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Sri Lanka


Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

Major Cities:
Colombo, Kandy

Other Cities:
Anuradhapura, Galle, Jaffna, Matara, Negombo, Ratnapura, Trincomalee


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report for Sri Lanka. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at the most recent information available on travel to this country.


SRI LANKA has often been described as a tropical paradise. The vegetation of the coastal belt is lush and dramatic, and the mountainous areas of the interior are spectacular. Pleasant sea breezes temper the coast's tropical climate through most of the year; the hills and mountains in the island's center are cool at night. Arab traders of long ago knew the island as Serendib, which is the origin of the word serendipity, reflecting the unexpected pleasures of the land.

Sri Lanka, once known as the British Crown Colony of Ceylon, became independent in 1948, although it remained under dominion status. Its 1972 constitution proclaimed it an independent republic, and changed the country's name. Finally, in 1978, a new constitution officially declared the island the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.



Colombo, the capital city, lies on a flat coastal plain on the southwestern side of the island. It grew up around the harbor, which has been expanded by a breakwater. The main business section is near the port in what is known as the Fort (the old fort walls no longer remain). The buildings in this area are typically British and Dutch colonial, and the streets are generally congested. Parking is a problem. The Pettah, or traditional bazaar, adjoins the main business area. It consists of narrow, crowded streets and small shops and stalls.

The original Sinhalese name, Kalantotla (meaning Kelani ferry) was corrupted to Kolambu by Arab traders, and was changed to Colombo by the Portuguese.

Main residential sections of the city are south and southeast of the business area and are generally pleasant. Flowering trees line the streets, and old mansions with lovely gardens lend an exotic tropical air. Cinnamon Gardens is a wealthy residential and recreational area.

The country's first free trade zone is near Colombo International Airport, Katunayake. Its success prompted the establishment of additional zones at Biyagama, 15 miles from the capital, and near the southern port of Galle.

Colombo's port is one of the world's largest man-made harbors. It is a popular port of call for passenger ships and has become a major cargo transshipment hub.

The population of Sri Lanka's capital was estimated at 645,000 in 2000.

Colombo is known for its gem cutting and ivory carving. Other industries include food and tobacco processing, metal fabrication, engineering, and the manufacture of chemicals, textiles, glass, cement, leather goods, clothing, jewelry, and furniture. An oil refinery is located nearby.

Historically, Colombo has been known for over two thousand years, in its early days as an open anchorage for oceangoing ships of Greco-Roman, Arab, and Chinese traders. Muslims settled here in the eighth century, and the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century, building a fort to protect their spice trade. The Dutch, also interested in the spice trade, gained control of the city in the 17th century. Colombo passed to the British in 1796, and it became capital of the Crown Colony of Ceylon in 1802. Colombo replaced Galle (Point de Galle) as the country's chief port in the 1880s, becoming a major refueling and supply center for merchant ships on the Europe-Far East route. During World War II, Colombo served as an Allied naval base, and became the capital of independent Ceylon in 1948.


Clothing worn in Washington, DC, during the hottest summer weeks is suitable year round in Colombo, although men's office attire is more casual than that in Washington, DC. A short-sleeved shirt, with or without a tie, or a bush suit are most frequently worn by expatriate men here. A sports jacket or suit are suitable for business calls.

For up-country wear, light wool suits, wool slacks, sweaters, and flannel shirts may be needed. In Nuwara Eliya, the privately owned Hill Club requires men to wear jackets and ties to dinner and will provide these items for a small rental fee for those who arrive without.

Locally made shirts, shorts, ties, and socks are generally unsatisfactory, and should be brought from the U.S. Local tailoring of bush shirts, suits, and trousers is good, but fabric is generally not as satisfactory as that available in the U.S.

Women's office attire is the same as that worn in a southern American city during the summer months. As in the U.S., many of the air-conditioned offices can be cool. Women are not expected to wear hosiery at any functions, but this is a matter of personal choice and comfort. Casual clothing for women can be made locally either with imported or local batik material.

Sewing fabrics, with the exception of some batiks and polyesters, are limited. A good supply of wash-and-wear fabric, thread, zippers, buttons, trim, elastic, etc., should be brought from home.

Children's clothing needs are simple but, whenever possible, should be brought or ordered from the U.S. The fit of shoes is a particular problem, except for sandals.

Garment bags are useful for clothing protection. Extreme dampness during the monsoon season can cause clothes and shoes to mildew unless kept in air-conditioned rooms. Lightweight shoes and sandals are particularly desirable here. Sports shoes should be brought from home.

Clothing will not last as long here as in the U.S. The tropical climate and frequent laundering shortens the useful life of most items. Underwear, particularly with elastic, tends to wear out quickly.


A variety of seasonal, fresh tropical fruits and vegetables is available at reasonable prices. Some vegetables are similar to those in temperate climates but may not have a familiar flavor. All raw or unpeeled vegetables and fruits must be soaked in disinfectant to reduce the danger of amoeba or other parasite infestation. Milton, a satisfactory brand-name disinfectant, is sometimes available. Clorox also may be used.

Because the local market is unpredictable, and food quality is not usually up to U.S. standards, most families prefer to have a stock of imported foods and frozen meats on hand, particularly basic cooking items.

Supplies & Services

In general, local dry cleaning is mediocre, although some Colombo hotels offer fairly good service. Because of the limited dry cleaning services and the warm climate, lightweight washable clothing (including men's suits and ties) is preferable.

Dressmakers are available at reasonable fees for making women's and children's clothing and men's shirts. Normally, dressmakers prefer to work in their customers' homes and do not supply their own sewing machines or notions. Shoe repair is done by hand and is adequate and inexpensive. Shoes, particularly sandals, also can be made inexpensively.

In Colombo, many beauticians are familiar with Western styling. European or Australian products are generally used.

Religious Activities

English is spoken in many of the larger Colombo churches: Roman Catholic, Church of Sri Lanka (Episcopalian), Scots (Presbyterian), Baptist, Methodist, Christian Science, Mormon, and Dutch Reformed. No Orthodox churches are available. Sri Lanka has no synagogue. In Kandy, English services are held in Anglican, Roman Catholic, Baptist, and other churches. Most have Sunday school programs. Many churches also have services in Sinhala and Tamil.

Footwear and headgear should be removed before entering Buddhist shrines. Photographing statues of the Buddha is acceptable, but posing beside them is not. Discreet dress in public places is appreciated.

Domestic Help

Most Americans here employ domestic help, usually a combination cook-houseperson, or a cook and a houseperson and a part-time gardener. Total wages for these domestics average about $100-$150 a month. Uniforms and medical bills are added expenses. A nurse-maid (nanny) charges about $60 a month. Occasionally, a driver also is hired (about $50 monthly).

A single person ordinarily would have a combination cook-houseperson and a part-time gardener. Some singles employ sewing nannies and laundry people on a weekly basis at an added cost of $10 to $20 a month.


Younger children of most foreigners resident in Colombo attend the Overseas Childrens School (OCS). At present, the school has an enrollment of over 450, representing more than 40 nations. Americans represent eight to 12% of the student. Originally established to cater to the needs of the British business community, this school has strong Western orientation, with most of the textbooks in the primary and middle school now coming from the United Kingdom and the United States. OCS, offering classes from nursery through 12th grade, has 75 teachers, of whom more than one-third are expatriates, with most being British and American.

The school, which at one time operated on an extremely limited budget, has made remarkable academic and financial strides since 1981. The school is self-funding from fees. In addition, it receives grants from the U.S. State Department's Office of Overseas Schools. It is located on a five-acre campus; more expatriate teachers are being recruited; teacher evaluations and training and curriculum development receive priority attention; and the supply of books, computers, and other teaching aids is expanding. The school is an active member of the Near East/South Asia Council of Overseas Schools and also of the European Council of International Schools and the Association for Advancement of International Education.

Students completing school at OCS can be expected to compete favorably with their peers for entrance into college, with International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma graduates likely to have access to the top colleges. Transfer students are generally not accepted into grade 12 unless they have successfully completed grade 11 in an IB program elsewhere.

The school offers French, Spanish, and Sinhala as the main foreign languages in grades seven through 10, and students are able to follow mother-tongue courses for the IB diploma in grades 11 and 12. OCS also offers an extensive English course as a second-language program for nonnative speakers. OCS follows a two-semester school year starting at the beginning of September and ending in June. Parents should bring as detailed records as possible from their children's previous school (s), and a health record is required at the time of admission. Placement at grade level is based on an internally administered test.

Although the school provides guidance by learning and disability specialists, the physical layout of the campus makes it impossible for the school to accept children whose physical handicaps confine them to a wheel chair. Although the school does not require a specific uniform attire, a dress code exists, and students should look presentable. For physical education, white shorts and a T-shirt (available from the school) are required.

OSC has a good sports program and numerous other extracurricular activities.

Overseas Children's School's address is: Pelawatte, P.O. Box 9, Battaramulla, Sri Lanka.

A few American children attend the Colombo International School (CIS), a private British curriculum school with over 800 students. CIS was founded in 1982 and offers classes for students ages two to 18. The teacher student ratio is 1 to 9.

CIS offers the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), and achievement test classes to prepare students for admission to U.S. universities.

Extracurricular activities are an important part of school life, and sports, music, and drama are included in the school program.

The address of the Colombo International School is 28, Gregory's Road, Colombo 7, Sri Lanka.

Universities in Sri Lanka offer courses leading to bachelor's and master's degrees in Buddhism, Oriental studies, arts, science, law, engineering, agriculture, and medicine. Instructions are in Sinhala, Tamil, or English, depending on student demand. Courses are based on the British university system, which concentrates on a major subject and allows few outside studies. Although foreigners are officially welcomed, few if any Americans have attended in recent years.


Colombo is the only large city in Sri Lanka. Bombay and Madras, the closest large cities abroad, are about one to two hours away by air. New Delhi can be reached by air via Madras or Bombay. Plane service is not available directly between Colombo and New Delhi. The Maldive Islands are easily accessible by air and offer many resorts.

Sri Lanka has many interesting places for weekend outings or longer holiday trips. The principal spots in the hill country are Kandy, about 70 miles away (two-and-a-half hours by car, altitude 1,674 feet); Nuwara Eliya, about 110 miles away (five hours by car, altitude 6,185 feet); and Bandarawela, about 125 miles away (five hours by car, altitude 4,017 feet).

The Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka's ancient cities is well worth seeing. Sigiriya (three-and-a-half hours from Colombo by car) is a rock fortress with famous frescoes. Sightseers also will enjoy the ancient ruins at Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa (five to six hours by car) and the Yala and Wilpatu wild-life sanctuaries (seven and three hours respectively, by car).

Perhaps the most awesome and forbidding region of Sri Lanka is Horton Plains, hard to reach but well worth the effort. Located about an hour's drive from Nuwara Eliya, Horton Plains is part of the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary. One of the major attractions here is World's End, considered by many the finest view in all of Sri Lanka. For those who enjoy trout fishing and hiking, this is the place. Also, the Sinharaja Forest is one of the few tropical rain forests left in the world.

Hotel accommodations at tourist destinations outside Colombo are excellent. The government operates a large number of rest houses and, in certain areas (notably Nuwara Eliya, Horton Plains, and the game parks), bungalows are available for rent. The rest houses vary widely in quality; all are reasonably priced.

The Colombo Zoological Gardens has a fine and large collection of animals, birds, and reptiles housed in a beautiful setting. A special feature of the zoo is an exhibition of trained elephants every evening.

Sri Lanka has beaches on both east and west coasts; but the east coast beaches may not be accessible due to ethnic conflict. Swimming is unsafe at certain times of the year because of the strong currents generated by the monsoons. Scuba diving is good during the season. The most popular beaches on the west coast, which are safe from about November to May, are Mt. Lavinia (20 minutes from the city) and Bentota (about a one-hour drive). Hikkaduwa, near Bentota, features a coral garden.

Sports commonly found in other tropical areas are also found in Sri Lanka. The most popular sports available to foreign residents are tennis, golf, and swimming. Others are snorkeling, scuba diving, soccer, cricket, rugby, badminton, squash, fishing, and sailing. Instruction in karate is also available. Many of the sports require club membership.

Some of the clubs open to membership are the Royal Colombo Golf Club, Nuwara Eliya Golf Club (rated among the best in South Asia, in the mountains at 6,200 feet), Royal Colombo Yacht Club, Colombo Rowing Club, Otter Aquatic Club, Colombo Motor Yacht Club, Gymkana Club, and the Colombo Swimming Club. In addition, the hotels offer yearly pool memberships. The Galle Face Hotel has a saltwater pool, and the Intercontinental, Lanka Oberoi, Hilton, Ramada Renaissance, and the Taj Samudra offer memberships in their sport centers.


A few movie theaters show Western movies, but most films are Indian or Sinhalese. Amateur dramatic groups and symphony, chamber, and choral groups give regular performances. Occasionally, entertainers from foreign countries (including the U.S.) also perform. Indian movie and dance concerts are fairly frequent.

Colombo has a few nightclubs, a range of restaurants serving ethnic foods (Italian, Chinese, French, Korean, German, Japanese, and Indian), and several hotels. Menu selection, culinary expertise, and musical entertainment are limited. Both Eastern and Western menus are available at major hotels.

The American Women's Association conducts charitable and social activities, and introduces new arrivals to other Americans and to local customs and shopping. All resident American women may join the association. Branches of the YMCA, YWCA, and the Salvation Army are also active. Some American women join the International Women's Club, which has tennis courts as well as social activities.

The national tourist agencyCeylon Tourist Boardis located at 78, Steuart Place, P.O. Box 1504, Colombo 3.


Kandy is the capital of the hill country. It is 1,674 feet above sea level, and 72 miles from Colombo. The average temperature here is 77°F, with pleasantly warm days and cool nights. Kandy is a mountain resort and the market center for an area producing tea, rubber, rice and cacao. The main part of the city overlooks a scenic artificial lake built by Kandy's last king in 1806.

Kandy is noted for local handicrafts such as reed and lacquer work and silver and brassware. The population here is over 100,000.


Although Kandy is cooler than Colombo, the same type of clothing is generally appropriate for both. A sweater may be necessary in the evening, especially in December and January. Ready-made clothing, except for batiks, is not readily available in Kandy. Tailoring is good, but some fabrics are available.


Staples are generally available here. The local beef is quite good. Chicken, ham, pork, and baconavailable at Cargills, Elephant House, and almost all grocery storesare also good. The imported food generally is expensive.

Supplies & Services

Some foreign and local toiletries, cosmetics, perfumes, etc., are available. A limited supply of medicines can be found at Cargills and at Lanka Medicals. Shoes, as well as most mechanical and electrical items, can be repaired. Beauty shops and dry cleaning facilities offer adequate services. Domestic help is available and is well trained. Salaries for domestic help are generally lower than in Colombo.

Kandy has a general hospital, seldom used by Americans, and the Lakeside Medical Center (a Seventh Day Adventist institution), which has acceptable facilities. Local specialists may be called in for consultation at the center or seen at the Channeled Practice Services, a facility permitting government physicians to have private patients. The Japanese have built and equipped a teaching hospital on the campus of the School of Medicine at Peradeniya. This provides additional services and facilities. For major medical and hospitalization problems, facilities are better in Colombo.


The Temple of the Tooth, visited by Buddhist pilgrims from all over the world, is in Kandy. The sacred tooth relic of the Buddha is said to have been brought to Sri Lanka early in the fourth century, hidden in the hair of an Indian princess. The temple, which is Sri Lanka's holiest Buddhist shrine, was bombed in early 1998. The government accused the Tamil Tigers of committing the bombing.

Kandy, the island's chief city in medieval times, was the final stronghold of the Sinhala kings and the last place to fall under foreign rule. Things to see include the kings' audience hall, the four devales (temples), the artificial lake constructed by Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe (last king of Kandy) in 1806, the elephants' bathing place in Katugastota, the botanical gardens and university at Peradeniya, and the Kandyan Art Association.

The most spectacular religious festival, the Esala Perahera, generally takes place in July or August, depending on the astrologically auspicious moment, and ends on the day following the night of the full moon. By the last night, as many as 80 to 100 elephants, caparisoned in velvet, satin, and silk with silver ornaments, move in the procession. Chief of all elephants is the Maligawa (district where Kandy is located) tusker, bearing a replica of the casket which holds the sacred tooth relic. Temples in the Kandy area are Lankatilaka Vihare, Gadalendeniya Vihare, Galmadawa Vihare, and Degalkoruwa Vihare.

In Kandy, active sports may be enjoyed either at the Garden Club, which has tennis courts, or at the Hotel Suisse, which opens its pool and tennis courts to membership by monthly subscription and entrance fee. Newer hotels, e.g., Citadel, Mahaweli Reach, and Topaz, also have similar pool facilities. Nuwara Eliya, 48 miles (three hours) from Kandy, in Sri Lanka's beautiful tea country at an elevation of 6,000 feet, has an 18-hole golf course. Rugby, soccer, and cricket matches are held in season.

Occasionally, English-language movies are shown in Kandy cinemas. French movies with English subtitles can be seen at the Kandy branch of Alliance Française. Classic American movies, shown periodically at the Kandy American Center, are open to a limited number of Americans. Occasionally, movies also are shown at the British Council Library.

Concerts by local or foreign artists, sponsored by various Kandy organizations, are scheduled about every two months. A local dance band plays on alternate nights at two Kandy hotels. The Kandy Lake Club is a gambling casino.

There are a few nice picnic spots near the city, particularly the Victoria Dam area. Mountains, beaches, and wildlife parks are from three to seven hours from Kandy by car.


Situated 106 miles northeast of Colombo, ANURADHAPURA is near the Aruvi River. The city was founded in 437 B.C. and was the capital of the ancient Sinhalese kings of Ceylon for four centuries. Today, it is one of the world's leading Buddhist centers. An ancient pipal tree here is thought to have grown from a piece of the Bo Tree at Buddh Gaya (in India), under which Guatama Buddha attained enlightenment. Interesting sites include a palace, ruins of a rock-hewn temple, large stupas, and other relics.

GALLE (formerly Point de Galle) is located at the extreme southern end of Sri Lanka on the Indian Ocean. With a population of over 168,000, Galle is an agricultural market center, exporting tea, rubber, coconut oil, cloves, and other products from the surrounding region. Known as early as 100 B.C. as a trade center for the Chinese and Arabs, Galle became important under Portuguese rule, 1057-1640, when it was the island's chief port. Under the Dutch, it was the capital of Ceylon from 1640 to 1656. The Dutch built a fort here to guard the harbor and it still stands today. The city came under British rule in 1796, and its commercial importance continued until the Suez Canal was opened in 1869. It further declined when the British built the modern harbor at Colombo in 1885.

JAFFNA is situated on a peninsula in the northernmost part of Sri Lanka. Separated from India by the Palk Strait, Jaffna and the peninsula are densely populated. There are approximately 130,000 inhabitants here, most of whom are Tamil-speaking people. Tobacco, rice, coconuts, palmyra palm, and vegetables are grown in the region, and fishing is an important occupation. Industries include those for salt, cement, chemical, and tobacco production, as well as textile weaving and gold filigree work. Elephants, peppers, and other commodities are traded. Remains of the ancient Tamil culture, as well as traditions from the Portuguese and Dutch occupations in the 17th and 18th centuries, are found here.

Located in southern Sri Lanka, on the Indian Ocean, MATARA is 24 miles east of Galle. It has a population of more than 125,000. Matara is centered in a region rich with coconut palms and cinnamon trees. An old Portuguese fort is among the sites located here.

NEGOMBO , with a population of over 120,000, is located on the west coast of Sri Lanka at the mouth of the Negombo Lagoon, just north of Colombo. The city is a fishing center and a market for coconut products and cinnamon; handicrafts include ceramics and brassware. Many 17th-century Dutch buildings still stand in Negombo. Sri Lanka's international airport is located just outside the city.

Situated in southwest-central Sri Lanka, RATNAPURA is 42 miles southeast of Colombo. It is the center of the precious-stone industry. The Buddhist temple, Maha Saman Dewale, is nearby. Ratnapura has a population of over 40,000.

TRINCOMALEE is situated on Sri Lanka's east coast, on the Bay of Bengal. With a population exceeding 52,000, Trincomalee has one of the world's finest natural harbors. Exports traded here include tea, hides, and dried fish. A railroad terminus and an important road junction, Trincomalee (sometimes written Trinkomali) is also known for its coconut and rice plantations, and some pearl fishing. Early Tamil settlers from south India built the Hindu Temple of a Thousand Columns in Trincomalee, but it was destroyed by the Portuguese in 1622. On its site, the Dutch built Fort Frederick in 1676. Captured by the British in 1795, the city was British naval headquarters in the Pacific theater during World War II. U.S. planes used its airfield for operations against the Japanese in Burma and Malaya (now part of Federation of Malaysia).


Geography and Climate

Sri Lanka is a pear-shaped island in the Indian Ocean18 miles from India at its closest point. The country, roughly the size of West Virginia, is 270 miles long and 140 miles wide at its extremities, and comprises 25,332 square miles. It lies in the tropical zone between 5° and 9°N and between 79° and 82°S.

Sri Lanka has many spots of scenic beauty and historic interest. Topographically, the island consists of two main sections: the mountainous south-central region which rises to more than 8,200 feet above sea level, and the low-lying northern, eastern, and southwestern coastal plains. Dense vegetation covers a large part of Sri Lanka, particularly the southern and western coasts. Rubber and coconut trees grow in the midlands and lowlands, and there are vast tea estates in the highlands.

Sri Lanka has a varied effect on Westerners who remain on the island a considerable time without a break. People who like hot weather and are active in sports usually enjoy themselves and keep physically fit and mentally alert. Those accustomed to seasonal changes find the tropical climate monotonous and enervating. The climate, except in the mountains, is hot and humid. In Colombo, the capital, temperatures rarely rise above 90°F or drop below 70°F. Humidity is always high, often in the 90s. In the mountainous districts, the average temperature is about 60°F during the day but, at night, it cools off rapidly, sometimes dropping to near freezing in places like Nuwara Eliya (at an altitude of 6,200 feet).

The monsoons produce two main rainy seasons. The southwest monsoon lasts roughly from mid-May into early fall. During this period the southwestern part of the island, including Colombo, receives much of its average annual rainfall of 100 inches. The northeast monsoon lasts from about October or November through February. The northern and eastern parts of the island receive virtually all of their average annual rainfall of 60 inches at this time.

Monsoon showers range from gentle to torrential in the Colombo area. December through March are usually the driest months. Because of the massive Mahaweli hydroelectric and irrigation scheme, water shortages and interruptions of electricity during the dry months are less frequent than in the past.

Colombo's climate compares to the hot, humid summers in Washington, DC. Even during the cooler period (December and January), most Americans depend on electric fans or air-conditioning to keep comfortable.


The population of Sri Lanka is 19.4 million (2000 est.) and, although it has more than doubled over the past 30 years, the overall growth rate is slowing. Currently it stands at.87%; this is somewhat understated since it takes into account outward migration to the Middle East.

Ethnically, 74% of the population is Sinhalese and speaks Sinhala, the national language; 18% is Tamil (people of South Indian origin) and speaks Tamil, an official language since 1978. About 70% of the Tamils are "Ceylon Tamils"citizens whose ancestors have lived in Sri Lanka for many generations and who have full voting rights. Most live in the northern and eastern provinces, but many Ceylon Tamils live in Colombo and throughout the island. The other 30% of the Tamil population are the so-called "Indian Tamils," whose ancestors were brought from South India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to work on tea and rubber plantations. Most were disenfranchised in Sri Lanka by legislation passed in 1948. Because India also refused to recognize them as citizens, the Indian Tamils were considered stateless.

A 1964 agreement with India provided for repatriation of many to India and the granting of Sri Lankan citizenship to others on a 60-40 ratio. In 1988, Sri Lankan citizenship was extended to 230,000 stateless Indian Tamils.

Other minority groups include Sri Lankan Muslims (including both Moors and Malays and totaling 7% of the population) and Eurasians. Most Sinhalese are Buddhists, most Tamils are Hindu, and Moors and Malays are Muslims. Christians constitute 8% of the population, most of whom are Roman Catholic. Christians can be found in both the Sinhalese and Tamil communities.

Racial tension between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities erupted into violence in 1983 and continued in varying degrees of intensity until 1995, when the government and Tamil rebels announced a cease-fire. The peace only lasted a few months, however, before Tamil rebels renewed their attacks on government installations. Since 1983, over 51,000 people have been killed, and more than 300,000 Tamils have fled the island.


The 450-year foreign presence on the island (Portuguese, Dutch, and British) has influenced Sri Lanka's government, jurisprudence, and administration. Sri Lanka became independent in 1948 after being a British colony for over 100 years. It initially opted for dominion status in the Commonwealth, like nearby India and Pakistan. But, unlike India and Pakistan, it retained dominion status only until 1972 when the island was formally proclaimed a democratic republic and a unitary state with the office of governor-general converting to a ceremonial presidency. During that period, real power was vested in Parliament and in a prime minister under the British pattern. The 1972 constitution proclaimed Sinhala the official language (with some provision for the use of Tamil) and Buddhism the foremost religion (with religious freedom guaranteed to all).

Following the overwhelming 1977 electoral victory of the United National Party (UNP), a decision was made to revamp the constitutional system more along continental than British lines. The result was the 1978 constitution which established an executive (and active) presidency, abolished the upper house of legislature, and established a system of proportional representation as the basis for future parliamentary elections. The constitution also elevated Tamil to the status of an official national language.

An executive president, elected for a six-year term, serves as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, chief of state, and head of government. The position is based largely on the French model. The president appoints and heads a cabinet of ministers who are responsible to a 225-seat unicameral legislature. The president's chief lieutenant is the prime minister, who is the leader of the ruling party in Parliament.

Communal tension in Sri Lanka has remained high since July 1983, when the worst communal violence in the country's post-independence history occurred. Following the killing of 13 members of an army patrol (all Sinhalese) by Tamil terrorists fighting for a separate Tamil state in the north and east, Sinhalese mobs took to the streets of Colombo and then throughout Sinhalese-majority areas, attacking Tamils and their property. Hundreds of Tamils were killed in the ensuing violence and tens of thousands were left homeless, as mobs attacked Tamils and their property throughout much of the island. The riots led to a burgeoning of Tamil militant groups in the north and east and to continued military and political confrontation between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil militants.

By mid-1987, the situation had reached an impasse. The government's policy of pressing the insurgents militarily, although attempting to negotiate with Tamil moderates, had not succeeded. In an attempt to break the deadlock, Sri Lanka brought India directly into its communal dispute. Under a July 29, 1987, accord signed by the President and the Indian Prime Minister, Sri Lanka made many concessions to Tamil demands, including devolution of some powers to the provinces, merger (subject to later referendum) of northern and eastern provinces, and official status for the Tamil language. India agreed to establish order in the north and east and to cease assisting Tamil insurgents.

A key element of the accord soon fell apart. The major Tamil militant group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), within weeks declared its intent to continue its armed struggle for an independent Tamil Eelam. The 50,000-strong Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) found itself engaged in a bloody police action against the LLTE. After two-and-a-half years of conflict between the IPKF and LLTE, with over 1,000 deaths on each side, the situation had not completely resolved. By late 1989, the Indian troops were being withdrawn, but the army and LLTE continued to have confrontations.

In 1995 a cease-fire between the Tamil rebels and the Sri Lankan government was announced, with government promises to send an $816-million aid package to the northern part of the island. The peace process fell apart after a few months, when additional demands by the rebels went unfulfilled. After Tamil terrorists attacked two gun-boats and an army base, the government went on the offensive by blockading the Tamil stronghold of Jaffna and attacking rebel positions. By the end of 1996 the death toll from almost 15 years of civil war had surpassed 50,000.

