Sri Lanka civil war
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This article is written by Devanshee Rai, from NMIMS, School of Law, Bengaluru and is edited by Gitika Jain. This article revolves around Sri Lanka’s Civil war. The circumstances that led to the condition of war. This also talks about India’s involvement in the war and how India suffered because of another country’s civil war. It also mentions how much money India used in this war.

Table of Contents


Civil war is a type of war that occurs between some groups within the country itself. There are certain agendas to start such wars mostly to take control over the country, to gain independence or to fulfill a political agenda. These wars normally cause several casualties which leads to the consumption of resources. Several civil wars took place in the 20th century especially after 1945 which has led to the death of 25 million people. Civil wars not only result in the loss of several lives but also result in economic collapse. Uganda, Angola, Somalia and Burma (Myanmar) have faced civil wars. Sri Lanka is also one of them. 

Sri Lanka’s civil war

Sri Lanka’s civil war happened from 1983 to 2009. The intention behind the civil war was to create an independent state called Tamil Eelam in the north and east of the country. The civil war initiated by Vellupillai Prabhakaran led the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The fact that caused civil war was the discrimination against the Sri Lankan Tamils by the Sinhalese dominated Sri Lankan Government. The civil war continued for 26 long years. Finally, the Sri Lankan military defeated the Tamil Tigers in May 2009. The 26 years challenged the country in many ways and the population was the one which mainly suffered. The civil war also affected the environment and economy of the country. Around 80000 to 100000 people were killed due to the war. 32 countries including the United States, India, Canada and the member nations of the European Union recognised the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as terrorist organizations. India had to interfere after two decades of fighting and four failed attempts of peace talks. This was valid until 2001. Sri Lankan government have been accused of war crimes as they committed genocide and ethnic cleansing. 


The political differences between Sinhalese and the minority Tamils one of the main reasons for the Sri Lankan Civil war. Earlier Sri Lanka was called Ceylon from there itself the path for the civil war was laid. It all started when Ponnambalam Arunachalam, a Tamilian who was appointed as the representative of both the Sinhalese and the Tamils in the national legislative council and little tension arose among them. Ceylon National Congress formed in 1919  by uniting Sinhalese and Tamil political organizations. The leadership was under Arunachalam and he emphasized the colonial government to make constitutional reforms. In 1920, Colombo town seat was created as an encouragement to communal representation and it took place under the regime of British governor William Manning. Sinhala and Tamil were demanded as the national language by the Lanka Sama Samaja Party members N.M Perera and Philip Gunawardena. In the state council, it was passed that the proceedings in the municipality should be in the vernacular language and the same should be followed in the police station. 

Just after the independence in 1948, a law was passed which was controversial enough to light a spark in the society. The law was the Ceylon citizenship act of 1948 . It discriminated against the Indian Tamils so that they could not prove their citizenship at all. Due to this act, seven lakh Indian Tamils were homeless. In the next ten years, three lakh Tamil Indians were sent to India.  

There were deliberate attempts to discriminate against the Sri Lankan Tamils and one of those was in 1956 when Prime Minister S.W.R.D Bandaranaike made Sinhala as the only official language and did not give chance to English. He did so bypassing the Sinhala Only Bill. This act came as a barrier for the Sri Lankan Tamils and they faced problems to apply for the Ceylon civil services and the other public services. The Sri Lankan Tamils, Indian Tamils and Sri Lankan Moors were the Tamil speaking minorities. They took the act as linguistic, cultural and economic discrimination against them. This even got worse when the Tamilians who were not fluent in Sinhala were forced to resign their public services. Gal Oya riots and the 1958 riots were triggered by such incidents. Therefore the civil war followed. 

The government was suffocating the minorities so they were demanding a separate state in the late 1960s. The state was known as Tamil Eelam. A British employee also started to participate in such activities. His name is Anton Barasingha. He was the high British High Commission in Colombo. He later became the chief theoretician of the LTTE. Tamil youth also started participating in such activities. 

The policy of standardization was started in the 1970s. During the late 1970s, students under this policy were admitted to the university in proportion to the number of applicants who sat for their exams in their language. The main intention behind this policy was to increase the rural representation in the universities. Now, the Sri Lankan Tamils had to work harder to get admission in the desired universities. It was a type of reservation where Sinhalese were the privileged ones. 

The government never left any opportunity to discriminate against the Sri Lankan Tamils. This even happened by banning the import of Tamil-language media. The Sri Lankan government never left a chance to suppress the Sri Lankan Tamils and they even went to give preference to Buddhism as the main religion followed by the Sinhalese, according to the Constitution of Sri Lanka in 1978.

Tamil New Tigers was formed by Prabhakaran and Chetti Thanabalasingam. It was based on the concept of the first Millennium Chola Empire, whose symbol is also Tiger. The movement also took place overseas. Places like London and Manchester witnessed a further movement, the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students. This movement was really helpful in the diaspora. They helped in arranging passports and employment of migrants. It laid the foundation of the Eelamist logistical organization and later came under the umbrella of LTTE. With the Vaddukkodei resolution of 1976, Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) had led to truffle in attitudes. Young militants were supported by Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and it was all done secretly.

