The Rise and Fall of the LTTE in Sri Lanka

LTTE in Sri Lanka

A Critical Analysis of Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka in the 1980s and the Aftermath

Ethnic conflict between Sinhalese and LTTE in Sri Lanka had crippled the nation for over five decades. It had been the result of long-drawn appeasement policies and manipulations by the political parties, all through the Sri Lankan political history. Sri Lanka, an island nation in the Indian sub-continent, constitutes of 74 per cent of Sinhalese Buddhists, Tamil (Hindus) comprised of 18 per cent, and Tamil (Muslims) constitute 7 per cent of the population.[1]

Soon after Sri Lanka’s independence, the Sinhalese leaders began to appease the Sinhala-Buddhist majority. Over the years, the Tamil population resented the majority domination, ultimately culminated in the form of The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1976. LTTE had waged a violent campaign against the Sinhala majority. In the process, LTTE suppressed its own population by virtually establishing itself as a Tamil state. It was the “longest active secessionist movement” until its defeat in 2009.[2]

In this article, I would like to address the political character of the Sri Lankan state that had enabled the crisis to unfold, and also highlight the structural and temporal factors. I will, further, discuss the political transformation of the conflict over a specific time-period until its controversial end in the May of 2009.

The conflict began to take its violent shape in the aftermath of 1983 pogrom. However, the structural roots of the conflict could be seen in the communal policies of the British rule in Sri Lanka. The British Colonial policy of “Divide and Rule”,devised to govern the ethnic groups in Sri Lanka, provide us with evidence for the genesis of the ethnic conflict.

The systematic “Us v/s Them”as documented in the Donoughmore and Soulbury Commissions in the form of “communal representation” enabled the ethnic groups to seek for and dominate the national politics. As Shafi and Rashid note,

The British Governor had nominated members to the legislature based on ethnicity (Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Burger).[3]

With Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948, there was a clear sign of disarray within both the Tamilian and Sinhala leadership. Colonialization and British policies remain an important factor in the ethnic conflict of Sri Lanka.[4]

The assertion of Sinhala identity remained an important political goal for the Sri Lankan state. As a result, the identity creation of Sinhala began with palingenesis, the process of recreation of the past, using elements of the “origin” mythology.

Shafi and Rashid write: “Sinhala, it was claimed, were decanted from Aryan migrants from Bengal in the fifth century BC; the arrival of their leader, Prince Vijaya, in Sri Lanka coincided with the death of the Buddha.”[5] As an ideological response, Tamils began asserting their pure Dravidian race, whose ancestors were of Harappan civilizations of India and that they were the original inhabitants of Sri Lanka.

In the 1950s, Sinhalese politicians began attracting the masses by promoting to build a Buddhist-Sinhalese state of Sri Lanka. The increased electoral politics based on ethnicity and language took its final form in the “Sinhalese Only Bill” (Official Language Act, No. 33 of 1956).

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, leader of SLFP, used the “indigenous nationalism” to win the 1956 general elections, with the promise of making “Sinhalese language the official language of Sri Lanka” and “assertion of Buddhism in the region.”[6] This act is an important structural factor in shaping the political character of the Sri Lankan state. It also gave rise to ethnic clashes between the Sinhalese and Tamils in 1958, 1977, and 1981.[7]

Some of the temporal factors that could be enlisted in the assertion of the political character of the state include the creation of Tamil Tigers, the Pogrom of 1983, and State-sponsored settlements in Tamil areas.

The Tamil minority feared the loss of access to education and employment as a consequence of communal policies in admissions in favour of Sinhalese students. The resentment within the Tamil youth was accumulated in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE). In the early 1980s, LTTE carried out a series of bank robberies, assassinated several police officers, and bomb attacks in Sinhalese-dominated south.[8]

The “1983 Pogrom against the Tamil civilians” in Colombo could be another temporal factor for the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. In July 1983, the LTTE attack had killed 13 Sinhalese soldiers in Jaffna, leading to a severe counter by armed forces on Tamil civilians. [9]

Many scholars have noted the “1983 riots” as the turning point in the Sri Lankan ethnic violence.[10] Four days after the violence broke out, President Jayewardene said:

I think there was a big anti-Tamil feeling among the forces. They also felt that shooting the Sinhalese, who were rioting, would have been anti-Sinhalese, and actually, in some places, we saw them encouraging [rioters].[11]

Since the beginning of the civil war in 1983, the LTTE was at the forefront of the theatre of guerrilla warfare and the struggle for territorial control.

