Satellite images of the Palk Strait, which separates the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu from the Jaffna peninsula in northern Sri Lanka, show a ghostly line linking the two. Below the water’s surface is a ridge of limestone that once formed an isthmus joining the landmasses. It is an apt image for the complex yet buried connections between the two provinces.
Since 1976, the Jaffna peninsula has witnessed a brutal civil war that has killed sixty-four thousand Sri Lankans and displaced over a million. On one side are the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam—the LTTE, or “Tamil Tigers,” founded in 1976 to demand an independent homeland (later changed to a demand for autonomy) for the island’s mainly Hindu Tamil minority. On the other is the largely Buddhist Sinhalese majority, who insist that the country must remain intact—with nationalist bhikkhus (Buddhist monks) among the most vehement opponents of compromise. The Tigers’ name contrasts with the lion on Sri Lanka’s flag, which represents the Sinhalese people. The conflict has pitted not only Sinhalese against Tamils but also Buddhists against Hindus. In the past year, the precarious cease-fire agreed to in 2003 has unraveled after a new wave of attacks and reprisals.
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