The Lankan Army, mostly consisting of ethnic Sinhalese, are taking over the last strongholds of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The self-declared Tamil state of northern Lanka is about to pass into history. On balance, this may not be a bad thing.
Most Tamil nationalists have been spoonfed a particular version of the Aryan Invasion theory (AIT). In general, the AIT claims that the Indo-Aryan (and Kafiri and Proto-Bangani) branches of the Indo-European language family were brought into South Asia from the northwest. The Tamil nationalist variety claims moreover that the speakers of Indo-Aryan languages including Sanskrit subdued and displaced the original population of the Indus-Saraswati Civilization (ISC), and that the latter consisted of speakers of Dravidian, the language family of which Tamil is the best-known member. There is in fact no proof for this "Aryan invasion" nor for the Dravidian character of the ISC (which even pro-AIT scholars now deny), but this lack of proof is amply compensated for by the intensity of the theory's political exploitation.
In Lanka, in the Tamil Tigers' understanding, the Aryan-Dravidian confrontation of about 4,000 years ago is now being re-enacted. The Indo-Aryan-speaking Sinhalese Buddhists have tried, since independence, to impose their language on the whole country, trampling on the distinct identity of the Tamil minority. They managed to get India's Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's co-operation for the "repatriation" of those Tamils whose parents had been settled in Lanka during British rule. They tried to suppress the Tamil attempt to preserve their identity and freedom by setting up an independent Tamil Eelam. And now they are militarily overrunning and dismantling that de facto Tamil state.
Contrary to international perception, this is not primarily a religious war. The Sinhalese resented the Tamil "overrepresentation" in the civil service and the professions that had developed under colonial rule. Along with the Indian Muslims, the Sikhs and particular Christian groups, the Tamils were "the spoiled children of the British empire". In the British scheme of the racial characteristics of their subject nations, the Buddhists in Lanka and Burma counted as indolent, the Tamils as hard-working. Therefore, they transferred Tamil labour to Lanka and Burma, whence the immigrants were again expelled in the 1960s, as well as to Malaysia, where they eke out a meagre existence as dhimmi-s, and Singapore, where they thrive. Ethnic envy and mistrust is sufficient to explain the genesis of the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict. The key event in its escalatioon was the declaration of Sinhalese as only national language.
Later on, a religious dimension was nonetheless inserted into it. After the armed struggle broke out, Sinhalese Buddhists vandalized some Hindu temples, identifying Hinduism with the Tamil enemy. Inside the Tamil separatist movement, however, Hinduism was never the prime motivator and was eventually sidelined completely. All through the 20th century and down till today, Tamil nationalism or "Dravidianism" has been allied with militant anti-Brahminical and generally anti-religious atheism, championed by Periyar Ramaswamy Naicker, the "father of the Tamil race". He summed up his hatred for the "northern, Aryan" Brahmins in his dictum: "If you see a snake and a Brahmin, kill the Brahmin first." Since the 1960s, Dravidianist parties have been taking turns at ruling India's state Tamil Nadu, and their two lasting achievements are the exodus of most Tamil Brahmins (to Mumbai, Bangalore and Silicon Valley) and the "purification" of the Tamil language of Sanskrit loanwords and of the chaste Brahminical style.
Along with vulgarity, corruption is the hallmark of the Dravidianist political culture. On this point, at least, the Tamil Tiger movement, with its extreme military discipline, provided an improvement. But is has kept on sharing the Dravidianist aloofness from, if not hostility to, Hinduism. That is one reason why the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in India has never supported the Tamil Tigers. The other is that India has enough problems with various separatisms, and that any success for separatist movements in other countries would only encourage them.
So, the Tamil Tigers are mainly a secular-nationalist movement. At least as far as the nominally Hindu members are concerned. But there is also a Christian presence in the movement, and it has gradually gained in importance. Both LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingham and the suicide bomber who killed Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi were Christians. The Sinhalese tend to see the LTTE as a Christian-led and Christian-teleguided movement, which to them explains "Christian" Norway's attempt to broker a peace agreement effectively legitimating Tamil rule in the north. Hence the famous cartoon showing a padre hotly denying any LTTE involvement all while a tiger's tail is showing from underneath his clerical garb. The Tiger martyrs are not cremated after the Hindu custom, but buried after the Christian fashion. Given the Sinhalese Buddhists' prior and long-standing resistance against missionary efforts at converting them, the Christian angle to the Eelam problem exacerbates the religious animosities.
For the Lankan Tamil population, the war for Tamil Eelam has been a disaster. The people for whom the LTTE claims to be fighting, is disappearing. Their percentage of the Lankan population has more than halved due to emigration, war casualties and the war's damaging effect on family formation. Possibly the terms they will get after surrendering will not be as favourable as those they might have gotten after a two-sided armistice negotiated from a position of strength. But in the circumstances, there is simply nothing to be gained anymore from continuing the war. Some international pressure may help in assuring them of a sufficiently fair deal in a reunited Sri Lanka. Or alternatively, the Sinhalese themselves may freely decide not to repeat the mistakes that drove the Tamils to armed separatism.