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The Sri Lankan Civil War

by Rinku Khumukcham
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Sauro Dasgupta
UG 3, Department of International Relations, Jadavpur University, Kolkata

Abstract: When Tamil groups resorted to violence due to their segregated and second class status since Sri Lankan Independence in 1948, firstly in the 1970s, the Sinhalese and Buddhist dominated government, instead of seeking a reconciliation with the Tamils, launched an offensive against them. The war was a deadly one. Foreign help was received by both LTTE and the Sri Lankan Military at different times. The war was accelerated during the period of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and it ended in 2009. It caused devastation and huge loss to the country.
The Sri Lankan Civil War or ‘Eelam War’, was a conflict in Sri Lanka from 1983 – 2007 between the Sri Lankan Military and the armed Tamil insurgent groups led by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The war had roots were in the suppression of the Tamil minorities by the ruling Buddhists and Sinhalese in the Sri Lankan government, politics, bureaucracy and other services. It had a tremendous toll on the country’s economy, population and human resources. It dropped Sri Lanka’s rankings in terms of socio-economic development, economic growth, global image, tourism, etc internationally.
Southern portion of Sri Lanka was inhabited by Tamils who had lived there for generations and had developed the notion that they had acquired the right to have a portion of Sri Lanka exclusively under their domination and establish their rule there.
History of the War
This notion was not tolerated by the aggressive Buddhists of Sri Lankans , who were not ready to part with an inch of their land to the Tamil immigrants as a land belonging to and governed by them.
The Sinhalese had migrated from a part of Northern India, a hub of Buddhism, to Sri Lanka in the 6th Century BC. Buddhism was introduced in Sri Lanka in the 3rd Century BC.A great Buddhist civilisation developed in the cities of Anuradhapura and Colombo.
From 1070-1200 AD, in the 14th Century AD, a South Indian dynasty seized power in the North, establishing a Tamil kingdom. The Portuguese and the Dutch occupied it in the 16th Century and in the 17th Century respectively. The island was ceded to the British in 1796 and became a Crown Colony in 1802 and was united under British Rule by 1815. At that time, it was named ‘Ceylon’, which attained Independence in 1948.Its name was changed to ‘Sri Lanka’ in 1972.
If we were to go into the history of the War, we will find that it had a chequered origin. After Sri Lanka attained Independence in 1948, the government of Sri Lanka took a number of measures to suppress the Sri Lankan Tamils as they felt that the Tamils were becoming too powerful.
Sri Lankan Tamils took to arms in the late 1970s. Among the Tamil insurgent groups, the most powerful and disciplined was the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) led by Velupillai Prabhakaran.
In July 1983, the LTTE ambushed a Sri Lankan Army patrol outside the town of Thirunelveli, killing an Army officer and 12 soldiers. This incident made the government of Sri Lanka organize an undeclared war against the Tamils.
Black July
Around 5000 Tamils were killed on 23rdJuly 1983. In common parlance, this is known as ‘Black July’.
Thousands of Tamils fled to the Sinhalese areas in the East or to India.
India’s role in the War
In 1985, peace talks were held between the government of Sri Lanka and LTTE, though the latter rejected them and occupied Jaffna. In 1987, the Sri Lankan Military managed to expel LTTE from Jaffna.
From the beginning, India had supported the rebels. In 1987, Indian Air Force(IAF) executed Operation Poomalai and airdropped food parcels and relief material to the LTTE in Jaffna, at a time when the Sri Lankan Military was about to finish LTTE off. 
At India’s initiative, the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord was signed, under which the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was sent to Sri Lanka to mediate between the government of Sri Lanka and LTTE.
IPKF and the War
Through a series of operations, the IPKF helped the Sri Lankan Military to defeat LTTE in different areas of Sri Lanka. 
The IPKF began withdrawing from Sri Lanka in 1989, on the order of the newly elected Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa and the election of the V. P. Singh government in India.  Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination by the LTTE in 1991 forced India to completely withdraw itself in a hasty manner from Sri Lanka.
Final stages of the war
The War continued in the 1990s and the early 2000s, until a peace accord was signed by the LTTE and the government of Sri Lanka in 2002, with Norway acting as the key mediator, which lasted uneasily till 2007.
In 2008, the Sri Lankan government, in view of increasing terrorist attacks of LTTE, abandoned the peace accord. Continued operations in the East and South finally led to the wiping off of the LTTE in May 2009 and the killing of V Prabhakaran, marking the final end of the Sri Lankan Civil War. At that time, the LTTE-supporting DMK was in power in Tamil Nadu. Surprisingly, there was no reaction in Tamil nadu to the death of Prabhakaran except for a few protests led by TholThirumavalaman and Vaiko.
Tens of thousands died in the ethnic conflict between the Tamils and the Sinhalese. Large scale migration and displacement of people during the war took place.
It dented Sri Lanka’s rankings in terms of socio-economic development, economic growth, global image, tourism, etc internationally.
In May 2010 President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to assess the conflict between the time of the ceasefire agreement in 2002 and the defeat of the LTTE in 2009, whose recommended solution to such conflicts was, “What needs to be done for reconciliation and nation-building is that the State has to reach out to the minorities and the minorities, in turn must, re-position themselves in their role vis a vis the State and the country. There must be willingness on the part of all political parties to give up adversarial politics and have consensual decision-making on national issues. In order to meet the challenges of this opportunity there has to be courage and political will on the part of all political parties.”
We have seen that on various occasions, there had been violent ethnic discord leading to the Sri Lankan Civil War between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, though ultimately it subsided.
As a result, a lull has reigned, projecting an apparent peace.
A political analyst may hold that as there is no guarantee of permanent peace and occasional eruption of discord may occur, we should look for remedies to have undisturbed peace, for which both the ethnic groups, i.e. the Sinhalese and the Tamils should be made to realise that they must adjust themselves and try to make a fusion of their respective cultures and social relations to achieve long lasting unassailable tranquillity.
Title image courtesy: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-51184085
About the author: Sauro Dasgupta is pursuing his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a specialization in International Relations at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India.  He is interested in reading, writing, public speaking, History, Politics and Strategic Affairs and almost 120 writings of his have been published in many important magazines, journals and newspapers. He is a regular contributor to leading publications like The Telegraph, The Statesman, The Indian Express, The Times of India NIE, The Imphal Times, The Shillong Times, Sikkim Express,Khamma News Agency, The Diplomatist, OpIndia, The Kootneeti, The Columnist, Lokmannya, Elixir, The Viyug, etc.

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