The ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) was mainly fueled in the 20th century by political leaders. However distress between the various ethnic groups present in Lanka dates back to pre-colonial and colonial times.
In the pre-colonial times the ethnic groups were divided and termed as Kambojas who were actively involved in trade, Dameda or Tamils who were the Tamil merchants, Milekha were an aboriginal population of Vedda people (People of the Forest) and others were Muridi, Merya and Jhavaka. These terms appeared in the pali chronicles.
In the modern times, Sinhalese, an Indo-aryan group constitute about 73.9% of the total population. They speak Sinhala and are predominantly Catholic or Buddhist. There are caste systems as well under it. The Lanka Tamils believed to be a Dravidian group constitute about 18% and speak Tamil. They are predominantly Hindu and live across the Palk Strait. The Indian Tamils form a distinct group and constitute about 5.2%. They were brought by the British to Lanka in the 19th century as tea and rubber plantation workers which is concentrated in the south-central of Srilanka.
The Moors comprise about 7% of the population and who believe are the descendants of Arab or Indian Muslim traders. The Malays descend from South East Asian settlers, and the Burghers are descendants of European colonists, principally from Portugal, the Netherlands and the UK.
Initially the Sinhala group dominated the island from 5th century BC. However the Tamils flourished under the Portuguese and Dutch reign. As the British brought then-Ceylon under its colonial rule, the demographic distribution of territories to Tamils created a whole concept of “Tamil homeland”. This was a major factor in the disputed between Sinhalese and Tamils. The tamil minority were also privileged in attaining jobs and educational opportunities under the British rule.
Religion played a part of the conflict as Buddhism was the earliest belief existing in Ceylon while Hinduism belonged to Indian Tamils and Islam came from the Arab traders. Conversion to Christianity by british missionaries was common practice and led to a group of Catholics among the Sinhalese.
As Sri Lanka became independent in 1948, the Sri Lankan government passed the Ceylon Citizenship Act and the 'Sinhala Only' Official Language Act. Establishing Sinhala as the official language was a political tool to take control of the administrative and educational policies. The emergence of Tamil nationalist movement was a strong reaction to these policies. The Tamil youth armed themselves and organized themselves into liberalization groups. It is here that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] was created and won favour from the youth and all tamils. It turned into a militant organisation founded by Vellupillai Prabhakaran who waged for an independent state for the Tamils.
The ethnic conflict finally came to an end as news reports say in 2009 as the Sri Lankan army defeated the forces of the LTTE. Sarath fonseka who led the army and defeated the LTTE force also killing Prabhakaran entered politics after the war.
India’s reaction to the end of this conflict was one of happiness. A statement was issued that India will to the best of their capabilities work with the people and government of Sri Lanka to provide relief to those affected by the brutal conflict.