Presidential elections were held in December 1988 and Ranasinghe Premadasa won with just over 50% of the votes cast in an election marked by considerable violence instigated mostly by the radical revolutionary Janatha Viimukthi Peramuna (JVP). Despite JVP violence, a parliamentary general election was held in February 1989. President Premadasa's United National Party won 125 of the 225 seats in Parliament in the first national election held under the system of proportional representation, which had been established by the 1978 constitution.

The JVP began asserting itself in mid-1987, capitalizing on opposition in the Sinhala community to the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, it launched an intimidation campaign. Using terrorist tactics, including assassinations, strikes, and other weapons of intimidation, it brought the country to a virtual standstill several times in 1988 and 1989. Several thousand people died in JVP-instigated violence and much property, particularly government-owned property, was destroyed. The deaths included government officials, members of political parties who supported the Accord, and innocent civilians. The government fought back, killing another several thousand people suspected to be JVP party members, supporters, or their families. In late 1989, the JVP party leaders had virtually all been killed or arrested, and the JVP threat appeared to have failed.

On May 1, 1993, President Premadasa was killed in a May Day Parade bombing. Prime Minister Wijetunga succeeded him, and called for early elections in August 1994. Voters, however, chose a leftist coalition led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga became president. She was reelected in 1999.

Sri Lanka's legal system reflects the interplay of cultural influences. The criminal law is fundamentally of British origin. The basic system of civil law, a legacy of the Dutch, is Roman-Dutch; but personal law (marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc.) is unique to each ethnic community. Thus Hindus, Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists have their own family codes. The judiciary is based on the British model.

Sri Lanka's judiciary consists of a Supreme Court which is also authorized to give advisory opinions, a Court of Appeals, a High Court, and a number of subordinate courts. The Supreme Court, composed of a chief justice and six to 10 associate justices, has original jurisdiction on all constitutional matters, as well as on such other matters as election petitions, breach of parliamentary privilege, protection of fundamental rights, and other matters over which Parliament has legislative power.

The Sri Lanka Administrative Service is a direct descendent of the highly regarded colonial Ceylon Civil Service. Each ministry has a secretary, usually a career civil servant, who provides continuity as ministers and governments change. The country is divided into 25 districts, each headed by a government agent (GA) responsible for regional government activities. In colonial days, the GA was virtually overlord of a district; today, democracy has brought an increased concern for mass public opinion and socially responsive administration. An innovation of the government elected in 1977 was the introduction of a system of district ministers, senior members of Parliament usually not from the district, who oversee development efforts in the region.

Sri Lanka is a member of the United Nations, World Health Organization (WHO), and United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), as well as the following international bodies: Asian Development Bank, Colombo Plan, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Group of 77, International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (INTELSAT), Nonaligned Movement, World Bank, and World Tourism Organization. The Sri Lankan capital is the home of the international headquarters of the Colombo Plan, a program to aid the economic development of Asian nations, which was launched at a conference in Colombo in 1950. The address is 12 Melbourne Avenue, P.O. Box 596, Colombo.

Sri Lanka maintains diplomatic relations abroad in over 30 foreign countries, including Iraq, the People's Republic of China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines, Germany, Kenya, India, and the United States. There are over 30 foreign embassies in Colombo, including those of Australia, Canada, Cuba, Egypt, France, Germany, the Holy See, Japan, the Maldives, Myanmar, the Netherlands, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The outer two-thirds of the flag of Sri Lanka has a dark red background with a gold lion, sword, and bo leaves (from the former Kingdom of Kandy). The inner third of the flag has vertical green and saffron bands (for the Muslims and Tamils). The flag is bordered and divided in gold.

Arts, Science, Education

Sri Lanka's artistic and intellectual life is lively in some areas. There are eight universities, one open university, and two university colleges; both arts and sciences are taught. Facilities include four medical schools. The Institute of Aesthetic Studies is a department of the University of Kelaniya, near Colombo. Instruction includes art, crafts, music, and dance.

The Ministry of Education operates 21 teacher training colleges; of these, four train instructors to teach English as a second language and 17 cover other areas. The Ministry of Higher Education directs 13 polytechnics and eight junior technical institutes. Curricula and direction at all educational levels are increasingly related to Sri Lanka's development.

The Natural Resources, Energy, and Science Authority, established in 1968 as the National Science Council, implements central government science policies. The Sri Lanka Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research (CISIR) is an autonomous, non-profit, industrial research institute, established by the government in 1955.

The Tea Research Institute established in 1925, the Rubber Research Institute (1910), and the Coconut Research Institute (1971) are all government non-profit organizations.

Private schools teach Eastern and Western dance and music. The country has several theaters, a major museum, and many specialized societies. Few art galleries exist, but interest is active in painting, batik, jewelry, sculpture, and indigenous handicrafts. A national dance troupe performs, and interest in a national theater, and national culture in general, is strong.

An active and healthy interest also flourishes in Western music, art, and drama. English-language plays are performed by a few amateur groups in Colombo, and drama groups welcome foreign members. Concerts of Eastern and Western music also are given occasionally, and Colombo has an amateur symphony orchestra; many foreigners have joined this latter group. Visiting artists regularly perform with the orchestra or give solo performances.

Commerce and Industry

Compared with the many developing countries in the region, Sri Lanka's economic potential is high. The island has rich agricultural and mineral resources and is surrounded by a bountiful sea. Population pressures are less severe than in neighboring areas, and the per capita gross domestic product (GDP) is about $$3,500 (2000 est.).

Agriculture accounts for about 21% of the GDP and employs about 38% of the population. Tea, rubber, and coconuts are the principal crops and the source of about 50% of export earnings. Rice is the major domestic food grain crop; improved seeds and yields have significantly reduced the need for rice imports.

Industrial production has grown substantially in recent years and now accounts for about 20% of the GDP. Garments, many of which are assembled in the free trade zone located just outside Colombo, account for most of Sri Lanka's exports of manufactured goods. Roughly 75% of the apparel exported is sent to the U.S. Other industrial exports include refined petroleum products and precious and semi-precious gems.

Services (i.e., transportation and tourism) and remittances from Sri Lankans working abroad are of increasing importance to the economy. Colombo's efficient port has become a major cargo transshipment hub and a significant foreign exchange earner. Tourism, which has been hurt by the security situation, remains an important source of employment and one of the best hopes for future economic growth.

The United National Party government has undertaken to reverse many basic economic policies followed by all previous governments since independence. Most significantly, the government has reduced its rice subsidy program and is placing greater reliance on the private sector in promoting economic development. The country relies on considerable international assistance from both multilateral and bilateral aid donors. Increased foreign investment, the huge Mahaweli irrigation development scheme now beginning to yield results, the successful free trade zones, and the growth of the tourist industry, have helped to reduce the country's serious unemployment problem. However, the economy has suffered in recent years due to the continuing ethnic conflict and political instability.

Sri Lanka has chronic, current account and government budget deficits. Foreign aid has helped to cover these gaps somewhat, but foreign borrowing also has been significant. External debt is estimated at about $9.9 billion (2000 est.).

Import liberalization, part of the 1977-78 economic reforms, eliminated the scarcities and black-market activities which once plagued the island. The government's economic priorities are now to bring prices under better control, diversify and expand exports, increase national savings, and maintain the quality of life of its people. Although shortages of basic food items no longer occur, imported products on the local market are often expensive.

The address of the National Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka is P.O. Box 1375, Second Floor, YMBA Building, Colombo, Sri Lanka. The Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka is located at the People's Bank Bldg., 220 Deans Rd., Colombo 10.


Air Lanka offers domestic service. Charter planes and helicopters are also available. The railway system, also a government enterprise, provides a reasonably satisfactory means of reaching a few points of interest on the island. First-class travel, although somewhat rigorous, should be used whenever possible; second-class accommodations frequently are the best available. The government-owned bus system, which is overcrowded and poorly maintained, normally is not used by foreign residents. Private buses offer little improvement.

Rental vehicles with a driver, although relatively expensive, may be engaged for excursion trips. Satisfactory and inexpensive three-and four-wheeled metered taxi service is available in Colombo.

Despite such problems as heavy traffic (bicycles, bullock carts, other vehicles, and pedestrians), lack of spare parts, and indifferent servicing, most resident Americans rely on automobiles for transportation within and outside Colombo. Sri Lankan roads are generally narrow and inadequately maintained. The island has an extensive network of paved surfaces.

Small, right-hand-drive cars are recommended because of the narrow roads. The highest rated gasoline is about 93 octane. The most popular cars include Peugeot, Volkswagen, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Ford, (Australia, Germany, U.K.), and British Ley-land. Parts and servicing are most readily available for Japanese vehicles. Heavy-duty tires and batteries, air-conditioning, tropical radiators, and extra undercoating against rust are worthwhile investments. Catalytic converters on newer models should be removed, since lead-free gasoline is not available.

As in England, traffic moves on the left side of the road. Sri Lanka permits import of left-hand-drive vehicles, but for safety and resale value, it is wise to import only right-hand-drive vehicles.

Third-party liability insurance is compulsory in Sri Lanka. Insurance policies are available only through the government-owned and-operated Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation and the National Insurance Corporation.


Local telephone service often is interrupted by breakdowns caused by age and weather conditions. Long-distance and international direct-dial services are available to all points in Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, Japan, Europe, and the U.S., provided an advance deposit has been made. Telegraph and cable service, available day and night, is satisfactory. Telex facilities are available at most good hotels.

Airmail service to and from the U.S. is generally satisfactory. The average transit time is eight to 10 days. Radio broadcasting operates 17 and one-half hours daily, seven days a week. Programs offered by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation cover local and international subjects and include a substantial amount of Western music, especially on FM. Programming and schedules follow British format, and some British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) programs and news features are relayed on local channels. Broadcasting is in English, Sinhala, and Tamil on shortwave, AM, and FM frequencies. Many interesting and informative programs are presented. Reasonably good worldwide radio reception is available on shortwave.

Sri Lanka initiated television transmission in 1978 and now has two stations. Each station operates from 5 p.m. until after 11 p.m. The programs on both channels consist of locally produced shows in English, Sinhala, and Tamil, and reruns of U.S. and U.K. serials in English. Regular, nightly news programs are broadcast in all three languages at different times.

Sri Lanka uses the PAL system of color TV; therefore, U.S. sets cannot operate here. Color sets are available locally through the duty-free complex; however it is a time-consuming process and purchases require Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry approval. Prices compare favorably with those in the U.S.

Most Americans bring videotape equipment to Sri Lanka. Many belong to local tape clubs which rent tapes (VHS/PAL system only) at reasonable prices.

Colombo newsstands sell current international editions of Time and Newsweek. The International Herald Tribune, USA Today, and Asian Wall Street Journal also are available.

Library facilities in Colombo are limited, but improving. The American Center library is designed to meet the needs of Sri Lankan students and academics. The Colombo municipal library system has approximately 123,000 titles in English at any one time, and subscribes to some 400 English-language journals and newspapers. The British Council's large, 52,000-volume library includes a good selection of fiction. It subscribes to about 150 periodicals and newspapers. The Colombo Swimming Club operates a small library offering book selections to both children and adult members. A modest number of expensive current paperbacks are available at the large hotel bookshops.

Mildew, termites, and silverfish are a serious threat to books not kept in air-conditioned rooms. Valuable volumes should not be brought to Sri Lanka.

Health and Medicine

Privately owned hospitals, with 24-hour English-speaking Sri Lankan-trained physicians on duty, have outpatient departments, intensive care units, operating rooms, and diagnostic facilities. However, the hospitals are not up to American standards and are utilized rarely, except for routine lab work. Medical problems requiring sophisticated treatment are sent to the nearest adequate medical facility (in Bangkok).

The U.S. Embassy maintains a health unit in Colombo for official personnel and dependents. Some limited care is occasionally provided to unofficial Americans on a fee-for-service basis.

Private physicians are the primary source of medical assistance. Specialists from the government hospitals assist when needed. Some specialists are board-certified in the U.K. Fees for medical care and treatment are reasonable.

All dental work should be done prior to arrival in Sri Lanka. Local dentists have been consulted, with satisfactory results, by some members of the American community. However, dental care is substandard, and no major dental work can be done.

Pharmaceutical supplies are not always available locally, so one should have an adequate supply of first aid materials, aspirin, or other necessary items; this includes vitamins and birth control pills.

Gastrointestinal disease is the major health problem here. Hepatitis A is common in the local population. Diarrhea is the most common illness among Americans living in the subcontinent, mainly because of contaminated food and water. City water is not potable and should be filtered and boiled for 10 minutes before using. One should thoroughly cook all meat and wash and disinfect all fruits and vegetables.

Sri Lanka has many kinds of insects. Mosquitoes carry malaria, Japanese B encephalitis, dengue fever, and filariasis. Flies carry filth that cause such endemic diseases as cholera and typhoid. Those coming here for an extended stay should bring a good supply of insecticides, pest strips, insect repellents, and fly swatters. Snakes, both poisonous and nonpoisonous, are found in Sri Lanka. Yards and lawns around the houses must be maintained by keeping grass cut and clearing leaves, which helps to deter nesting of snakes.

Parents with small children must exercise special caution as to safe play areas outdoors. The U.S. Embassy health unit maintains a stock of snake bite serum, which, if needed, is best administered in a hospital setting.

Malaria prophylaxis must be started two weeks before arrival in Sri Lanka. Also, make sure immunizations are up to date, especially those for gamma globulin, rabies, meningitis, and hepatitis B.


Passage, Customs & Duties

Several international airlines fly into Sri Lanka's Katunayake Airport about 20 miles northwest of Colombo (one hour by car). At present, no American carriers provide service. Air Lanka is the national airline.

A passport and an onward/return ticket and proof of sufficient funds are required. A no-cost visit visa, valid for 30 days, will be granted at the time of entry into Sri Lanka to bona fide tourists and business travelers. Visitors staying more than 30 days for any purpose must pay residency visa fees. Yellow fever and cholera immunizations are needed if arriving from an infected area. All travelers departing Sri Lanka (except diplomats and certain exempted travelers) must pay an airport tax, in cash. Sri Lankan law requires all persons, including foreigners, who are guests in private households to register in person at the nearest local police station. Individuals who stay in private households without registering may be temporarily detained for questioning. This requirement does not apply to individuals staying in hotels or guesthouses.

American citizens are advised not to travel north of a line drawn from Puttalam on the west coast through Anuradhapura in the central north and Nivaveli (just north of Trincomalee) in the east. Areas north of this line contain many land mines, making travel off paved roads very dangerous. In addition, the LTTE rather than the Government of Sri Lanka is effectively the civil administration in many sections of the north. Official travel by U.S. Government personnel to this area is restricted, and their unofficial travel is prohibited. Travel in the east in the area south of the Anuradhapura-Nivaveli line (including Trincomalee, Batticaloa and points south) poses significant safety risks. Roads are often substandard, and police, medical and other emergency help is severely limited or not available. Communications within the eastern areas are also limited, with no cell phone accessibility and very limited land-line telephone access. Because of these considerations, the U.S. Embassy may not be able to provide consular services in a timely manner to American citizens who travel to the north and east.

Sri Lankan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Sri Lanka of items such as firearms, antiquities, business equipment, obscene materials, currency, gems and precious metals. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Washington, D.C., or one of Sri Lanka's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.

Americans living in or visiting Sri Lanka are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Colombo and obtain updated information on travel and security within Sri Lanka. The U.S. Embassy is located at 210 Galle Road, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka. The Embassy's telephone number during normal business hours Monday through Friday is (94)(1) 448-007. The after-hours and emergency telephone number is (94)(1) 447-601. The Consular Section fax number is (94)-(1)-436-943. The Embassy's Internet address is The e-mail address for the consular section is [email protected]. The Embassy in Colombo also covers the Republic of the Maldives. U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to register at the Embassy upon arrival in Sri Lanka or by e-mail.

Currency, Banking and Weights and Measures

Sri Lanka's monetary unit is the rupee. Strict currency controls require customs declaration of all foreign currency brought into and taken out of the country and severely limit local importation of foreign goods. Indian, Nepalese, Pakistani, and Sri Lankan rupees are forbidden to be imported into or exported out of the country.

Sri Lanka operates on the metric system in calculating weights and measures.

The time in Sri Lanka is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) plus five-and-one-half hours.


Jan. 14 Tamil Thai Pongal Day

Feb. 4 National Day

Feb/Mar. Maha Sivarathri Day*

Mar/Apr. Good Friday*

Mar/Apr. Easter*

Apr. Eve of Sinhala & Tamil New Year*

Apr. Sinhala & Tamil New Year*

May 1May Day

May 22National Heroes' Day

Dec. 25 Christmas Day

Id al-Adha*



Mawlid an Nabi*




The Poya Day (Full Moon Day) of each month is also considered a holiday.


The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Brohier, R.L. Discovering Ceylon. Colombo: Lake House Investments, Ltd., 1973.

Carter, John Ross, ed. Religiousness in Sri Lanka. Colombo: Marga Institute, 1979.

Cartman, James. Hinduism in Ceylon. Colombo: Gunasena, 1957.

Colombo Handbook. 5th ed. Colombo: American Women's Association, 1989.

Coomaraswamy, Radhika. Sri Lanka: The Crisis of the Anglo-American Constitutional Traditions in a Developing Society. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House Pvt., Ltd., 1984.

de Silva, K.M. A History of Sri Lanka. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.

. Sri Lanka: A Survey. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1977.

Farmer, B.H. Ceylon: A Divided Nation. London: Oxford University Press, 1963.

Farmer, B.H. Pioneer Peasant Colonization in Ceylon. London: North Oxford University Press, 1957.

Gunawardana, R.A.L.H. Robe and Plough: Monasticism and Economic Interest in Early Medieval Sri Lanka. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1979.

Hulugalle, H.A.J. Ceylon Yesterday, Sri Lanka Today. Stockholm: Stureforlaget AB, 1976.

Images of Sri Lanka Through American Eyes: Travellers in Ceylon in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Compiled and edited with introduction, commentaries, and bibliography by H.A.I. Goonetileke. Colombo: USICA, 1983.

Jayawardena, V.K. The Rise of the Labor Movement in Ceylon. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1972.

Jiggins, J. Caste and Family in the Politics of the Sinhalese. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

Jupp, James. Sri LankaThird World Democracy. London: Frank Cass, 1978.

Kanogaran, Chelvadurai. Ethnic Conflict and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1987.

Karunatilake, H.N.S. Economic Developments in Ceylon. New York: Praeger, 1971.

Kearney, Robert N. The Politics of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1973.

Knox, Robert. An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon. Introduction by H.A.I. Goonetileke. New Delhi: Navrang, 1983.

Ludowyk, E.F.C. The Footprint of the Buddha. London: Allen and Unwin, 1958.

Ludowyk, E.F.C. The Modern History of Ceylon. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1966.

. The Story of Ceylon. 2nd ed. London: Faber, 1967.

Malalgoda, Kitsiri. Buddhism in Sinhalese Society 1750-1900: A Study of Religious Revival and Change. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

Moore, Mick. The State and Peasant Politics in Sri Lanka. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Pieris, Ralph. Sinhalese Social Organization. Colombo: Ceylon University Press Board, 1956.

Ponnambalam, Satchi. Dependent Capitalism in Crisis: The Sri Lankan Economy 1948-1980. London: Zed Press, 1981.

Rahula, Walpola. History of Buddhism in Ceylon. The Anuradhapura Period 3rd Century B.C.-10th Century A.D. 2nd ed. Colombo: Gunasena, 1968.

Raven-Hart, R. Ceylon History in Stone. Colombo: Lake House Investments, Ltd., 1964.

Robert, Michael. Caste Conflict and Elite Formation: The Rise of a Karava Elite in Sri Lanka, 1500-1931. London: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

. Collective Identities, Nationalisms, and Protest in Modern Sri Lanka. Colombo: Marga Institute, 1979.

Ryan, Bryce. Caste in Modern Ceylon. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953.

Smith, Bardwell L., ed. Religion and Legitimation of Power in Sri Lanka. Chambersbyrg: Anima Books, 1978.

Snodgrass, Donald R. Ceylon: An Export Economy in Transition. Homewood, IL: Richard Irwin, 1966.

Still, John H. The Jungle Tide. London: Blackwood, 1955.

Vijayatunga, J. Grass For My Feet. London: Howard Baker, 1970.

Wilson, A. Jeyaratnam. The Gaullist System in Asia: The Constitution of Sri Lanka. London: Macmillan, 1980.

Woolf, Leonard. Growing: An Autobiography of the Years 1904-1911. New York: Harcourt Bruce, 1961.

. The Village in the Jungle. Colombo: Hansa Publishers, 1974.

Wriggins, W. Howard. Ceylon: Dilemmas of A New Nation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1960.

Yalman, N. Under the Bo TreeStudies in Caste, Kinship, and Marriage in the Interior of Ceylon. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967.

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Sri Lanka


Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Prajathanthrika Samajavadi




Sri Lanka is an island nation-state in the Indian Ocean. It is located 880 kilometers (547 miles) north of the equator, off the southern tip of India, and has a maximum length of 432 kilometers (268 miles) and a maximum width of 224 kilometers (139 miles). The island has an area of 65,610 square kilometers (25,332 square miles) and a total coastline of 1,700 kilometers (1,056 miles). Sri Lanka is slightly larger than West Virginia. Its capital, Colombo, lies on the country's western coast.


Sri Lanka's population was estimated at 19.24 million in 2000, indicating growth of 11.5 percent compared with the 1991 population of 17.25 million. Sri Lanka has the slowest-growing population in southern Asiaestimated at 0.9 percent yearlyand its population is projected to increase to 23.55 million by the year 2025. The density of Sri Lanka's population is fairly high, at 280 persons per square kilometer (725 per square mile). In 2000 the birth rate was estimated at 16.8 per 1,000 people and the death rate at 6.4 per 1,000 people. The majority of Sri Lanka's people live in the rural sector (67 percent), in urban areas (22 percent), and on plantation estates (11 percent). The infant mortality rate (16.5 per 1,000) and overall death rate are low for a developing country, and the average life expectancy (69 years for men and 73 years for women) is the highest in southern Asia. The low fertility rate and high life expectancy has led to a larger increase in the older population than the younger population. It took most western countries 45 to 135 years for their elderly population to double, while in Sri Lanka this process is expected to take only 2 decades. Sri Lanka is expected to have the third oldest population in Asia in 2025. The rising burden of maintaining an aged population could exert considerable restraints on the government's fiscal resources, and the need to provide retirement support income and health care will have serious consequences on the economy as a whole during the next 2 decades.

An important characteristic of the Sri Lankan population is its ethnic and cultural diversity. Approximately 74 percent of the population are Sinhalese, 12.6 percent are Sri Lankan Tamils, 5.5 percent Indian Tamils, 5 percent Muslims, and the remainder consists of Burghers, Malays, and others (2.9 percent). Among the ethnic groups, the Sinhalese were the earliest inhabitants of Sri Lanka and are descendants of the first colonists who occupied the island during the 5th century B.C. Most of them are Buddhist, and speak a language called Sinhala, derived from several Indo-Aryan languages. The Sri Lankan Tamils are the descendants of the early Dravidian invaders from southern India. They are predominantly Hindu and speak Tamil, one of the major Dravidian languages of southern India. Indian Tamils are the descendants of laborers brought by the British planters in the 19th century to work on plantations. The Muslims are the descendants of early Arab traders who settled in SriLanka during the 10th century. The Burghers are the descendants of the Portuguese, Dutch, and British who occupied the island from the 16th to the mid-20th century. The Burghers are predominantly Christian and speak English as their first language.


Sri Lanka is a developing economy based largely on agriculture, services, and light industry. Agriculture accounts for approximately 21 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and employs 38 percent of the workforce. Agricultural output is divided between cash crops from plantation agriculture and food crops from subsistence agriculture. Cash cropsnamely tea, rubber, and coconutsare largely grown on plantations. Rice is the principal food crop and the main livelihood for over 70 percent of Sri Lanka's rural population. Manufacturing industries account for approximately 19 percent of the gross domestic product and employ about 17 percent of the workforce. Chief manufactures include textiles, ceramics, petroleum products, vegetable oils, fertilizers, and cement. The service sector is the largest of the Sri Lanka economy, employing 45 percent of the workforce and contributing roughly 60 percent of GDP. Tourism, banking, finance, and retail trade are the major components of the service sector.

The country is endowed with many natural resources. It has an equatorial climate with a high average rainfall. The land is fertile and suitable for growing a variety of crops, and one-third of the land is arable. Rivers cascading from the central hill country provide energy to generate hydropower, the major source of electricity in Sri Lanka. The country also has rich fishing resources. Sri Lanka's mineral resources include titanium ore, graphite, kaolin, and gemstones. It also has large deposits of unexploited iron ore.

Foreign trade is an important segment of the Sri Lankan economy. Major imports include petroleum, consumables, machinery and capital equipment, motor vehicles, and various manufactured goods. Major exports include garments, tea, rubber, coconut products, foodstuffs, gems, and jewelry. Sri Lanka is the largest exporter of black tea in the world and the third largest producer of natural rubber. A variety of gemstones, for which Sri Lanka is world famous, are also exported. Significant quantities of high-grade graphite, for which Sri Lanka is a world leader, are also exported. The industrialized countries taken together as a group accounted for 75 percent of Sri Lanka's total exports in 1999 and the United States is the largest single buyer of Sri Lanka's exports, with 39 percent in 1999. Other major export markets are the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Russia (tea), China (rubber), India, and the Middle East. In terms of imports, Japan is the single largest exporter to Sri Lanka. Motor vehicles, spare parts, and woven fabrics are the major items imported from Japan. India is the second largest exporter, followed by Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Sri Lanka is a mixed economy, in which both the private sector and the state sector engage in the production process. Foreign investments are encouraged and several free zones have been established. The country's banking system is well developed, so that both foreign and local banks function in the economy. Sri Lanka is committed to a free market ideology and has one of the most liberal foreign trade regimes in the world. This contrasts greatly to what the Sri Lankan economy looked like during the first 3 decades after the country gained independence from Great Britain in 1948. The economy that evolved in Sri Lanka under British rule was predominantly oriented towards agriculture, with plantation agriculture being the major contributor to the nation's growth. The 3 plantation cropstea, rubber, and coconutsaccounted for 30 percent of the gross domestic product in 1948 and the bulk of the output was exported. Manufacturing was an insignificant activity in the economy. Banking and commerce were, for the most part, only used to support plantation agriculture. Nearly all foreign exchange earnings were derived from the plantations. The country depended on imports for nearly three-fourths of its food requirements and almost all of its manufactured goods.

The Sri Lankan economy has since become highly diversified; it has rapidly growing manufacturing and service sectors, agricultural activities have been modernized, and the country is nearly self-sufficient in rice production. The significance of the 3 major export crops (tea, rubber, and coconuts) as the main source of export earnings has fallen (from 90 percent in the 1950s to 16 percent in 1999) and the significance of manufacturing has risen (from 1 percent of exports in 1950 to 60 percent in 1999). These changes in the structure of the Sri Lankan economy are a result of varying economic policy measures adopted by the government since independence. Development strategies that shaped the Sri Lankan economy over the last 5 decades may be distinguished under 2 eras: the first era covering the period between 1948-76, and the second era during the post-1977 period.