Another pertinent temporal factor was, as Thangarajah has labelled, “frontiersmen”: politically motivated Sinhalese farmers settled in the Tamil region under new irrigation schemes and received weapons to fight Tamil militancy.[12] The state-sponsored settlement schemes allowed for large-scale irrigation that allowed for Sinhalese farmers to Tamil-inhabited areas of the East.

At this juncture, I will address how the conflict unfolded until its end in May 2009. As early as 1983, India had made serious efforts at containing the crisis and negotiating with both Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan Government. The outcome was the India-Sri Lanka Accord signed by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and President Jayewardene in July 1987.

Accordingly, Tamil guerrilla would lay down their arms, Indian Peace-Keeping forces were to moderate in Tamil regions. In return, Tamils would be given a degree of autonomy.[13] However, it was not accepted by the Tamil Tigers and there was increased violence between the two parties.

In 2002, the Norwegian-led-peace process was an unsuccessful ceasefire, as LTTE did not accept the terms of the agreement. The final collapse of LTTE, which kept the war for over 25 years, came in 2009. The Sri Lankan forces launched an offensive in East Sri Lanka, often massacring civilians, raping and violently killing in thousands, ended the civil war in May 2009.

Post Script: This article was written as a part of my course-work for Masters in Political Science at the University of Delhi.

Photo Credit:  Sri Lanka Ethnic Divisions Illustration by Greg Groesch/ The Washington Times


[1] “Population Pyramids of the World from 1950 to 2100,”, accessed March 16, 2020,

[2] “THE ETHNIC CONFLICT IN SRI LANKA: A HISTORICAL AND …,” accessed March 15, 2020,

[3] Shafi, A.T.M. Abdullahel and Harun-Or-Rashid, “Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka: A Critical Analysis”, International Journal of Research in Humanities, Arts, and Literature 1, no. 3 (2013): 17-34

[4] “The Evolution of Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka,” accessed March 16, 2020,

[5] Shafi and Rashid, “Ethnic Conflict”, 22

[6] Perera, Jayantha, “Political Development and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka,” OUP Academic (Oxford University Press, January 1, 1992),

[7] Shafi and Rashid, “Ethnic Conflict”, 28

[8] Perera, “Political Development”, 138

[9] Benedikt Korf, “Functions of Violence Revisited: Greed, Pride and Grievance in Sri Lanka’s Civil War – Benedikt Korf, 2006,” SAGE Journals, accessed March 16, 2020,

[10] PERUMAL, C. A., and R. THANDAVAN. “ETHNIC VIOLENCE IN SRILANKA: CAUSES AND CONSEQUENCES.” The Indian Journal of Political Science 50, no. 1 (1989): 1-17. Accessed March 16, 2020.

[11] Perera, “Political Development”, 142

[12] Thangarajah, Y. “Ethnicisation of the devolution debate and the militarization of civil society in northeastern Sri Lanka,” in Mayer, M., Rajasingam Senanayake, D. and Thangarajah, Y. ed. (2003), Building local capacities for peace: rethinking conflict and development in Sri Lanka, Macmillan Publishers, 15-36.

[13] Perumal and Thandavan, “Ethnic Violence,” 1-17. Refer also to Neil DeVotta, “South Asia Faces the Future: Illiberalism and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka,” Journal of Democracy (Johns Hopkins University Press, January 1, 2002),

Decoding the Narrative Around CAA


Narrative – a term loosely understood as a story or an account of events and experiences, has been the most powerful tools in shaping society throughout the history of humankind. Certain narratives are created by the elites within societies to nudge the individuals to think in a certain manner, to want certain things, to observe certain rules, to behave in accordance with certain standards. They, thereby, are used as a justification for the actions of the elites.

In the Germany of 1930s, a certain narrative around Jews was told and retold to the German people in the form of state-sponsored propaganda. The Jews were painted as an inferior race and a threat to German racial supremacy. The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 stripped off the citizenship rights of Jews and forbade marriages and employment of Jews in Germany with the justification of protecting German Blood and German Honour. This resulted in the Holocaust carried out by Hitler, killing millions of Jews in the concentration camps of Poland and Nazi Germany.