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To raise funds Appapillai Amirthalingam, leader of TULF sought help from LTTE. Such activities were supported by the youth as they were partially educated, unemployed and Tamil Youth and thought that this could be the solution. Such activities continued for a while until in July 1997, the TULF became the leading opposition party. Riots happened in 1977 and followed the J.R. Jayewardene government revoked the policy of standardization so that the Tamil youth could easily get admission in their desired universities. The youth took it as too little and it did not stop and LTTE took advantage of the situation and ordered the civilians to boycott the elections. Such activities resulted in a prolonged war. 

Impact and consequences

The outbreak resulted in many wars. It lasted for 26 long years. The main impact was on the casualties and the economy of the country. Due to the Sri Lankan Civil war approximately one lakh civilians were killed. The killing involved both the Sri Lankan government and IPKF forces. The number of casualties can be way more than one lakh as the number of deaths was not counted in the final months of the war. 

The 26-year-old war caused so much of an economic crisis. The estimated damage is 200 billion dollars. The value is five times the GDP of Sri Lanka in 2009.

India’s involvement and role 

Indian Peacekeeping forces were deployed in Sri Lanka for peacekeeping purposes. In order to end the Sri Lankan civil war, India and Sri Lanka signed an accord in 1987. The main intention behind the accord was to end the war going on between militant Sri Lankan Tamil nationalists also known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan militants. The intention of the Indian forces was not to get fierce with the Sri Lankan militants but after a few months got so much into it that it had to withdraw its forces and in 1990 it finally did. 

Sri Lankan civil war posed a threat to India’s interest and integrity. This threat would have come in two ways. Firstly, the foreign countries would try to control Sri Lanka and that would have been a major threat to India’s security and secondly, LTTE’s main intention was to make a Tamil state which would have been composed of all the Tamilians and that would have been also a threat to India’s integrity. The political parties in South India made strong connections with LTTE. The political parties also helped LTTE in financial ways. Sri Lanka was a supporter of the Non-alignment movement but that changed when J.R. Jayewardeen became the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and then he introduced a new constitution and Sri Lanka became a Liberal Open Economy. 

Poomalai Operation: In the 1980s, India was more involved in the Sri Lankan activities. On 5 June, the Indian forces dropped 25 tons of food and it was the same time when the Sri Lankan government claimed that they were very close to defeating LTTE. The Sri Lankan government accused the Indian forces of helping the LTTE as they dropped weapons along with food. Then Indo-Sri Lanka peace accord was also signed and the Sri Lankans provided the Tamilians with their demands and Tamil was recognized as the official status for a language. Most of the militants were satisfied by the accord but the LTTE was still left with dissatisfaction. IPKF tried to solve the issue but ended up in a full-scale conflict with them. The conflict lasted for three years in which they faced opposition from the Tamils as well.  

Operation Pawan

This operation was handled by IPKF so that they could control Jaffna from the LTTE. The operation lasted for three weeks and finally, IPKF threw away LTTE from Jaffna. Sri Lankan had tried so many times to take control from the LTTE but every time it failed but with the help of IPKF and its helicopter gunshots and heavy artillery, got back Jaffna. The IPKF lost its 214 soldiers.

The Jaffna University Helidrop: The first operation of the IPKF was the Jaffna University Helidrop. The main intention of IPKF was to throw away LTTE from Jaffna, Sri Lanka. The operation was a fast heliborne assault involving Mi-8s of the NO. 109 HU, the 10th Para Commandos and of the 13th Sikh LI. The building was a tactical headquarters of the LTTE so the IPKF wanted to free it and that could shorten the period of Operation Pawan. Due to planning and operational failures, the operation failed miserably.  

The Sri Lankan government called off the partnership with IPKF as the population arose with the nationalist feelings that why a foreign country is getting involved within their internal matters. 

Rajiv Gandhi did not withdraw the army from Sri Lanka but when V.P Singh took charge of the post of P.M, he withdrew all the forces from Sri Lanka on 24th March 1990 and the whole cost for such a venture was 10.3 billion.

In 1991, the LTTE lost all the support in India. It all happened when ex-Prime Minister of India was assassinated by a suicide bomber, Thenmozhi Rajaratnam. It was further reported by the Indian media that Prabhakaran was the one who decided to kill Rajiv Gandhi because they thought that when he comes to power he will reinforce IPKF back to Sri Lanka and they considered it a Satanic force. After the assassination, India did not interfere in the matters of Sri Lanka.


Wars have been a blot on mankind.  They not only affect the economy but also cause loss of human lives. The whole area where the war goes on gets disturbed. The whole situation gives rise to war crimes and the same happened in Sri Lanka. The 25-year-old civil war gave rise to political unrest not only in Sri Lanka but also in India. 


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