Reconciliation in Sri Lanka

The state of reconciliation in post-war Sri Lanka

Reconciliation is tough with conflict mentalities swirling in the nation


Since gaining independence from three hundred years of colonization by the Portuguese, Dutch and English, there have been three violent conflicts in Sri Lanka, namely, the JVP led communist uprising in 1971, the Ethnic strife from 1983 – 2009 between various Tamil separatist groups and the JVP led youth apprising from 1987-1989.

While these insurrections by groups fighting to remedy real and imagined inequity have all been put down by force, many of the underlying causes that resulted in unrest among youth in the south and ethnic minorities in the north have only been marginally addressed. Thus, although the longest such conflict was neutralized a full five years ago, conflict mentalities are still alarmingly present.

The chief impediments to social integration and conflict transformation

  • The lack of required island wide buy-in to the idea of mutual advantage in mutual cooperation to transform communities
  • The lack of universally accepted role models commonly seen as such by all ethnic, religious and socio-economic groups
  • The lack of perception of the possibilities for a) opportunity, b) recognition and c) hope
  • The lack of focus on activities that have universal common appeal that transcends cultural, traditional and ethnic sensibilities and sensitivities
  • The active efforts by various parties to highlight defeatist mindsets by internal and external dependencies that leads to frustration, anger and loss of hope.

A rather shocking testament to this fact came from a young lady who works at the Kilinochchi factory of MAS-Active as a machine operator earning approximately Rs.30,000 a month (a much higher salary than most any rural residents of the area). On being queried as to why she was buying Rs.7000 churidhars and not either buying gold or setting money aside for a house (common traditional savings instruments for those communities), she said “There will be another war. When it happens, any gold I buy will be stolen and any house I build will be destroyed. So, this is better”. 

Of grave concern is the choice of the word “will” over a say - a less certain word such as “maybe”.  This was a statement that was being made by a lady who was economically much stronger than most of her peers or community members. Similar sentiments have been recorded by the CSO groups from many other sources from within vulnerable, less vulnerable and non-vulnerable groups. These observations have forced a review of a universally loved rule of thumb for conflict emergent communities that economic stability and strength would lessen the need to engage in differentiation and conflicted inter-group engagement. Further, it also showed them in stark relief that the conflict mindset was not only very much alive but was actively being factored, owned, espoused, cultivated and even encouraged by various parties with vested interest among these communities. This, regardless of the various efforts made by civil, state, private and media sector organizations to mitigate the problem over the last five years.

These issues have been compounded by lack of opportunity for youth to see hope in a murky future, re-alignment of ethnic conflicts to religious conflicts, fear based politics and corruption. All of these have resulted in a relatively toxic environment that could quickly degenerate into chaotic internal struggles if sustained efforts are not made to create an enabling environment for conflict mentalities to subside.