The ongoing silent revolution | Daily News


Population growth:

The ongoing silent revolution

Part I

“Humans are divided unto different clans and tribes, and belong to countries and towns. But (for) myself ... the universe is my country and the human family is my tribe ...” Kahlil Gibran

In 1871 at the first census the population of Sri Lanka was 2.4 million. In 1925, 54 years later the population doubled to 4.8 million. The natural increase during this period was about 1% a year, and the rest of the growth was due to immigration of Indian plantation labour. The Moors have been living in Sri Lanka even before the beginning of the Portuguese period since 1505, adding their numbers to the population quite freely and independently having married local women.

During the next 34 years (1925-1959) death rates declined rapidly, and the population doubled again to over 9 million, despite the great malaria epidemic deaths in 1935, the natural increase, being 2.5% a year during the years 1948-1963. Since 1960, the crude birth rate declined considerably, but the natural increase remained static at 2% a year. In the year 2000, the population was around 19.4 million with a population growth of 1.7%. In 2005 the population was over 19.9 million with a population growth of 1.1%. These statistics reveal that the population is still increasing and growing in Sri Lanka. The more interesting phenomenon in respect of population dynamics is the composition of the population by ethnicity.

According to the 1981 Census the Sinhalese comprised 74%, Sri Lankan Tamils 12.6%, Moors 7.1%, Indian Tamils 5.5% and Others 0.8% respectively. At the 2012 Census, the Sinhalese comprised 74.9%, Sri Lankan Tamils, 11.1%, Moors 9.3%, the Indian Tamils 4.12%, Sri Lankan Malays, 0.22% and Burgers, 0.19% respectively. The total population figure has been 20,358,430. In 2012, the Crude Birth Rate has been 14.9, the Crude Death Rate has been 7.1. So the natural increase has been 7.6 per 1,000 population without taking into consideration migration. The total fertility has been 2.03. Between 1981 and 2012 the percentage in the increase in the Sinhalese has been by 0.9%, the Sri Lankan Tamils have decreased by 1.5%, the Moors have increased by 2.2% and Indian Tamils have decreased by 1.4%. It should be noted that Sinhalese youth lost their lives during the uprisings in 1971 and 1987, and the 30-year ethnic war. In 2004 the Tsunami caused over 35,000 deaths.

The decrease in the number of Indian Tamils could have partly been due to the implementation of the Sirima-Sastri Pact since 1964 by which out of 825000, Indian Tamils 525,000 were reported to have been sent to India while only 125,000 were to become Sri Lankan citizens. The casualties during the 30 years of ethnic civil war and emigration could have contributed to the decreases in some ethnic groups. In contrast, the Moors have shown a distinct increase in their population. This has some relationship to their lifestyle. Their present fertility is higher than that of the other ethnic groups. The Muslims in India too have large families.

Ethnic conflicts in Sri Lanka

The largest minority population group has been the Sri Lankan Tamils in Jaffna there has been a Tamil kingdom (1500-1619). King Sankili (1519-1561) has been a very powerful patriotic king who fought bravely against the Portuguese invaders. He supported King Mayadunne of Sitawaka in the fight to oust the Portuguese. He gave political asylum to Vidiya Bandara and after his unfortunate death, Sankili erected a memorial to remember Vidiya Bandara (Pathmanathan and Rohanadeera, 2006). The Sinhalese and the Sri Lankan Tamil leaders, as well as the people, joined together in the freedom struggle without displaying any ethnic difference. Sri Lanka gained Independence in 1948 without bloodshed.

It was after 1956 that ethnic conflicts began to emerge in Sri Lanka with the introduction of Sinhala as the national language followed by the introduction of Sri number plates for vehicles. Simultaneously Sinhala Buddhist consciousness was emerging as a powerful political force. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike gained political power with the strong support of the five great social power bloc (Panca maha balavegaya) in the Sinhala community (sagha, veda, guru, govi, kamkaru). There were three remarkable ethnic conflicts: Emergency 1956 Black July 1983 and the 30-year ethnic civil war. The Bandaranaike-Chekvanayagam Pact in 1957 and Dudly Senanayake-Chelvanayagam Pact in 1965 designed to give autonomy to the Sri Lankan Tamils failed because of the majority Sinhalese pressure. The establishment of District Development Councils in 1981 and the Provincial Councils in 1994 has not proved effective. However, in 1990 the recognition of Sinhala and Tamil as the Official Languages eliminated much of the heartburn in the Sri Lankan Tamils. However, there has been a fear among the Sinhalese about ‘traditional homelands’ claim of the Sri Lankan Tamils. During the ethnic civil war period, the Tamil militants also attacked the Muslim villages and the latter were displaced for a brief period. In 2019 there was a commotion in Jaffna over the cremation of a leading Buddhist priest in the very same temple grounds.

The Moors/Muslims remain as the other predominant minority in Sri Lanka, and they use Tamil as the linguistic communication channel with the Sri Lankan Tamils. They are well integrated into national politics characterized by negotiation, compromise and bargaining. No major events have occurred since independence that has disrupted peace and security until 2019. There were some clashes in Kandy and Kalutara defacing of Buddhist statues at Mavanella, the establishment of a Muslim university in Batticoloa and the tragic October Easter casualties. The protracted legal case against a Muslim obstetrician alleged to have sterilized illegally many Sinhalese women during Caesarian operations caused ethnic suspicion and displeasure between the Sinhalese and the Moors.

The Indian Tamils are the other important group. They came to Sri Lanka to work in the plantations. In the Kandyan regions, the Sinhalese became alienated from some of their lands they had traditionally occupied with the opening of plantations followed by the influx of Indian labour. This displeasure remains to be settled or forgotten, as the Indian workers were brought to Sri Lanka by the colonial British rules because the Sinhalese refused to work in the plantations. At present, the Estate Tamils are peace-loving citizens and they contribute their share to the Sri Lankan economy. They are strong with their Trade Unions. They urge for a salary increase and an improved quality of life.

Presidential election

The outcome of the Presidential election in 2019 was an eye-opener for the politicians, as over six districts out of the 25 where the minorities live, exhibited a polarization in their voting preference. Even the newly elected president foregrounded on this reality while delivering his first speech to the nation.

There is a media channel that offers incentives to stimulate poor rural Sinhala women to bear more children. Not only the Moors but the other ethnic groups have also increased by different levels in numbers over the years and the population density has increased despite stable land areas (62,705 Sq.Km). The population density of Sri Lanka has been increasing. In 1978 it was 219, in 2000 it was 309 and in 2012 it was 325 per square km showing wide variations among the provinces. In 2012 for instance in the Western province, it has been 1,570 Central province: 460, Southern province: 444, Northern province: 138 and North-Western Province: 300, respectively. The density of population of India in 1981 was 221 per The population seems to be interested in numbers only, not on the quality of the population. Eugenics, euthenics, genetic counselling and other genetic preventive measures are rarely taken into consideration. Throughout history, man has been adapting his environment to his genes more than adapting his genes to the environment.

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