Vertical Inequality, Redistributive Development and Conflict Management in Sri Lanka

Master's Thesis, 2017

51 Pages, Grade: 64


Table of content


Abbreviations and Acronyms


1.1 Background of study
1.2 Purpose of Research
1.3 Research Question and Proposition
1.4 Research Methodology
1.5 Significance of study
1.6 Conceptual Clarification
1.7. Redistributive Development
1.8. Dissertation outline

2.1. Conflict Resolution of ethnic conflict
2.2. Territorial approaches to conflict resolution
2.3. Democracy as panacea to ethnic conflict
2.4. Reconciliation as tool for conflict resolution
2.5. Conflict Resolution efforts in Sri Lanka
2.6. Summary

3.1. Definition of Ethnicity
3.1.2. Primordialist approach to ethnicity
3.1.3. Instrumentalist approach to ethnicity
3.1.2. Constructivist approach to ethnicity
3.2. Definition of Ethnic Conflict
3.3 .The Faint Salience of Ethnicity
3.4. Over-estimation of Group Homogeneity
3.5. Sri Lanka and Ethnic Undertone

4.1. Sri Lanka Profile
4.2. Ethnic Imbalance and Exclusion in Sri Lanka
4.2.1. Political Discrimination
4.2.2. Language Policy
4.2.3. Education Policy
4.2.4. Territorial Domination of Tamil Territory
4.2.5. Violent Repression
4.3. Distributional Issues in Sri Lanka
4.3.1. Sri Lanka Welfare Expenditure & Vertical Inequality
4.3.2. Youth Unemployment, Poverty and Vertical Inequality
4.3.3 Household Income Expenditure Inequality in Sri Lanka
4.4 Discussion and Summary

5.1. Recommendation



The Challenge of facilitating peace in post-war societies has been a topical issue in recent conflict literatures. The uncertainty of the effectiveness of external intervention in strengthening peace agreements among conflicting parties especially in the context of Sri Lanka; where inspite of the incentives (Political and Financial), the level of mistrust between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE; as well as the internal nature of Sri Lankan Politics in which groups (Tamil) have been denied equal power , rights and status in the allocation of resources to their own productive capacity has presented a formidable obstacle to peace process. Albeit, the violent hostility between ethnic groups has ceased, there still exist non­violent conflict among conflicting parties. Therefore a critical intervening and resolution factor must put into consideration and take cognizance of this policy perspective, because violent struggle between ethnic groups are only but an aspect of political violence. Violent conflicts also exist within groups and are most times as a result of the failure of the state to perform its fundamental tasks. Redistribution, with this consciousness within and among groups is key to solidarity between them and the failure is capable of triggering the eruption of political violence.

Acronyms and Abbreviations

ADB African Development Bank

DRC Democratic Republic of Congo

IBP International Business Publication

ILO International Labour Organisation

JVP Junatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People ’s Liberation Front)

LTTE Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

MRG Minority Right Group

SLF Sri Lanka First.

PTA Prevention of Terrorism Act

SSA Social Scientist Association

USA United States of America

CERD Centre on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination


There are so many amazing individuals and organizations I wish to give me sincere appreciation and thanks, for their immense support throughout my studying and during this research. First, my profound gratitude goes to God almighty for his unending love that has protected me and provided me with the knowledge, health, skill and wisdom to embark on this academic journey. Secondly, I would like to say a big thank you to the Department of International development for providing the funding which has enabled me to take this study at the University of East Anglia. I want to also acknowledge my course adviser, Dr.Ulrike Theuerkauf ,who has encourage me right from the first day and has dedicated ample time and energy in supporting me throughout my study period especially in the face of challenges; I am ever grateful. I also thank my Supervisor Dr.Sarah Jenkins for her wholesome guidance, encouragement, very useful feedbacks and support that has enabled me carry out this research and bring it to a successful completion.

I also would like to thank other notable personalities and organisations. Dr. Rob Grant (Head of Department), Dr. Edward Anderson, lecturer (MAID), Dr. Vasouda Chotray (MAID). RCCG Holy ghost Zone, Norwich; Nigerian Community in Norwich; all my students’ friends, housemates, all the teaching and none teaching members of staff of the University of East Anglia who have helped one way or the other throughout my studies. My friends and family in Nigeria for their care and prayers, I say a big thank you to you all.


1.1 Introduction.

The Sri Lanka conflict, has been one of the most lasting conflicts, the world has ever experienced with over 75,000 casualties. The majority-minorities, which are Sinhalese- Tamils and other ethnic groups have been affected by the three decades of the ethnic conflict since the 1980s, which resulted from the legal, political and economic discrimination of minorities (CERD, 2016). Alongside this struggle by the minorities against the majorities in order to secure relevance in Sri Lanka political system. There have also been open rebellion by youths across these groups against the state; as there were clear cases of killings by youths who form radical movements in each community. This rebellion was a reaction to the inability of the state to uphold its initial strong economic growth and institutional structure, social welfare at independence (Samarasinghe, 2003). Consequently, reducing the amount of resources as well as opportunity available for its increasing population and creating room for disparity among segments of the population across each ethnic community (Ibid).

A lot of conflict resolution processes in this regard, have been put in place in Sri Lanka to address these concerns between these ethnic groups, part of which was negotiation between the two parties involved in the conflict, (Sinhalese and Tamil); the Institutionalising of democracy; power sharing between the two ethnic communities (Biswas, 2006). Albeit, unarguably, the conflict between the Sri Lanka Sinhalese government and the Tamil group (LTTE), who sought a separate state from Sri Lanka present a clear case of ethnic antagonism between the two communities. However, this narrow focus on ethnic disparity by these conflict resolution model overlooks the intra-ethnic dimension of conflict in this context, which has possibly inhibited the achievement of durable peace. It is on this note that this study seeks to uncover the other dimensions of this violent conflict, which is the conflict that existed within each community as a result of grievance caused by variation in having needs met by populace.

1.2 Purpose of Research

The main objective of this study departs from the assumption that grievances between ethnic groups solely impacts the outbreak of conflict. This study set out to bridge the gap in the literature focusing only on inter-ethnic dimensions to conflict in conflict management. The study aims to bring to the fore, the intra-ethnic disparity that exists within ethnic groups as basis for conflict by adopting an analytical perspective based on the concept of vertical inequality and redistributive development.

1.3 Research Questions.

Given the above premises, the main question for this study is: - how and under what condition did vertical inequality, as a result of inefficient distribution among local communities, trigger conflict and affected the conflict resolution engagements in Sri Lanka? The nature of state policies and governance by Sri Lanka government gives redistribution and inequality primacy, when it comes to appraising violent conflict, as well as improving conflict resolution processes. In this sense, this study deals with the following sub-questions:

1. How salient is ethnicity as a factor in the outbreak of the Sri Lanka conflict?
2. How viable are existing conflict prevention approaches in achieving durable peace in Sri Lanka?
3. What are the sources of vertical inequality, and how important was vertical inequality in the onset of the Sri Lanka Conflict?
4. Is redistributive development that takes into consideration micro –level needs of members of community a useful approach in Sri Lanka?

1.4. Research Methodology.

The study adopts a desk based analytical review, drawing on secondary literatures. A lot of the secondary data to be used will be obtained from scholarly research works, books and journalistic materials. The qualitative research methodology is adopted for this research in order to allow for systematic collection and analysis of narrative materials, as this will enhance the holistic analysis of context (Gulba & Lincoln, 1981).

1.5 Significance of study.

This research first of all, enhances our understanding of the complex reasons underlying what may be termed ethnic conflict, which may sometimes be beyond ethnic disparity. While most of the conflict resolution approaches have focused on resolving ethnic differences, very little attention has been paid to intra-ethnic differences. This study therefore, helps to contribute to the debate on the cause of conflict within societies and also emphasise the importance of vertical redistribution in resolving conflict. Consequently, this will provide policy makers as well as interventionist deeper insight on conflict sensitive resolutions that are able to bring positive peace.

1.6 Conceptual Clarification

This study deals with a number of concepts that have brought much contentions in the study of politics. Redistributive development, Ethnicity, Ethnic Conflict, Vertical Inequality are the main concepts that underscore this research. Although the next chapters delves theoretically deeply into some of these concepts. This next section provides a useful definition to the concept of redistributive development .

1.7. Redistributive Development

Redistribution and its measurement has long been an issue for government in various societies including, for example, the UK in 2012, US (Hills 2016) and Sri Lanka in the 1970s (Gunawardena, 1996).Redistributive development, a longstanding area of social enquiry has been defined, and conceptualised by many academics (Gibson, 2012, Azam, 2001; Kohler, 2015). For example, Azam (2001) sees redistribution as a visible public investment in the various regions of a state. These investments could be in health, education, in maintaining civil peace. In similar form, Kohler (2015) defines redistributive development as an essential process of allocating wealth and income generating assets such as human capital and wealth (including land, industrial and financial capital) across individuals as well as between the private and public sector in order to enhance the equality of opportunity. Sen (1999) on the other hand, defines redistributive development as actual state provision of capability-enhancing , excludable public goods –here, public housing and latrines that advance the health, dignity, wellbeing, and ability of economically poor and historically marginalised groups to lead the kind of lives they have reason to value.

