Posted on May 23rd, 2016


The first census of Ceylon of which there is a record is the census of 1824. That was an incomplete census which grouped the population by caste.  The first complete population census   of Ceylon was the census of 1871.  This census left out ‘caste’ and introduced ‘race’ and ‘nationality’,   two European   concepts which were in vogue at the time.   Race appeared for the first time in this census.  There were 72 nationalities and 24 races, including foreign ones such as Chinese, German and Irish. The local ‘races’ were Sinhalese, Tamil, Burgher, Chetty, Malay and Moor. Sinhalese and Tamils were ‘races’ as well as ‘nationalities’.

The Sinhala, Tamil and Moor races were officially recognized for the first time in 1871. The proportions were Sinhalese 69.40%, Tamils 22.21% and Moor 6.79%. There was a census every ten years or so after 1871.  At the 8th International Statistical Congress 1872, it was agreed that a census must include language, religion, birthplace and nationality. The 1881 Census referred to 72 nationalities in the text but classified the population only by ‘race.’ The races were ‘Europeans, Sinhalese, Tamil, Moors, Malay, Veddahs and Other’. Race became the main category of classification thereafter. The 1911 Census    had ten races, ‘Low country Sinhalese, Kandyan Sinhalese, Indian Tamils, Ceylon Tamils, Indian   Moors, (also known as Coast Moors) Ceylon Moors, Malays, Burghers, Veddahs, Europeans and Other’.

The 1911 Census said Sinhalese and Tamils are distinct, clearly differentiated races. They have their own religion and speak different languages. ‘Their settlements are clearly defined.’ Intermarriage between them is very rare. Even a superficial observer could see, it said, that there are marked physical differences between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. However,  the 1921 census has photographs of the ‘races’. They all look alike. The   difference was in their costumes, not in facial or physical characteristic.

Ponnambalam Arunachalam in his introduction to the 1901 census used history to show that the Sinhala and Tamil races were genuine and long standing. Arunachalam added a chapter on the history of Ceylon to the 1901 census. This   was not there in the earlier reports.  He wrote that the Tamils and Sinhalese have lived in the island for two thousand years. He drew attention to Dutugemunu’s fight with Elara. Denham in 1911 said that the Sinhalese and Tamils had been in Sri Lanka for centuries, fighting with each other. However, he added that only the Sinhalese could ‘regard Ceylon as home’. It was the ‘shrine of their national traditions.’

Each district was   designated ‘Tamil’ district’ and ‘Sinhala district’ according to the racial percentage. This created geographically contiguous ‘Tamil areas’ and ‘Sinhala areas’.   Census of 1871 showed 50-90% Sinhalese in all provinces except Jaffna, Vanni, Mannar (5%) and Trincomalee, Batticaloa (10%). Tamils were 90% in Vanni and Jaffna, 70% in Mannar and Eastern province, 40% in Central province and 16% in Badulla. Moors were 35% in Batticaloa 30-20% in Mannar, Trincomalee and Puttalam.

The Census of 1891 has three separate maps indicating the ‘relative proportions of races’ for Tamil, Sinhala and Moor. Jaffna, Vanni, Mannar, Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts were assigned in bright pink to the Tamils. These figures ignore the important issue of population density.  The 1911 census showed the following population density. In Northern Province, Jaffna with 998 sq miles had 326,510 persons. Mannar had 904 sq miles and 25,603 persons, Mullaitivu had 1466 sq miles and 17,336 persons.  In Eastern province, Batticaloa had 2800 sq miles and 153,943 persons Trincomalee had 1048 sq miles and 29,374 persons.

Sometime after the Sinhala race” was invented, it got bisected.  Ponnambalam Arunachalam, Superintendant of Census, divided the Sinhalese into Kandyan and Low country for the 1901 census. Then he said that Tamils were equal to each of the Sinhala groups when taken separately. Census of 1921 stated that the Kandyan Sinhalese differed from the Low country Sinhalese in all respects except those of color, religion and language. Kandyan villagers saw the Low country Sinhalese as a separate race (pahata rata minissu), probably due to the impact of Portuguese, Dutch, British, Malay and Chinese influences (sic).

Census of 1911  however, stated ‘ the distinction between Kandyan and Low country Sinhalese is every year lessened, intermarriages are on the increase and in many parts   of the  ‘Up country’, it is difficult to distinguish  between Kandyan and Low country men and women’  Then  in  1922   a  district court case dealing with property rights in marriage  went  into appeal and  Supreme Court ruled that  that Low country Sinhalese  and Kandyan Sinhalese were the same race. (NLR vol.24 p245)

But as late as 1946, persons from the Central, North central, Uva and Sabaragamuwa provinces, the Kurunegala and Puttalam districts and the ’Sinhalese divisions’ of the districts of Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Vavuniya continued to be Kandyan. Persons from Western and Southern provinces and Chilaw and Puttalam districts were Low country (Census 1946). Arthur Ranasinghe, Superintendant of census for 1946 cited the 1922 case and observed that this division made no sense. Kandyan and Low- country Sinhalese were treated as two separate census groups from 1901 to 1971.  They were combined in the 1981 census.

