Sri Lanka

Hindus versus Buddhists

In Sri Lanka separatist Tamil insurgents, who are mostly Hindus, are fighting against the Sinhalese majority, who are mostly Buddhists, for greater political autonomy in the eastern and northern provinces, where the Tamil population – a Hindu people – is concentrated.

In 1956 just as (then) Ceylon was celebrating the 2,500 anniversary of Buddha’s attainment of Nirvana, Solomon Bandaranaike, a member of a prominent Sinhalese Christian family with close ties to the British, became the lively, leftist prime minister.  One of his first acts was to make Sinhala the new nation’s official language, thus offending the Hindu Tamil minority. In the Tamil north, the new Sinhalese script was defaced, and in the Buddhist south, monks organized angry sit-ins. Three years later Bandaranaike was murdered by a Buddhist priest. In 1983, frustrated Tamil politicians walked out of Parliament, and more radical groups began a guerrilla insurgency that had since claimed thousands of lives. The situation continued to deteriorate until, in 1986, it exploded. Sri Lanka used to be called pear-shaped. Tear-shaped would be more appropriate now.

The Hindu Tamils, who make up 13 per cent of the population, believe they have suffered in jobs, education, land distribution and justice at the hands of the 75 per cent Buddhist Sinhalese majority.

On the other hand, the Sinhalese too, have the outlook of a minority. Time and again the argument is heard: “We are but 12 million people alone in this world. No one else speaks our language, shares our culture.  Who else is the guardian of us but Buddha?  And, here we stand on a small island staring north at 50 million Tamils.”  So, to the Sinhalese it is not just the Tamils of Sri Lanka who are a threat but also those to the North in India, across the 18 mile (30 kilometer) Palk Strait.

Through the end of 1999, at least 60,000 people had died in this religious-based conflict.

In 2001, a suicide bomber, attributed to the Tamils, shattered Sri Lanka’s first-ever War Heros day, killing Cabinet Minister for Industrial Development C.V. Gooneratne as he walked among supporters in his parliamentary district of Ratmalana in Colombo, as well as 20 other people. 53 others were injured.

In early May, 2009 UN officials, speaking with the German Press Agency DPA on condition of anonymity, gave ‘conservative’ estimates that 7,000 and even possibly 8,000 people had been killed since the end of January in what many hope, were the final days of this deadly religious-based conflict.  Subsequently, in late May, the Sri Lankan government declared victory over the Tamils.  At least 80,000 people have been killed in this 26-year conflict, which also caused more than a quarter of a million refugees.

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