Looking back at Lanka Tamil Eelam conflict

Last Updated: Wed, Jan 28, 2009 07:11 hrs

A look at the history of Sri Lanka and how the struggle for Tamil Eelam began and gained momentum.

Area: Around 66,000 sqkm (40,000 sq km Sinhala homeland; 26,000 sq km Tamil homeland — 1948 situation).

Population: Just crossed the mark of 2 crore (estimates, 2006), (74% Sinhala speaking, 25.2% Tamil speaking and 0.8% others - 1981 census, proper census of population not held thereafter).

1505 AD to 1947

  • 1505: Portuguese arrive in the island - which had 3 kingdoms, viz Upcountry Sinhala Kandyan, Low country Sinhala Kotte and the Tamil Kingdom stretching from Waikkaal Aru above Negombo in the northwest to Kumbukkan Aru in the southeast.
  • 1505: Portuguese conquest of the Kotte Sinhala Kingdom.
  • 1619: Portuguese conquest of the Tamil Kingdom
  • 1656: Dutch conquest of the Kotte Sinhala Kingdom
  • 1658: Dutch conquest of the Tamil Kingdom.
  • 1796: British take over the 2 Kingdoms, rule them separately through the East India Company Governor from Madras (Chennai).
  • 1803: Ceylon becomes a British colony with its own Governor in Colombo.
  • 1805: British occupation of Tamil Wanni (chieften Pandara Wanniayan)
  • Lankan troops capture Mullaittivu

  • 1815: British occupation of the Kandyan Sinhala Kingdom.
  • 1823: Tamil labourers for the hill country plantations started arriving from Tamil Nadu.
  • 1833: Colebrooke reforms, unifying the three different administrative systems into one: seeds sown for a unitary political-cum-administrative structure.
  • 1883: Anti-Christian uprising by the Buddhist bikkus at Kotahena, Colombo.
  • 1888: Anti-colonial revolt in Kandy.
  • 1909: Tamil Association convened in Jaffna by James Hensman (who taught English to Silver tongued Srinivasa Sastri at Kumbakonam) seeks independence for the Tamils from the British.
  • 1915: Sinhala — Muslim riots.
  • 1917: Arrival of labour for the Colombo harbour from Kerala.
  • 1919: Ceylon National Congress founded with Arunachalam as president.
  • 1921: Manning reforms
  • 1921: Arunachalam resigns from the CNC in the wake of Sinhala extremism within the CNC, to form the Ceylon Tamil League.
  • 1924: Jaffna Youth Congress convened.
  • Prabhakaran lives more than 40 ft underground

