Human burials older than 50,000 years have been unearthed in this island called Sri Lanka. The island’s proximity to the southern coast of India, separated only by a 50-kilometer strait, is also a geographical fact that would have contributed to this peopling. The presence of a submerged land connection and references to tsunami in the regional literature and the 2004 tsunami in the region strongly suggests that there was also a land connection between the island and southern India at some point in pre-history. Archeological evidence in the island also points to a civilization that is more than 2000 years old which parallels similar developments in southern India.
When the first Portuguese colonials came to the island 500 years ago, they had recorded the presence of two different peoples, Sinhalese and Tamils. Based on archeological evidence, it is now another established fact that the two peoples have occupied the island for more than 2,000 years. This history, caught up in the nationalist rhetoric, is controversial and is still developing. It should also be noted that in addition to these two communities, there was and is another distinct community of Tamil-speaking people who follow Islam and a much smaller hunter-gatherer community which has now been assimilated into the two major communities.
The last of the colonials, Britain, was present in India and the island of Sri Lanka for more than 150 years before leaving both lands in the late 1940’s. Earlier in their rule of the island, the British colonialists divided the land in the island based on the majority population in the region as Tamil provinces and Sinhala provinces (see Figure 1).
As in many parts of the world, Britain sowed the seeds for the current majoritarian Sinhala ideology which is evidenced in the academic publications from Britain of that period. These publications took a mythical story of the Sinhala people as descendants of a lion and female human as fact and further enhanced it with the Aryan supremacist theory of that period.
Britain knowingly left the island to the majoritarian rule after having indoctrinated the majority Sinhalese as Aryans, thus ensuring that they would be Britain’s friend forever. The main interest of Britain then and the United States now is to ensure a friendly government in the island that will permit them the use of its strategic Trincomalee harbor for military purpose.
Thus even before Britain left the island, the majoritarian-based land encroachment had started in 1935. This process has continued for nearly 100 years in many different forms and is still continuing.
Another aside to this story of peopling the island is the creation of yet another distinct community during the British rule. These are poor workers brought from southern India by Britain to work in the tea plantations they had created in the middle of the island. These workers were given citizenship of the island by the colonialist. However, their citizenship was also put under question by the majoritarian rule, which is yet another story.
Before the armed Tamil independence struggle began in early 1980’s, the ongoing land colonization has reached the situation in Figure 2. The gray and lined areas mark the land from Figure 1 that was lost by the Tamil people during this period. This process was well planned to destroy the contiguity of the Tamil land and also to settle Sinhala settlers near the strategic Trincomalee harbor. Damien Short of London University refers to this settler colonialism as an example of genocide in his book “Redefining Genocide.”
During the armed Tamil independence struggle, the colonization took a different form and morphed into Sinhala military occupation of the Tamil land. This was gazetted under a depressingly amusing term “High Security Zone.” Tamil people were evicted from their own private land in large numbers to create such vast zones which are more aptly referred to as Military Zones (MZs). Thus were created pockets of MZs inside the remaining Tamil land. This continued during the two decades of the armed struggle. The armed Tamil independence struggle was defeated in 2009 which many have called a genocide.
Since this defeat, despite the active involvement of the U.N. and the United States in a reconciliation process, this land encroachment continues to this date, now in the two forms, Sinhala colonization and the ongoing presence of vast MZs with a huge alien military presence in the Tamil land. What is puzzling and interesting is that this land grab has gone on while Sri Lanka remained in the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHCR) agenda since 2009 for war crimes and crimes against humanity and was the subject of many U.N. reports and U.S.-sponsored UNHRC resolutions on the same.
Tamil people have been continuously protesting this land encroachment and their protests are intensifying in recent times. Will they succeed after the U.K., the United States and India assisted the 2009 genocide which destroyed their armed resistance movement? Alternatively, will a new and much smaller sized map of the Tamil land with further losses to settler colonialism be drawn in the near future? The ultimate aim of the current West-friendly Sri Lankan government is, of course, to eliminate the concept of Tamil land entirely. Will they succeed?