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How did Britain rule Sri Lanka. Apart from the Great Rebellion, in which the British Empire brutally repressed the Kandy kingdom, there isn't a lot of info on how life was really like under foreign rule, especially during the early half of the 20th century. So what was it really like to be Ceylonese in the pre-war? How did British rule compare with life prior to the Empire?
British administration was beneficial for the Indian economy. After the British left, the Indian economy declined very significantly. In 1900, India was ranked the #36 country in the world by GDP per capita. Today, it is ranked #135, right below Nigeria.
To put that in perspective: if India were #36 today, it would be comparable to Israel (#35) and Spain (#33).
Happy Independence Day (a brief history of colonial rule)
Sri Lanka celebrates its 67th Independence Day today. It commemorates the granting of self-rule to the Dominion of Ceylon from the British Empire on the 4th of February, 1948.
The European powers first made contact with the island in 1505, when Lourenso de Almeida's Portuguese fleet was caught in a storm and washed ashore at Galle. The fleet later made it to Colombo (the port nearest to the Sri Lankan capital at the time, Kotte) and subsequently started a trading post there, which eventually became the Colombo Fort.
The Portuguese meddled with the internal power struggles between Sri Lankan princes, in which the kingdom had split into three factions: the kingdoms of Kotte, Sitawaka and Raigama. Sitawaka annexed Raigama, and Kotte became a puppet state of the Portuguese. Eventually the Portuguese came to control most of the coastal areas of the island, and the lucrative trade of spices (especially cinnamon), Sri Lanka's most important export at the time. The Sitawaka kingdom engaged in a number of military confrontations with the Portuguese, the most significant being the siege of Colombo under Rajasingha I in which the Portuguese were nearly defeated.
Painting of Siege at the Officers' Mess, Regiment of Artillery, Panagoda. Drawn by the immensely talented Prasanna Weerakkody (check out his page!). Note the Kodithuwakku used by the local militia, as well as the Flag of Kotte (Lion holding a whip, signifying justice).
Kandy, in the central hills, was a well-defended citadel surrounded by jala dhurga, giri dhurga and wana dhurga (the triple obstacles of water, mountains and thick jungle). It came into prominence during the reign of King Vimaladharmasuriya I (reigned 1590 - 1604), who fought off the dual threat of the Portuguese and Sitawaka. He consolidated his power by taking custody of the Tooth relic and enshrining it at the newly built Dalada Maligawa in Kandy, and reintroducing Buddhist ordination in the island by sending a mission to Burma. By the late 1590s, the Kingdom of Kandy was the last surviving local polity: Sitawaka had disintegrated after the death of Rajasingha I, and the Kingdom of Jaffna become a client state of the Portuguese.
The Flag of the Kandyan Kingdom
The Kandyans maintained a hold of the Sri Lankan interior despite many attempts by the Portuguese to capture it. Impressive military victories at Randeniwela (1630) and Gannoruwa (1638) severely weakened the Portuguese hold on the island. The Dutch East India company subsequently entered into an alliance with the King of Kandy (this was an extension of the Eighty Years' War in Europe), and although the agreement faltered at times, the combined forces managed to drive the Portuguese from all coastal areas by 1658. Galle Fort fell in 1640, and was the centre of Dutch power in Sri Lanka for the next 18 years. Colombo fell in 1656.
Dutch Ceylon and the Nayakkars
The agreement between the two sides quickly fell apart after victory, and the Dutch ended up holding most of the land previously held by the Portuguese. There were several periods of conflict between the Kandyans and the Dutch, but Dutch rule continued until the late 1790s.
The seal of the Dutch East India Company, from Galle Fort
The last native king, Sri Vira Parakrama Narendrasingha , died in 1739 without a legitimate heir. The throne then passed to his brother-in-law, Sri Vijaya Rajasingha , a Nayakkar prince from South India. There was considerable friction between the native Kandyan aristocracy and the Nayakkars, with the latter seen as forming an elite above the powerful Kandyan Adigars.
Serious rebellions in 1732, 1749 and 1760 had threatened to rip apart the kingdom. In the first half of the 1760s, the kingdom launched a disastrous military campaign against the Dutch that resulted in the loss of all coastal territory, and Kandy becoming a landlocked entity cut off from foreign contact.
During the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, the Dutch Republic fell to France. Dutch possessions around the world, including coastal Sri Lanka, were either transferred or captured by Britain (where the Dutch leadership had fled). The British came to control coastal Sri Lanka in an era when the internal politics of the Kandyan Kingdom were in a state of crisis, due to the growing rift between the native aristocracy and the Nayakkars. The British attempted an invasion in 1803, but the party was devastated by lack of food, disease and the hit and run tactics employed by Kandyan guerilla fighters. An uneasy truce was entered to in 1805.
The last King and his Queen consort
This was the beginning of the end for the Kandyan kingdom though, as a rebellion in 1808 almost dethroned king Sri Vikrama Rajasinha. His own Chief Adigar, Pilimathalawa, plotted with the British to depose the king and take the throne for himself. These plots were discovered and he was executed. His successor, the Adigar Ehelepola, was also accused of treason. He managed to flee to the British, but his wife and young children were brutally executed in Kandy. Madumma Bandara, second son of Ehelepola, became a folk hero for his bravery in front of the executioner. A statue commemorating him stands in front of the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy.
Madduma Bandara was 8 years old
These events led to outright revolt among the general population, and the British invaded Kandy in 1815. The King and Queen consort were captured and exiled to Vellore Fort in India. The jail cell that held him in Colombo still stands. The British signed the Kandyan Convention with the Kandyan disawes (the powerful nobility in charge of running the provinces) which made Kandy a protectorate, preserving its system of government and customs.
The Magul Maduwa, behind the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy, was where the royal court held its sessions. It was also where the Kandyan Convention was signed on March 2, 1815.
The First Fighters: Uva and Matale
Discontent with British rule (and their disregard for local religion and customs) soon boiled over into open rebellion, starting in Uva. The British response was severe, and the civilian population and the vast farmland of Uva-Wellassa was devastated.
Another of Prasanna's paintings, depicting the brutal crushing of the Uva Rebellion of 1818.
It is a pity that there is no evidence left behind to show the exact situation in Uva in terms of population or agriculture development after the rebellion. The new rulers are unable to come up to any conclusion on the exact situation of Uva before the rebellion as there is no trace of evidence left behind to come to such conclusions. If thousands died in the battle they were all fearless and clever fighters. If one considers the remaining population of 4/5 after the battle to be children, women and the aged, the havoc caused is unlimited. In short the people have lost their lives and all other valuable belongings. It is doubtful whether Uva has at least now recovered from the catastrophe.Herbert White, the British Government Agent in Badulla
Keppetipola Disawe , the leader of the rebellion, was beheaded in front of the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy. His skull was taken to Edinburgh, but was returned to Sri Lanka in 1954 and entombed at the Keppetipola memorial. The protectorate was abolished, and all of Sri Lanka came under direct British colonial rule.
