of monks taken during 1983 and 1984 by Nathan Katz, a Western student of Buddhism, revealed that 75 percent of his respondents refused to acknowledge that any Tamil grievances were legitimate. Many commented that the Tamils were an unjustly privileged minority and "it is the Sinhalese who have the grievances." Because of the tremendous prestige and influence of Buddhist monks among Sinhalese villagers and the poorest, least Westernized urban classes, the government in the late 1980s could not ignore the monks' point of view, which could be summarized in a 1985 comment by Chandananda to the Far Eastern Economic Review: "They [the Tamils] are saying that they have lived here for 1,000 years. But they are complete outsiders from India who have been living here temporarily."

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Tamil Exclusivism

Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan Tamil community itself boasts an impressive mythology of cultural and religious uniqueness and superiority. This is particularly true of dominant-caste Vellala Tamils living in the Jaffna Peninsula, who regard their Tamil cousins living in India and the Indian Tamil residents of Sri Lanka, as well as the Sinhalese, as their less civilized inferiors (thus undermining, to some extent, the rationale behind Sinhalese fears of engulfment by the two Tamil communities). According to anthropologist Bruce Pfaffenberger, the Vellala Tamils place great importance on the correct observation of Hindu rituals, the chastity of their women, and the need to maintain precisely the hierarchical distinctions of caste. Pfaffenberger notes that the Vellala regard the Jaffna Peninsula as their natu, or country, and that states ruled by their kings existed there from the thirteenth century until the sixteenth-century arrival of the Portuguese. Although not all Sri Lankan Tamils were members of the Vellala caste, its members dominated local commercial and educational elites, and its values had strong influence on Tamils of other castes.

Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has benefited from the traditions of the rule of law and constitutional government that emerged during 150 years of British colonial rule. At least until the early 1970s, these traditions fostered the development of a political system characterized by broad popular participation in the political process, generally strict observance of legal guarantees of human and civil rights, and an orderly succession of elected governments without the intervention, as has occurred in several neighboring states, of the military. By the early 1980s, however, many observers feared for the future of Sri Lanka's democratic institutions. Some observers contended that constitutional government, rather than curbing the arbitrary use of political power, seemed itself to be shaped by aggressively narrow sectarian interests whose manipulation of the constitutional amendment process excluded large numbers of persons from politics and contributed to ethnic polarization and violence.

Historical Perspective, 1802-1978

After the Dutch ceded the island's maritime provinces to the British in 1802, these areas became Britain's first crown colony. The conquest and subjugation of the inland Kingdom of Kandy in 1815-18 brought the entire island under British control. Crown colony status meant that the island's affairs were administered by the Colonial Office in London, rather than by the East India Company that governed India until 1857. Even after the Indian Empire--ruled by a viceroy appointed by the British monarch--was established following the Indian Mutiny of 1857, Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was then called) was not included within its authority. The principal features of government and administration during the first century of British rule were a strong executive--the colonial governor--and a council of official and unofficial members who first served in a solely advisory capacity but were gradually granted legislative powers. An institution of central importance was the Ceylon Civil Service. In the early years, it was staffed primarily by British and other European personnel but then, increasingly and almost exclusively, by Sri Lankans.

A major turning point in the island's political development was implementation in 1931 of comprehensive reforms recommended by a royal commission headed by the Earl of Donoughmore. The most salient feature of the so-called Donoughmore Constitution, which attempted to reconcile British colonial control of the executive with Sri Lankan aspirations for self-government, was adoption of universal adult suffrage. This was, at that time, a bold experiment in representative government. Before 1931, only 4 percent of the male population, defined by property and educational qualifications, could vote. When elections to the legislature were held in 1932, the colony became the first polity in Asia to recognize women's suffrage. (Japan had adult male suffrage in 1925, but universal adult suffrage came only after World War II. The Philippines, an United States colony, achieved it in 1938.)

Toward the close of World War II, a second royal commission, headed by Lord Soulbury, was sent to Sri Lanka in order to consult with local leaders on the drafting of a new constitution. In its general contours, the Soulbury Constitution, approved in 1946, became the basic document of Ceylon's government when the country achieved independence on February 4, 1948. It established a parliamentary system modelled on that of Britain and quite similar to the constitution adopted by India in 1949. Like Britain, unlike India with its federal arrangement of states, independent Ceylon was, and in the later 1980s remained, a unitary state. The constitution established a parliament headed by the British monarch (represented by the governor general) and two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The latter, like the House of Commons in Britain, had the preponderant role in legislation. The majority party or party coalition in the popularly elected House of Representatives designated the prime minister. Executive power, formally vested in the monarch (in the person of his or her representative, the governor general), was in actuality exercised by the prime minister and his or her cabinet.

The second constitution, adopted in 1972, represented an attempt on the part of the SLFP-led United Front coalition, which had been elected in May 1970, to create new political institutions that allegedly reflected indigenous values more perfectly than the 1946 constitution. It abolished the Senate and established a unicameral National State Assembly. The assembly was defined as the embodiment of the power of the state, and provisions in the constitution denied the judiciary the authority to challenge its enactments. In addition, the constitution changed the formal name of the country from Dominion of Ceylon to Republic of Sri Lanka. In a controversial measure, the United Front-dominated assembly gave itself two additional years in power beyond its constitutionally defined five-year term (elections were originally scheduled for 1975). Judicial curbs on the executive were also greatly restricted. Through the exercise of a wide range of emergency and special powers, the government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike exercised strict control over the political system.

Aside from the issue of authoritarianism, two extremely controversial aspects of the 1972 constitution were the abandonment of the idea of a secular state, which had been incorporated into the 1946 constitution, and designation of Sinhala as the sole national language. Although the constitution did not make Sri Lanka a Buddhist state, it declared that "the Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the state to protect and foster Buddhism while assuring to all religions the rights secured by Section 18 (i)(d) [religious freedom]." Tamils, a predominately Hindu minority, resented the special status given to Buddhism and the nonrecognition of a role for their language in national life.

In the July 1977 general election, the UNP was swept into power. The new ruling party, led by Jayewardene, won 140 out of 168 seats in the assembly and thus was in a position to initiate substantial revisions of the 1972 constitution. This process it proceeded to undertake by passing the Second Amendment, which established the office of executive president in October 1977. Jayewardene assumed the presidency on February 4, 1978. In November 1977, the UNP and the major opposition parties, with the conspicuous absence of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), convened a select committee to draft further revisions. After conducting a survey on the opinions of various Sri Lankan citizens, it concluded that changes embodied in the Second Amendment were not sufficient to promote substantial reform and recommended that a new constitution be drafted. The new document was adopted by the National State Assembly in mid-August 1978, and went into effect on September 7, 1978. Under its provisions, the legislature chosen in the July 1977 general election was designated the country's new Parliament.

<"61.htm"> Government Institutions

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Government Institutions

Sri Lanka

The 1978 Constitution changed the country's formal name from the Republic of Sri Lanka to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and established a presidential form of government similar to that operating in France under the Fifth Republic. The document contains 172 articles divided into 24 chapters. Like the 1972 constitution, it recognizes the special status of the Buddhist religion (assuring it, again, "foremost place" while guaranteeing the freedom of other religious communities). It differs from its predecessor, however, in granting "national" status to the Tamil as well as Sinhala language although only Sinhala is recognized as the "official" language. The language provisions permit the use of Tamil in administrative business in Northern and Eastern provinces and allow applicants for government employment to use either Tamil or Sinhala in the examination process (though knowledge of Sinhala might be required subsequent to induction into the civil service). In February 1983, Jayewardene announced that English would be recognized as a third national language.

The Constitution recognizes and guarantees a broad range of fundamental rights including: freedom of thought and conscience; religious freedom; freedom from discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, or caste; freedom of speech; basic legal protection including freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention; freedom to engage in any lawful occupation; and freedom of movement and travel. These rights are guaranteed to stateless persons resident in Sri Lanka for ten years following promulgation of the Constitution. Exercise of the fundamental rights, however, can be restricted in situations where national security is at risk or when the otherwise legal actions of persons (such as speech or publication) detract from racial or religious harmony or endanger "public health and morality."

The Constitution contains a section devoted to directive principles of state policy. These encompass a broad range of policy goals, including the establishment of a "democratic socialist society" and a just distribution of wealth; economic development; and the raising of cultural and educational standards. The directive principles also include a commitment to decentralizing the country's administration and promoting national unity by eliminating all forms of discrimination. The duties of citizens (including the fostering of national unity) are also enumerated.

