Sri Lanka achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1948. The 1948 constitution was modelled upon the Westminster Parliament, and was thought to provide guarantees of the civil rights and cultural identity of the predominantly Hindu Tamil minority community. As in Northern Ireland, the dominant majority community, in this case made up of the largely Buddhist Sinhalese, was able to manipulate what was formally a model parliamentary democracy by gerrymandering of elections and by its inbuilt parliamentary majority, in order to deprive the minority of effective political representation.
Although Tamils and Sinhalese had both inhabited the island of Sri Lanka for over two thousand years, the status of Tamils remained uncertain after 1948. An act in that year deprived one million Tamils of Indian origin of Sri Lankan citizenship, and a further act in 1949 excluded them from participation in elections. Sinhalese gradually became the single official language, and anti-Tamil riots became more frequent.
The assassination of Prime Minister Solomon Bandaranaike in September 1959 led to the dissolution of Parliament, and in the subsequent general election his wife became head of government. Official policy continued to favour the Sinhalese language, leading to discrimination against Tamils in higher education and the civil service, the main channels of economic advancement. A severe crisis developed in the economy with a fall in the world market price of tea and rubber.
An insurgency waged in 1971 by the Sinhalese Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (JVP) led to the introduction of a nationwide state of emergency, which lasted until 1977.
Sri Lanka became a Republic in 1972 and this coincided with the uniting of Tamil opposition groups to establish the Tamil United Front (TUF), which called for linguistic and religious equality. A year later they proposed the creation of an independent Tamil state, as they were angered by mounting government attempts to impose Sinhalese cultural and political domination.
The change from non-violent to violent tactics came when young Tamil militants, calling themselves 'Tigers', spearheaded a radicalisation of the TUF, transformed to the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). The election of 1977 brought a new Prime Minister to power, Junius Jayawardene and established the TULF as the largest single opposition party. This strengthening of Tamil separatism provoked violent anti-Tamil riots resulting in many deaths, and over 40,000 Tamils (mostly tea plantation workers) were forced from their homes and fled to the safety of refugee camps. The government insisted on the unity of the state of Sri Lanka. The appointment of Jayawardene as President gave greater control to central authority, but while the TULF leadership was prepared to compromise with the government, the younger Tamil militants became more radical.
After the deaths of police in 1978, armed forces