Society of Sri Lanka



Population per sq km: 334

Life expectancy: 75 years

Net primary enrolment: 94% (2010)

Population: 20,966,000 (2015); 18 per cent of people live in urban areas; growth 0.9 per cent p.a. 1990–2015; birth rate 16 per 1,000 people (31 in 1970); life expectancy 75 years (43 in 1946 and 64 in 1970).

The largest ethnic group is Sinhalese (estimated at 74 per cent of the population), followed by Sri Lankan Tamils (12 per cent), Muslims (seven per cent), Indian Tamils (five per cent), and small communities of Malays and Burghers (persons of Dutch or partly Dutch descent) and a small number of Veddhas, descended from the earliest inhabitants. Historians now believe that Dravidian and Indo-Aryan cultures, which form the roots of the modern-day Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese, most likely arrived in Sri Lanka late in the first millennium BCE, having filtered down from India.

Indian Tamils arrived later, brought in by the British in the 19th century as labour for the plantations. Some Indian Tamils were repatriated from 1964, and since 1988 all remaining Indian Tamils have attained Sri Lankan citizenship. The Muslims are mostly descendants of Arab traders, and the Burghers descendants of European settlers of the 17th century onwards.

Language: The official languages are Sinhala and Tamil. English is used in commerce and government and very widely understood.

Religion: Buddhists 70 per cent, Hindus 13 per cent, Muslims ten per cent and Christians six per cent (2012).

Media: There are several daily newspapers in Sinhala, Tamil, and English including the state-owned Daily News, and the independent Daily Mirror and The Island, plus several weeklies including the state-owned Sunday Observer and independent The Sunday Times.

The public radio network of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and many private stations are broadcast in Sinhala, Tamil and English. The Independent Television Network and Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation both provide public TV services and there are several private TV channels; public and private channels are also available in Sinhala, Tamil and English.

Some 76 per cent of households have TV sets (2007). There are 38 personal computers per 1,000 people (2005).

Public holidays: Independence Day (4 February), Sinhala and Tamil New Year (midApril, two days), Labour Day (1 May) and Christmas Day.

Religious and other festivals whose dates vary from year to year include Tamil Thai Pongal Day (mid-January), Prophet’s Birthday, Good Friday, Vesak Poya Days (two days generally in May) and Deepavali (Diwali, October/ November). There is a Buddhist Poya holiday each month on the day of the full moon. With the exception of the Vesak Poya Days, when Poya Days fall at the weekend they are nonetheless observed on the full moon day. Eid al-Fitr (End of Ramadan) and Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice) are observed only by Muslims, and Mahasivarathri only by Hindus.