National Geographic : 2016 Nov
120 national geographic • november 2016 oldest continually Buddhist nation. They also stoked the majority’s abiding belief that Tamils had been awarded a disproportionate share of government jobs. Systematically, the Sri Lanka government began to marginalize the Tamils: stripping the right to vote from those whose ancestors had been brought over from India to work in the tea plantations, reassigning university jobs to Sinha- lese academics, and diluting the Tamil majority in the Eastern Province by offering land grants to Sinhalese. In 1956 the Sinhalese-dominated parliament made Sinhala the official language. While export-import licenses were preferentially populist,” Wickremesinghe said, “but wasn’t re- ally giving anything to the people and was really meant to consolidate family rule.” But Sri Lanka’s missed opportunities have not been limited to economic policy. Time and again, ethnic division has undone the country’s progress. For 133 years British colonizers tended to award upper-income jobs to Tamils while con- signing Sinhalese to semiskilled labor. In 1948, when Sri Lanka won its independence, the new leaders didn’t try to unite the country. Sinhalese politicians nurtured the nationalist pride of the majority, who had arrived on the island around 500 b.c. and established what is now the world’s A worker with HALO Trust, a British nonprofit, removes land mines in Jeyapuram, once a Tamil Tigers strong- hold south of the Jaffna Peninsula. The organization hires mostly Tamils—about half war widows—and has removed more than 212,000 mines. The government is aiming to clear most remaining mines by 2020.