We are often told that finding the root cause of a given problem will help us formulate a solution. Unfortunately, the world is a complex place with causal relationships difficult to establish. In most cases, there are a variety of factors working together to propel any given phenomenon and the likelihood of identifying, let alone understanding their interactions, is almost non-existent. This article does not claim to provide a complete picture of the root causes of Sri Lanka`s ethnic conflict, however, it is an attempt to explain some of the contributors to what became a bloody civil war that plagued the island for 25 years at the cost of thousands of its sons and daughters. This is a layered approach, first examining the psyche, the narrative of the people involved and then delving into the situations and their interpretations that created Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict.
Destined for Conflict?
Many are often drawn to simplistic explanations that often draw the warring sides as natural enemies; communities destined for war since the days of old. Such claims come up when discussing conflicts between the Arabs and Jews or Shiites and Sunnis. The same has been said about Sri Lanka`s ethnic conflict, that the Sinhalese and Tamil people have struggled for dominance since the ancient times, captured perfectly in the war between the Sinhala King Duttagamani and the Tamil King Elara. Furthermore, rulers in the Southern (Tamil speaking) Indian kingdoms often sought to invade Sri Lanka. These stories become part of a narrative that plays a major role in shaping the Sinhala identity and while the events in themselves are not proof of a natural enmity between the communities, their re-telling has given birth to a strong construct that makes sense of the present through the past.