Sources on the JVP rebellions

The two JVP rebellions are among the least-studied conflicts in South Asia. The first, in 1971, killed 5,000-10,000 people; the second, from 1987-1990 killed roughly 40,000.  Though distinct conflicts, they both fused ultra-left ideology with Sinhalese nationalism. The 1987-1990 conflict, against the backdrop of the Tamil war and the Indian Peacekeeping Force operation in the north, pushed the state to its coercive limits and devolved into a total war of death squads, civilian victimization, and brute force (Michael Ondaatje’s unsparingly grim Anil’s Ghost is set during this period). The JVP represents an unusual organization that launched a rebellion, returned to political party activity, launched another rebellion, and returned once again to being a “normal” political party.

Unfortunately, there’s not much written on the JVP wars compared to the Tamil separatist conflicts: they were shorter, did not involve a diaspora, international politics, or articulate English-speaking spokesmen overseas, and were not marked by the dramatic military innovations and wildly-swinging battle tides of the Tamil wars. Instead, these were intense, no-holds-barred intra-Sinhalese wars largely out of the international community’s gaze. This makes the conflict quite difficult to study. With a big assist from Nira Wickramasinghe’s Sri Lanka in the Modern Age (chapter 6, especially footnote 78), below are some useful sources. One thing that jumps out at me is how essential area studies journals are in situations like this; relying on press accounts or web-scraping won’t get you very far in these kinds of cases.

Obeyesekere, Gananath. “Some Comments on the Social Backgrounds of the April 1971 Insurgency in Sri Lanka (Ceylon).” The Journal of Asian Studies 33.3 (1974): 367-84.

Matthews, Bruce. “Sinhala Cultural and Buddhist Patriotic Organizations in Contemporary Sri Lanka.” Pacific Affairs 61.4 (1988): 620-32.

Kearney, Robert N. “A Note on the Fate of the 1971 Insurgents in Sri Lanka.” The Journal of Asian Studies 36.3 (1977): 515-19.

Kearney, Robert N. “Youth Protest in the Politics of Sri Lanka.” Sociological Focus 13.3 (1980): 293-313.

Arasaratnam, S. “The Ceylon Insurrection of April 1971: Some Causes and Consequences.” Pacific Affairs 45.3 (1972): 356-71.

Moore, Mick. “Thoroughly Modern Revolutionaries: The JVP in Sri Lanka.” Modern Asian Studies 27.3 (1993): 593-642.

Asian Survey runs annual “Country X in Year Y” pieces – the articles on Sri Lanka in 1987-1990 (Pfaffenberger on 1987Matthews on 1988, Kodikara in 1989, Singer in 1990) are extremely useful overviews.

G.B. Keerawalla has a useful piece – “The Janata Vimukthi Peramuna and the 1971 Uprising” in the Sri Lankan journal Social Science Review, Vol. 2. This (at least for my library) needs to be ILL’ed in hard copy.

Alles, A. C. (1990). The J.V.P., 1969-1989. Colombo.

Senaratne, J. P. (1997). Political violence in Sri Lanka, 1977-1990: Riots, insurrections, counter-insurgencies, foreign intervention. Amsterdam: VU University Press.

Goonetileke, H. A. I. (1975). The April 1971 insurrection in Ceylon: A bibliographical commentary. Leuven.

The chapter by G.H. Peiris in this edited volume and by Jayadeva Uyangoda in this volume are also helpful.

I’m in pursuit of a couple of books that appear to offer campaign histories of Sri Lankan Army operations; hopefully they will provide some helpful information on SLA operations against the JVP (though the police were also very involved) and LTTE. More on that to come.

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