Sri Lankan Civil War [1983 - 2009]

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Mar 7, 2023, 12:10

The Sri Lankan Civil War lasted from 1983 to 2009. It was battled in Sri Lanka. The primary conflict in the Sri Lankan Civil War was between the separatist Tamil forces and the government.

The war was bloody, with over 150000 people killed on each side, accounting for civilians. The government took nearly 26 years to end the brutal civil war, which began in 1983 as a tiny rebellion.

Sri Lankan Civil War History

Sri Lankans are primarily of the Sinhalese ethnicity, an Indo-European sect that arrived on the Sri Lankan Island in the 500s BC from the northern part of India. The Tamils, who lived in the southern region of the Indian subcontinent, were in touch with the Sinhalese.

Owing to this, between the 7th and 11th centuries CE, the Tamils underwent a significant migration. In 1815 when the British took over Lanka, the Sinhalese population was estimated to be over 3 million, while the Tamil population was around 300,000.

Aside from ethnic differences, the two groups also had different religious connections. The Sinhalese were Buddhists, whereas the Tamils were primarily Hindus. From 1815 to 1948, when the British ruled Sri Lanka, they transported nearly a million Tamils to work in the coffee, tea, and rubber plantations.

Sri Lankan Civil War - Overview

In the northern region, where the Tamils were the majority, the British also built good educational and other facilities. For the government services as well, they favoured Tamils. This naturally engendered animosity among the Sinhalese and paved the way for the dreaded Sri Lankan Civil War.

Following independence from the British, the new government passed numerous laws discriminating against Tamils. Sinhala was proclaimed the sole official language, excluding Tamils from government employment.

A law was also passed that made it impossible for Indian Tamils to obtain citizenship. These were the initial triggers of the Sri Lankan Civil War. Seeing the unfair system, the Tamils started protesting peacefully to obtain equal and fundamental rights.

However, the ethnic conflicts continued to rise in the country, and successive Sinhalese governments did nothing to ensure that the Tamil people had equal rights and opportunities. They were even the victims of sectarianism

Due to the persistent oppression and violent treatment of Sri Lankan Tamils by the Sinhalese-dominated Sri Lankan government, the LTTE or the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was formed in 1976. The LTTE sought to establish an independent Tamil state titled the Tamil Eelam in the island's northeast.

Timeline of Sri Lankan Civil War

1948Sri Lanka gains independence from the British
1956-1970Tamil alienation begins through the execution of discriminatory laws
1975Prabhakan established the LTTE or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
1978The issues triggering the Sri Lankan Civil Wars gain momentum
1983The Sri Lankan Civil War officially begins
1987The Indian peace Keeping force enters the Sri Lankan Civil War
1990The Indian peace Keeping force exits the Sri Lankan Civil War
1991Rajiv Gandhi is assassinated by a female bomber of the LTTE group
2009The government reclaims territory from the LTTE, ending the Sri Lankan Civil War

Consequences of Sri Lankan Civil War

The Rajapaksa government decided to finally end the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2007 by launching an all-out onslaught against the LTTE. Thousands of civilians died in the crossfire as government forces and the LTTE engaged in a fierce battle. The government was also accused of killing people and razing entire villages.

The events leading up to the LTTE's collapse in 2009 were described as a "bloodbath" by international and UN observers. The President of Sri Lanka announced the death of LTTE commander Prabhakaran and that the government troops had won the war on May 19.

Many people breathed a sigh of relief because the brutal Sri Lankan Civil War had proven far too expensive. Unfortunately, there have been reports that the army assassinated several Tamil commanders even after surrendering.

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At its peak, the LTTE was a full-fledged infantry, complete with its air force. Its activities included women and even children. The battle continued, with both sides committing innumerable acts of atrocity and brutality. Peace discussions were also held, with international actors, mainly Norway, intervening. Nothing was successful.

Even India, which had intervened as a peacekeeping nation and a neighbour, had its then-president Rajiv Gandhi assassinated by the LTTE.

Approximately 40,000 individuals are thought to have died in the closing days of the battle. The Sri Lankan government faced a monumental challenge in delivering relief and assistance to the homeless and wounded. The Sri Lankan Civil War's entire cost for 26 years is around USD 200 billion.

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FAQs on Sri Lankan Civil War

Q1. What was the main cause of the Sri Lankan Civil War?

The Sri Lankan Civil War started as a call against the discriminatory and unjust behaviour towards Tamil who had migrated to Sri Lanka during the British reign from 1815 to 1948.

Q2. Who fought the Sri Lankan Civil War?

The Sri Lankan Civil War was fought between the Government of Sri Lanka, primarily representing the Sinhalese, and the LTTE or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (led by Prabhakaran) presented the Tamilian population in Sri Lanka.

Q3. When was the Sri Lankan Civil War fought?

The Sri Lankan Civil War was started on July 23, 1983.

Q4. What were the long-lasting consequences of the Sri Lankan Civil War?

The Sri Lankan Civil War lasted for over 26 years, costing over 200 billion USD and losing the life of 40000 individuals, including civilians.

Q5. What were the consequences of the Sri Lankan Civil War on India?

The Sri Lankan Civil War resulted in the assassination of India's then-president, Mr Rajiv Gandhi, by a female LTTE Bomber after India intervened in the war with its peacekeeping force.