Occupying about 13 percent of Sri Lanka’s total landmass, Northern Province consists of five districts – Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaittivu and Vavuniya. It mostly covers the generally flat and low northern parts of the country and is the part of Sri Lanka that lies closest to the Indian subcontinent, connected by the mythical Adam’s Bridge. It is surrounded by the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay on the west, Palk Strait on the north-west, Bay of Bengal on the north-east and eastern side and North Central and North Western Provinces to the south. The Province is fed by a number of rivers and lagoons and is also surrounded by many islands such as Velanaitivu, Neduntivu, Karaitivu etc.
Historically, the province was occupied by two kingdoms – the Jaffna Kingdom and the Vanni Kingdom. Even today, the Northern Sri Lankan Tamil society is largely categorized into those who are from the Jaffna Peninsula and those belonging to the Vanni District. From 1988 – 2006, Northern Province was briefly merged with the Eastern Province to form the North Eastern Province. They were formally separated into Northern and Eastern provinces on 1 January, 2007.
The capital of Northern Province is Jaffna. The province has been host to a large portion of the Sri Lankan Civil War. During the civil war, most of it was under the control of rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It was not until 2009, that the entire Province was recaptured by the Sri Lankan military.
At times, Northern Province is popularly known as Sri Lanka’s Tamil country due to a substantial Tamil population.
As of 2017, the total estimated population of Northern Province is 1,119,000. Of this, 539,000 are males (48.2 percent) and 580,000 are females (51.8 percent). The province has a fairly young population, with maximum population belonging to the age group 15-19 years. It has also witnessed large scale emigration to the western part of the country during the civil war period. Between 1982-2011, total number of those who emigrated was 83,274.
According to the Enumeration of Vital Events 2011 Report, the total urban population of the province is 16.7 percent. Hindu Sri Lankan Tamils form the largest group at 74.9 percent, followed by Roman Catholics/Christian Tamils at 18.4 percent, Muslims at 3.3 percent and Buddhists at 2 percent.
The major ethnic groups are Sri Lankan Tamils (88.79 percent), Muslims (8.06 percent), and Sinhalese (2.98 percent). Principal language spoken in the region is Tamil.
The Northern Province is primarily dependent on agriculture, with crops, livestock and fisheries as vital sub-sectors. In 2015, 15 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) composition of provincial economy was made up of the agriculture sector, 17.2 percent by industrial production and 60.6 percent by services sector.
Seven years since the end of civil war, Sri Lanka’s North continues to lag behind the rest of the country in terms of economic development. In 2015, its share in the overall GDP was one of the lowest at 3.5 percent. However, the Provincial Gross Domestic Product (PGDP) Nominal Growth Rate was 12.1 percent, making it one of the fastest growing provinces alongside the North Central Province.
The per capita income ratio in 2015 was 0.7. Poverty and unemployment are higher in Northern Province than anywhere else. According to Department of Census and Statistics, the province had an unemployment rate of 5.3 percent in 2014. The former conflict districts of Mullaitivu (28.8 percent), Mannar (20.1 percent), and Kilinochchi (12.7 percent) are referred as the ‘pockets of poverty.’
Youth unemployment remains one of the major challenges with around 60 percent unemployment in major districts of Mullaitivu, Jaffna and Kilinochchi, as estimated in 2014.
The median monthly household income was 5,540 Sri Lankan rupees ($37) while the national figure was at around $53, according to the Household Income Survey 2012-13.
Appointed in 2016, the current governor of the Northern Province is Reginald Cooray. C V Wigneswaram is the chief minister of Northern Provincial Council. Major political parties in the province include Tamil National Alliance, DTNA, United National Party, Sri Lanka Freedom Party and EPDP.
Last year in June, the Provincial Council faced a major political crisis. Of the 38 members of the Council, 21 expressed “no confidence” in CV Wigneswaran and threatened to withdraw support. This development signaled towards a possible split in the Tamil National Alliance party that runs the Council and is Sri Lanka’s main opposition party.
The local government elections are to be held next month in March 2017. In some parts of the Northern Province, local government elections are being held after 67 years.
Subramanian, Samanth. (2014) This Divided Island. Penguin Books Limited