“Even in pre-independence Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as it was once known, school and college enrolment among Tamils exceeded that of other ethnicities in the country. Gradually, differences in educational attainment came to form the identities of the Tamil and Sinhalese communities, which grew into separate ethnic blocs, each of which considered itself wronged by the other.”

–Rohini Mohan

 

On 31st January 1996, a suicide bombing in Sri Lanka killed 91 people as the separatist group, the Tamil Tigers, detonated explosives in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo. This was a part of a series of events of violence that erupted between the minority Tamil population and the majority Sinhalese government during the ongoing civil war in the country that lasted from about 1983 till 2009.

The struggle and rivalry between the two groups is rooted in a long and deeply rooted history, starting from the British colonial rule in the region. There was little tension between the two groups prior to British rule in the country. However, the British were known for employing a divide and rule policy across their colonies in South Asia, therefore, the Tamil population faced the brunt of this policy as the Sinhalese majority was preferred by the colonizers. Sinhalese population was given a greater access to the country’s resources. Additionally, Sinhala was made the official language in Sri Lanka. This deepened the Tamil grievances, as they had limited access to jobs, property and other state facilities. This imbalance of power carried on after Sri Lanka attained independence in 1948. Soon after, the Sinhalese majority began to carry out active discrimination against the Tamil population, not allowing them citizenship rights and forcefully deporting them back to India.

As the grievances built on, the Tamil minority started organizing themselves against the Sinhalese government to demand a separate land for the Tamil population. This resulted in a series of violent attacks against the sitting government which got blown into a full-fledged civil war in the country. The conflict was to last for many years as violence escalated on both sides. While the civil war officially ended in 2009, the rift between the two sides continues to affect the peace in Sri Lanka to date.