History of Sri Lanka Conflict


· Started by A. T. Ariyaratne
· Spiritually oriented self-help development
· 40 year history
· Mobilizing tens of thousands of people to create homes, wells, village banks, etc.
· A clearly non-Western approach to development.
· See Sarvodaya website for more information:


· Sri Lankan population: about 19 million. At a density of 260 people per km, one of the densest populated places on Earth.
· Three ethnic groups on island:
· Sinhalese largest, (75%) in the center, west and south. Center of kingdom was Kandy. Sinhalese primarily Buddhist.
· Tamils next, (20%) in the north and east. Tamils primarily Hindu. Aligned with Tamils in India.
· Veddas smallest, a Stone Age group in the center.
· Three groups lived in relative peace for centuries. Original name for island, Serendib, meant “place of happy occurrences”.
· Roots of present conflict (as with most present ethnic conflict on the planet) was in colonization.
· British colonization threw together two very different cultures, without providing any means to reconcile the differences. The only common denominator between the two cultures was the British culture. At one point, the British forcibly moved tens of thousands of Tamils from their traditional base in India to the center of the island, the heart of the traditional Sinhalese kingdom.
· British withdrew from Sri Lanka at same time as Indian independence, leaving the same culture and power vacuum that the Indian sub-continent has experienced.
· Added to the conflict caused by colonialism is the pressure toward urbanization, caused by changing world economic structures. Millions of people gravitate toward cities, where they hope to find “jobs” and a better life. Most are disappointed. (Sri Lanka has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world, and (I believe) the highest for women.)
· Lastly, the Sri Lankan conflict is fueled by the fact that “men with guns” exploit any societal conflict. While there are people on both sides of the Sri Lanka conflict that honestly believe that warfare will solve their problems, there are others who recognize that the continuation of conflict is the continuation of their power. They have no intention to resolve the conflict; they continue in power by maintaining the conflict. In order to resolve the conflict, alternative pathways to power must be found.
· Ethnic conflicts generally have atrocities on all sides; the Sri Lanka conflict is no different. Acts of terrorism (by both the Tamil Tigers and the government soldiers) have polarized both populations and clouds the search for peace.


· My involvement with Sri Lanka and Sarvodaya began with reading about Sarvodaya leader A. T. Ariyaratne (known to his friends as “Ari”) in the book, “In the Footsteps of Gandhi”. I was particularly struck by his defiance of death in the face of assassination attempts. People referred to him as “the living Gandhi”.
· I traveled to Minnesota in 1996 to meet him. We struck up an immediate personal connection.

· In 1997, as part of a round the world journey that included Russia, Germany, Indonesia and New Zealand, I visited Sri Lanka. My initial visit was supposed to last two weeks, but was extended to four weeks.
· On my first visit, I had no agenda beyond learning about Sarvodaya and being helpful. My role evolved into advisor to both Dr. Ari and his son Dr. Vinya, seen as his successor. I also advised the younger managers and executives who headed various divisions of Sarvodaya. Sarvodaya had a great need for Western-style management techniques, but ones sensitive to its deeply rich, non-Western culture. They also needed someone to help them see and articulate the problems that had accumulated within the organization over 40 years. This included help on seeing the Sri Lanka conflict in a different way.
· At their request, I returned to Sri Lanka for another four weeks, where I assisted with the strategic planning for Sarvodaya as well as continuing my personal advice to Dr. Ari and Dr. Vinya. At this visit, my assistance included management training and techniques for the 26 District Coordinators, and continued dialogs with the management team on Sarvodaya in the 21st Century.
· Recent events: In July of 1999, Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne assumed the position of Executive Director of Sarvodaya. He immediately instituted sweeping changes in the management structure and personnel in the organization. Vinya’s goal is to transform Sarvodaya into a 21st Century organization, one still aligned on the vision and principles articulated by his father, A. T. Ariyaratne.
· At the same time as the change in leadership, Dr. Ariyaratne instituted a new Peace Initiative, designed to create change in consciousness on the island that will make war impossible. The first event of the Peace Initiative was a Peace March and Meditation. They asked for 100,000 people to attend the event; they attracted almost twice that number. The event was broadcast live throughout the island.
· There is a confluence of ideas, consciousness and spirit that makes Sarvodaya and CWI a great working partnership. Sarvodaya has the philosophy, size, organization and management structure that can carry out Commonway strategies. Sri Lanka can become a proving ground for the efficacy of the philosophy of inclusivity.

The Need for Commonway:

· There are many different organizations involved in peace work in the world, including Sri Lanka. These include: Peace Corps, Witnesses for Peace, Quaker Peace Services, etc.
· Commonway supplies a needed conceptual viewpoint and a track record of resolving conflict among parties who are defended, hostile and adversarial. The Commonway approach is based on the philosophy of inclusivity, a spiritual (but non-religious) knowing that all our lives are inextricably linked, that whatever is done to one is done to all, and that the search for peace has to be based in the notion that all parties to a conflict have to “win”.
· Commonway has learned much about how to create a “field of peace” that will eliminate the support for war and violence. How to apply spiritual techniques, including the richness of all cultures, to the practical challenge of ending conflict.