3 June, 2023


The Major Picture In Understanding Our Ethnic Conflict

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

One reason for our inability to understand, or understand fully, the ‘ethnic conflict’ in Sri Lanka may be our emotional involvement with the conflict one way or the other. This does not mean that the emotional dis-involvement could necessarily bring a proper understanding of the conflict. The reason is that apart from the emotional dis-involvement, it might require a certain amount of knowledge to understand the intricacies of the ethnic conflict. Ethnic conflicts undoubtedly are one of the most intricate problems in human society.

Emotional involvement is something that we acquire from our childhood or develop during our life experiences. It is circumstantial, nevertheless difficult to disentangle. By emotional involvement I do not however mean one’s appreciation or commitment to one’s own culture, language, religion, history or even the ‘group.’ What I particularly mean is the adversarial attitudes towards others’ culture, language, religion, history or group and condoning of the denial of others’ rights.

It is difficult to delineate what could bring ‘emotional dis-involvement’ in a precise manner. But it can be suggested that if one enlarges his or her knowledge on the subject that might even disentangle the emotional biases. Therefore, the second element is emphasized even to address the first element.

There are various ways of going about it. Dr. Rajasingham Narendran has discussed “Citizens, Nations and State” in a conceptual manner in his recent article. One might agree or not. That is not the point. It enhances our knowledge on the subject. More importantly, he has put forward his views and analyses in a non-polemical manner. That helps people to understand, engage and discuss in a non-emotional manner. That is however not completely the case judging by some of the responses to his article.

Global Picture             

What I suggest here is to understand what we normally call the ‘bigger picture.’ It is to understand the forest without confining to the trees. This could mean basically two things. On the one hand, to expand our horizons to other countries or globally. On the other hand, to understand our problem within a historical or an evolutionary perspective. Here I don’t mean history, by limiting to the history of Sri Lanka, but the history of humanity.

There are over 7,000 identifiable ethnic groups in the world today. But there are only around 200 states or countries. To be more precise, in the UN system, there are 193 member states, two observer states, and 11 other states, whatever they mean. Only about a dozen of states or countries can be considered mono-ethnic even that with some qualifications. Many of the complicated multiethnic countries are located in the regions of South and Southeast Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and also the Middle East. All the ethnic groups in the world are fortunately not in conflict. Otherwise, it would have been a hell. The way they have avoided conflicts are largely by tolerance, co-existence, integration, multiculturalism and power sharing.

Open conflicts between ethnic groups have fluctuated over time. In early 1990s, the number of them increased to over 50, and at present it has reduced to around 20. Sri Lanka at present is not a country of ‘open conflict’ according to the criteria used by many institutions and analysts. This also means that even without an open conflict, tensions or unaddressed issues might remain with the possibility of them erupting again at any moment. In many conflicts, political factors and actors are predominant. Nevertheless, ordinary people are also involved at various levels prompted by perceived self-interests, tainted with prejudices, fears and even hatred.

Ethnicity has a potential for conflicts as many other group formations. One predicament of group formation is the suspicion and sometimes hatred it creates between ‘us’ and ‘others.’ Let me quote Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “The Stranger,” to illustrate this predicament and dichotomy. I am quoting only one verse given the space limitations.

                        The Stranger within my gates,

                                    He may be true or kind,

                        But he does not talk my talk –

                                    I cannot feel his mind.

                        I see the face and the eyes and the mouth,

                                    But not the soul behind.

It is difficult to say what creates suspicion, fear or even hatred about the ‘other.’ Do we really need to ‘see the soul’ of the others? Perhaps not. There are so many who are not prone to this aversion. Some are neutral and some others are even attracted to the ‘other.’ Otherwise, how can we explain so many interethnic or interracial marriages in the world?

Ethnicity is not the only division in the world. Class, religion, ideology are some others at the societal level overlapping with ethnicity or not. There are some others at the global or international level. Class is more profound with a different dynamic which can even neutralize the ethnic divide. Ethnic conflicts are on the horizontal axis and often destructive. Class conflicts (or struggles) are on the vertical axis and often argued as developmental or progressive at least in the long run.

Ethnicity is different to race. Ethnicity is a social formation or a sociological phenomenon. Race is supposed to be a biological formation or phenomenon without much of a scientific basis. Does ethnicity has a scientific basis? Yes, in sociology and social sciences. The natural scientists who gathered twice to consider the race question under UNESCO’s auspicious (1950/51 and 1972) concluded that there can best be three (Mongoloid, Negroid, Caucasoid) or four broad racial groups in the world without clear connections with ethnicity.

But ‘race’ is in peoples’ minds influenced by racial ideologies. People seem to fancy believing something ‘special’ or ‘superior’ in them.

