Myths and Realities of Sri Lanka: Abuse of an Island’s History
by J Jayasundera on 25 Apr 2010 20 Comments

Sri Lanka, the tear drop island below India, is victim of a barrage of propaganda which is abusing her history, her religion, her soul, that needs addressing. Sri Lankan population comprises of 74% Sinhalese, 12% Sri Lankan Tamils, recent Indian immigrant labour 7%, and 7% Muslims. Sinhalese are mainly Buddhists and Tamils mainly Hindu.


Sri Lanka has been variously called Ceylon, Celan, Taprobane, etc. The ancient name is Sinhale, land of the Sinhalese, in Tamil Singhalam. Sinhale figures in the Chinese chronicles, including the records of Buddhist countries by Chinese Buddhist monks and historian Fa Hein (5th century AD). It is also called Eelam in Tamil. Some say Eelam originates from the word Hela(ela), the ancestors of the Sinhalese.


It is not easy to understand the problems of Sri Lanka until you understand the basic question - who is a Sinhalese? Sinha comes from the myth of Prince Vijaya, Hela the original people of Sri Lanka. Prince Vijaya was a Bengali Prince who came to Sri Lanka with his entourage and married into the native Hela people whose queen was Kuweni. The genetic analysis of the Sinhala people shows very little Bengali genes. A myth or the Bengali connection has no significant impact on the origins of the Sinhalese.


The Hela people spoke Elu, predecessor of the Sinhala language, derived from Prakrit, a pre-Sanskrit language. The earliest inscription of Sinhalese was in the 2nd century BC, and the script is of Brahmin origin. The origin of the Hela people is controversial. There were however waves of migrations from India who were amalgamated into Sinhala society. The Sinhalese are hence a very hybrid nation as expected of an island people. Post independent Sri Lankan leaders Bandaranaike and Jayewardene both have Tamil ancestors.


The issue of ethnicity will never be addressed unless one answers the next the question as to the origin of a Sri Lankan Tamil. This is a little complicated by the fact that European colonisers brought cheap labour from South India, late 16th century onwards. The Portuguese and the Dutch brought labour for tobacco cultivation, which was settled in the North and the East of the country. Yet all Tamils are more closely genetically connected to the Sinhalese than Indian Tamils. Is the Tamil Nadu connection another myth? It is another myth that all Tamils live in the north and South. 60% live in the so called Sinhala areas. The advocates of separatism wish to divide Sri Lanka the same way they divided India and Pakistan. A solution geared to eternal war and destabilisation of South Asia.




With the demise of Buddhism in India, it fell upon the Sinhalese to become the Guardians of Theravada Buddhism. Pluralism of Buddhism like all Indic philosophies had no problem in its interaction with Hinduism. Hindu Deity is part and parcel of a Buddhist temple, indicating the acceptance of waves of migrants of Hindus from India and the intermarriages between royalty. To this date it is the practice of Sinhala Buddhists to visit and pray in Hindu kovils and have pujas. In turn Tamils visit Buddhist temples where they have their own gods to pray. Buddha is considered the 9th reincarnation of Krishna. Buddhism and Hinduism are very closely integrated in Sri Lanka. It is a myth that the present conflict between the Tamils and Sinhalese is a battle between Buddhists and Hindus.


It is the monotheistic Abrahamic religions that could not integrate with Buddhism. This of course is complicated by the favouritism they enjoyed under British colonialism.


Colonialism and Sinhala Tamil Conflict


The Sinhala Tamil conflict has its origin in colonialism and neo-colonialism. The European colonisers, in order to control, went about diluting the Sinhala population by importing labour and settling them in such a manner to divide Sinhala society. In their divide and rule policy Tamils and Sinhalese Christians were used in all public services. Sinhala Buddhists were denied the right of employment. They did this by denying an English education - the medium of administration. The majority of the Sinhalese were forced to get education in vernacular schools which did not teach English. The schools went up to the seventh standard. Any one else who wanted an English education had to convert to Christianity. There again, there were not many schools to go to. Majority of the Sinhalese refused to compromise their religion and culture and convert to Christianity. At independence there were more schools in Jaffna than in the rest of the country, except Colombo.


The British established nine administrative provinces in such a manner as to dilute the Sinhala Buddhist population. After the 1818 uprising, the British felt that Buddhism was the binding force that prevented complete subjugation of the people. All temple lands were taken over by the imposition of the Wastelands Act (those that did not have Deeds). The rebellion led to the Colebrook–Cameron Commission and demarcation of provinces to prevent any further uprisings. That is how the North and the Eastern provinces were created. The claim of a homeland in these two provinces is a figment of someone’s imagination.


