The antecedents of the war that ruptured the country for nearly three decades has its origins in a complex series of social, political and economic events that reach back into its colonial past. Among researchers seeking to identify the root causes of the conflict in Sri Lanka, emphasis has been located across three central domains: the effects of colonialism, the questioning of supposed ancient historical truths, and modernist preoccupations that challenge concepts of the nation state. These interlinked factors – colonisation, historical misrepresentation and nation building – have resulted in the creation and identification of an indigenised ‘other’ and contributed to the rise of violent militancy as a response to perceived threats of dissonance. It was only with the arrival of the British that aspects of colonialist culture hitherto unknown in Sri Lanka came to the surface, especially its forms of governance: by the 1830s, the whole of Ceylon was under one administrative structure controlled out of Colombo and London, thereby establishing through its imperialist aims an enterprise that would contribute to the expansion of capitalism (Hobsbawm 1987). It was also the effects of its religious (Bate 2006) and class structures that came to redefine identity along ethnic lines and was a way of defining and differentiating communities. In the assertion of rights in the post-colonial era, emphasis on historical truth and the placing of Tamil versus Sinhalese origins on the island began to be argued in force, despite having had hitherto almost no relevance. It fulfilled a newly discovered need to define identity and exclusivity in a land that was simultaneously experiencing a decline in economic status, rapid population growth and growing dissatisfaction amongst the rural, economically marginalised populace (McDowell 1996). Spencer (1990) argues that the conflict was not the result of ‘inherited destiny’ or inalienable cultural differences founded in ancient history, but rather a consequence of modern political rhetoric and hegemonic depictions of ancient times through colonial racist reconfigurations of the past. These problems were compounded in the mid-1950s by the newly formed SLFP under Soloman Bandaranaike, which introduced the ‘Sinhala Only’ Act and designated Buddhism as the national religion, leaving the Tamils further marginalised. Later attempts to introduce balance and devolve power regionally were met with hostility by the UNP (United National Party) – comprising politicised Buddhist clergy and disaffected rural educated and unemployed youths –

as it seemed that too many concessions were being made. This was followed by an era of rioting and the eventual appearance of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) – the ‘People’s Liberation Front’ – which lead to the devastating insurgencies in the south in the late 1970s and again in the late 1980s, in which thousands were killed or disappeared. Assistance in crushing the uprising was given by western allies of the government in the form of training and arms: attempts to extend socio-economic reforms that would get to the root of the problem failed, however. This was a precursor to fundamental changes in the political atmosphere in which violence became the response to disagreement and protest, rather than open democratic debate – the political powers calling on the army and police to maintain order and crush all dissent, backed up by nefarious international organisations and governments, trading in and selling arms to any side and all sides.