Amendment of the Constitution requires the vote of two-thirds of Parliament. In addition, measures that affect "the independent, unitary, and democratic nature of the state," the Buddhist religion, fundamental rights, or the length of the term of office of president or Parliament must be approved by a popular referendum. Bills judged "inconsistent with the Constitution" cannot become law unless two-thirds of Parliament approve, but such bills can be repealed by a simple majority vote.

With its five-sixths majority in Parliament following the July 1977 general election, the UNP government of Jayewardene was able to pass a number of controversial constitutional amendments over the objections of the opposition. Some political commentators have suggested that such measures as the Fourth Amendment (December 1982), which extended the life of Parliament for six years, or the Sixth Amendment (August 1983), which obliged members of Parliament to renounce support for separatism, were designed not to strengthen democratic institutions but to prolong the UNP's monopoly of power.

<"62.htm"> Presidency and Parliament
<"63.htm"> Local Government
<"64.htm"> Electoral System
<"65.htm"> Judiciary
<"66.htm"> Civil Service

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Presidency and Parliament

Sri Lanka

The most important national office is that of the president, who is defined in the Constitution as head of state, chief executive, and commander in chief of the armed forces. Although governmental institutions are divided in the customary way between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, the president's powers as chief executive are formidable compared to those of the legislature. Thus, it cannot be said that the Constitution provides the political system with the benefits of a genuine separation of powers.

With Parliament's approval, the president appoints the prime minister and in consultation with the prime minister chooses the members of the cabinet. It is the chief executive, rather than the prime minister, who presides over the cabinet's deliberations, and who may assume any ministerial portfolio. The president also has the authority to dissolve Parliament at any time and call for new elections. The president cannot exercise this power, however, if the legislature has been in power for less than a year and does not consent to the dissolution, or if it is considering a resolution to impeach the president.

A striking feature of the governmental system is the huge size of cabinets. The Constitution designates twenty-eight minister-level portfolios, including two (the ministries of defense and plan implementation) held by the president. Additional ministers, however, may be appointed to take responsibility for special areas, such as the prevention of terrorism. District ministers, who play a major role in local government, are also designated. Including deputy ministers, a cabinet at one time may have more than eighty members chosen from the parliamentary ranks of the ruling party. In the late 1980s, ministerial rank and the resources made available through access to budgetary funds were, for individual legislators, an invaluable source of patronage and local level influence.

The president can announce a national referendum to seek popular approval of proposals of pressing national importance, including bills that have been rejected by Parliament. Other presidential prerogatives include declarations of war and peace, the granting of pardons, and the exercise of broad emergency powers. In the event of a public emergency, the president can invoke the power to enact measures without the consent of Parliament. The legislature, however, must convene no more than ten days after the chief executive's proclamation of an emergency. If a majority of the legislature fails to approve the state of emergency after two weeks, it automatically lapses; it lapses after ninety days if a simple majority of the members of Parliament do not approve its continuation.

The president is popularly elected for a term of six years. He or she may serve no more than two consecutive six-year terms. The Constitution stipulates, however, that the term of a chief executive who assumes office other than through a normal presidential election will not be counted as one of the two. Whether this means that Jayewardene's first term from 1977 to 1982, which began with his election as prime minister in the 1977 general election, would be counted toward the two-term total was unclear. The Third Amendment to the Constitution, approved in 1982, allows the president to hold a presidential election at any time following his fourth year in office.

The Constitution states that the president is responsible to Parliament and can be impeached by the legislature if that body approves the measure by a two-thirds vote and the Supreme Court also calls for his or her removal from office. Grounds for impeachment include mental or physical incapacitation, moral offenses, abuses of power, bribery, treason, and blatant violations of the Constitution. The prime minister assumes the responsibilities of the president if the incumbent is disabled or is overseas. Parliament chooses a new president if the incumbent dies or leaves office before the end of his or her term.

During the mid-1980s, the powers vested by the Constitution in the chief executive, the unprecedented majority that the UNP won in the July 1977 election, the 1982 postponement of a new general election until 1989, and a strong tradition of party discipline provided Jayewardene virtually unchallenged control over Parliament. The Constitution gives the legislature a term of six years. But in November 1982, Jayewardene, elected the previous month to a second six-year presidential term, announced his decision to hold a popular referendum on a constitutional amendment, the fourth, which would extend the life of Parliament from six to twelve years (a general election was due by August 1983). As justification for the amendment, he cited both his popular mandate (he won 52.9 percent of the votes cast in the October 1982 presidential election compared to 39.1 percent for his nearest opponent) and the threat posed by an "antidemocratic , violent and Naxalite group" associated with the opposition SLFP that allegedly planned to seize power and "[tear] up all constitutional procedures." (The term "Naxalite" refers to a leftist, revolutionary and violent movement that emerged in India during the 1960s.) After approval by Parliament and the Supreme Court, the amendment was supported by a narrow 54.7 percent of the voters on December 22, 1982. The fact that the referendum took place during a state of emergency and that there were widespread reports of voter fraud and intimidation caused many to doubt the legitimacy of this procedural exercise. Observers noted, however, that members of the opposition were allowed to express their opinions freely prior to the December 22 vote and were given access to the media, including television. The Constitution stipulates that when the next general election is held, the number of members of Parliament shall be increased from 168 to 196.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Local Government

Sri Lanka

Because Sri Lanka is a unitary rather than a federal state, local government institutions have had a very limited role in the political process. The country traditionally has been divided into nine provinces, which had played an important administrative role during the British colonial era. The principal local government subdivisions since the early 1980s have been the twenty-four administrative districts. Before 1981 each district contained administrative offices representing most national-level ministries and known collectively as kachcheri (government offices). Two officers of major significance at the district level were the government agent and the district minister. Government agents, appointed by the central government, traced their origins to the colonial era, but the office of district minister, which was filled by individuals concurrently serving as members of Parliament, was created after 1978. Because of the district ministers' access to central government funds for patronage purposes, they tended to diminish the power and influence of the government agents.

In 1981 the kachcheri system and the subdistrict system of elective village and town councils were replaced by district development councils and subdistrict-level units known as pradeshiya mandalaya (divisional council) and gramodaya mandalaya (village council). The councils were created largely to satisfy minority aspirations for local self-government and were designed to exercise a significant measure of autonomy, especially--as the name implies--in the area of economic planning and development. Although the district development councils served in the late 1980s as conduits for central government funds, they also had been granted the authority to collect taxes and manage their own budgets and were given responsibility for educational and cultural activities within their spheres of jurisdiction. Each district council consisted of some members appointed by the central government and others elected by local constituents for four-year terms on the basis of proportional representation. Their deliberations were presided over by the district ministers who were, as mentioned, members of Parliament (they did not in all cases represent in Parliament the district in which they exercised this function); government agents served as council secretaries.

The subdistrict-level mandalaya, or councils, were designed to promote village-level democracy and provide support for district development council programs. The changes implemented in 1981 affected the 75 percent of the population living in rural areas. Twelve municipal and thirty-eight urban councils continued to function in urban areas in the late 1980s.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Electoral System

Sri Lanka

In the late 1980s, popular elections were held, in principle at regular intervals, for the office of president, members of Parliament, and positions on local government bodies such as municipal and urban councils, district development councils, and the mandalaya. The Constitution grants the right to vote to all citizens aged eighteen years and over who are of sound mind and have not been convicted of major crimes. All qualified voters have the right to run for Parliament unless they are members of the armed forces, police, or certain branches of the civil service, hold other positions that might result in a conflict of interest, or have been convicted of bribery while serving in a previous term in Parliament within the past seven years. The qualifications for running for president are similar, though there is a minimum age requirement of thirty.

The president is chosen by a simple majority vote. In the election of October 20, 1982, the country was divided into twenty-two election districts (the Constitution provides for a maximum of twenty-four electoral districts). Citizens could mark their ballots for a maximum of three presidential candidates in order of preference. Under this "single transferable vote system," if no candidate received more than half the votes, all but the two candidates with the largest percentages of the total votes cast would be eliminated. Persons who voted their top preference for a candidate who had been eliminated would have their second or third preferences counted if they had chosen one of the top two vote-getters. In the 1982 balloting, six candidates contested the presidency but it was reported that only a small number of voters indicated a second or third preference on their ballots.

The 1946 and 1972 constitutions provided for the election of members of Parliament (or, between 1972 and 1978, the National State Assembly) from single-member constituencies similar to those found in Britain. Consequently, relatively small changes in the percentage of voters supporting a given party caused large variations in the number of seats that party won in Parliament, and majority parties were over-represented in terms of their percentage of the popular vote. For example, in the 1965 general election, the UNP won 39.3 percent of the vote and secured 66 out of 151 seats in Parliament; its share of the vote in the 1970 election dropped 1.4 percent to 37.9 percent, but it won only 17 seats. The 1978 Constitution replaced the single-member constituencies with a system of proportional representation in which the number of candidates returned from a single electoral district is determined on the basis of population. Although this system creates a closer correspondence between vote percentages and parliamentary representation, the equitable nature of proportional representation is diluted by a constitutional provision that grants the party with the largest percentage of votes in each district a "bonus" seat in addition to those gained through proportional representation.