Evolution or Time Line

Let us look at a Time Line, of how these things must have evolved. The age of the earth is around 4.5 billion years. (By the way the Sinhalese or the Tamils were not there at the beginning!). Let us think about our great-great grandmother ‘Lucy’ although she was hominid and not yet human. (One may even ask whether we are still human!). Lucy’s ancestors were Great Apes. She was there 3 million years ago in Awash Valley of Ethiopia.

The ‘Out of Africa Theory’ says, after ‘Lucy,’ her off springs gave birth to Homo sapiens (250,000 years ago), then they started roaming around the world settling in different continents. First migrants had settled in the Middle East around 100,000 years ago, then moving into Siberia and China thereafter (70,000) and Europe around 40,000 years back. Their coming to South Asia and then to Australia occurred around 40-60,000 years ago. When they reached Japan it was around 20,000 years and then to North and South America much later.

They had possibly replaced or intermixed with even Neanderthals or other Homos in different regions to produce extremely broad racial groups under different climatic/ecological conditions. It is best to consider all as Homo sapiens or ‘common humanity.’

MapThe above theory jolly well fits with our own archaeological evidence. ‘Balangoda Man’ dates back to 38,000 years. It is futile to ask whether he/she was Sinhalese or Tamil.

Humans have initially lived an Indigenous life, closer to the nature in small groups or wondering individuals or pairs. Over time, the living patterns have changed with differentiations in different regions or countries. Then came the Tribes, fairly formed into groups even with proto-identities and dialects.

Sri Lankan Case

Let me try a timeline for the ‘pious joy of the people.’ In respect of ancient Sri Lanka, initially, there had been Indigenous People according to archiologycal and other evidence, even continuing until the modern times. Native Vaddas were the culprits.

Then there were Tribes, originating here and migrating from ‘there’ according to chronicles and inscriptions. If I name them it can lead to unnecessary controversy. These tribes were numerous and some names were even similar to tribal/ethnic groups in Nepal, Cambodia and Indonesia, not to speak of India. Some of these tribes were obviously nomadic.

The earliest formation of the State may dates back to 7,000 years in the Middle East. By the time of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC) it was well formed. But in Sri Lanka, apart from the chronicles indicating the kingship since 543 BC, the inscriptions reveal law making rulers at least since the 3rd century BC. The State was closely related to Religion or religious beliefs as in many other countries. But the primary role of the State was to facilitate and organize the livelihoods of the people, converting the tribes into Castes for particular services or trades. Hydrolic system was the main catalyst.

The formation of ethnicity/ethnicities based on language/s was a later development, the dates and processes being much controversial among the historians. The early distinctions perhaps were based on religion yet different religions and religious sects co-existing and intermixing and also conflicting at times. The formation of the ‘Sinhala’ ethnicity must have been a process like the following.

Dynasty -> Language -> People

It perhaps was a process of integration (and mutual assimilation) of various groups including the initial people of Tamil origin culminating towards the end of the ancient period (10th century). However, this process left the Vedda community intact. So the society was plural. That was the first cycle of ethnic formation.

Then when and through what process a permanent Tamil identity/ethnicity became established in Sri Lanka? It was by and large during the medieval period (11 – 15 centuries). To be sure, the Tamil ethnicity was already formed in South India well before. Chola and Pandya dynasties overlapped on Sri Lanka and gave birth to a Tamil kingdom. Whether it was completely independent or accepted the suzerainty of the dominant kingdom in the country is of much controversy. But the process that created the Tamil identity, probably absorbing the Sinhala origin people in those areas, was similar to the formation of the Sinhala ethnicity before. This was the second cycle which was very much similar to the first cycle: dynasty, language and people.

By the time of the arrival of the Portuguese in the modern period, there were Muslims in addition to the Sinhalese, the Tamils and the Veddas. It was truly a plural society without (much) conflict. There were cross breeding, interaction and exchange particularly between the Sinhalese and the Tamils both at the kingship and the people’s level.

Back to the Global

Let’s get back to the global picture. Ethnicity and nation are two different things but possibly overlapping. Ethnicity is a sociological formation. Nation is a political formation. A nation can be of two varieties: ethnic or civic. Ethnicity + politics can produce a nation and nationalism but an ethnic-nation or ethno-nationalism. That is not healthy. In ordinary parlance, ethnicity is also or often called a ‘nation.’

If we go along our Time Line, after the formation of ethnicities, the societies evolved into modern civic nations or nation states. Capitalism and democracy enhanced the processes. This could be seen particularly after the French and the American revolutions in the West. A similar incipient processes could be seen in some Asian countries that became disrupted by colonialism. After colonialism, divisive forces have emerged, not necessarily due to colonialism but for host of factors, underdevelopment being a major one. Premature or distorted attempts at socialism, also have disrupted the formation of healthy civic nations in Eastern Europe, former Soviet Union and perhaps even in China. The collapse of these systems also has generated major ethnic conflicts.

