Sri Lanka : The Untold Story
The first teardrops
By K T Rajasingham, ‘Asian Times,’ Singapore, 2001
Sri Lanka was once called the Island Paradise. But in modern times, for the past nearly 30 years it has been plagued by the bloody ethnic conflict that has claimed thousands of lives, despite continued peace efforts.
The conflict has reached a stage where ethnocentricity and religious chauvinism, two disturbing elements, are poised to take center stage in the Sri Lankan political arena.
In fact, though, racism in Sri Lanka traces its roots to the days of Mahanama, the Buddhist prelate who compiled the Mahavamsa, the Buddhist chronicle dealing with the lineage of the Lord Buddha and the Sinhalese kings of Ceylon. The racial propagation of ethnocentricity and Buddhist chauvinism is based on myths, hearsay and legends, such as:
- The vocal claim of being the descendants of the superior Aryan race against that of the Tamils’ claims of being Dravidians;
- The Sinhala race is said to have originated after the landing of the exiled prince Vijaya and his 700 followers;
- The idea incorporated in the Buddhist chronicles of the imaginary visits of Lord Buddha and that the Lord Buddha blessed the land in his earlier incarnations;
- The imaginary notion of Sinhalese being the “Sons of the Soil” and that other ethnic groups was allowed to live on a “temporary basis” – a concession to the non-Sinhalese and to the non-Buddhists, and;
- Racism in Sri Lanka increased when the Sinhalese found themselves in the majority in the country. Despite this, Tamils have co-existed with the majority Sinhalese for the past 53 years (up to 2001), since independence from the British colonial masters on February 4, 1948.Birth of a nations
Sri Lanka, or “Ilankai”, in Tamil, is located in the Indian Ocean and is inhabited by Sinhalese and Tamils who have distinct religions, language, culture and ethnic characteristics with recognized linguistic territories demarcated by boundaries since the days of antiquity.The ancient Hindu epic Ramayana portrays Ceylon as a huge continent, a tradition not unsupported by science. The geology and fauna of the island point clearly to a time when the landmass was part of an Oriental continent that stretched in an unbroken land piece from Madagascar to the Malayan Archipelago and northward to the present valley of the Ganges.The valley was then undersea, spreading westward across Persia (Iran), Arabia and Sahara al Kobra (in Arabic, Sahara is the word used to denote any desert and “Sahara al Kobra” means the big desert or the grand desert of Africa), and forming the southern limit of the Palae-Arctic continent, which embraced Europe, North Africa and North Asia. In the course of ages, the greater part of the Oriental continent became submerged by the sea, leaving Ceylon just a fragment in the center, with on one side the Maldives, the Laccadives, Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar, all of them separated from one another by hundreds of miles of sea, and on the other side the Malay islands; when the Ganges valley was carved, making north and south India one stretch of land.
- In the years to come, Ceylon itself was separated from South India by a narrow strip of sea. The island in the shape of a teardrop, separated from southern India by a narrow strip of a shallow sea, the Palk Strait, 30 miles away.The name of the country evolved into “Sri” + Lanka, with the Sanskrit honorific “Sri” denoting the diffusion of radiance, beauty and grace. The name Lanka as written in the Sanskrit version of the Ramayana came into existence as the kingdom of the Asura (in Tamil this denotes a teetotaler and a vegetarian). The kingdom of King Ravana, who was a Tamil, was known as “Ilankai” (Lanka is the Sanskrit version). Ilankai means radiates and in Tamil, there is no need to adopt an honorific because the name itself depicts the holiness of the land. Up to May 22, 1972, the country was known as Ceylon, although during the prehistoric period it was called “Elam”, (the eternal country), Ilam (Ilam is the Tamil word for gold) Eezham, Eylom and presently Eelam. The pronunciation depends on the proclivity of one’s tongue. Kautilya’s Arthasastra called the country “Parasamudra” (the land beyond the ocean), while others came up with names such as “Palaesimoundoun” (Palaiya+Sila+Mandalam: Palaiya – old; Sila – virtuous; Mandalam – region or country, therefore the old virtuous country), “Simoundou” (Sila+Mandalam – the virtuous country). Subsequently, the Greek geographer Eratosthenes, in his map of the world (200 BC) called the country “the southern limit of the known world” by the Greek word “Taprobane”.
- Sri Lankan historians subsequently called the country by the proper name Taprobane, whereas to Greeks it is a common noun. “That this island was the celebrated Tapobrana seems manifest, for this word in Greek means ‘unknown dwelling’, or ‘hidden land’, known only for its fertility and it is not a proper name, but appropriated as [in the case of] Sicily and Cyprus, to which they also gave this name.” – The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon by Father Fernao De Queyroz, Translated by Father S G Perera. Again, it is believed that the name Tabrobane is the corruption of “Tamba-Panni”, a name given to Ceylon in the Sinhalese chronicles Mahawamsa and Dipawamsa. A few other historians believe that on the opposite coast of India there is a river called Tamaraparani and the Tamils may have brought the name with them to Ceylon. Arabs called the country “Serendib” and the Portuguese “Ceilao”, but Thais have added the honorific “Tewa” calling the island “Tewa Lanka” – divine Lanka.