The Constitution stated that by-elections to fill vacancies in Parliament before a general election were not necessary because the political parties themselves could appoint successors. On February 20, 1983, however, Parliament passed a constitutional amendment, the fifth, which provides for byelections if the incumbent party fails to nominate a successor within thirty days of the seat becoming vacant. On May 18, 1983, by-elections for eighteen seats were held.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Judiciary

Sri Lanka

Although Sri Lanka's colonial heritage fostered a tradition of judicial freedoms, this autonomy has been compromised since independence by constitutional changes designed to limit the courts' control over the president and by the chief executive's power to declare states of emergency. Also, Parliament's willingness to approve legislation, such as the 1979 Prevention of Terrorism Act, vested the government in the late 1980s with broad powers to deal with subversives, or those deemed subversive, in an essentially extralegal manner. Observers in the late 1980s reported that the act facilitated widespread abuses of power, including the systematic torture of detainees, because it recognized the admissibility as evidence of confessions to the police not made in the presence of a magistrate.

Under the Constitution, the highest court is the Supreme Court, headed by a chief justice and between six and ten associate justices. Supreme and High Court justices are appointed by the president. Superior Court justices can be removed on grounds of incompetence or misdemeanor by a majority of Parliament, whereas High Court justices can be removed only by a judicial service commission consisting of Supreme Court justices. The Supreme Court has the power of judicial review; it can determine whether an act of Parliament is consistent with the principles of the Constitution and whether a referendum must be taken on a proposal, such as the 1982 extension of Parliament's life by six years. It is also the final court of appeal for all criminal or civil cases.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Civil Service

Sri Lanka

The civil service in Sri Lanka was established during the colonial period and in the late 1980s continued to operate in accordance with well-established British precedents. It was hierarchical in structure. At the apex of the hierarchy was a well-defined elite, the Sri Lanka Administrative Service, which was composed of talented men and women chosen by competitive examination. They were well-educated generalists, expected to take a broad perspective in their work in contrast to specialist personnel operating on the lower ranks of the hierarchy. They enjoyed tremendous prestige. Because government employment on practically all levels offered economic security as well as status, competition for civil service and other government positions remained intense. One of the most important sources of Tamil disaffection from the Sinhalese-dominated political system has been their perception that government service opportunities for members of their community were decreasing. This view is borne out by statistics: in the administrative service, the number of Tamil officeholders declined from 11.1 percent of the total during the 1970-77 period to only 5.7 percent during the 1978-81 period. Spokesmen for the Sinhalese majority have asserted that the British traditionally favored the employment of Tamils over Sinhalese in the colonial bureaucracy and that the declining Tamil percentages reflected an equitable redressing of the balance. The percentage during 1978-81, however, was substantially lower than Sri Lankan Tamils' percentage of the total population (12.6 percent in 1985).

Especially since the early 1970s, the civil service has been subject to intense political pressures. Under the British-style 1946 constitution, the highest-ranking appointed officials in the government were the secretaries attached to each ministry. But after the adoption of the 1972 constitution, secretaries have been political appointees. This change and the dynamics of patron-client politics have compromised both the bureaucracy's claim of political neutrality and the quality of its staff. The power of patronage means that each member of Parliament has jobs, ranging from professional positions like school teachers or engineers, to clerkships and menial labor, which the members can distribute freely to followers. The eclipse of Tamil influence in Parliament has meant that such benefits were not generally available to the Tamil community.

In the late 1980s, about 25 percent of all employment in Sri Lanka was in the public sector. In addition to the civil service, this proportion included the police, the armed forces, and public corporations, which continued to dominate the economy despite Jayewardene's liberalization policies since 1977.

Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka

One of the most striking features of the political system in the more than four decades since independence has been the existence of viable and generally stable political parties. In the general elections held between 1952 and 1977, a two-party system emerged in which the UNP and the SLFP alternately secured majorities and formed governments. Observers noted, however, that one major failure of the two-party system was the unwillingness or inability of the UNP and the SLFP to recruit substantial support among Tamils. As a result, this minority was largely excluded from party politics.

On the basis of ethnicity, three types of parties could be defined in the late 1980s: Sinhalese-backed parties including the UNP, the SLFP, Marxist parties, such as the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, and the numerically insignificant splinter groups; a largely inoperative Tamil party system composed of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF); and other minority-oriented parties, such as the Ceylon Workers' Party, which enjoyed the support of the Indian Tamils, and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress. The situation was complicated by the fact that extremist groups, such as the Sinhalese-based People's Liberation Front (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna--JVP) in southern Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers based in the Northern and Eastern provinces, challenged the legal parties for popular support. By the late 1980s, both the intransigence of the Jayewardene government and the use of intimidation tactics by extremists in Jaffna District and parts of Eastern Province dramatically reduced popular backing among Tamils for the relatively moderate TULF.

The political party system was also weakened by the determination of the UNP leadership to retain a solid parliamentary majority through the use of constitutional amendments. During the 1980s, various UNP measures undermined the balance between the two major parties that had been an important factor behind the political stability of the years between 1952 and 1977. The extension of the life of Parliament until 1989 and the passage of the amendment prohibiting the advocacy of separatism, which resulted in the expulsion of TULF members from Parliament, created new political grievances. The Jayewardene government's decision to deprive SLFP leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike of her civil rights for seven years for alleged abuses of power in October 1980 also weakened the two-party system because it deprived the SLFP of its popular leader.

Despite drastic constitutional changes since 1972, the party system's British heritage is readily apparent in the clear distinction made between government and opposition legislators in Parliament (sitting, as in Westminster, on opposite benches) and provisions in the 1978 Constitution to prevent defections from one party to another, previously a common practice. Backbenchers are expected to follow the initiatives of party leaders and can be punished with expulsion from the party for failing to observe party discipline.

<"68.htm"> Sinhalese Parties
<"69.htm"> Tamil United Liberation Front

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Sinhalese Parties

Sri Lanka


The UNP was established in 1946 by prominent nationalist leaders such as Don Stephen Senanayake, who became the country's first prime minister, and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, who broke with Senanayake in 1951, establishing the SLFP. The UNP, originally a collection of disparate and jealous factions, was organized to compete in the first general elections in 1947 against leftist parties on the platform of communal harmony, parliamentary democracy, and anticommunism. Between 1946 and the early 1970s, the UNP was organized around power personalities and politically influential families rather than a consistent ideology or a strong party organization. In its early years it was known as the "uncle-nephew party" because of the blood ties between its major leaders. When the first prime minister, Don Stephen Senanayake, died in March 1952, he was succeeded by his son, Dudley. In September 1953, Sir John Kotelawala, Dudley Senanayake's uncle, assumed the leadership of the UNP government and remained in power until April 1956. In the March 1965 general election, Dudley Senanayake again became prime minister at the head of a UNP government. In 1970 leadership of the party passed to a distant relative, Junius Richard (J.R.) Jayewardene. A prominent activist in the preindependence Ceylon National Congress who was elected to the colonial era legislature in 1943, Jayewardene departed from the personality-dominated UNP status quo. Instead, he established a strong party organization and recruited members of the younger generation, traditionally attracted to the leftist parties, to fill UNF party ranks.

In keeping both with the privileged background of its leadership and the need to provide the electorate with a clearcut alternative to the leftist orientation of the SLFP and other groups, the UNP has remained, since independence, a party of the moderate right. Despite the constitutional adoption of the term "Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka" as the country's formal name, the ruling party's policies under Jayewardene have included comprehensive economic liberalization designed to stimulate growth of a market economy, encouragement of foreign investment, a partial dismantling of the country's elaborate welfare state institutions, and closer and friendlier relations with the United States and other Western countries. Because the UNP's popular support is firmly anchored in the Sinhalesemajority regions of central, southern, and western Sri Lanka, it has had to compromise with rising grass-roots sentiment against the Tamil minority as ethnic polarities intensified during the 1980s. Historically, however, it is less closely identified with Sinhalese chauvinism than its major rival, the SLFP.