Ethnicity reemerged again even in Western countries in recent times after the formation of democratic and civic nations. Canada, Belgium, Britain and Spain are some examples. This shows the evolution that we have outlined from indigenous groups to tribes, from tribes to (castes in the case of Sri Lanka) then ethnicities, and ethnicities to nations is not linear, but tortuous and overlapping. This was the case in the past, this is the case in the present.

If this is still the age of nation formation, the major dilemma that many societies facing today are between ‘ethnic nations’ and ‘civic nations.’ Facing ethnic conflicts or major disputes between ethnicities, the best solution might be to implement ‘power sharing’ mechanisms and ‘multicultural policies’ based on democracy, justice, equality and human rights.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 5

    Thank you Laksiri for this article. Very interesting.

    • 3

      Dear Dr. Laksiri Fernando,

      “The above theory jolly well fits with our own archaeological evidence. ‘Balangoda Man’ dates back to 38,000 years. It is futile to ask whether he/she was Sinhalese or Tamil.:”


      Not from lions and Tigers?

      So, you say it is futile to ask he/she was Sinhalese or Tamil? WRONG.

      It is absolutely necessary. Why?

      Not only that, the paras sprang from apes about 3 million years ago, and they had 48 chromosomes, just lime the Apes. The para have 98.5% of their DNA in common with the great apes.

      Because the Sinhalese, the Tamils, the Muslims, the Portuguese and others are paras, foreigners in the land of Native Veddah.

      The native Veddah lived in the land of native Veaah for 30,000 years or so before the Para, who later divided into Sinhalese and Tamils, claimed they were here before.

      Check the DNA of the Paras. That is Proof. what more do you want?

      Just like Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler sated, the data supports that the Para-Sinhalese and para-Tamils are truly paras in the land of native Veddah.,

      The Paras should get back to South India/Nagaland , where they belong.

      They can follow their myths in India.


      Since its launch in 2005, National Geographic’s Genographic Project has used advanced DNA analysis and worked with indigenous communities to help answer fundamental questions about where humans originated and how we came to populate the Earth.

      Ken Miller on Human Evolution and Para-Sinhala and para-Tamil Evolution


      Uploaded on Feb 14, 2007
      Dr. Ken Miller talks about the relationship between Homo sapiens and the other primates. He discusses a recent finding of the Human Genome Project which identifies the exact point of fusion of two primate chromosomes that resulted in human chromosome #2.

  • 3

    “the best solution might be to implement ‘power sharing’ mechanisms and ‘multicultural policies’ based on democracy, justice, equality and human rights.” – thats your conclusion? really, you figured that all by yourself. You want a medal or a citation perhaps? Truly original work!

    • 2


      “the best solution might be to implement.. “

      Send the paras back to South India

      para-Sinhalese and para-Tamil and other paras…

      • 1

        Amarasiri…and send Amarasiri to Africa

        • 1


          Amarasiri is not the problem.

          The problem is the Paras.
          Para-Sinhalese, para-Tamils and other Paras.

          Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler were not the problem. Gioardano Bruno was nor the problem.

          The Problem was the Church…

          The Earth still went around the Sun..

          The paras are the problem..

          So, send the Para to to south India,

          Problem solved,

  • 1

    [Edited out] Please write instead of posting web links – CT

  • 2

    Thank you Dr Laksiri;
    Why don’t New Sri Lankan Immigrants to Australia, acknowledge the Indigenous people and Culture of this Land?

    Is it the fault of the current Education System back in Sri Lanka, where the Veddahs are not acknowledged as the First Lankans, and given their rightful place?

    As you so rightly Point out, all the rest are later migrants.

    According to History, Ceylonese who first arrived in Australia, were brought in to work on the Queensland Cane Fields and the East West Railway.

    They intermarried with the Indigenous people who are of older origin than Balangoda Man,(see map) and though some still bear Ceylonese names, they identify with their Indigenous Australian Ancestry!

    • 3


      “Is it the fault of the current Education System back in Sri Lanka, where the Veddahs are not acknowledged as the First Lankans, and given their rightful place? As you so rightly Point out, all the rest are later migrants. “

      Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes,…

      They were all Paras, Paradeshisis, Foreigners Check their DNA…

      The position od Para-Sinhala and Para_Tamils, is similar to the position taken by the Catholic Church before the Copernican, Galileo and Kepler findings showed that the Church was wrong.

      What can you do?

      Please post Amarasiri’s poster on the Walls in the land of native Veddah.