While a lot of these scholars agree on redistributive development as a structure that allows for the inclusion of individuals into the state’s welfare activities (Gibson, 2012; Tarrow, 1994), these definitions fail to highlight the need to distinguish between vertical redistribution and horizontal redistribution that occurs in a state, as argued by (Hills 2016). To Hills (2016), while the aim of vertical redistribution is to redistribute within particular social groups that is from the rich to the poor, horizontal redistribution however, focuses on redistribution on the basis of needs between different groups.

Nonetheless, these definitions have their weaknesses:

First, Azam (2001)’s definition of redistributive development is rather narrow, vague and tries to limit redistributive development to government’s effort of putting finance to regions of a state, while ignoring the micro level form of redistribution, that is between individuals. With Kohler (2015)’s definition it is easy to identify a number of flaws. For example, by canvassing for distribution of wealth and income-generating assets only, Kohler fails to take cognizance of certain other needs individuals in societies desire such as need for political inclusion, social mobility. Also, by taking finance as the only way individuals can gain equal opportunity in society, he considers individuals to be money-driven personalities. Whereas Hill (2006)’s definition turns to draw a line between the forms of redistribution that can take place within a state, it remains silent on what can be redistributed by the state, that is power, resources or opportunities thus making the definition less ambiguous.

Given the weaknesses of the aforementioned definitions, I adopt a definition by Bourguignin (2002) for the purpose of this dissertation, which defines redistributive development as the reallocation of wealth, assets and income. Furthermore, it means an attempt in safeguarding equal choices; the reallocation of social and political rights for example, proportional access to employment opportunities by all groups regardless of gender, religion or ethnicity; the provision of universal primary and secondary schooling; the fair access to primary health care and social benefits. It is not limited to these alone, it also encompasses safeguarding of cultural norms; unbiased access to economic, social, political and legal institutions by all population groups. These type of redistribution are not common forms of redistribution, where targeted poor households gain from an expanded disposable income as it is with income transfers. They constitute however, forms of redistribution of income, assets and rights that will hopefully allow their recipients to be more productive and less excluded socially (Ibid).

Bourguignin’s (2002) definition offers a more comprehensive explanation of Redistributive development as it encapsulates both vertical and horizontal redistribution and also resonates other forms and levels of redistribution asides income, and this is important in identifying why the absence of this level of distribution between and within groups motivates individuals to engage in conflict over certain needs like resources and opportunity .It also pinpoints other values that individuals in the society may need such as financial stability, political inclusion, gender equality, social mobility as well as environmental sustainability. Therefore, his definition provides a clear lens within which the Sri Lanka case study will be view and analysed.

1.8 Dissertation Outline

This study consist of five main chapters; Chapter one, which has been discussed provides the introduction, general framework of this study and also gives the various existing conceptual clarification of Redistribution/Redistributive development by various scholars.

In what follows, Chapter two carries out a review of the various approaches suggested by scholars that have been employed for the resolution of conflict namely, federalism, reconciliation, democracy, autonomy. It also contextualises these approaches in the Sri Lanka case, and highlights the inability of these approaches to resolve the issue in Sri Lanka as a result of the limited way the conflict has been viewed.

Chapter three critically examines the nature of the term ethnic conflict, and argues that while sometimes conflicts may be characterised as ethnic, based on struggle between ethnic groups, there are other significant factors that exist within groups which undermine these group homogeneity sometimes in these conflicts, thereby questioning what could be described as ethnic.

Chapter four explores how the skewed redistribution in the initial phase of Sri Lanka economic growth created inequality that triggered the conflict. It seeks to undertake a comprehensive analysis of the Sri Lanka political system; state’s inability to distribute opportunities and resources equitably; and the vertical variation created among households in each community as a result. This chapter also highlights why conflict management processes have constantly been undermined. Finally, chapter five provides the conclusion and also some recommendation as well as suggestion for further research.


2.1 Conflict Resolution of Ethnic Conflict

This chapter examines arguments and scholarly debates on the approaches to the resolution of conflict, by means of a systematic review of literature. This study explores academic work that engages, with the experience of conflict resolution practices in conflict- affected areas particularly in Sri Lanka. Amongst the approaches to be explored include, federalism, autonomy, democracy and reconciliation. It finds that current approaches to conflict resolution, are often based on the assumption of the nature of ethnic conflict, to be as a result of inherent ethnic differences between ethnic groups. It concludes by highlighting the need to have a shift from the narrow focus on ethnic group cohesion, if conflict resolution is to be effective. The first of the approach to be explored in this regard is;

2.2 Territorial approaches to Conflict Resolution (Federalism Vs Autonomy).

In what could be stated as an amazing handout to the resolution of ethnic conflict. Horowitz (1985) highlights a number of structural and preferential approach to reduce ethnic conflict. He however, placed emphasis on federalism and autonomy as potential panacea for ethnic conflict. Federalism, which can be defined as constitutionally stated formulation that allows regions share the same powers and common relationship with the predominant government. Similarly, autonomy, which is a construction that allows ethnic or other groups, possess a different identity or claim absolute control over its affairs; have been considered effective for the resolution of conflict, because they give room for ethnic groups which previously have been under-represented, or marginalised from the political system to be more equally represented , and more so , they are suitable in embracing diversity and in reducing secessionist tendencies by giving recognition and deputing powers to excluded ethnic groups who feel intimidated by the relative superiority of other ethnic groups (ibid).

However, this view ignores the fact that such design may seclude minority group and intercept its members from participating politically and economically in the larger sphere of the state (Cornell, 2002). Neither, does it take into consideration, that the mere availability of a federal design does not indemnify the rights of an ethnic group from being undermined by a major ethnic group (Adimassu, 2015). Nevertheless, empirical realities have proved otherwise, for instance, evidence from historical track records reveal that, assuredly autonomous arrangements such as federalism, territorial political autonomy can be useful in controlling regional conflicts. This is because, by giving ethnic groups political authority over a particular region or territory, there is the diffusion of power, and this helps in building compromise to balance the conflicting territorial interests of the group and the state Gurr, (1993). Nonetheless, this approach enunciates its limited application to only ethnic conflicts that are territorially defined, therefore it proves significantly less practicable in initiating peace negotiations in conflicts that are not fought over territory. It is therefore important to consider other approaches that may have been used in other context.

2.3 Form of Government: (Democracy) as Antidote for Ethnic Conflict

Another distinct approach in resolving conflict, in ethnically divided societies that stems from the form of government is provided by Wallensteen (2015), which he emphasised as democracy. |To him, Conflicts basically are struggles for influence and power in society. Therefore, the recommended way to allow for inclusion of parties in a society after a war, is to allow groups who have been excluded from influence to be included. This suggest a system of political parties with liberal democratic structures such as freedom of association, guaranteed rights, non-partial electoral commissions, fair elections and the unhindered forming of government on the basis of election result. In other words, stabilising of forces in a society where parties cannot monopolise power is a feasible panacea for ethnic conflict (ibid).

In this sense, Acharya (2010) notes the importance of democracy in the resolution of conflict. This is because of its focus on internal consolidation and economic development to fulfil promises made during election coupled with the fact that increased rule of law, could lead to greater rule-based interaction and increased negotiation. Based on these assumptions, democracy by its characteristics creates an enabling environment for a viable peace process that diffuses both economic and political frictions among ethnic groups. Albeit, there is need to agree with these scholars on the features of democracy which allows for rule of law, and accommodation of multiple interest of groups as well as belief in reconciliation. It is hardly feasible how effective this approach can be in such conflict context, where there are usually deep seated lack of trust and pervasive fear of uncertainty especially during election periods, where polls may be cast along ethnic lines, such that referenda and election outcomes will be the outcome of polls that are essentially conflictual (Sisk, 2003).

However, Lipjhart (1968) and Horowitz (1971) argued quite in contrast, and proposed that properly designed democratic structures such as electoral system, parliament, court, can encourage ethnic accommodation; that is the successful co-existence and tolerance of ethnic groups. This is by encouraging the formation of multi-ethnic coalitions of commitment. A coalition of 'commitment' is one which requires an electoral agreement between parties representing different ethnic groups before elections. Such pact restrains either party from campaigning on a line of ethnic chauvinism and encourages agreement on what line of action could be taken across ethnic lines. Nonetheless, this approach is limited in its inability to view intra-ethnic party politics that may rise in the democratic process, in which individuals struggle to gain relevance.