At Independence in 1948, helped by the discriminatory education and public policy by the British, public service employees were 80% Tamil mainly Christian; majority of the others were Sinhala Christians; Tamils (mainly Christian) dominated the professions because of the British discriminatory education policy; it took 15 years before the Tamil Christian head of the army Muttukumaru was replaced, longer to replace the Tamil Christian head of the navy. The minority Tamils, mainly Christians, were the right hand of colonialism; a power they find difficult to let go.


Jaffna Society


Jaffna was a very caste-orientated society. The Vellala caste dominated Jaffna society. Politics was conducted by Tamils residing in Colombo, mainly Christians, who never gave up the power over Tamils residing in Jaffna. The caste-ridden Jaffna society was more discriminatory than any other society in Sri Lanka. Prabhakaran, a low caste Tamil, was as much against the Vellala caste, and hence killed most of the so called Tamil leaders such as Amirthalingam, Tiruchelvum etc.


Pre Independence


Sri Lanka got independence in 1948. The all powerful Jaffna Elite initially in the run up to independence protested against the one-man one-vote advocated by the British. When that failed, they demanded 50-50 of the parliamentary seats for 12% of the populace (Ponnambalam); when that failed the Christian Chelvanayagam demanded a separate state.  Demands for separation began much before independence and alleged discrimination (another myth). The demand was more by the arrogance the community had acquired by dominating the Sinhala majority for over 200 years, working hand in glove with the colonialists. The realism of the Sinhala majority acquiring power was never acceptable.


Myth of Democracy and Independence


The ethno-religious harmony of the pre-colonial period was destroyed by conversion and economic empowerment of favoured groups. Introduction of a Westminster style government only helped to make matters worse by creating a conflict between the deprived majority Sinhala Buddhist and the rest. The so called democracy helped create a divided polity based on narrow communal interests. No national consensus could be created to address national issues of development, economy, human rights. The varying political interests failed to provide the necessary checks and balances needed to provide a viable democracy. It virtually created a system of democratic dictatorship, democracy being confined to about two seconds during which you vote.


Independence to the colonies was given by the British once they had a good stranglehold on the international banking system and world markets. This unfortunately has evolved into a web of deceit and exploitation whereby inter-communal relations are further disrupted by a lack of resources to share. Independence given to the colonies was a poison chalice with the ulterior motive of continuation of neo-colonialism and exploitation.


Sinhala Nationalism


After independence, disenfranchised Sinhala Buddhists demanded their rightful place in society. The political reality of the Sinhala educated majority produced the Sinhala-only bill of 1956, the only way Sinhalese could also partake in the governance of the country, a much derided policy that has been misconstrued as discriminatory to Tamils. It was only a correction of 200 years of discrimination by the British. For Tamils and Christians this meant an end to their stranglehold over Sinhala Buddhists.


Protest against the Sinhala only was followed by the anti-Sri campaign against the use of SRI instead of English letters in car registration, a very Asian symbol to which the Christian Chelvanayagam instigated Tamils to protest. This led to communal riots of 1958, a typical post-Macaulay response to a native aspiration be it Sinhala or Tamil.


Christian and Tamil response to Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism


The Catholic Church with the help of Catholics in important positions started a campaign of favouritism to Catholics, mainly Tamils, discriminating Sinhala Buddhists. This was called Catholic Action, which later led to a failed coup by Christian Sinhala and Tamil officers. Minority behaviour of undermining majority aspirations was in full swing in 1950-1970, the period during which the power they had acquired during colonialism was used to the maximum. Even the armed forces were not spared the bias towards Christians.


Myth of Discrimination

University admissions


In early 1970, Minister Badduhideen introduced an area rule for university education. In 1970, about 50%- 60% of the medical faculty was Tamils from Jaffna and Colombo, over representation for 12% of the people. The basis was that both Colombo and Jaffna had undue advantage of well established educational institutions established by the colonialists. Students from Colombo and Jaffna had to achieve higher marks than the deprived areas. Tamils from Vanni and Batticoloa benefitted at the expense of Sinhalese and Tamils of Colombo and Tamils of Jaffna. This was not anti-Tamil, but the myth was propagated. In 1970, there was an uprising of Sinhala youth whose aspirations post-independence were not met by the government. In reality no government could ignore the youth of the country who did not live in Colombo or Jaffna.


Now Jaffna has a mono-ethnic university and the rest of the country has national universities where Tamil students are admitted. Still the propaganda of discrimination continues. Part of it is for the community to be accepted in prosperous nations as refugees for economic reasons. The highly paid professional Tamils in the west should confront the myth of discrimination. The irony is that the some of the accusation of discrimination comes from the Diaspora- based in UK under the patronage of the British, who are masters at discrimination. It was very aptly put by a Tamil Refugee who said he did not know what discrimination was until he came to Britain. Contrary to the general belief, it was Sinhala Buddhists who suffered discrimination by an education system created by the British. To this date Christian denomination schools dominate the education system of the country.