Ponnambalam Arunachalam said in the 1901 census that the ‘modern’ approach at that time was to identify ‘aggregations of persons believed or presumed to belong to the same stock and having a common language, character and political institutions.’  But no objective criteria  were devised for this. The answer given by the respondent was accepted by the enumerators in 1981. Denham had said in 1911 that it is inconceivable that any Sinhalese would enter himself as Tamil or vice versa.

The British rulers used the census to sort the population into ethnic groups.  The reason was political. They needed it for dividing and ranking the population. The groups  that emerged violated the  first principle in classification, which is to classify by one single criterion. The British have used mixed criteria, known as cross classification. This is similar to classifying one person by height, another by weight and the third by age.  The ‘Moors’ are Muslim (religion) ‘Tamils’ are an immigrant Tamil speaking group   (language). The ‘Sinhalese’ are the  citizens of Sinhaladvipa.    The word ‘Sinhala ‘    indicates nationality. They are not a race.

The term ‘race ‘was replaced by ‘ethnic group’ in the late 1960s. An ethnic group was defined as a group that shared a distinct culture, religion or language, which differed from the other groups living close by.  Critics point out however, that the ethnic groups that appear in the national census of former colonies were mostly invented by their European rulers. Though ethnic groups said they had existed for centuries, historians found that many of their cultural practices were ‘of recent invention.’ Some societies had not even heard of ‘race’. Sinhala had no separate word for ‘race’. The Sinhala term “jati/jatiya” was  adopted for ‘nation,’ ‘caste’ and ‘race’ depending on the context.

The Population Census, which is based on the Census Ordinance, has a great deal of authority and influence. Its statistics are used as the base for many economic activities, such as distribution of state resources.   Its ethnic categories, which are utterly artificial, are accepted as official. This has led to other complications. These artificial ethnic Identities then started to    develop a life   and history of their own   and became fixed.   Now they are claiming land rights  and   sovreignity.

The 1981 census classified the population into six ethnic groups: ‘Sinhalese, Sri Lanka Tamil, Indian Tamil, Sri Lanka Moor, Burgher, Malay and other.’  The 2012 census added ‘Sri Lanka Chetty’ and ‘Bharatha’ to the list. The ethnic pattern in 2012 was: Sinhalese (15,250,081) Sri Lanka Tamil (2,269,266) Indian Tamil (839,504) Sri Lanka Moor (1,892,638) Burgher (38,293) Malay (44,130) Sri Lanka Chetty (5,595), Bharatha (1,717) Other (18,215).  Total 20,359,439. (Census 2012).

The ethnic groups in this list consist of two categories, indigenous and immigrant. The ‘Sinhalese’ were there when the Europeans rulers came in. ‘Moors’ arrived spasmodically from south India, to the Kotte and Udarata kingdoms. ‘Burghers, Malay and Tamils’ came during Dutch rule. ‘Indian Tamils, Sri Lanka Tamils, Chetty, Bharatha’ came during British rule.

5 Responses to “THE CENSUS OF SRI LANKA”

  1. Ancient Sinhalaya Says:

    Sri Lanka Multiplying Community aka mussies will change all these in no time. They are already multiplying like
    xxxx and taking over every town, village while acquiring lands same time. That’s how these ungrateful
    traitors destroyed iran, afganisthan, pakisthan, bangladesh, maldives, malaysia and indonesia just after a
    few hundred years arriving in those countries. They multiply and multiply and outnumber the natives. Then the
    natives have to convert to this mad religion or die in their hands. That’s how they overwhelmed those countries. Now Sri Lanka, Thailand and Mynmar are in the firing line and with our traitor Sinhala deshapaluwan, Sri Lanka will fall into mussie hands in no time.

    While most Sinhalese couples working, they can’t bring up many children. So they resort to one or two children
    while most mussies doing businesses and wife stay at home and produce a dozen mussie babies. So automatic
    birth control for the Sinhalese and breeding bonanza for the mussies. The Government should stop giving FREE
    education, FREE hospitals after 2 children. Mussies have their own schools and they fill them to the rafters and
    then quietly slip into Sinhalese schools as well and take over them slowly too. While all this happening Sinhalese destroying
    activities going on, our deshapaluwan keep quiet. You have the UNPatriotic party with the biggest traitors/robbers
    in the land to divide the Sinhalese, Sinhalese will disappear from Sri Lanka in a few hundred years. Don’t take my
    word for it, just Google to see indonesia/afganisthan/iran etc’s Buddhist heritage. Then you can see for yourself
    these ungrateful mussies’ handiwork. How did they do it? Very simple. Multiply and outnumber!