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party

In 1951 S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike led his faction, the Sinhala Maha Sabha, out of the ruling UNP and established the SLFP. Bandaranaike had organized the Sinhala Maha Sabha in 1937 in order to promote Sinhalese culture and community interests. Since the 1950s, SLFP platforms have reflected the earlier organization's emphasis on appealing to the sentiments of the Sinhalese masses in rural areas. To this basis has been added the antiestablishment appeal of nonrevolutionary socialism. On the sensitive issue of language, the party originally espoused the use of both Sinhala and Tamil as national languages, but in the mid-1950s it adopted a "Sinhala only" policy. As the champion of the Buddhist religion, the SLFP has customarily relied upon the socially and politically influential Buddhist clergy, the sangha, to carry its message to the Sinhalese villages.

Another important constituency has been the Sinhalese middle class, whose members have resented alleged Tamil domination of the professions, commerce, and the civil service since the British colonial era. In contrast to the free market orientation of the UNP, the SLFP's policies have included economic selfsufficiency , nationalization of major enterprises, creation of a comprehensive welfare state, redistribution of wealth, and a nonaligned foreign policy that favored close ties with socialist countries. It has, however, refused to embrace Marxism as its guiding ideology.

Like the UNP, the SLFP has been a "family party." S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was assassinated in 1959. After a brief and somewhat chaotic interregnum, his widow, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, was chosen as party leader. In the July 1960 general election, the party won 75 out of 151 parliamentary seats, and in a coalition with Marxist parties, Mrs. Banaranaike became the world's first democratically elected female head of government. Although she was obliged to step down from party leadership after her civil rights were taken away in October 1980 on charges of corruption and abuse of power, she resumed leadership of the SLFP following a government pardon granted on January 1, 1986.

In 1977 six members of the SLFP left the party and formed a new group, the People's Democratic Party (PDP--Mahajana Prajathanthra). A second group, the Sri Lanka People's Party (SLMP--Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya), was formed in 1984 by a daughter of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Chandrika Kumaratunge, and her husband Vijay Kumaratunge. They claimed that the original SLFP, under the leadership of Sirimavo Bandaranaike's son, Anura, was excessively right wing and had become an instrument of the Jayewardene government. Although Sirimavo Bandaranaike reentered politics and assumed a leadership position within the SLFP after her 1986 pardon, Anura Bandaranaike remained leader of the parliamentary opposition. Neither the PDP nor the SLPP had representation in Parliament in 1988.

During the late 1980s, the SLFP and the breakaway SLPP remained split on the sensitive issue of negotiations with Tamil separatists. The former opposed the granting of significant concessions to the militants while the latter joined the UNP in supporting them. In 1986 Sirimavo Bandaranaike and politically active members of the Buddhist leadership established the Movement for Defense of the Nation in order to campaign against proposed grants of regional autonomy to the Tamils.

The Marxist Parties

In the late 1980s, Sri Lanka had two long-established Marxist parties. The Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) was founded in 1935 and remained in the late 1980s one of the very few MarxistLeninist parties in the world to associate itself with the revolutionary doctrines of Leon Trotsky. This connection made it attractive to independent-minded Marxists who resented ideological subservience to Moscow and who aspired to adapt Marxism to Sri Lankan conditions. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, the LSSP functioned as the primary opposition party, but its fortunes declined after the emergence of the non-Marxist SLFP. Like the SLPP, the LSSP joined with the ruling UNP in the mid-1980s to support a negotiated settlement with Tamil militants but in 1988 did not have members in Parliament. The New Equal Society Party (Nava Sama Samaja Party--NSSP) was in 1987 a breakaway faction of the LSSP.

The Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CPSL) was established in 1943 and continued in the late 1980s to follow the direction of the Soviet Union on matters of ideology. Banned briefly in July 1983 along with the JVP and the NSSP, in 1987 it had limited popular support.

The People's United Front

The People's United Front (Mahajana Eksath Peramuna--MEP) was a small party founded by veteran leftist Dinesh P. R. Gunawardene that since the early 1950s has attracted Sinhalese support with appeals to militant Buddhist and Sinhala chauvinist sentiments. In 1956 it formed a coalition on the left with the SLFP and Marxist parties, but in a shift to the right four years later joined forces with the UNP. During the late 1970s and the early 1980s, it maintained a formal association with the JVP, originally a Maoist group that was responsible for a bloody uprising in 1971 but operated as a legal political party between 1977 and 1983.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Tamil United Liberation Front

Sri Lanka

With very few exceptions, Sri Lankan Tamils have tended to support their own parties and candidates rather than vote for the UNP, SLFP, or the Marxist parties. In the July 1977 general election, for example, only 9 percent of the voters in the Tamilmajority Northern Province supported the two major parties (the UNP, less closely associated with Sinhalese chauvinism from the Tamil viewpoint than the SLFP, won 8 of the 9 percent). In the years following independence, the most important Tamil party was the Tamil Congress, led by G.G. Ponnambalam, one of the major figures in the independence movement. A breakaway group led by another figure, S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, founded a second party, the Federal Party, which began to make inroads into the Tamil Congress' constituency by advancing proposals for a federal state structure that would grant Tamils substantial autonomy.

In the early 1970s, several Tamil political groups, including the Tamil Congress and the Federal Party, formed the Tamil United Front (TUF). With the group's adoption in 1976 of a demand for an independent state, a "secular, socialist state of Tamil Eelam," it changed its name to the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). In the general election of July 1977, TULF won eighteen seats in the legislature, including all fourteen seats contested in the Jaffna Peninsula. In October 1983, all the TULF legislators, numbering sixteen at the time, forfeited their seats in Parliament for refusing to swear an oath unconditionally renouncing support for a separate state in accordance with the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. In an atmosphere of intensifying ethnic violence and polarization, their resignations deprived Sri Lankan Tamils of a role in the legal political process and increased tremendously the appeal of extremist groups such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. But in December 1985, the TULF leadership softened its position and proposed that an autonomous Tamil State could be established within the Sri Lankan constitutional framework in a manner similar to the federal states of India.

Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka

During the 1980s, extremist groups operating within both Tamil and Sinhalese communities were a grave threat to political stability and democratic institutions. Like Northern Ireland and Lebanon, Sri Lanka had become a country in which the vicious cycle of escalating violence had become so deeply entrenched that prospects for a peaceful resolution of social and political problems seemed remote. Extremism was generationally as well as ethnically based: many youth, seeing a future of diminished opportunities, had little faith in established political and social institutions and were increasingly attracted to radical solutions and the example of movements abroad like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Perhaps surprisingly, the first major extremist movement in postindependence history was Sinhalese and Buddhist rather than Tamil and Hindu. The JVP, an ultra-leftist organization established in the late 1960s by Rohana Wijeweera, attracted the support of students and poor Sinhalese youth in rural areas. In April 1971, the JVP led an armed uprising that resulted in the death of thousands of the rebels at the hands of the security forces (one estimate is 10,000 fatalities). The historian, K.M. de Silva, calls the 1971 JVP insurrection "perhaps the biggest revolt by young people in any part of the world in recorded history, the first instance of tension between generations becoming military conflict on a national scale." Although it suppressed the poorly organized revolt with little difficulty, the Bandaranaike government was visibly shaken by the experience. Fears of future unrest within the Sinhalese community undoubtedly made it reluctant, in a "zero-sum" economy and society, to grant significant concessions to minorities.

Although the JVP was recognized as a legal political party in 1977 and Wijeweera ran as a presidential candidate in the October 1982 election, it was banned by the government after the summer 1983 anti-Tamil riots in Colombo and went underground. By the late 1980s, it was again active in Sinhalese-majority areas of the country. The JVP cadres organized student protests at Sri Lanka's universities, resulting in the temporary closure of six of them, and led sporadic attacks against government installations, such as a raid on an army camp near Kandy in 1987 to capture automatic weapons. But they were also suspected of establishing links with Tamil militant groups, especially the Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS). Government intelligence analysts believed that the JVP, in tandem with EROS, was attempting to organize a leftist movement among Indian Tamils in the Central Highlands. This was a disturbing development since the Indian Tamils had traditionally been docile and politically apathetic.

In 1987 a splinter group of the JVP, known as the Deshapremi Janatha Viyaparaya (DJV--Patriotic Liberation Organization), emerged. The DJV threatened to assassinate members of Parliament who approved the conditions of the July 29, 1987 Indo-Sri Lankan Accord, which it described as a "treacherous sell-out to Tamil separatists and Indian expansionists" and said that it would take the lives not only of parliamentarians who approved it but also of their families.