In 1848, the Kandyans were again in a state of agitation. The British had taken over their land to plant coffee, and heavy direct taxation had been levied on the people. Veera Puran Appu led the Matale Rebellion of 1848, but the British soon crushed it and executed the rebels. It was notable for being a mostly peasant-led revolt.
A breakthrough for the path back to self-determination occurred with the appointment of British socialist Sidney Webb as the British Secretary of State for Colonial Affairs. This led to the Donoughmore Commission, which effected a new constitution for Sri Lanka in 1931. For the first time, a colony which wasn't dominated by a white populace was given universal suffrage and representative democracy. Note that Sri Lanka also thus had universal suffrage before even the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
The constitution aimed to address the unique multi-cultural challenges Sri Lanka faced by appointing committees representing all communities to be in charge of each subject, instead of ministers and a cabinet model of partisan democracy. Most local affairs were handled by the state council, giving Sri Lanka a remarkable amount of self-determination given the environment at the time, although colonial authorities still retained veto power on all legislation.
Notable Independence movement leaders of this era included Sir Ponnambalam Arunachchalam, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, A. E. Gunasinha, F. R. Senanayake, E. W. Perera and the monk-poet from Sikkim, S. Mahinda Thero .
In 1944, Sir Ivor Jennings (an authority on constitutional law and the legendary first Vice Chancellor of the University of Ceylon) helped D. S. Senanayake draft a constitution based on the Westminster model. With some pressure from Lord Mountbatten, a commission was appointed, and by 1947 the new Soulbury Constitution was in effect. General Elections were held, and Mr. Senanayake was appointed the first Prime Minister. Sri Lanka gained independence within the British Commonwealth on the 4th of February, 1948.
The celebrations were held at Independence Square, in a temporary enclosure since the Independence Memorial Hall had still not been constructed. In attendance were various dignitaries including Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester.
Rare footage of the 1948 Independence celebrations, from the recently released British Pathe collection
The Kandyan flag was modified with two added stripes to represent the Tamil and Muslim communities, and became the national flag in 1950. Ananda Samarakoon's Sri Lanka Matha (originally Namo Namo Matha, Apa Sri Lanka ) became the national anthem in 1951.
Sri Lanka became a republic in 1972, finally becoming fully independent and severing all constitutional links with the United Kingdom, including the shared monarch and the authority of the Privy council. For a few years, May 22 was celebrated as the Republic Day, a national holiday replacing Independence Day, but the practice did not survive the change of government and constitution in the latter half of the 1970s.
Independence Day is a day of reflection for Sri Lankans. However troubled the post-Independence path of Sri Lanka has been, we've still managed to dig in and weather to storm. The untapped potential of the country and its people are vast, and one hopes that we go on to fulfil the lofty ambitions and the humble aspirations of the people who fought for our right to be free.
Ancient Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is an important trading and port post in the ancient world. The island was visited by man merchant ships from Persia, Middle East, Burma, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
Sri Lanka was well known to the first group of explorers of Southeast Asia. Many Malay merchants and Arabs settled in Sri Lanka.
A Portuguese colonial mission that as headed by Lourenco de Almeida arrived on the islands of Sri Lanka in 1505, The island at the time had 3 kingdoms that included: Yarlpanam, Kandy, and Kotte.
In the seventh century, the Dutch arrived in Sri Lanka. Most of the islands were under European rule at the time but the interior, hilly region of the island was independent, the capital was at the time, Kandy.
Control over the island was established by The British East India company in Seventeen ninety-six. they declared the islands as a crown colony.
The Kandy kingdom feels in Eighteen fifteen, this resulted in the island unifying under the British rule.
The European colonist set up cinnamon, sugar, tea, rubber, coffee plantations on the Island. The British brought a number of workers from Tamil Nadu to work in the plantations.
the City of Colombo was then established as the administrative center in Sri Lanka. They also established modern colleges, schools, churches, and roads that brought into Sri Lanka the western style education.
Mistreatment, abuse of natives and denial of Civil rights led to a struggle for independence in the Nineteen Thirties. The island served as an important military base for the Allies during World War II.
A large number of American and British fleet and soldiers were deployed to the Island to fight the war against Japan.
After the war, lingering scars
Many of the grievances around systematic prejudice that led to the civil war remain unaddressed.
Tamil families are still looking for thousands of people who disappeared during the war, and trying to reclaim land still held by the military. Health services are trying to address the overwhelming trauma left by those decades of violence.
With the rise of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism, sectarian divides have continued to grow — and the country has experienced new waves of violence. A rise in intolerance has been attributed in part to the postwar triumphalism of some Sinhalese majority politicians.
Last year, officials declared a state of emergency in the central district of Kandy after Buddhist mobs attacked businesses and homes belonging to minority Muslims.
The Sri Lankan Civil War and Its History, Revisited in 2020
On June 9, 2020, Sri Lankans occupied the streets outside the US Embassy in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, holding signs condemning the racism, police brutality, and other maladies plaguing the United States. Sri Lanka’s social issues also came to light at this protest. The country, after all, has its history of ethnic strife and is currently mending after the end of a long, brutal civil war. As the nation attempts to heal, Sri Lanka continues to sustain new injuries to its social and political structures that reveal much larger systemic problems. Police arrived at the demonstration and violently dispersed protesters—arresting at least 53 individuals—supposedly to enforce public health restrictions related to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, the police’s ferocity was unsettling. Some footage, for instance, “showed a young woman being tossed into a police vehicle, head first.” One of the protest’s organizers, Pubudu Jayagoda, indicated that the Sri Lankan government had been “downplaying coronavirus health risks,” implying that the police perhaps had ulterior motives and revealing his disillusionment with the government’s policing power. Such growing disenchantment with the Sri Lankan government represents just one problem amongst the country's history of ethnic tensions.
Sri Lanka’s present is haunted by memories of the island’s decades-long civil war, which began in 1983 and ended just over 10 years ago. The war was mainly a clash between the Sinhalese-dominated Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) insurgent group, the latter of which had hoped to establish a separate state for the Tamil minority. The mainstream narrative suggests that the civil war was derived from tensions between the Sinhalese and Tamil ethnic groups. However, the war also represented the legacy of British imperialism. This alternative analysis suggests that the ethnic conflicts were symptoms of a much larger problem, rejecting the oversimplified narrative that Sri Lanka is home to a people that are perpetually clashing with one another due to ethnic incompatibilities. Instead, the analysis surrounding the legacy of British imperialism embraces the idea that Sri Lanka’s conflict has much to do with each group fighting to reclaim its dignity and power, albeit at the expense of the other. A post-colonial analysis reveals that both the Sinhalese and Tamils acted to recover what they believed they had lost during their respective golden eras, imperial rule for the Sinhalese and shortly after for the Tamils. Present moments like the June 9th protest are no longer surprising and clearly align with Sri Lanka’s broader history under this interpretation. Perhaps more importantly, this post-colonial narrative suggests that Sri Lanka’s conflicts are not in the past rather, the conflicts continue to manifest through the government’s leadership in moments much like the Colombo protests.