2.4 Reconciliation as tool for Conflict Resolution

In a nuanced perspective, on the settlement of conflict in ethnically divided societies .Kauffman (2001) proposes that resolving ethnic war requires reconciliation, that is , changing hostile attitudes to moderate ones , lessening ethnic fears and replacing the inter group symbolic politics of ethnic chauvinism, with a politics that rewards moderation. More extensively, it encompasses the development of working trust; the transformation of the relationship toward a partnership based on reciprocity and mutual responsiveness; an agreement that addresses both parties’ basic needs (Kelman, 2004). This approach differs from other approaches to settlement of conflict as it focuses on human relations rather than immediate contents or issues that give rise to conflict (Lederach, 2005).

It is on this note, Clark (2009) arguing from the Yugoslavia perspective, points out that reconciliation only facilitates co-existence rather than peace. Therefore obstacles to long term positive peace can remain and can turn into drivers of conflict, such as lack of contract between different ethnic groups, high levels of mistrust, unconsolidated versions of war narratives, and a continued need for truth –telling , particularly in regard to missing people and denial of war crimes. Moreover, even in cases where post-conflict regimes pursue reconciliation agendas, progress is undermined by persistent inequalities that fuel renewed conflict. Economic disparities significantly impact a nation’s prosperity for reconciliation (Sarkin, 2008).

Nonetheless, the pragmatic way by which reconciliation deals with profound changes, involving past injustices in order to achieve some desired purpose such as building peace, nurturing democracy, promoting human rights and delivering justice is what precisely renders reconciliation so deeply compelling (Edelman, 1971). Therefore, the way for third parties to address this problem is to promote not just peace, but also reconciliation, addressing the emotional foundations of hostile political attitudes and their symbolic expression to help stabilise peace. While this approach seem to highlight an important aspect in resolving conflict in human societies, it however falls into the same flaw with other approaches, by focusing on building relationship only between ethnic groups, ignoring a valued part of building relationship among individuals as essential for resolving conflict. It is on this note this study delves into the distinctive case of Sri Lanka and reviews conflict resolution practices that have been employed in Sri Lanka and assessing the impact of these conflict resolution frameworks in Sri Lanka.

2.5 Conflict Resolution in Sri Lanka

To begin with, Höglund and Orjuela (2011), hold that the dominant conversation of the Sri Lankan government after the war seemingly is that there is no need for reconciliation, since the violent rebellion has ended. This is evidenced by the little efforts by the government toward the protection of minority rights and freedom; a serious effort toward justice , accountability, reconciliation and a genuine attempt to present a political solution that would satisfy minorities. On the contrary, harassment of representatives of political opposition; restrained space for dissent ; human right violation such as extra- judicial killings, disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention are widely reported but denied by the government (MRG, 2011). This suggest that conflict resolution approaches employed, have only been successful in putting an end to violent conflict in 2009, but have been ineffective in tackling the underlying cause of conflict (ibid).

On devolution of power, Höglund and Orjuela (2013) reveal that despite consolidating political power in a series of provincial elections as well as in the Presidential and parliamentary elections in January and April 2010. There has been limitation in the use, of this consolidated power by the President in state restructuring, which favours the devolution of power and the decentralisation of state. The government has essentially rejected the need for any political solution or power sharing, with the Tamil speaking minority in north and east under the 13th amendment; which is the first constitutional arrangement to devolve power (ibid). Albeit, due to intense Indian pressure , the amendment passed which suggested establishing provincial councils through which Tamils were to be granted limited powers of self-rule in a merged north-eastern province. This political transformation, was taken as a step towards the maintaining of peace between the ethnic two communities. However, this political transformation and inclusion approach was constantly undermined by ethnic outbidding which suggests the competition by political elites to gain support of a particular group by acting in the best interest of such group at the detriment of the other (Saideman, 2001) .Nonetheless, this scenario points out that though efforts were made by the government after the war ended, through political transformation and inclusion, which are important elements of conflict management paradigm. These efforts were limited in addressing the cause of the conflict, as they never took into consideration several important factors such as the impact of electoral politics where several sections of the society were favoured by politicians in a bid to secure positions in the political system, thereby furthering the inequality that existed within society (ibid).

2.6 Summary

The above reviewed literary exposition relating to conflict resolution highlights the fact that conflict resolution is a highly diverse phenomenon which may be carried out in various ways. The literatures on ethnic conflict examined, have presented lots of approaches to dealing with conflict in ethnically diverse societies. In the current debates, federalism, territorial autonomy, democracy and reconciliation have received much attention as measures in resolving conflict in ethnically divided society. However each of the afore mentioned arguments have clear strengths and weaknesses .It remains unresolving that these approaches have only managed to attain only an aspect to achieving peace, that is ending violence. The assumption that ethnic disparity and characteristic between ethnic groups; is the reason for the onset of conflict, particularly in Sri Lanka underestimates the complexity of conflict dynamics and unintentionally culminates in significant fissures in the resolving of conflict within the conflict-affected state.

In each approach, ethnic groups have been viewed as unitary actors with rationally defined set of preferences; this has therefore largely reduced its political issues into an ethnic conflict by focusing only on one facet of the conflict (Bruabek & Laitin, 1998). There is need to go beyond the popular ethnic dimension and look into the limitations and fundamental contradictions in the overall development process in understanding the roots of civil war. This broad view of conflict transformation is necessary to correct the misconception that conflict rest on harmony of interests between ethnic actors, and so these conflicts can be resolved by appealing to collective interests of ethnic faction.


Understanding Ethnicity and Ethnic Conflict: The Sri Lanka Experience

Ethnic conflicts have long been a part of international politics, and continue to be the most pervasive form of armed conflicts around the world presently (Mohammad, 2015).In the years 1945 and 1990, most violent conflicts were about disagreement between ethnic groups ;only about three quarter of conflicts were disagreement between politically organised ethnic groups and governments. In 2006, thirty-two conflicts fought were civil wars, five were internationalised; nearly all were as a result of ethnic issues (Harbom & Wallensteen, 2007). Best known country examples include Balkans, Iraq, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Darfur. The instability of provinces, states and in some cases regions are known outcomes of ethnic violence, and they are usually accompanied by severe human rights violation (such as genocide); economic disruption, state collapse, environmental issues and increased refugee movement. As a result, scholarly research dedicated to grasping the complexity of civil conflict has increased proportionately. After the cold war, a lot of conflicts (Bosnia, Rwanda and Kosovo), increased the awareness of policy makers and scholars to conflicts fought on the basis of ethnicity. Frequently in the news and common throughout history are ethnic discrimination, exploitation and conflict (ibid). In order therefore to understand the nature of ethnic conflicts, this chapter will critically examine what ethnicity is and the extent to which it explains conflicts, particularly in Sri Lanka. This will require an engagement with predominant theories of what constitutes ethnicity .These theories will be summarised briefly before interrogating the nature of ethnic conflict as a distinct phenomenon.

This chapter argues that while some of these theories help in the understanding of conflicts, posits of the ethnic conflict model are almost always over –emphasised to the exclusion of important factors that make group less homogeneous internally within their communities. This Chapter therefore suggests that there is need to look beyond ethnic factions to other socio-economic factors that interact to trigger conflicts. This will then help in constructing more useful narratives that may help in ensuring more effective resolution processes and policies.

3.1 Definition of Ethnicity

Before starting an analysis of the various explanations of the nature of ethnic conflict, it is imperative to uncover how ethnicity itself has been conceptualised. This is important owing to the overriding role ascribed to ethnicity in a country’s political cleavages that does not involve class (Handelman, n.d). In other words, this is the exclusive area where political conflicts erupts within a society or community, not based on unjust outcome of structural processes.

Ethnicity has been defined by some scholars (Chazan et al, 1999; Horowitz, 1985), as an individual’s insight about his ethnic identity, which is based on perceived common experiences shared in the group that he belongs. In this context, ‘’Ethnicity is based on a myth of collective ancestry, which usually carries with it traits believed to be innate’’ (Horowitz 1985:52). This view therefore perceives ethnicity as an unchanging aspect of an individual’s identity, which is essential to considering how people in groups are. However, this view ignores the fact these identities and histories are partially established by elites, scholars and media actors, who seek some benefit by emphasising ethnicity (Chandra 2004). In other words, albeit ethnicity being historical, it nonetheless, is an outcome of interactions or decisions taken by certain powerful groups in the society that have lasted overtime. Nonetheless, the qualities that a particular ethnic group shares and the factors that makes it different from other ethnic groups are usually exaggerated, while differences within ethnic groups are sometimes overlooked.