<"71.htm"> Tamil Alienation
<"72.htm"> Tamil Militant Groups
<"73.htm"> The Eastern Province Question

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Tamil Alienation

Sri Lanka

Moderate as well as militant Sri Lankan Tamils have regarded the policies of successive Sinhalese governments in Colombo with suspicion and resentment since at least the mid-1950s, when the "Sinhala Only" language policy was adopted. Although limited compromises designed to appease Tamil sentiment were adopted, such as the 1959 Tamil Language Special Provision Act and the 1978 Constitution's granting of national language status to Tamil, the overall position of the minority community has deteriorated since Sri Lanka became an independent state. Pressured by militant elements within the Sinhalese community, the UNP and SLFP political leadership has repeatedly failed to take advantage of opportunities to achieve accords with the Tamils that could have laid the foundations for ethnic understanding and harmony. For example, in 1957 S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike reached an agreement with Tamil Federal Party leader Chelvanayakam that would have granted regional autonomy to Tamil-majority areas and recognized Tamil as a language of administration in those areas. The pact, however, was never honored by Bandaranaike or his widow. Tambiah called it "a great opportunity, fatefully missed, to settle the Tamil issue for all time." Three decades later, after thousands of people in both ethnic communities had met violent deaths, a similar accord was reached, but only with the intervention of India.

Several issues provided the focus for Sri Lankan Tamil alienation and widespread support, particularly within the younger generation, for extremist movements. Among the issues was the language problem, which was only partially resolved by the 1978 Constitution's conferral of national language status on Tamil. Sinhalese still remained the higher-status "official language," and inductees into the civil service were expected to acquire proficiency in it. Other areas of disagreement concerned preference given to Sinhalese applicants for university admissions and public employment, and allegations of government encouragement of Sinhalese settlement in Tamil-majority areas.

Until 1970 university admissions were determined solely by academic qualifications. Because of the generally higher educational standards of Tamils, their percentage of university enrollments substantially exceeded their percentage of the general population. In 1969 for example, 50 percent of the students in the country's faculties of medicine and 48 percent of all engineering students were Tamil. During the 1970s, however, the government implemented a preferential admissions system known as the "policy of standardization." This was a geographically based criterion, but because the two ethnic communities tended to be regionally segregated, such a policy increased Sinhalese enrollments. The scheme established quotas for 70 percent of university places on the basis of revenue districts; this included a special allotment of 15 percent of all openings reserved for educationally underprivileged districts, which were predominantly Sinhalese. Only 30 percent of openings were allotted nationwide on merit considerations alone. By the early 1980s, the policy had proven a statistical success: in 1983 only 22 percent of medical students and 28 percent of engineering students were Tamils.

The limiting of educational opportunities for Tamils was reflected in declining percentages of Tamils in the skilled and professional areas of government service. State-employed Tamil physicians declined from 35 percent in the 1966-70 period to 30 percent in 1978-79; engineers from a 38 percent average in the 1971-77 period to 25 percent in 1978-79; and clerical workers from an 11 percent average in 1970-77 to a little more than 5 percent in 1978-79. By 1980 the percentage of Tamil employees in the public sector, excluding public corporations, was roughly equivalent to their percentage of the population, or 12 percent.

Political factors played a role in the decline in the number of Tamils in public service. Under the so-called chit system, which became pervasive when Sirimavo Bandaranaike was in power during the 1970s, the influence of a parliamentarian was needed to secure a government job (the chit being a memorandum written by the legislator to inform personnel authorities of the preferred candidate). The Jayewardene government made the machinery of patronage still more overt by giving each legislator "job banks" of lower level positions to be distributed to their followers. The expanding role of patronage on all levels of the civil service had two implications for Tamils: first, merit qualifications that would have benefited educated Tamils were sacrificed to patron-client politics; second, the patronage system provided Tamils with little or no access to public employment because their political representatives, especially after the 1977 general election, had very limited influence.

Government-sponsored settlement of Sinhalese in the northern or eastern parts of the island, traditionally considered to be Tamil regions, has been perhaps the most immediate cause of intercommunal violence. There was, for example, an official plan in the mid-1980s to settle 30,000 Sinhalese in the dry zone of Northern Province, giving each settler land and funds to build a house and each community armed protection in the form of rifles and machine guns. Tamil spokesmen accused the government of promoting a new form of "colonialism," but the Jayewardene government asserted that no part of the island could legitimately be considered an ethnic homeland and thus closed to settlement from outside. Settlement schemes were popular with the poorer and less fortunate classes of Sinhalese.

Indian Tamils, poorer and less educated than their Sri Lankan Tamil cousins, since independence have endured an equally precarious situation. Although agreements with India largely resolved the issue of their nationality, 100,000 Indian Tamils remained stateless in the late 1980s. Those holding Sri Lankan citizenship and remaining loyal to Thondaman's progovernment Ceylon Workers' Congress were largely indifferent to Sri Lankan Tamils' militant demands for an independent state, but endemic poverty among plantation workers and occasional harsh treatment at the hands of the police and Sinhalese civilians made the people more receptive to leftist ideology and threatened the traditional tranquility of the inland hill country.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Tamil Militant Groups

Sri Lanka

The de facto policies of preference that the Sri Lankan government adopted in order to assist the Sinhalese community in such areas as education and public employment affected most severely middle class Tamil youth, who found it more difficult during the 1970s and 1980s to enter a university or secure employment than had their older brothers and sisters. Individuals belonging to this younger generation, often referred to by other Tamils as "the boys," formed the core of an extremist movement that had become, by the late 1980s, one of the world's most violent. By the end of 1987, they fought not only the Sri Lankan security forces but also the armed might of the (Indian Peacekeeping Force) and terrorized both Sinhalese and Tamil civilians with acts of random violence. They also fought among each other with equal if not greater brutality.

In a sense, the militant movement was not only a revolt against the Sinhalese-dominated status quo but also an expression of intergenerational tensions in a highly traditional society where obedience to parental authority had long been sacrosanct. Militant youth criticized their elders for indecisiveness at a time when they felt the existence of their ethnic community clearly was in danger. The movement also reflected caste differences and rivalries. The membership of the largest and most important extremist group, for example, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), was generally drawn from the Karava or fisherman caste, while individuals belonging to the elite Vellala caste were found in considerable numbers in a rival group, the People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE, also PLOT).

Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) emerged in 1972 when Tamil youth espousing an independent Tamil state established a group called the Tamil New Tigers. At that time, the idea of secession was still considered radical by most Tamil leaders, though the TULF embraced it four years later. An incident of apparently unprovoked police brutality in 1974 started the LTTE on its career of insurgency. In January of that year, the World Tamil Research Conference, bringing delegates from many different countries, was held in Jaffna. Police seeing large crowds milling around the meeting hall attacked them ferociously. Nine persons were killed and many more injured. The incident was viewed by youthful militants not only as a provocative act of violence but as a deliberate insult to Tamil culture. It was, according to one Tamil spokesman, "a direct challenge to their manhood." The Tigers' first act as an insurgent movement was to assassinate the progovernment mayor of Jaffna in 1975. Subsequently they went underground. As extremist movements in other countries have done, the LTTE apparently established contacts with similar groups, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, trained with Palestinians in Libya and Lebanon, and ran its own secret training camps in India's Tamil Nadu State. In 1988 Velupillai Prabhakaran, its undisputed military and political leader, and A.S. Balasingham, its ideological spokesman, were the LTTE's most important figures.

The Tamil militants' choice of the tiger as their symbol reflected not only the ferocity of that animal but a deliberate contrast with the lion (singha), which traditionally has been a symbol of the Sinhalese people and is depicted in the Sri Lankan flag.

Ideologically, LTTE theoreticians at times resorted to Marxist rhetoric to characterize their struggle. Overall, the creation of an independent Tamil state, irrespective of ideology, remained the movement's only goal. In pursuit of this objective, the LTTE seemed more wedded to direct and violent action than formulation of principles on which the independent state would operate.

LTTE leader Prabhakaran maintained friendly, though watchful, relations with the chief minister of India's Tamil Nadu State, M.G. Ramachandran, until the latter's death in 1987. Until India's intervention in 1987, he could count upon at least the moral support of Ramachandran's political party, the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). Some of the LTTE's militant rivals maintained ties with the Tamil Nadu opposition party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which was headed by Ramachandran's bitter rival, M. Karunaidhi.

Other Tamil Groups

Observers in the late 1980s counted at least thirty separate guerrilla groups of which five, including the LTTE, were the most important. The other four major groups were the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), led by K. Padmanabha, the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), led by Sri Sabaratnam until he was killed by the LTTE assassins in May 1986, the Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS), led by V. Balakumar, and the People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), headed by Uma Maheswaran. These groups differed significantly in terms of strategies and ideologies. EROS was said to prefer acts of economic sabotage. In March 1985, the LTTE, EPRLF, TELO, and EROS formed a united front organization, the Eelam National Liberation Front (ENLF). PLOTE, probably the most genuinely Marxist-Leninist of the five major guerrilla groups, remained outside the coalition. By mid-1986, ENLF had become largely inoperative after the LTTE quit, although the other groups sought to form a front without its participation.

