Sri Lanka’s Tamils at Crossroads

By: Thambu Kanagasabai, LLM {Lond.]  Former Lecturer in Law, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, August 15, 2018

Tamils in Sri Lanka, being the original inhabitants even before BC 500 according to legend, have ruled Sri Lanka before the arrival of Buddhism in BC 247 and formation of Sinhalese language during the 6th century AD, which marked the beginning of Sinhalese race. Dutagamini, a Hindu Naga king turned Buddhist ruling the southern parts of Sri Lanka, desiring to rule the entire Sri Lanka, began his march towards Anuradhapura in BC 101. On his way, he encountered thirty-three Tamil Kings who were the local rulers in various regions. After overcoming them, he reached Anuradhapura and waged the epic battle with King Elara, a Chola Tamil King. From where King Elara entered Anuradhapura is still unclear as some say he came from South India while some say he was a King ruling Jaffna. The battle of Dutagamini was to capture territory and not a battle against Tamils as distorted by the Mahavamsa . However this battle and victory sowed the seeds of racism and chauvinism, to be exploited to serve the Sinhala politicians for electoral gains and initiation of the Buddhisisation and Sinhalisisation of Sri Lanka.

The hidden agenda of obliterating the Tamils, their history and identities like language, culture and traditions to make Sri Lanka a Sinhala Buddhist state, was set in motion as soon as independence from colonial British rule was granted in 1948.  The first target was the Indian Tamils who fell victim to this agenda when the Citizenship Act 1948 was passed and about 700,000 were denied citizenship. As a result their parliamentary representation of seven members in 1947 was wiped out.

As for the Eelam Tamils, the political program of Sinhala Governments included the land reclamation of huge projects such as the famous Gal Oya, Allai, Kantalai, Padaviya, Manalaru  [Now renamed in Sinhalese as Weli Oya] and the ongoing Mahaveli ‘L’ development schemes went hand in hand with settlements of Sinhalese which began in 1949. Time and time, Sri Lankan Governments carried out the Sinhalisiation and Buddhisiation agenda methodically, overtly and covertly with legislation and Government directives with the assistance of Security Forces in this scheme.

The Sinhala Only Act 1956 heralded the supremacy of Sinhala language paving the way for the gradual elimination of Tamils in Government appointments, the main form of non-agricultural employment. This was a double barreled gun to shoot down the Tamils to frustration and despair while shooting up Sinhalisiation and Sinhala nationalism.

The 1972 constitution brought Buddhism as the first and foremost religion to be protected and fostered by the state. This provision placed Buddhism as the supreme religion and statutorily bound the Government to foster it by building Buddhist Viharas and Buddhist statutes in selected places throughout the island whether Buddhist worshipers are residing or not.  The statutory protection given to minorities in the earlier constitution [29 -2] was removed as well.

Since 2009, 131 Buddhist Viharas have been built in the North, with Mullaitivu heading the list with 67, followed by Mannar with 35. Besides, hundreds of Buddha statutes have been erected along the side roads and highways so as to create the image of a Buddhist identity and image for Sri Lanka.[1]

The Sinhalisiation of Tamil areas is reinforced with the presence of about 140,000 security personnel in the north with about 60,000 personnel stationed in Mullaitivu for a population of 130,000. Almost 147 Camps are in the Jaffna peninsula for the security forces occupying about 269 individuals’ private lands.

Besides, the population of Tamils in the Northern Province has shown sharp decline due to migration and increased Sinhalese colonization. The table below reveals the truth.

Northern Province:
1921                       1981                        2012
Tamils                     356,801          1,021,006       993,741
Sinhalese                    3,795                 35,128        32,331

                              1921                       1981                        2012
Sinhalese                4.5%               33.6%             40.4%
Tamils                   54.5%              36.4%             32.3%

1981                       2012                        2018
Tamils                     734,474          583,071          577,246

                              1963                       2012

Sinhalese                29.3%             38.7%
Tamils                     23.8%             17.4%

Tamils in 1981 constituted 12.7% of the total population, but in 2012 that percentage has declined to 11.2% The continued Sinhalese colonization sponsored by the Governments, and assisted with the involvement of security forces [99% Sinhala Buddhists] aim at the complete demographic changes in Tamil lands and eventually making the Tamils to become minorities in these areas, while reducing their parliamentary strength, which stands 9 in Jaffna peninsula when it was 11 in the 1989 general elections. It is feared that this number will be further reduced to 6 when a future population census is carried out.