During the first era, development policy focused on achieving the objectives of equity and economic growth. The instruments adopted to achieve economic growth were aimed at import substitution industrialization, both in manufacturing and foodstuffs. The key measures used to achieve this growth strategy were the imposition of various restrictions on imports, and the encouragement of domestic production. Extensive social welfare programs such as price subsidies on food, statutory price controls on consumer goods , and the provision of free education and health services were the instruments used to achieve greater equity. The welfare programs achieved significant improvements in the area of human development, including lower mortality rates, increased life expectancy, and high literacy rates. However, high welfare expenditures restrained the nation's capital growth and ability to invest, slowing economic growth and causing high unemployment and low wages. During the 1951-1976 period, per capita gross domestic product grew only at an average of 0.2 percent per year. The achievements of the import substitution policies were even less noticeable, except in the production of rice and subsidiary food crops. With a worsening trade balance crisis, most newly established industries operated well below capacity due to a shortage of imported goods. This, coupled with increased government participation in industrial development, hindered industrial growth and the ability to remain commercially viable. The continued government intervention in all spheres of economic life reached its climax at the end of the first policy era.

The second era of Sri Lankan economic development (post-1977) marked a shift towards a free market economy. The strategy aimed at liberalizing the economy from excessive government controls and it chose the private sector as the engine of growth. Policies were designed to accelerate economic growth by stimulating private investment through various incentives and also to increase the country's foreign earnings by promoting export-oriented economic activities. The liberalization policies, pursued under the watchful eye and participation of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, met with success at the beginning. Stimulated by enhanced levels of foreign aid and investment, the economy was successful, recording real growth rates of about 6 percent per year until 1986. During the following 5 years, however, there was a marked deceleration of growth caused mainly by the disruptive effects of the ethnic conflict on economic activities. Gross domestic product grew at an annual average of 2.7 percent between 1986-1989, and at an annual average of 5 percent between 1990-2000. During the second era, the level of income in the economy grew significantly with per capita gross domestic product more than doubling (from US$382 in 1975 to US$802 by 2000).

The transition to a free market economy based on a liberalized trade and exchange rate regime has brought benefits to the Sri Lankan economy. Unemployment, a problem for decades, has reduced significantly, and remains at historically low levels (8 percent in 2000). Nonetheless, the high levels of inflation , fueled by the sharp deterioration of the Sri Lankan currency, combined with the mounting cost of civil war has raised the cost of living to very high levels. The soaring cost of living has made many Sri Lankans struggle to satisfy their basic needs. Over 45 percent of the population depends on benefits under the income supplement programs initiated by the government. The balance of payments problem remains unresolved. The persistent trade deficit has led to increased reliance on foreign aid to meet the country's import requirements, leading to an inevitably mounting foreign debt . Foreign debt as a percentage of the gross domestic product, which accounted for 21 percent in 1975, grew to 75 percent in 1994, and amounted to 59 percent in 1999.


When Sri Lanka obtained its independence from Britain in 1948 it had an educated electorate conscious of its voting rights and the concept of majority rule. The judiciary was respected and the rule of law was well established. The political party system was also established with the United National Party (UNP) as the foremost party of the time. Sri Lanka also had a written constitution incorporating some of the principles of the British Westminster system of government. There is a unicameral Parliament with 225 members elected to 6-year terms. The president is popularly elected to a 6-year term and is the chief executive.

The UNP was in power for 8 years until it lost the 1956 election to Sirimavo Bandaranaike. His Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)-led coalition swept into power on the promise to make Sinhala the national language. This created disquiet among minorities, especially among Tamils. Tamil leaders opposed the introduction of Sinhala as the official language because they wanted to speak Tamil; their opposition soon led to violence. The seeds of the separatist war in Sri Lanka can be traced to incidents that occurred in 1958. But the conflict grew into a large-scale military confrontation only after 1983, when a group of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) followers ambushed Sinhalese troops. The LTTE, who are the Tamil protagonists of the war, have used terrorist methods to finance and promote their cause. They have assassinated moderate Tamil leaders, including President Premadasa, and several Sri Lankan ministers and party leaders. They also killed Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi because he withdrew his support of the LTTE.

Another serious problem was the emergence of a Sinhalese youth revolutionary party called the JVP, which staged an armed insurrection in 1971, lasting for 2 years and followed by 3 years of sporadic outbursts. The JVP resurrected itself in the late 1980s with a subtle form of urban terrorism, but it was brought under control by a ruthless program of suppression by the government. Both the LTTE and the JVP have been serious impediments to steady economic growth in Sri Lanka. However, Sri Lanka has been endowed with a very strong democratic tradition which has managed to survive these major conflicts, even during periods of poor economic management.

The 2 dominant parties during 50 years of independence have been the UNP (conservative) and the SLFP ( socialist -left, and more recently center-left). The 2 political parties have alternated in positions of power for half a century, with the UNP heading the government from 1948 to 1956, 1965 to 1970, and 1977 to 1994. An SLFP-led coalition government was in power from 1956 to 1965, 1970 to 1977, and since 1994 as a coalition called the Peoples Alliance (PA).

The Sri Lankan government epitomizes a classic democratic 2-party political system in operation. The UNP regimes during the period 1948 to 1970 placed emphasis on private sector participation with several ongoing subsidized programs such as free education, free health care, village land settlement, and colonization. The SLFP regimes continued the welfare programs and moved increasingly to public ownership and nationalization with limited private sector participation. In the early and the mid-1970s, they placed strict restrictions on imports and currency movement.

In 1977 the UNP government came into power and decided to run an open economy with few restrictions. The private sector became the main engine of growth. The rupee was devalued by 46 percent from its former artificial value. This immediately stimulated growth and received the backing and financial support of the World Bank. This UNP government lasted for 17 years. When the SLFP-led coalition known as the Peoples Alliance was elected to government in 1994, it accepted the importance of this open market economy as a positive growth strategy for the country.

A short time before the end of the first term of the Peoples Alliance in 2000, the LTTE attempted to assassinate the president of Sri Lanka, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumarathunga. The bomb caused damage to one eye but she survived, and her party was elected for a second term. The PA has had a very difficult period in government because of the financial and political pressures generated by the escalation of the armed conflict with the LTTE. The election itself generated a degree of conflict never experienced before in Sri Lankan politics, but democracy survived as it had in every one of the elections held after 1948.


The major source of government revenue in Sri Lanka is taxes (86 percent). However, unlike the United States, the contribution of income taxes to government revenue is negligible, at 13 percent, while indirect taxes dominate government revenue. There are 3 major sources of indirect taxes: the goods and services tax (GST), excise tax , and the national security levy (NSL). The GST is a recent addition to the tax system (introduced in April 1998), replacing the business turnover tax. The GST is levied on a value-added basis at a uniform rate of 12.5 percent with full credit given to all inputs. GST revenue accounted for 26 percent of the total tax revenues in 2000. An excise tax, which contributed 23 percent of the total tax revenue during the same period, is levied mainly on liquor, tobacco, petroleum, and motor vehicles. The third important source of government revenue, the NSL, was initially introduced as an interim measure to finance the rising cost of war in the north and the east. It has become an important contributor to national tax revenue, contributing 17.5 percent. The NSL is levied at a rate of 6.5 percent. Taxes on international trade account for 16 percent of the total tax revenue. With the liberalization of trade and restructuring of the tariff regime, which began in the late 1980s, revenue from taxes on foreign trade has been declining.

The personal income tax (PIT) rate in Sri Lanka has 4 brackets, ranging from 10 percent to 35 percent. The PIT's contribution to the government tax revenue is small (about 1 percent of gross domestic product) and is lower than most other countries. The economy's high dependence on subsistence agriculture, low levels of income and tax compliance, and inefficient tax administration are the key contributors to low levels of PIT revenue. The corporate income tax (CIT) in Sri Lanka of 35 percent (flat rate) is relatively modest and is similar to the rates in other Asian economies. However, the CIT tax yield in Sri Lanka is quite low, as many firms are offered tax incentives to encourage investment.


Sri Lanka has a well-developed transport system, including a road network of approximately 100,000 kilometers (62,140 miles). A rail network consisting of about 1,944 kilometers (1,208 miles) of tracks links Colombo with the rest of the country. Road networks are under severe strain due to the rapid increase in the number of vehicles since the 1980s. The number of registered vehicles nearly tripled from 478,000 in the mid-1980s to 1.38 million in 2000, generating severe traffic congestion. With a rising number of vehicles, and the need for a more efficient road network to facilitate the movements of goods and services, the government is actively engaged in improving, rehabilitating, and extending the existing network.

Sri Lanka has 14 airfields, the largest of which is the Katunayake International Airport, the principal gateway to Sri Lanka. The country is serviced by 32 airlines, both domestic and foreign, and the national carrier, SriLankan Airlines, handles about 56 percent of international passengers to and from Sri Lanka. It has scheduled operations to 35 destinations in 26 countries covering Australia, the Indian subcontinent, the Far East, Europe, and the Middle East. The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) is responsible for operating the ports. The SLPA operates 4 major ports in Colombo, Galle (in the south), Trincomalee (in the east), and Kankasanturai (in the north). In addition, limited shipping facilities are provided by the Ceylon Shipping Corporation and by several private sector shipping companies. A major restructuring of the cargo handling facilities in Colombo port is now taking place in conjunction with the British PNO company.

Hydropower is the major source of electricity, accounting for 66 percent of the nation's electricity supply. One of the main sources of hydropower is the gigantic Mahaweli Scheme, which has harnessed the flow of Sri Lanka's longest river in several stages. The remainder is generated through thermal power (34 percent) and most recently, wind power. Electricity generation and distribution has traditionally been a government monopoly . However, the private sector has become much more involved in power generation during the past decades.

Telecommunications is the fastest growing sector in the country. During the first half of 2000, the telecommunications sector grew by 11 percent. Sri Lanka Telecom Ltd. (SLT) is the major supplier; its network provided 44,228 new telephone connections during the first half of 2000, with total network subscriptions of 621,394. The demand for telephones is growing much faster than supply: at the end of June 2000, there were 246,560 applicants on the waiting list. To meet rising demand the SLT is expanding its capacity with assistance from international donors. In addition to the SLT subscriber network, there are 4 cellular phone operators with a subscription of 307,027. Other service providers include wireless local loop telephones (2 operators with 101,093 subscribers), data communication services such as Internet and e-mail (15 operators with 32,633 subscribers), and public phones (6 operators with 7,491 public phone booths).

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Sri Lanka 29 209 92 0.0 9 N/A 4.1 0.52 65
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
India N/A 121 69 18.8 1 0.2 2.7 0.18 2,800
Bangladesh 9 50 6 N/A 1 N/A N/A 0.00 50
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.


The changing structure of the economy mirrored in the relative contribution of the key industrial sectors reflect the country's potential to realize substantial growth. It also reflects the transition of the agriculture-dominated economy to a more diversified one with growing industrial and modern service sectors. In 1950, agriculture accounted for half the gross domestic product and by the year 2000, its significance was reduced to one-fifth of the gross domestic product. The contribution of industry more than doubled from about 11 percent to 19 percent while the service sector expanded significantly from 39 percent to 60 percent during the same period. Sri Lanka is rich in resources, both natural and human. It has several unexploited mineral resources (such as iron ore) and underexploited mineral and fisheries resources with substantial potential for future growth. Another area with substantial growth potential is tourism, which is interrupted by the prolonged civil unrest in the economy.


Agriculture is the most important sector of the Sri Lankan economy. Even though its contribution to the gross domestic product declined substantially during the past 3 decades (from 30 percent in 1970 to 21 percent in 2000), it is the most important source of employment for the majority of the Sri Lankan workforce. Approximately 38 percent of the total labor force was engaged in agriculture in 1999. In the subsistence sector, rice is the main crop and farming rice is the most important economic activity for the majority of the people living in rural areas. During the last 5 decades the rice sector grew rapidly and output more than tripled, reaching the highest ever output of 2.9 million metric tons in 1999. Increases in the area under cultivation, and improved productivity due to the modernization of agriculture are the main reasons for an increase in production. The rehabilitation of Sri Lanka's extensive ancient irrigation network and massive new investment in construction and maintenance of irrigation infrastructure led to a large increase in the area under rice cultivation. Between 1960-2000, the area used to grow rice increased 6 times to 546,249 hectares. The modernization of farming methods, such as the use of high-yielding seeds, tractors, and chemical fertilizers also led to increased productivity in the rice sector. Between 1960-1999, rice yield per hectare doubled from 1,877 kilograms to 3,672 kilograms. In addition to rice, various other food crops are produced for local consumption. They include yams, pulses, grains, vegetables, and fruits. Most of these crops are cultivated in family gardens, except for potatoes and sugar. Sugar cane is cultivated in the dry zone, and Sri Lanka produces only 15 percent of what it consumes domestically.

The major plantation crops of tea, rubber, and coconuts continue to figure prominently in the economy of Sri Lanka; however, the contribution of these commercial crops to gross domestic product declined from 11.5 percent in 1970 to 5 percent in 2000. Tea, the prominent crop of the plantation sector, grows in many parts of the wet zone, and in particular in the central hill country. Sri Lanka is famous for its high quality black tea, and is the largest supplier in the world. In 1999, 269.3 million kilograms of tea (95 percent of total tea production) was exported, earning US$621 million in foreign exchange. The United Kingdom, Russia, and the Middle East are the major export markets.

The second major commercial crop is rubber, growing in the ridge and valley country of the wet zone interior. Of 159,000 hectares under cultivation, about 80 percent was being tapped (harvested) and in 1999, 96.6 million kilograms of rubber were produced. A sizable proportion of rubber production is used in the domestic manufacturing sector (56 percent in 1999) and the remainder is exported. In 1999 export earnings amounted to US$33 million. China is traditionally the major buyer of Sri Lankan rubber. The performance of this sector has been subject to instability due to unfavorable movements in world prices. Competition from synthetic rubber producers has caused rubber prices to drop. However, with rising petroleum prices (the major ingredient for synthetic rubber) there is a chance for world rubber prices to improve.

The third commercial crop, coconuts, is grown mainly in the hinterland of the western seaboard. Production in 1999 accounted for 2,828 million nuts, the highest output since 1986. Coconut (mainly coconut milk) is a major ingredient used in food preparation in Sri Lanka, and nearly 65 percent of the output is consumed locally. The remainder is exported in the form of kernel products (desiccated coconut, coconut oil, copra), coconut cream, and coconut milk powder. In 1999, kernel products generated US$129 million in foreign exchange.

Forestry and fishing are less important components of the economy. Forests in the dry zone were cleared for settlement and agriculture early on. Unsustainable agricultural practices such as chena cultivation and logging resulted in land degradation and a reduction in the size of forest reserves. The country has abundant fishing resources, with an exclusive economic zone covering over 500,000 square kilometers (193,050 miles), a coastline of about 1,700 kilometers (1,056 miles), and a massive network of inland water reservoirs suitable for fish farming. However, this potential has not yet been exploited. Most marine fishing is concentrated in coastal areas, which account for about 12 percent of the exclusive economic zone. Total fish production in 1999 was estimated at 280 thousand metric tons, and the contribution of this activity to gross domestic product was about 3 percent in 1999. Fishing is a traditional livelihood for people living in coastal areas: in 1999 about 145,000 people were employed in fishing activities. A slow-growing sector, fish production increased at an annual average of only about 3 percent between 1992 and 1999. Poor production is mainly due to a lack of technical knowledge and equipment.

The livestock sector in Sri Lanka is small, consisting mainly of the dairy and the poultry subsections. Unlike in the United States, where dairy production takes place on large farms, in Sri Lanka dairy farming is a small-scale domestic activity. Total milk production in 1999 accounted for 342 million liters, sufficient only to meet about one-fourth of local needs. The remainder is imported in the form of powdered milk (in 1999, 54,000 metric tons of milk powder was imported). An important development in the livestock sector was the rapid increase in the poultry production. In 1999 approximately 57 million metric tons of poultry meat was produced, increasingly becoming a common source of animal protein in Sri Lanka.



Manufacturing accounts for 16 percent of the gross domestic product and employs nearly 400,000 people. The textile industry is the largest of Sri Lanka's industries, contributing 63 percent to industrial sector growth (1999). Other major manufacturing industries include processed diamonds, food and beverages, light engineering, chemicals, petroleum, rubber and plastics, and machinery and equipment. The manufacturing sector that evolved under the import substitution development strategy in the 1960s to cater mainly to the domestic market has transformed into a sector catering to the foreign market. Much of the industrial output is exported and it is the single major export earner in the economy (in 1999, industrial exports accounted for 54 percent of total export earnings). This remarkable achievement is attributable to the policy reforms introduced during the post-1977 period. Under the reforms, the private sector was encouraged to participate in export-oriented industries through various incentives, and several free zones were established. This resulted in a significant inflow of foreign investment; the private sector emerged as the major contributor to industrial output. Overall, market-oriented policy reforms introduced during the post-1977 period have led to far-reaching changes in the structure and performance of the manufacturing sector.


Mining is a minor economic activity contributing about 2 percent of the gross domestic product (1999). The country's mineral extraction industries include the mining of gemstones and graphite; excavation of beach sands containing ilmenite and monazite; and quarrying quartz sand, clay, and salt. Gem mining is traditionally the most important activity, producing high value gem-stones such as sapphire, ruby, and topaz, and a variety of semiprecious stones, most of which are exported. Sri Lanka leads the world in high-grade graphite mining.



Wholesale and retail trade, the largest sub-category in the service sector, accounts for about 21 percent of the gross domestic product (1999) and employs about 22 percent of the workforce (2000). With the lifting of import controls and the government monopoly in the importation and distribution of essential consumer goods during the post-1977 period, the trade sector expanded rapidly. Domestic trade accounts for half the value of the trade sector. Increased participation by foreign firms in domestic trade in Sri Lanka is a relatively recent phenomenon, with international food franchises such as McDonald's and Pizza Hut in operation. Numerous small outlets including street stalls serve the retail trade, and in the major cities there are large shopping centers and supermarkets.


Banking, insurance, and real estate accounted for 8 percent of gross domestic product in 2000. This sector expanded rapidly following the 1977 policy reforms that dismantled the virtual government monopoly in the insurance industry and lifted the restrictions in the banking industry. The increased incentives for the private sector led to the emergence of several new insurance companies and banks. A total of 6 new local banks were established and 11 foreign banks opened branches. The banking system consists of 11 local and 16 foreign banks. Two development finance institutions and several merchant and investment banks are also active participants in the financial markets in Sri Lanka. In addition, 22 financial institutions providing credit facilities are in operation. The Sri Lankan financial system comes under the regulation of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, which is the monetary authority of the country.


Tourism is an important activity with potential for growth. The country known as the paradise in the Indian Ocean offers a diversity of environments and tourist attractions, from tropical beaches and arid lands to lush forests, tea plantations, and a rich archaeological heritage. Promotion of tourism in Sri Lanka began in the late 1960s with the establishment of the Ceylon Tourist Board. Between 1976 and 1982, the number of tourist arrivals grew rapidly at an annual average rate of almost 24 percent, reaching a peak of 407,230 before declining to 337,342 in 1983 as a result of the civil unrest in the country. As the political violence in the country intensified, international tourist arrivals continued to fluctuate with a general trend of decline. Tourist arrivals increased to 436,440 in 1999. Tourism generates US$275 million in foreign exchange annually and employs approximately 87,600 workers. The majority of tourists to Sri Lanka come from Western Europe (65 percent), Asia (26 percent), and North America (5 percent).


One feature of the Sri Lankan economy, both in the past and present, is the high dependency on foreign trade. The country's dependency on trade, measured by the

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Sri Lanka
Exports Imports
1975 .603 .816
1980 1.067 2.037
1985 1.293 1.843
1990 1.983 2.685
1995 3.798 5.185
1998 4.732 5.917
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

Trade Dependency Ratio (TDR), defined as the ratio of the sum of exports and imports to gross domestic product, stood at 66 in 1999 compared with a TDR of 33 for the period 1970-1977. In 2000 exports stood at US$5.2 billion while imports stood at US$6.1 billion. The changing degree of trade dependency evident in the post-liberalization era has been accompanied by significant changes in the structure of Sri Lankan foreign trade. The dominance of tea, rubber, and coconuts, which accounted for 74 percent of the total exports in 1977, had fallen to 21 percent in 1999. Industrial exports have become the major contributor to export earnings with their share rising from 14 percent to 76 percent during the same period. Of industrial exports, textiles and garments are the leading sub-category, contributing 68 percent to total industrial exports in 1999. The balance consisted of machinery and equipment (6 percent), rubber-based products (5 percent), travel goods and processed diamonds (4 percent each), petroleum products and footwear (2 percent each), crustaceans and mollusks and ceramic products (1 percent each), and other industrial products (7 percent). Despite the changes in the structure of exports, tea continues to be the leading export with a share of 65 percent of total agricultural exports while textiles dominate the industrial exports with a share of 67 percent of the total industrial exports.

Intermediate goods dominate Sri Lanka's imports (51 percent of total imports), followed by investment goods (27 percent), and consumer goods (21 percent). This is in contrast to the composition of imports in the pre-liberalization era, which was dominated by consumer goods (50 percent of total imports in 1977), followed by intermediate goods (36 percent), and investment goods (12 percent). Rice, flour, and sugar dominated consumer goods in the past, accounting for 80 percent of total consumer goods imported. Their significance, however, fell to 21 percent in 1999. This changing structure of imports reflects the new economic environment resulting from the economic reforms introduced in 1977. The improvement in the domestic supply of rice and other food items helped to limit food imports. The expansion in the industrial sector resulted in higher imports of intermediate goods. Developments in infrastructure facilities, construction and the transport sector, combined with increased use of advanced technology, increased the import of investment goods.

The destination of Sri Lankan foreign trade also has changed. The United States has become the single most important trading partner, and has continued to be the largest single buyer of Sri Lanka's exports (accounting for 39 percent of exports in 1999). Garment exports accounted for 74 percent of total exports in 1999. The United Kingdom accounted for 13 percent, while Germany accounted for 5 percent of Sri Lanka's exports. On average, one-third of the Sri Lankan imports come from the industrial countries. Japan is the largest source of imports to Sri Lanka, with 10 percent in 1999. Motor vehicles, spare parts, and woven fabrics are the major items imported from Japan. India is the second largest exporter (with 9 percent), followed by Hong Kong and Singapore (8 percent each), South Korea (6 percent), Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Wheat, gold, agricultural equipment, and textiles are among the major items imported from the United Kingdom, while wheat accounted for 31 percent of imports from the United States. Textiles, tools and accessories for the garment industry, and fruits are the other major items imported from the United States.

Sri Lanka's trade with the rest of the world has changed in terms of composition, direction, and volume. However, the country has not been able to solve its fundamental problem, the unfavorable trade balance. As exports continued to grow, so did imports. Despite the persistent unfavorable trade balance, the country has managed to maintain its import levels with foreign assistance, capital flows, and an important and growing source of foreign exchange: remittances by Sri Lankan migrant workers in the Middle East. Prior to 1977 policy reforms, the fortunes of Sri Lankan exports depended primarily on the movements of world prices for the 3 major export commodities. While the export sector has diversified, the dependence on trade has also increased markedly. As the country's trade relations with industrialized countries rises, the Sri Lankan economy is vulnerable not only to changes in price levels of the major exports, but also to fluctuations in the levels of economic activity in industrialized countries.


With the liberalization of the foreign exchange rate regime in 1977, which changed from a fixed exchange rate regime to a flexible one, the value of the Sri Lankan currency has continued to fall against major currencies. The Sri Lanka rupee (R) which was 16.5 per U.S. dollar

Exchange rates: Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan rupees per US$1
Jan 2001 83.506
2000 77.005
1999 70.635
1998 64.450
1997 58.995
1996 55.271
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

in 1980 fell to R40 per dollar by 1990, and collapsed to R85 in 2001. With the high dependence on imports, the falling value of the currency means that the prices of imports continue to rise, pushing up domestic inflation.

Sri Lanka has an active stock market, the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE), the origin of which dates back to the 19th century. Share trading in Sri Lanka began in 1886 when the Colombo Brokers Association commenced the trading of shares in limited liability companies. Share trading grew since then and Colombo had a very active share market throughout the 20th century except during the 1960s and 1970s where a spate of nationalization, including the insurance companies and plantations, effectively reduced the trading to insignificant proportions. This decline was short lived, and the stock market recovered quickly following the policy reforms introduced in the latter part of 1970s, which created free and open market ideals where the private sector was given the key role in economic activities. Today the exchange has 238 companies listed with a market capitalization of approximately 10 percent of gross domestic product.


The wealthy, representing those engaged in commerce and industry, are largely concentrated in urban areas, while the poorest live on plantations and in rural areas. While the rich live in luxury, many urban poor live

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Sri Lanka 382 452 536 590 802
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
India 222 231 270 331 444
Bangladesh 203 220 253 274 348
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.
Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Sri Lanka
Lowest 10% 3.5
Lowest 20% 8.0
Second 20% 11.8
Third 20% 15.8
Fourth 20% 21.5
Highest 20% 42.8
Highest 10% 28.0
Survey year: 1995
Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

in shanty houses with no sanitary facilities. The urban poor in Sri Lanka are found mainly in the capital, Colombo. The majority of the Sri Lankan population live in rural areas, and the major source of wealth among them is land. Landlessness and unequal distribution of land are key determinants of rural poverty. Those living on plantations are laborers with no access to land ownership or alternative employment opportunities. They live in sub-standard houses supplied by the owners of plantations. A fourth group of poor, those displaced by the continuing war in the north and east, live in various refugee camps with no access to any amenity or opportunities.

The overall degree of disparity in wealth is reflected in the distribution of incomes. The wealthiest 20 percent of the population account for over 52 percent of the nation's income while the poorest 10 percent account for only 2 percent. Disparities in wealth have risen steadily during the post-1977 period, a result of policy reforms that paved the way for more wealth generation through the increased participation of the private sector. An important byproduct of the policy reforms was the soaring inflation induced by the falling value of Sri Lankan currency, raising the cost of living of the poor disproportionately. Meeting basic needs is a struggle to the poor, because average Sri Lankans spend over 40 percent of their income on food alone. Rising poverty has led to considerable social unrest; strikes in work places and protest rallies are common occurrences. The government maintains several subsidy programs to improve the position of the poor. Over 45 percent of the population benefits from one such income supplementary program called Samurdhi. Another, the dry ration program, is aimed at helping displaced families of the north and east due to the continuing civil war. International agencies such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank have sought to help Sri Lanka reduce poverty. Several funded projects have directly targeted the poorest segments of the population. Despite low per capita income levels, and high levels of the incidence of poverty, the quality of life in Sri Lanka is relatively high when compared with its neighbor, India.


According to the Department of Census and Statistics, the labor force in Sri Lanka is about 7 million and the total number of employed persons is 6.5 million. The unemployment rate is at around 8 percent (2000). While the overall unemployment rate is lower than in the past (which was about 15 percent in 1992), unemployment among youth is relatively high. Around 22.5 percent of the youth of age between 15 and 19 were unemployed and 15 percent in the age group 20 to 29. Of the total workforce, 66.5 percent are males and 33.5 percent are females. Women play an important role in the economic life of Sri Lanka. The largest concentration of women in professions is in the areas of teaching, nursing, and clerical work. In the plantation industry, women make up 68 percent of the workforce and, in the garment industry, about 90 percent of the workforce.