Sinhalese employment in the public sector gradually reduced the number of Tamils employed in the Sinhala areas, but Tamils dominate public services in Tamil dominated areas. The correction of ethnic mix was inevitable. The private sector in the south administered in English has a good mix of the communities. However it is true that the failure of the open economy pushed many Sri Lankans of all ethnic groups to migrate to the west for economic reasons.




Following the establishment of an open economy in 1977, the already established institutions, mainly Christian, Tamil and Muslim, benefited. To this date, these people not the Sinhala Buddhists, dominate commercial activity of the country. Sinhala Buddhists having been discriminated by the colonialists did not have the resources to exploit the open economy. You have only to go to Sea Street in Colombo to see the various Tamil businesses that dominate the import export businesses. Sinhalese are yet to rid themselves of the economic deprivation by the colonialists. What do Sinhalese have that the Tamils do not have is a question never answered. The only persistent cry one hears is discrimination against the Tamils.


Myth of a Homeland


The claim for a homeland is nothing more than a refusal of Tamils to accept the new reality of assertion of Sinhala rights suppressed for centuries by British colonialism. One-third of the land and two-third of the sea front, but later to be joined by the Tamils of the central province, to establish a Tamil state for 19% of the populace (virtually 50% of the country). The basis is that they had been a Tamil-dominated kingdom led by a sub-King in Jaffna! The Vanni and eastern province was part of the Kandyan Sinhala Kingdom. The provinces were created by the British to dilute Sinhala dominance by manipulating land size and colonizing with immigrant labour. The Sinhalese like the Palestinians are paying the price. Sinhala land for a Tamil homeland will never be acceptable to the Sinhalese. Sinhalese always consider Tamils to be part and parcel of a Sinhala Nation. Sri Lankan Tamils live in every part of the country and are accepted everywhere. The Sinhalese and Muslims of the Northern province have been ethnically cleansed by Prabhakaran.


North and East confirm that many communities lived with the Sinhala majority. Vallipuram gold plate found in Point Pedro, Sinhalese inscriptions in Kandarodai in the Buddhist temple in Uduvil, and the Inscription of Tunukai are a few of the evidence of Sinhala presence. The book, Temple and Spiritual Concept of Ceylon, by the Portuguese historian Father Fernao de Queyroz confirms that in 1560 Sinhalese was the official language of the Jaffna peninsula.


During the handing over, the terms and conditions were in Portuguese and Sinhalese. He confirms that Jaffna Putnam was wrested by defeating the Cingalezan forces in Achiavelli by the great pagoda. Historical Relations of Ceylon by Robert Knox confirms the authority of the Sinhala king in Kottiar Bay in the east, where he was arrested in 1600. The evidence is overwhelming of the Sinhala presence in the North and the East. The Tamilised Sinhalese are still present in the North as Koviyars, Nalavas and Tanakaras. This is confirmed by Mudliyar Rasanayagam in 1926 in his book Ancient Jaffna. The claim of a Tamil homeland in the North and the East of Sri Lanka would make Tamils the only nation in the whole world to have two homelands, one in Tamil Nadu in India and another in Sri Lanka.


’83 riots ‘Black July’


When sticks of dynamite were stolen from the KKS cement factory, UK newspapers were quite explicit in its purpose. Newspapers expressed the opinion that it was meant to kill army personnel to cause a reaction in the rest of the country. Surprise, surprise, 9 soldiers were killed within a short period thereafter. This precipitated the riots of 1983 where 2000 Tamils were killed. The killings were carried out by governing party goons ready with electoral registers to carry out the massacre. The ruling party had Sinhala, Muslim and even Tamil members, a clear indication that the set plan was working.


The international media was ready to broadcast it to the rest of the world, a facility denied to the Sinhalese when 70,000 of its youth were killed by the same pro-west regime. The nearest equivalent of this occurred in Bosnia before the Balkan war and balkanisation of Yugoslavia. Muslims after Friday prayer were drinking coffee when gunmen came and shot them in cold blood; that was the beginning of the end. No one knows till today who these gunmen were. This is how powerful countries work to achieve their geo-political aims. Interestingly, the UNP, the governing party in 1983, is infiltrated by Christians led by a son of a convert. It is now identified by most Sinhala Buddhists as being anti-national.


