Origin and evolution
The origins of the Sri Lankan Civil War lie in the continuous political rancor between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils. The roots of the modern conflict lie in the British colonial rule when the country was known as Ceylon. There was initially little tension among Sri Lanka's two largest ethnic groups, the Sinhalese and the Tamils, when Ponnambalam Arunachalam, a Tamil, was appointed representative of the Sinhalese as well the Tamils in the national legislative council. In 1919 major Sinhalese and Tamil political organizations united to form the Ceylon National Congress, under the leadership of Arunachalam, to press the colonial government for more constitutional reforms. However, British Gov. William Manning actively encouraged the concept of "communal representation" and created the Colombo town seat in 1920, which dangled between the Tamils and the Sinhalese.
After their election to the State Council in 1936, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) members N.M. Perera and Philip Gunawardena demanded the replacement of English as the official language by Sinhala and Tamil. In November 1936 a motion that "in the Municipal and Police Courts of the Island the proceedings should be in the vernacular" and that "entries in police stations should be recorded in the language in which they are originally stated" were passed by the State Council and referred to the Legal Secretary. However, in 1944 J.R. Jayawardene moved in the State Council that Sinhala should replace English as the official language.
In 1948, immediately after independence, a controversial law was passed by the Ceylon Parliament called the Ceylon Citizenship Act, which deliberately discriminated against the Indian Tamil ethnic minority by making it virtually impossible for them to obtain citizenship in the country. Approximately over 700,000 Indian Tamils were made stateless. Over the next three decades more than 300,000 Indian Tamils were deported back to India. It wasn't until 2003–55 years after independence—that all Indian Tamils living in Sri Lanka were granted citizenship, but by this time they only made up 5% of the island's population.
In 1956 Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike passed the "Sinhala Only Act", which replaced English with Sinhala as the only official language of the country. This was seen as a deliberate attempt to discourage the Sri Lankan Tamils from working in the Ceylon Civil Service and other public services. The Tamil-speaking minorities of Ceylon (Sri Lankan Tamils, Indian Tamils and Sri Lankan Moors) viewed the Act as linguistic, cultural and economic discrimination against them. Many Tamil-speaking civil servants/public servants were forced to resign because they weren't fluent in Sinhala. This was a prelude to the 1956 Gal Oya riots and the 1958 widespread riots in which thousands of Tamil civilians perished. The civil war was a direct result of the escalation of the confrontational politics that followed.
In the late 1960s documents relating to a separate Tamil state of "Tamil Eelam" began to circulate. At this time Anton Balasingham, an employee of the British High Commission in Colombo, began to participate in separatist activities. He later migrated to Britain, where he became the chief theoretician of the LTTE. In the late 1960s several Tamil youth, among them Velupillai Prabhakaran, also became involved in these activities. They carried out several hit-and-run operations against pro-government Tamil politicians, Sri Lanka police and the civil administration.
During the 1970s the Policy of standardization was initiated. Under the policy, students were admitted to university in proportion to the number of applicants who sat for the examination in their language. Officially the policy was designed to increase the representation of students from rural areas. In practice the policy reduced the numbers of Sri Lankan Tamil students who had previously, based on their examination scores alone, gained admission in a higher proportion than their participation in the examination. They were now required to gain higher marks than Sinhalese students to gain admission to universities. For instance, the qualifying mark for admission to the medical faculties was 250 out of 400 for Tamil students, but only 229 for Sinhalese. The number of Sri Lankan Tamil students entering universities fell dramatically. The policy was abandoned in 1977.
Other forms of official discrimination against the Sri Lankan Tamils included the of traditional Tamil areas by Sinhalese peasants, the banning of the import of Tamil-language media and the preference given by the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka to Buddhism, the main religion followed by the Sinhalese.
Prabhakaran—together with Chetti Thanabalasingam, a well known criminal from Kalviyankadu, Jaffna—formed the Tamil New Tigers (TNT) in 1972. This was formed around an ideology that looked back to the 1st Millennium Chola Empire—the Tiger was the emblem of that empire.
A further movement, the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS), formed in Manchester and London; it became the backbone of the Eelamist movement in the diaspora, arranging passports and employment for immigrants and levying a heavy tax on them. It became the basis of the Eelamist logistical organization, later taken over entirely by the LTTE. The formation of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) with the Vaddukkodei (Vattukottai) resolution of 1976 led to a hardening of attitudes. The resolution called for the creation of a secular, socialist state of Tamil Eelam, based on the right of self-determination.
The TULF clandestinely supported the armed actions of the young militants who were dubbed "our boys". TULF leader Appapillai Amirthalingam even provided letters of reference to the LTTE and to other Tamil insurgent groups to raise funds. Amirthalingam introduced Prabhakaran to N.S. Krishnan, who later became the first international representative of LTTE. It was Krishnan who introduced Prabhakaran to Anton Balasingham, who later became the chief political strategist and chief negotiator of LTTE. The "boys" were the product of the post-war population explosion. Many partially educated, unemployed Tamil youth fell for revolutionary solutions to their problems. The leftist parties had remained "non-communal" for a long time, but the Federal Party (as well as its offshoot, the TULF), deeply conservative and dominated by Vellalar casteism, did not attempt to form a national alliance with the leftists in their fight for language rights.
Following the sweeping electoral victory of the United National Party (UNP) in July 1977, the TULF became the leading opposition party, with around one-sixth of the total electoral vote winning on a party platform of secession from Sri Lanka. After the 1977 riots the J.R. Jayewardene government made one concession to the Tamil population; it lifted the policy of standardization for university admission that had driven many Tamil youths into militancy. The concession was regarded by the militants as too little too late, and violent attacks continued. By this time TULF started losing its grip over the militant groups. LTTE ordered civilians to boycott the local government elections of 1983 in which even TULF contested. Voter turnout was as low as 10%. Thereafter, Tamil political parties were unable to represent the interests of the Tamil community.