The responsibility for the modern Sinhalese-Tamil conflict rests largely on the shoulders of the Sinhalese leadership of the 1980’s — it effectively demonstrated that in their worst hour of need Tamils cannot turn to the government to protect them. One can hardly blame them for turning elsewhere.
The anti-Tamil riots of 1983 should have been crushed with swift and extreme force. That would have demonstrated two things:
However much we hate to admit it, every society has extreme elements that crawl out from under rocks whenever they feel it’s safe to do so. They did so in Nazi Germany, they did so in Russia and they once even did so in America (remember the KKK). (One such group is again rearing its head in this country, under the aegis of eliminating “threats to Buddhism” but that’s a different story).
It’s difficult to eradicate these elements entirely. The best we can do is to show them that they can’t act on their prejudices with impunity. The government failed to do that in 1983. It also failed to show that Tamils have equal protection under the law. In doing so, the government tried to disown them. They wanted another government — hardly surprising.
The Sinhalese and Tamils together created a monster (the LTTE). Conditions are now right for reconciliation between Sinhalese and Tamils, but the monster refuses to go away. Until Tamils are rightly made to feel that they’re indeed living in their own home country, they’ll always tend to think that the monster is a necessary evil.
As I said, 1983 should have been crushed with extreme force.