Terrorism and the Catholic Church


The Catholic Church has an age old policy of converting and dominating the people of non-Abrahamic nations and making them servile to western domination. Their servility to western nations is best confirmed by the policies in Latin America. Immediately after independence it was Catholic Action with a failed coup. Now they dominate and manipulate both business and the media. The dominance over the media is best exemplified by the fact that the Sri Lankan media completely censored the sexual abuse of children by catholic priests which makes headlines all over the world.


It is a well known secret that the Catholic Church supported and encouraged Tiger terrorism led by Prabhakaran, said to be a Catholic. The Catholic priests of both South India and Sri Lanka were active participants in the movement. The World Council of Churches was the other participants as were Christian NGOs. The Christian movement in the UK encouraged and helped establish the movement in the west. The LTTE had its head office in London from where it collected money and plotted the death and destruction and destabilisation of Sri Lanka and South Asia.  


The sponsor of Tamil Tigers in the UK parliament is Mr Keith Vaz, a Catholic. The leader of the Tamil Forum Emmanuel is a Catholic Priest. The chief political strategist of the LTTE, the late Anton Balasingham, was a Catholic who worked in the British High Commission and was a British Citizen. It is unfortunate that Tamil professionals who enjoyed the rights of free education and even bursaries joined together with the neo-colonial interests to destabilise the country that gave them the avenue to prosperity in the west.  


Anti Sinhala Buddhist propaganda


Western Christian media have used the conflict to denigrate Buddhism. A leading British magazine in Britain had a caricature of Buddha with a AK 46 in one hand and grenade in the other when it carried an article on the conflict. The commonest slogan one hears is Sinhala Buddhist hegemonism. For two hundred years Sinhala Buddhists were discriminated. Demand for justice and its rightful place in society is a right of any people. To misconstrue that as Sinhala Buddhist hegemony is immoral. Interestingly, Sinhala Christians are absolved of the allegation. The other slogan is the Mahavansa mindset. Mahavansa is a history of the kings who ruled Sri Lanka, including Tamils. These are slogans of people attacking the soul of a nation to destroy it. They cannot be native or but are surrogates working for an alien power.


Geopolitics and separation


Sri Lanka is unfortunately placed at the southern-most tip of India and control of Sri Lanka could control navigation in the Indian Ocean. The North and the East is the closest to India, from where India could be destabilised. Separation thus would give a foothold in Sri Lanka for the enemies of India. The behaviour of Tamil Tigers in killing Rajiv Gandhi, involvement in the internal politics of South India and terrorists’ movements in India indicate that their aims were not Tamil nationalism. The dependence of the west on the Tamil Tigers was best epitomised by the Kerry Report. Senator Kerry was hurriedly sent to Sri Lanka after the defeat of the LTTE to asses the ground situation. One of the issues discussed was the destabilisation of India.


Now the west has encouraged the formation of a trans-national Tamil Government and holds the threat of War crimes against the Colombo government and military. The UN, a surrogate organisation of the west, has appointed a team to inquire human rights abuses. Where were they when a pro-west government killed 70,000 Sinhala youth who were rebelling against a government that had imposed a western-sponsored economic system in 1988-1989? Not one single word was heard from these humanists or the moral media. Immense pressure is now been put on the government by the west to achieve what they could not achieve by war. The Foreign Minister of the UK recently addressed a meeting of the Tamil Forum in the British Parliament, giving legitimacy to their aims. The neo-colonial aims are still alive.




The Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka were two communities that lived in harmony right through the ages before the arrival of the British. This is best exemplified by the war between the most derided Sinhala king Dutugemunu and Tamil King Elara. The warriors on both sides were either Tamil or Sinhalese. After King Elara was killed, his ashes were enshrined in a stupa and the Sinhala king ordered that everyone had to get down and walk past the stupa, all processions should stop any music as a mark of respect for the Tamil King. No matter what the conflicts were between the rulers and the ruled and between those vying for power, one tradition and one culture remained, whether Buddhist or Hindu.


It was British colonialism that introduced racial and religious connotations to Sinhale, thus laying the seeds of social discord. Sinhalese Buddhists are victims of this religious-cultural genocide which still resonate in this country. The community has still not recovered despite 60 years of Independence. Colonialism has reared its ugly head again, supported by the Catholic Church. Sinhala-Tamil disunity that the British created is used again to propagate its own geopolitical interests.


Ayn Rand in her essay Global Balkanisation wrote, “there is no surer way to infect mankind with hatred, brute, blind, virulent hatred – than by splitting it into ethnic groups or tribes.” This is the policy that has sown seeds of hatred from Bosnia to East Timor, creating so much death and destruction for their geo-political interests.


The stability of south Asia is a legitimate concern of all countries in the region. It is time that SAARC responds to this intrusion. Colonial remnants must not be allowed to propagate the neo-colonial agenda.


The author is a Sri Lanka citizen

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