• South Asia
  • India
  • Nepal
  • Pakistan
  • Bangladesh
  • Sri Lanka
  • Japan
  • Yemen
  • Africa
  • UK
  • Diaspora communities

Sri Lanka

Introduction

Sri Lanka has three parallel caste systems for each of the country’s main population groups: the Sinhalese majority; the Sri Lankan Tamils to the north and east; and the Indian Tamils who are mainly found in the tea plantations and at the bottom of the urban social hierarchy. Most people will know to which caste they belong. Nevertheless, the issue is rarely discussed in public.

While caste discrimination in Sri Lanka is relatively mild compared to other South Asian countries, it is still entrenched in society. Some underprivileged castes are denied access to religious sites, and certain unclean jobs such as cleaning of toilets and garbage collection are inherited through generations.

The estimated number of people experiencing caste discrimination in Sri Lanka is four-five million or 20-30 percent of the total population. In Sri Lanka, there is no common identity as ‘Dalits’ among the ‘lower’ castes and it has been difficult for them to organise themselves – contrary to the Dalits of India and Nepal.

Key issues

Bonded labour is widespread in tea plantations in Sri Lanka. Dalits constitute 83 percent of the total of 3.6 million plantation workers. Most of them are Tamils of South Indian descent. The prevailing caste hierarchy of the Tamil plantation community is more or less a continuation of the South Indian caste system.

Recommendations

Global Call Recommendations to End Caste Discrimination in Sri Lanka

UN recommendations and caste discrimination in Sri Lanka

Database

IDSN has created an extensive database on caste-based discrimination.

Click here for all documents on Sri Lanka >>

Click here for news on Sri Lanka in IDSN’s database>>

Other resources

Below you will find links to useful documents on caste discrimination in Sri Lanka. For other relevant publications, click here:

Share on Facebook