Is there casteism in the private sector?

Social class in Sri Lanka

The social class in Sri Lanka is often described as boxless, although caste is still found both symbolically and practically on the island. Similarly, caste is also used to refer to the new social class differences that have emerged in recent decades. The combination of ethnic-nationalist movements that saw the caste as an island-wide instrument of division, the strong emphasis on access to education and health care regardless of the background, and the historical lack of discrimination against the colonial civil service contributed in most cases to the extermination of the caste system in sectors of the island society . Although Buddhist culture actively fought against all forms of class discrimination, many Buddhist organizations used the caste as a method to extract surpluses from temple property. [1]



Caste system

Buddhism rejects casteism as a fundamental principle of its worldview, which has had an impact on reducing the severity of the caste system on the island. Notably, the highest caste group in both parishes on the island also formed the popular majority for both parishes.

The caste systems in Sri Lanka were organized similarly to the Jāti systems in southern India. The history of the caste system in Sri Lanka is unclear as there is very little historical evidence and much research on the subject has been criticized as biased. [2] Caste positions did not correlate with wealth. [3]

Goyigama was the most common caste in the Singhles community with around 50%. These people were basically landowners but had monopolized high positions in politics and royal courts. Vellala is the term for the similar community among Tamils. [3] Brahmins did not have as much influence on the island as they did on the mainland, and the most politically influential caste belongs to the peasants. [4]

The island's documented history begins with the arrival of Prince Vijaya from India. The island was reportedly inhabited by four tribes at the time: the Dewa, Nagas, Yakkas, and Raksha. Although the origin of communities in Sri Lanka is unclear, [5] Genetic studies of Sinhalese have shown that most of the Sinhala community is genetically related to the South Indian and Bengali. [6] [5] [7] [8] [9] [10] About half of the Sinhalese population are there Govigama . [11] Of the three indigenous tribes, the Dewa are believed to be part of the Sinhalese castes.

Ancient Sri Lankan texts like Pujavaliya , Sadharmaratnavaliya , Yogaratnakaraya and inscriptions indicate that there was a four-fold caste category among the Sinhalese, viz Raja, Bamunu, Velanda and Govi . References to this hierarchy can be found in the British-Kandyan period in the 18th century [12], which indicates its continuation after the Sri Lankan monarchy. [13] [14] Colonialism and foreign interference in the island's dynastic conflicts throughout history have also influenced the caste system, with some even suggesting a reorganization of the occupational groups. [15] [16] Currently 13 castes are common among the Sinhalese, namely. Radala, Govigama, Bathgama, Deva, Nekathi, Bodhivansha, Rajaka, Kumbal, Hunu, Durava, Karava, Salagama, and Navandanna, with smaller castes being added to the larger castes.

Kandyan box

In the central highlands, many traditions of the Kingdom of Kandy were preserved from the collapse of 1818 beyond independence in 1948 and the Land Reform Act of the 1970s. Although large agricultural landowners belonged to the Govigama caste, many today may no longer own any land. However, most of the Govigama were ordinary farmers and tenants as the absolute land ownership belonged exclusively to the king until the British colonial era. [17] In addition to the govigama, there were several layers of professional castes. Wahumpura or Deva were the caste that traditionally made and operated jaggery. The Bathgama caste was also engaged in agriculture and had access to some land. The Navandanna (Achari) caste were artisans. The Rada were washing machines, and this caste is still widespread in the Sri Lankan laundry sector. The Berava were traditional drummers and agricultural wage laborers. The Kinnara caste did little work and was separated from the rest of the community. [18] The most important feature of the Kandyan system was Rajakariya ("the work of the king"), which connected every caste with an occupation and demanded service at court and at religious institutions. [19]

Southern castes

There were differences between the caste structures of the highlands and those of the lowlands, although some service groups in ancient Sri Lanka were common to both. The southwest coast had three other castes (Salagama, Durava and Karava) in addition to the majority Govigama, which was common throughout the region. It is believed that some of the ancestors of these castes immigrated from southern India and gained importance in the Sinhalese social system. The inscription Anuradhpura Abayagiri from the first century BC referring to a Karava-Navika may be the first reference to a specific occupation. [20] [21]

Tamil castes

The Tolkāppiyam Porulatikaram, which indicates the fourfold division, is the earliest Tamil literature to mention the caste. [22] In the Sangam literature, however, will only be five Kudis mentions the one with the five Tinais are associated . [22] [23] Colonialism had also influenced the caste system. [24] [25]

Their caste system had stronger religious ties than its Sinhala counterpart, although both systems have comparable castes. [26] In the caste system observed, there were differences between northern and eastern societies and between agricultural and coastal societies.

In agricultural society there were mainly the Vellalar, Nalavar and Koviar castes, where the Vellalar caste is the dominant one, particularly in northern Sri Lanka. They make up roughly half of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka and were the main landowners and agricultural caste. [27] [28]

The northern and western coastal society was dominated by the Karaiyars, traditionally a seafaring and warrior caste. [29] The Thimilar and Paravar were also among the coastal communities involved in the fishery. The Mukkuvars, traditional pearl divers, dominate larger parts of eastern Sri Lanka, where they were the main landowners who were also engaged in agriculture. [30] [31]

The artisans, known locally as Kammalar or Vishwakarma, consist of the Kannar (brass workers), Kollar (blacksmiths), Tattar (goldsmiths), Tatchar (carpenters), Kartatchar (sculptors). [32] [33] Along with the Kammalar were the Ambattar (hairdressers), Kadaiyar (lime burners), Koviar (farmers), Kusavar (potters), Maraiyar (shell blowers), Nattuvar (musicians), Nalavar (peg cutter). , Pallar (farm workers), Paria (drummers), Turumbar (scavenger) and Vannar (dhobies), who are the domestic workers, referred to as Kudimakkal . [34] The Kudimakkal gave ritual meaning at marriage, funeral and other temple ceremonies. [35] [36]