  2. Dilrook Says:

    There was no ethnic group called Ceylon/Sri Lankan/Eelam Tamil before 1911. It was an artificial creation of Ponnambalam Arunachalam with political ambitions. He also divided Sinhalese into low country and upcountry in the census. In addition, he also created Ceylon Tamil League – one of the first communalist parties. In 1923, he unveiled the concept of Tamil Eelam (Wilson, AJ). Now his descendant is in charge of resettlement! It is no secret “resettlement” of war displaced people is done selectively to create demographic disaster for Sri Lanka and to advance Tamil separatist agendas. Displace Sinhalese (since 1977) and Muslims (since 1990) are not resettled in Jaffna.

    On the other hand, other recipients of large numbers of Tamil Nadu and Kerala people – Burma, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Fiji, the West Indies nations, Nigeria, Kenya, etc. didn’t award them a different ethnicity. They go as Indians in their census. This was how it was in Sri Lanka before 1911. Tamils were related to South Indians and never existed as a local (Ceylon/Sri Lankan/Eelam) ethnic group.

    This madness must be corrected. All Tamils in Sri Lanka must be classified into Tamils and Sri Lanka must immediately stop giving citizenship to anyone not born in the country apart from those born to Sri Lankans abroad.

  3. Fran Diaz Says:

    We thank Kamalika for this valuable article.

    Systems introduced by the Colonists have been passed on, even after so called Independence. So the type of Census brought about by Colonists is carried on, with only small variations. It is an artificial divide of a Nation.

    As Dilrook points out, Tamil leaders have used the Census for Separatism.

    The ‘divide & rule’ of the British colonials to control the colonised and further divided the country prevails even after so called Independence from Britain.

    Also, along with the old ‘divide & rule’, Globalization and Globalised Trade play a part, bringing in large parts of the world powers into small countries, using minorities to gain power for outside countries, as done in Sri Lanka.

    It is pointless blaming the MR Govt for what happened a long time ago – they were not in power in those times. The MR Govt had to use whatever material was available to quell the LTTE. Let us not forget that America trained the SL Army and also located the LTTE arms ships. There is a price to pay for all this – no country helps without a price tag attached. There is lesson in this for all in Lanka.

    Question: Isn’t Federalism a form of Separatism ? why not expand the 6-A to include Federalism as unacceptable ?


    INDIA uses the Caste System as a base for Census taking ! The UNHRC does not question this – biased and unethical UN does not question this.

  4. Fran Diaz Says:

    Other related points :

    – ALL illegal migrants ought to be deported.

    – Also the question of the Tamil people in the so called refugee camps in Tamil Nadu has to be settled once and for all. What proof is there that these are Tamil people with their children, are from Sri Lanka ?
    Jayalalitha wanted the Central Govt of INIDA to give citizenship to the so called refugees in the camps. The Central Govt of INDIA did not comply.
    INDIA did not honor even the Sirima/Shasthri Pact.

    INDIA has a surplus of people. Nearly One Billion people in INDIA.

  5. Sooriarachi Says:

    Thank you for this well researched and verifiable article on the subject of census conducted in Sri Lanka, since 1824.
    What matters most is the last sentence, which I have reproduced below.

    “The ethnic groups in this list consist of two categories, indigenous and immigrant. The ‘Sinhalese’ were there when the Europeans rulers came in. ‘Moors’ arrived spasmodically from south India, to the Kotte and Udarata kingdoms. ‘Burghers, Malay and Tamils’ came during Dutch rule. ‘Indian Tamils, Sri Lanka Tamils, Chetty, Bharatha’ came during British rule.”

    We all know that prior to the period of census taking, there certainly were small groups of settlers from the many invasions of Sri Lanka, by the South Indians (mainly Tamil), the Portuguese, Dutch and English, as well as those who came as traders from overseas, such as Arabs. The indigenous people were certainly the Sinhalas who lived on this land for many many thousand years and not just 2 to 3 thousand years. It is the Sinhala history recorded since the arrival of Prince Vijaya 2 to 3 thousand years ago, the great Chronicles like Mahawansa, Thupawansa, Deepawansa etc and this does not mean Sinhalese lived on this land only during this period.
    The chapter added by Arunachalam to say that Sinhalese and Tamils lived for two thousand years, is based on the misinterpretation of the Mahawansa record of the war between the Tamil invader Elara vs Sinhala Prince Dutugamunu, as proof of Tamils and Sinhalese living on this land for two thousand years. This is not so. The arrival of Prince Vijaya was not the beginning of the indigenous Sinhalese. Prince Vijaya and other migrants merely assimilated into the Sinhala nation though they may have influenced significantly the Sinhalese culture and enriched their culture. Arunachalam’s reasoning, is quite shallow, if the basis for his theory is the Elara Dutugamunu war.
    Though these are the facts, today Sri Lanka is a cosmopolitan nation and their citizens enjoy equal rights, whether they be, Malay, burgher, Muslim, Tamil, Sinhala or other and there is absolutely no space to divide this small country to satisfy any single migrant community.

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