India-Sri Lanka Relations

India-Sri Lanka Relations

This article deals with ‘India-Sri Lanka Relations.’ This is part of our series on ‘International Relations’ which is important pillar of GS-2 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here

Issues with Sri Lanka

  • LTTE + Tamil Issue
  • Fisherman Issue
  • Kacchateevu Island
  • Constitutional Amendments
  • China influence vs Indian Interests

Issue 1: Tamil Issue

India – Sri Lanka relation has generally been cordial , although there have been some tensions mainly caused because of ethnic conflict between people of Indian Origin – mainly Tamils- living in Sri Lanka & Sinhalese (majority constituting 70% of Lankan population)

What Tamils were doing there

There are two types of Tamils in Sri Lanka

Ceylonese Tamils
  • Whose forefathers had gone to Sri Lanka centuries ago
  • Their population is estimated to be 1million
  • Concentrated in Jaffna and northern & eastern coast
Indian Tamils
  • Whose forefathers were taken by Britishers as plantation workers
  • Population ~ 1 million
  • Concentrated in districts of Colombo, Kandy & Trincomalee in traditional tea garden areas

Indo-Sri Lanka Relations
Tamil Areas in Sri Lanka

Reason for Sinhalese Anti Tamil feeling

  • Reason for this is colonial. Tamils were in minority  but Britishers favoured Tamils  over Sinhalese in all opportunities
  • When Britishers went back
        • Sinhalese majority started to capture every property and post fromTamils 
        • Sinhalese Only Act was passed & Tamil lost official language status .
        • Even took right to vote from them
  • After that, state backed pogrom of Tamils started in which Tamils were massacred & their houses burnt
Various agreements were signed like

  • Nehru – Kotelawala Agreement, 1953
  • Shastri – Sirimavo Agreement, 1964
  • Indira – Sirimavo Agreement, 1974

These Agreements were to decide the fate of Tamils and give Indian citizenship to some Tamils . But Sri Lanka never implemented them in letter and spirit

1983 : Ethnic Explosion happened and large number of Tamils were massacred .

Rajiv – Jayawardene Agreement(India-Sri Lanka Accord)  , 1987

Diplomatic agreement  to solve the ethnic problem

  • Autonomous unit consisting of areas where Tamils are concentrated would be constituted
  • Tamil, Sinhalese & English would be official languages of Sri Lanka
  • Deployment of Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to end hostilities between Lankan army & Tamil militants

Agreement was vehemently opposed by both Tamil & Sinhalese extremists

XIII Amendment: Direct outcome of Accord of 1987

  • Divide entire Sri Lanka  into provinces and Federal System to be adopted
  • Remove Sinhalese Only Language Act and give equal status to Tamil as well
  • Land should be provincial subject
  • Police should be under state /province

What was rationale

Federalism to give some power to Tamils

Present status

  • Division of states have been done but rest of provisions arent implemented

Later Supreme Court of Sri Lanka declared this Accord to be unconstitutional saying that Land and Police being Union subject is fundamental feature of Sri Lankan Constitution .

Indian Peace Keeping Force posting in Sri Lanka was utter failure

  • Crores of ₹ were spend on troops trying to restore order
  • Hundreds of troops killed in clashes with Tamils
  • Even ethnic conflict wasn’t brought under control
  • Operations of IPKF changed ethnic violence into civil war , which Sri Lanka was forced to continue even when Indian forces left in 1990
  • Led to large number of political killings of both Indian and Sri Lanka top leaders
1991: Death of Rajiv Gandhi
1993: Death of Premdasa who got IPKF removed
2009: End of LTTE

Side Topic – Sri Lanka vs LTTE: Timeline of Events

1976 LTTE started Civil War between Tamil Insurgents and Sinhali Sri Lankan Army
1976 – 2009
  • Civil War continued
  • Large scale violence and human rights violations observed
  • Prabhakaran killed.
  • LTTE-Sri Lanka Civil war ends.
  • More than 1 lakh died in the civil war


What  are  the    immediate  and longer-term  grievances of  the  Tamils of  the  north  and  east  in  Sri  Lanka?  How  are  these  grievances    met by the  Sri  Lankan  governments?

