Review of the book entitled “THE SEPARATIST CONFLICT IN SRI LANKA Terrorism, ethnicity, Political economy” By Professor Asoka Bandarage.
Posted on November 18th, 2009

Reviewed by Dr Muralidaran Ramesh Somasunderam

The writer makes a new analysis of the conflict in Sri Lanka, touching on the areas of terrorism, ethnicity, and the political economy.  The Introduction and Chapter 1 indicates the wide approaches to these sensitive areas of study, and comment.  In the past, most of the writers have dwelt with this subject as an ethnic conflict, and have tended to set it within a historical context of the story of Sri Lanka from its past history.  This approach is narrative, and seeks to set this conflict within certain known parameters.  This appears to be a limited approach to the whole problem.  Most of the writers have, therefore, taken one side of the issue, and analysed the events from that angle.  It is either from a Tamil point of view, or from that of the majority community.  Both these lead to a limited vision.  It is refreshing therefore that a new approach has been made in this book to understand the local, regional, and global issues involved.

A sociological approach is vital to a person making a serious attempt to understand, and appreciate, the present world.  Sociology approaches the diversity of the human experience and its continuity.  Such an approach leads one to understand the culture and life of other persons and assists one to a better understanding of society and institutions.  This approach is a breaking away from preconceived and set habits of thinking, and focuses on areas of interest which are central to human life within a given society. 

The conceptual framework of the book clearly points to this.  In dealing with the terrorist problem reference is made to the importance of distinguishing between national liberation movements and terrorism where innocent populations are targeted.  In dealing with the ethnic problems mention is made to the primordial conservative approach (which sees ethnicity as fixed), with a purely biological basis, as opposed to a more liberal approach.  The liberal approach defines ethnic identity as socially constructed.  However, this liberal approach has been made more difficult with the spread of ethno/religious conflicts, which have become a wide political phenomena in the post-Cold War era.  There is also reference to the “partition theory“.  This theory advances the fact that minorities within a state will be victimised unless they are partitioned into independent states.  This has gained wide acceptance within certain academic circles.  The consequences flowing of such a theory, as pointed out by the writer, can only lead to further complications, leading to conflict, rather than solve the problem of multi-ethnic societies.

In the context of Sri Lanka, it has been pointed out that the Tamils did not demand a separate state during the period of British colonialism.  It only became an issue after independence was granted, and in tracing the events to this evolution of Tamil separatism specific reference has been made to its causes.   

Chapter 5 of the book refers to “Internationalization of the secessionist struggle, 19831987“.  The Sri Lankan separatist conflict and the Civil War of recent years, has thereafter been dealt with on a regional and global basis.  This approach is vital, due to the geographical position of the country, and its strategic importance.  It is no more a purely domestic conflict, but has global and regional geopolitical issues. 

The writer has correctly pointed this out when she states: “Various external interests may be waiting for the opportunity to gain access to the vast stretches of undeveloped rich agricultural land, magnificent beaches, strategic Trincomalee harbour, and potential mineral resources in the Eastern Province.  But would local, Indian, or international efforts to develop the region benefit the poor from all the communities?”  What is needed, therefore, is to take a realistic approach to the present ethnic conflict.  In this context it is an important book to be read, especially by the policy makers in Sri Lanka.  Unless this is understood and appreciated, at all levels, the future does not offer much hope to the evolution of a stable Sri Lanka: which is the ideal of all moderate Sri Lankans.

Dr Muralidaran Ramesh Somasunderam.

                                       The title of the book is:
The Separatist Conflict In Sri Lanka Terrorism, ethnicity, political economy   By Professor Asoka Bandarage.                                                                                   
Publishers:  iUniverse, Inc. New York Bloomington (2009). Also please include Routledge, and Vijitha Yapa as publishes, as informed by Professor Bandarage.
Reviewed by Dr Muralidaran Ramesh Somasunderam.
Gained a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Deakin University in Geelong , Victoria. 
A Graduate Diploma in Applied Heritage Studies from Curtin University of Technology from Perth, Western Australia.  
A Master of Arts Degree by research in History from Deakin University from Geelong, Victoria.
And a PhD in British Colonial History from The University of Western Australia.  
I am the author of the book entitled: Strategic Significance Of Sri Lanka.

One Response to “Review of the book entitled “THE SEPARATIST CONFLICT IN SRI LANKA Terrorism, ethnicity, Political economy” By Professor Asoka Bandarage.”

  1. Ram2009 Says:

    “the Tamils did not demand a separate state during the period of British colonialism”.

    The demographics of the Sri Lanka that the British came to were very different from the one that obtained when they left in 1948. South Indian labour had been brought to the Vanni and Jaffna by the Dutch for the tobacco plantations prior to the British arrival. The local population was evicted in the process. Then the British brought in another mass of labour from the same source for the Tea estates, which again saw the local population evicted for the purpose. In addition the Tamils were given plum jobs in the civil service under British tutelage to rule over the majority community, in true British fashion. The Sinhala became the second class citizens in their own country.

    The Tamils had no need to demand for a separate state under the British, but they had demanded 50:50 parliamentary representation for a minority, to retain their privileged status. That was however, not granted. The other demands based on fantasy came later.

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