With the debate on concept of ethnicity briefly recast, this study now considers the various schools of thought that have emerged to explain more concretely the nature of ethnicity. A look at these theoretical approaches is necessary not only to provide a good work for some of the later issues to be discussed but also to probe our ability to generalise the findings of this study to other types of conflicts especially those that are less self-evidently ethnic in nature or do not possess an ethnic component at all.

3.1.2 Primordialist School.

The first of this approach is the Primordialist school which views ethnicity as a naturally existing characteristics of individuals and communities (Isaacs, 1975; Smith, 1986; Kaplan, 1993; and Connor 1994). These features are taken as inherently biological (Van den Berghe, 1981); or emanating from centuries of previous practices which cannot be altered or predefined by individuals or groups (Esteban et al, 2012). These identities based on common history, culture and tradition are taken as predestined and inevitable and accordingly lead to conflict between various groups (Wolff, 2006).In this view, ethnic differences between groups are naturally born. Conflicts naturally emanates between groups who recognise their difference from other groups (Ibid).However, what this school fails to recognise is the structural, economic and political processes within which these conflicts emerge (McKay, 2011). As it tends to place so much emphasis on genetically instigated violent attitude (Campbell, 2007), in that case making ethnic conflict unresolvable and immutable (Laitin and Sunny, 1999). To account for this shortfall, a second approach called the instrumentalists school was formulated to explain ethnicity in a more nuanced perspective.

3.1.3. Instrumentalist approach

The instrumentalist approach, regards ethnicity as a tool used by individuals and elites to unify, organise and mobilise populations to achieve larger goals (Lake and Rothchild, 1998; Varshney, 2007). These goals are mostly political in nature and include, among others, demand for self-governance, autonomy, access to resources and power. Therefore, ethnic conflict arises if ethnic groups compete for the same goals, notably power, access to resources or territory .The argument here is quite contrary to the primordialist thought of ethnicity being biological; ethnicity is more or less an instrument to concede the inward motives of elites and exploit ethnic publics, either to attain power or avert losing it in the future (Demmers, 2012; ibid).Therefore, inter-ethnic struggles are not perceived to naturally occur.

However, this school of thought obscures the fact that ethnicity cannot be politicised unless an underlying core of memories, experience, or meaning moves people to collective action (Esman, 1994).More so, it is highly questionable why ethnic publics would be influenced by leaders to pursue a goal that seem to serve elite benefit (Fearon and Laitin, 2000). This instrumentalist view fails to systematically address these questions, but rather consider individuals as beings with no will to carry decisions on their own. Nonetheless, this view suggests that ethnicity is not inherently conflictual, and individuals belonging to a particular ethnic group may decide to use their will and agency based on experiences or memories to engage in violent conflict, in order to attain certain goals or alter certain structural arrangements.

3.1.4 Constructivist Approach

A third approach, somewhat similar to the instrumentalist is the constructivist approach, which also negates the idea of ethnic diversity as basis for the outbreak of ethnic conflict. Constructivists view ethnicity as constructed by society, or even an outcome of interaction of structural forces or circumstances within a given political entity. However, unlike instrumentalist, constructivists emphasise the importance of structural conditions such as colonialism, globalisation, modernisation, economic crises, regime transitions rather than agency (Wimmer, 2008). That is to say, ethnic conflicts, are consequences of concrete historical and structural processes, and these experiences affect how ethnic groups relate, causing hostility between them thus explaining how ethnic identities are politicised (Weir, 2012). In other words, ethnic conflict thus depend on the inequality, grievances, less option for peaceful expression and fewer opportunities for ethnic groups to attain their goals as a result of the socio-political system. This conception about ethnicity is what has been most recognised by authors in their explanation and approach to ethnic conflicts, particularly in the Sri Lanka case.

Nevertheless, as Kaufman (2001) notes, even if ethnic identities are constructed, they could also become assimilated and established in a way that they produce deep meaning for that group and generate the same primordialist emotions, because ethnic groups tend to share a persisting sense of interests and identity based on these common historical experiences, esteemed cultural traits, beliefs, religion, language and territory (Smith, 1993). So while the explanatory power of this theory, lies in its ability to draw on multiple dimensions, reflecting both underlying and proximate causes of ethnic conflict, and exposing the role of agency within these historical processes ;showing how the interests of actors, the socio-economic and political environment interact to produce ethnic violence. This theory does not explain why societies with similar historical processes and structural features (modernisation) commonly associated with conflict do not produce similar ethno political disputes elsewhere (Ibid; Varshney, 2007). Having explored the above theories in terms of the extent to which they explain the nature of ethnicity and phenomenon of ethnic conflict, this study will now examine the various dynamics of ethnic conflict, as well as problematize ethnic conflict.

3.2 Ethnic Conflict Defined

It is imperative at this point to define what the term ethnic conflict mean. For the purpose of this research, ethnic violence and ethnic conflict, will be used interchangeably, though this has been sharply distinguished by authors (Cordell & Wolff, 2010). Generally speaking, the term conflict describes a situation in which two or more actors, pursue incompatible yet from their individual perspectives entirely just goals. Ethnic conflicts are one particular form of such conflict (Varshney, 2007). Ethnic conflict can therefore be defined as that in which the goals of at least one conflict party is defined in (exclusively) ethnic terms, and in which the primary fault line of confrontation is one of ethnic distinctions. Whatever the concrete issues over which conflict erupts, at least one of the conflicting parties will explain its dissatisfaction in ethnic terms. That is, one party to the conflict will claim that its different ethnic identity is the reason why its members do not have their interest met, why they do not have the same rights, or why their claims are not satisfied (Cordell & Wolff, 2009).

However, the use of the term ethnic conflict itself is highly questionable, this is because sometimes the conflict itself is not ‘ethnic’, though individuals engaged in such conflicts may have ethnic affinities. Empirically, it may seem easy to determine which conflict is an ethnic one; few would dispute that Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Cyprus, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kashmir and Sri Lanka, to name but a few, are ethnic conflicts (ibid). This is so because in each of these cases, organised ethnic groups confronted each other. However, there are other cases of the Estonians and Russians in Estonia and the complex dynamics of interaction between the different linguistic groups in Canada, Belgium and France, which are also as a result of distinct ethnic identities and irreconcilable interest structures, yet their manifestations are less violent. These and similar situations are more correctly described in terms of tension or dispute (Wolff & Stefan, 2007). Thus, the manner in which the term ethnic conflict is used, is related to the fact that different organised ethnic groups engage in some form of violent struggle to achieve certain objective (Ibid).However, the conception that ethnic conflicts are about ethnicity is inaccurate, as ethnicity is not the fundamental, irreducible cause of violent conflict .It is only a part of the explanation, as will be unravelled subsequently in this study. The next section therefore addresses the use of the term ethnic conflict which has been used by authors in describing phenomenon of violence between two or more groups. I begin by analysing the importance of ethnic distinctiveness.

3.3 The ‘Faint’ Salience of Ethnicity.

The definition of ethnic conflict, as conflict between ethnic groups, highlights the importance of ethnic distinctiveness between groups, which becomes imperative when groups struggle to have their needs met. Blagojevich (2009) for instance, looking at ethnic conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, argues that ethnic conflicts emerge when a particular set of factors and conditions such as, historical animosity, inter-ethnic grievances and struggle over resources and rights, ethnic intolerance and exploitation of historical memories by political entrepreneurs to evoke emotions such as fear, resentment and hate by an ethnic group toward the other.

Therefore, ethnic conflicts can be taken as the violent outcome of the historical relationship as well as experiences such as colonialism, globalisation, modernisation between an ethnic group and another. While I agree with these authors on the macro level dynamics of ethnic conflicts, as that violent confrontation among ethnic groups based on empirical findings or often recognition of ethnic identity markers (such as race, shared history, region, social symbols, or language) in conflict, the mere existence of these markers in a political conflict does not automatically indicate their inherent social relevance and political salience (Mozzaffar, 2007; Gilley, 2004). This is because even though these ethnic markers such as religion, race play a central role in the socialisation of individuals in coherent value systems; these markers have to be initialised between groups with a common identity defined by these markers (Ibid).