  • 1925: Kandyan national forum — S W R D Bandaranaike seeks a federal form of government with three states: Kandyan state, Tamil state and the Kotte state — the pre 1833 status of political-cum-administrative structure.
  • 1925: June 28th: Mahendra Pact between Tamils and Sinhalese; subsequently abrogated unilaterally by the Sinhalese yielding to Sinhala extremism.
  • 1931: Tamil Mahajana Saba convened.
  • 1931: Donoughmore reforms. Unitary constitution promulgated. Universal franchise introduced.
  • 1931: Elections to the state council — Jaffna Youth Congress boycott.
  • 1936: Second elections to the state council.
  • 1937: Sinhala Maha Saba convened by S W R D Bandaranaike.
  • 1939: A K Gopalan visits Colombo to contain the anti-Malayalee wave; the visit is a failure; his May 1st meeting at Colombo disrupted by Sinhala extremists. Malayalees return to Kerala in batches.
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  • 1939: Legislations enacted (a) to prevent plantation Tamil workers from acquiring lands in the Sinhala homeland; (b) to prevent plantation Tamils from state employment; (c) to deport a batch of plantation Tamils to India; (d) to prevent further arrival of labourers from Tamil Nadu.
  • 1939: Jawaharlal Nehru visits Colombo to contain this anti-Indian wave, convenes the Ceylon Indian Congress; July 26th public meeting where Jawaharlal Nehru speaks at the Galle Face Green disrupted by Sinhala extremists.
  • 1944: All Ceylon Tamil Congress convened by G G Ponnambalam.
  • 1944: Soulbury Commission sittings.
  • 1944: Sinhala and Tamil to be the official languages — state council legislation discussed.
  • 1947:Soulbury (Unitary) constitution promulgated. Section 29 provides safeguards for the minorities.
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  • February 4, 1948: British handed over power to the Sinhalese majority parliament; dominion status (independence) granted to Ceylon by the British crown.
  • December 1948: December Ceylon Citizenship Act — deprives nearly a million plantation Tamils, their citizenship. Non-violent protesters led by S Thondaman beaten up by Sinhala hoodlums.
  • December 1948: Federal Party convened by S J V Chelvanayagam. Policy: Two linguistic states, one for the Tamils in their traditional homeland; another for the Sinhalese in their traditional homeland; a federal government at the centre, (citing Swiss model) as the minimum arrangement under which Tamils will agree to be part of a unified Ceylon. If the Sinhalese will not agree, the Tamils will opt to form their sovereign state, resurrecting what was lost to the Portuguese in 1619.
  • 1949: Indian and Pakistani (Residents) Citizenship Act confirms the previous position with regard to the citizenship of the plantation Tamils.
  • 1948 — 1952:  State sponsored colonization by the Sinhalese of the most fertile portions of the traditional Tamil homeland in the north-east, imposing demographic changes favourable to the Sinhalese.
  • 1954: Prime Minister Kotalawela announces at a public function in Jaffna to make Sinhala and Tamil official languages; later he withdraws his statement at his Kelaniya (UNP) convention yielding to Sinhala extremism.
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  • 1956: Tamils elect Federal Party as their principal political voice in the general election.
  • 1956: Sinhalese only Act. Sinhalese became the official language. Non-violent protesters led by all the Tamil leaders beaten up by the Sinhala hoodlums.
  • 1957: Bandaranaike - Chelvanayagam pact provided for Regional Councils. Unilaterally abrogated by Prime Minister Bandaranaike yielding to Sinhala extremism.
  • 1958: Mayhem with genocidal intent; an example of state sponsored terrorism; Tamils anywhere attacked mercilessly, their properties looted, their business houses burnt, many thousands killed, injured and internally displaced. India provided ships to transport Tamils to safety.
  • 1960: Tamils elect Federal Party as their principal political voice in the general election.
  • 1961:Sinhalese army plagued non-violent sathyagrahis in Jaffna. Tamil leaders placed under house arrest. Tamils have the taste of an invading army for the first time since 1619. Entire Tamil homeland had never witnessed any army presence or action during the British occupation (except 1. to subdue the defiant Pandara Vannyan during early part of the nineteenth century; 2. a British left over base in Trincomalee, and 3. second world war years).
  • 1964: S J V Chelvanayagam leads a massive non-violent pada yathra across the Tamil homeland to demonstrate the unwillingness of the Tamils to accept Sinhala over lordship.
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  • 1964: Srimavo — Sasthri pact leads to the deportation of about 400,000 plantation Tamils to India.
  • 1965: Tamils elect Federal Party as their principal political voice in the general election.
  • 1965: Dudley — Chelvanayagam pact provided for district councils. Unilaterally abrogated by Prime Minister Dudly Senanaike yielding to Sinhala extremism.
  • 1970: Tamils elect Federal Party as their principal political voice in the general election.
  • 1971: Standardization of marks obtained at competitive examinations for entry to professional courses at university level favouring Sinhala students. The cream among the Tamil literate resort to violent means of meeting the situation — that was the budding of today's active militancy.
  • 1972: Brirtish Dominion Ceylon becomes the Republic of Sri Lanka through an illegal assertion and transfer of power; Tamils boycott the constituent assembly proceedings; burn a copy of the 1972 constitution; S J V Chelvanayagam resigns his seat in parliament, throws a challenge to the government to defeat him in a by-election; in 1975, Chelvanayagam wins the by-election defeating the government's candidate who loses his deposit; the electorate gave a verdict with a paradigm shift from federalism to the establishment of an independent sovereign state of Tamil Eelam.  
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  • 1974 — 1976:Kachativu agreement gave unbridled power to the trigger happy Sinhala naval force to gun down many hundreds of Tamil fisher folk from Tamil Nadu in the Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar.
  • 1974: Government bans organizing of the fourth International Conference Seminar on Tamil Studies in Jaffna; defiant Tamil academics and organizers conduct the academic sessions; Sinhala police opens fire to kill 9 innocent Tamils on the last day of the meet.
  • 1976: Chelvanayagam, G G Ponnambalam and S Thondaman team up to form a pan-Tamil coalition named Tamil United Front; resolve at its first session at Vaddukkoddai to work for the creation of a sovereign, independent democratic, socialist, secular republic of Tamil Eelam.
  • 1977: Tamil United Front, renamed Tamil United Liberation Front contested all the parliamentary seats in the traditional homeland of the Tamils; sought and received the mandate from the electorate by winning almost all the parliamentary constituencies with massive lead votes to proceed towards the implementation of the Vaddukoddai resolution, viz., to work for the creation of a sovereign, independent democratic, socialist, secular republic of Tamil Eelam.

This note was prepared by Maravanpulavu K Sachithananthan for the participants at a consultative meeting on Sri Lanka on 1st August 2006 at Chennai.

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