The successive Sri Lankan governments have manipulated the initiatives of pogroms to subjugate the Tamils, to position them to live with permanent fear, insecurity, suspicion and mistrust.  The 1956, 1958, 1971, 1977, 1983 pogroms were all state planned, orchestrated and organized to indulge in the genocidal killings of Tamils.

The burning of the Public Library in Jaffna [One of the best libraries in Asia at that time] in May 1981 and the 1984 violence unleashed against the participants at the International Tamil Research Conference were pre-planned to strike at the heart and soul of Tamil Language, history and culture.

Crowning all the state sponsored terrorism was the war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the security forces from 2006-2009. The former President “Mahinda Rajapakshe followed the rule of terror used by previous Sri Lankan Governments ruthlessly with scant respect to human lives.” This was the statement of Madam Louise Arbor – former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In addition, at least 196 massacres of Tamil civilians were executed by the security forces beginning from 12/6/1990 in Kalmunai up to 2009 in Mullivakkal. [Mass graves are now found in Mannar and other places while digging the ground for foundation for buildings etc.]  It is shocking that so far neither Tamil National Alliance [TNA] nor the Government has called for a full investigation into the circumstances of these violent deaths of civilians.

Sri Lanka’s culture of impunity is another lethal weapon of Governments and security forces which is generously facilitating the commission of all violence and crimes against the Tamil civilians.


The present Government of ‘GOOD GOVERNANCE’ is now engaged in a battle for its survival, abandoning its election promises given to both Sinhalese and Tamils. A new constitution as the panacea for all ills of Sri Lanka is struggling between life and death for birth. Even if it materializes, Tamils will be left in the lurch searching for a just and permanent political settlement.

Interestingly, the Government has embarked on a program of development in the North and East to please the United Nations and the International Community. Even if this scheme is implemented in the North and East “erosion of Tamils hold on land through development has once again made possible the total domination of the narrative of state”, as stated by Gordon Weiss – The Cage – Page 225.

The presence of Army which is stationed in 153 Camps occupying more than 4000 acres of land in the North with permanent military installations is an indication as to how far the development will go without the involvement of security forces who are already running hotels, schools, restaurants farming etc. in the North from seized civilian lands.

Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979 and the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution were draconian measures passed by the Sri Lankan Governments specially targeting and threatening the Tamils to silence their voice and freedom of expression to permanent subjugation.

Another menacing political force is the violence-prone group of Buddhist monks like the Bodu Bala Sena [BBS] and Jathika Hela Urumia [JHU] who function as part of the Government’s program to silence the Tamils and subvert and scuttle any offer of concessions to Tamils

It can be stated that the Tamils in Sri Lanka have been ignored by the International Community, United Nations and Security Council in spite of human rights violations and genocidal killings which have been committed systematically against them again and again in 1956, 1958, 1971, 1971, 1977, 1983 and from 2006-2009 by the security forces in furtherance of the goal of Sinhalisisation and Buddhisiation to make Sri Lanka a SINHALA BUDDHIST STATE.

On July 28, 1983, the then President J. R. Jayawardene Said that “TIME HAS COME TO ACCEDE TO THE CLAMOUR AND NATIONAL RESPECT OF SINHALESE PEOPLE”.


Former Prime Minister/President Chandrika Kumaratunge
She too emphasized this view with her slogan during the Presidental election: “AS ONE NATION, ONE PEOPLE “ and has in the past while in South Africa also stated that “THE TAMILS ARE NOT THE ORIGINAL INHABITANTS OF SRI LANKA, THEY DO NOT BELONG TO SRI LANKA’.

The above statements of Sinhalese leaders unequivocally confirm their sinister intention of decimating the identities of Tamils in Sri Lanka.