      The Poster is given below. This is NOT copyrighted, print as many as you want, and post on walls, trees, T-shirts, Busses etc, including temples, Churches, mosques, Schools.

      Put footnote and say that the Earth goes around the Sun.. Not many para know that in the land of Native Veddha.

      What are the facts pertaining to Lanka? So, this is Amarasiri ‘s Poster, which Amarasiri wants on every wall in Lanka. Those Para who cannot live as Egalitarian members of society, in keeping with the Native Vehhah culture and Ethics, are requested to leave for their Native Land, South India, as proved by DNA analysis of the Paras.

      ENGLISH TRANSLATION of Sinhala and Tamil poster












      Lanka will be peaceful, and the Naive Veddah can live in an environmentally friendly manner. No more Para Wars. Pars, please Go, Go, Go…

    • 3


      “Is it the fault of the current Education System back in Sri Lanka, where the Veddahs are not acknowledged as the First Lankans, and given their rightful place?”

      Thanks for adding some sense into this endless discussion.

      By the way would you recognise my people as the first nation?

      • 1

        Although some of your questioning or comments may appear aimed at amusement (nothing wrong in good humor!), some do have valid reasoning. For example, if Sri Lanka takes steps to recognize Veddas as the first nation, it will pass a strong message both to the Sinhalese and the Tamils to sober their conflicting claims. It may be symbolic, but might educate the young and the new generations immensely. I have noticed some talking about Veddas disparagingly. Only danger might be if the issue of recognition is undertaken to distract attention from the more serious current issues of minority rights.

        My direct encounter with the Vadda community was in 1970 when I took some of my students for a field study/survey at Dambana. I enjoyed learning their dialect and observing the way of living. But even by that time their life styles had changed and even ‘corrupted,’ if I may use that term. Therefore, it is mainly a symbolic issue.

        • 0

          Did you listen to Mrs Kunoth-Monks and Jane Goodall in the latest Programme (09-06-2014) of QANDA on ABC TV?

      • 1

        Of course NV. I have see the Film by Irwin Dassanike made a long time ago, of the Lifestyle of the True Veddahs. I have also visited them at Dambane in 1965.

        I also recognise the Australian Aborigines as the First Australians!

        • 3


          Thanks a lot.

  • 3

    There is no ethnic problem in SL.

    What we have is a Tamil racist problem.

    • 8


      “What we have is a Tamil racist problem.”

      I hate to sometimes agree with you.

      It is largely compounded by Sinhala/Buddhist Ethnic Fascism.

    • 4

      Really ? This we thought prior to 83.
      Today – 2014..still you guys think the same.

    • 4

      Tam Madaiya:

      This is why MR got a kick on his backside which lasted for 20 minutes. It was a severe beating and MR lost consciousness and when he got back to Colombo he couldn’t remember anything and Modi had to remind him of what was discussed.

  • 5

    Good article….yes, we must look at the big picture.

    Also, we Srilankans (tamil or sinhala speaking) must look at ourselves where we stand in the world today.
    What are our contribution to the 21st century:
    -telephone, radio, TV, transistor, micro-processor, automobiles, planes, rocket, space-ships, medicines, at least bicycles?
    NOTHING…there is nothing out there to show that this belongs to srilankans.

    • 3


      “there is nothing out there to show that this belongs to srilankans.”

      Not even the ownership of this island.

      • 2

        Native Veddah,

        “there is nothing out there to show that this belongs to srilankans.” Not even the ownership of this island.’


        Remember, they are called Paras.

        They came by Illegal boats, by Kallathonis and Ora-Oru from south India.

        The DNA in them is proof..

        The earth goes around the Sun whatever the Paras, the Para-Sinhalese or Para-Tamils or other Paras or the Church says…

  • 2

    Dr. Laksiri Fernando,

    Lets’s see

    RE”: The Major Picture In Understanding Our Ethnic Conflict

    Do you think 25% of american and Europeans understand that the Earth goes around the sun,m 4o0 years after Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler?

    1 In 4 Americans Thinks The Sun Goes Around The Earth, Survey Says

    What % of Para-Sinhala and Para-Tamils understand that?


    A quarter of Americans surveyed could not correctly answer that the Earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around, according to a report out Friday from the National Science Foundation.

    The survey of 2,200 people in the United States was conducted by the NSF in 2012 and released on Friday at an annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago.

    To the question “Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth,” 26 percent of those surveyed answered incorrectly.

    In the same survey, just 39 percent answered correctly (true) that “The universe began with a huge explosion” and only 48 percent said “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.”

    Just over half understood that antibiotics are not effective against viruses.

    As alarming as some of those deficits in science knowledge might appear, Americans fared better on several of the questions than similar, but older surveys of their Chinese and European counterparts.