Steps taken

  • Formation  of  government  in  Tamil  province (which since long was under Military Rule)  was   with  TNA (Tamil National Alliance)  coming  to  power
  • Replacement  of  the  military  governor  by  a  civilian
  • Rehabilitation process of civil war ravaged province

However  some issues  that  are  still  in  the  hanging  include:-

  • Excessive  military  presence  in Jaffna
  • Passing  XIII  amendment   => Transfer Policing and Land to State List
  • Justice  for  human  right  violation  and  genocide  is  yet  to  happen.

Issue 2: Fishermen Issue

Fishing happening in this region since Sangam period without any issue
  • Indian fishermen venture into Sri Lankan waters => Fired upon by Lankan Navy or caught
  • Unscientific Fishing by Indian Fishermen :
        • Indian fishermen use grill & synthetic nets => Bad for overall ecology || Lankan Fishermen use ordinary nets 
        • Indian fishermen use Trawlers (and not boats) and venture into Lankan waters. These trawlers are the main cause behind overexploitation
  • Tamil Fishermen still argue that they have sovereign right over Katchathevu Island and go near the island to catch fish. In process, Sri Lankan Navy arrest them .
  • Trawlers are not fitted with GPS
  • Argument by scholars => Sri Lankan government wants to aggravate this issue because biggest sympathisers of Sri-Lankan Tamils are Indian Tamils .


  • Tamil Nadu fishermen are not allowed to venture into coastal waters of Andhra . If Indian fishermen normally observe such territorial limitations , there is no reason why they should not do so with north Lanka
  • Palk Bay Authority => Fishermen of both side should have dialogue and arrive at solution =>initiative from below 
  • Solving Trawler Issue  as Trawlers & Synthetic nets are the main culprit
  • Government could offer a voluntary buy-back scheme for trawlers + offer a rehabilitation package
  • Equip Indian boats with GPS 
  • Generate other jobs to end overdependence on  Fishing

End Word : Palk Strait has always been a bridge between India and SL since times immemorial leading to exchange of ideas and knowledge . Let it be a bridge and not a barrier between Indian and Sri Lanka

Issue 3 : China Angle in India-Sri Lanka Relations

  • Sri Lanka is important part of Maritime Silk Road (MSR) and most important pearl in so called Pearl of String Theory
  • $ 4 billion Chinese investments have happened in Sri Lanka
  • Port : Hambantota Port developed => wasn’t able to service debt => given on lease for 99 years


  • China following Debt Trap Diplomacy.
  • Changing Balance of Power in Indian Ocean=> Impacts India’s position as Net Security Provider in the Indian Ocean Region.
  • Chinese don’t allow to develop auxiliary industry => cement, steel , labour etc imported from China => no jobs created
  • Projects turning out to be White Elephants  (Hambantota given on 99 year lease)

What India is doing to counter this

  • India to develop Trincomalee as Petroleum Hub and   build infrastructure around it.
  • India is developing Kankesuthai and Trincomalee as port.
  • Most important : development of the Eastern Terminal at Colombo port along with Japan
  • 2018 : India to lease and manage the Mattala airport in Hambantota. (emptiest airport of world)
  • $ 300 million Line of Credit to upgrade SL Railways
  • Indo – Sri Lanka Nuclear Cooperation Agreement Signed (first such deal signed by SL with any country)
  • Post LTTE aid of ₹ 5 billion in 2009

India can never match Chinese in terms of Economic Muscle . India should also focus on People to People Contact and also use Buddhism and Buddhist Tourism Circuit to gain goodwill in Sri Lanka.

Issues with Indian Projects in SL

  • Delay in their completion and implementation.
  • Many of these projects, like Mattala airport, are not seen as profitable for India.
  • Indian ventures  are  seen as reactive to the increasing Chinese influence in the country.
  • Over-concentration of Indian development funding to Tamil areas

Issue 4: Areas of cooperation 

Trade & investment

  • FTA signed (in 1998) & CEPA on the cards
  • India =  2nd largest FDI in Srilanka


  • On cards
        • Ramayana trail in Sri Lanka and
        • Buddhist circuit in India (Sinhalese = Buddhist).
  • Rabindranth Tagore Auditorium in Rahana University. Tagore had influenced Sri Lanka’s national anthem – “Sri Lanka Matha” (we salute mother Sri Lanka).

Members of Same  Multilateral Forums

Both are members of

  • South Asian Economic Union

This article dealt with India-Sri Lanka relations. For entire series on International Relations, click on following link

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