This argument suggest that the ethnic feature of ethnic violence may not be particular to the act itself, but only appears after being examined and interpreted by scholars (Bruabek & Laitin, 1998). That is to say, a violent incidence can be said to be ethnic, if the considered ethnic difference is defined by those (the media, politicians and authorities, Journalist and academics), who for some purpose consider ethnicity to be a reason for the violence. However, what needs to be understood is that a conflict can only be termed ethnic, if the difference between groups whether violent or non-violent is owing to ethnicity. Yet if ethnicity is structurally generated, or made pronounced, then the critical, as opposed to immediate, cause are the structural issues themselves. Ethnic conflict in such cases is really structural deprivation conflict, whether economic, political, or social (Kalyvas, 2001). Albeit identity dimensions of politics cannot be ignored where they are clearly evident among groups. However, if the concept of ethnic conflict is to be useful, it must give a unique informal explanation of politically contentious incidences. And as it does, one must be able to measure apparently ethnicity or refuse it in some cases, lest it become constant that ethnicity is present, each time there is a fall out between groups with different identities (Gilley, 2004). This suggest that the manner at which ethnicity has been given predominance in ethnic conflicts, undermines more salient issues that define a conflict, especially those that are not necessarily associated with the identity of individuals such as the vertical inequality among societal individuals. In this context, ethnic conflict should not be taken as conflict between ethnic groups, participants of course represent ethnic, races and nationals in primordia list term (Ibid), rather ethnic conflict should be considered as struggle among individuals within particular groups who may not be homogenous in expressing their needs, as will be examined in the next section.

3.4 Over-estimation of Group Homogeneity

In all the previous arguments of what constitute ethnic conflict, groups have been taken as rational actors who act jointly to achieve a common purpose. For example, Gilley (2004) explains the presence of ethnic conflict if the centre of struggle is an issue of particular importance to an ethnic group .In other words, ethnic conflict becomes observable when groups fight over issues considered to be of value to them, for instance, territory (Weidmann, 2009). However, this propensity to take distinct and externally bounded groups as fundamental components of social relationship, principal, unitary actors with similar objective is highly problematic (Bruabek, 2004).

This is because it is only organisations broadly understood and empowered by politicians that possess the uniform characteristics that have been employed in describing ethnic groups (ibid).Some of these organizations may typify themselves, or may be considered by others, as organizations of and for certain ethnic groups (Mc Garthy & Zald, 1977).But even when this is the case, organisations cannot be taken as ethnic groups. Albeit, distinct existence, togetherness, agency and interest have been ascribed to ethnic groups, these features are in fact attributes of organizations. This means that even if distinct groups are clearly seen as antagonising each other, they should not be taken as ethnic groups, but rather as organisations, since only organisations possess these characteristics to work uniformly to achieve a certain goal (ibid). This argument lends itself to the fact that in every society, issues exist vertically among members of society that questions the possibility of ethnic groups working unitedly to achieve a common purpose.

However, this proposition underestimates the importance of social commitments and emotional sense of belonging in groups. In many societies, ethnic commonality is almost tantamount to kinship, obligations, from which one cannot easily escape. It is not just a decoded act, but also the source of people’s sustenance. These intense attachments to ethnic and clan identities have therefore instigated individuals and groups to work collectively to engage in violent acts towards a perceived enemy (Eriksen, 1994; Druckmann, 1994). Therefore, it would be wrong to underestimate the importance of group loyalty to act homogenously (ibid).

Nevertheless, it is evident from the above analysis that the relationship between organizations and the groups they claim to represent may sometimes be deeply misleading. For one, the pronounced idea that organisations rather than ethnic groups act homogenously to generate violent inter-ethnic struggles, highlights the fact that intra -ethnic divisions exist which undermines the claim to group homogeneity as posited by scholars (See Bruabek, 2002). In other words, intra- ethnic rivalry based on differing views of how to protect personal interest largely over how power and resources within group are distributed may create distortion in the unity that is needed by groups to challenge existing unfavourable arrangements that is constituted along ethnic lines (Carspersen, 2008; Azam, 2001). This is because group goods (resources and power), that are not equally available to all group members may create dissatisfaction among sub-groups to compete or try to secure their own position by altering the internal allocation of group resources or decision making process (Warren, 2015). Therefore it is important to note distortion of unity exist between different ethnic groups in conflicts and between emergent intra- ethnic groups factions. Against this background, the next section of this study therefore critically examines the significance of ethnicity and its potential of making the different groups work homogenously in Sri Lanka.

3.5 Sri Lanka and the Ethnic Undertone.

In much mainstream scholarship on Sri Lanka’s civil war, the overwhelming emphasis of the political discourse has been on ethnicity. This is because majority of the analyses have focused on the ethnic disparity between the majority Sinhala and the minority Tamil communities (Smits, n.d), thereby ignoring the wider context of the development process, as reason for the political conflict. The purpose of this section therefore, is to contextualise ethnicity in the Sri Lankan conflict. I begin by analysing the ‘ethnic conflict ‘and its particular articulation.

The Sri Lanka conflict has been labelled overtime as an ethnic conflict based on the violent antagonism that exists between its two major ethnic groups that is, the Tamils and the Sinhalese (Jhariya and Rather, 2016). With Imtiyaz (2001) noting the distortion in the good relationship that once existed between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities as a result of colonialism. The ethnic and cultural disparity among the two major population groups in the nation, have caused violent friction which have only been exacerbated by the pro Sinhala policies of the government (Jhariya and Rather, 2016). It is on this basis, that the conflict has been described as an ethnic conflict. However, this conclusion is limited, as it does not fully recognise the existing structural factors that gave rise to intra-ethnic variations that exists in this conflicts.

Kapferer (1988) for instance, presented ethnic identities in Sri Lankan as historical and nearly permanent, so therefore violent conflict among these groups is unavoidable. In that sense, the focus of many analyses on the ethnic conflict has inevitably led to a misleading impression that Sri Lanka’s political conflict is merely an ‘ethnic issue’ and that it has to be analysed in the context of ethnic disparities of the country . However, like earlier noted the mere consideration that ethnic identities are constructed by society does not by itself explain the violence and may not even be distinctly relevant (Fearon and Laitin, 2000). Sri Lanka’s political conflict started since the 1970s, and has two major aspects. One is the Tamil separatist movement, which is popularly known to be between the majority Sinhala and the minority Tamil communities, another aspect of the political conflict which has been widely uncovered is the militant campaign of youths in the Sinhala community against the state, which exploded twice into armed warfare for the purpose of altering the existing political structure (Abeyratne, 2004). Perhaps the fact that these struggles were contained by the state on time, leaving the Tamil struggle against a Sinhalese government made the recourse to the fact that the political conflict was an ethnic one (ibid).

No doubt there were clear cases of ethnic hostility between the two groups, however a lot of analyses, have placed much emphasis on the conflict between the Sri Lanka Tamils and the Sinhalese community neglecting the salience of the two facets of the overall political conflict (Abeyratne, 1998).What authors (Hoglund & Orjuela, 2013) fail to capture is the twin political struggle by radical youths from both the Sinhala and Tamil communities, against the existing traditional political structure of the country, especially in a phase where the economy was unable to meet the expectations of these youths. It must be noted here that though these youths were against the state, the defined goals were different. While the Sinhalese youths sought to take over power in the early 1980s, the Tamil youths sought an independent state from the Sinhalese government (ibid). Nonetheless, the rise of these youths against the state was confronted with opposition within each community signalling a clear demarcation of different political interests within each community, as certain upper strata within each community were in support of the state (Kloos, 1993). Reinforcing the earlier arguments that ethnic groups are not homogenous entities.

The conflict in political interest between and within the two communities therefore suggest that rather than being the main cause of the Sri Lanka conflict, ethnic factor could perhaps be only important in gaining momentum and continuity of conflict. The youths had been confronted with similar socio –economic situation, which was beyond their ethnic identity; so while several factions and elites in the different communities supported the state, the youths were disgruntled by these circumstances leading to an armed struggle. In that sense, other aspects of the conflicts such as vertical inequality, intra-ethnic poverty which has created tensions even within groups was not sufficiently examined, by scholars with the result being that ethnicity was overwhelmingly considered at this time (Gunatilaka et al, 2010).

Given these basic features of the twin militant movements, the political conflict in Sri Lanka, requires a deeper lens beyond the simple ethnicity discourse. The obvious division as a result of different political interests within ethnic group in the Sri Lankan experience (Kloos, 1993, Moore 1993), suggest that though in certain circumstances, a conflict can be termed ethnic. However, this does not mean that there are no other significant dimensions to conflict which needs to be taken into consideration, for a viable mechanism of building peace to function effectively. The next section of this study therefore aims at broadening the analyses beyond the discourse of ethnicity and adopt an approach more capable of grasping the complexities of the civil war. The aim is to see all factors as interconnected without specifically privileging ethnicity. For the purpose of this research, the theory by (Stewart, 2002; Gudrun, 2008; Besancon, 2005) that the presence of extreme inequality between ethnically defined groups is the basis of violent conflict in multi-ethnic societies will be examined.


Impact of Vertical Inequality, Redistributive development in the Sri Lanka conflict.