Narratives have the power to create and recreate histories.  At times, the narratives are created in the form of binaries of good and bad, in which the one identity is privileged and ‘the other’ is deprivileged. This further emanates into the objectification of someone as evil by providing the analogy of good, ultimately leading to the process known as ‘palingenesis’ or the recreation of the past.

Much has already been debated about the constitutionality of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. This Act amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 to provide citizenship for members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities, who had fled persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before December 2014. The Muslims, as a religious group, were excluded from the Act, with the rationale that the three mentioned countries are Muslim-majority nations. The Act has been substantiated by the ruling party as an obligation towards Pakistani Hindus as agreed upon in the Liaquat-Nehru Pact of 1950.

Protests erupted across the country in the form of a mass movement against the CAA and the pan-India implementation of the contentious National Register of Citizens (NRC). The Act is violative of the secular doctrine as enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution of India. Moreover, the Act is much more than just an amendment to the citizenship law in the Constitution. With the introduction of CAA, the right-wing nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is redefining the narrative around the identity of India, which would alter the very nature of how one perceives India.

It redefines India as a nation for the Hindus, moving away from its proclaimed secularism. Even if India retains the ‘secular’ character, the act changes the psychological perception of how one views India. It enables a consciousness that India is a holy land for all the Hindus throughout the world, and that Muslims have been benevolently sheltered within a predominately Hindu nation.

The nation-wide implementation of NRC would be detrimental to Muslims, as many of whom would not be able to produce the papers that the government intends to seek from an individual. Evoking Derrida’s notion of ‘conditional hospitality,’ the Muslims are recognised and tolerated as the guest, while also reminding them that it is not their own home.

The CAA is a larger project of ‘numerical domination’ of Hindus, which acts as a basic premise of Hindu nationalist doctrine. To the proponents of this doctrine, India can retain its Hindu character only with the preponderance of numerical Hinduism.

To Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the term ‘Hindutva’ meant the quality of being a Hindu. Hindus, according to Savarkar, are those who considered India as the land in which their ancestors lived. In his, Essentials of Hindutva (1923), Savarkar provides three distinct criteria for identifying Hinduness: ‘common-nation,’ ‘common race and ‘common-civilisation,’ which became the basis for exclusion of both Indian Muslims and Indian Christians.[1]

M.S. Golwalkar, a founding member of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and a prominent ideologue of Hindutva, goes a step ahead and declares Muslims as the enemies of the nation. In his, Bunch of Thoughts (1966), Golwalkar dedicates a chapter titled ‘Internal Threats’ to highlight the three pertinent threats to Indian society: Muslims, Christians, and Communists. “It has been a tragic lesson of the history of many a country in the world,” Golwalkar laments “that the hostile elements within the country pose a far greater menace to national security than aggressors from outside.”[2] He never trusted the patriotism of Muslims. While referring to the Muslims, Golwalkar writes, “It would be suicidal to delude ourselves into believing that they have turned patriots overnight after the creation of Pakistan.” He goes a step ahead and declares that Masjids are the mere representation of ‘miniature Pakistans’. These thinkers provide the ideological ground for Hindu Nationalism.[3]

In the process of recreating history, the narratives get told in the form of alternative-facts. One of the pertinent arguments held by the believers of RSS and Hindu Nationalist ideologues is that the Aryans have been indigenous people and have never migrated from Central Asia to India. Much has already been talked about the historical validity of such a claim being highly erroneous, and the claim is highly political rather than historical facts.

The term ‘Hindu’ is itself not succinct. It was more of a flexible cultural identity than any religion. Millions of gods and goddesses were worshipped in the subcontinent, with each holding its own unique value. Multiple cultural identities have been blurred into the formation of what Hindutva ideologues preach as Hinduism. This process is not very alien to Indian history, the process was spearheaded by the colonial rulers in their series of ‘investigative modalities’ in their quest to understanding India.

“The cultural effects of colonialism,” Dirks in Caste of Minds (2001) notes, “have until recently been too often ignored or displaced into the inevitable logic of modernization and world capitalism; and this only because it has not been sufficiently recognized that colonialism was itself a cultural project of control.”[4] So much so that they privileged a certain identity while deprivileging the other.