The Liberation Tigers proceeded to devour their rivals during 1986 and 1987. TELO was decimated in 1986 by repeated LTTE attacks. During 1987 the Tigers battled not only Indian troops but members of PLOTE and the EPRLF.

The year 1983 can be regarded as a psychological turning point in the ethnic crisis. The brutal anti-Tamil riots of July in Colombo and other towns, and the government's apparent lack of concern for Tamil safety and welfare seemed to rule out a peaceful resolution of differences between Tamils and Sinhalese. The riots were touched off by the July 23 killing of thirteen Sinhalese soldiers by LTTE guerrillas on the Jaffna Peninsula. According to Tambiah, the mutilated corpses were brought to Colombo by their comrades and displayed at a cemetery as an example of the Tigers' barbarism. In an explosion of rage, local Sinhalese began attacks on Tamils and their property that spread out from Colombo District to other districts and resulted in at least 400 casualties (the official figure) and perhaps as many as 2,000 (an estimate by Tamil sources). Fifty-three Tamil prisoners were killed under questionable circumstances at the Welikade Prison outside Colombo. Damage to property, including Tamil-owned shops and factories, was initially estimated at the equivalent of US$150 million, probably a low figure.

The authorities, seemingly paralyzed during the bloody days of July 24 to July 31, did little or nothing to protect the victims of mob violence. Curfews were not enforced by security personnel even though they were required under a nationwide state of emergency in effect since the May by-elections. Jayewardene withdrew to his presidential residence, heavily guarded by government troops, and issued a statement after the riots that "the time has come to accede to the clamor and the national respect of the Sinhala People," that expressed little sympathy for the sufferings of the Tamils.

There was ample evidence, reported in the Indian and Western media, that the violence was more a carefully planned program than a totally spontaneous expression of popular indignation. According to a report in the New Delhi publication, India Today, "the mobs were armed with voters' lists, and detailed addresses of every Tamil-owned shop, house, or factory, and their attacks were very precise." Other sources mentioned the central role played by Minister of Industry and Scientific Affairs Cyril Mathew in providing personnel for the violence and the ease with which the mobs found transportation, including government vehicles, to move from place to place.

According to political scientist James Manor, the eagerness of powerful politicians such as Mathew to stir up ethnic trouble stemmed at least in part from factional struggles within the ruling UNP. Mathew reportedly used the riots to compromise the aging and seemingly indecisive Jayewardene and undermine support for the chief executive's all-but-designated successor, Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa. According to India Today reporting in August 1983, five UNP factional groups, including Mathew's and Premadasa's, competed for influence. With deep reservoirs of anti-Tamil sentiment among poorer Sinhalese to draw upon, Mathew could not be ignored in any post-Jayewardene political arrangement within the UNP. His schemes, however, ultimately backfired. In December 1984, Mathew was obliged to resign from the cabinet for opposing negotiations between the government and the Tamils on regional autonomy, and he subsequently faced expulsion from the party.

The 1983 violence had a caste as well as ethnic dimension. Mathew was a leader of the Vahumpura caste. This group has a lower status than the politically dominant Goyigama caste but comprises more than one-third of the Sinhalese population. Traditionally, Vahumpura occupations included the making of jaggery (brown sugar derived from palm sap) and domestic service in higher caste households. Nevertheless, they trace their descent from the attendants of Mahinda, the brother or son of the Indian emperor Asoka, who came to Sri Lanka as a Buddhist missionary in the third century B.C. and thus claimed an esteemed status among Sinhalese Buddhists. The Vahumpura also had been actively involved in commerce, but in the 1970s and early 1980s they were forced out of the business by their Sinhalese Karava and Tamil competitors. The resultant decline in their fortunes was a source of much resentment toward the other groups.

Some observers speculated that the LTTE had moderated to a slight degree its attacks against government forces in the north, because of the presence of Tamil "hostages" in Colombo and other Sinhalese-majority urban areas, but that the July 1983 riots removed such inhibitions. The vicious cycle of violence intensified as attacks by the LTTE and other groups against troops brought harsh retaliation against Tamil civilians, especially in the Jaffna Peninsula. Reports issued by Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, told of random seizures, tortures, and executions of hundreds of young Tamil men by the armed forces in Northern and Eastern provinces. These actions forced the great majority of Sri Lankan Tamils, whatever their point of view on the goals or methods of the guerrillas, into the arms of the extremists. In the words of one observer, the Tamil population in the north was "visibly afraid of the Tigers, but they disliked the [Sri Lankan] Army even more." As the civil war intensified, government troops were besieged inside the seventeenth-century Jaffna Fort, and most areas of Jaffna City and the surrounding countryside were under Tiger control. The government ordered serial bombings of the city. Thousands of Tamils sought refuge from government attacks across the Palk Strait in India's Tamil Nadu State. As indignation among Tamils in India grew over the atrocities, Colombo was filled with rumors of an impending Indian invasion that would have resulted in a permanent division of the island.

The 1984 All Party Conference

In January 1984, the Jayewardene government convened an All Party Conference to seek a resolution of the communal issue. Participants included the UNP, the SLFP, the TULF, and five smaller groups. The major issue under discussion was devolution. The government proposed the granting of autonomy to the country's districts through the creation of district councils and other changes in local government. Also, the government proposed establishment of a second house of Parliament, a council of state, whose members would include the chairmen and vice chairmen of the district councils and which would have both legislative and advisory roles. The Tamil spokesmen rejected these proposals. One reason was that they did not allow for special links between Northern and Eastern provinces. No compromise was reached and the conference broke up on December 21, 1984 and was not resumed, as had been planned, in 1985. Even if the All Party Conference had reached an agreement on devolution, it was unlikely that it could have been implemented because the SLFP and the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna had withdrawn from the negotiations. The proposals also were denounced by militant Sinhalese groups, such as politically active Buddhist monks, who viewed them as a sellout to the Tamils.

India's Perspective

By the close of 1984, it was becoming clear that the parties within Sri Lanka were incapable of reaching a workable compromise on their own. The new Congress (I), I for Indira Gandhi, government of Rajiv Gandhi in India assumed an active mediation role at the request of the government of Sri Lanka. Gandhi's own interest in containing the ethnic crisis was self-evident. Thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees were fleeing to Tamil Nadu State, which was also a sanctuary for most of the militant groups and the now disenfranchised TULF (the number of Tamil refugees was more than 100,000 in early 1987). Local politicians, particularly Tamil Nadu's chief minister, M.G. Ramachandran, demanded initiatives on the part of New Delhi to halt the violence. Ramachandran's AIADMK was one of the few southern regional parties friendly to Gandhi's Congress (I). An appearance of insensitivity to Tamil suffering on the part of New Delhi might cost it the support of the AIADMK or strengthen the hand of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the state's major opposition party.

At the same time, Gandhi, whose predecessor as prime minister (his mother) had been assassinated by Sikh extremists on October 31, 1984, had no desire to encourage separatist forces within his own ethnically and religiously divided country by sponsoring separatist sentiments in Sri Lanka. New Delhi wished to rein in the Tigers without appearing to be too enthusiastic a backer of Jayewardene's government.

A third problem for Gandhi was strategic. As the ethnic crisis deepened, the Jayewardene government sought increasing military aid from countries of which India was suspicious or which seemed to challenge New Delhi's primacy in the Indian Ocean region. China, Britain, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), and South Africa supplied Sri Lanka with arms. Israel operated a special interest section in the United States Embassy in Colombo, and Israeli experts provided training in counterinsurgency and land settlement strategies. Retired members of Britain's Special Air Service also trained Sri Lankan military personnel. India also feared that the United States naval forces might establish an Indian Ocean base at the strategic port of Trincomalee ("another Diego Garcia" charged India). The most ominous foreign presence, however, was Pakistan's. In March-April 1985, Jayewardene made an official visit to Islamabad to confer with President Mohammed Zia ul Haq and other top Pakistani officials. According to Indian sources, Sri Lankan forces were trained by Pakistani advisers both in Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Gandhi, like his mother before him, referred to Sri Lanka's inclusion within a "Washington-Islamabad-Beijing axis".