A reasonable amount of arguments put forth in the previous chapter have helped in demystifying the salience of ethnicity in the Sri Lanka conflict, by highlighting the possibility of internal cleavages within a community as a result of grievance from the vertical inequality that exist within the community (Carpesen, 2008).The contemporary assumption as noted earlier from the literature review is that by simply putting up various political structures such as federalism, democracy; conflict will be resolved and development attained. Albeit, no doubt these structures by the way they are designed enable redistribution especially of power and resources by altering the political system to be more inclusive (Gurr, 1993). However, this has come with limitation of the scope of these structures to redistributing between ethnic groups. This chapter therefore, seeks to demonstrate that there have been variations that cut across ethnic divides that have not been addressed in the conflict resolution process. While there are different factors that may be examined as triggers for the Sri Lanka conflict, the focus of this chapter will be on household consumption expenditure inequality, Youth unemployment and poverty, Government welfare spending inequality, because these are key issues that highlight the cause of intra-ethnic divide that have not been addressed, suggesting why the conflict resolution in Sri Lanka is constantly been undermined.

This chapter afterwards, argues for a conflict resolution approach that features the principle and tenets of good governance and that takes cognizance the inequality that exist not just between group, but also within ethnic groups. Before going into the analysis of how vertical inequality enabled disaffection that contributed to the Sri Lanka conflict. It is important that we consider the various ethno-regional issues that factored into the Sri Lanka conflict. This is to give us a broad overview about the conflict, by uncovering every dimension to the conflict, and not giving primacy to any factor but helping to uncover as much area that may be considered important to improving the conflict resolution process in Sri Lanka. Before proceeding into the analysis of this study, it is important to discuss a few facts about the country Sri Lanka.

4.1. Sri Lanka Profile

Sri Lanka formerly known, as Ceylon is an independent democratic socialist republic, referred to as the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. It is an island nation located south of India in south -Asia. It is well populated with an estimate of 20, 277, 597 persons, with women constituting 51.5 percent of these number (Department of Census and Statistics, 2012).It is well religiously oriented as it gives primacy to religion in its affairs and policies. The Sinhalese community are the largest ethnic communities, who are mainly Buddhist and they make up 74.9 percent of the population of this island; The Tamils as well as the descendants of south Indian migrant historically migrated to the northern and eastern provinces from the mid-19th century. This group comprise 11.2 percent of population, and 4.2 percent respectively (an estimate of 15.4 percent altogether), accompanied by the ethnic religious community of Moors (that is, Muslims with an exclusion of the Malays, another distinct group making up about 9.2 percent of the population. (See figure 1)

Study Areas: Sri Lanka Regions.

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Figure 1. Map showing the different administrative provinces in Sri Lanka (United Nations 2008)

The next section therefore briefly uncover areas where the ethnic disparity between the two communities created horizontal inequality that enabled the outbreak of the conflict. This is so as to give a more nuanced analysis to the Sri Lankan conflict.

4.2 Ethnic Imbalance and Exclusion in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, many issues may be regarded as the underlying cause of the violent conflict .Some of which are within the context of ethnic politics, and will be considered below.

4.2.1 Political discrimination

One legacy of British rule in Sri Lanka, was a divided society between the Sinhalese and Tamils, particularly in the area of political representation. In colonial time, the placing of more christian missionaries in the north where Tamils reside, suggest that the Tamils were more privileged with an english education, which meant more access to employment opportunities (Bandarage ,2009).Overtime, the Sri Lankan Tamils as a result were privileged to a large share of civil service positions, which made them more privileged economically. This situation marked the commencement of the socio-economic differences between the Sinhalese and Tamil.

The fact these provisions created by the British people for the Tamils increased their opportunity to secure employments easily, created an aversion on the Sinhalese about the too many privileges and power the Tamils possessed. Not too long after independence the Sinhalese sought to reverse these situation. The Tamil supremacy was seen as a huge justification for the Sinhalese preferential policies. Therefore one way the Sinhalese could claim back their ethnic heritage and restate their place as majority, was by enacting discriminatory policies against the Tamils (Perera, 2001). One of which was the ‘Ceylon citizenship act of 1948, which disenfranchised one million Indian Tamils, lessening the Tamil voting power from 33% to 20 % , and weakening opposition in the parliament These policies strengthened the ethnic politics that had begun to rise as a result of British rule. For most part, the Tamil communities were politically excluded from participating or occupying political positions by this reduced electoral leverage (Ibid). This policy coupled with the fact that the Tamils gradually became disproportionately represented in civil service created grievances on the part of the Tamils and consequently led first, to the demand for a fair representation of the minorities in the national assembly. When this political inequality was not adequately addressed by the Sinhalese state, further demand for an autonomous state by the Indian Tamils was activated (Bandarage, 2009).

4.2.2 Language policy

The colonial situation as earlier stated laid the foundation for the Sinhalese supremacy, which granted opportunity for exclusionary policies to be enacted, part of which laid the ground for secessionist movement. Another one of such policy was the Sinhalese Only Bill” (Official Language Act, No. 33 of 1956), which gave primacy to the Sinhalese language as the only language by repealing the status of parity to the Tamil Language. The Sinhalese government’s justification for this policy was based on a Sinhalese perception of the disproportionate share of power in civil administration bequeathed to the Sri Lanka Tamils. Therefore, there was need to bar English language as the official language after independence (Adriana, 2014).

It must be noted that at independence, English was regarded as one of the most essential possession for socio-economic profit and mobility, however, the gap between the English speakers in Sinhalese and Tamil communities was quite evident (Kearney, 1973). It was these concerns that laid the foundation for the politics of language that sprung up. The language barrier in many ways pushed the Sri Lanka politics into the fore front of the Sri Lankan conflict.

Albeit, reforms in 1987 (13th amendment to the constitution in 1987), re-established Tamil as an official language along with Sinhalese (ibid). Nevertheless, the harm caused by the politics of language generally remains unresolved.

4.2.3 Educational policies in Sri Lanka

In addition to the already taken effort by the Sinhalese government towards ethnic discrimination, the early 1970s was accompanied by a series of biased alterations to the higher educational policy in Sri Lanka. The first, was the new ‘standardization policy’, which allowed the percentage of students qualifying for university entrance from each language to be proportionate to the percentage of students who took the entrance examination. What this means is that Sinhalese speaking students, who scored less had more opportunity to be admitted than Tamils who struggle to score higher. Prior to this policy change, students were granted admission on the basis of national competitive examinations marked uniformly. With those who score highest securing a place in the different faculties in universities regardless of their ethnicity or language (Tambiah, 1986).

In the absence of this bias, The Tamils performed really well, for instance, in the 1969- 1970 intake to science and engineering courses, Tamils made 35 percent over 45 percent admitted to medical faculties. The Sinhalese saw these percentage as high and sought to rectify this (Perera, 2001). In this context, post-independence Sinhalese nationalism sought to reduce the Tamil presence in education, several professions and civil administration. Comprehensively, these policies affected not only the opportunities Tamils had for higher education, but also its relationship with the Sinhalase. And so while the executing of the ‘Sinhalese only Bill’ was just a step in the process, the more difficult barriers were put on the road of Tamil realisation of educational goals since 1970s (Shamini, 2014). Albeit, the Language based admission policy was eradicated in 1977, and various changes introduced on the basis of merit, district quotas, and disadvantaged area quotas. Many youths still perceive discrimination in gaining access to higher education and this persuaded the Tamil community that they had become an excluded community (Briain, 2012).

4.2.4 Territorial Domination of Sri Lanka Territory.

Ethnic discrimination through the execution of the educational policy, was not the only way the Sinhalese expressed their antagonism to the Tamils. Land access and ownership was another form. Issue of land access has been a pertinent area in which the conflict between the Sinhalese and Tamils have manifested, and endured overtime. At independence, part of the Sri Lanka effort to address the developmental difficulties confronting the country was the re-allocation of peasant farmers in the north-central Sinhalese region (Nakamura, Ratnayake & Senanayake, 1997; Tambiah, 1986). This is because the once self-sufficient rural life that existed at independence was bastardised by the adopting of capitalist economic system and market economies. Consequently, the government saw the need to intervene in order to safeguard peasantry and the rural way of life (ibid).

The centre point of these policies in this regard was the re-allocation of Sinhalese populations into the dry zone, located in the east and west province of Sri Lanka (Shastri, 1990).Before this resettlement was initiated, these provinces were occupied by the muslims and Tamils respectively. The Tamils and Sinhalese both had conflicting claims over this region. For Sinhalese the dry zone represented an ancient past, the location of Sinhala Buddhist civilisation. A resettlement of the peasants to that region therefore, was taken as a way of repossessing their ancient rights and ensuring that its tradition and cultures were dominant. The Tamils on the other hand considered this, as their homelands. The state –sponsored dry zone settlement was therefore strongly opposed by the Tamils as an encroachment in their traditional homeland, and this further intensified the conflict (Peebles, 1990).

The fear induced by the resettlement effort of the government on the Tamils, that their territory may be lost along with their unique culture further strengthened the violent secessionist movement that had started. These long lasting policy of relocating Sinhalese on Tamil land became an unceasing motivation for killings (Wilson, 1988).