An Origin Story
Sri Lanka is 74.9 percent Sinhalese and 11.2 percent Sri Lankan Tamil. Within these two groups, Sinhalese tend to be Buddhist and Tamils tend to be Hindu, displaying significant linguistic and religious divisions. However, the strife between the grounds purportedly began much further back in Sri Lanka’s ancient settlement history. Though the Sinhalese people’s arrival in Sri Lanka is somewhat ambiguous, historians believe that the Tamils arrived on the island both as invaders and traders from India’s Chola Kingdom. These origin stories suggest that the Sinhalese and Tamil communities have experienced tension from the very beginning—not out of cultural incompatibility, but rather out of power disputes.
During British imperial rule, the tensions between the two groups worsened. The CIA suggested in 1985 that the Sinhalese community felt threatened by the Tamil group’s prosperity partly due to the British favoritism of Tamils during the British occupation of Sri Lanka. Because Tamil communities also existed in several other British colonies like India, South Africa, and Singapore, Sri Lankan Tamils benefited from broader commercial networks and a wider range of opportunities. Moreover, British colonial authorities often placed English language schools in predominantly Tamil areas, providing Tamils with more civil service and professional opportunities than their Sinhalese counterparts. This pattern of Tamil favoritism left Sinhalese people feeling isolated and oppressed. Despite the tension between these groups before British colonization, the events that followed Sri Lankan independence suggest that imperial rule had provoked the ensuing conflict. Indeed, soon after British occupiers left the island in 1948, these patterns of Tamil dominance changed dramatically.
The Story Reverses
After British independence, many Sinhalese worked their way into the upper echelons of government. These Sinhalese gained power and went on to gradually pass acts effectively disenfranchising their Tamil counterparts. One such act was the Sinhala Only Act, a 1956 bill that made Sinhala the only official language of Sri Lanka and created barriers for Tamil people trying to access government services or seeking public employment. Former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga frames the act, which her father passed, as a move to nurture and reclaim a Sri Lankan identity following an extended period of British rule. If Kumaratunga’s statements about her father’s legislation are sincere and accurate, her commentary may reveal that legislators at the time hoped to recover the dignity of their Sinhalese ethnicity that they felt was lost during British imperial rule—not that they wanted to actively minimize Tamil culture. Retrospectively, though, the minimization of Tamil culture is precisely what the laws accomplished.
Another pertinent policy was that of standardization, which aimed to provide more educational opportunities for disadvantaged Sinhalese students. The policy required Tamil students to achieve higher exam scores that their Sinhalese counterparts in order to be admitted Sri Lankan universities. Legislators created a program that resembled affirmative action for the Sinhalese, who lacked opportunities and were disadvantaged during British imperial rule. Yet, when coupled with the Sinhala Only Act, standardization took opportunities from Tamil students, several of whom had turned to educational avenues to compensate for their lack of professional civil service opportunities. Thus, this legislation passed by a Sinhalese-dominated government failed to level the playing field instead, it tilted the odds in the other direction and effectively discriminated against Tamil students. Ostensibly, these ethnic frictions had roots in the social destabilization caused by British occupation, and had more to do with reclaiming Sinhalese power and dignity than to cultural tensions between the Tamils and Sinhalese. Even so, before long, a few militant Sri Lankan Tamils organized an insurgency.
The War Itself
Some Tamils responded to these discriminatory policies with the idea of Tamil Eelam, a separate state for Tamils. While the idea appears to be extreme, the two groups already lived in somewhat separate spheres of the country: the Sinhalese in Southern, Western, and Central Sri Lanka, and the Tamils in the Northern and Eastern parts of the island. Tamil Eelam aimed to formalize this existing geographic separation. The movement was built on the idea that Tamils and Sinhalese represented distinct ethnic groups in Sri Lanka. However, post-colonial thought would suggest that the underlying reasons for both Sinhalese and Tamil actions in the immediate post-colonial period were not due to untenable differences, but rather a desire for power across the country’s communities and a feeling of frustration about the lack of opportunity caused by factors beyond the groups’ control.
Nonetheless, Tamils had mixed reactions to the concept of Eelam. While a handful of groups supported Tamil Eelam, only one prevailed: the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). LTTE destroyed other budding Eelam groups like the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) to become the “sole representative of the Tamils.” The conflict then escalated into civil war. The war officially began after a day of riots targeting Tamils in Colombo in July 1983, a month which has since been dubbed “Black July.” The fighting lasted just under three decades and ended in May 2009, when the Sri Lankan government announced that they killed the LTTE leader.
LTTE was an uncompromising group inspired by Che Guevarra and his guerilla warfare tactics. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) soon labeled the LTTE a terrorist group after they initiated terror tactics including suicide bombers, the suicide belt, and female-led suicide attacks. The group even assassinated two world leaders: Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa. Indeed, the LTTE’s activities extended beyond Sri Lanka’s borders. However, LTTE was not the only perpetrator of heinous crimes during the Sri Lankan Civil War. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights determined that the Sinhalese-dominated government has also been implicated in war crimes such as the torture of war prisoners and citizen disappearances. In one notably brutal example, the government’s forces murdered five Tamil students in the port city of Trincomalee. These conflicts, rooted in a quest for power and dignity, descended into brutal violence on both sides, and memories of this violence still haunt the country today.
The Situation Now and the Protests Revisited
Although the Civil War ended in 2009, the current situation in Sri Lanka has only partially improved. A large portion of the Tamil population remains displaced. While there are fewer political and civil rights issues, instances of torture and enforced disappearances persist even in recent years. Moreover, the Sri Lankan government often surveils and tracks people linked to LTTE. The Sri Lankan military still occupies predominantly Tamil areas designated as “high-security zones,” though to a lesser extent than during the war. The government’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) targets mostly Tamils. In a more subtle sense, the Sri Lankan government continues to disenfranchise the Tamil community. Through the process of “Sinhalization,” for instance, Sinhalese culture has slowly replaced that of the Tamil population. Sinahlese monuments, road signs, street and village names, as well as Buddhist places of worship became more common in predominantly Tamil areas. These efforts have infringed upon, and in some cases even erased, the Tamil perspective on Sri Lankan history, as well as Tamil and Hindu elements of the country’s culture.
Photo by Agnieszka Kowalczyk / Unsplash
Perhaps the conflict has devolved into an ethnic issue, but it did not start that way. It may not stay that way either. The Sri Lankan government has alienated the Tamil minority since the civil war ended, but, more recently, it has come to disappoint its Sinhalese constituency as well. The government's actions since the end of the civil war have become increasingly undemocratic for Tamils and Sinhalese alike. Its response to the Black Lives Matter protests, for example, was only the latest instance in which the government exercised an unprecedented amount of power. The Sri Lankan government began growing its power during the civil war—a conflict that stemmed from ethnic tensions rooted in the legacy of British imperialism on the island. The government continues to expand its authority now many years later. What this means for the future of Sri Lanka is unclear. Still, one thing is for sure: even if the wounds caused by the Sri Lankan Civil War and its accompanying ethnic divisions heal, the country will remain haunted by much larger structural issues in its history and government. However, a unified citizenry in Sri Lanka could be a powerful tool in responding to its government’s growing power. Ethnic unity on the island may be the key to a more secure future.
Why Does Brit Hypocrites Ignoring their War Crimes?