    Only 66 percent of people in a 2005 European Union poll answered the basic astronomy answer correctly. However, both China and the EU fared significantly better (66 percent and 70 percent, respectively) on the question about human evolution.

    In a survey compiled by the National Opinion Research Center from various sources, Americans seemed to generally support science research and expressed the greatest interest in new medical discoveries and local school issues related to science. They were least interested in space exploration, agricultural developments and international and foreign policy issues related to science.

  • 4

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.
    I can’t completely agree with your opinion as power sharing as the best solution.. Power devolution/sharing is a must, I agree, but real solution should come through education systems. I believe formal school education system in SL is not good at all and it does not aim to create value based society. This must be changed if SL want a peaceful future..
    As you know Australia has white only policy until 1971 and in the last 40 years it has become very multicultural society, how?. Recently I got an opportunity to read current materials used for diploma in preschool (1~5 years old) children education services. 60~70% of contents are about multiculturalism, cultural diversities. Very tricky assignments based on multicultural issues involving 2~3 years old children and their family backgrounds… Now, to look after 2~3 years old kids in Aus, one must have completed this diplomas and should have very good understanding on multiculturalism. How far white-only Australia in 1971 has moved in the last 40 years?.. I saw laughable but sad thing in SL recently. Most SL Preschool or kinder advertisement or name boards in major cities say…. “English medium kindergarten” Ha.. Ha.. To help Children to develop their egos in foreign language..

    • 2


      “Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. I can’t completely agree with your opinion as power sharing as the best solution..”

      Can we ask Hon. Mr. Modi to take their paras from South India Back?

      it will be an excellent solution…

    • 1

      Thanks to AVB, Rationalist and others for emphasizing the importance of education. I didn’t have the least intention to disregard education. ‘Multicultural policies’ that I emphasized along with ‘power sharing’ encompass education almost at the center along with bi/trilingualism. However, even in the case of Australia, in my opinion, change from ‘white Australia’ policy to ‘multiculturalism’ came about as a result of political intervention. It may be unfortunate, but politics predominates in social change in almost all societies. Political will for change is important. In social change it is difficult to say what should come first. The best policy might be to emphasize all, perhaps alternatively. However, given the present juncture of matters in Sri Lanka (after the end of the war), proper and effective power sharing might be the breakthrough that can bring, multiculturalism including educational and awareness change, apart from gradual reconciliation.

  • 2

    Dear Dr Laksiri Fernando,

    Re ‘One reason for our inability to understand, or understand fully, the ‘ethnic conflict’ in Sri Lanka may be our emotional involvement with the conflict one way or the other”

    To help in reaching an understanding let’s remove the emotional ties to sub divisions and Focus instead on the collective population of Lanka.

    What supports Lanka’s population is her resources.

    Claims and counter claims to an UNEQUAL share of those resources causes conflict.

    This in a nutshell, explains every aspect of the Ehnic Conflict in Sri Lanka.

    What are your views?

    Kind Regards,

    • 2

      Off the Cuff

      ‘What supports Lanka’s population is her resources. Claims and counter claims to an UNEQUAL share of those resources causes conflict.

      Yes, stolen by the para Sinhalese and para Tamils…from the Native Veddah..The Native Veddah have fewer natural resources to hunt and grow… and .. the same story with the animals and birds.

      AT Mattala airport, they cleared the Jungle to put an Airport to name after the Para President..that goes to nowhere less room for the native birds and animals…

      Mara,rules for now…

      Why should only those paras have those economic opportunities, and not the other paras in the land of Native Veddah?

      This is against Native Veddah Ethics and culture..

      It may be acceptable for the Para Tamil “Hindu” and Para-Sinhala “Buddhist” Culture and their myths, but not to Native Veddah…

      Paras, please go back to South India and the Indian Nagaland…

      • 0

        “AT Mattala airport, they cleared the Jungle to put an Airport to name after the Para President..that goes to nowhere less room for the native birds and animals…”

        This Airport was meant to serve the hundreds of Tourists who come to view the Native Wild Life?

        Now they are trying to build a Safari Park to show Tourists the non-existent ‘Wild’ Animals.

        These Projects are the Brain children of Politicians, who think that Singapore and Dubai are the epitome of Culture!

    • 2

      Dear OTC,

      If I understand you correctly, when you say “claims and counter claims to an unequal share of those resources causes conflict,’ you are rightly blaming both or all sides. I agree. One example is the land issue under the 13th Amendment. Perhaps you might be meaning something larger, like the ‘homeland versus Sinhala Lanka.’ That is also correct. Most of the conflicts, at the bottom, are about resources, actual or perceived. On both issues, what we may have to realize is that for the wellbeing of the people, human resources are more important than the land or territory under the present circumstances of technology and science.

