Sri Lanka Population, Society and Rights

By | June 6, 2022

The delicate political situation of the country, as well as the reasons for the civil war, are rooted in the complex ethnic and religious framework. The distribution on the territory of ethnic groups and religions coincides with that of the factions of the over twenty-five-year civil conflict and marks the main political and social fractures of Sri Lanka.

Although there is no perfect match between ethnicity and religion, of the approximately 20 million residents (mostly residing in rural areas) 74% are of Sinhalese and Buddhist ethnicity, while more than 8% are of Moro-Sinhalese ethnicity and of Islamic religion. According to Homosociety, there is also a substantial Tamil ethnic community, both Sinhalese and Indian. The Hindu and Catholic Christian religions have a significant following of faithful. The Tamil population is concentrated in the northern and eastern areas of the country. The Muslim minority of the Moors, on the other hand, is concentrated above all in the central-eastern provinces of the island, especially in the district of Ampara. Tamil Indians are rooted in the south-central district of Nuwara Eliya, where very few Buddhists and many Hindus reside. In Colombo and Gampaha, the most densely populated districts, and in Kurunegala live about 5 million Sinhalese (equal to a quarter of the population) and 3.5 million Buddhists, just under a fifth of the population. The conflict of recent decades, in addition to having helped to cement this ethnic and religious subdivision, has forced thousands of people to emigrate. Currently, some 122,000 Sinhalese are refugees abroad, mainly in Tamil Nadu, a southern region of India. In June 2014, the Islamic community was the object of attacks by radical exponents of the Buddhist community; However, the Sinhalese government has not reacted in an incisive way, mainly due to the fact that the political consensus of the Buddhist community is essential for the stability of the government.

The media system boasts an appreciable ethnic-linguistic heterogeneity: newspapers, radio and television are available in English, Sinhalese and Tamil. However, the pluralism of information is only apparent. Freedom House places Sri Lanka in 169th place on a ranking of 197 countries in terms of freedom of the press, thus calling it a ‘non-free state’. In recent decades, Sinhalese journalists have come under severe pressure from both national authorities and rebel groups: they have been subjected to attacks and intimidation and have become sensitive targets of civil conflict.

Schooling, thanks also to the free school, reaches almost 95%. However, the preparation of the students is poor. In addition, also due to the great poverty and the high rate of child labor (8%), there are few who continue their studies. Equally, the health system is also backward and the expenditure allocated is equal to only 1.4% of the national GDP.

Economic conditions

The country it has an economic physiognomy largely based on the primary sector, which, however, finds it difficult to fully satisfy the internal food needs. Agriculture occupies almost 33% of the active population and guarantees 12.8% of the gross domestic product (2009 data). The most important crops for export are: tea (S. is the fifth largest producer in the world with 318,470 t in 2008), rubber hevea and coconut palm. Other commercial crops are those of cocoa, coffee and sugar cane, in addition to spices (including, very precious, cinnamon). Rice, grown both in the valleys and in the more fertile slopes of the SO, generally terraced, is the basic food cereal; Subsistence farming also produces cassava, sweet potato and tropical fruit. The products of farming and fishing are destined for local consumption (except for crustaceans, which are exported). Forests provide an abundance of valuable timber (sandalwood, mahogany, ebony).

The subsoil has modest resources, despite the presence of precious stones (rubies, sapphires, topazes, beryls), which already earned the town the name of ‘island of jewels’ and represent an important item of island exports. The only industrially notable mineral is graphite.

The manufacturing industry (26.3% of the active population and 29.2% of GDP) is penalized by the instability caused by inter-ethnic conflicts which, in addition to causing a strong emigration of the workforce, constitutes a deterrent for foreign investments. The driving sectors are the food sector (tea preparation, oilseed processing, beer production, sugar refining) and the textile sector (cotton spinning and packaging); the latter, however, is affected by competition from other South-East Asian countries. There are also chemical, tanning, paper, ceramic industries, two medium-sized steel plants, a few cement factories and an oil refinery.

The tertiary sector (41% of the active population and 58% of GDP) is growing also thanks to tourism which, despite not being as developed as the country’s attractions would allow due to the difficult internal situation, guarantees good income. The production of hydroelectric energy provided above all by the power plants on the Mahaweli Ganga river is good. The trade balance is negative due to the extent of imports (machinery, petroleum products, foodstuffs, etc.); main trading partners are the United States, Great Britain, India and China.

Communications can count on a fairly dense road network (97.286 km, mostly asphalted) and on a decent railway network (almost 1500 km). A ferry service connects the two railway sections that weld the Indian network to that of the island. Colombo is the main gateway and airport.

Sri Lanka Population