Tamils and Sinhalese in Post-Independence Sri Lanka
This chapter analyzes the consolidation of incompatible Sinhala Buddhist and Tamil nationalist conceptions of national identity and interest in the post-independence era. It argues that this was not an inevitable outcome of ethnic demography or institutional design. Rather it required both the absence of a developed pan-ethnic conception of national identity as well as active and ongoing mobilization to overcome politically salient intra-Sinhala and intra-Tamil cleavages of caste, region and religion. It shows how the consolidation of these movements brought together a diverse array of actors with varying motivations and interests. The escalation of the ethnic conflict and the associated political and economic marginalization of the Tamils are thus shown to be outcomes of incompatible nationalist projects rather than elite interests or outbidding. The politically dominant Sinhala Buddhist nationalism was violently hostile to Tamil demands for equality and conversely Tamil nationalism spurred escalating resistance to political and economic marginalization. The violent conflict between these incompatible nationalist projects has since defined Sri Lanka’s domestic and increasingly its international politics.
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