Sri Lanka lies practically in the center of the Indian Ocean and thus has climatic and cultural links with three continents. Monsoon winds, driving against Sri Lanka’s peaks, support lush vegetation on the southern half of the island, but the northern half is a dry zone. The winds affect human culture as well, having brought wave after wave of immigrants and merchants following the southerly trade routes. Outsiders found a wide range of ecological niches on the coast, on the plains, or in the mountains, and they built a remarkably variegated civilization. Merchants long have sought Sri Lanka as the source of pearls, jewels, spices, and tea. Visitors for centuries have marvelled at the beauty and great variety of the island.
The crucial problem facing Sri Lanka’s plural society is whether it can evolve a form of socialism that will address the needs of all groups, or whether frustrated aspirations will engender further conflict. In the field of education, for example, excellent accomplishments in elementary schooling have emerged alongside bitter competition for coveted places in the university system; this competition has fueled ethnic hatred between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities. In a land with limited resources, the benefits of social welfare programs highlight the inadequacies of progress for some regional or ethnic groups. In these circumstances, caste, ethnic, or religious differences become boundaries between warring parties, and a person’s language or place of worship becomes a sign of political affiliation. The social organization of Sri Lanka is thus an valuable component of the politics and economy in the developing nation.