The basic minimum age for employment in Sri Lanka is 15 years, and the government has enforced laws to prevent child labor. The forced or bonded labor of children is prohibited. Despite the laws governing child labor, underage children work as street vendors and hold menial jobs in tile factories, coir-making operations,

Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Sri Lanka 43 0 7 4 8 4 33
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
India N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Bangladesh 49 4 18 8 9 4 8
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
aExcludes energy used for transport.
bIncludes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

fishing, and in domestic service. Poverty leads most of these children to work. According to a government study, about 60 percent of the employed children are secondary income earners, contributing as much as 30-40 percent of household income.

The constitution of Sri Lanka guarantees the right of workers to organize and establish labor or trade unions, except those employed by the security forces and members of the judiciary. All public and private sector employees possess the right to bargain collectively. The Department of Labor provides conciliation and arbitration services to resolve labor disputes. Although trade union freedom is substantial, it has been subject to periodic modification or curtailment during times of political strife. In Sri Lanka, there is no universal basic minimum wage, and the minimum wages differ from industry to industry. Sector-specific minimum wages are set by wage boards. There are about 39 wage boards, which set minimum wages for more than 100 occupations in industry, commerce, services, and agriculture. Remuneration tribunals also set minimum wages in some cases.

In Sri Lanka, working conditions and workers' rights are well protected by legislation. However, disruptions in the workplace are common. In recent years there were a number of labor actions such as strikes and protests. The rising cost of living has driven many workers to demand higher wages. There are instances where even those in the medical profession have gone on strike for higher wages. Because of the inability of most workers to make ends meet, many Sri Lankans seek employment abroad. The total number of Sri Lankan workers abroad was estimated to be around 788,000 in 1999, of whom nearly 90 percent are employed in the Middle East.


427 B.C. The legendary Sinhalese Prince Vijaya colonizes the north-central part of Sri Lanka.

250 B.C. The king of Anuradhapura, Devanpiya Tissa, embraces Buddhism.

210 B.C. Sinhala kingdom is invaded by Cholas from southern India and Elara becomes king.

161 B.C. King Dutthagamini defeats Elara and reestablishes Sinhala rule.

1055. Sinhala kingdom moves its capital to Polonnaruwa under King Vijayabahu I.

1232-1815. Sinhala kingdom moves south.

1371-1408. Dambadeniyan, Gampolan, and Kotten kingdoms.

1469-1815. Kandyan kingdom.

1521-1581. Sitawakan kingdom.

1505. The Portuguese capture the coastal belt and rule it until the Dutch oust them.

1658. The Dutch capture coastal areas.

1659. The British regain the coastal areas, displacing the Dutch.

1660. The British are invited by the Kandyan chiefs to usurp the king, gaining control. They maintain a colony in Sri Lanka until the 20th century.

1948. Sri Lanka gains political independence from the British on 4th February.

1948. The UNP is elected in Ceylon under the leadership of D. S. Senanayake.

1956. A coalition of parties (MEP) led by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike is elected.

1959. The SLFP leader is assassinated and his widow becomes prime minister in 1960.

1965. The UNP regains power under the leadership of Dudley Senanayake.

1971. Sri Lanka becomes a republic, but retains membership in the British Commonwealth.

1977. The UNP, under the leadership of J. R. Jayawar-dane, comes to power.

1978. Jayawardane becomes the first president of Sri Lanka. Liberalization reforms begin.

1979. Riots in response to the ambush and killing of 13 Singhalese soldiers by Tamil Tigers.

1980. Military action launched against the Tamil Tigers, with help from India.

1981. R. Premadasa becomes the second president of Sri Lanka.

1993. Premadasa's authoritarian rule ends as he becomes a victim of the LTTE.

1994. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and the Peoples Alliance gain political power.

2000. Kumaratunga wins a second term as president.


Since independence, despite low levels of per capita income, Sri Lanka has achieved an impressive human development record, with many of Sri Lanka's social indicators comparing favorably to those of more advanced economies. The country has broken away from a public-sector -dominated, highly regulated economic system and has laid the foundation for dynamic growth based on a free market, liberalized trade and exchange rates, and deregulated foreign investment. This transition has led to rapid economic growth, a significant reduction in the level of unemployment, and a rise in the level of per capita income. However, the impressive growth of the economy evident during the 1977-1982 period has generated increasing economic inequality. The soaring inflation fueled by the deterioration of the value of the Sri Lankan currency has worsened the relative position of the poor. Despite the reduced levels of unemployment and the increased opportunities, nearly half of the population depends on government subsidies to meet their basic needs. The balance of payments, a fundamental problem of the economy that has persisted since the 1950s, has continued to worsen. Mounting foreign debt and the debt servicing obligations has added further burden to the already critical balance of payments.

The slowdown in the pace of economic growth over the last 2 decades, coupled with the rising costs of the civil war, seriously threatens the economy's ability to meet the challenges and changing socioeconomic needs of its population. With a rapidly aging population, the need for more resources to provide health care and income support will exert considerable pressure on the government's fiscal resources and the tax system during the coming decades. The solutions to most of the burning problems, and those bound to emerge in the near future, lie in the country's ability to achieve sustained levels of long-term economic growth. The continuing civil conflict poses the biggest obstacle to the country's growth prospects. The need for an immediate solution to the 18-year-old civil war is imperative. Given that the Sri Lankan economy managed to realize an average growth rate of about 5 percent during the last decade in spite of severe interruptions caused by the civil war, lasting peace would undoubtedly bring prosperity to the nation.


Sri Lanka has no territories or colonies.


Central Bank of Sri Lanka. <>.Accessed March 2000.

"Country Profile of Sri Lanka." Indian Ocean Rim Network. <>. Accessed September 2001.

Department of Census and National Statistics (DCS), Sri Lanka. <>. Accessed September 2001.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Sri Lanka. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2001.

Embassy of Sri Lanka Online. <>. Accessed September 2001.

Fernando, T., and R. N. Kearney. Modern Sri Lanka: A Society in Transition. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1979.

Lakshaman, W. D. Dilemmas of Development. Colombo: SriLanka Association of Economists, 1997.

Lakshaman, W. D., and C.A. Tisdell. Facets of Development of Sri Lanka since Independence. Australia: University of Queensland, 1999.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2001. <>. Accessed September 2001.

U.S. Department of State. FY 2001 Country Commercial Guide: Sri Lanka. <>. Accessed September 2001.

Sarath Divisekera




Sri Lanka rupee (R). One rupee equals 100 cents. There are coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, and 50 cents, and 1, 2, 5, and 10 rupees. There are bills of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1,000 rupees.


Textile and apparel, tea, gems and jewelry, coconut products, rubber and rubber-based products, and spices.


Machinery and equipment, textiles, petroleum, foodstuffs.


US$62.7 billion (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).


Exports: US$5.2 billion (f.o.b., 2000). Imports: US$6.1 billion (f.o.b., 2000).

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Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Basic Data

Official Country Name: Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Region (Map name): East & South Asia
Population: 19,408,635
Language(s): Sinhala (official and national), Tamil (national language)
Literacy rate: 90.2%
Area: 65,610 sq km
GDP: 16,305 (US$ millions)
Number of Daily Newspapers: 12
Total Circulation: 536,000
Circulation per 1,000: 38
Number of Nondaily Newspapers: 36
Total Circulation: 1,322,000
Circulation per 1,000: 94
As % of All Ad Expenditures: 27.40
Number of Television Stations: 21
Number of Television Sets: 1,530,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 78.8
Number of Cable Subscribers: 5,820
Cable Subscribers per 1,000: 0.3
Number of Radio Stations: 72
Number of Radio Receivers: 3,850,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 198.4
Number of Individuals with Computers: 135,000
Computers per 1,000: 7.0
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 121,500
Internet Access per 1,000: 6.3

Background & General Characteristics

General Description

The press and media are fairly free in this island nation despite a deadly war between the Sinhalese-dominated government and the separatist Tamils fighting under the aegis of the militant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Since the mid-1970s, when the conflict started, there have been times of severe media censorship affecting the course of the war. Since 1996, when a new government led by Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaratunga took office promising to uphold an Election Manifesto that would assure fundamental freedomsincluding freedom of the pressconditions improved markedly, although censorship restrictions were re-imposed in June 1998. London-based Amnesty International (AI), whose representatives were specially invited to Sri Lanka in October 1998 by the country's Attorney General of Sri Lanka to investigate reports of a mass grave in Jaffna, has noted a marked improvement in the human rights situation in Sri Lanka as compared to the "widespread pattern of gross and systematic violations" of the pre-1994 period. There is no room for complacency, however, as AI and other bodies like the Physicians for Human Rights have been concerned about the "apparent failure" of the Sri Lankan government to live up to its international commitment to human rights and its failure to bring the perpetrators of past human rights violations to justice.

Historical Traditions

The ethnic Sinhala form the overwhelming majority (69 percent) of Sri Lanka's population, which traces its origin to the migration of an Indo-Aryan group from North India in the sixth century B.C. In the fourth century B.C., the Sinhala King of Anuradhapura is believed to have adopted Buddhism. After Buddhism split into Mahayana and Theravada sects in India, the Sinhalese adhered to Theravada, which is the faith that endures to this day among the Sinhalese majority. As Buddhism disappeared from most of India, it remained strong in Sri Lanka, where the adherents of that faith from mainland southeast Asia (particularly from Pegu in lower Myanmar) turned for continued guidance. Today, Sri Lanka boasts more than 6,000 Buddhist temples, some of them more than 1,000 years old including the famous Daladwa Maligawa, which houses the Buddha's Tooth; approximately 55,000 monks live in Sri Lanka as well. And although the country's constitution proclaims secularism, the government continues to Theravada Buddhism the premier role as Sri Lanka's national religion. The second most populous ethnic community in Sri Lanka is the Tamils, who trace their ancestry to the influx from Tamilnadu during the British colonial times as plantation laborers. There are other Tamils who trace their ancestry to groups of Dravidians from South India, who invaded the northern and eastern parts of the island, possibly from the eleventh century A.D., forcing the Sinhalese kings to move their capitals to central and southern parts of Sri Lanka.

In the colonial era, the southern coastal areas first came under Portuguese control in the beginning of the sixteenth century, a situation that remained in place for a century and a half. Most of the Catholics who live in Sri Lanka trace their ancestry to those who were converted to that faith by the Portuguese. In 1658 the Dutch took over from the Portuguese and maintained colonial control until 1795. At that time, Great Britain realized the strategic importance of the island for the growing British empire and made Sri Lanka (or Ceylon, as it was known then) another piece of the still-expanding British dominion. Britain formalized its possession at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The British administered Sri Lanka separately from their Indian Empire, relinquishing control over the island nation in 1948, one year after they left the Indian subcontinent.

Conflict Between the Sinhalese and the Tamils

The government's relationship with the press in Sri Lanka at various points in the last half a century can be best understood by following the chronological landmarks in the conflict between the island nation's two principal communities: the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority. Since independence, and especially since about 1976, Sri Lanka's politics have been rocked by a festering, often violent, conflict between those two communities. The conflict has compelled the government to impose a variety of restrictions on constitutionally guaranteed fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the press. At various times, censorship has been imposed on newspapers as well as on the electronic media; journalists have been physically assaulted, a few even killed; and there have been court confrontations between the journalists and the government. A very active Free Media Movement and the Editors Guild, assisted by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have intervened with the government at various times, with some success.

For Tamils, most of whose ancestors who were brought to the country in the nineteenth century by the British to work on the tea estates in the central highlands, the amendment to the Parliamentary Elections (Order in Council) in 1949 eliminating their franchise rights came as a shock. Before independence, many Tamils had played an important role in the government, largely because of their proficiency in English. The Tamils felt further alienated when Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was elected in 1956 on a platform that promised to make Sinhalese the country's only official language. When he took office, the Official Language Act made the campaign promise a reality. In 1964 and in 1986, Sri Lanka and India agreed to extend citizenship to some of the Tamils;sapproximately 469,000 obtained Sri Lankan citizenship at that time, while approximately 422,500 chose Indian citizenship. Of the latter, about 85,000 who accepted the Indian offer but still decided to stay in Sri Lanka became "stateless," without a passport or any official identification; these people were often subject to harassment by the security forces. They could not own land and had no right to vote. Subsequently, as the U.S. State Department Report on Human Rights for 1999 observed, "the struggle for cultural affirmation, political representation, economic advancement and linguistic parity between Sinhalese and Tamils ended in violence and armed conflict. The demand by some Tamil groups for an independent Tamil state called 'Eelam' became the overriding political issue in Sri Lanka."

The increasing Tamil discontent gave rise to extremism as the "Tigers" began their antigovernment activities with the murder in 1976 of the Tamil mayor of Jaffna, who had been cooperating with the Sinhalese government. This was followed by scores of murders of police officers, politicians, and bureaucrats. The government made some efforts to meet the Tamil demands. For example, the Constitution of 1978 recognized Tamil as a "national language" for public administration and the courts, but the Tamils remained dissatisfied because their language was still not recognized for university admissions or public office. Also, the government promised to establish regional councils with substantial autonomy, but such councils failed to materialize.

By 1983, the conflict assumed ominous proportions with a phenomenal increase in killings on both sides. Over the next two years, nearly 100,000 Tamils fled to South India, where the Tamilnadu government housed them in camps. India's mediation in the dispute marked the next several years. Then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's 1986 proposals for the devolution of authority in the Tamil areas were rejected by the LTTE leader, V. Prabhakaran, who returned to Jaffna and launched a new offensive. The Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of July 29, 1987, between Sri Lankan President Junius Jayawardene and Rajiv Gandhi included a peace plan providing for the amalgamation of the provincial councils in the north and the east, repatriation of the 100,000 Tamils who had fled to South India after 1983, and an Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to oversee compliance of the plan in Jaffna. The IPKF's efforts to disarm the LTTE failed miserably, and it decided to withdraw from Sri Lanka beginning July 28, 1989. Rajiv Gandhi himself became a victim of the LTTE when an LTTE suicide bomber assassinated the Indian leader at an election rally in Tamilnadu on May 21,1991.

In the two years following Gandhi's murder, Sri Lanka lost thousands of people in the continuing violence, including two generals, two admirals, three government ministers and, in April 1993, President Premadasa himself.

Despite such a murderous civil war, Sri Lanka maintained its parliamentary democracy and, within reasonable restrictions, the fundamental rights of its citizens and an independent judiciary. In the May 1994 presidential elections, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was voted in as president. Her peace talks with the LTTE began in October 1994 and lasted 100 days, but the talks failed and hostilities resumed. This time, the Sri Lanka Security Forces were able to recapture the Jaffna peninsula by December 1995, ending 13 years of LTTE rule there.

In 1997, the LTTE mounted a major offensive. In response, the government launched its own campaign called "Jaya Sikurui" or "Victory Assured," its longest (20 months, from May 13, 1997, to December 4, 1998) and costliest offensive to date. On January 26, 1998, a bomb exploded outside one of Buddhism's holiest shrinesDaladwa Maligawa, in the hill capital of Kandyjust two days before the first scheduled local government elections in 15 years in the Jaffna peninsula, and only a few days before the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of Sri Lanka's independence that were planned for Kandy.

In the January 1998 elections in the northern areas, five Tamil parties participated, including four which had fought against the Sri Lankan army. The LTTE boycotted the elections. The PA and the UNP, the two principal parties in the country, did not participate because they wanted to leave the field to the Tamil parties. Only 28 percent of registered voters cast their ballot. The Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP) won the largest number of seats.

By mid-2000, the LTTE had regained large parts of the Jaffna Peninsula and control over the jungles behind the lagoons in the eastern province. The government was frustrated at the failure of several policy initiatives to subjugate the LTTE, ranging from negotiations and military strikes to getting the United States to declare LTTE a terrorist organization. In July 2001, the world was shocked by the news of the LTTE's attack on the Bandaranayake International Airport in Colombo and the Air Force Base at Katunayake, destroying 13 air force planes and three Sri Lanka Airlines airbuses. Several other aircraft were damaged.

The Eelam wars have caused extremely heavy casualties on both sides and unacceptable economic losses (estimated over $100 million) to the government as well as to the private sector. By 2002, more than 60,000 people had died in the 20-year civil war; additionally, more than 2,000 soldiers were killed and another 1,500 turned up missing and presumed dead. Although the LTTE lost control over some of its territory, the impunity with which it could strike at the very heart of the governmen's infrastructureboth civil and militarywas shocking.

History Traditions

The beginnings of the press in Sri Lanka were marked by the publication of the Government Gazette in 1802, within months of Britain's formal acquisition of the island at the Peace of Amiens. The gazette could not be considered a genuine newspaper as such, since it was the government's tool to announce official postings, leaves, and retirements as well as to record government's administrative decisions. The first newspaper, the Colombo Journal appeared in 1832 but lasted only two years. It was almost exclusively meant for the relatively small, cloistered British community of officials and a growing number of businessmen and plantation owners. It was followed by the Observer and Commer cial Advertiser and the Ceylon Times (which later became famous as the Times of Ceylon ).

The "language" press began in 1860 with the publication of Lankaloka in Galle; the first Sinhala weekly newspaper, Lakminapahana, appeared on September 11, 1862. In 1896, the second Sinhala daily, Lakrivikrama (which had been a weekly since 1863), began publication. By the time the legendary H. S. Perera began publishing his well-known daily, Dinamana in 1909, the other two dailies had stopped publication, which made Dinamana the only Sinhala daily until September 1912. At that time, Alexander Welivita started the Sinhala daily, Lakmina, which survived till 1955. Dinamana it-self was later acquired by the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (ANCL). In 1932, the ANCL began publishing a Tamil daily, Thinakaran.

At the time of Sri Lanka's independence from Great Britain in 1948, the island nation's press was practically a duopoly. The ANCL, popularly called the "Lake House" after the name of the colonial mansion that served as its headquarters, was started in 1918 by a venerable figure in Sri Lanka's history of the press, D. R. Wijewardene. He founded the chain with its principal newspaper, the Ceylon Daily News, and five years later, in 1923, he acquired the Observer and Commercial Advertiser. The Lake House also published the Daily News, Dinamana (daily in Sinhala) and Janata (another daily in Sinhala). The second component of the "duopoly" was the Times group, whose flagship was, indeed, the Times of Ceylon. It also published the daily Morning News and Lankadipa (daily in Sinhala).

To challenge the duopoly, which was not always supportive of government policies, the left-leaning government of S. W. R. D. Bandaranayake and his widow, Sirimavo encouraged the publication of Dawasa, a daily newspaper in Sinhala, that quickly became the second largest daily newspaper, based on circulation. It was published by Independent Newspapers, which was owned by M. D. Gunasena, who was Sri Lanka's most prominent book publisher. Angry over the consistently antigovernment stance of the Lake House publications, Sirimavo's government nationalized the group in 1973. As of 2002, it was still government-owned, and it supports whichever party is in power. In addition, it is the only government-run newspaper publishing house, as the remaining papers are all privately-owned, many of them linked to political parties, but essentially independent of the government. As of 2002, most newspapers in Sri Lanka were published by three powerful groups: The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (ANCL), or Lake House; Upali Newspapers Limited (UNL); and Wijeya Newspapers Limited (WNL). At the time of the government's takeover of the ANCL, that organization's dailies in all three languagesSinhala, Tamil, and English commanded the highest circulation in the country. In 1981, the UNL was founded by Upali Wijewardene, who was related to ANCL's Wijewardene and was also a cousin of the then president Junius R. Jayawardene. Upali was a very successful businessman who held political ambitions but he perished in a mysterious plane crash in February 1983. Control of his company passed on to his widow, but in reality her father, who was a brother of Sirimavo Bandaranayake, held the power. Though the UNL is thus connected with both the UNP and the SLFP leadership, it claims to be independent of both the UNP and PA and is often critical of both organizations. The third major group, WNL, is owned by Ranjith Wijewardene, a former Chairman of ANCL and son of D. R. Wijewardene.. Politically, Ranjith is close to the UNP. The WNL started the weekend Irida Lankadipa in February 1986, the Sunday Times in June 1987, the daily Lankadipa from September 10, 1991, the Mid-Week Mirror in 1995, and the Daily Mirror from June 1999.

Below are the important newspapers in the three languages along with their proprietary affiliation:

Sinhalese: The daily Dinamana and Sunday Silumina are owned by the ANCL. They fully support the government's position on all issues, changing their stand with the shift of political power from one party to the other.

The daily Divayina and the Sunday Divayana are owned by the UNL. The Sunday Lankadipa (since 1986) and the daily Lankadipa (since 1991) are owned by the WNL.

English: The Daily News, the evening Observer and the Sunday Observer, are all published by the government-owned ANCL. The Island and Sunday Island are published by the UNL. The Sunday Times, the Midweek Mirror and the Daily Mirror are owned by the WNL. Outside of the three groups, the Sunday Leader (started in 1994) is published by the Leader Newspapers Limited, while the Weekend Express, a weekly, is published (since 1995) by the Indian Express Newspapers Limited.

Tamil: The two major Tamil newspapers published from Colombo are the Thinakaran, owned by the ANCL, and Veerakesari, which is owned by a Tamil businessman and published by the Indian Express Newspapers Limited. It subtly supports Tamil nationalism.

There are several tabloids published in the north and the east. Among them, Eelanadu, Eelanadam, and Udayan, which openly support Tamil separatism. Of the 23 important newspapers, 10 are dailies, 4 in Sinhala, and 3 each in Tamil and English; 11 are Sunday editions, 5 in Sinhala, 2 in Tamil, and 4 in English; 1 publication appears only on Wednesdays and another only on Saturdays. Circulation figures are not made public by the newspaper groups because of the acute competition in advertising. Comparing and collating the data given by The Editor and Publisher International Yearbook (1999) and the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers, the total circulation of all newspapers may be estimated at 587,500 for daily newspapers and 1,415,000 for Sunday newspapers with an estimated total readership of about 3.5 times those numbers. Of these, two newspapers have a circulation exceeding 250,000; three between 100,000 and 140,000; two between 80,000 and 90,000; one over 45,000; two over 20,000 and three below 20,000. The highest circulation is in Sinhala newspapers, at 389,000 daily and 901,000 on Sundays, with Lankadipa and Dinamana closely competing with each other, while the Sunday editions of Silumina and Divayana Irida claim the highest honors. The English newspapers come next, with a total circulation estimated at 132,000 daily with the Daily News having the highest circulation and 407,000 on Sundays. The Sunday Observer, Sunday Leader, and Sunday Island compete for the highest circulation among Sunday papers. The Tamil papers have roughly a combined circulation of 66,500 daily and 107,000 on Sundays, with Thinakaran and Veerakesari and their Sunday editions competing with each other.

Economic Framework

The persisting ethnic conflict spanning a quarter century has adversely affected the economy of the island nation not only in terms of the fiscal burden of the costly military campaign against the rebels, but also in the way it has paralyzed the agricultural and plantation activities so crucial for the exports and the foreign exchange earnings. One must also note that from 1977, the country shifted its prime dependence on plantation crops, notably tea, to textiles and processed foods, insurance, and banking as foreign exchange leaders. In 2000, tea exports accounted only for one-fifth of the total, while the textiles brought in 65 percent of the exchange.

Despite the handicaps imposed by the festering strife, Sri Lanka has retained its second-place among the nations of south Asia (with the exception of the Maldives) for the highest per capita gross national product. The economy maintained a healthy annual 5.5 percent growth throughout the 1990s, except in 1995 and 1996. Sri Lanka is also ahead of the other states of south Asia in another important area: literacy, which stands at more than 90 percent and is at almost 100 percent among children up to the age of 14. Most of the citizens who are illiterate are senior citizens, who did not have the opportunity to go to school. The high literacy has a positive impact on the state of the economy, on the readership of newspapers and magazines, on the size of radio and television audiences, and on the growing number of Internet users.

Press Laws

Sri Lanka, the former British colony of Ceylon, attained independence on February 4, 1948, following the British withdrawal from the Indian subcontinent in August 1947. Under the Constitution of 1972, Sri Lanka became a republic, its official title being the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. The unicameral parliamentary system introduced by the constitution made the prime minister, who belonged to the majority party in the parliament, the head of the government. Under a new constitution, promulgated on September 7, 1978, the polity changed to a presidential system, with the president directly elected for a term of six years and holding full executive authority. Two major political parties have led the governments since independence: the United National Party (UNP) from 1948 to 1956, 1965 to 1970, and 1977 to 1994. The leftist Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) from 1956 to 1965 and from 1970 to 1977, and then renamed as the People's Alliance (PA) from 1994 to the early twenty-first century.

The constitution guarantees the fundamental rights and freedom of thought, conscience, and worship, as well as equality before the law to all. However, Buddhism has been accorded the foremost place in the national arena, and the State has the duty to protect and foster that religion. Sinhala and Tamil were made the two official languages. By and large, successive governments have shown respect for the constitution and fundamental rights except for some restrictions, at times very severe, during periods of intense civil war between the Sinhalese and the Tamils.

The Sri Lankan judiciary holds an excellent reputation for its independence and integrity in relation to upholding fundamental civil rights. Under the Emergency Regulations (ERs) and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), the government may detain suspects without trial for a maximum of four consecutive three month periods under the ERs, and as long as 18 months under the PTA. Additionally, the government has established a Human Rights Commission, which serves as a watchdog of the observance of the constitutional provisions. The government under Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaratunga, who was elected president in 1994, generally respected the independence of the judiciary.

The Sri Lankan Parliament consists of one chamber with 225 members, elected by a system of modified proportional representation. The country comprises 9 provinces and 24 administrative districts, each with an appointed governor and elected Development Council. In November 1987, an amendment to the Constitution provided for eight provincial councils, with the northern and eastern provinces merged as one administrative unit.


The government of President Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaratunga, which was in power at the start of the twenty-first century, came into power on the basis of an Election Manifesto that promised fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the press. Censorship was re-imposed on June 5, 1998, when the war against the LTTE heated up and the government felt that "unfettered freedom" for the press resulted in newspapers carrying vital information that provided "tactical benefits" to the LTTE. This time, censorship applied to all reports relating to the war being fought in the north and east sections of the island. Local and international coverage of the war was prohibited, as was any discussion by the media of the actions of police and military officials. All reports, photographs, and videotapes were to pass a military censor, army general Jaliya Nammuni, the first time the government had appointed a such an overseer. Journalists were forbidden from entering the conflict zones, or, in the government's language, the "uncleared areas."

The censorship continued at the civilian level with the appointment of Ariya Rubasinghe as the chief censor and with the announcement of even tighter restrictions in November 1999. On June 30, 2000, a panel of three judges of the Sri Lankan Supreme Court unanimously nullified the appointment of a government censor or "competent Authority" in response to a fundamental rights petition filed by the newspaper group, Leader Publications, challenging the closure of the Sunday Leader and associated Sinhalese newspapers by the chief censor. The immediate reason for the action was the publication of an article in the Sunday Leader entitled "War in Fantasyland," which lampooned the government's censorship policy. More importantly, the Sunday Leader was known to be associated with Gamini Dissanaike, the opposition UNP's presidential candidate in 1994 before he was murdered during the campaign by a suicide bomber. The chief censor had also closed down the offices of Uthayan, the only Tamil daily published in Jaffna on grounds that the daily was "maliciously and detrimentally" publishing information that was biased in favor of the LTTE. The Supreme Court's annulment of the appointment of the chief censor had been based on a technicality that the government had failed to submit the appointment to the parliament for review within seven days as required by law. However, the Court went further than the issue at hand and struck down the decision to close down the newspapers involved as "a nullity and of no force or avail in law." The Court also ordered the government to pay damages to the Leader Group of Publications. Disturbing to the champions of freedom of the press was the Court's stipulation that the "rights and freedoms of the citizens under ordinary laws may be disregarded" and that the purposes of the emergency regulations were "legitimate." Obviously, the Court did not want to destabilize the political situation in the country and thought it judicious not to hamper the ability of the state to fight the war.

