Actupondy, the Guide to Pondicherry

The Indian and Sri Lankan Tamil communities historically shared very strong links, friendly and commercial as belligerent. The period of British Raj strengthened the Tamil communitarianism in India, whereas it confronted it to the Sinhalese's in Ceylon. Tamil political demands thus had not the same answers at the time of the independences.

The Indian agreement of multiculturalism

The Tamil pro-independence demands at the end of the Second World War had not the same repercussions on the national policies of new States. Adoption of the federal system allowed each ethnic and cultural community to find its place in modern India. The Indian federalism is built on States with community's boundaries; importance of autonomy let to each regional government quickly allowed to counter the separatist demands. At the Indian national independence in 1947, the State of Madras included current Tamil Nadu, Kerala, South of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh's coasts. The State disintegrated gradually until 1968 in smaller States with federal borders that match the boundaries of linguistic regions.tamils sri lanka

The Sinhalese negation of local minorities

On the other hand Ceylon chose a centralized political organization – a characteristic of socialist authoritarian regimes – contesting the existence of minorities to promote a single national culture. From 1949 the Indian Tamil minority was deprived of its nationality by the new political power: Indian Tamils working in tea plantations become stateless and reject by their own country. Various plans of repatriation on the Indian subcontinent never have real effect and the major part of them always live in Sri Lanka, where they represent a third of the Tamil population. Sinhalese represent the three quarters of the national population, thus only this language was recognized as national language in 1954. This law is considered as the first great legislative discrimination by the Sri Lankan Tamil minority (about 20% of the population).

tea plantationsThe end of the 1950s and the 1960s are characterized by pogroms and murders targeting Indian then Sri Lanka Tamils as well as the weakening of their representation in public administrations. The Sinhalese name of "Sri Lanka" (which means "radiant country") is adopted to rename the country in 1970. The government adopts a new irreparable measure in 1972: Buddhism (religion of 90% of Sinhalese) is decreed as State religion, while Indian Tamils are Hindu in a large proportion (approximately 80%).

The conflict

This refusal of minorities' cultural recognition by the Sinhalese majority is strengthened by lands colonization. Concentrated in North and East of Ceylon (40% of the island), Tamils see their farmlands nibbled by hydraulic projects and the new distribution of lands decided by Colombo for Sinhalese settlers. The government also persists to split the commercial and cultural exchanges between Tamils of Sri Lanka and those of South India.

tamil tigersFace to this Sinhalese nationalism, the Tamil youth decides to stop following anymore the political way of the elders and to choose the violent confrontation. Tamil youths then get organized in guerrilla groups. Pogroms expand in Sinhalese cities; the guerrilla of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (name of the independent country claimed by the Tamil minority, on the North and East of the island) replies by targeted murders.

The Indian involvement

India gets involved in the Sri Lankan civil war during the 1980s for two essential reasons. The first one is to arise as a regional power via political and humanitarian interventions in a local conflict: up to now the case of Sri Lanka was marginal for New Delhi compared to the tensions with Pakistan and China. The second is to stop the pro-independence demands of Sri Lankan Tamils, in order to ensure the membership of Indian Tamils in the Indian federal Union: the Tigers use bases in Tamil Nadu, allowing them to withdraw in India.

peace treatyThe Indian government led by Rajiv Gandhi reaches an agreement with the Sri Lankan government at the end of the 1980s: the India army is in charge of bringing peace back in the North and East of the island, to disarm the armed groups and to help in the negotiations between Tamils and Sinhalese (Tamil is accepted as a national language, Indian Tamils are naturalized). However, Tigers refused to disarm that causes some battles with the Indian army; the Tamil civilian population supports massively the organization of Tigers, whereas Sinhalese badly perceive the presence of a foreign army on the national territory.

The Indian army withdraws in 1991 shortly after the murder of Rajiv Gandhi in a suicide attack committed by an Indian woman, a suspected member of the Tigers. Suicide attack is the most fearful weapon used by Tigers, in particular by means of girls who seem less suspicious. The government's double game towards the Tamil guerrilla could cause it, while Indian Tamils support it massively.indian army

End of the war

The balance of power between the Sri Lankan army and the Tigers remains stable during the 1990s. Periods of confrontation succeed to attempts of discussion. The "unwinnable war" splits the country into two, damaging the national economy and annihilating the education system for young generations. The early 2000s is a declining period of personal requests, in particular due to the Norway's mediating intervention: Colombo agrees to transform the political model towards more regional federalism, while Tigers reject their desire for an independent country.

The conflict restarts in 2006 because of the Tigers' inflexibility and the inactivity of the international community. Wide governmental offensives allow to regain the North main cities led by Tigers in January 2009, forcing them to run away in the jungle with thousands of civilians. A last blind and murderous offensive led by the governmental army stops definitively the Tigers guerrilla in May of the same year.

Today ?

The Indian Tamil population widely supported the pro-independence claiming of the Sri Lankan Tamils during the civil war, but the end of the conflict creates a new order. The Indian Tamils look towards the national economic success, while the Sri Lankan Tamils return under the rule of the Sinhalese majority.


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