ORIGIN AND EVOLUTION OF THE SRI LANKAN CIVIL WAR AND DEMAND FOR A SEPARATE TAMIL EELAM
The roots of the modern conflict lie in the British Colonial Rule when the country was known as Ceylon. There was initially little tension amongst Sri Lanka’s two largest ethnic groups, the Tamils and the Sinhalese, when Ponnambalam Arunachalam, a Tamil, was appointed as representative of the Sinhalese as well the Tamils in the National Legislative Council. In 1919, major Tamil and Sinhalese political organizations united to form the “Ceylon National Congress”, under the leadership of Arunachalam, to press the colonial masters for more constitutional reforms. However, the British Governor William Manning actively encouraged the concept of “Communal Representation” and created the Colombo Town Seat in 1920, which dangled between the Tamils and the Sinhalese.
After their election to the State Council in 1936, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) Members N.M.Perera and Philip Gunawardena demanded the replacement of English as the official language by Sinhala and Tamil. In November 1936, a motion that ‘in the Municipal and Police Courts of the Island the proceedings should be in the vernacular ‘ and that ‘entries in Police Stations should be recorded in the language in which they are originally stated’ were passed by the State Council and referred to the Legal Secretary. However, in 1944, J.R.Jayawardene moved in the State Council that Sinhala should replace English as the official language.
In 1948 immediately after Independence, yet another controversial law was passed by the Ceylon Parliament, called the Ceylon Citizenship Act which deliberately discriminated against the Indian Tamil ethnic by making it virtually impossible for them to obtain citizenship in the country. Approximately over 700,000 Tamils were made stateless. Over the next three decades more than 300,000 Indian Tamils were deported back to India.
In 1956 Prime Minister S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike passed the “Sinhala Only Act”, an Act which replaced English with Sinhala as the only official language of the country. This was seen as a deliberate attempt to discourage the Sri Lankan Tamils from working in the Ceylon Civil Service and other Public Services. The Tamil speaking people of the Ceylon (Sri Lankan Tamils, Indian Tamils) viewed the Act as linguistic, cultural and economic discrimination against them. Many Tamil speaking Civil Servants/ Public Servants were forced to resign because they weren’t fluent in Sinhala. This was a prelude to the 1956 Gal Oya Riots and the 1958 widespread Riots in which thousands of Tamil civilians perished. The civil war was a direct result of the escalation of the confrontational politics that followed.
Resurgent Sinhala Buddhist nationalism allowed little leeway for ruling politicians to give too many concessions to the Tamils. S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike was assassinated by a Buddhist monk in 1959, allegedly for this offense.
In late 1960s, documents relating to a separate Tamil state of ‘Tamil Eelam’ began to circulate. At this time, Anton Balasingham, an employee of the British High Commission in Colombo, began to participate in separatist activities. He later migrated to Britain, where he would become the chief theoretician of the LTTE. In the late 1960s, several Tamil youths, among them Velupillai Prabhakaran also became involved in these activities.
During the 1970s, the infamous Policy of Standardization an act of Institutional racism was initiated. Under this policy, University admissions were standardized to correct the disproportionately higher number of Sri Lankan Tamil students entering universities. Officially the policy was meant to discriminate in favor of students from rural areas but in reality the policy discriminated against Sri Lankan Tamil students who were in effect required to gain more marks than Sinhalese students to gain admission to universities. For instance, the qualifying mark for admission to the medical faculties was 250 (out of 400) for Tamil students, whereas it was only 229 for the Sinhalese. The number of Sri Lankan Tamil students entering universities fell dramatically. The policy was abandoned in 1977.
Other forms of official discrimination against the Sri Lankan Tamils included the State-sponsored Colonization of traditional Tamil areas by Sinhalese peasants, the banning of the import of Tamil-language media and the precedence given by the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka to Buddhism, the main religion followed by the Sinhalese.
Prabhakaran, together with Chetti Thanabalasingam, from Kalviyankadu, Jaffna formed the Tamil New Tigers (TNT) in 1972. This was formed around an ideology which looked back to the 1st Millennium Chola Empire – the Tiger was the emblem of that empire. TNT, changed its name to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or the LTTE in 1976. The LTTE initially carried out a campaign of violence against the State.
A further movement, the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS), formed in Manchester and London; it became the backbone of the Eelamist movement in the Diaspora, arranging passports and employment for immigrants and levying a heavy tax on them. It became the basis of the Eelamist logistical organization, later taken over entirely by the LTTE. The formation of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) with the Vaddukkodei (Vattukottai) Resolution of 1976 led to a hardening of attitudes. The Resolution called up for the creation of a secular, socialist state of Tamil Eelam, based on the right of self – determination.
The TULF clandestinely supported the armed actions of the young militants who were dubbed “our boys”. TULF leader Appapillai Amirthalingam, even provided letters of reference to the LTTE and to other Tamil insurgent groups to raise funds. Amirthalingam introduced Prabhakaran to N.S. Krishnan, who later became the first international representative of LTTE. It was Krishnan, who introduced Prabhakaran to Anton Balasingham, who later became the chief political strategist and chief negotiator of LTTE. The “boys” were the product of the post-war population explosion. Many partially educated, unemployed Tamil youth fell for revolutionary solutions to their problems. The leftist parties had remained “non-communal” for a long time, but the Federal Party (as well as its off-shoot, the TULF), deeply conservative and dominated by Vellalar casteism, did not attempt to form a national alliance with the leftists in their fight for language rights.
Following the sweeping electoral victory of the United National Party (UNP) in July 1977, the TULF became the leading opposition party, with around one-sixth of the total electoral vote winning on a party platform of secession from Sri Lanka. After the 1977 Riots, the J.R.Jayewardene Government made one concession to the Tamil population; it lifted the Policy of Standardization for University admission that had driven many Tamil youths into militancy. The concession was regarded by the militants as too little and too late, and violent attacks continued. By this time, TULF started losing its grip over the militant groups. LTTE ordered civilians to boycott the local Government Elections of 1983 in which even TULF contested. Voter turnout became as low as 10%. Thereafter, Tamil political parties had very little room to represent people’s interests as insurgents rose above their position.
In May 1981, the burning of Jaffna Library by politicians from the ruling party using Police and Paramilitary Forces resulted in the destruction of more than 90,000 books, including “palm leaf scrolls” of immense historical value. This violent examples of ethnic biblicism was a major turning point in convincing the Tamil people that the government could not protect them or their cultural heritage and persuaded many of them to back and demand for a “separate state”. The burning of Jaffna Library has led to the loss of historical facts which ought to have been preserved for generations to come to know not only the aspect of origin but the History itself.