Even so, the restrictions in 2002 were far better than those under the previous government, when handicaps for practicing journalists were far more severe and when an independent-minded journalist stepping out of line simply disappeared. The most celebrated case was that of the broadcaster Richard de Soyza.

Information controls in 2002 followed more subtle and less obvious methods. Thus, books, magazines, and videos were quietly banned without fanfare or publication of lists of banned materials. In the case of imported materials, the Customs and Excise officials quietly confiscated them on grounds that they were pornographic, offending traditional values or tenets of Theravada Buddhism. Political writings, even if they were critical of government policies, received far more tolerance than those affecting religion or family values.

Although the Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera had pledged to the CPJ delegation that the censorship would be lifted before the parliamentary elections were announced, the government made no changes in the policy even after August 18, when the elections were announced for October 10; disappointingly for the press, no changes were made to the censorship policy. In September, the government suspended the additional censorship regulations imposed during the year.

State-Press Relations

An important member of the Cabinet is the Minister of Telecommunications, usually someone close to the president. In 2002, the minister was known to believe in the freedom of the press as long as it did not affect the nation's security. Despite criticism in the press, some of which tended to be personal, the minister refrained from penalizing the press except for an occasional action through the court system.

In order to facilitate relations with the press, the government has established the Sri Lanka Press Council. However, unlike most countries where the role of such a body is to protect the journalists and publishers, the Press Council in Sri Lanka is charged with the responsibility of protecting individual citizens who may have grievances against the press. Journalists look to their own unions, the most important of them being the Editors' Guild or the Free Media Movement, for redress of their grievances. The latter organization is linked to the Freedom of Expression Exchange based in Canada. A notable journalists' organization of a specialty kind is the Sri Lankan Environmentalist Journalists Forum, which has formulated its own Code of Ethics for its members. A good number of journalists show a remarkable degree of sophistication and sense of responsibility, are well-traveled, and remain in touch with their counterparts in India, Great Britain, and the United States.

Although the Constitution provides for freedom of speech and expression, the government restricts these rights in practice, often using national security as the rationale; however, it tries to stay within the limits that are prescribed by the parliament. In 1998, following a particularly vicious attack by the LTTE, the government strictly limited the access of domestic and foreign media to information and censored news relating to military and police matters. The government also imposed censorship on all domestic and foreign media reports relating to the ongoing or possible future military and other security operations. International television broadcasts received in the country were also censored, with references to Sri Lanka filtered out of the broadcasts. Foreign and national journalists were and are allowed to go to the conflict areas, but only with prior permission from the Ministry of Defense.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has regularly logged instances of assaults on journalists and photographers and written to Sri Lankan authorities, including the president, from time to time, more often since 1998. The Free Media Movement, The Editors' Guild of Sri Lanka, Amnesty International, the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission, and the U.S. State Department's Division on Human Rights have also helped to highlight incidents when the media have not been able to function normally. In some cases, army officers have themselves been involved in such attacks, for example during a night-time raid on February 12, 1998, by five armed men, including two air force officers, on the residence of Iqbal Athas, a defense correspondent of the Sunday Times who had written a series of exposés on corruption in the armed forces. The attackers threatened the lives of Iqbal and his wife and young daughter at gun-point. In 1994, Iqbal had received the CPJ's International Press Freedom Medal for his courageous reporting on Sri Lanka's civil war. The trial of the two air force officers, H. M. Rukman Herath and D. S. Prasanna Kannangara, was repeatedly postponed, but it finally began in May 2001, partly in response to the pressure of the several groups, both local and international, that support freedom of the press. In February 2002, a Colombo High Court judge, Sarath Ambepitiyqa, sentenced the two officers to nine years in prison, observing: "In a democratic country like Sri Lanka, newspapers have a right to expose the corruption of anyone." Noting that violent attacks against journalists undermine press freedom, the judge said in his ruling: "If crime is used to suppress [this right], then stern action should be taken." Another major incident of media harassment took place on July 15, 1999, when the police fired tear gas and used water cannons and batons to break up a large UNP-led demonstration while unidentified men assaulted protesters and snatched camera equipment from journalists. The Free Media Movement claimed that journalists and photographers had been assaulted so that there would not be any evidence of the action taken against the protesters.

Broadcast Media


Until the liberalization in 1984, radio was a government monopoly. It was governed by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Act of 1966, which established the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC). It had two services: National Service and Commercial Service, both in three languages: Sinhala, Tamil, and English. In 2002, it had seven home services, three regional services, six community services (Aralangnwila, Girandurukotte, Kot-male, Maha Illuppallama, Jaffna, and Vavuniya) and seven overseas services. The services are named: the Sinhala National Service, the Tamil Commercial Service, the English Commercial Service, the Regional Services, and the Education and Sports Service. The overseas service uses several Indian languages: Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, and Telugu. The overseas service is principally beamed at south and southeast Asia and the Middle East. The rules governing the Conduct of Business of the Commercial Service were framed by the Advertising Department of the SLBC. They took effect May l, 1994. They stipulate that advertising materials that contain statements or suggestions that "may be considered to be of a political nature or offensive to religious views, racial traits, and sentimental susceptibilities of any section of the community" would not be accepted.

The SLBC has three major regional stations: North Central, based on Anuradhapura and called Rajarata Sevaya; Southern, based in Matara and called Ruhunu Sevaya; and Central, based in Kandy and called the Kandurata Sevaya. The Colombo-based City FM Service is currently called the SLBC's Sri Lanka FM. The latest government-owned radio station of the SLBC, which was inaugurated in January 1997, is the popular Lakhanda, a 24-hour service in Sinhala. While the SLBC continues to operate in the public sector, there are now eleven private radio stations: Sun FM 99.9, TNL 90/101Radio, Yes FM, 7FM, Capital Radio, and Gold FM 89 (all in English); Sirasa FM (MBC Networks), Savana, Hiru FM 107.9, and Tharu FM 96.7 (all in Sinhala); and FM 99 and Suriyan FM 103.2 (both in Tamil). Even the private radio stations are, however, governed by certain "guidelines" from the government, particularly in regard to materials affecting the country's security and harmony among the ethnic minorities. The SLBC as well as the private stations have, by and large, operated independently but under the general direction of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The broad mandate for its programming stipulates that nothing be included in the programs "which offends good taste or decency or is likely to incite to crime or lead to disorder or to attend [sic] any racial or religious susceptibilities or to be offensive to public feelings."


Just like the radio, television was a government monopoly until the liberalization in 1992 and 1994. The Sri Lanka Rupavahini Act of 1982 established the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) and the Independent Television Network (ITN) The SLRC is run by a board of six nominees of the government, including one from the SLBC and one representing the National Film Corporation (NFC). Its mandate parallels that of the SLBC in terms of its programming. In September 1986, it established the Copy Code, whereby the SLRC would not accept any advertising copy that was critical of traditions and customs of any community, or would create a feeling of insecurity or disharmony in the community, or could be injurious to the well-being of any community or the devotees of any religion. The code was further revised in November 1995. According to the code, "unacceptable material" is that which makes "irreverent reference to any time, incident or concept of religious, racial, political or sentimental susceptibilities of the community." Such cautionary language in the codes meant for radio and television broadcasting reflects the ethnic tensions and the civil war between the two principal communities on the island nation over the last quarter century. The government seems eager to establish a delicate balance between upholding the protection of fundamental rights of expression to individuals and to the media that are guaranteed by the constitution, and the supreme need to maintain interethnic harmony in a plural society.

Major changes came in 1992 when the UNP government allowed private television networks. In that year, the Maharaja Television Network (MTV), in collaboration with Singapore Telecom International (SingTel), began its operations as MTV and MTV Newsvision. The Sirasa TV replaced the MTV channel in June 1998 as the first private sector nationwide TV channel while MTV Newsvision was renamed MTV. In the following year, the Teleshan Network Limited (TNL) was started; it now operates TNL TV and TNL radio. In 1994, the Extra-Terrestrial Television (ETV) was started; it added a second channel in 1995 called ETV2. The two ETV channels were later replaced by Swarnavahini and ETV in April 1996 when there was a change of ownership. Then in 1996, the Dynavision Broadcasting Coprporation started the Dynavision channel, which became Sri Lanka's first stereo broadcast station. In 1999, the government's Telecommunication Authority authorized two more private television channels: Ruhuna 2001 Multivision and Channel 9, the first "direct-to-home" pay television, owned by TV and Radio Private Limited, a private collaboration between Sri Lanka and Australia. Until 1994, there was complete state control over the production and broadcast of news concerning Sri Lanka. All private channels broadcastingeven BBC, CNN, or other foreign channelswere required to delete any items in which Sri Lanka was mentioned. This became a major issue in the 1992 and 1994 elections. The PA's Election Manifesto in 1994 promised to restore the freedom of expression of the citizens and of the media and to "create a framework within which the media can function independently and without inhibition." Accordingly, after the elections, the PA allowed private television companies to produce and broadcast local news bulletins. In October 1995, however, the government introduced "temporary censorship" on news concerning "security matters."


In reviewing the relationship between the government and the media, the CPJ commented in its annual report for 2000: "Kumaratunga's censorship policy is just one manifestation of her basic mistrust for the media.". It pointed out that President Kumaratunga had begun the year with a three-hour long interview on government television in which she railed against several media facilities, even pointing her finger at individual journalists: Victor Ivan, editor of the Sinhala tabloid Ravaya, and Lasantha Wickrematunga, and the editor of the English paper, the Sunday Leader, accusing them of attempting to sabotage her reelection in December 1999 through tendentious reporting and corrupt practices. She threatened to crack down on those who were consistently critical of her policies. Within a week, the state media subtly hinted at links between the two editors and the LTTE.

Six months later, the government repeated this "alarming tactic" with the state media alleging that four prominent journalists were "maintaining secret connections" with the LTTE. These were: Roy Denish, defense correspondent for the Sunday Leader; D. Sivaram, who wrote under the penname "Taraki;" P. Seevagan, head of the Tamil Media Alliance and BBC's Tamil Service; and Saman Wagaarachchi, editor of Irida Peramuna. In a joint statement of June 6, 2000, the four journalists countered that the government's smear campaign "was very clearly designed and deliberately calculated to instigate extremist elements and contract killers against us and our families" Attacks on individual journalists who reported against the government also took place, in one case involving the death of a journalist. On the night of October 19, 2000, unidentified gunmen shot and killed Mylvaganam Nimalarajan, a freelancer who reported from the northern Jaffna peninsula for various organizations, including the BBC's Tamil and Sinhala language services, the Tamil language daily Virakesari and the Sinhala language weekly Ravaya. He had reported on vote-rigging and intimidation in the recent parliamentary elections in Jaffna. The attack occurred during curfew hours in a high-security zone in a central Jaffna town. The journal-ist's parents and 11-year-old nephew were also seriously injured.

Also attacked was Nellai Nadesan, a columnist for the Tamil leading newspaper, Virakesari. Nadesan escaped unhurt though his home was damaged. He had earlier received a telephone death threat for writing about atrocities committed by the People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), a government-supported Tamil militia group operating in the Batticaloa region. The attack occurred despite the fact that Nadesan's home was located between two checkpoints manned by the government.

Significant Dates

  • 1994: Kumaratunga government restores fundamental freedom and lifts censorship.
  • 1998: The government re-imposes censorship.


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Damodar R. SarDesai

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Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Basic Data
Official Country Name: Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Region: East & South Asia
Population: 19,238,575
Language(s): Sinhala, Tamil, English
Literacy Rate: 90.2%
Academic Year: January-December
Number of Primary Schools: 9,554
Compulsory Schooling: 9 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 3.4%
Foreign Students in National Universities: 55
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 1,843,848
  Secondary: 2,314,054
  Higher: 63,660
Educational EnrollmentRate: Primary: 109%
  Secondary: 75%
Teachers: Primary: 66,339
  Secondary: 103,572
  Higher: 2,636
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 28:1
  Secondary: 22:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 108%
  Secondary: 78%

History & Background

Historical Evolution: The history of Sri Lanka before 1500 C.E., as recorded in its Great Chronicles, is considered unverifiable and is largely an obscure, confusing, and conflicting set of records about wars, invasions, usurpations, and dynastic rivalries. Beginning with the thirteenth century C.E., Sri Lanka was divided into three major kingdoms: a Tamil kingdom in the north, a Sinhalese kingdom in the southwest, and the kingdom of Kandy in the interior. In 1505, the Portuguese came to the island and established settlements on the west and south coasts. Despite Portuguese efforts to subjugate the entire island, the Kandyan kingdom remained independent. In 1612, the king of Kandy formed an alliance with the Dutch, successfully defeating and dislodging the Portuguese by 1656. Unfortunately, in removing the Portuguese, Kandy traded one European colonial master for another. Sri Lanka was subservient to Dutch interests for over a century and a half. British trading interests in Sri Lanka led to the ouster of the Dutch in 1796. The 1815 unification of the island's three kingdoms under British rule continued until 1948, when Great Britain granted Sri Lanka its independence.

Ethnically, Sri Lanka's population is divided among Sinhalese (74 percent), Tamils (18 percent), Moors (7 percent), and Burghers, Malays, and Veddas (1 percent). Most of the people of Sri Lanka migrated to the island from India more than 2,500 years ago, often in the interest of trade, war, religion, economic opportunity, or colonization. The Sinhalese are allegedly the descendants of the Aryan Prince Vijaya, from India, and his 700 followers; they came to Sri Lanka about 485 B.C.E., chased from their homes for their marauding activities. Tamils fall into two groups: Sri Lankan and Indian. The Sri Lankan Tamils came to the island in the third century B.C.E., moving across the strait from India as part of the expansion by India's southern kings. The majority of Indian Tamils were imported by the British to work on the coffee and tea plantations in the island's interior during the second half of the nineteenth century. A few Indian Tamils came as traders. The Moors, or Muslims, came to Sri Lanka in the eighth century C.E., and are descendants of Arab traders. The Burghers are descendants of marriages contracted between Portuguese and Dutch settlers, or between the Europeans and the Sinhalese or Tamils. The Dutch brought over Malays as soldiers, and the Veddas are the aboriginal forest dwellers of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka's history left the island with a diverse population composed of self-conscious ethnic groups, differentiated by religion, language, and social customs. Hinduism, the island's first religion, came from India during its era of unrecorded history and is the faith of Sri Lanka's largest minority group, the Tamils. Theravada Buddhism was introduced from India during the third century B.C.E. and is the religion of the island's Sinhalese majority. Arab traders and western colonists brought Islam and Christianity in the tenth and sixteenth centuries C.E., respectively. In the modern era, Buddhists constitute 69 percent of the population, Hindus 15 percent, Christians 8 percent, and Muslims 8 percent.

Sri Lanka's commitment to education began more than 2,500 hundred years ago, when Hindu kings and chieftains received their education from Brahmins (Hindu priests), and education is thus closely tied to the religious history of the island. Similarly, early in Sri Lanka's history, education became associated with high caste status and privilege. The sweep of Buddhism from India into Sri Lanka in the third century B.C.E. converted kings and people. Monasteries were erected to educate bhikkus, or monks. These monks built the first pirivenas, or temple schools, in the villages, educating the laity in religion and secular subjects. Little information exists on the schools of Sri Lanka's minority populations of Hindus and Muslims, but it is generally assumed that each faith had temple and mosque schools, respectively, which provided an elementary education with emphasis on religion, reading, and writing.

Portuguese rule of Sri Lanka brought both Franciscans and Jesuits, who founded 41 parish schools, and three Franciscan and two Jesuit colleges. Converting the island's diverse population was a primary focus of this educational mission. The Dutch, who followed the Portuguese, replaced the Catholic parish schools with schools affiliated with the Dutch Reformed Church. Both the Portuguese and the Dutch used religious conversion to promote access to educational opportunity. Native Sri Lankans quickly realized that if they wanted to gain a public office or qualify as a schoolmaster, they had to convert to the Dutch Reformed faith, and did. A Dutch seminary in Colombo, the capital, provided additional higher education. The Dutch educational system in Sri Lanka continued to foster the public's perception of a link between education and financial success.

When the British began their occupation of Sri Lanka, they gave responsibility for the island's education to Christian missionary societies who promoted an English, western-oriented education designed to "civilize" the Sri Lankan people. English schools charged fees and received British government grants. The island's nonEnglish vernacular (secular) schools were taught in Sinhala or Tamil, Sri Lanka's two principal languages. Vernacular schools were traditionally under financed because they were denied government educational grants. Without government subsidies, these schools could offer only the basics of an elementary education. Buddhist temple schools, primarily in rural areas, suffered the most: in addition to being denied government funding, they could not charge fees, the result of successful lobbying by the missionary societies who wanted the elimination of any rival religious schools. Under British rule, Sri Lankans who spoke English were eligible to become teachers. Colonial administrators only recruited only English-speaking Sri Lankans for government service. Thus the Sri Lankans who prospered under British colonial rule were more likely to be better-educated, high-caste Hindu Tamils, Tamils who converted to Christianity and were educated in English schools, or descendants of the Burghers.

Christians, the island's smallest minority, were historically the best educated. In 1901, approximately 55 percent of Christian males were literate, compared to only 35 percent of Buddhist males, 34 percent of Muslim males, and 26 percent of Hindu males. Among Christian women, 30 percent were literate, compared to 5 percent among Buddhist women, 3 percent among Muslim women, and 2.5 percent among Hindu women. The lower literacy rates among Hindu males can be attributed to the inclusion of the uneducated and stateless imported Indian Tamil males who worked tea plantations. Cultural factors account for the low literacy rates among Buddhist, Muslim, and Hindu women. By 1921, within just 20 years, literacy rates among the island's male population rose to 66 percent for Christians, 50 percent for Buddhists, 45 percent for Muslims, and 37 percent for Hindus. For women, 50 percent of Christians were literate, while literacy rates among Buddhist, Muslim, and Hindu women rose to 17 percent, 6 percent, and 10 percent, respectively. When independence was granted in 1948, Sri Lanka had 5,895 schools enrolling more than 1 million students. The nation's literacy rate was 57.8 percent, the highest among both Great Britain's colonies and Asian nations. Independence did not eliminate a colonial perception among the majority of Sinhalese that British rule had favored an English-speaking Tamil minority who benefited from better education, which led to higher incomes and more valuable careers.

Political, Social, & Cultural Bases: For centuries Sri Lankan Tamils used education to promote their social mobility. The Tamil region in northern and eastern Sri Lanka is arid and infertile compared to the rest of the island and is unsuitable for profitable farming. The Tamils depended on education to prosper. Under British rule the Tamil minority received a disproportionate share of university and government positions. Higher earnings among Sri Lankan Tamils plus the income sent home by overseas Tamils generated greater economic prosperity in the Tamil regions than in the rest of the country.

Independence changed the balance of power. Two major political parties formedthe United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP)and both political parties competed for the vote of the Sinhalese majority. The parties promoted Buddhism, nationalism, socialism, and non-alignment in the Cold War era, with little thought for Tamil issues. From independence until 1956, the more conservative UNP, advocating a mixed economy and private enterprise, maintained a parliamentary majority. However, during the 1956 election, SLFP leader S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike encouraged xenophobic fears among the Sinhalese majority, allying himself with Marxist parties advocating the nationalization of banks and industry and Sinhalese Buddhist extremists who wanted to replace English with Sinhala as Sri Lanka's official language. After Bandaranaike won the parliamentary elections of 1956, the SLFP approved the change of language, and established quotas limiting Tamil entry into government service and higher education, particularly in the fields of medicine and the sciences. The number of Tamil students admitted to medical school and engineering schools fell by 50 percent and 67 percent, respectively. Tamil recruitment by the central government in the general clerical services fell from a 41 percent high in 1949 to a mere 7 percent among recruits nationally in 1963. Less than 5 percent of Tamils were in the nation's police force and national army. By the 1970s, only 6 percent of newly hired teachers were Tamil, and university placement for Tamils in the science-based disciplines fell to 11 percent in 1974 from 35 percent just four years earlier.

Tamils organized to protect their interests, and extremist factions of all parties and nationalities employed violence to bring national attention to their concerns. The violence temporarily ended in 1959, when Prime Minister Bandaranaike was assassinated. During the 1960s and 1970s both the UNP and the SLFP competed with each other for a parliamentary majority among the Sinhalese. Consistently, Tamil interests were again ignored or forgotten by the central government and the politicians. In 1972, the Sinhalese majority voted to end its status as a monarchy, which had come to represent Sri Lanka's colonial past. The Constitution of Sri Lanka was substantially revised, and parliamentary government was replaced with a presidential republic dominated by a Buddhist, Sinhalese majority. President J.R. Jayewardene was elected in 1978; the Jayewardene administration continued reforms tending toward reconciliation of Sri Lanka's warring factions.

The civil war has persisted into the twenty-first century, fought primarily in the Tamil regions of eastern and northern Sri Lanka, but Tamil guerrillas have brought the war to all parts of the country. President Jayewardene's attempts to grant Tamil autonomy under Indian supervision caused great fear among the Sinhalese majority of the nation's impending division and permanent Indian occupation. Later Sri Lankan presidents accepted Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's offer to mediate the dispute between Tamils and Sinhalese. Gandhi's efforts ended tragically with his assassination in 1991, by Tamils opposed to Gandhi's use of Indian troops to suppress the Tamil insurrection in Sri Lanka. Two years later in 1993, Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated five years into his presidency when he proposed substantial grants of autonomy in Tamil areas. Although blamed, the Tamil rebels rejected responsibility for his death.

Chandrika Kumaratunga, president of Sri Lanka since 1993 and the daughter of a previous prime minister and president, both named Bandaranaike, has scaled back many oppressive and discriminatory aspects of education and language laws that precipitated the civil war. Surprisingly, the university system in the Tamil region remains open and funded by the central government while Sinhalese universities suffer from Tamil insurgency. Long-term peace in Sri Lanka depends on the creation of a pluralistic and multiethnic nation. Proposals of the Kumaratunga government bear a striking similarity to the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact of 1957, which proposed that Sri Lanka be a multiethnic state with Tamil as a national language in the northern and eastern sections of the country. The government would provide full protection for non-Tamil speakers and regional councils were permitted authority over centralized political system favoring the majority. Locally elected leaders could administer land development projects.

In December, 1999, as President Kumaratunga prepared to begin a second term of office, she barely survived an attempted assassination, and she did lose an eye. Her reelection came with 51.2 percent of the vote, the lowest percentage in the nation's history, and a realization that Sri Lankans were discouraged with politics. The assassination attempt increased President Kumaratunga's resolve to institute national reforms.

Constitution & Legal Foundations

In 1931, the British government granted universal manhood suffrage to Sri Lankans. Within 10 years of getting the franchise, Sri Lanka passed legislation granting free and compulsory education throughout the island for all ethnic and religious groups. British intent was to unify Sri Lanka's diverse population by fostering a British parliamentary-style government, educational system, and independent judiciary. The island's linguistic divisions were overcome by legislation making English Sri Lanka's official language, with Sinhala and Tamil as national languages.

Along with the constitutional reforms of the 1970s, Sri Lanka began the first of many national studies to determine the manner educational reform should take to promote national reconciliation and reduce minority claims of discrimination. President Jayewardene made Tamil the official language for the administration and courts of the Tamil regions in the north and east. The Jayewardene government also worked to establish scholarship programs for the urban poor and among rural children and authorized new technical curricula in secondary schools. Government policy encouraged the construction of new facilities in engineering, medicine, and science to serve the countryside. Section 22 of the Sri Lankan Constitution entitled each Sri Lankan the right to be educated in either Sinhala or Tamil, although central government appointments still required fluency in Sinhala. In spite of a disruptive civil war between Tamils and Sinhalese, educational reforms were instituted by the central government.

Because of civil war, Sri Lanka has faced serious funding shortages and a lack of books and equipment, and qualified teachers. The nation's central education ministry has been charged with being too autocratic and insensitive to regional and minority demands, while minorities have accused the education system of discrimination in funding, admissions, and curriculum majors. President Kumaratunga made 1997 the "year of education reforms and restructure" and promised to implement educational reforms in 1998. These reforms showcased improvement in the quality of primary and secondary education, increased career guidance programs, expansion and diversification of the university curricula, and increased vocational and technical training for rural youth and women.

Educational SystemOverview

In 1999, the Sri Lankan government recorded a total student population for both primary and secondary education of approximately 4.3 million students attending a total of 11,031 schools. Student enrollments are distributed among 10,394 government schools, 306 national schools, 77 private schools, 560 pirivenas, and 637 schools of other affiliations. International schools find increasing favor with wealthier families, but statistical data is unavailable on this educational choice. The student teacher ratio in 1999 was 22 students for each teacher, a decline of one student since 1990. The majority of teachers (60 percent) are trained, and 27 percent are graduate teachers. The remaining teaching staff consists of certified teachers, uncertified teachers, and volunteer teachers.

During the 1990s, in spite of ongoing civil war, the people of Sri Lanka witnessed a steady increase in the number of primary and secondary schools of all types, except private schools. This was coupled with a steady increase in literacy among Sri Lanka's school-age population. Private schools declined by two during the period 1995 to 1999, although at 77 the number of private schools was still higher than the 61 private schools in 1990. The number of teachers at both the primary and secondary levels increased from a total faculty of 184,822 in 1990 to 196,726 in 1999. Government expenditures for primary and secondary education increased from approximately 9.6 million rupees in 1990 to approximately 29.3 million rupees in 1999.

Preprimary & Primary Education

Preprimary education is voluntary and entirely private. Most of the schools are in urban areas. Primary education includes grades one to five. It is free but, by tradition, was not compulsory until 1999, when the Sri Lankan government established new regulations making primary education compulsory as part of a reform program. An estimated 14 percent of children ages 5 to 10 years were not attending school. Village committees are now empowered with the authority to raise and monitor school attendance. Public awareness programs are being carried out to encourage educational attendance. The most recent statistics indicate that 90 percent of Sri Lankan children are enrolled in primary education.

The curriculum for the first three years of primary education includes religion, the mother tongue, English, and numbers. In grade four the same subjects are continued and physical education, constructive activities, and environmental studies added. The goal of primary education is to promote a useful role in the local community.

Secondary Education

Junior secondary education covers grades six to eight. The curriculum consists of 10 compulsory subjects including English and science. Technical and prevocational studies constitute 20 percent of the curriculum. Examinations in the mother tongue and mathematics are taken to establish eligibility for senior secondary education. Students must pass four other examinations from among English, science, religion, social studies, aesthetic studies, health and physical education, or technical subjects. Satisfactory passes in 'O' level are required to enter senior secondary school. Students may need to repeat the last year of junior secondary in order to achieve entry to senior secondary.

Senior secondary education begins at grade nine. Five curriculum areas are available for students: physical sciences, biological sciences, social studies, humanities, and commerce. Specialist curricula are designed to groom students for university entrance requirements. This course of study lasts two years and leads to the Sri Lanka General Certificate of Education (A/L) examination for university entrance. Only one out of every 100 students is accepted into a Sri Lankan university after 12 to 14 years of education.

Reforms at the junior secondary stage were implemented in 1999 for grades six to nine. New syllabi were developed and textbooks rewritten. The number of subjects required by students planning to qualify for the GCE (A/L) examination was reduced from four to three subject areas of study. A Common General Paper, designed for testing students' awareness of current affairs, reasoning ability, problems solving ability and communication skills, became a required part of the GCE (A/L) examination. A compulsory new course on general English was introduced for GCE (A/L) students, although the scores will not be added to the aggregate marks for university entrance. In addition, the government has offered a one-year pre-university course of instruction to improve entrance prospects for those from poorer, particularly Tamil, regions of the country. Other educational reforms at the secondary level include a program to develop better school facilities at divisional levels for disadvantaged groups, particularly rural children. A total of 325 existing schools have been designated for maintenance improvement, better teacher-training programs, and human resource development.