On 18 March the British Parliament will be having a full-scale discussion on the Report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights with a view to holding the Government of Sri Lanka, its machinery, and senior officials accountable for alleged war crimes in the last days of the war against terrorism which ended on 18 May 2009.
Someone conversant with the high number of atrocities committed during the British colonial period in Sri Lanka (1796-1948) may not know whether to laugh or cry over this debate in the British Parliament.
It is one of the great ironies of our time that the countries that had hounded and continue to hound ex-colonies, such as Sri Lanka, wherever possible at every nook and corner of the UN system, are mostly the very same countries which had systematically destroyed the civilisational foundations of the colonies and violated the human rights of the subject people in European colonies in Asia and Africa.
In Sri Lanka the three prime European colonial countries are Portugal, the Netherlands and Britain. Each one of these countries is shamelessly evasive when it comes to accountability for the crimes committed by their colonial rulers in Sri Lanka.
Accountability issues should not be made into a one-way street. It will bring both International Law, United Nations and even the British Parliament into disrepute and give rise to credibility issues.
A new book has been just released titled ‘Freedom Struggles of Sri Lanka – Lessons Learned and the Way Forward’ that discusses fairly comprehensively British liability for a range of wrong doings across the board. Published by Godage International Printers, its Chief Editor is Professor C.M. Madduma Bandara, a well-known Cambridge University alumnus. The book contains some useful information and analyses of relevance to the present difficulties faced by Sri Lanka in the international arena.
A Chapter on ‘Colonial Crimes of British Ceylon’ by lawyer Senaka Weeraratna, compiles wide-ranging evidence of crimes against humanity committed by the British colonial rulers. It builds a strong case that can justifiably become the basis for seeking reparations. Among the other chapters, the final ones on the future scenarios and ‘Way Forward’, may undoubtedly prove useful for the present-day political leadership. Its future prognosis is equally powerful since it employs some scenario development methodologies.
The book also unravels some rare historical sources like the ‘British Parliamentary Select Committee Report of 1850’, which had found fault with a British Governor i.e. Viscount Torrington, for his complicity in the brutal and inhumane suppression of the Matale Rebellion in 1848. Hundreds of innocent civilians had lost their lives in the punitive expeditions launched by the Colonial Government under the watch of Torrington in the Kandyan areas.
While valuing such attempts by the British Parliament of the day for their yearning for further inquiry and rectification of colonial wrongs, it also provides many lessons for present-day parliamentarians.
Bogey of human rights
Today, the West preaches human rights, demands accountability and upholding of universally accepted standards on human rights. British human rights campaigners point accusing fingers at Sri Lanka. Yet, a detailed scrutiny of colonial rule in British occupied Ceylon (1796-1948) reveals a sad saga of human rights violation of a gross kind such as tyranny, plunder, divide and rule, and a vicious policy of violence and discrimination directed mainly against Sinhala Buddhists and confiscation of their precious inherited lands.
21st century international legal doctrines need to be availed of to present a case for compensation from the current British Government for genocide and mass murder of people of Uva-Wellassa in 1817-1820. The rectification of historical injustices is a prime duty of any self-respecting nation. Independence is never complete without meting out Justice to those who were wronged by an unjust colonial system.
Sri Lanka’s national patriots such as Keppetipola, Madugalle, Ven. Kudapola Unnanse and several others who were convicted on the footing of a Victor’s (White Man’s) Justice by colonial judges presiding in what was in reality nothing more than Kangaroo Courts, for their leading role in popular uprisings in 1818 and 1848 deserve to be exonerated through public re-trials. The colonial Governors such as Robert Brownrigg, Viscount Torrington, Robert Chalmers and other officials such as George Turnour must be tried posthumously, in a Nuremberg like Trial, for their reprisal killings and drafting harsh laws that were later imitated on a bigger scale by the Third Reich in the massacre of the people of Lidice in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in June 1942. Trial in absentia is a criminal proceeding in a court of law in which the person who is subject to it is not physically present at those proceedings. ‘In absentia’ is Latin for ‘in the absence’.
Land grab in Kandyan areas
British injustice was felt mostly in the enactment of waste land laws. Kandyan peasants were made landless. They were reduced to a landless state by the takeover of their lands for the plantation industry (initially coffee, then tea) under a series of waste land laws commencing with the Crown Lands (Encroachments) Ordinance, No. 12 of 1840.
Kandyan chena which traditionally had no documentary proof of ownership was taken over for plantation agriculture. This is demonstrated by the names of estates with older names ending with hena or chena crop names. This affected the food security of the people. Evidence of starvation sometimes resulting in death is revealed in the writings of authors such as Le Merseur. The British systematically transferred the wealth of the Kandyan region into their own coffers.
An accountability process for these colonial crimes is warranted through an apology, catharsis and adequate reparations. An apology must be particularly directed to the descendants of the Sinhala Buddhist Kandyans who were singled out victims of colonial brutalities. These are the descendants of a highly oppressed group of people who were also deprived of their inheritance by the colonial rulers planting thousands of indentured Indian labour in their lands without their consent. 19th century British official documents reveal how the freedom struggles against British colonial rule were suppressed in a most brutal, genocidal manner in one of the darkest pages of European colonial history.
There were two major wars for independence from British colonial domination. The first uprising took place in 1818 in Uva-Wellassa and the second uprising took place in Matale (1848). Both insurrections were brutally crushed. Millewa Adikarange Durand Appuhamy (Rebels, Outlaws and Enemies to the British (Colombo: Gunasena, 1990)), comments as follows in respect to the crushing of the Kandyan Sinhala uprising in 1818:
“This brute force was employed in Kandy to reduce the inhabitants to savages and to dehumanise them. Everything was done to wipe out their traditions, customs, culture and religion. Mind you, the Kandyans were promised that this would not happen, and that their customs and traditions would be maintained (cl. 4, 8 of the Convention). However, Kandyan villages and farms were burnt down. Their paddy-fields were scorched. Their cattle slaughtered and their fruit bearing trees were simply chopped down. Starved and ill, they were finished off with the gun as if they were stray dogs in a stranger’s land. British civilians then flocked in to take over their lands, clear the virgin forests, and convert them to cash crops for the benefit solely of the settlers and their financiers in Britain. To the Kandyans, the most concrete and the foremost in value was land. This land not only gave them their daily bread but also their dignity. It was to preserve this land that they fought off successfully three western imperial nations, Britain included. Now having ceded their country to trickery, they remained helpless against the planters who insolently trampled over their lands and their rights to their lands”.
The crushing of the uprising in Matale in 1848 is described in a nutshell in a remarkable critical article ‘English in Ceylon’ published in USA in 1851 (The United States Magazine and Democratic Review. Print: Vol. XXVIII, No. CLV, – 1851 May). It is as follows:
“The history of Lord Torrington’s administration in Ceylon affords an epitome of English rule, wherever throughout the world, by force, or fraud, or violence, she has succeeded in planting her guilty flag. The horrors perpetrated during 1848 in the island-gem of the East, are the counterpart of those of which, from time to time, during a period of seven centuries, the green isle of the West has been the victim”.
