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Sri Lanka: Whether inter-caste relationships are forbidden; consequences of inter-caste relationships

Information on whether intercaste relationships are forbidden and the consequences for being involved in such relationships could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. However, several sources do indicate that caste values and caste systems continue to exist in Sri Lanka (Sydney Morning Herald 30 Aug. 2001; Australian Journal of Anthropology 1 Dec. 2002; The DISAM Journal 1 Apr. 2003; HRW Sept. 2001).

In its 2001 report entitled "Caste Discrimination: A Global Concern," Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that there are two caste systems in Sri Lanka, "one for the Sinhalese and the other for the Tamils" (Sept. 2001). Both caste systems originated in India, but the Sinhalese system is not connected with the Hindu varna, which according to one American scholar, has "'rendered the Sinhalese caste system mild and humanitarian when judged by Indian standards'" (HRW Sept. 2001). The report also adds that

In both the Tamil and Sinhala communities of Sri Lanka, intermarriage between upper-caste and lower-caste persons is still socially discouraged. Matrimonial ads in Sri Lankan newspapers placed by Tamils and Sinhalese both routinely specify the caste background of the match that the family is seeking (ibid.).
In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a Colombo-based lawyer who is currently conducting research in the area of interracial relationships (Gender Equality n.d.) indicated that intercaste relationships may cause one or both partners to face isolation from their family group, and their children may also face the same isolation if the relationship is not accepted by both families (Lawyer 17 Aug. 2003). However, the lawyer adds that factors such as the couple's place of residence (whether in urban versus rural areas), their social and economic situation and their religious background, also have to be taken into consideration as these tend to play a role in whether or not the relationship will be accepted (ibid.).

The Sinhalese ethnic group in Sri Lanka is divided into the "low-country Sinhalese," who were "subjected in coastal areas to greater colonial acculturation," and the Kandyan Sinhalese, who are "more traditional upland dwellers, named after [the] Kingdom of Kandy, which resisted European encroachments until 1815-18" (Sri Lanka WWW Virtual Library n.d.). The Durava caste belongs to the low-country Sinhalese system (Lawyer 17 Aug. 2003; 1UpInfo 1988); it is one of the three low-country castes that were "[o]riginally of marginal or low status," but which

... exploited their traditional occupations and their coastal positions to accumulate wealth and influence during the colonial period. By the late twentieth century, members of these castes had moved to all parts of the country, occupied high business and academic positions, and were generally accorded a caste rank equal to or slightly below the Goyigama (1UpInfo Oct. 1988) [the Goyigama is a high caste group (International Dalit Solidarity Network Aug. 2002)].
Similarly, the Sri Lankan lawyer indicated that

... the Duravas have historically belonged to a lower caste but [have] shown a ... good performance in the economic development of their activities. [An] article written by Michael Roberts, "Elite Formation and Elites 1832-1931," explains how Low-Country Singhalese achieved much greater success economically than the Kandyan Singhalese (which is considered [to be] a higher caste than the Low-Country Singhalese), even [pursuing] opportunities in the Kandyan districts. ... Thus decisions on marriage will occur under considerations regarding not only plain caste, but [also] family relations, education and money. Many Duravas later joined the legal career and the judiciary. To express it in a simple way, nowadays it will depend on the social and economic position rather than [on] simply being a Durava (17 Aug. 2003).
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.