Higher Education

General Survey: Sri Lanka's university system is financed by the central government. Its Board of Governors includes the Vice-Chancellor; the Ministers of Education, Planning, and Finance; and the presidents of all the university campuses. The Board reviews the internal administration of the university system. University senates govern academic affairs, and a university president and board supervise each campus.

At the time of independence, the Ceylon Medical College, the Ceylon University College, and the science section of the Ceylon Technical College were merged to form the University of Ceylon (later the University of Sri Lanka). To accommodate the national requirements for increased education after the primary and secondary levels, however, new universities became necessary. A rapidly expanding population demanding higher educational opportunities led to the additional construction of university campuses at Peradeniya, Vidalankara, and Vidyodaya. These schools offer majors in languages, art, and Buddhist studies. A building campaign in the 1970s added new universities at Colombo, Katubedde, and Jaffna. The latter university was the first one in a Tamil region of Sri Lanka. In 1980, the Open University was added, along with two new universities at Ruhnne and Batticaloa. Curriculum emphasis is undergraduate education. Technical and teacher-training institutes were built to foster specialized training. In 1999, Sri Lanka added a university at Wayamba, which enrolls 11,324 students, or about 15 percent of the students who meet the minimum requirements for university entrance and 8 percent of the number of students who passed the GCE (A/L) examinations.

Tamils' complaints of preferential treatment in university placement to lower-scoring Sinahalese ended in the 1980s, when more places became available in an expanding higher education program. Tamils received increased opportunities to enter degree programs in general teacher training colleges for primary teacher training and specialist teacher training colleges for secondary teacher training, in addition to university programs leading education degrees, university programs culminating in the Ph.D., and degree programs at a polytechnic or technical institute. Among university admissions into degree programs in the arts, commerce and management, law, physical science, mathematics and statistics, bioscience, medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, agriculture, engineering, architecture, and quantity surveying, 40 percent of acceptances are based exclusively on merit. District quotas select 55 percent of university applicants, and the remaining 5 percent of university entrants are admitted on the basis of educational disadvantages by district.

Competition for graduate degree programs in one of Sri Lanka's six post-graduate institutes has intensified. Five higher education institutes, the Institute of Aesthetic Studies, Institute of Computer Technology, Institute of Indigenous Medicine, Campaha Wickramarachchi Aayurveda Institute, and the Institute of Workers' Education, provide additional higher education options. The Open University of Sri Lanka enrolled an additional 18,495 students in 1999, offering 10 degree programs and 31 diplomas. Private institutes in cooperation with foreign universities offer higher education programs in the fields of information technology, commerce, and business administration. The University Grants Commission and Sri Lanka universities offered scholarships to 5,700 students in 1999. Students not eligible for scholarships received limited funding from government bursaries.

Enrollment: During the 1990s, the number of universities in Sri Lanka increased from 9 universities enrolling 29,471 students with a teaching faculty of 2,040 in 1990 to 13 universities in 1999 matriculating 40,174 students with a teaching staff of 3,200. These data do not include higher education enrollments for the Open University. The number of university graduates increased from 4,522 students in 1990 to 6,758 students in 1998. For the year 1998, the 6,758 university graduates included 2,518 in arts and oriental studies, 1,180 in commerce and management, 171 in law, 1,110 in science, 551 in engineering, 812 in medicine, 42 in dental surgery, 250 in agriculture, 50 in veterinary science, 25 in architecture, and 49 in quantity surveying. All degree majors witnessed steady increases in graduates since 1990, except architecture, which demonstrated a steady decline during the 1990s.

Educational Reform: Government-directed university reforms focus on the expansion of the university system, curriculum reform, quality assurance, staff development, career guidance, counseling, and finance. All Sri Lankan universities have initiated action to reform existing curricula to accommodate a modular course unit system, which provides students with greater flexibility in selecting degree programs and individual courses. Continuous assessment will replace the final examination system traditionally used to evaluate academic progress. New academic faculty at the university level will be required to attend an induction course at staff development centers established at the Universities of Colombo, Peradeniya, Kelaniya, Jaffna, Sabaragamuwa, and Sri Jayawardanapura. Six universities have already set up Career Guidance Units to link potential graduates with private-sector careers. The Sri Lankan government plans to increase the number of dormitories on university campuses to accommodate up to 75 percent of the student population.

Even though the central government is responsible for review of the university system, the adoption of reforms and the pace of reform are left to the individual school. Students are required to accept the reforms. The government is intent on improving the overall quality of the higher education system. In particular, the government plans to increase the number of university-industry links, with the hope of intensifying the study of advanced applied research with foreign universities, in order to challenge both the teaching staff and the students. An increased number of student exchange programs are being offered to expose students to university programs in other countries.

Technical Education & Vocational Training: Technical and vocational education includes the fields of engineering, commerce, business studies, and agriculture. Prevocational programs at the secondary level of education are designed to train students for acceptance into higher education in the above-identified fields. The number of technical institutes has increased to 20. Minimum age for admission is 17 years. Diploma and certificate courses from one to four years qualify graduates to certificates from craftsman to technician. Admission to these advanced programs requires the completion of the Higher National Certificate of Education or the GCE (A/L). Engineering, commerce, and business degree programs are offered at Sri Lanka's polytechnic institutes.

Recognizing the increased demand for graduates in technical and vocational fields, the government of Sri Lanka approved the creation of the Tertiary and Vocation Education Commission to prepare and publish plans for five priority industry sectors: gems and jewelry, construction, printing, textiles and garments, and hotel and tourism. Government funds were allocated to promote skill training at private sector industrial establishments at 33 locations. The Department of Technical Education and Training, a major provider of technical education and vocational training, increased its services to 36 technical colleges enrolling 16,170 students in 1999. The Sri Lankan Institute of Advanced Technical Education conducted higher-level courses in engineering, accounting, commerce, and agriculture for an additional 2,839 students. In rural areas the Vocational Training Authority (VTA) enrolled 21,092 students in different curricula programs.

It is expected that the VTA will expand its training facilities to 36 new sites and establish 6 new special vocational training centers. An additional 20,118 students were enrolled in the National Apprentice and Industrial Training Authority, studying over 180 courses. The National Institute of Technical Education was re-established in 1999 as an autonomous institute to effect teacher training and curriculum development in the technical and vocational fields. Over the next five years development funds from foreign governments will increase technical and vocational skill-development programs of study among the nation's population. The government of Sri Lanka intends to encourage the private sector to do more in the education and training of students in vocational fields.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

Ministry of Education: In 1978, the Ministry of Education was divided into a Ministry of Education and a Ministry for Higher Education. The former agency oversaw elementary and secondary education. In 1979, a Ministry of Education Services was created to provide books and materials and to review the condition of school facilities. The promotion and recruitment of teachers was assigned to the Public Science Commission. The Minister of Education is appointed by the president of Sri Lanka, is a member of the presidential cabinet, and is assisted by three Deputy Director-Generals of Education, each responsible for school organization, curriculum development and teacher education, or planning. The island is divided into 15 regions, each with a regional director with authority for school construction, maintenance, repair, and teacher supervision. The regional director recruits the teachers, assigns them to schools, and arranges transfers.

Funding & Support: Foreign governments and agencies provide needed additional funding to further improvements in the Sri Lanka educational system. The World Bank funds teacher education and teacher deployment projects to improve teacher quality and make education more widely available to the general population. The Secondary Education Development Act funded the renewal of 178 secondary schools and 14 newly established teacher-training colleges, consultancy services for curriculum development, and a new building complex to house the Department of Examinations. The Japanese government funded development work on 12 new junior secondary schools, while the United Kingdom, under the Department for International Development, continues to fund primary mathematics, primary English, and primary education planning projects.

Under the Development of Schools by Divisions Project, 393 schools were refurbished, and under the National Schools Development Project, 185 new school buildings were constructed. Provincial councils provided money to support the educational infrastructure in their areas. Government money was allocated for free school uniforms and textbooks. Recognizing the importance of computer technology, 1,795 computers and 601 printers were distributed among 601 schools in 1999. Twelve computer resource centers were set up in selected schools in the same year. The government's 2002 budget has proposed special incentives to set up 50 institutes for information technology. All institutes would be connected to the information technology parks at Malambe, Kesbew, and Pugoda. The private sector contributes to Sri Lanka's general education system by funding private schools, international schools, private tutories, and private preschools.

Research & Reform: Even though preschools are under the jurisdiction of provincial councils, the central government plans to establish policies that will regularize the education being offered throughout the nation on the basis of curricula and teacher training. To facilitate this effort, the Open University has established a Child Study Center to undertake research in early childhood and development and to improve teacher training for preschool teachers. The Sri Lankan government, in spite of continued domestic distress, is making every effort to educate parents and students about educational reforms, the availability and fair distribution of resources, and the provision of teaching material at primary and secondary levels. The Ministries of Education and Higher Education are developing an incentive program to encourage teachers to work in less advantaged areas among the urban poor and the rural regions of the country to extend education to all Sri Lankan children.

Teaching Profession

Additional education reforms include improved teacher education programs of study. There are 12,000 untrained teachers in the educational system. A distancelearning program is in place with 9,625 teachers enrolled. The remaining untrained teachers will be sent to teachers' colleges. The government has set the year 2002 as a deadline for achieving a completely trained teaching faculty. There will be no further recruitment of untrained teachers. The National Colleges of Education have been designated to train all new teachers. There will be 84 Teacher Centers, 72 of which had been established by 1999 with money provided by the World Bank under the Teacher Education and Teacher Deployment Project. Renewal courses, as part of teacher in-service training, were extended to 30,704 educators.


The civil war in Sri Lanka has affected every aspect of the nation's development. Since the war began in 1983, over 800,000 people, primarily Tamils, have become refugees, and over 62,000 Sri Lankans have lost their lives. There are five Tamil guerrilla groups; the most feared are the Liberation Tiger of Tiger Eelam. Peace mediation efforts by India failed in the 1980s. Norway has offered mediation in the 1990s. It is evident that not all Tamils want an independent Tamil state, but guerrilla warfare has coerced into service those Tamils who would prefer peaceful compromise leading to increased autonomy. Under the leadership of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, many of the oppressive and discriminatory aspects of education and the language laws that contributed to the civil war have been scaled back. The university system in the Tamil region remains open and funded by the central government, even as many Sinhalese universities have suffered from Tamil insurgency.

Long-term peace in Sri Lanka will require the creation of political, legal, educational, and cultural institutions that will foster a pluralistic and multiethnic environment. The Report of the Presidential Commission on Youth (1990) could be a bridge to resolving educational issues. Among the commission's recommendations:

  • Bilingualism should extend throughout Sri Lankan society.
  • Tamils and Sinhalese should learn each other's languages.
  • Textbooks and educational materials should be available in both Tamil and Sinhalese, and should be inspected and periodically reviewed for any traces of cultural bias and favoritism.
  • Students need to be introduced to the cultural heritage of Sri Lanka's other religious and ethnic groups.
  • The public media should be more ethnically sensitive, with television and radio programs catering to a multiethnic society.
  • Subtitles should be provided in film and television.
  • Joint radio programs should be broadcast in both Sinhala and Tamil.
  • Print media should be given the responsibility to promote multicultural awareness.

In spite of the civil war more students are being educated, the number of schools and teachers is increasing, the student to teacher ratio has improved, and national literacy has increased. Tamil overtures for peace in 2000 and 2001 and a reduction in armed conflict offer encouragement that an improved future awaits all the people of Sri Lanka. Education reform is an essential component to solving and ending the civil war.


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. Economic and Social Statistics of Sri Lanka. Colombo: Central Bank of Sri Lanka, 1997.

DeSilva, C.R. Sri Lanka: A History. New York: Advent Books, 1987.

De Silva, K.M. Managing Ethnic Tensions in Multiethnic Societies, 1880-1985. Lanham: University Press of America, 1986.

De Silva, K.M., and G.H. Peiris. The University System of Sri Lanka. Kandy, Sri Lanka: International Center for Ethnic Studies, 1995.

De Silva, R., and D. De Silva. Education in Sri Lanka 1948-1988. New Delhi: Navrang Press, 1990.

Dickens, William T., and Kevin Lang. "An Analysis of the Nature of Unemployment in Sri Lanka." Journal of Development Studies 31 (1995): 620-636.

Don Peter, W.L.A. Viewpoints on Education in Sri Lanka. Colombo: W.L.A. Don Peter, 1987.

Dubé, S. "Higher Education a Key Issue in Armed Conflict between Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka." The Chronicle of Higher Education (June 26, 1991): 64.

Fernando, Fr. M. Outline of a New Education Order for Sri Lanka. Subodhi: Institute of Integral Education, 1991.

Holmes, Brian, ed. International Handbook of Educational Systems. 3 vols. London: John Wiley and Sons, 1983.

Indraratna, A.D.V. de S. Economics of Higher Education in Sri Lanka. New Delhi: Navrang Press, 1992.

Kodagoda, S. Bibliography of Educational Reports on Sri Lanka from 1796-1986. Colombo: National Library of Sri Lanka, 1992.

LeVine, Steve. "Tamil Insurgency Brings Climate of Fear to Sri Lanka's University of Jaffna." The Chronicle of Higher Education (June 26, 1991): 27+.

Little, David. Sri Lanka, the Invention of Enmity. Washington, DC: United Institute of Peace Press, 1994.

Malik, S.R. System of Education in Sri Lanka. Islamabad: Academy of Educational Planning and Management, 1986.

Matthews, Bruce. "University Education in Sri Lanka in Context: Consequences of Deteriorating Standards." Pacific Affairs 68 (1995): 77-94.

Wijemanne, E.L. Educational Reforms in Sri Lanka. Paris: UNESCO, 1987.

Wilson, A. Jeyaratnam. Politics in Sri Lanka, 1947-1973. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1974.

William A. Paquette

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Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka (srē läng´kə) [Sinhalese,=resplendent land], formerly Ceylon, ancient Taprobane, officially Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, island republic (2005 est. pop. 20,065,000), 25,332 sq mi (65,610 sq km), in the Indian Ocean, just SE of India. The capital is Sri Jayewardenapura Kotte. Colombo, the former capital (and still the site of many government offices), is the commercial capital and largest city.

Land and People

The pear-shaped island is 140 mi (225 km) across at its widest point and 270 mi (435 km) long. The narrow northern end is almost linked to SE India by Adam's Bridge, a chain of limestone shoals that, although partly submerged, present an obstacle to navigation. About four fifths of the island is flat or gently rolling; mountains in the south central area include Adam's Peak (7,360 ft/2,243 m) and rise to Pidurutalagal (8,291 ft/2,527 m), the highest point on the island. Sri Lanka has a generally warm, subtropical climate; the average lowland temperature is 80°F (27°C), but humidity is high. Rainfall, largely carried by monsoons, is adequate for agriculture, except in the subhumid north. In addition to Sri Jayewardenapura Kotte and Colombo, other important cities are Dehiwala–Mount Lavinia, Kandy, Galle, and Jaffna.

The population of Sri Lanka is composed mainly (more than 70%) of Sinhalese, who are Theravada Buddhists. Sri Lankan Moors, Indian Tamils, and Sri Lankan Tamils are the largest minorities; there are also Burghers (descendants of Dutch and Portuguese colonists), and Eurasians (descended from British colonists). In addition to the Buddhist majority, there are Muslims, Hindus, and Christians (mainly Roman Catholics). The official language is Sinhalese (Sinhala); Tamil is a second national language, and English is commonly used in government.


The country's economy has traditionally been based on agriculture, which now contributes less than 20% to the gross domestic product and employs about a third of the work force. The emphasis is on export crops such as tea, rubber, and coconuts (all plantation-grown). Cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, cloves, nutmeg, citronella, tobacco, cocoa, and coffee are also exported. Rice, sugarcane, grains, pulses, oilseed, fruit, and vegetables are grown for local use and consumption. Petroleum refining is important, and amorphous graphite, precious and semiprecious gems, mineral sands, clay, and limestone are mined. Port construction, telecommunications, and offshore insurance and banking are also important industries. Remittances from Sri Lankans working abroad, mainly in the Middle East, contribute significantly to the economy. The island's swift rivers have considerable hydroelectric potential.

Historically, industry centered chiefly around the processing of agricultural products, but textiles and garments are now Sri Lanka's biggest export. Sri Lanka has a persistent balance of trade problem, however, and the country is dependent on large amounts of foreign aid. Although coastal lagoons provide many sheltered harbors, only S Sri Lanka lies on the main world shipping routes. The port of Colombo, on which most of the country's railroads converge, handles most of the foreign trade. Exports include textiles and apparel, tea and spices, diamonds, emeralds, rubies, coconut products, rubber goods, and fish. Textile fabrics, mineral products, petroleum, foodstuffs, machinery, and transportation equipment are imported. The United States, India, and Great Britain are the largest trading partners.


Sri Lanka is governed under the constitution of 1978. The president, who is both head of state and head of government, is popularly elected for a five-year term, and may be reelected once. Members of the 225-seat unicameral Parliament are elected by popular vote for six-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into nine provinces.


Early History and Colonialism

Sri Lanka was first settled by modern humans around 35,000 years ago and possibly earlier. The most ancient of the inhabitants may have been the ancestors of the Veddas, an aboriginal people (numbering about 2,000) now living in jungle areas near Maduru Oya National Park. They were conquered in the 6th cent. BC by the Sinhalese, who were originally from N India; the Ramayana, the ancient Hindu epic, probably reflects this conquest. The Sri Lanka chronicle Mahavamsa relates the arrival of Vijaya, the first Sinhalese king, in 483 BC The Sinhalese settled in the north and developed an elaborate irrigation system. They founded their capital at Anuradhapura, which, after the introduction of Buddhism from India in the 3d cent. BC, became one of the chief world centers of that religion; a cutting of the pipal tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya was planted there. The Temple of the Tooth at Kandy as well as the Dalada Maligawa are sacred Buddhist sites. Buddhism stimulated the fine arts in Sri Lanka, its classical period lasted from the 4th to the 6th cent.

The proximity of Sri Lanka to S India resulted in many Tamil invasions. The Chola of S India conquered Anuradhapura in the early 11th cent. and made Pollonarrua their capital. The Sinhalese soon regained power, but in the 12th cent. a Tamil kingdom arose in the north, and the Sinhalese were driven to the southwest. Arab traders, drawn by the island's spices, arrived in the 12th and 13th cent.; their descendants are the Muslim Moors.

The Portuguese conquered the coastal areas in the early 16th cent. and introduced the Roman Catholic religion. By the mid-17th cent. the Dutch had taken over the Portuguese possessions and the rich spice trade. In 1795 the Dutch possessions were occupied by the British, who made the island, then known as Ceylon, a crown colony in 1798. In 1815 the island was brought under one rule for the first time when the central area, previously under the rule of Kandy, was conquered. Under the British, tea, coffee, and rubber plantations were developed, and schools, including a university, were opened. A movement for independence arose during World War I. The constitution of 1931 granted universal adult suffrage to the inhabitants; but demands for independence continued, and in 1946 a more liberal constitution was enacted.

An Independent Nation

Full independence was finally granted to the Ceylon on Feb. 4, 1948, with dominion status in the Commonwealth of Nations. In 1950 delegates of eight countries of the Commonwealth met in Colombo and adopted the Colombo Plan for economic aid to S and SE Asia. The replacement of English as sole official language by Sinhalese alienated the Tamils and other minorities, and led to Tamil protests and anti-Tamil attacks. Riots in 1958 between Sinhalese and the Tamil minority over demands by the Tamils for official recognition of their language and the establishment of a separate Tamil state under a federal system (which had been negotiated but then abandoned by the government) resulted in severe loss of life, predominantly among the Tamil community. In Sept., 1959, Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was assassinated, and in 1960 his widow, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, became prime minister. The Federal party of the Tamils was outlawed in 1961, following new disorders.

Certain Western business facilities were nationalized (1962), and the country became involved in disputes with the United States and Great Britain over compensation. The radical policies of Mrs. Bandaranaike aroused opposition, and the elections in 1965 gave a parliamentary plurality once more to the moderate socialist United National party (UNP) of Dudley Senanayake, who became prime minister with a multiparty coalition. Under Senanayake, closer relations with the West were established and compromise arrangements were made for recompensing nationalized companies. However, economic problems and severe inflation continued, aggravated by a burgeoning population (between 1946 and 1970 the population almost doubled).

In 1970, Mrs. Bandaranaike and her three-party anticapitalist coalition won a landslide victory, following considerable preelection violence. She launched social welfare programs, including rice subsidies and free hospitalization, but failed to satisfy the extreme left, which, under the Marxist People's Liberation Front (JVP), attempted to overthrow the government in an armed rebellion in 1971. With Soviet, British, and Indian aid, the rebellion was quelled after heavy fighting. In 1972 the country adopted a new constitution, declared itself a republic while retaining membership in the Commonwealth of Nations, and changed its name to Sri Lanka. In the early 1970s the government was confronted with a severe economic crisis as the country's food supplies and foreign exchange reserves dwindled in the face of rising inflation, high unemployment, a huge trade deficit, and the traditional policy of extensive social-welfare programs.

Civil War

Repression of the Tamil language fueled demands by the Tamil minority for an independent state. Election of a new UNP government under J. R. Jayawardene in 1977 and the implementation of economic reforms geared toward growth did little to restrain an upsurge of terrorist violence or of bloody anti-Tamil riots (1977, 1981, 1983). In the 1980s the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam initiated a full-scale guerrilla war against the army in the north and east; at the same time, radical Sinhalese students assassinated government officials whom they believed were too soft on the Tamils, and in 1987–89 the JVP launched a new insurrection that was brutally suppressed. In response to a request from Jayawardene's government, India sent (1987) 42,000 troops to NE Sri Lanka. The Indian troops fought an inconclusive war with the Tigers and were asked to withdraw by Jayawardene's successor, Ramasinghe Premadasa, who was elected in 1988.

The Indian troops withdrew in late 1989, and fighting resumed in 1990. In 1993, Premadasa was assassinated in a suicide bombing; he was succeeded as president by prime minister and UNP leader Dingiri Banda Wijetunga. A year later, the opposition People's Alliance party (PA) came to power, and Chandrika Kumaratunga, the daughter of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, became prime minister and then president. Her government negotiated a cease-fire with the Tamil Tigers, but it collapsed after three months as violence resumed. In late 1995 the government, in a large-scale offensive, captured the Tamil stronghold of Jaffna; heavy casualties were reported there, while terrorist bombs caused civilian deaths in Colombo. The war continued throughout the 1990s, as government troops attacked rebel bases and terrorists carried out political assassinations (including those of several moderate Tamil politicians) and suicide bombings. By end of the century, more than 60,000 people had been killed in the ethnic conflict.

President Kumaratunga was injured when a suicide bomber detonated explosives at an election rally in Dec., 1999; a few days later, she narrowly won reelection. Subsequent attempts by Kumaratunga to negotiate a new constitution that would grant Tamils some autonomy proved unsuccessful, and fighting continued. In Oct., 2000, the PA remained the largest party after parliamentary elections, but it was six seats shy of an absolute majority, leading it form a coalition with a Muslim party. When that party withdrew, Kumaratunga suspended parliament (July–Sept., 2001) until she could form a coalition with the JVP, which had become a nationalist leftist party after 1989. Defections by members of her own party, however, ultimately forced her to dissolve parliament and call for new elections in December.

Following an opposition victory at the polls, the UNP's Ranil Wickremasinghe became prime minister, creating a politically divided government. He pledged to work with the president, and agreed to a truce and mediated negotiations with the Tamil guerrillas. The truce led to a formal cease-fire, brokered by Norway and signed in Feb., 2002, and off-and-on peace talks began the following September.

In Nov., 2003, the president suspended parliament and assumed control of the defense, interior, and information ministries, accusing the prime minister of yielding too much to the Tamil rebels in negotiations. She also briefly declared a state of emergency. The power struggle created a constitutional crisis in Sri Lanka, and paralyzed the government and its inconclusive negotiations with Tamil forces.

The crisis continued into 2004, and in January Kumaratunga claimed she was entitled to an additional year in office because of a secret swearing-in ceremony a year after she was elected to her second term. (Sri Lanka's supreme court ruled against her claim to an additional year in 2005.) The following month the president called early elections, which were held in April. Her PA-led coalition won a plurality of the parliamentary seats, and she appointed Mahinda Rajapakse prime minister.

Meanwhile, a split developed in the Tamil guerrillas in Mar., 2004, when the smaller eastern force broke away, but the following month the main northern force reasserted control in the east. The rebels accused the government of supporting the renegade faction and refused to restart the peace talks. Sri Lanka's coastal areas, especially in the south and east, were devastated by the Dec., 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami that was caused by an earthquake off NW Sumatra. More than 34,000 people died, and more than 800,000 displaced. Only Sumatra itself suffered greater loss of life.

An agreement between the government and the rebels to share the distribution of disaster aid seriously weakened the governing coalition when the JVP quit the government in protest. The JVP challenged the agreement in court, and although it was upheld in principle, the court's objection to aspects of it led to suspension (July, 2005) of its implementation. At the same time, there escalating Tamil attacks, and in August the foreign minister was assassinated. The government invoked emergency rule, and subsequently called for a renegotiation of the cease-fire agreement with the Tamil rebels to establish stronger sanctions for cease-fire violations.

In the 2005 presidential election, Prime Minister Rajapakse formed an alliance with the JVP and Buddhist nationalists and came out strongly against autonomy for the Tamils, while his main opponent, the UNP's Wickremasinghe, was supported by Muslim and Tamil parties. Rajapakse narrowly won the presidency, aided in part by violence and intimidation by the Tamil Tigers that kept Tamil voters from the polls in the north and east. Rajapakse named as prime minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, a Sinhalese nationalist who had served in the post during 2000–2001.

By the end of 2005 the cease-fire with the Tamils appeared more breached than honored. A new round of Norwegian-sponsored peace talks began in Feb., 2006, but even their continuation was subject to difficult negotiations. In April the breaches of the cease-fire escalated sharply, and the Tamil Tigers withdrew from the talks. By the fall the country had returned to civil war in all but name, but attempts to restart negotiations continued. By the end of 2006 the rebels had declared the truce defunct, and the government had readopted antiterror measures that it had abandoned in 2002.

Fighting in E Sri Lanka that began in July, 2006, led to a government offensive that was initially focused on the east; it continued into subsequent years and steadily succeeded in reclaiming territory from the rebels, who had controlled some 5,800 sq mi (15,000 sq km) in 2006. In Jan., 2008, the government officially ended the truce with the rebels, and in heavy fighting during 2008, the government made significant further advances into rebel territory. By Jan., 2009, Sri Lankan forces had reopened a land route to Jaffna, which had been closed since 2000.

The military continued to have successes in subsequent weeks, confining the Tamil rebels to a relatively small coastal strip, but as many as 330,000 civilians were also trapped in the area. Many civilians fled the fighting in Apr., 2009, when a breach in the Tamil defenses allowed them to escape. By late May the Tamil Tigers had been destroyed as an military force, Prabhakaran had been killed, and the government had ended rebel control of Sri Lankan territory. Since the 1980s more than 70,000 people had died as a result of the conflict; according to government figures, some 22,000 rebels and 6,200 government troops died in the last 34 months of fighting. It is unclear how many civilians died in the last weeks of the fighting when the rebels were using them as human shields. Government forces were accused of killing Tamils indiscriminately during its offensive in 2009, and some estimates place civilian deaths as high as 40,000 during 2008–9.