4.2.5 Violent Repression

In a bid to express their dissatisfaction with these highlighted issues, the disillusioned Tamils embarked on a peaceful protest. The first of these protest, was in reaction to the enactment of the Sinhala Only Act in 1956. This was met with extreme violence from the Sinhalese (DeVotta 2014). Soon what had become a peaceful protest became, an anti-Tamil riots of 1956. Albeit, the Sinhalese got involved in the riots, with reasons unknown, the biased treatment meted out to the Tamils involved in the riot to the exclusion of the Sinhalese reduced the Tamils’ trust in the country’s governing institutions (ibid).

The Sinhalese –Tamil differences had become so strengthened that the state and armed forces, which were meant to safeguard citizens unbiasedly, had recourse to violence in protecting the Sinhalese while expressing less regard for the lives of the Tamil people. This also meant for the Tamils a rejection of peace as a useful method of achieving political goals. Consequently, they engaged in violence as a means of achieving their political goals; with the Tamil youths adopting various violent strategies both for rebellion and terrorist act. As the Tamils engaged in more terrorist activity, the armed forces in turn retaliated making the bloody violent secessionist movement inevitable (O Balance, 1989).

In summary, the violent secessionist movement was as a result of the realisation by the Tamils that their interest and security could not be guaranteed, let alone protected by the state. Right from independence the various policies by the Sinhalese government; The Sinhala only bill, The Standard policy and other discriminatory policies have hugely constrained the opportunities needed by the Sri Lankan Tamils. More so, the biased violence shown by the Sri Lankan armed forces further induced the Tamil people that their lives were of less importance to the Sri Lanka government (De Votta, 2004). All these put into consideration, by the Tamil people undermined the trust in the Sri Lanka state and activated the demand for a separate state by the Tamil (ibid).

The analysis above explains based on a horizontal inequality perspective, factors that created grievances that led to the call of a separate state by the Tamils. These factors were seen as basis for mobilising the Tamil community for the violent movement. Right from when it was formed in the 1970s to when it was conquered in 2009. The Tamil movement had a goal of self- determination to revert the political, socioeconomic and cultural inequalities (Brain 2012). From this analysis, it is clear that legitimate ethno-regional issues factored into the Sri Lanka Conflict, and these has been in the front of conflict resolution strategies in Sri Lanka. However, there are other significant issues that have generally affected both communities and have caused division within these Sinhalese and Tamil communities. These factors which highlight the gap within each community in Sri Lanka may have been overlooked in an attempt to build peace, consequently slowing the pace for peace to be achieved. These issues are important, and without a proper addressing of these issues, the effort at building sustainable peace continues to be undermined. These issues would be discussed in the next section of this chapter.

4.3 Issues of Distribution in Sri Lanka.

Following the recognition of the several ethnic issues that have factored into the Sri Lanka conflict, there is also need to discuss the disaffection, within communities as a result of the redistributive inequality in Sri Lanka polity that factored into the violent conflict.

In the 1970s, Sri Lanka had one of the most controlled economies, not too long afterwards, it adopted economic liberalisation which was generally meant to increase export-oriented industrialisation and generate increased economic growth and better welfare (Cuthbertson and Athukorala, 1991). Nonetheless, this structure, had some contradicting results. Initially, economic growth rates increased, industrial goods began to take a larger part of country’s export, and unemployment rates gradually reduced. However, in spite of the liberalisation, resources were in less supply such that poverty rather than wealth was circulated, and a large percentage of youths were excluded from the economic stream (Abeyratne, 2004).This import substituting strategy resulted in undermining the economy, increasing unemployment and conserving of consumer goods (Athukorala and Rajapatirana, 2000). So that even after the liberalisation era of higher economic growth and reduced unemployment levels, there was endearing conflict and insecurity relating to the distribution. Thus, a good foundation was laid for the outbreak and maintenance of social conflict.

The Tamil youths in the north east encouraged by geo-political forces in the 1980s, launched a violent rebellion against the state in an attempt to secede. By the late 1980, the Sinhalese youth had also rebelled. Due to less support given to the latter movement internationally, the government was able to reaffirm its control with lots of force, coupled with industrial and welfare policies (Dunham and Kelegama, 1997). Thus, years after economic liberalisation, Sri Lanka state remains erratic; issues relating to distribution continues to be politically and economically salient. For one, the state was never concerned with the distributive outcomes of liberalising the economy, but rather focused on higher economic growth, to culminate into increased social welfare (Gunatilaka and Chotikipanich, 2009). What these scenario suggest is that by the obvious lack of examining the outcome of its policies, in terms of its impact on distribution among individuals across local communities, the Sri Lanka state, laid the foundation to the inequality that led to its eventual collapse. The next section further looks at the Sri Lanka government welfare effort and how this process significantly created the vertical inequalities that affected both communities.

4.3.1 Sri Lanka Welfare Expenditure and Vertical Inequality.

In addition to the inefficiencies in government policies that affected government’s effort toward social spending in the late 1980s and which reduced state welfare expenditure from the high point it was in the early to mid-1970s. The abolition of the food subsidy and its substitution, reduced government spending to 6 percent from 14 percent. Education and health was a lot delicate to be addressed head on, therefore government spending in these areas were gradually lessened to 16 percent of total expenditure (Tudawe, 2001). Huge investment in physical infrastructure and equipment was absent; recurrent expenditures on salaries were reduced and inadequate for public workers especially health and education workers. This level of spending therefore, was inadequate to meet the ever-increasing need of the population (ibid).

As stated earlier, the initial strong position of the economy before liberalisation enabled the state to financially increase its social welfare system before the fall of the economy (Kelegema, 2001). Those members of the population whose lives were improved through welfare in the process, were exposed to vast global economic environment; upgraded their capabilities and social aspirations. Leaving other members who did not benefit from this expansion, to devise ways to fend for themselves; and arming them with reasons to challenge the state (Ibid).Since this period, Sri Lanka has struggled with low growth in the economy and meagre social development. This is evidenced by the minimal growth of export earnings, deteriorating external balances (a state in which the money a country brings in from exports is roughly equal to the money it spends on import); and constant depreciation of country’s exchange rate (Vidanapathirana, 2010).

In a scenario as such, redistributing resources was greatly undermined, as there was less to redistribute. More so, there was evidence on the increasing distribution within the country in favour of metropolitan regions and urban areas against non-metropolitan and rural areas (Abeyratne, 1998). This nature of government social expenditure, further enhanced vertical inequality, which had begun to spring within groups across both communities. It was clear that the social expenditure flaw of the government affected both communities; allowing some members of the society access to the dividends of development while leaving others marginalised (Abeyratne 2004). And as seen from the work of (Collier and Hoeffler, 2004; Sen, 1973) who noted the potential of low income earning among the poor, create grievances, and because they reduce the cost of rebellion, they help in facilitating conflict. It is therefore no surprise that the Sinhalese youth, regardless of the ethnic identity of the government, engaged in violent rebellion to oust the state.

4.3.2 Youth Unemployment, Poverty and Vertical Inequality in Sri Lanka

In addition to the issue, that inequality in government expenditure created disparity within the various communities, on who benefitted from development and who did not. Government effort through heavy investment in educational policies as noted earlier in previous section, further made salient these inequalities (Anand & Kanpur, 1991). For example, between 1998 and 2008 , the proportion of unemployed youths having only primary-level education reduced greatly from 32.5 percent to 20.3 percent .On the other hand , the proportion of the unemployed youths with lower secondary education rose from 39.1 percent 47.9 percent (Ibid). With this education, youths became more politically active and enlightened to the outcomes of the development process. However, these youths were faced with a situation where they had little opportunity to be a part of the development process or acquire means for their upward social mobility.

The unavailability of these opportunities not only caused grievance among the ambitious educated youth, but also questioned the privileged position of the other regions and existing social groups. For instance, a minute upper stratum of both Sinhala and Tamil communities were better placed in terms of income, social status, employment and education (Jupp, 1978, Manor, 1984, SSA, 1985). These upper strata emerge largely from Colombo in the west province and Jaffna in the Northern Province. The increase in percentage of these educated youths from other provinces, which were taken as relegated regions, posed a threat to the old opportuned social groups, (which are individuals in the upper strata of both Sinhalese and Tamil communities (Abeyratne, 2004).

The huge number that emerge from this neglected social groups became quite large owing to population surge (see Table 2). These expanded educated social groups represented all ethnic groups. However, owing to the ethnic makeup of the population, a large number of these emerging groups belong to the Sinhala community, and because of the indivisibility of opportunities, the greater the demand made, the greater the number of group isolated (Gunatilaka et al, 2010). What these implies is that there were seemingly youths concerns on poverty and inequality in terms of securing employment across all the ethnic communities , demonstrating the existence of vertical inequality experienced by both the Tamil and Sinhalese youths across communities also significantly contributed to the conflict. The failure to address these concerns in the peace building process in Sri Lanka may limit the conflict resolution campaign meant to establish peace, and this might instigate further violence being perpetuated across ethnic lines.

