Laṅkā is the Sanskrit version of Taprobane; with this last name the ancient Greek, Roman and Arab navigators indicated the island which in the Western tradition is usually called Ceylon. Srī has the value of an auspicious prefix. The demographic increase, which in the 19th century was largely attributable to immigration, is now due to the surplus of births over the dead. The birth rate, fixed at 39ı during the thirty years 1921-53, dropped to 21ı (1991); likewise mortality dropped from 31 to 5.5ı. Out of a total population of 17,400,000 residents according to the 1991 census, the Sinhalese represent the majority (75%), followed by the Tamiḻ and Tamiḻ of India (5.5%), immigrants in the last two centuries, recalled from work on the plantations. The Buddhist religion introduced in the 3rd century BC it is now professed by 69% of the population; Hindus – mostly Tamiḻ – represent 15.2% of the total. Another 15% is divided equally between Muslims and Christians. In 1990 the urban population represented just 21.4% of the total. The percentage of illiterates is very low: 12%.
Agriculture constitutes the main source of income and participates for 24% in the formation of the gross national product (1992). Small family farms, where subsistence agriculture is practiced, are opposed or rather opposed by the large plantation companies (tea, coconut, rubber) introduced at the time of British sovereignty and nationalized starting from 1975. For tea production in Sri Lanka ranks fourth in the world, after India, China and Kenya. Among other crops, coconut palm (1,750,000 tons of nuts in 1992) is of moderate importance, whose products are mostly destined for export: nuts, oil and, above all, copra (1,300,000 q). The rice production is remarkable (22.5 million q), which completely covers the internal needs.
Industry (including the mining, manufacturing, construction and energy sectors) contributes – according to an estimate – to 29.2% of the gross national product and employs 18.6% of the active population. Among the plants, which are concentrated on the outskirts of Colombo, are the textile ones and those that process local products (oil mills, sugar factories, rubber factories, tobacco factories, tanneries, etc.); there are also cement factories, two steel industries and an oil refinery.
Foreign trade always has a certain deficit and takes place essentially with Japan and the United States. Tourism is growing (about 400,000 visitors in 1992).
History. – The new 1978 constitution had transformed Sri Lanka into a presidential republic, headed by JR Jayawardene himself, leader of the National Union Party, in power since 1977. Jayawardene sought to relieve the country of its severe crisis, characterized by rising inflation and unemployment, by reintroducing elements of a market economy. In the presidential election of October 1982, Jayawardene was confirmed in office with 53% of the vote. In order to resolve the dispute with the Tamiḻ ethnic minority, the government had meanwhile taken steps to favor an increasingly decentralized administration, through the development of provincial councils. In 1980 the Parliament had approved the establishment of 24 councils whose elections were held the following year.
The conflict between the Sinhalese and Tamiḻ ethnic groups intensified with the elections of 1983 following which violent riots broke out, mainly in Jaffna and its surroundings, to the point of making the government declare a state of emergency. In the tense political situation, the Indian government played with I. Gandhi first and with his successor R. Gandhi then a constructive role of mediator in an attempt to foster dialogue between the Sri Lanka government and the TULF (Tamil United Liberation Front), main interlocutor representing the Tamiḻ ethnic group. The 1984 conference and subsequent talks between the parties, as well as the 1986 negotiation attempts, were interrupted by acts of terrorism and continuing clashes between regular troops and Tamiḻ guerrillas. From 1983 to 1987 there were about 6000 deaths and there was also an armed clash between some factions of the separatist movement, a struggle in which the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), the most intransigent of the guerrilla formations, prevailed. The attempts subsequently made by the government to regain control over the north-eastern territories and above all over Jaffna, a stronghold of the LTTE, were met with new terrorist attacks.
According to Pro Zip Codes, the humanitarian aid offered to Jaffna by the Indian government on that occasion was initially interpreted by the Sri Lanka as a support offered to the separatist cause tamiḻ and therefore caused tension in relations between the two states until an agreement was signed (29 July 1987) under which, among other things, military assistance from India, the general amnesty of the Tamiḻ militants and a referendum for the establishment of a single northern province based on Tamiḻ ethnicity were foreseen. Despite stiff opposition from the SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party) and the Sinhalese majority, including the Buddhist clergy, the agreement was signed and the Indian peacekeeping forces provided for the demilitarization of the Tamiḻ armed groups.
In early 1988, the government took another step towards decentralization by creating a network of 68 District Councils (pradeśya sabha). The elections called in the new province were boycotted, however, and towards the end of the year the administration of the province was entrusted to a regional cabinet. In December 1988 R. Premadasa was elected president of the Republic. Between the 1980s and the beginning of this decade, the LTTE continued its guerrilla actions to maintain control over the north-central areas of the country, while the Indian government, which holds this group responsible for the death of R. Gandhi (and the officially declared), he has definitively distanced himself from it. Attempts at negotiations between the Sinhalese government and the LTTE, under way in mid-1993, were interrupted by the assassination of President Premadasa. With the 1994 elections, which saw, after seventeen years of political domination,candidate leader G. Dissanayache, CB Kumaratunga, leader of the Popular Alliance, was elected president, which put the ethnic-political conflict, now considered the ” national question ”, on the agenda to seek a political solution. In fact, after twelve years of guerrilla warfare, the toll is 30,000 victims, not counting, in addition to the human costs, those of material resources, since the conflict, among other things, has long been an obstacle to the possibility of foreign capital investment in the island.