In Sept., 2009, some 265,000 Tamil refugees remained confined to government camps, leading to criticism from the United Nations and international human rights groups; the government said that 70% would be resettled by November and all of them by the end of Jan., 2010. By December, some 130,000 remained in the camps, with at least 11,000 of those suspected of being former Tamil Tigers. Roughly two years later, all but about 1,000 suspected former Tamil Tigers had been released.

Seeking to benefit from his government's victory over the rebels, Rajapakse called a presidential election two years early, and subsequently defeated (Jan., 2010) Sarath Fonseka, the general who had led Sri Lanka's forces but who had a falling out with the president. The campaign was marred by violence, mainly against the opposition, and by one-sided coverage by the government-controlled media, and the results were challenged by the opposition. Fonseka subsequently was arrested (February) by the military, accused of participating in politics while in uniform and other charges, and convicted later in the year after two trials. His trial by courts martial was questioned by legal experts, who said he should be tried in a civilian court, and his lawyer accused the army of assembling a group of prejudiced judges. (The convictions were reversed by Rajapakse's successor.)

The events during the election, the arrest of Fonseka, and harassment of journalists and the opposition led the opposition and others to accuse the government of antidemocratic tendencies. Also in Feb., 2010, the president dissolved parliament; elections in April resulted in a landslide victory for the president's party against a divided opposition. Rajapakse subsequently named D. M. Jayaratne as prime minister, and in September secured amendments to the constitution that abolished presidential term limits and increased presidential powers. Record monsoon rains in Jan., 2011, led to severe flooding in parts of the country; some 300,000 people were forced from their homes. In Sept., 2011, the emergency rule in effect since 2005 was ended, but at the same time new antiterrorism regulations were adopted that preserved some of the government's emergency powers. In the years after the Tamil Tigers were crushed the government undertook significant development in Tamil areas, but the continuing presence of the army there and human-rights violations by security forces undermined the reintegration of former rebel-held areas into Sri Lankan society.

In late 2012, the government impeached and removed (2013) the chief justice; though appointed by Rajapakse, she had ruled against a government move to transfer control of the economic development budget from the provinces to the central government. The impeachment (declared illegal under Rajapakse's successor) was seen as a further consolidation of power in Rajapakse and his family, which controlled the defense and economic development ministries as well as the parliamentary speakership. In late 2014, Rajapakse called an early presidential election for Jan., 2015. Maithripala Sirisena, a former health minister under Rajapakse, defected from the Sri Lanka Freedom party to run as the opposition unity candidate, and the president lost the support of a number of other prominent government supporters.

Rajapakse, who had been expected to win handily, was defeated by Sirisena, who denounced the concentration of power in the Rajapakse family hands and promised to reverse constitutional changes made under Rajapakse and to reduce the powers of the presidency. In Apr., 2015, Sirisena succeeded in winning passage of some reductions in the president's powers, though the changes were not as significant as he had wanted; presidential term limits were restored. In June the president dissolved the parliament and called for new elections in August in an effort to win support for his reforms.


See L. A. Mills, Ceylon under British Rule, 1795–1932 (1965); N. E. Weerasooria, Ceylon and Her People (4 vol., 1970–71); M. D. Raghavan, Tamil Culture in Ceylon (1971); L. M. Jacob, Sri Lanka: From Dominion to Republic (1973); R. F. Nyrop et al., Sri Lanka (1985); V. Samaraweera, Sri Lanka (1987); A. J. Wilson, Break-Up of Sri Lanka: The Sinhalese-Tamil Conflict (1989); C. R. De Silva, Sri Lanka (1991); J. C. Holt, ed., The Sri Lanka Reader (2011).

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Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Official name: Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

Area: 65,610 square kilometers (25,332 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Pidurutalagala (2,524 meters/8,281 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 6 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 435 kilometers (270 miles) from north to south; 225 kilometers (140 miles) from east to west

Land boundaries: None

Coastline: 1,340 kilometers (833 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is an island in the Indian Ocean south of India. It is slightly larger than the state of West Virginia.


Sri Lanka has no territories or dependencies.


Sri Lanka has neither summer nor winter but instead has rainy and dry seasons. Sri Lanka receives the northeast monsoon from December through March and the southwest monsoon from June through October. Seventy-five percent of Sri Lanka is a dry zone, primarily in the northern and eastern regions. These areas receive an average annual rainfall of 127 to 190 centimeters (50 to 75 inches), most of which comes from the northeast monsoon. The wet zone, in the southwest region, receives 254 to 508 centimeters (100 to 200 inches) of rain each year, mostly from the southwest monsoon. In any one location on the island, the temperature remains fairly constant year-round. For example, the temperature in Colombo varies only from 25°C to 28°C (77°F to 83°F). The island's lowland areas have hot weather, with annual temperatures averaging from 23°C to 31°C (73°F to 88°F), while the central mountains are cooler, averaging 14°C to 24°C (57°F to 75°F). Sri Lanka's humidity averages between 70 percent and 90 percent.


Situated on the Indian Tectonic Plate, the island is a teardrop-shaped mass separated from India by 29 kilometers (18 miles) of shallow sea. The south-central section of Sri Lanka is a rough plateau cut by a range of mountains. Narrow coastal plains surround the mountainous region to the east, south, and west. In the north, the coastal plain extends from the eastern to the western shores of the island. Rivers and streams flow towards the sea in all directions from the central mountain area.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

Sri Lanka lies in the northern Indian Ocean, with the Bay of Bengal to its east. The waters surrounding the island are so deep that Sri Lanka is almost unaffected by tidal variations. To the south of Adam's Bridge, the Gulf of Mannar comes between Sri Lanka's northwest coast and India. Coral reefs extend around the Gulf of Mannar and sections of the southern and eastern coasts. Much of the coral is dying, however, from pollution, dynamite fishing, and changes in sea temperatures due to global warming. The Laccadive Sea borders Sri Lanka on the southwest.

Sea Inlets and Straits

The Palk Strait and Palk Bay separate Sri Lanka's Jaffna Peninsula from India. Koddiyar Bay indents the eastern coast, forming a superb natural harbor for the port of Trincomalee. A little further north, Kokkilai Lagoon cuts into the coast near the point at which the Yan River empties into the sea.

Islands and Archipelagos

A few small islands extend from the north of Sri Lanka to the Indian mainland. Delft, covering 50 square kilometers (19 square miles), and Velanai, with an area of 68 square kilometers (26 square miles), are both situated in Palk Bay. Southwest of the Jaffna Peninsula, an elevated portion of the continental shelf forms the chain of rocky islands known as Adam's Bridge, nearly connecting Sri Lanka's northwest coast to India. Mannar Island is part of Adam's Bridge.

Coastal Features

The Jaffna Peninsula, a dry limestone extension, is Sri Lanka's northernmost region, with Point Pedro at its tip and Jaffna Lagoon to its south. Further south on the western coast, the Kalpitya Peninsula extends in a hook enclosing Puttalam Lagoon. The southern and southwestern coastline of Sri Lanka is famous for its many beautiful beaches, which are shared by tourist resorts and fishing communities. The southernmost point of the island is Dondra Head, marked with a lighthouse built in 1899.


Although Sri Lanka has few natural lakes, there are twelve thousand bodies of water ranging from tiny ponds to huge artificial reservoirs. The oldest of the traditional reservoirs, known as tanks, is believed to be Basawakkulam, built about 300 b.c. and covering more than 30 square kilometers (11 square miles). There are as many as ten thousand tanks of various sizes. There are also flood plain lakes, called villus, which are generally near river bends.


The rivers of Sri Lanka rise in the high mountains and flow over the plateaus down to the plains in a ring of waterfalls. A survey found 272 waterfalls on the island. There are sixteen principal rivers. The Mahaweli, which flows northeast from the central highlands for 341 kilometers (206 miles), is the longest. With the exception of the 167-kilometer (104-mile) Aruvi Aru in the northwest, the other chief rivers range from 100 to 156 kilometers (62 to 97 miles) in length. The Yan flows from the center of the island northeast to the Bay of Bengal. In the southeast, the relatively short Gal runs eastward from Gal Oya National Park to the ocean, and just north of it the Maduru runs to the coast near Batticaloa. The southern end of the island has the Gin River, and the northwestern region has rivers at nearly even intervals running westward from the center to the coast. From north to south, they are the Aruvi Aru, Kala, Mi, Deduru, and Maha Rivers.


There are no notable desert regions in Sri Lanka.


Grasslands occur in the central highlands, the arid north, and along the eastern hills. The Uva Basin has distinctive wet grasslands called patanas. Gal Oya, in the southeast, is a national park, with tall grasses and monsoon forest. It has medicinal plants and is an elephant habitat. The Horton Plains are grasslands mixed with temperate forest, though the forests are dying off. About 25 percent of Sri Lanka is covered by forest, and 20 percent of that is tropical rainforest. Sinharaja, in the southern lowlands, is Sri Lanka's last significant primary rainforest, and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. Dry zone forests include thorn forests in the northwest and southeast, dry evergreen forests, and deciduous monsoon forests. The eastern slopes of the central highlands contain savannah forests that are very susceptible to burning and droughts. Tropical evergreen rainforests are found at low and high elevations of the wet zone. Mangrove forests are declining along the coasts. Remaining forest cover exists mostly in disconnected patches of protected land.

The island's southeastern plain is interspersed with rounded hills that are the bare tops of eroded mountains. Gentler, grass-covered hills occur in the Uva Basin of the central highlands.


The island's southwest is a series of ridges and valleys. Close to the sea, the ridges are low and parallel to the coast, but inland they become mountain chains alternating with long, narrow depressions. The Sabaragamuwa Ridges cover nearly the entire southern region of the country.

High mountain walls distinguish the central highlands (also known as the hill country). Elevations of more than 1,524 meters (5,000 feet) are the rule; Adam's Peak, a pilgrimage destination, rises to 2,243 meters (7,360 feet). The Piduru Ridges comprise the central mass of the hill country. This nearly inaccessible mountain fortress includes Sri Lanka's highest mountain, Pidurutalagala, with a summit of 2,524 meters (8,281 feet).

The northernmost sections of the central highlands are the Knuckles (Dumbara) group of mountains, including Knuckles Peak that rises to a height of 1,863 meters (6,112 feet). The Mahaweli River valley separates the Dolosbage mountain range from the rest of the central highlands.


In the Dolosbage area of the central highlands, deep, narrow valleys lie between the ridges creating a rock maze. The Kandy Plateau is also cut by ridges and valleys and by the Mahaweli River gorge.


The Hatton Plateau is one of a series of high plains of the central highlands. Its elevation ranges from 914 to 1,219 meters (3,000 and 4,000 feet). The rivers that flow between its ridges ultimately form the Mahaweli. Nearly all of the Hatton Plateau is used for tea cultivation. The ancient town of Kandy, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is situated on the Kandy Plateau in the northwest central highlands. Horton Plains, a 32-square-kilometer (12-square-mile) national park in the southern central highlands, is Sri Lanka's highest plateau at 2,130 miles (6,988 feet).


Sri Lanka's largest lake, Maduru Oya (63 square kilometers/24 square miles), is a modern reservoir in the central highlands. Other large reservoirs include Randenigala (27 square kilometers/10 square miles), Victoria Falls (23 square kilometers/9 square miles), and Kotmale (10 square kilometers/ 4 square miles). These huge highlands reservoirs were formed by the damming of the Mahaweli River for irrigation, hydro-electricity, and water supply projects completed between 1977 and 1983. Sri Lanka has forty-six large dams and many smaller hydropower projects. Nature sanctuaries have been established around the reservoirs to protect the watersheds, but tens of thousands of people were displaced as a result of the construction, and valuable agricultural land was submerged. The reservoirs are becoming choked with silt and the water levels are dropping.



Bradnock, Robert, and Rona Bradnock. Sri Lanka Handbook. Emeryville, CA: Avalon Travel Publishing, 2001.

Devendra, Tissa. Sri Lanka, the Emerald Island. Torrance, CA: Heian International, 2000.

Niven, Christine. Sri Lanka. London: Lonely Planet, 2001.

Web Sites

Sri Lanka WWW Virtual Library. (accessed April 23, 2003).

Welcome to Sri Lanka Webserver. (accessed April 23, 2003).

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Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka .

Country statistics


65,610sq km (25,332sq mi)



capital (population):



Multi-party republic

ethnic groups:

Sinhalese 74%, Tamil 18%, Moor (Yonaka) 7%


Sinhala and Tamil (both official)


Theravada Buddhist 69%, Hindu 15%, Christian 8%, Muslim 7%


Sri Lankan rupee = 100 cents

Republic in the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is a pear-shaped island, separated from se India by the Palk Strait. A chain of coral islands (Adam's Bridge) almost joins the two countries. Most of Sri Lanka is low-lying. cliffs and lagoons fringe the coastal plain. On the sw coast lies the capital, Colombo. The s central core of Sri Lanka is a highland region. The highest peak is Pidurutalagala, at 2524m (8281ft). Nearby, Adam's Peak, at 2243m (7359ft), is a pilgrimage centre. The major highland city is Kandy.

Climate and Vegetation

Western Sri Lanka has high temperatures and heavy rainfall. The n and e are drier. The monsoon season is between May and October. More than 30% of Sri Lanka is tropical rainforest or woodland. The highlands are open grassland. More than 14% of land is cultivated for tea and spice gardens, rice fields, and sugar plantations.

History and Politics

Sinhalese settlers from n India forced the native Veddahs into the mountains c.2400 years ago. Some Veddahs remain in remote regions. The Sinhalese founded Anuradhapura in 437 bc, which acted as their capital and a centre of Theravada Buddhism, until the arrival of the Tamils in the 8th century ad. In the 11th century, the Chola dynasty conquered the island and the Sinhalese were gradually forced s.

The Portuguese landed in 1505, and formed coastal settlements. In 1658, Portuguese lands passed to the Dutch East India Company. In 1796, the British captured the Dutch colonies, and in 1802 Ceylon became a Crown Colony. In 1815, Britain captured Kandy. Colonial settlers developed the plantations. In 1948, Ceylon achieved self-government within the Commonwealth of Nations. In the late 1950s, following the declaration of Sinhalese as the official language, communal violence flared between Tamils and Sinhalese. In 1958, Prime Minister Solomon Bandaranaike was assassinated. In 1960, his widow, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, became the world's first woman prime minister. Following a brief period in opposition, she was re-elected in 1970. In 1972, Ceylon became the independent republic of Sri Lanka (‘Resplendent Island’). The new republic faced resurgent demands for a separate Tamil state (Tamil Eelam) in n and e Sri Lanka. In 1983, secessionist demands spiralled into civil war between government forces and the Tamil Tigers. In 1987, the Sri Lanka government sought Indian military assistance. Unable to enforce the peace, Indian troops withdrew in 1989. In 1993, President Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated. In 1994, Prime Minister Chandrika Kumaratunga was elected president, and her mother, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, became prime minister for the third time. In 1995, government forces recaptured Jaffna from the Tamil Tigers. The Tamil Tigers refused to accept devolution and the war, which has so far claimed more than 40,000 lives, continued. Kumaratunga was re-elected in 1999. In 2001, the National Unity Party won elections and Ranil Wickramasinghe became prime minister. In December 2004, more than 30,000 people on the southern and eastern coast died in the Indian Ocean tsunami.


Sri Lanka is a low-income developing country (2000 GDP per capita, US$3200). Agriculture employs 50% of the workforce. Sri Lanka is the world's third-largest producer of tea It is also a leading producer of coconuts and rubber. Manufacturing has increased rapidly and contributes 67% of exports. Products include ceramics, textiles and clothes. Tourism is also important.

Political map

Physical map


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SRI LANKA. A country of South Asia, and member of the COMMONWEALTH. Languages: Sinhala, Tamil (both official, national languages), and English (often used in government and spoken by some 10% of the nation, including especially the Burghers). The first Europeans to visit the island were the Portuguese in 1505, who built a fort at Colombo. The Dutch forced them out in 1658, but failed to gain control of the whole island. The British defeated them in 1796 and established the colony of Ceylon in 1802, to which Tamil labourers were brought from south India to work on tea and coffee plantations. Ceylon became a Dominion of the British Empire in 1948 and the independent republic of Sri Lanka in 1972. Until about 1831, the teaching of English was in the hands of missionaries; when the government took control, there were 235 Protestant schools in the island, and until 1886 Christian schools and colleges predominated.

English in Sri Lanka

One result of the long-established tradition of such institutions was the emergence of two broad and at times hostile educated classes: an English-using and largely Christian minority and a Sinhala-educated majority, most of whom were Buddhists. Until 1948, three languages were used side by side, English, Sinhala, and Tamil. English served as the language of administration, the generally desired language of higher education, and a link language between the communities. In 1956, however, a socialist government replaced English with Sinhala, unleashing in the process social disturbance that has not yet come to an end. The Sinhala-only policy resulted in ‘the sharp cleavage between Sinhalese and Tamils, most of whom are monolingual in their own tongues and therefore have no means of communication with members of the other community’ ( Rajiva Wijesinha, An Anthology of Contemporary Sri Lankan Poetry in English, Colombo, The British Council, 1988). In recent years, a three-language policy has been proposed that provides for equality among Sinhala, Tamil, and English, and to some extent seeks to restore the position of English, whose role in the community was greatly reduced from the 1960s to the 1980s. English in Sri Lanka, sometimes referred to as Lankan English, has a range of subvarieties based on proficiency in its use and the language background of its users. In general terms, it is a subvariety of SOUTH ASIAN ENGLISH sharing many features with INDIAN ENGLISH.

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Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka or Ceylon was settled during the 6th cent. bc by peoples from the Indian subcontinent, who subsequently converted to Buddhism. Hindu Tamils conquered the island in the 11th cent. ad but were eventually driven back to a northern enclave. The powerful Kandyan kingdom arose in the central region and was first encountered by the Portuguese in 1505. They established a hold over the south-west coast until moved on by the Dutch in the 17th cent. The Dutch took over virtually the entire seaboard and developed a lucrative spice trade which became the envy of the British in India. In 1795 the East India Company invaded but mismanaged their rule. When Ceylon was finally ratified in British possession at the treaty of Amiens (1802), it was made a crown colony. The British displaced the kings of Kandy in 1818 and developed Ceylon as a plantation economy. The emergence of an important Sinhala and Tamil middle class permitted advanced constitutional experiment. A legislative council was established as early as 1912 and a universal franchise adopted in 1931. Ceylon was granted independence within the Commonwealth in February 1948 and, in 1972, adopted a republican constitution under the ancient name of Sri Lanka.

David Anthony Washbrook

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Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Culture Name

Sri Lankan

Alternative Names

Ceylonese, Lankan


Identification. The official name of the nation is the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. In 1972, the national constitution discarded the name Ceylon and adopted the name of Sri Lanka. In Sinhala, the language of the majority, Sri means "blessed" and Lanka is the name of the island.

The island's history of immigration, trade, and colonial invasion has led to the formation of a variety of ethnic groups, each with its own language and religious traditions. Besides the majority Sinhala Buddhists, the nation also includes Sri Lankan Tamils, Tamils of recent Indian origin, Muslims, semitribal Väddas, and Burghers, descendants of intermarriages between Sri Lankans and Europeans. Although the members of these groups share many cultural practices, beliefs, and values, ethnic differences have become especially marked since the nation's independence in 1948. These differences and the exclusive policies of the Sinhala-dominated central government have led to escalating ethnic conflicts, including the current civil war in which Sri Lankan Tamil rebels are fighting for an independent nation in the northern and eastern regions of the island to be called Eelam.

Location and Geography. Sri Lanka is a small tropical island off the southern tip of India. The island nation covers approximately 25,332 square miles (65,610 square kilometers) and is divided ecologically into a dry zone stretching from the north to the southeast and a wet zone in the south, west, and central regions. This contrast in rainfall combined with topographical differences has fostered the development of regional variation in economy and culture. The north-central plains are dotted by the ruins of ancient kingdoms built around man-made lakes. The northern tip of the island is the traditional home to the Sri Lankan Tamils who consider Jaffna, its principal city, their cultural and political center. The dry lowlands of the eastern coast, site of fishing and rice cultivation, are particularly diverse both ethnically and culturally, with Muslims, Tamils, and Sinhalas composing almost equal portions of the population in some areas. The central highlands are famous for tea plantations and, in the southwestern part, gem mines. Kandy, the principal city of this central "Hill Country," was the seat of the last of the indigenous kingdoms and continues to be an important ritual, administrative, and tourist center. The southern coastal lowlands are the site of coconut, rubber, and cinnamon estates, an active fishing industry, and beautiful beaches. Located on the west coast is the island's largest city, Colombo, a hub of international commerce as well as the seat of government administration located on its outskirts in Sri Jayawardenepura.

Demography. According to the islandwide census in 1981, there were nearly 15 million inhabitants of Sri Lanka. This population was concentrated in the wet zone and around the principal cities, although barely three million people were considered to live in urban areas. At that time, there were approximately eleven million Sinhalas, two million Sri Lankan Tamils, one million Tamils of recent Indian origin, 1.5 million Muslims, and less than seventy thousand people of other ethnicities. Although the civil war in the north and east of the island has thwarted subsequent census plans, it was estimated that the population in 2000 stood near nineteen million.

Linguistic Affiliation. There are three official languages in Sri Lanka: Sinhala, Tamil, and English. Sinhala, the language of the majority, and Tamil, spoken by Muslims as well as ethnic Tamils, are the primary languages of the island. English was introduced during British rule and continues to be the language of commerce and the higher levels of both public and private sector administration. Language has been a volatile issue in Sri Lanka, particularly following independence when the "Sinhala Only" campaign came to the political fore, provoking resistance from the Sri Lankan Tamils in particular, and thus paving the way toward the civil war.

Symbolism. The official symbols of Sri Lanka are largely drawn from those representing the Sinhala Buddhist majority. Sinhala means "lion's blood" and the lion is the central image on the national flag. Also pictured on the flag and other emblems of national culture are the leaves of the sacred Bo Tree under which the Buddha found enlightenment. Other symbols central to Sri Lankan Buddhism and Sinhala mythology have also become icons of national identity, such as the Tooth Relic of the Buddha, the possession of which has provided legitimacy to Sinhala rulers for thousands of years.

There are also symbols of national culture that reflect a more integrated national identity. For instance, the color blocks on the nation's flag represent each of Sri Lanka's three major ethnic groups. The Sri Lankan elephant is a symbol of national heritage and of prosperity, both for its long association with wealth and royalty and for its association with Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god of wealth. The betel leaf and oil lamp are used to mark special occasions. Images of the island's natural resources, such as palm trees, gems, and beaches, are promoted as part of the tourist industry and other international commercial enterprises. The players and events that are part of the wildly popular national cricket team serve as symbolic foci of national culture. Further, the performance of certain islandwide customs, such as bowing in respect, serve as symbolic enactments of a national cultural identity.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. There is archaeological evidence that the island was inhabited as early as 10,000 b.c.e. The present-day Väddas, who live in remote areas of Sri Lanka and use a simple technology, are apparently descended from these early inhabitants mixed with the later arriving Tamils and Sinhalas, who were both well established on the island by the third century b.c.e. It is widely believed that the Sinhala people migrated to the island from north India, bringing their Indo-Aryan language and some version of Brahmanism with them, although Buddhism was introduced in their principal areas of settlement during the third century b.c.e. The Tamils emigrated to the north of the island from southern India, bringing Hinduism and their Dravidian language with them. The Sinhalas, the Tamils, and various south Indian invaders built powerful kingdoms with advanced agricultural projects and elaborate religious institutions, kingdoms that periodically brought the island under the authority of a single regime.

Because of its important ports along the East-West trade routes and desirable goods, traders were drawn to the island. Some of these Arab traders made Sri Lanka their permanent home, adding Islam to the island's religions. In the early sixteenth century Portuguese traders introduced Christianity as they began to make use of the island, eventually gaining control over productive portions of it.

In 1638 the king of Kandy drove out the Portuguese with the help of the Dutch. The Dutch then kept the land for themselves, controlling all but the kingdom of Kandy until they were driven out by the British in 1796. In 1815 the British ousted the last king of Kandy, gaining control over all of Sri Lanka, which remained a British colony until 1948.

On 4 February 1948, Ceylon, as the nation was then known, became politically independent of Great Britain, though it remained part of the Commonwealth.

National Identity. The current Sri Lankan national identity is dominated by the Sinhala majority, although this identity is resisted by the minority ethnic groups. Since independence, national leadership has consistently appealed to the Sinhala majority and the strength of the Buddhist monastic orders, marginalizing the non-Sinhala, non-Buddhists from the Sri Lankan identity and limiting access to state-controlled benefits. Despite the politicization of separate ethnic identities, there is a core of cultural beliefs, practices, and values that are largely shared among the people of Sri Lanka, particularly in the domains of the economy, social stratification, gender, family, and etiquette.

Ethnic Relations. Sri Lanka has always been home to a multiethnic and multireligious society. Because of the historic fluidity in migration and marriage patterns, the physical attributes of the principal ethnic groups are widely distributed. While conflicts between various groups have periodically flared up, beginning in 1956 the ethnic rivalry between the Sinhala-Buddhist majority and the Sri Lankan Tamil minority has intensified to an unprecedented level and led to the eruption of civil war in 1983. Since that time, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a militant organization of Sri Lankan Tamils, have been fighting for an independent Tamil state in the north and east.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

In the precolonial period, only the ruling elite and religious establishments were permitted to have permanent buildings. As a result, most of the archaeological ruins represent the heritage of elite culture, the ancient states, and the temple complexes, many of which are still in use today. The most elaborate of Sri Lanka's architecture continues to be dedicated to religious purposes, ranging from the imposing domes of the mosques to the graceful spires of the Portuguese churches to the ornate and colorful figures covering the Hindu temples to the white, bell-shaped dagobas that house the relics of the Buddha. The influences from these religious traditions have combined with the influences of the colonists and more modern designs to produce a diverse architectural landscape in the urban areas as well as the rural, where 7080 percent of the population continues to live.

Residential buildings vary widely according to the socioeconomic status of their inhabitants. Rural peasants live in small temporary wattle and daub (stick and mud), thatched houses whose style has remained unchanged since ancient times. In the urban area of Colombo, half of the residents are estimated to live in "low income" areas characterized by crowded dilapidated buildings and adjoining watte, built of a hodgepodge of thatch, wooden planks, and corrugated metal sheets along railways and roadways, beaches, rivers, and canal banks. In this same city are modern apartment buildings and colonial-era gated compounds with attached servants' quarters.

All over the island, there is a preference for whitewashed cement houses with polished cement floors and windows designed to keep out the heat and light but let in the air through built-in vents. The front of the house with its sitting room, bedrooms, dining area, and veranda is typically separated from the back of the house in which the kitchen and washing areas are located, a division that reflects notions of the danger of pollution by outsiders. Buddhist, Hindu, or even Christian shrines are often located within the house or the garden areas that surround it.

Public spaces provide the setting for a variety of valued activities. Each community, no matter how small, contains a public school, a place of worship, and a shop or two where people can buy daily necessities as well as exchange gossip. Wells, rivers, and other bathing places are also important social gathering places.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Sri Lanka's staple meal is a large serving of rice accompanied by up to twelve different side dishes of vegetables, egg, meat, or fish stewed together with peppers, spices, and often coconut milk. This rice and curry meal is traditionally eaten at midday, although it may also be served in the evening. The traditional morning and evening meals are usually composed of a traditional starchy staple, such as string hoppers (fresh rice noodles), hoppers (cup-shaped pancakes), roti (coconut flat bread), or thosai (sourdough pancakes), served with a sambol (a mixture of hot peppers and other vegetables, served cool) and one or two curries.

