The starting point of this research are the battlefields of ethnic wars. The spiraling levels of violence, the sustained intensity of ‘everyday’ brutality, the apparent abiding commitment of ‘soldiers’ and the salience of identities forms the basis of this comparison. Between 1990 and 1994, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) was the foremost perpetrator of gross human rights violations in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, accounting for some 9,000 incidents. The Seven Day War in Edendale in March 1990 is an instance when over 100 people were killed, 3,000 houses destroyed and approxi mately 30,000 people forced to flee their homes (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 1999). In Sri Lanka, some 100,000 people have lost their lives in the sustained battle between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sinhalese government.1 Since January 1988, 16,742 people have disappeared and there has been ample evidence of torture and execu tions by both state forces and the LTTE (Amnesty International, 1998). Thousands have perished in the Sikh battle for secession peaking during some periods, as in 1984 after the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh security guard when those killed by Hindus were estimated as between
2,212 and 3,879 (Tambiah, 1997, p. 119). In all three countries, sustained conflict has occurred between groups that espouse some sort of ethnic or sectarian political agenda. Another common element among them is their experience of colonial rule, particularly British rule. This comparison attempts to unravel some of the similarities and differences in the experi ences of these three countries in order to expose possible elements that could shed light on the causes of ethnic conflicts.