Even the animals were destroyed en masse – elephants the mode of transport used by both King and villager alike for cultivation, tanks, religious processions soon became the target of British huntsmen. Samuel Baker headed the elephant slaughter killing 30-40 elephants on a daily basis.
It is estimated that the British decimated over 10, 000 elephants in Ceylon.
Holocaust of elephants by the British Raj in Sri Lanka
No apology nor any compensation has been paid by any of the Western colonial Governments e.g. Portugal, Netherlands and Britain to Sri Lanka for the destruction of both man-made as well as the natural foundations of life in Sri Lanka over a period of nearly 450 years (1505-1948).
The vastness of the British Empire including the jungles of Sri Lanka was made into a hunting ground for Big Game on the part of members of British military families. They hunted not only for pleasure but also as part of their training for battle and display of their male masculinity. It was the fauna and flora of Sri Lanka that paid a huge price for this training which brought out a new genre – hunting narratives.
There is enough evidence to reveal British complicity in the liquidation of a good part of Sri Lanka’s natural forests in the Kandyan areas and the priceless elephant wealth which was until then greatly protected by Sri Lanka’s animal friendly cultural heritage.
English writer Gary Brecher
An English writer Gary Brecher, author of the book ‘War Nerd’ has written a long article on British crimes in Sri Lanka to a website called ‘Exiled on Line’ under the title ‘When Pigs Fly-and Scold: Brits Lecturing Sri Lanka’.
He accuses the British establishment of destroying the Sinhalese people completely. Completely and deliberately, sadistically. Stole their land, humiliated and massacred their government, made it Imperial policy to erase every shred of self-respect the Sinhalese had left. He says, “You can talk about the Nazis all day long, but nothing they did was as gross as what you find out when you actually look into the history of British-Sinhalese relations. If you can even call them relations I guess a murder-rape is a relation, sort of.”
Making a comparison between Nazi and British atrocities he says that the British were great masters at grabbing some paradise island in the tropics, then using the British Royal Navy to wall it off separating the island from the rest of the world, and crushing the local tribe without any qualms of conscience. If the locals put up a resistance, the Brits would take measures to starve them to death, shoot them down, infect them with smallpox or get them addicted to opium (as in China) – whatever they had to do to gang-rape the locals so bad that they the victims would thereby lose the will to resist.
Brecher points out that the Nazis governed for only one decade but the Brits were able to quietly carry out their extermination programs for 300 years, and to this day they have no remorse nor have any guilty feeling about it.
He further says that by all accounts, the Sinhala/Kandyans were harmless people, who didn’t need or want much from the outside world. All they asked was for people to leave them alone up on their big rocky highlands to indulge in their Buddhist way of life. Unfortunately, that wasn’t British policy. It irked the red coats that Kandy still had a king, an army, all this impudent baggage that went with independence. The British decided to break the Sinhalese completely and crush the whole society”.
By this time, i.e. the early 1800s, the Brits had perfected their techniques in little experiments all over the world. Those Clockwork Orange shrinks were amateurs compared to the Imperial Civil Service. The British Empire knew dozens of ways of undermining and suppressing native kingdoms.
Brecher writing further says that destroying Buddhism was a big part of Brit policy. The Buddhist routine, the temples, begging monks, long boring prayers – it was the glue that kept Kandy together. So, the Brits decided to destroy it. They even said so, in private memos to each other. They weren’t shy in those days. Here’s the Brit governor in 1807: “Reliance on Buddhism must be destroyed. Make sure all [village] chiefs are Christian.”
The British developed ingenious ways of grabbing other people’s lands under various pretexts. For example, the British began invading Australia in 1788, on the footing that it was terra nullius: a land with no owners.
‘Divide and Rule’ colonial policy
European powers like Spain and Portugal depended on bloody conquest and massacres in colonial expansion, especially in South America. Britain was not far behind, given what the British did to Australian Aborigines in Tasmania and mainland Australia. The British were the masters of the game of ‘Divide and Rule’.
The ethnic and religious tensions in Sri Lanka are very much a legacy of colonial rule. If the target country had many ethnic groups or tribes like in India, North America, Fiji, Malaysia, or Sri Lanka, the British first looked for any potential allies that have distinctive differences from other groups, particularly the majority. Then the British undermine the authority of the majority by promoting unfairly selected members of a minority community with a view to creating tension and conflict between various groups.
The appointment of Haji Marikar (Muslim) as the Muhandiram to be in charge of roadways in Wellassa is a case in point. This appointment was resented by the Sinhalese as it undermined the authority of Dissawa Mellewa. This was the spark that led to the 1818 uprising.
British intrigue in Kandy under the directions of successive Governors, namely, North, Maitland and Brownrigg, was also intended to achieve British supremacy in Ceylon as in India, by subduing the Kingdom of Kandy through a vicious campaign of propaganda and character assassination directed against the ruler of the Kandyan Kingdom, King Sri Vikrama Rajasinha. He was demonised. He was accused of being a tyrant. Killer of women and children (of persons who had committed treason). A common punishment for treason in most countries including imperial Britain. A drunkard. And as he was of Indian origin the British discredited his Malabar ancestry as a ploy to alienate him from his Adigars, his chiefs and rejected his right to the throne.
In fairness it must be said that as a young King, Sri Vikrama Rajasinha was popular among the people of his Kingdom. He took charge of the administration which was fair and efficient. He displayed aesthetic sensibility regularly listening to music and commissioned the Royal Architect and Master Craftsman, Devendra Mulachari to design and build the Paththripuwa (1802) and the Kandy Lake (1807), among other novel creations. The King supervised the artists who enlarged and decorated the Kandy City.
Colonialism under three European countries was a dark chapter in the history of Sri Lanka. Much of the problems in the country today particularly ethnic and religious tension have their origin in divisive policies fashioned by the colonial rulers. This Chapter cannot be closed merely because the former colonial countries wish to evade accountability. Reconciliation between the coloniser and colonised can be effective only on the basis of apology, catharsis and reparations for colonial crimes committed in Sri Lanka.
The British Parliament must also listen to the grievances of the Sinhala Buddhist people who resisted colonial invasions more than any other community of the country and for this reason alone were selectively victimised substantially during the era of the Portuguese Inquisition in Ceylon (1505-1658), discriminated against by the Dutch on ground of religion, and made destitute particularly the Kandyan Sinhala peasantry whose lands were grabbed under waste lands laws and denied employment by the import of thousands of Indentured labour from South India to work in tea and coffee plantations of the British.
The people of Sri Lanka still continue to suffer from the cruel legacy of the colonial masters.
In the south of India, there is an island in the Indian Ocean bound by India, which is named Sri Lanka. The distance of the country is only 32 kilometers from India. By 1972, its name was Ceylon, which was changed to Lanka, and in 1978 it was further changed to Sri Lanka by adding the word Sri. Sri Lanka has had an unbroken relationship with India since ancient times. Let’s know some facts in this regard.