A variety of snacks and beverages are also eaten periodically throughout the day. Strong, sweat tea, usually with milk, is drunk alone or following a small serving of finger food or sweets, especially at mid-morning and late afternoon. Curd, a yogurt made from the milk of water buffaloes or cows, is often served as a dessert with palm syrup or sugar. A rich variety of fruits is available year-round.

Eating outside of the home has not been very common, although it is becoming more so. In almost every town there is at least one Chinese-style restaurant where alcohol is also served, as well as Sinhala, Muslim, and Tamil restaurants and traditional snack booths. In the capital, Western chain restaurants as well as other foreign-style foods are increasingly available.

There is some ethnic variation in foods and customs, as well as food taboos. For instance, Muslims avoid pork while Hindus are often vegetarian. Sinhala and Tamil people tend to take care that the foods served together create a balance of hot and cold energies. They also typically will not accept food prepared by those of relatively lower caste status.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Kiribath, rice cooked in coconut milk, is part of nearly every ceremonial occasion in Sri Lanka. Kawum (sweet oil cakes) and other special snacks are also popular at special events. Alcoholic beverages do not play a role in the formal rituals of Sri Lanka, being condemned by Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism alike. Alcohol is, however, a ubiquitous part of men's social gatherings, where beer, toddy (fermented palm nectar), arrack (distilled palm nectar), and kassipu (an illegally distilled beverage), are consumed in great quantities.

Basic Economy. Sri Lanka's economy is shifting away from its traditional agricultural base to include production for an international market, a shift accelerated by a major policy change in the 1977 transition from a socialist-style, state controlled economy to a free market economy lead by the private sector. By the mid-1990s, roughly one-quarter of the population was employed as skilled workers in agriculture, fishing, or animal husbandry; one-quarter in skilled craft or factory production; one-quarter in administration, medicine, law, education, accounting, sales, services, or clerical work; and one-quarter as unskilled laborers. In spite of this shift away from agriculture, Sri Lanka has recently achieved near self-sufficiency in rice production and other staple foods.

Land Tenure and Property. Although private ownership of land has been well established in Sri Lanka since the precolonial period, most of the land is currently owned by the state and leased to private individuals and companies. Religious establishments also own substantial tracts of land. Today as in the past, private property is passed from parents to children, with the bulk of landholdings going to sons. Although the sale of housing lots is a growing industry, the sale of agricultural land is relatively uncommon. This, in combination with the subdivision of property with each generation, has created very small holdings of paddy land, which are inefficient to farm, something that the World Bank has identified as the primary cause of poverty in Sri Lanka.

Commercial Activities. Sri Lanka's towns and villages as well as its urban centers are typically active sites of commercial exchange. Most of the nonplantation agricultural crops that are not consumed in the home are sold at local markets, along with traditional craft products such as brass, pottery, and baskets, which are largely produced by hereditary caste groups. Repair, construction, tailoring, printing, and other services are always in demand, as is private tutoring. Tourists are also the focus of a range of commercial activity.

Major Industries. The major industries in Sri Lanka are involved with agricultural production and manufacturing. Nearly one-third of the agricultural production of the island is from the tea and rubber estates, products that are partially processed locally. The production of textiles and apparel; food, beverages, and tobacco; and wood and wood products together account for a quarter of all manufacturing. Heavy industry is largely confined to government-controlled steel, tire, and cement manufacturing, oil refining, mining, and quarrying. Transportation, construction, and energy production are also important locally oriented industries. In addition, the ongoing war effort, the education system, and the tourism industry comprise significant sectors of the economy.

Trade. In recent years, the sale of garments manufactured in Sri Lanka has outstripped the more traditional exports of tea, rubber, and coconut products, although the latter continue to be among the largest exports, along with locally mined gems. Textiles, machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and metals, and other raw materials are among the principal imports. In 1996, Sri Lanka exported nearly $5 billion (U.S.) worth of goods, with nearly $1.5 billion (U.S.) worth of products going to the United States, three times more than any other country. In the same year, over $5 billion (U.S.) worth of goods were imported from other countries, over half a billion each from Japan and India.

Division of Labor. Traditionally, the division of labor in Sri Lanka has been largely based on caste, gender, and ethnicity. Although members of all ethnic groups participate to some degree across the range of occupations, particular ethnic groups are thought to predominate in certain occupations, for instance, the Sinhala in rice cultivation and the public sector, and the Muslims, Tamils, and recent immigrants in trade. Different castes are also associated with particular occupations, which is not necessarily reflected in the actual work that people do. Symbolically associated with occupations such as rice farming, the largest and highest status Sinhala castes are typically land holders and recipients of service obligations from the lower castes. The lower status service castes are associated with hereditary crafts such as mat weaving, jewelry making, and clothes washing. Increasingly, these hereditary statuses are being replaced by education and command of English as the most important determinants of employment.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Even though the ideal of social equality is widely diffused in contemporary Sri Lanka, stratification according to caste and class, as well as gender and ethnicity, continues to be very important. Class is determined by attributes such as wealth and education while caste, a traditional part of Hindu and Buddhist society in Sri Lanka, is determined by birth into a predetermined status hierarchy, typically understood as a matter of reward or retribution for one's deeds in previous lives. The traditional correspondence between these statuses was upset by 450 years of colonial rulers who often privileged members of certain, relatively low-status castes, effectively raising their class status and that of their offspring. The importance and legitimacy of caste continues to be undermined by political and economic developments. Class differentiation, on the other hand, is increasing both in day-to-day social interaction and manifestations of disparities.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Traditionally, caste identity was extensively marked by ritual roles and occupations, names of individuals and places, networks of social relations, and regulations of dress and housing. Degrees of difference within the caste hierarchy were also marked by forms of address, seating arrangements, and other practices of deference and superiority. Today, where these hierarchical relations continue, there is a degree of uneasiness or even resentment toward them, particularly among the educated younger generations. Class status, in contrast, is increasingly manifested in speech, dress, employment, education, and housing. In general, elite classes can be identified by their command of English, education in exclusive schools, executive-level employment, possession of valued commodities, and access to international networks, whereas the lower classes are associated with manual labor, minimal comforts, and a lack of social contacts with the elite.

Political Life

Government. Sri Lanka is governed by a democratically elected president and a 225-member parliament. The president serves for a term of six years and has the power to dismiss the parliament, out of which the president selects cabinet members, a prime minister, and a chief justice. Although regular elections at all levels of government have been held since independence, there are increasing allegations of tampering and violence. The current leadership is considering a new constitution in which greater powers would be reserved for the provincial governments, a move calculated to address the ethnic conflicts and end the nation's civil war.

Leadership and Political Officials. Although a spectrum of political parties campaign within Sri Lanka, political leadership is almost exclusively drawn from the traditional, propertied elite. Family lineage and caste affiliation figure prominently in selection of candidates at all levels. Since independence, only two parties have drawn the majority of their leadership from the lower classes and challenged the control of the elite: the ultraleft Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, who staged armed insurrections that posed a significant threat to the stability of the nation in 1971 and again between 1987 and 1989, and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Since political leaders distribute state-controlled benefits and resources, such as access to employment, quality schools, and even passports, their constituents work to stay in their good graces. These elected leaders, who typically distribute resources preferentially to their supporters, make an effort to be seen as benefactors and are often more personally accessible than many bureaucrats.

Social Problems and Control. Although crime rates are rising, Sri Lanka's citizens are generally respectful of both formal and informal laws, as well as of each other. Throughout the nation's history, however, there have been periodic explosions of violence and lawlessness. Since the 1980s, there have been massive riots, bombings, and insurrections that have effectively challenged the authority of the state and resulted in massive bloodletting. Large portions of the island are not under the control of the state but are in the hands of the LTTE rebels. In response to these challenges, the government has periodically declared states of "emergency rule" that extend its constitutional authority.

The police, the military, and the judiciary system are in place to maintain government control. Imprisonment is the main legal sanction for those who are convicted of violations of the law. The death penalty, suspended for many years, is being considered for re-introduction in response to the perceived rise in crime and violence.

Informal sanctions also provide strong deterrents against socially unacceptable behavior. Rumor and gossip are particularly feared, whether these take the form of village talk, anonymous petitions to the newspapers, or posters mounted in public spaces. Acceptance in the family and other important social groups to which one belongs and how one's behavior reflects on the reputation of these groups are among the most powerful motivators of social compliance. The threat of sorcery or divine retribution on an injured party's behalf, as well as more earthly threats of violence and revenge, also act to ensure good behavior.

Military Activity. There are three branches of the all-volunteer national military: the army, the navy, and the air force. Since independence, Sri Lanka's military, once largely ceremonial, has been called on to counter civil violence and terrorist activities, as well as provide more peaceable services, such as coastal supervision and surveying. Since 1983, they have been fighting a full-scale civil war against the LTTE army which is reportedly well-trained and internationally funded. Between 1990 and 1995, defense spending made up the largest portion of the national budget, comprising over 20 percent of annual expenditures.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Sri Lanka has often been referred to as the model welfare state. With free and universal education and health care, subsidized transportation, and a wide range of public sector programs to assist the poor, the quality of life is high in comparison with other developing countries. Since the change in economic policies of 1977 which emphasize private sector growth, however, the quality and availability of these government services have been eroding and have been increasingly replaced by private resources accessed by the middle and elite classes. Besides the difficulty posed by reductions in state funding, the civil war has created additional challenges to the welfare system as up to 1.5 million people have been displaced, a group that has been targeted for relief and resettlement by nongovernmental organizations and private donors.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Since 1977, foreign-supported nongovernmental organizations have proliferated, providing welfare services and promoting social agendas such as human rights, fair elections, conflict resolution, and peace initiatives. Other civil organizations that are more locally led and membership-based, such as trade unions and cooperatives, are largely dependant on or part of the political sector of Sri Lankan society. Religious organizations are the primary exception to this, and are independent from political society, which tends to regard them with fear and respect. Another notable exception is the Sarvodaya Movement which has been active since 1958, mobilizing volunteer labor for community service.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. In Sri Lanka, there is a strong tradition of both men and women working, with men focusing more on income opportunities and women focusing on the household. Currently, women's participation in the paid labor force is significant, although not evenly distributed, concentrated in professions such as nursing, teaching, tea picking, and garment construction. In manufacture and agricultural work, men are typically assigned tasks considered more physically demanding, while women are assigned the more repetitive, detail-oriented work at which they are thought to be better than men. Opportunity for foreign employment for women, while relatively available and well-paying, is restricted to domestic work, whereas opportunities for men are more varied, ranging from manual labor to engineering. Within the home, regardless of their engagement in paid labor, women and girls do all food preparation and most other domestic work.

Although most schools are segregated by gender, education has always been important for both boys and girls in Sri Lanka. The literacy rates for men and women are similarly high; the last census in 1981 found that 87 percent of females over the age of ten years were literate, compared to 91 percent of males.

Leadership roles in Sri Lanka are largely held by men, with some important exceptions. Sri Lanka elected the world's first female prime minister in 1960, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, whose daughter is the current president of the nation. While this is not indicative of the political power of women in general, it is true that Sri Lankan women have held voting rights since they were instituted in 1931 and have long held certain property rights. The large majority of religious leaders and officiants are also male, while women tend to be overrepresented among their followers.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. It is a widely held position among social scientists as well as lay people that the status of women is relatively high in Sri Lanka, especially in comparison to other South Asian nations. There has never been the practice of child marriage or the burning of widows in Sri Lanka. Even though most groups on the island prefer for new brides to move into their husbands' homes, women traditionally retain strong ties with their own natal families. Additionally, although it is expected among most groups for the bride's family to give the groom a dowry, in practice this property commonly remains in the possession of the wife until she passes it on, typically to her daughters.

Despite these traditional practices and the full rights of citizenship that women in Sri Lanka enjoy today, women consistently defer to men across all domains of life, including the workplace and the home. Women also bear the greater weight of social expectations and sanctions for noncompliance. In addition, sexual harassment and assault, while seldom reported to the authorities, are common experiences.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. In all ethnic groups, marriages are traditionally arranged by the families of the couple. "Love marriages" initiated by the couples themselves are, however, increasingly common. Regardless of who initiates the marriage, the bride and groom are expected to be of the same socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and, for Buddhists and Hindus, caste status, although the groom is expected to be slightly older, taller, and educationally and professionally more qualified than the bride. Additionally, there is a preference among Tamil and Sinhala groups for cross-cousin marriage, which is marriage with the child of one's father's sister or one's mother's brother. Among Muslims, the preferred match is between parallel cousins, the children of two brothers. It is also considered best if the couple are of similar ages.

The age at which people marry is on the rise, especially for women. According to the 1981 census, over a quarter of those over twenty have never been married. Divorce, while increasingly common, still occurs in less than 1 percent of marriages. Remarriage following divorce or the death of a spouse is possible for both men and women, although it is uncommon for previously married women to marry never-married men.

Domestic Unit. Ideally, a husband and wife live in their own household with their unmarried children, even if that household is actually a small section of an extended family home. In Sri Lanka, individual households are identified by cooking practices, so that, even within a larger house, a wife will cook for her husband and children independently from others who may live within the structure, perhaps sharing the same kitchen.

While women may have a great deal of power within a family, ultimate authority belongs to the oldest male member of a household, whether that is the father, husband, brother, or son. Sri Lankans express a preference that their first child be a girl, whom they believe will help care for and be a disciplining influence on younger siblings. While overall there is a preference for sons, this is not as strong as in other South Asian countries.

Inheritance. The majority of Sri Lankan families practice bilateral inheritance, giving a portion of the family possessions to all children in the family. In practice, fixed property such as land and the family home go to sons and mobile property such as cash and jewelry go to daughters, usually in the form of her dowry.

Kin Groups. In Sri Lanka, the notion of ancestral place and the kin group associated with it is very important, even as people move to other areas because of employment opportunities or displacement. This hereditary home is the site of life-cycle rituals as well as day-to-day interaction with extended kin. It is most common for this kin group to belong to the father's family, as there is a preference for women to move to the homes of their husband, raising their children among his relatives. It also happens, however, that husbands join wives' families instead, particularly among the matrilineal people of the island's east.


Infant Care. In Sri Lanka, young children are highly adored, fondled, and indulged by everyone, both male and female. Infants are traditionally kept with their mothers or female relatives. Babies are carried until they can walk and sleep with mothers until they are school-aged, at which time they are encouraged to move into a bed with their siblings. Nearly all mothers breast-feed their children, commonly through the first year.

Child Rearing and Education. Throughout childhood, important rituals are conducted around culturally significant milestones, such as the first feeding of solid food and the introduction of the letters of the alphabet. The coming of age ritual following a girl's first menstruation is an important marker of her entrance into the adult world, although there is no such similar rite of passage for boys.

As children grow, they are expected to develop a sense of lajjawa, a feeling that combines shyness, shame, modesty, and fear. It is cultivated early in childhood and used to teach self-control, beginning with bowel-control training, which starts at one year, then with weaning and nudity, and later with school performance.

Although mothers perform most of the child rearing, they are more responsible for their daughters' discipline and tend to be more indulgent with their sons. Fathers tend to indulge all of their children under five, at which point they take on a stricter disciplinary role, particularly with their sons whom they are responsible for controlling. Corporal punishment is quite common, especially from older males to boys.

In Sri Lanka, education has always been highly valued and encouraged. School attendance is compulsory between the ages of six and fourteen, although children often attend preschool and typically continue until the completion of the secondary level. Academic competition starts early, as parents scramble to place their children in the better primary schools, and continues with three sets of standardized exams that determine access to subsequent educational privileges. To prepare for these exams and other academic challenges, almost all children attend private tutorial sessions in addition to their regular schooling.

Higher Education. All of Sri Lanka's universities are government sponsored and attendance is free. Admission is determined by exam, so that only 2 percent of Sri Lanka's children eventually are enrolled in the universities, although children from affluent families frequently gain admittance to foreign universities. Of those who enter the Sri Lankan university system, the majority go into the arts, which includes humanities and social sciences, a course of study taught in the vernacular languages. Unemployment following graduation is high for these students, reflecting a disjuncture between market needs and university education. Those who attend the technical/professional schools, which are taught in English, tend to be more employable. Opportunities for postgraduate education are quite limited within the country.

Protests against authorities are well established among university students at all levels. New entrants to the university student community are routinely subjected to "ragging," a form of collective harassment by the senior students in an effort to create a sense of common identity and an anti-establishment consciousness.


Many of the most important rules of etiquette serve to mark differences in social rank. Both Sinhala and Tamil contain a range of linguistic markers for status as well as relative social distance and intimacy. In routine social interactions, personal names are avoided in preference to nicknames, relationship terms, or other titles.

Gender is also an important factor in determining appropriate conduct. Among all but the most urbanized, women are expected to defer to men of relatively equal status and to avoid all implication of sexual impropriety by keeping themselves well covered at all times. They are also expected to refuse all alcohol and tobacco and to refrain from direct physical contact with men. Between members of the same gender and with children, however, there is a great deal of physical contact that emphasizes closeness.

At meals, women usually eat last, after they have served the men and the children of the household, although visitors are served first, regardless of gender. While the more Westernized may use silverware, food is commonly eaten with the right hand, a preference that extends to other domains as well.

In public, people tend to speak in hushed tones if at all, although leaders and sellers are expected to shout. Large emotional displays of any type are uncommon in public. Greetings are often unvocalized, with broad smiles exchanged between strangers and a friendly raised eyebrow to frequent acquaintances. When new people are involved in a conversation, the mutual acquaintance is asked questions about the stranger. Seldom does direct self-introduction occur. Unusual behavior of any kind draws unconcealed observation.


Religious Beliefs. Buddhism, the religion of the majority of people in Sri Lanka, is given a place of preference in the national constitution and public life, although Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity are also practiced by significant portions of the population. Except in the case of Christians, who are drawn from a variety of ethnic groups, these religious traditions map directly onto the three major ethnic groups: Sinhala/Buddhist, Tamil/Hindu, and Muslims.

The 1981 census reported that 69 percent of the population considered themselves Buddhists, 15 percent Hindus, 8 percent Muslims, and 8 percent Christians. In practice, however, there is a degree of blending between these practices as well as an incorporation of ancient indigenous and astrological beliefs.

Sri Lankan Buddhists and Hindus, in particular, share a number of foundational beliefs and ritual practices. The moral codes of both of these religious traditions recommend moderation and restraint, Hindus stressing the discipline of one's behavior and Buddhists advocating "the middle path." In both, the concept of karma and rebirth are central, ideas that posit that one's actions in this lifetime determine the kind of life into which one will be reborn through the quantity of merit that one earns. While both Buddhism and Hinduism also propose that one can escape the cycle of rebirth, a goal that is highly elaborated within Buddhism, the acquisition of spiritual merit to gain a better rebirth either for one's self or one's loved ones generates much of the religious activity of the laity. Among the participants in both of these religions, there is also a belief in a broad pantheon of gods, spirits, and demons, into which many local deities have been absorbed. These beings may be male or female, benevolent or malevolent, moral or amoral, but they are all considered subject to the same laws of death and rebirth as other beings. Devotees, including some Muslims and Christians, appeal to these gods to assist them with a variety of (mostly worldly) concerns.

Religious Practitioners. In Sri Lanka, each of the four major religions are served by native religious leaders, although not exclusively; the island is home to training institutions for specialists in each of its organized religions.

The largest and most active group of religious specialists are the members of the Buddhist monkhood, or Sangha, who are ordained for life to follow a path of celibacy committed to the disattachment from worldly life. As temple monks, they provide spiritual guidance to the laity, serve as role models, and act as a source of merit acquisition for those who support them. They do not, however, traditionally play a role in secular matters or life-cycle rituals, except the death rites. Well organized and often in control of fair amounts of property, the Sangha have considerable influence in society, both historically and today.

The priests of the various gods are more independently organized. The ethnicity of the priests depends on their clientele more than the origin of the gods they serve. Tamil Hindu priests are born into their roles, almost traditionally but not exclusively coming from the Brahman caste. Sinhala Buddhist priests, who serve many of the same gods, are drawn from the laity and are increasingly likely to be women.

Members of both the Buddhist and Hindu laity also play a variety of specialized religious roles as mediators, renunciates who withdraw from worldly pursuits, and other kinds of adepts.

Rituals and Holy Places. Sri Lanka is home to many sacred sites visited by foreigners and locals alike. Kandy's Sri Dalada Maligawa, which houses the Tooth Relic of the Buddha, is an active temple complex that is the ritual center of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. During this temple's annual perahera season, the Tooth Relic is paraded through the torch-lit streets, accompanied by dancers, drummers, and elephants. While this is the island's largest perahera, or religious procession, other temples around the island host their own at different times of the year.

Pilgrimage is an important religious activity for many Sri Lankans. Kataragama, the most popular and elaborate of the pilgrimage centers, is primarily dedicated to the deity, although it is visited by members of all four of the island's religions. The summit of Sri Pada, or Adam's Peak, another important pilgrimage destination, is the traditional home of Saman, a Sinhala guardian deity common to both Sri Lankan Buddhists and Hindus. A large rock at the top is believed by Buddhists to have been imprinted with the footprint of the Buddha during one of his legendary visits to Sri Lanka and by Muslims to hold the footprint made by Adam as he was cast out of paradise. The ancient temples, especially of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, are also important pilgrimage sites.

Death and the Afterlife. Death ceremonies are quite elaborate in Sri Lanka, usually conducted by the families of the deceased in conjunction with religious officiants. Bodies are first embalmed in a secular, medical process and then returned to the families for funeral rites involving the gathering of extended family and the sharing of food, followed by either burial or cremation. Among Buddhists and Hindus the body is kept in the ancestral home for as long as a week while a variety of rituals are performed to give merit to the deceased in order to ensure a good rebirth. A series of purification rituals are also performed to protect the family members from the pollution from the body. White is the color associated with funerals, except for monks whose death is marked with yellow. Following a death, white banners, flags, and other decorations are put up according to the status of the deceased. Anniversaries of a death are also marked by rituals performed by family members.

Medicine and Health Care

The quality of life in Sri Lanka is among the highest in the developing world based on indicators such as its average life expectancy of seventy years, a relatively low infant mortality rate, and a well-developed infrastructure that provides safe drinking water and latrines to at least two-thirds of its inhabitants, an adequate food supply, and an extensive network of health-care providers.

In Sri Lanka, several different types of health systems are available. The state's free and universal health-care system includes Western allopathic medicine as well as South Asian Ayurvedic treatments. In addition, there are a variety of private clinics offering Western and Ayurvedic services, indigenous herbal specialists, and ritual healers. In general, people do not see these various health systems as mutually exclusive or contradictory, simultaneously accessing different systems for the same or different types of ailments.

Dosha, which loosely translates as "troubles," is the central concept that integrates these various health systems. Within Ayurveda, the concept refers to the physical and emotional problems resulting from imbalances in the body humors of heat, coolness, and wind. But the concept of Dosha is much broader in the folk system, referring to all kinds of problems including financial, academic, and social difficulties. Imbalances may result from food, spirit attack, or contact with some other extreme and may require different treatment approaches available from the different health systems.

Although there is a certain amount of popular knowledge about illness prevention, diagnosis, and treatment derived from these different systems, each is primarily administered by trained practitioners. Doctors, nurses, and other health-care workers are trained in modern Western allopathic medicine through Sri Lanka's university system as well as in foreign institutions. Ayurvedic doctors are trained in university-affiliated colleges in Sri Lanka and India. Indigenous herbal medical training is passed through apprenticeship from father to son. Different types of healing rituals are also conducted by expertssuch as exorcists, drummers and other caste-based professionals, and priests and priestess of the godssometimes in consultation with astrologers.

Secular Celebrations

All Saturdays and Sundays are public holidays, as is the Poya Day of each month which marks the full moon. Independence Day on 4 February and May Day on 1 May are also public holidays. During April, the island largely shuts down for a week as its Sinhala and Tamil residents celebrate the traditional new year, the exact day of which is determined by astrologers. In addition, the major Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian days are also reserved as public holidays.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Whether nationally acclaimed or only locally recognized, Sri Lankan artists are primarily supported by the clients who commission or purchase their work. In addition, some larger corporations sponsor particular projects and the government gives some small stipends and positions of honor to notable artists.

Literature. Sri Lanka has a long and prolific history of written as well as oral literature. As early as the fifth century c.e., both Sinhala and Tamil writers were recording histories and religious stories, as well as writing on more secular topics. This tradition continues today as fiction writers, poets, playwrights, and journalists write in all three of the nation's languages; some of their works have been translated into other languages as well. However, Sri Lanka's university and public libraries, once reputed to be the best in South Asia, are underfunded and poorly maintained as a result of increased budgetary constraints since 1977.

Graphic Arts. Religious topics and institutions heavily influence Sri Lanka's statuary and pictorial art. Local handicrafts, encouraged during the socialist days, have been challenged by less expensive imports since 1977. Some of these traditional handicrafts, such as pottery and basket weaving, are caste-based activities and tend to be more utilitarian than decorative. Others, such as wood carving, are highly ornate and well respected in international as well as local markets.

Performance Arts. Performance is the most vibrant of all art forms in Sri Lanka, particularly drumming and dancing. All fully professional theater productions are performed in a ritual context, although there is also modern, secular theater which is semiprofessional. There are also numerous forms of music produced and appreciated on the island including traditional drumming, religious chanting, work songs, South Asian and Western classical music, as well as contemporary popular music and film songs from national artists and abroad. Although appealing to different sections of the community, performances of all types are typically well-attended in Sri Lanka.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Sri Lanka's medical, engineering, and sociological fields are internationally respected although they are challenged by lack of funding and the loss of many of the best researchers to foreign institutions. Additionally, the switch from English to the vernacular languages in the social science departments of the universities has made it difficult for scholars to participate in an international exchange of ideas.


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Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka


The people of Sri Lanka are called Sri Lankans. Ethnic groups include the Sinhalese making up about 74 percent of the total population; Tamils, making up 18 percent of the total. Other groups together make up almost 8 percent. A small group of Veddas, an aboriginal (native) tribe represent less than 1 percent.

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Sri Lanka

Sri Lankaalpaca, attacker, backer, clacker, claqueur, cracker, Dhaka, hacker, Hakka, knacker, lacquer, maraca, paca, packer, sifaka, slacker, smacker, stacker, tacker, tracker, whacker, yakka •Kafka •anchor, banker, Bianca, canker, Casablanca, Costa Blanca, flanker, franker, hanker, lingua franca, Lubyanka, rancour (US rancor), ranker, Salamanca, spanker, Sri Lanka, tanka, tanker, up-anchor, wanker •Alaska, lascar, Madagascar, Nebraska •Kamchatka • linebacker • outbacker •hijacker, skyjacker •Schumacher • backpacker •safecracker • wisecracker •nutcracker • firecracker • ransacker •scrimshanker • bushwhacker •barker, haka, Kabaka, Lusaka, marker, moussaka, nosy parker, Oaxaca, Osaka, parka, Shaka, Zarqa •asker, masker •backmarker • waymarker •Becker, checker, Cheka, chequer, Dekker, exchequer, Flecker, mecca, Neckar, Necker, pecker, Quebecker, Rebecca, Rijeka, trekker, weka, wrecker •sepulchre (US sepulcher) • Cuenca •burlesquer, Francesca, Wesker •woodpecker

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