Tamils had a privileged status under British colonial rulers but have suffered discrimination in language, jobs and education since the Sinhalese majority took power after independence in 1948.
Successive governments have promised to address the problems, but progress has been slow or non-existent with Sinhalese and Tamil nationalism both on the rise.
Trouble in paradise
As Sinhalese Sri Lankans lit fire crackers and danced on the streets waving the national flag to celebrate the Tigers' demise, many Tamils felt nervous about the coming years.
"I don't really care if Prabhakaran is dead or alive, military people will not stop checking us," said S Perimbarajah, a housewife living in Colombo's Tamil-dominated Wellawatte area, also known as "Little Jaffna."
Image: Sri Lankans hold national flags as they celebrate the victory of military over Tamil Tiger rebels in Colombo, on Monday, May 18, 2009.
More on Prabhakaran :
The legend of the 'Sun god' | The End of Eelam war | Velupillai Prabhakaran: The elusive Tiger | Evidence of Lanka's brutal war