Sri Lanka, located in the south of India, had a large number of Hindus. But, presently about 12.60 percent of the population is Hindus. According to DNA research, the Sinhalese people living in Sri Lanka are associated with the North Indian people. The Sinhala lingo is correlated with the Gujarati and Sindhi languages. The previous 3000 years of the written history or narrative of Sri Lanka is obtainable. There has been an indication of human territories in Sri Lanka about 125,000 years ago. Buddhist scripts concocted at the time of the fourth Buddhist association in 29 BC have been established.
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- According to the Hindu mythical chronology, Lord Shiva have inhabited Sri Lanka. Vishwakarma had constructed a gold palace in Sri Lanka for Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati on the orders of Lord Shiva himself. Sage Vishrava took benefit of Lord Shiva’s naivety and asked him to contribute to Lanka. Then, Goddess Parvati condemned that, only part of Mahadev would burn the palace with coal, and with that, the devastation of your lineage would commence. Lankapuri got her son, Kubera, from Vishrava, but Ravana crippled Kubera and seized Lanka. Lord Hanuman, an incarnation of Shiva, burnt Lanka due to the curse, and the family of Ravana, Kumbhakarna’s son, was destroyed. Vibhishan survived by being in Shriram’s shelter.
- According to legends, the three sons of Shiva’s demon son Sukesh, Mali, Sumali and Mallywan, established a city on Mount Trikut Subel (Sumeru) and named it Lanka. Later, Kubera was made the Lankapati or the king of Lanka by the Devas and Yakshas by executing Mali. Ravana’s mother Kaikesi was the daughter of Sumali. At the incitement of his maternal grandfather, Ravana was determined to fight a battle with his step-mother Ilavilla’s son Kubera, and vanquish Lanka again to the demons. In the same sequence, Ravana also took away the Pushpak Vimana of Kubera. Kubera was Ravana’s half-brother.
- Srilanka has a mountain which is also known as the Shripada peak. He titled it Adam’s Peak during the time of the British rule. However, the ancient name, of this Adam Peak, is Ratan Island mountains. A temple is constructed on this mountain. According to the Hindu presumption, there are footprints of Mahadev Shankar, the “God of gods”, thus, this place is named Sivanolipadam (Light of Shiva). The footprint is 5 feet 7 inches long and is 2 feet 6 inches wide. Located at an altitude of 2,224 meters, lakhs of devotees and tourists come to visit this ‘Shreepad’. The Christians, acknowledging its significance, propagated that these were the footprints of Saint Thomas. According to Buddhist legends, these designations pertain to the Gautama Buddha. According to the Muslim legends, the designation denotes Hazrat Adam. Few people have begun to call Ram Sethu Adam’s Bridge. It is said about this mountain that this mountain is the mountain which was a piece of Dronagiri and which was taken up and taken to Hanumanji. This thrilling mountain in Galle, the southern coast of Sri Lanka, is called by the Sri Lankans as Rehumashala Kanda.
- Sri Lanka’s International Ramayana Research Center and the Ministry of Tourism have together found 50 such sites related to Ramayana which have archaeological and historical importance and which are also mentioned in Ramayana. The place in Sri Lanka where Ravana’s gold Lanka was found. It has been claimed to possess discovered Ashoka Vatika, Ram-Ravana battleground, Ravana’s cave, Ravana’s airport, Ravana’s corpse, Ravana’s palace, and 50 such Ramayana sites. Evidence of this has also been presented.
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It is believed that there is a cave of Ravana on a giant hill amidst the forests of Raglan, where he had done severe penance. Ravana’s corpse is still preserved in the exact cave even today. This cave of Ravana is positioned at an altitude of 8000 feet in the province of Raglan. The corpse of Ravana is conserved in a 17-foot-long coffin. There is a unique coating around this coffin, because of which the coffin has been unharmed and intact for thousands of years. Archaeological analyses of Ravana Fall, Ravana Caves, Ashoka Vatika, the decayed palace of Vibhishan, etc., located around the Nuara Eliya Hills in Sri Lanka, verify their presence in the Ramayana interval. Everyone knows about the Ram Sethu.
- Sri Lanka has a shared ritual, belief, and culture of Hinduism as well as Buddhism. But it was shattered in the British era. There has never been a conflict between Hindus and Buddhists in Sri Lanka over almost 2000 years of civilization. There is a prevalence of Shaivism of Hinduism in Sri Lankan. Sri Lanka is contemplated as the home of the five abodes of Lord Shiva. Murugan indicates Kartikeya, son of Shiva, is one of the most prominent Hindu deities in Sri Lanka. They are worshipped not only by Tamil Hindus but also by Buddhist Sinhalese and Adivasis. There are many temples here that reflect the shared cultures of Hinduism and Buddhism.
- Hindu Emperor Ashoka (269-232 BCE), after many years of battle, boycotted the war after banning Buddhism and hunting. The third session of Buddhism concluded in the 17th year of Ashoka’s reign. Emperor Ashoka sent his son Mahinda and daughter Sanghamitra to Sri Lanka for preaching. Through him, King Devnamapiya Tissa of Sri Lanka adopted Buddhism and inaugurated a Buddhist monastery named ‘Mahavihara’ there. In the modern era, this country is also a stronghold and fortress of Theravada Buddhism. In Sri Lanka, Hindus and Buddhists used to live together due to the origins of Hinduism and Buddhism being the same, but in the British era, the social composition was jeopardized here.
- In Valmiki Ramayana, Lanka is told to be positioned in the middle of the island across the sea, i.e., in the recent times it has been seen, Ravana’s Lanka was placed in the middle of Sri Lanka. Sanskrit and Pali literature of Sri Lanka had an intimate connection with India since historical periods. About the founder of ‘Janaki Haran’, based on the tradition of Indian epics, Kumar Das is proclaimed to be an exclusive friend of Mahakavi Kalidasa. In 512-21 AD, Kumar Das was known to be the king of Lanka. It was first popularized in Sri Lanka in 700 BC in the Sinhalese language, which is associated with the existence of Rama.
- Sri Lanka was ruled first by the Portuguese, then by the Dutch, and in the early 1800s, the British began to occupy it and in 1818 took it under their full authority. Where the missionaries got a chance to flourish here in the British period, the Muslim settlements started in the Tamil region from India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Maldives etc. and gradually the number of mosqueand madrasas increased. Today the circumstances in the Tamil region have deteriorated to its extreme.
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In the British era, the British broke the communal unity between the Tamil and Sinhalese under the policy of ‘divide the rule’. Sri Lanka achieved independence on 4th February, in the year 1948, after World War II. When Sri Lanka came to be independent, authority passed into the hands of the Sinhalese and the Tamils were marginalized, but the Sinhalese did not understand that the British and Muslim sultanates wished to see Sri Lanka as turbulent. Why did the Sinhalese systematically incite hatred towards Tamil Hindus?
- The dissatisfaction among the Tamils began to spread due to the isolation of themselves for a long time. In May 1976, Prabharan set the Liberation Tigers Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and urged a diverse nation for Tamils. LTTE is guilty of massacring thousands of innocent Sinhalese, high-ranking Sri Lankan authorities and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.* It has been alleged that the Muslim fundamentalists and Christians took advantage of the long battle between the Sri Lankan regime and the Tamil separatists and they started to set foot in the meantime. This directed to intensify social chaos in the Tamil and Sinhalese regions of Sri Lanka. While Bangladesh and Pakistan received indirect support from the Muslims there, Christian missionaries continued their campaign in the poor region of Sri Lanka.