The struggle of Tamils for equality, justice, distinct identity and accountability as a nation in Sri Lanka commenced in 1956and is still continuing, and there is no hint of a political solution to remove the underlying causes and grievances of Tamils.

T.D.S.A Dissanayake in his book “Agony of Sri Lanka” 1984 clearly states that “NOTHING WAS MORE DECEPTIVE THAN THE RELIGIOUS AND COMMUNAL HARMONY ON THE ADVENT OF INDEPENDENCE IN 1948”.

The non-violent struggles and resistance launched by late Tamil Leaders like Samuel James Velupillai Chelvanayagam [popularly known as Gandhi of Tamil Eelam] and former Leader of the Opposition A. Amirthalingam were crushed ruthlessly by force by the security forces and were handled by the Sri Lankan Governments with usual charming guiles and wiles leaving the Tamil leaders deceived and dejected. A frustrated Chelvanayagam’s last call “THAT GOD CAN ONLY SAVE THE TAMILS’ still remains un-responded and it is anybody’s guessing as to its fulfillment.

Emergence of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] and its just resort to armed resistance to protect the Tamils from the state sponsored pogroms and to restore lost rights and dignity of Tamils was also ruthlessly crushed by Sri Lanka with the assistance of 22 countries who also fell for the diplomatic tantrums of Sri Lankan Government who deceptively pledged a political settlement and rejected a military solution.

“Minorities in Sri Lanka Tamils and Muslims feel that they have a place in Sri Lanka as long as they are compelled to fall in line and be slaves within a Sinhalese identity and within the contour of Sinhalese nationalism”.

Tamil National Alliance [TNA] leader Mr. R. Sampanthan’s above statement in Parliament in 2008 summed up the plight of Tamils.

It is an irony that the same TNA Leadership has also fallen for the charming wiles and maneuvers of the present ‘Good Governance” Government. However, a late realization of realities appears to be emerging from the hearts and minds of TNA leaders who are now engaged in damage control exercises while expressing doubts on the sincerity of this Government.

History is meant for learning and past lessons of political history of Tamils should be the guiding factors instead of frittering the energy and efforts chasing the mirage of promises appearing as a lasting solution to the 60 years old problems of Tamils.

In Short:
The following reasons and facts reveal the progress of Tamils in Sri Lanka towards a probable non-existence through assimilation and genocide including structural genocide.

  1. Reduction of Tamil Representation in Parliament. The Jaffna district now elects 9 members which are expected to be reduced to 6 members in the next election.
  2. Exodus and migration of Tamils from North and East. Out of 1.2 million Tamils in the North in 1983 about 700,000 Tamils have migrated to overseas after the Pogrom against the Tamils in 1983. Tamils were hunted and butchered, burnt alive and their houses, establishments, looted and set on fire. Added to this is the reduced growth of Tamil population through reduced birth which stands at 1.5% of the total population compared to 5.51% for Sinhalese.
  3. Entrenched culture of impunity for security forces, Government officials and a judiciary which is politicized.
  4. Permanent residence of security forces and their operational freedom. Civilians are now living with and among security forces.
  5. Lack of International support and/or intervention. Past responses show only trickery and deceit for the 60 years sufferings of Tamils.
  6. Sri Lanka’s disregard of International opinions, suggestions, blatant rejection, and refusal to comply with UNHRC Recommendations and United Nation’s muted response to rein in Sri Lanka for its non-compliance of international commitments.
  7. Discrimination of Tamils in Government sector in employment and allocation of resources including neglect of development schemes in the North and East.
  8. Nil prospect of constitutional guarantee of recognition of North and East as one unit. [As agreed in the Indo/Sri Lanka Accord of 1987] and also freezing the powers of the Provincial Councils to control land/police as agreed in the Accord.
  9. Rejection of International Investigation into war crimes with dim prospects of Internal Judicial mechanism to be set up by Sri Lanka as promised.
  10. Accelerated program of Sinhalisiation and Buddhisiation including neglect of Tamil language for official use and communication with Tamil civilians.
  11. A limited Northern Provincial Council functioning at the mercy of the Centre

With no possibility of International Community and/or United Nations intervention, the gradual extinction of Tamils in Sri Lanka cannot be ruled out in the future.