      Once the Buddha asked, having seen a destructive conflict, “what is all this quarrel about?” The answer came, “The quarrel is about water, Sir.” Then he asked “How much is water worth?” The answer was “Very little, Reverend Sir.” Then he asked, “How much are the people worth?” “People are beyond price,” was the obvious answer. Then the Buddha said “It is not fitting that because of a little water you should destroy people who are beyond price.”

      Let me add that, when there are disputes, people should discuss, negotiate, compromise or agree for solutions and try to build consensus.

      • 0

        This an answer(comment) the entire Sri Lankan communities should frame and hang on their houses. Only very few crowd out of even CT’s commentators have shown appreciation of it. It is running, may be, too deep to pay attention.

        At this time of the Lankan mentality, only framing of it would be the doable. This type of enlightenment should have come from the intellectual of the freedom time.

  • 1

    Dr LF,

    The term Emotional involvement is interconnected with inherent chronic insecurity of both the major communities of Sri Lanka. In any situation, minority communities are, by the virtue of their status, insecure. But the Sinhala Buddhists are above 70% of the Sri Lankan population and it is unfortunate that they too suffer from chronic insecurity. No one can understand the Sri Lankan communal tensions in isolation without giving weight to the state Insecurity that exacerbates the prevailing mistrust.

    The question is how to make the majority community confident and be at ease with diversity. The other poignant issue is the language. We can talk all we like but a lot hinges on finding an acceptable resolution for the language issue.

    • 1


      I think you have correctly identified some key questions. We both agree that minority communities given their demographic conditions and natural vulnerability, are concerned about their security. Added to that might be how the State or the majority community treats them. Sri Lanka is an example. Majority communities, in many countries, also might feel insecure at certain junctures or in certain spheres. Economic sphere might be one. Cultural sphere is another. The reasons can be real or imagined/perceived. However, they contribute to conflicts. One reason for the majority in Sri Lanka feeling insecure is (or might be) the presence of the co-ethnics of the major minority community across the border.

      “How to make the majority community confident and be at ease with diversity” is a difficult question to answer particularly in this short response. Like in the case of an individual suffering from insecurity or ‘phobia,’ a kind of ‘therapy’ might be the remedy. ‘Confidence building’ is the name given in conflict resolution theories or formulas. But it does not make much sense without giving concrete expression. To me, it is mainly a political task while it can and should be done at the societal levels by civil society activists. Let us take this example. After defeating the LTTE, if MR had assured the Sinhala Buddhists that ‘there is no threat of separation (I guarantee), and for the sake of peace and development, there should be unity and power sharing between the communities,’ it could have worked. But unfortunately it didn’t happen. Perhaps he himself suffers from insecurity or lack of confidence. Perhaps it is political expedience that determined his policy. Whatever the reason, the task is to build up a new leadership orientation within the opposition. One disadvantage that the UNP has is their past opposition to the war. Let me outline few common things however. If the fear is about the reorganization of the LTTE, there is no basis for that. Even if there is a threat, the security should be capable of dealing with that, however without repressing the Tamils. Any threat emerging from outside should be handled through the diplomatic apparatus effectively. I think the people’s present urge for development and social progress should be fully utilized for the task of confidence building. For example, if the ‘national question’ is amicably resolved, it should be pointed out that, Sri Lanka could achieve a double digit growth. What one should not do however is to reinforce the majoritarian prejudices or hegemonic feelings in the name of confidence building of the majority. Some people mistakenly mix up the two.

      How to make the majority community at ease with diversity? I can imagine several creative measures. Somebody should take the lead or give the example. Education might be pivotal but activities also can contribute. Dialogues between MPs, Provincial Council and Local Government Members of different communities; increased dialogues between academics and journalists are some examples.

      • 1

        DR LF,

        Thanks for your lucid response. Insecurity on both sides is the biggest hinderance that inhibits community interaction. The reasons that you outlined are plausible and real as far as the Sinhala Buddhists are concerned. However, the politicians meticulously exploited the majority insecurity for political expediency, and it has now snowballed into an unmanageable situation. As you pointed out, MR was at a watershed moment soon after the end of the war that would have ushered in a win-win situation for all had he played his cards right. Again you correctly pointed out that his insecurity got the better of him!

        However, the current political climate is not conducive for civil society to play a role in forging consensus towards reconciliation. MR regime does not want consensus or reconciliation as it perceives such attempts will weaken its clutches. Moreover, the UNHRC initiatives are afoot in terms of an independent investigation; the Modi government needs time to implement its regional policies; TNA’s immediate plans and ramifications from the South. All these need time to be played out. One does not know, as it stands now, how all this will affect the regime-standing and its re-electability in the face of a scheming opposition. The opposition still needs to work out a way forward in choosing a common candidate. However, whichever way one looks at it, it is imperative that the MR regime needs to be dislodged allowing a broad-based consensus to emerge. If such a situation were to be realised, emboldened civil society can act with political patronage.

