Sri Lanka

Also known as the Teardrop of India because of its shape, the tropical island of Sri Lanka has attracted visitors for centuries with its natural beauty. But it has been scarred by a long and bitter civil war arising out of ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority in the northeast.

The island fell under Portuguese and Dutch influence after the 16th century. It gained independence in 1948, after nearly 150 years of British rule. The currency of Sri Lanka is also a Rupee, globally known as the Sri Lankan Rupee or LKR. The current President of Sri Lanka is Maithripala Sirisena.

The Civil War

Sri Lanka's recent history has been dominated by civil war. In 1983, ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese (mainly Buddhist) population and the Tamil (mainly Hindu) minority in the North led to a devastating civil war. For over a quarter of a century, the Sri Lankan government clashed with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, known as the LTTE or Tamil Tigers, who fought in pursuit of an independent state. The war ended on 19 May 2009, following a major government offensive that forced the rebels to surrender. Though precise figures on the death toll are difficult to tally, the United Nations suggests between 80,000 and 100,000 casualties. The conflict displaced hundreds of thousands, tens of thousands of whom remain displaced today, despite government assurances in September 2012 that there were 'no more Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)'.

 

The Emergence of LTTE

When Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948, the new government de-recognised Tamil migrant workers and passed the Sinhala Only Act in June 1956. In light of these policies and discrimination, the Tamil minority held peaceful protests for an independent state, which later became violent. Through the 1960s and 1970s, a number of armed groups emerged; the most infamous of which, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), formed in 1976. Anti-Tamil violence - sometimes sponsored by the Sri Lankan government - skyrocketed, coming to a head in 1983. In what came to be known as "Black July", Sinhala mobs killed up to 3,000 Tamils around Sri Lanka in retaliation for the killing of 13 soldiers by Tamil separatists, an event now "commonly regarded as the start of the war between the Government and the LTTE."

 After more than 25 years of violence the conflict ended in May 2009, when government forces seized the last area controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels. But recriminations over abuses by both sides continue.

India - Sri Lanka Relations

The ethnic and historical links between Sri Lankan and Indian Tamils as well as New Delhi's own regional influence in South Asia give India an enduring interest in its southern neighbor. Previously, India made an attempt to broker peace between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). However, it ended in a disaster when the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF) that were deployed to implement peace ended up fighting the LTTE. By doing this, India bought the wrath of the Tamil Tigers who assassinated the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, which prompted India to publicly distance itself from the civil war.

The current scenario, however, has developed between the two countries. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Sri Lanka in the month of March this year, and he remains to be the first Prime Minister to tour the island since 1987. During the visit, the two countries signed four agreements on visa, customs, youth development and building Rabindranath Tagore memorial in Sri Lanka.