Sri Lankan State and Communities

Sri Lanka covers an area of around 25,000 square miles, almost the size of Ireland or Tasmania, and has a population of around 20 million. Sri Lanka’s population consists of two main ethnic groups, the Sinhalese majority who make up 74% of the population, and the Tamils. Both Sinhalese and Tamils trace their origins to India, although there is no consensus regarding the differences that may exist between these two communities on their ethnic origins. The Tamil people represent both the Sri Lankan Tamils, whose ancestors have lived on the island for more than 2,500 years, and the Indian Tamils, who the British colonialists introduced to the ‘tea country’ of south-central Sri Lanka in the 19th century as tea and rubber plantation workers. The Sri Lankan Tamils account for around 12% of the population and the Indian Tamils around 5%. The rest of the population consists predominantly of Muslims (around 8%, who also mainly speak Tamil, resulting in a total Tamil-speaking population of around 25%) and supplemented by others such as Malays, Burghers and various minor groups. Traditionally Sinhalese embrace Buddhism as their religion whilst Tamils are mostly Hindus, though both groups also have a significant number of Christians amongst them.