        I also agree that the talk of LTTE resurgence is a mirage. A vast majority of the Tamils both inside and outside of Sri Lanka were left shellshocked and dumbfounded at the fall of the LTTE. This does not mean all of them were LTTE sympathisers or supporters. They were of the opinion that, LTTE was the buffer that was stopping the Sinhala overrunning the Tamils. Though there are unwelcome garrison climate exist in the N&E, the fear of being overrun is unfounded. However, there is a real fear among the Tamils that, the state machinery in connivance with the ultra Sinhala Buddhist chauvinists are executing systemic Sinhala-only colonisation programmes within N&E. I also think that such fears are real and justified. You may ask as to what is wrong with such schemes. I say that it is very wrong within the current conditions. Such programmes should be centred on consultations and consensus. There must be economic reasons for people to migrate devoid of forming ethnic ghettos. Moreover, such unilateral schemes devoid of consensus will exacerbate the minority insecurity. In this backdrop, I do not know how the TNA is expected manoeuvre; in another words, how can TNA stand for the Tamil rights without being accused of being a LTTE proxy? I believe that Tamil opinion is leaning towards to solution based on their security and wellbeing. If a solution of this nature can be thrashed out with TNA, there will be endorsements from all sections of the Tamil society bar a small section of the hardcore LTTE supporters.

        The Sinhala have the key to all this; they need to choose their next president carefully. If they were to elect MR again; more miseries to unfold in time to come!

        I would also like to know your views on the language issue. My view is that, without finding a way forward on the language issue, there will be no solution. Will the Tamil language be regionalised with devolution or will it remain as one of the national languages? Does the quest of trilingualism have any legs?

  • 2

    Its with great sadness that one has to analyse this article. In sri Lanka the victimisation of its citizens goes beyond the sinhala /Tamil communities. What right has the ordinary citizen got in the following instance of the very many
    1) Right of employment unless you are in the ruling party MPs list
    2) what right , if your private ownership of your property when a hora lawyer makes a false deed. Any deed is accepted by the land registry if made by a lawyer
    3) the right to education of your children unless you pay or has political influence
    4) right to health care unless you pay
    These are very few of the many rights that are abused by a political class immaterial of the community to which you belong. Sri Lanka certainly has problems but it is not Tamil or Sinhalese. It is the political class. To stop the abuse of this political class who assume royalty as soon as you appoint them. you must be bring them to book for the abuse of human rights. The human rights are not Tamil or Sinhalese they are human rights. Until the Tamils and Sinhalese join to quell this abuse the created conflict between the Sinhalese and Tamils will continue.

    • 1


      I was the first to agree with you if the class or the economic issues were so simple. There is no question that “victimization of citizens goes beyond the Sinhala/Tamil communities.” But there are also victimizations because one is a Tamil or a Muslim. There is no question that the four clusters of rights that you have identified, namely (1) right to employment (2) right to property (3) right to education (4) right to health care are denied or denied to a great measure to the poor of the Sinhalese, the Tamils and the Muslims. But what about the cultural, language and religious rights? Well, the political class who denies these rights to the minority communities come into power on the basis of favoring these rights to the Sinhalese community and then denying the rights you have named to the poor sections of the same community plus the minority communities. That is the trick. You cannot stop the ‘abuse of political class who assume royalty’ by being insensitive to the rights of the minorities. Minority rights are part of human rights. Cultural, language and religious rights are part of human rights. If you wish to bring the abusers into book for the abuse of human rights then you also have to uphold the minority rights. Of course, human rights are not Tamil or Sinhalese, but when at least some of them are denied on the basis of ethnicity that is also an issue of human rights.

      You may have a point in saying or implying that only emphasis on ethnic issues might disunite the poor. But you do the same by neglecting the minority rights. Ethnic question is a major social issue today and also in the history all over the world. At least to highlight class or economic issues the ethnic issue should be properly addressed.

  • 5


    I am not quite sure what to make of the following and I have a feeling that you are confused and let me explain why and I might be wrong in my analysis.

    One reason for our inability to understand, or understand fully, the ‘ethnic conflict’ in Sri Lanka may be our emotional involvement with the conflict one way or the other. This does not mean that the emotional dis-involvement could necessarily bring a proper understanding of the conflict. The reason is that apart from the emotional dis-involvement, it might require a certain amount of knowledge to understand the intricacies of the ethnic conflict. Ethnic conflicts undoubtedly are one of the most intricate problems in human society.