In 2009, Tamil revolutionaries were entirely demolished in India with the backing of Manmohan Singh’s government. Prabhakaran was also killed on 19 May 2009. Thousands of innocent Tamils were murdered in this campaign. Thousands of Tamil Hindus fled and took refuge in Tamil Nadu, India during the vicious massacre of Tamils by the Sri Lankan army, who are still living in refugee camps. After the action of the Sri Lankan army in 2009, there were millions of Tamil homeless people who are still concierge.
- Presently, Sri Lanka has a population of about 22 million. 70 percent of the country’s population is Buddhist. 10 percent of the population is in Sri Lanka is of Muslims, 12 percent Hindus and 6 percent Catholics. Buddhists never targeted Hindus and Christians because of religion, but Muslims have been marked. There are many reasons for this.
In 2012, the tensions between the Buddhists and Muslims in Sri Lanka started up, after the Tamil crisis was eliminated. Some radical Buddhist groups accused Muslims of forcibly converting and harming Buddhist monasteries. Muslims in Sri Lanka are not just Muslims, there are Tamil-speaking Muslims as well and Tamils have a known dispute with Sinhalese. Apart from this, the existence of Rohingya Muslims in Sri Lanka is also a reason for feud. In Sri Lanka, Muslims are slaughtering carnivores or domesticated animals under the Muslim ritual has always been a matter of disagreement among the Buddhist population. Presently, the Islamic fundamentalist National Tauheed Jamaat has also become a reason for friction.
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Historical Evolution: The history of Sri Lanka before 1500 C.E., as recorded in its Great Chronicles, is considered unverifiable and is largely an obscure, confusing, and conflicting set of records about wars, invasions, usurpations, and dynastic rivalries. Beginning with the thirteenth century C.E., Sri Lanka was divided into three major kingdoms: a Tamil kingdom in the north, a Sinhalese kingdom in the southwest, and the kingdom of Kandy in the interior. In 1505, the Portuguese came to the island and established settlements on the west and south coasts. Despite Portuguese efforts to subjugate the entire island, the Kandyan kingdom remained independent. In 1612, the king of Kandy formed an alliance with the Dutch, successfully defeating and dislodging the Portuguese by 1656. Unfortunately, in removing the Portuguese, Kandy traded one European colonial master for another. Sri Lanka was subservient to Dutch interests for over a century and a half. British trading interests in Sri Lanka led to the ouster of the Dutch in 1796. The 1815 unification of the island's three kingdoms under British rule continued until 1948, when Great Britain granted Sri Lanka its independence.
Ethnically, Sri Lanka's population is divided among Sinhalese (74 percent), Tamils (18 percent), Moors (7 percent), and Burghers, Malays, and Veddas (1 percent). Most of the people of Sri Lanka migrated to the island from India more than 2,500 years ago, often in the interest of trade, war, religion, economic opportunity, or colonization. The Sinhalese are allegedly the descendants of the Aryan Prince Vijaya, from India, and his 700 followers they came to Sri Lanka about 485 B.C.E., chased from their homes for their marauding activities. Tamils fall into two groups: Sri Lankan and Indian. The Sri Lankan Tamils came to the island in the third century B.C.E., moving across the strait from India as part of the expansion by India's southern kings. The majority of Indian Tamils were imported by the British to work on the coffee and tea plantations in the island's interior during the second half of the nineteenth century. A few Indian Tamils came as traders. The Moors, or Muslims, came to Sri Lanka in the eighth century C.E., and are descendants of Arab traders. The Burghers are descendants of marriages contracted between Portuguese and Dutch settlers, or between the Europeans and the Sinhalese or Tamils. The Dutch brought over Malays as soldiers, and the Veddas are the aboriginal forest dwellers of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka's history left the island with a diverse population composed of self-conscious ethnic groups, differentiated by religion, language, and social customs. Hinduism, the island's first religion, came from India during its era of unrecorded history and is the faith of Sri Lanka's largest minority group, the Tamils. Theravada Buddhism was introduced from India during the third century B.C.E. and is the religion of the island's Sinhalese majority. Arab traders and western colonists brought Islam and Christianity in the tenth and sixteenth centuries C.E., respectively. In the modern era, Buddhists constitute 69 percent of the population, Hindus 15 percent, Christians 8 percent, and Muslims 8 percent.
Sri Lanka's commitment to education began more than 2,500 hundred years ago, when Hindu kings and chieftains received their education from Brahmins (Hindu priests), and education is thus closely tied to the religious history of the island. Similarly, early in Sri Lanka's history, education became associated with high caste status and privilege. The sweep of Buddhism from India into Sri Lanka in the third century B.C.E. converted kings and people. Monasteries were erected to educate bhikkus, or monks. These monks built the first pirivenas, or temple schools, in the villages, educating the laity in religion and secular subjects. Little information exists on the schools of Sri Lanka's minority populations of Hindus and Muslims, but it is generally assumed that each faith had temple and mosque schools, respectively, which provided an elementary education with emphasis on religion, reading, and writing.
Portuguese rule of Sri Lanka brought both Franciscans and Jesuits, who founded 41 parish schools, and three Franciscan and two Jesuit colleges. Converting the island's diverse population was a primary focus of this educational mission. The Dutch, who followed the Portuguese, replaced the Catholic parish schools with schools affiliated with the Dutch Reformed Church. Both the Portuguese and the Dutch used religious conversion to promote access to educational opportunity. Native Sri Lankans quickly realized that if they wanted to gain a public office or qualify as a schoolmaster, they had to convert to the Dutch Reformed faith, and did. A Dutch seminary in Colombo, the capital, provided additional higher education. The Dutch educational system in Sri Lanka continued to foster the public's perception of a link between education and financial success.
When the British began their occupation of Sri Lanka, they gave responsibility for the island's education to Christian missionary societies who promoted an English, western-oriented education designed to "civilize" the Sri Lankan people. English schools charged fees and received British government grants. The island's nonEnglish vernacular (secular) schools were taught in Sinhala or Tamil, Sri Lanka's two principal languages. Vernacular schools were traditionally under financed because they were denied government educational grants. Without government subsidies, these schools could offer only the basics of an elementary education. Buddhist temple schools, primarily in rural areas, suffered the most: in addition to being denied government funding, they could not charge fees, the result of successful lobbying by the missionary societies who wanted the elimination of any rival religious schools. Under British rule, Sri Lankans who spoke English were eligible to become teachers. Colonial administrators only recruited only English-speaking Sri Lankans for government service. Thus the Sri Lankans who prospered under British colonial rule were more likely to be better-educated, high-caste Hindu Tamils, Tamils who converted to Christianity and were educated in English schools, or descendants of the Burghers.