Table 2: showing the percentage of unemployed population by age group in Sri Lanka

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Source: Gunatilaka et al 2010. The Challenge of youth unemployment in Sri Lanka. World Bank.

4.3.3 House hold Income Expenditure Inequality in Sri Lanka

Amidst issues, such as the skewed government expenditure that promoted inequality; poverty and unemployment that highlighted the vertical inequality across ethnic groups, one other area where vertical inequality significantly manifested was in house hold income among individuals within ethnic groups. In their analysis, Collier and Hoefller (2004), highlighted the close relationship between income inequality and rebellion when they noted that grievance increases when the individual is not able to meet his personal preferences that is different from the choices of the public. Consequently leading to dissatisfaction. This section therefore presents an analysis on the inequality trend in consumption expenditure in Sri Lanka. Consumption expenditure will be used as proxy for income in his analysis; this is because consumption expenditure is a more accurate measure of individual and household welfare in developing countries (Deaton and Zaidi, 2002).

And more so because income might be unable to cover areas such as large informal sectors made up of self –employment , small business and subsistence agriculture , it may be quite difficult in gathering accurate data (ibid). Moreover, consumption expenditure is a direct measure of individual and household welfare. More so when people have more income they tend to spend more or when income increases, the spending also increases.

In Sri Lanka, inequality in the consumption expenditure between the rich and the poor increased over and even after the period of economic liberalisation (UNDP Sri Lanka, 2012). In spite of government effort at welfare, albeit a non- so commendable one, imperfections in Labour market and the reallocation of other factors and relative prices influenced the level of consumption expenditure among the various segments of the population (Ratnayake, 2013). Nonetheless, with help of income transfers scheme initiated by the government under the social welfare net, positive changes occurred that increased the level of consumption expenditure across households (Ibid). However, the impact of this policy reform in closing the inequality gap among individuals within groups was minimal. To put this into perspective, Table 1 shows the percentage of inequality trend among households in Sri Lanka.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: Gunatilaka and Chokitipanich (2009). International Association for Research in income and wealth.

The table reveals that while all groups experienced notable household expenditure increase over the period; within the various social groups by occupation, education, the gap of consumption expenditure inequality still exist and has risen drastically between 1985 and 2002 (ibid). The Sri Lanka case indicates that though redistribution is important in achieving equality when it comes to welfare between groups. However, there is need to put into consideration that this redistributive process needs to be done not just horizontally but vertically .As failure to do this might inevitably lead to disaffection, which is the bane in the conflict resolution practices in Sri Lanka.

4.4 Discussion

In the early part of this study, it was emphasised that the theory as put forth by Stewart (2000) on horizontal inequality will be critically examined. The concept of horizontal inequality which argues that the collision of cultural disparity with political and economic variation between ethnic groups creates discontent that may trigger violent conflict (Stewart, 2002; Stewart & Brown, 2007). However, the emphasis on the disparity that exists between different ethnic groups, excludes the variation that exist within homogenous ethnic groups, that is vertical inequality. Consequently, undermining the role of vertical inequality in a homogenous ethnic group to trigger conflict. Thus, by their analysis conflict cannot erupt in the absence of real or perceived group differences or grievances which may be as a result of some historical reasons (ibid).

However, the analysis of the Sri Lanka case above in this chapter suggest that though horizontal inequalities emanating from the Sinhalese state discriminatory policies against the Tamils in areas of language, education , cultural practices, territory and economy, contributed to outbreak of the conflict. However, these are not the only elements that led to the outbreak of the Sri Lanka conflict. There are other equally significant areas to the conflict. There are evidences to show that vertical inequality relating to inequality in employment within each community, inequality in household consumption expenditure, inequality in government welfare effort had more likely resulted to violent rebellion. Among Sri Lankan youths, there was collective injustice as a result of the inability to meet their aspirations owing to the limited opportunity created, as a result of the wrong economic policies of the state (Gunatilaka and Chokitipanich, 2009).

In summary, it is evident that the vertical inequality that existed within both the Sinhalese and Tamil communities, laid the foundation for the eruption of conflict. The primary observation that emerges from the evidences presented above in this chapter illustrates that the once prosperous advantage the economy had initially enjoyed at independence was not capitalised upon by the state. Consequently efforts at redistributing were minimised and were sometimes discriminatory along ethnic lines. And even when it sought to redistribute on this note, the redistributive process was not done equally, suggesting that even within each communities several factions of the groups were privileged over others. These suggest that the micro-level disparity in very salient areas such as employment, land ownership, access to resources were fundamental in strengthening the conflict. Thus, it is not just horizontal inequality between the Tamils and Sinhalese, but also within each of these communities. These present adequate reasons why conflict resolution has not been successful in Sri Lanka and more so, the need to redistribute vertically within the population.



This dissertation has critically examined the political conflict in Sri Lanka. Its emergence, the groups involved in the conflict as well as the issues over which struggles are made, that is the issues of horizontal and vertical inequalities that exist across and within ethnic groups. Albeit this study recognises the various ethnic factors such as ethnic discrimination in access to land, education, and official use of language. Nonetheless, this study has unravelled the vertical inequality that has existed within Sri Lanka’s ethnic communities; the lack of focus given to grievance that emanate from this, which has contributed to why the conflict resolution mechanism employed have increasingly been ineffective in addressing the conflict in Sri Lanka. In the analysis in this study, it was revealed that there was significant levels of vertical inequality across ethnic lines. Large segments of the population especially the youth, which make up over fifty percent of Sri Lanka population were unable to have their aspirations met.

The Sri Lanka Conflict has been revealed to be triggered and continually fuelled by perceived distributive injustices within and between groups (Nugent & Shore, 2002). The observed collective internal conflict was as a result of the distributional conflict between certain intra-group factions; the youths, other disadvantaged social class against the state. For instance, it was reported that of the total level of unemployment in the country, youth unemployment accounted for most part of it with (males comprising 37.5 percent and females making up 39.1 percent (Gunatilaka and Chotikipanich, 2009). The violent conflict has often been overwhelmingly arrayed in the expression of ethnic disparity, and although there were clear evidence of ethnic antagonism which makes the ethnic dimension to this conflict undebatable (Warren and Troy, 2011). However, interestingly, from the analysis made of the three socio-economic issues of Household consumption expenditure inequality, Government spending Inequality and youth unemployment, it was highlighted that these issues were common in both the two major communities of the Sinhalese and Tamils, and significantly undermined the homogeneity within each groups on the goals to be achieved.

This is because within each community these social, cultural and economic factors that resulted in dissension, while helping to inspire the radical youth movements found in both communities; helped in highlighting the fact that several other factions within each community supported the traditional political system (Kloos, 1993; Moore, 1993). Thus it can be said, that asides the ethnically discriminatory policies which created horizontal inequalities between groups in Sri Lanka. The political conflict in Sri Lanka was also an outcome of the grievances, resulting from vertical inequality that were present within the communities as a result of failed development effort by the government.

The analysis in this study therefore highlights the significance of going beyond the common ethnic rhetoric in viewing ethnic conflict, to looking into the limitation and the effects of state policies and economic contradictions that causes variation among individuals; as this will broaden our understanding of the roots of civil war. Below are some concluding suggestions related to this issue (Abeyratne, 2004; Azam, 2001)

5.1 Recommendations

- The Sri Lanka polity should increase efforts to reach the excluded and marginalised youths of Sri Lanka especially in regions or districts with regard to unemployment, education, social welfare and security. At this point, paying attention to the issues these youths are challenged with, may be an important step to achieving positive peace.
- In that sense, the Sri Lanka polity should employ the various mechanisms of redistribution both within and between the ethnic groups. This should be accompanied by making available public goods that have clear and strong redistributive component. The state can also ensure remuneration of huge wages and salaries, allowing public agents to redistribute privately to their kin group. However, care should be taken to balance this against its cost of shortage of public goods and possible negative effect on long term growth (ibid)
- Sri Lanka state should embark on policies which promotes equity and unarguably alleviate poverty, unemployment, promote unity and political stability.


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Vertical Inequality, Redistributive Development and Conflict Management in Sri Lanka
Conflict, Governance and International Development
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
conflict, development, inequality, lanka, management, redistributive, vertical
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Victoria Essiet (Author), 2017, Vertical Inequality, Redistributive Development and Conflict Management in Sri Lanka, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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Title: Vertical Inequality, Redistributive Development and Conflict Management in Sri Lanka

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