Other important Tamil castes in Sri Lanka were the Cirpatar (cultivators), Iyer (priests), Kaikolar (weavers), Madapalli (former royal cooks), Shanar (pounders) and Maravar (Poligar warriors). [37] [38] The Sri Lankan chetties, traditional merchants, as well as the Bharatha, traditional seaters, were listed as their own ethnic group in the Sri Lankan census. [39] The coastal Veddas, found mainly in eastern Sri Lanka, were considered a Tamil caste among the Sri Lankan Tamils. [40]

The village deities of the Sri Lankan Tamils ​​were also shaped by the caste structure. The Sri Lankan Moors do not practice the caste system, but they do follow one Matriclan System that is an extension of the Tamil tradition. [41]


With the beginning of colonial rule in the country, various castes with new occupations emerged. However, social mobility did exist as the colonial rulers did not impose hereditary occupations, as was the case in the Kingdom of Kandy. Hence, it is found that this is where the caste began to restrict itself to a social culture rather than a professional group. It was around this time that newer castes emerged, such as the powerful Mudaliyar class, who loyally served their colonial masters.

By the end of the 19th century, the natives of the upper class of Ceylon (called Ceylonese by the British) formed a second class group in their own country to serve their colonial masters. The best example of this would be the famous second class and third class carriages reserved by the Ceylonese because only for Europeans to use first being on the trains [ To edit ] . This upper class of Ceylonians drew their wealth from land holdings passed down through the generations and drew their power from serving in posts in the British colonial administration. Initially, these were limited to filling special posts reserved for locals such as Rate Mahattaya in the central highlands and the Mudaliyars in the coastal areas. The letter, as the new generation of these native chiefs grew up in Christian mission schools, was a public school modeled after their English counterparts, and at British universities they were accepted into the Ceylon Civil Service, others took seats in the legislature and later in the Councilors of State a. Successful merchants who achieved prosperity in what was then the lucrative mining industry joined this upper class.

During this time, a middle class of a bourgeois people emerged who gained their status through professions or through business.

Sri Lanka

The 20th century brought about several changes in the social structure. In the 1940s, when Ceylon gained independence from the British (1948), there were four social groups. The upper class consisted mainly of landowners, the upper class of trained professionals who had traditional occupations such as lawyers, doctors, army officers, academics, high-ranking officials and police officers. and merchants. The political leaders of the new Dominion of Ceylon came from these to classes. The lower middle class consisted of people who were educated but held less respected but respected jobs such as civil servants, police officers, and lower-level teachers.

This order changed dramatically in the 1970s due to the land reforms carried out by the government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, which limited the private land ship to 20 hectares (50 acres) and private house ownership to two (later changed) estates along with many Industry sectors. This made the richest, who made up the upper and upper middle classes and who were highly dependent on secondary income, freed from their income and thus from their power. After the failure of the socialist economic drive of the 1970s, the new government of JR Jayewardene opened the counties' economies to free market reforms. Along with the civil war, the social structure changed considerably.

The direct result of the changes of the 1970s and 1980s was not observed until the late 20th century and early 21st century. Today; [42]


Upper class

The upper class in Sri Lanka is statistically very small and consists of industrialists, business people, senior executives and serving government ministers. These people are the richest in the country, in some cases they have inherited money and jobs and in others they have earned themselves. Their educational background may vary, but they usually send their children to national, private, or international schools to learn English and then send them to foreign universities. [2]

upper middle class

The upper middle class in Sri Lanka consists of trained professionals. Traditional occupations include lawyers, university lecturers, doctors, engineers, military personnel, officers, managers, and business people, who are typically educated and trained in public or private schools, and local or overseas universities. Manage your own high income business. They usually send their children (depending on family income, traditions, place of residence) to national, private or international schools to teach them in English or in their national language. For university education, they can be sent to foreign universities or local private higher education institutions (depending on family income). [2]

Middle class

The middle classes include government employees such as teachers, government employees, and small businesses such as retail stores and services rendered. Some can afford to send their children to private national schools, but forego the more expensive international private schools. The national universities in Sri Lanka are mainly intended for the middle class. Middle-class students travel abroad on university scholarships. [2]

Lower middle class

The lower middle class in Sri Lanka is made up of working-class people living in less affluent suburbs. This class forms the largest social group in Sri Lanka. As a rule, they have no university education and send their children to national or provincial schools to be taught in their national language (depending on family residence or scholarships). If selected for university education, they can be sent to local state universities, if not local private higher education institutions. [2]

Lower class

These people typically have low incomes and rely on government benefits. Many live in slums or shanty cities or in underdeveloped rural areas. They send their children to provincial schools to be taught in their national language. [2]


Although caste discrimination can still be found in Sri Lanka (especially in rural areas), the caste lines are blurring. [43] Political power and prosperity have largely replaced the caste as the main factor behind Sri Lanka's social stratification, particularly in the Sinhalese and Indo-Tamil communities. [44] Ponnambalam Ramanathan, under British Ceylon, refused to extend voting rights to the people and pushed for a reservation on the right to vote only for men of the Vellalar caste. [45]

In 1951 the Kandyan Peasantry Commission wrote: "... As a first step in the fight against the caste it is necessary to abolish the hours of duty." (RKPC 1951, p. 180.) Yalman only [46] came across a caste division in 1954 in the Ceylonian village of Terutenne. According to Lakshman et al. [47] "The Social Disabilities Act of 1957 intended to prohibit caste discrimination" (p. 68, note 16).


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