For most of April, I traveled in Sri Lanka with my partner, Usha. Not only a beautiful island with a rich cultural history and ample wildlife, it's the only country in S. Asia rated "high" on the UN Human Development Index. It has relatively low economic disparity, little abject poverty, high literacy, and universal healthcare. To most Indians, Sri Lankan urbanscapes and rhythms of life will feel familiar and comfortable. I found traveling to be easy enough, the locals friendly, and the food delicious. Sri Lanka even has seven UNESCO world heritage sites.
It's also a country whose major ethnic communities—mainly Tamil and Sinhala but also the Muslims—haven't learned to live with each other. Their troubles mostly began in the 1950s with Sinhala nationalism and majoritarianism, driven by chauvinistic monks and militant buddhists, and fueled by cultural insecurities and jaundiced readings of religio-historic texts like the Mahavamsa. Humiliated and cornered, the Tamils demanded their own homeland; many resorted to violent resistance, leading to harsh reprisals from the Sinhala-dominated state. Over nearly three decades, Tamil areas suffered great destruction, mass exodus, and genocidal violence; ruins of war abound in the north. The LTTE may be finished, but will the great many atrocities committed against Tamil civilians near the war's end be forgotten or forgiven easily, esp. with no reconciliation underway, tens of thousands forced off their lands, and 100K+ refugees still in India five years after the war's end? Under the Rajapaksa family's authoritarian regime, Sinhala pride and triumphalism have resurged, public corruption is rampant, there is little freedom of the press and disappearances are common, especially in Tamil areas that have an oppressive army presence. The economy, however, is growing again and new infrastructure, often funded by the Chinese, is coming up: an airport, modern highways, high-rise apartments, casinos, resorts, and more. For a country its size, I found Sri Lanka to be enormously complex and interesting.
Read a brief history of Sri Lanka here. For a closer look at contemporary Sri Lankan society and politics, start with the following: How Not to Win a War, Buddhists Behaving Badly, Beyond the Beach, Sri Lanka After the War, Five Years On (an archive of recent journalism), and the harrowing documentary, No Fire Zone. Below are some of my pictures.