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - The Eastern Province Question

Sri Lanka

Indian pressure was apparently a major factor in persuading the four major guerrilla groups included within the Eelam National Liberation Front (the LTTE, TELO, EROS, and EPRLF) and the Tamil political party, TULF, to hold talks with a government delegation headed by the president's brother, Hector Jayewardene. The meetings were convened in July and August 1985 in Thimpu, capital of Bhutan. Jayewardene advanced a proposal involving, as in the 1984 All Party Conference, the granting of autonomy to district councils. He also proposed the creation of a separate legislature for the Tamil-majority northern region of the island. The Tamil groups made four demands: recognition of the Tamils as a distinct national group, the creation of a Tamil state (Eelam) from Northern and Eastern provinces, the right of self- determination for the Tamil "nation," and full citizenship rights for all Tamils resident in Sri Lanka. The government rejected the first three on the grounds that they amounted to separatism, which was prohibited by the Constitution and the talks broke off abruptly on August 18, 1985, when Tamil delegates accused the armed forces of continuing to perpetrate atrocities against Tamil civilians. The fourth demand, for granting Sri Lankan citizenship to 96,000 Indian Tamils, was met in January 1986.

In December 1985, TULF broke ranks with the militants and announced support for a Tamil-majority federal state remaining within Sri Lanka with the devolution of substantial executive, legislative, and judicial powers. The government, however, objected to the controversial joining of Eastern Province with Northern Province in the proposed federal unit. Although Northern Province clearly had a Tamil majority and limited economic potential, the position in Eastern Province was ambiguous: 58 percent of its population was either Sinhalese or Muslim. Although Eastern Province Muslims spoke Tamil, the great majority were descended from Arab settlers. Also, Eastern Province contained large areas of fertile and economically exploitable land and the strategic port of Trincomalee. Although a second All Party Conference was held in June 1986, neither TULF nor the militants participated. Talks in Colombo between TULF and the government were snagged on the issue of the status of Eastern Province.

The Eastern Province issue brought the Muslims into the negotiations not only because they viewed themselves as a community quite separate from both the Tamils and Sinhalese but also because there had been communal violence involving Tamils and Muslims in Eastern Province during the 1980s, and the latter were not enthusiastic about being included in a separate, Tamil- dominated state. According to the leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, M. Ashraff, "we are a community being oppressed both by the Sinhalese and the Tamils." Some younger Muslims expressed sympathy for the LTTE, but the leadership of the community wanted the government to grant them some kind of autonomous status separate from any settlement with the Tamils.

By late 1986, Jayewardene's government found itself tied down by conflicting communal interests that included not only the Sri Lankan Tamils and Muslims but Sinhalese who rallied behind the nationalist appeal of Sirimavo Bandaranaike's Movement for Defense of the Nation. Against a background of unremitting violence that included bloody Tamil terrorist bombings in Colombo, the status of Eastern Province remained a major stumbling block. Given the stalemate, India's participation loomed larger in any formula that had a chance of achieving peace.

In November 1986, Sri Lankan and Indian leaders conferred at the annual summit meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in Bangalore, India. They outlined a settlement that included provincial councils for Northern and Eastern provinces and special provisions for Eastern Province that would entail the establishment of local councils for Sinhalese in Trincomalee, Tamils in Batticaloa District, and Muslims in the southern district of Amparai. This arrangement was scrapped in the face of Tamil opposition. On December 17-19, 1986, President Jayewardene met cabinet-level Indian officials in Colombo and agreed to another set of proposals, described as a "beginning point for further negotiations," which conceded the possible merger of Northern and Eastern provinces and the joining of Sinhalese-majority areas of Amparai District to the inland province of Uva. This proposal, too, was scrapped, because of the objections of Amparai Muslims.

By early 1987, India had grown impatient with the lack of progress on an accord and threatened to end its mediating role. A still more serious problem was the apparent determination of the Sri Lankan government to use military means to solve the crisis. In late May, a large-scale offensive, dubbed Operation Liberation, was launched against the LTTE in the Jaffna Peninsula. The offensive caused considerable hardship among local civilians. Indian efforts to bring relief supplies by boat were rebuffed by the Sri Lankan Navy on June 3, 1987, but an airdrop of supplies by the Indian Air Force took place the next day. Sri Lanka labelled this action a "naked violation" of its territorial integrity.

By July 1987, however, Jayewardene--weary of the bloodletting and sincere in his desire for a peaceful solution--and Prime Minister Gandhi, perceiving that he could not afford an indefinite prolongation of the crisis, had groped to within reach of a viable accord. In a July 1 letter, Gandhi urged Jayewardene to come up with some "new ideas" on a settlement. On July 16, Jayewardene, his cabinet, and the Indian high commissioner in Colombo, Jyotindra Nath Dixit, conferred on an "improved version" of the December 19, 1986, proposals which were sent two days later to New Delhi and subsequently formed the basis for the July 29, 1987, Indo-Sri Lankan Accord.

The major task for Gandhi, acting as middleman, was to draw the Tamil militants into the settlement. On July 28, after a last minute meeting with the Indian prime minister, LTTE leader Prabhakaran announced his support for the accord. In an interview with India Today, he reconciled this decision with the longstanding LTTE demand for an independent state by citing the accord's recognition of the Northern and Eastern provinces' status as places of "historical habitation of Tamil-speaking people." But Prabhakaran also noted that he had not been a party to the accord and doubted that it would bring lasting peace. The four other major guerilla groups also gave their backing to the pact on July 28, though they expressed concern about its "deficiencies."

On July 30, 1987, Gandhi arrived in Colombo to sign a comprehensive settlement that had, as its main points the turn in of weapons by militant groups, a merger of Northern and Eastern provinces to create a single administrative unit; nationwide elections for eight (instead of the former nine) provincial councils before December 31, 1987 (not held until 1988); recognition of both Tamil and English as official (rather than national) languages on an equal status with Sinhala; amnesty for Tamil guerrillas and detainees; a cease-fire; return of Sri Lankan security forces to their barracks; the disbanding of Sinhalese militia units (who had acquired a reputation of viciousness toward Tamil civilians); and a referendum for Eastern Province, originally scheduled for December 31, 1988 but postponed until January 1990, to decide whether the merger of Northern and Eastern provinces should be permanent. India agreed to assist implementation of the accord by posting a peacekeeping force in the northern part of Sri Lanka (subsequently known as the Indian Peacekeeping Force) and helping to oversee the surrender of arms by Tamil militants, to be accomplished by August 3, 1987. New Delhi would also oblige Tamil militants to abandon their bases in Tamil Nadu State and assist the Sri Lankan Navy in patrolling the waters of the Palk Strait.

Rather predictably, the accord sparked the ire of the Sinhalese population. Gandhi was physically attacked by a rifle- wielding sailor while reviewing an honor guard in Colombo on July 30. Demonstrations against the accord in Colombo and other places resulted in nearly forty deaths. At the same time, the pact caused a cabinet crisis. Several factions within the UNP opposed the merger of Northern and Eastern provinces and the alleged surrender of Sri Lankan independence to India. The opponents included Prime Minister Ramasinghe Premadasa, Minister of Defense and National Security Lalith Athulathmudali, and several other cabinet members. Premadasa signalled his displeasure by not attending the official functions held for Gandhi in Colombo on July 29 and 30. As the fighting in the north subsided following the cease-fire, however, so did the cabinet crisis.

Optimism over the accord soon turned to disappointment when the LTTE refused to turn in its weapons and hostilities flared up again, this time between the LTTE and the Indian Peacekeeping Force. By October 1987, approximately 20,000 Indian troops were engaged in pitched battles with between 2,000 and 3,000 LTTE guerrillas. The fighting represented a major loss of face for New Delhi. India had promised Sri Lanka that the Tigers would be completely disarmed, but it was apparent that the militants had surrendered only a fraction of their arsenal in August. In the face of mounting Indian military and Tamil civilian casualties, pessimists on the subcontinent speculated whether the accord signalled the beginning of India's "Vietnam" or "Afghanistan." In Colombo, SLFP leader Anura Bandaranaike declared that "the Indian Army is like the Trojan Horse. We accepted them and expected them to bring peace, and they then started watching as our people were butchered.... They have come here to stay. They won't take the President's orders."

Jayewardene, who survived a grenade attack in the Parliament building on August 18, 1987, was faced with the daunting task of obtaining the legislature's approval of the radical political changes outlined in the July 29 accord. Provincial autonomy was embodied in the Thirteenth Amendment to the 1978 Constitution, which the Supreme Court, in a five to four ruling, declared would not need to be submitted to a popular referendum if minor changes were made. Against the background of the JVP-instigated terrorist attacks in Sinhalese-majority areas and assassination threats against members of Parliament who approved the amendment, it was passed by 136 to 11, or substantially more than the required two- thirds majority. Few observers believed, however, that the establishment of new provincial political institutions would bring lasting peace to this strife-torn country.

Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka

The two most important factors in Sri Lanka's foreign relations since 1948 have been a commitment in principle to nonalignment and the necessity of preserving satisfactory relations with India without sacrificing independence. India had almost fifty times Sri Lanka's land area and population and forty times its gross national product in the late 1980s. Its point of view could not be ignored, but neither the country's political leaders nor the person in the street (especially if he or she were Sinhalese) wanted the island to become an appendage to India's regional power ambitions. The July 29, 1987, Indo-Sri Lankan Accord and the involvement of a large number of Indian troops in the northeast, however, seemed to many if not most Sri Lankans to be an unacceptable compromise of national independence.

Sri Lanka's first prime minister, Don Stephen Senanayake, had committed the country to a "middle path" of nonalignment to avoid entanglement in superpower rivalries. But nonalignment has had its modulations in the decades since independence. UNP governments were generally friendlier to the West than those formed by the left-leaning SLFP. Sirimavo Bandaranaike deeply distrusted Washington's intentions and cultivated close and friendly relations with China in the early 1960s, a time when that country was vocally committed to the worldwide export of "wars of national liberation." Jayewardene gave Sri Lanka's foreign policy a decidedly Western orientation after he came to power in July 1977. This change was motivated largely by the desire to secure aid and investment in order to promote his government's economic liberalization program. At the same time, Sri Lanka shared with Western nations apprehensions concerning India's apparent determination to make the Indian Ocean region an Indian sphere of influence and its preservation of close ties with Moscow.

Although the 1972 constitution declared the nation a republic and ended its dominion status within the Commonwealth of Nations, Sri Lanka, like India, remained a Commonwealth member in the later 1980s. The country also belonged, like other South Asian states, to the seven-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), a group formed in the early 1980s to deliberate on regional problems. SAARC provided a context in which South Asian states other than India could discuss the Sri Lankan ethnic issue. But few observers regarded SAARC's role in any resolution of the crisis as anything more than peripheral. Some observers interpreted Sri Lanka's unsuccessful bid in 1982 to gain membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as an attempt to put a little comfortable distance between itself and India. The application was rejected, ostensibly on geographic grounds.

<"75.htm"> Relations with the United States

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Relations with the United States

Sri Lanka

Ties with the United States in the late 1980s were based on a common democratic tradition, a mutual appreciation of the virtues of economic liberalization and market-oriented reforms, United States participation in major development projects such as the Accelerated Mahaweli Ganga Program, and seemingly convergent security interests in the Indian Ocean. The existence of a Voice of America relay facility on the island, used to transmit broadcasts within the South Asia region, was part of WashingtonColombo ties.

Large numbers of educated Sri Lankans, both Sinhalese and Tamil, lived in the United States, Britain, and Western Europe during the 1970s and 1980s. Overseas Tamils played a role in publicizing the plight of their countrymen in host country media and provided the militant movement with some financial support. An increasing number of Western countries expressed criticism of human rights violations by the government. For example, Norway halted all aid to Sri Lankan government bodies in June 1987 to protest abuses. The plight of Tamil refugees was highlighted in August 1986 when two lifeboats carrying 155 Sri Lankan Tamils were rescued off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. It appeared that the Tamils had fled West Germany after being denied refugee status by the Bonn government and had been cast adrift from a West German-owned freighter (the Canadian government gave them one-year work permits and promised to consider applications for refugee status). At the same time, the fund-raising activities of many sympathizers in the West, including refugees, were not entirely within legal bounds. In January 1986, the Swiss government arrested seventy Tamil refugees on charges of selling heroin.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Bibliography

Sri Lanka
Arasaratnam, Sinnappah. Ceylon. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey:
      Prentice-Hall, 1984.

Baxter, Craig, Yogendra K. Malik, Charles H. Kennedy, and Robert C. Oberst. "Sri
      Lanka." Pages 295-352 in Government and Politics in South
      Asia. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1987.

Canararetna, Surjit M. "Nation Building in a Multiethnic Setting: The Sri Lankan
      Case," Asian Affairs, 14, Spring 1987, 1-19.

Codrington, Humphrey William. A Short History of Ceylon. Freeport, New
      York: Books for Libraries Press, 1970.

de Silva, Chandra Richard. Sri Lanka: A History. New Delhi: Vikas,

------. "Sri Lanka: The Ethnic Crisis," Asian Thought and Society: An
      International Review, 10, July 1985, 137-41.

de Silva, K.M. A History of Sri Lanka. Delhi: Oxford University Press,

de Silva, K.M. (ed.). Sri Lanka: A Survey. London: C. Hurst, 1977.

Ellawala, H. Social History of Early Ceylon. Colombo: Department of
      Cultural Affairs, 1969.

Geiger, Wilhelm (ed.). Culavamsa, Being the More Recent Part of the
      Mahavamsa. London: Pali Text Society, 1980.

------ (trans.). The Mahavamsa or the Great Chronicle of Ceylon.
      London: Oxford University Press, 1912.

Hart, Judith. Sri Lanka: An Island in Crisis. London: International
      Emergency Committee on Sri Lanka, 1986.

Hettiarachchy, Tilak. History of Kingship in Ceylon up to the Fourth
      Century A.D. Colombo: Lake House Investments, 1972.

Jeffries, Charles. Ceylon: The Path to Independence. New York: Praeger,

Kearney, Robert N. "Ethnic Conflict and the Tamil Separatist Movement in Sri
      Lanka," Asian Survey, 25, No. 9, September 1985, 898-917.

Knighton, William. The History of Ceylon from the Earliest Period to the
      Present Time. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1845.

Ludowyk, E.F.C. A Short History of Ceylon. New York: Praeger, 1967.

Mahendran, Sharmini. "Sri Lanka: A Country in Crisis," Harvard International
      Review, 9, November-December 1986, 48, 50, 55.

Manor, James (ed.). Sri Lanka: In Change and Crisis. New York: St.
      Martin's Press, 1984.

Matthews, Bruce. "Radical Conflict and the Rationalization of Violence in Sri
      Lanka," Pacific Affairs, 59, Spring 1986, 28-44.

Mendis, Garrett Champness. Ceylon Today and Yesterday: Main Currents of
      Ceylon History. Colombo: Associated Newspapers of Ceylon, 1963.

------. The Early History of Ceylon. Calcutta, Y.M.C.A. Publishing
      House, 1932.

Misquitta, Michelle. "Sri Lanka." Pages 311-15 in Asia and Pacific,
      1984. Saffron Walden, Essex, United Kingdom: World of Information,

Nagarajan, K.V. "Troubled Paradise: Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka,"
      Conflict, 6, No. 4, 1986, 333-53.

Nicholas, Cyril Wace, and S. Paranavitana. A Concise History of Ceylon: From
      the Earliest Times to the Arrival of the Portuguese in 1505. Colombo:
      Ceylon University Press, 1961.

Obeyesekere, Gananath. "Political Violence and the Future of Democracy in Sri
      Lanka," Internationales Asienforum [Munich], 15, Nos. 1-2, May
      1984, 39-60.

Pfaffenberger, Bryan. "Sri Lanka in 1986: A Nation at the Crossroads," Asian
      Survey, 27, February 1987, 155-62.

Pieris, Paulus Edward. Ceylon, The Portuguese Era: Being a History of the
      Island for the Period, 1505-1658. Dehiwala, Sri Lanka: Tisara
      Prakasakayo, 1983.

Rahula, Walpola. History of Buddhism in Ceylon: The Anuradhapura Period,
      3rd Century B.C.-10th Century A.D. Colombo: M.D. Gunasena, 1966.

Tambiah, S.J. Sri Lanka: Ethnic Fratricide and the Dismantling of
      Democracy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986.

Tennent, Sir James Emerson. Ceylon: An Account of the Island. London:
      Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1860.

Tresidder, Argus John. Ceylon: An Introduction to the "Resplendent
      Land." Princeton, New Jersey: D. Van Nostrand, 1960.

Whittington, Sherrill. Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka: Background, Recent
      Developments and the Prospects for Resolution. (Current Issues Paper
      No. 3.) Canberra: Legislative Research Service, Department of the
      Parliamentary Library, October 1987.

Wilber, Donald N. The Land and the People of Ceylon. (rev. ed.)
      Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1972.

Wilson, A. Jeyaratnam. Politics in Sri Lanka, 1947-1979. (2d. ed.)
      London: Macmillan, 1979.

Winnius, George Davison. The Fatal History of Portuguese Ceylon: Transition
      to Dutch Rule. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971.

Wriggins, W. Howard. Ceylon: Dilemmas of a New Nation. Princeton, New
      Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1960.

Zeylanicus. Ceylon: Between Orient and Occident. London: Elek Books,

Sri Lanka

CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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