    *** The conflict in Sri Lanka is due to the Prejudice of the Majority which borders hatred towards the Minority. You may argue that we are also guilty of prejudice but I will argue that ours was a reaction to an action. If successive Sinhalese politicians instead of playing the Race Card ( Not only for Political ends but also themselves prejudiced) had shown courageous Leadership with Vision and had devolved power and made the Tamils feel secure we would have responded in kind but that wasn’t to be and that is why we are where we are which is now history.
    The emotional involvement with the conflict is the built in PREJUDICE which is centuries old and not easy to disentangle under one roof so it is a catch 22 situation.
    I am afraid we are not going to solve the problem from within because the sea change needed from the Majority is not going to happen unless forced to do so by outside forces. If proof was needed MR provided it by saying one thing to Manmohan and then denying it regarding the 13th Amendment. Not only is he a prisoner of his own Prejudice but he also cannot sell it to the Sinhalese Electorate.
    It wont work and it is like the battered wife syndrome and DECREE ABSOLUTE is inevitable.

    The intractable Ethnic problem in Sri Lanka can only be solved at the very least by creating NATION within a NATION but the choice lies with the Majority.

  • 2


    From your experience, I understand why you argue that your actions or ‘feelings’ are a reaction to an action. It is difficult to trace who started the ‘prejudices’ (if you call that) first. It is like a chicken and egg question. To me it is immaterial for what I was discussing and I was agnostic about the question. What might be more correct is what Kipling expressed. It is a common factor beyond Sri Lanka. However, there is no question that if we take the events or the history since the independence, what you say is by and large correct, Tamils were denied their rights and suppressed. But the LTTE also created a threat to the Sinhalese. If you call it also as a reaction, it is at least a disproportionate reaction. What do you say about that?

    If you had also felt that I was expressing my views in the article perhaps because I am a (so-called) Sinhalese, it is difficult for me to completely deny. But I always try my best to look beyond ethnicity. My request for others including you is to do the same as far as possible and at least on and off as an intellectual exercise. I think I have achieved my objective at least to an extent. Some of the supposedly Sinhalese commentators have engaged in the debate constructively.

    In untangling the Sri Lankan conundrum a measure of international influence or pressure is necessary. Direct interventions I don’t approve except under exceptional circumstances. Influence or pressure to what extent is the question? This is something I have given much thought in my “Human Rights, Politics and States” (2002) in general terms. But lasting solutions come about through strong internal processes. After all it is our problem. Please forgive me if I don’t answer your next response.

    • 1

      Dr Fernando,
      Thanks for your article. If every human being is like you we would not be having this discussion.

      “But the LTTE also created a threat to the Sinhalese. If you call it also as a reaction, it is at least a disproportionate reaction. What do you say about that?”

      We did not have LTTE in 1948 – http://tamilnation.co/books/Eelam/satchi.htm

      We did not have LTTE in 1921 – http://www.sundaytimes.lk/030209/columns/cv.html

  • 3


    I don’t doubt your INTEGRITY or SINCERITY for a moment ( But I always try my best to look beyond ethnicity. My request for others including you is to do the same as far as possible and at least on and off as an intellectual ex)and I know you mean well but the problem in Sri Lanka is people like you are a Tiny Minority with numbers not enough to make any material change.

    *** But the LTTE also created a threat to the Sinhalese.
    I think you are being unfair here and if there was a threat who was responsible for creating the environment.

    We have tried for the last 64 years to reason out with our Sinhalese Brothers to treat us equally but there are and were no takers and that is why we have had this terrible carnage.

    ***Direct interventions I don’t approve except under exceptional circumstances.

    What we have in Sri Lanka is exceptional and for me Accountability is a Pre requisite to Reconciliation for the following reasons.

    1) No one pretends that there were no excesses from LTTE and I have never defended the killings of innocent Sinhalese and Muslims who were not combatants.
    2) GOSL are elected representatives of the People of Sri Lanka and you expect very high standards from elected members and to act within recognised International Laws and Standards. We have overwhelming evidence ( you may not agree and that wouldn’t surprise me) that they were in breach of the UN convention. Under the circumstances they must be brought to books. Otherwise we give the Green Light to wrong doers.
    3) It has been 5 years since the end of hostilities and despite promises there is no tangible evidence that MR is Genuine or Sincere and the only way we are going to have any resolution to the suffering is with outside direct intervention.

    I accept that the vast majority of Sinhalese have a problem with that but we are the victims and we don’t control anything and don’t have any meaningful tools at out disposal inside the Country.
    Any dissent is put down ruthlessly so what chance do we have to change anything from within to have a lasting peace.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.