In the Census of 1911, in parts of present-day Gujarat, some 200,000 people described themselves as ‘Mohammedan Hindus’.  However, this did not fit into the narrative of what the Britishers claimed as an identity. As a result, they either boxed them into Hindus or Muslims. These colonial experimentations created a new knowledge of India and its inhabitants. This knowledge also became a treasure to the Hindu nationalists towards pushing their Hindutva agenda.

The Hindu nationalists, first, reinstated their ideologues as heroes. And then, they elaborated on the Hindutva ideas as alternate facts. And finally, they are on their path to establish a Hindu nation. The ‘idealisation project’ of the Hindutva ideologues began with reinstating of Savarkar as a freedom fighter and a revolutionary. In 2006, on the occasion of Savarkar Jayanti, former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee would go on to declare, “Savarkar meant Tatva (elements), Tark (arguments), Tarunya (youth), Tej (brilliance), Tyag (sacrifice) and Tap (penance).”[5] BJP, on several occasions, has declared its intention of awarding Bharata Ratna to Savarkar.

After the BJP-led NDA came to power in 2014, the recreation of alternate facts began into two forms: reasserting religion and reclaiming science. The reassertion of the religion project began with ‘love-jihad,’ ‘lynching-in-the-name-of-cow,’ ‘renaming-cities,’ and ‘Ram-at-Ayodhya’. Several BJP leaders have been making provocative statements ever since. In 2015, Sakshi Maharaj would go on to urge “Hindu women to produce at least four children to protect the Hindu religion.” In another instance, he would go on to declare himself a true Muslim and that “Prophet Mohammed was a great yogi.”[6]

In as early as 2005, Yogi Adityanath had envisioned, “I will not stop till I turn UP and India into a Hindu Rashtra.” Today, Yogi Adityanath is the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and he clearly seems to be in the direction of what he had once envisioned. Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, in the Parliament, declared the killer of Mahatma Gandhi as a ‘desh-bhakt’ (patriot). These statements are often made by the insignificant members of the organisation as they could easily be dismissed off but still enable a public discourse.

The BJP’s recreation of alternative facts in a deliberate attempt to reclaim science has been in the form of narratives derived from the mythologies and epics. One of the BJP MPs would go on to state: “cow-dung and urine can cure cancer.”[7] Another added, “cows exhale oxygen.” Another Member of Parliament declared Darwin’s theory as scientifically wrong. In his defence, the Member stated, “nobody, including our ancestors, in written or oral, said they ever saw an ape turning to a human being.”

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi had, once, made a comment that there must have been some plastic surgery at the time of Lord Ganesh, who was affixed with an elephant’s head. These narratives in the form of speeches and declarations are intended to recreate alternate histories and reclaim science. Through these narratives, an individual is created and produced as the subject of that ideology, often referred to as ‘interpellation’.

With the implementation of CAA, the BJP is in its final phase of altering the character of India into a Hindu nation. Hinduism has been an inclusive religion. All through its history, the religion has coexisted with other religions in the subcontinent. It has welcomed and incorporated a variety of outside influences within its hold. There is no one definition of Hinduism. It is personal. Hinduism is a compilation of many traditions, cultures and philosophies. However, with the introduction of CAA, we have been told, who qualifies as a Hindu, what it means to be a Hindu, and who qualifies as a Hindu. It is in this context the Orwellian quote, “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past” become pertinent.

The narrative of Hinduism has been reinvented to suit the needs of Hindutva ideology, which aims at establishing a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. However, the young and the old alike have risen to protect the democratic values as enshrined in the Indian Constitution. In the suburbs of Delhi’s Shahin Bagh, the Muslim women have been protesting against the Government’s policies for more than a month now. There is widespread civil society movement all across India, with people taking to streets against the CAA and NRC. The dream of Hindu nationalists still seems far-fetched. And the hope lives on…



[1] Savarkar, V. (1923). Essentials of Hindutva. 1st ed. pp.41-43. Retrieved from:

[2] Golwalkar, M. (1996). Bunch of thoughts. 3rd ed. Sahitya Sindhu Prakashan, pp.148-154. Retrieved from:

[3] Ibid.

[4] Dirks, N. (2001). Castes of Mind: Colonialism and making of Modern India, Princeton: Princeton University Press, p.9.