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No Responses to “Sri Lanka’s Tamils at Crossroads”

  1. Kumarathasan Rasingam

    Excellent article with full clarification and input. Hope this will be an eye opener for our Tamil Leaders, Tamil intellectuals, Tamil media and Tamil activists.
    It is not too late for all to wake up and also awaken our so called Tamil Leadership to wake up from slumber.
    The sufferings of the Tamils day by day increasing. The latest burning of Mullaitive fishermen’s Vadi and fishing equipment worth millions of rupees shows very clearly the mentality of the Sri Lankan Police force, Government, government officials and the President and PM.
    They will come and shed crocodile tears and promise everything and once they are back in Colombo forget everything and keep on doing this over and over again and again.
    It is high time for the TNA to say enough is enough and start a non-violent movement to show the world what is really happening in Sri Lanka to the Tamils.

  2. Kathir Ravichandra

    You can wake up people from sleep but not when they are pretending to be sleeping.

  3. S Siva

    Outstanding article by the writer who is an authority on historical facts of Dravidian Tamils, their legitimate demand for independence from illegal occupation and oppression by the Sinhala Buddhist Apartheid regime, India and other governments continue to sell arms and support despite Sri Lanka has been committing war crimes and genocide for over 72 Years against one of the oldest civilization in this planet.

    Tamils leadership especially TNA has been a disaster and it’s leadership must be rejected by Tamils and rally behind Hon C V Wigneswaran, Gajen Ponnampalam and other progressive leaders.

    World knows the existence of Dinosaurs and Tamils despite one of the oldest civilization with advanced language and music may disappear if greedy politics continue. Dr. Umeswaran Arunagirinathan’s speech in Germany in front of many top leaders including Angela Merkel should give some light of the gravity of crimes committed against Tamils by the Sri Lanka Buddhist regime and it’s forces.

    Natives are under continued oppression and in the verge of extermination in many nations including Australia, Canada, India, US and no wonder that many foreign governments extend support successive Sri Lanka’s genocidal and oppressive regimes. The biggest joke is that nations that boasts democracy, human rights and freedom but sell arms and support oppressive and genocidal regimes and always apply double standard policies resulting world continued to bleed with human blood, sufferings and mass exodus of refugees.

    Russia has dismantled and given freedom and independence to many states while Western countries continue to blame it as a communist or an evil nation, India while boasting democracy, have support of Western leaders continue to unleash terror in many states, disrespecting freedom, rule of law and Justice and those who struggles for independence against the British colonial rule are now under oppression by the authoritarian Indian Centre rule.

    Western Colonialism that created untold human sufferings in many nations as they merged many nations together for easy administration, changed the geography due to occupation, just left as merged or occupied land in another rule when they departed, moved hundreds of thousands of people from one nation to another as slaves and for labour resulting unprecedented level of human sufferings. Global politics is failing due to power greediness, disrespectful of human sufferings, rule of law and Justice.

    Recently British politicians was accused of corruption by the Sri Lankan regime and all leaders who had private visits to Sri Lanka must be investigated as Sri Lanka, India are one of the worst leaders in corruption practices that include sex, money and gifts. No wonder Malayalee mafias (WikiLeaks) were actively collaborated with the Sri Lankan regime that committed genocide against Tamils and also India was actively voted and worked at the UN Human Rights Council against Tamil victims receiving Justice!

    Many believed that WWII was the last cruel period but it looks that citizens experience worse than WWII today as many regimes are fully armed to the teeth and commit war crimes, human rights abuses and genocide with impunity!

    Tamils and their leaders must isolate Indian Federation not Tamil Nadu Tamils, expose our frustration and no confidence in Indian federation leaders and policy makers openly. IPKF has committed war crimes and atrocities and Indian federation including Malayalee mafias collaborated with Sri Lankan government against Tamils. As Western governments continue to fail to deal with genocidal Sri Lankan government firmly as they continue to sell arms, not taking any strong measures to investigate war crimes and genocide, can the Tamils continue to trust Western nations or it’s time for Tamils to change course and cultivate close alliance with other nations to put an end to Sri Lanka state oppression, accountability and Justice for war crimes and genocide?