Christians, the island's smallest minority, were historically the best educated. In 1901, approximately 55 percent of Christian males were literate, compared to only 35 percent of Buddhist males, 34 percent of Muslim males, and 26 percent of Hindu males. Among Christian women, 30 percent were literate, compared to 5 percent among Buddhist women, 3 percent among Muslim women, and 2.5 percent among Hindu women. The lower literacy rates among Hindu males can be attributed to the inclusion of the uneducated and stateless imported Indian Tamil males who worked tea plantations. Cultural factors account for the low literacy rates among Buddhist, Muslim, and Hindu women. By 1921, within just 20 years, literacy rates among the island's male population rose to 66 percent for Christians, 50 percent for Buddhists, 45 percent for Muslims, and 37 percent for Hindus. For women, 50 percent of Christians were literate, while literacy rates among Buddhist, Muslim, and Hindu women rose to 17 percent, 6 percent, and 10 percent, respectively. When independence was granted in 1948, Sri Lanka had 5,895 schools enrolling more than 1 million students. The nation's literacy rate was 57.8 percent, the highest among both Great Britain's colonies and Asian nations. Independence did not eliminate a colonial perception among the majority of Sinhalese that British rule had favored an English-speaking Tamil minority who benefited from better education, which led to higher incomes and more valuable careers.
Political, Social, & Cultural Bases: For centuries Sri Lankan Tamils used education to promote their social mobility. The Tamil region in northern and eastern Sri Lanka is arid and infertile compared to the rest of the island and is unsuitable for profitable farming. The Tamils depended on education to prosper. Under British rule the Tamil minority received a disproportionate share of university and government positions. Higher earnings among Sri Lankan Tamils plus the income sent home by overseas Tamils generated greater economic prosperity in the Tamil regions than in the rest of the country.
Independence changed the balance of power. Two major political parties formed&mdashthe United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP)&mdashand both political parties competed for the vote of the Sinhalese majority. The parties promoted Buddhism, nationalism, socialism, and non-alignment in the Cold War era, with little thought for Tamil issues. From independence until 1956, the more conservative UNP, advocating a mixed economy and private enterprise, maintained a parliamentary majority. However, during the 1956 election, SLFP leader S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike encouraged xenophobic fears among the Sinhalese majority, allying himself with Marxist parties advocating the nationalization of banks and industry and Sinhalese Buddhist extremists who wanted to replace English with Sinhala as Sri Lanka's official language. After Bandaranaike won the parliamentary elections of 1956, the SLFP approved the change of language, and established quotas limiting Tamil entry into government service and higher education, particularly in the fields of medicine and the sciences. The number of Tamil students admitted to medical school and engineering schools fell by 50 percent and 67 percent, respectively. Tamil recruitment by the central government in the general clerical services fell from a 41 percent high in 1949 to a mere 7 percent among recruits nationally in 1963. Less than 5 percent of Tamils were in the nation's police force and national army. By the 1970s, only 6 percent of newly hired teachers were Tamil, and university placement for Tamils in the science-based disciplines fell to 11 percent in 1974 from 35 percent just four years earlier.
Tamils organized to protect their interests, and extremist factions of all parties and nationalities employed violence to bring national attention to their concerns. The violence temporarily ended in 1959, when Prime Minister Bandaranaike was assassinated. During the 1960s and 1970s both the UNP and the SLFP competed with each other for a parliamentary majority among the Sinhalese. Consistently, Tamil interests were again ignored or forgotten by the central government and the politicians. In 1972, the Sinhalese majority voted to end its status as a monarchy, which had come to represent Sri Lanka's colonial past. The Constitution of Sri Lanka was substantially revised, and parliamentary government was replaced with a presidential republic dominated by a Buddhist, Sinhalese majority. President J.R. Jayewardene was elected in 1978 the Jayewardene administration continued reforms tending toward reconciliation of Sri Lanka's warring factions.
The civil war has persisted into the twenty-first century, fought primarily in the Tamil regions of eastern and northern Sri Lanka, but Tamil guerrillas have brought the war to all parts of the country. President Jayewardene's attempts to grant Tamil autonomy under Indian supervision caused great fear among the Sinhalese majority of the nation's impending division and permanent Indian occupation. Later Sri Lankan presidents accepted Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's offer to mediate the dispute between Tamils and Sinhalese. Gandhi's efforts ended tragically with his assassination in 1991, by Tamils opposed to Gandhi's use of Indian troops to suppress the Tamil insurrection in Sri Lanka. Two years later in 1993, Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated five years into his presidency when he proposed substantial grants of autonomy in Tamil areas. Although blamed, the Tamil rebels rejected responsibility for his death.
Chandrika Kumaratunga, president of Sri Lanka since 1993 and the daughter of a previous prime minister and president, both named Bandaranaike, has scaled back many oppressive and discriminatory aspects of education and language laws that precipitated the civil war. Surprisingly, the university system in the Tamil region remains open and funded by the central government while Sinhalese universities suffer from Tamil insurgency. Long-term peace in Sri Lanka depends on the creation of a pluralistic and multiethnic nation. Proposals of the Kumaratunga government bear a striking similarity to the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact of 1957, which proposed that Sri Lanka be a multiethnic state with Tamil as a national language in the northern and eastern sections of the country. The government would provide full protection for non-Tamil speakers and regional councils were permitted authority over centralized political system favoring the majority. Locally elected leaders could administer land development projects.
In December, 1999, as President Kumaratunga prepared to begin a second term of office, she barely survived an attempted assassination, and she did lose an eye. Her reelection came with 51.2 percent of the vote, the lowest percentage in the nation's history, and a realization that Sri Lankans were discouraged with politics. The assassination attempt increased President Kumaratunga's resolve to institute national reforms.
Serendib, Ceylon and now Sri Lanka
The name Sri Lanka was adopted in 1972 after the island was called Ceylon during the British rule. The word lanka is an old Tamil word that makes more sense with the island country. In antiquity, the island was called Serendib by the Arabs and Persian merchants, a word that was regenerated into the word “serendipity.” All reference to Ceylon has been slowly eradicated from national institutions and companies. Although it is unlikely that Ceylon Tea will change its name any time soon.
President Sirisena elected
2015 January - Maithripala Sirisena defeats Mahinda Rajapaksa in presidential election, pledging accountability over alleged atrocities during the civil war.
2015 September - Rajavarothiam Sampanthan becomes the first lawmaker from the ethnic Tamil minority in 32 years to lead the opposition in parliament.
2016 June - Government acknowledges for the first time that some 65,000 people are missing from its 26-year war with the Tamil Tiger rebels and a Marxist insurrection in 1971.
2017 January - Police clash with protesters demonstrating against a plan to evict villagers to make way for a mostly Chinese port and industrial zone near the port city of Hambantota.
2018 October - Constitutional crisis as President Sirisena replaces Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, and suspends parliament.
2018 November-December - Constitutional Court rules that dissolution of parliament was illegal. Mahinda Rajapaksa fails to form a government that commands a parliamentary majority. Mr Wickramasinghe resumes office.
2019 April - Jihadist suicide bombers attack churches and hotels on Easter Sunday, killing more than 350 people.
2019 November - Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the younger brother of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, wins the presidential election.
2020 August - President Rajapaksa's SLPP party wins large majority in parliamentary elections.