- The Nagadwipa as mentioned in the Pali chronicles and Nagadiboi of Ptolemy’s map of 150 AD was the Tamil territory and it is more or less the same as the area shown in the Dutch and French maps of Ceylon. Compilers of Ceylon chronicles have purposely avoided the historical geography of the country. BC Law in his On the Chronicles of Ceylon, writes, “The chronology must begin from a certain definite date, which in the case of the Ceylon chronicles is the year of Buddha’s demise, marking the starting point of the Buddha era.” Law further wrote, “A happy coincidence is imagined and availed to build a systematic chronology of the kings of Ceylon, the coincidence of the day of Buddha’s demise with that of the landing of the exiled prince Vijaya on the island of Lanka. A prediction is put into the mouth of the Buddha to raise the importance of his appearance on the island as the founder of the first Aryan race.”From ancient times and continuously over the past two to three millennia, the Tamils and the Sinhalese have lived and shared the country, but not the Muslims – they failed to fall within the definition of an ethnic group.
- Muslims in Sri Lanka speak the Tamil language, therefore they too are Tamils. (The Arabic word Muslim means one who professes the faith of Islam or who is born to a Muslim family. From this, it is clear that Muslims are not an ethnic grouping but a religious grouping. Unfortunately, Muslims are introduced as a separate ethnic entity for political gains.)Earlier, Buddhist chroniclers failed to go beyond what had been determined during the time they were making their compilations. Dipavamsa was the oldest Buddhist chronicle written in the Pali language, said to have been compiled around the 4th Century AD. The contents are based on stories and fables narrated by people without any corroborating evidences to confirm the authenticity of the narration.
- This was followed by Mahavamsa, which was based on the Dipavamsa, written by Mahanama, a Buddhist monk in the 6th Century AD, another Pali rendition, not in the historical tradition but, “for the serene joy and emotion of the pious”, lauding the victories of the Sinhalese kings over the Tamil kings, treating the Sinhalese kings as the protectors of Buddhism and saviors of the Sinhalese, while deriding the Tamils as invaders, vandals, marauders and heathens. The Mahavamsa openly declares killing a virtue in defense of Buddhism in its description of the victory of the Sinhalese prince Dutthagamini (161-137 BC) over Ellalan (205-161 BC), the Tamil king. Though Dutthagamini defeated Ellalan, he failed to secure sway over the Tamils in the northern portion of the country. The country has been divided through its history of more than 2,500 years into two or more kingdoms, of which one has always been the kingdom of the Tamils. History clearly shows that only twice were the Tamils subdued, first by Parakrama Bahu I (1153-1186) and later by Sapumal Kumaran, alias Sengap Perumal, who ascended the throne of the Tamil kingdom under the name of Bhuvaneka Bahu, an adopted son of Parakramaa Bahu VI (1411-1466). This brought the Sinhalese sway over the Tamil kingdom to approximately 22 years.
- From the very earliest period, then, records show that there has never existed a united Ceylon and that the Sinhalese and Tamils have been at odds at all times. This has generated the emotive claims of the Sinhalese and Tamils for nationhood, but there has never been a call for composite nationhood in the country where ethnocentricity of the numerical majority prevails to override the national aspirations of the another.
- Western colonialism: Portuguese and Dutch
The Portuguese arrival in Ceylon was an accident, a rude quirk of destiny. In 1505, a Portuguese fleet under the command of Don Lourenco de Almedia, forced by winds and waves, was tossed into Galle, the harbor located on the southern coast of the island. He learned that the island was the famous land called Ceilao, and he sailed on to Colombo, the port in the Kotte kingdom. When the Portuguese arrived in Ceylon, Vira Parakrama Bahu (1484-1509) was the king of Kotte, Senasammata Vikrama Bahu (1469-1511) was the king of the Hill Country and Pararajasekeran (1469-1511) was the king of the Tamil kingdom.
- In the beginning, the Portuguese desire was for trade, chiefly in cinnamon, but it also wanted a foothold on the island as it was strategically located to control the sea routes of the Indian Ocean. Accordingly, they entered into a treaty in 1505 with Vira Parakrama Bahu under which they were assured of a supply of cinnamon and also permission to build a factory. In 1518, the treaty was renewed, which drew the Portuguese into the local political arena owing to the internal rivalries and quarrels of the Sinhalese princes. From 1551, the Portuguese assumed the role of protectors and began to direct the affairs of the kingdom of Kotte, and from 1597 to 1658 the entire maritime regions of the country came under the domination of the Portuguese, except for the Kandyan kingdom, which remained an independent entity.
- The last Tamil patriarch, who was a pretender to the throne of the Tamil kingdom, was Cankli Kumaran, who fought decisively with the Portuguese forces under the command of Filipe De Oliveria. At Vannarponnai, Cankli Kumaran’s forces were defeated. He and his family set to sail to Tanjore, in South India, to seek assistance from King Ragunatha Nayakar. Unfortunately, adverse winds blew his boat towards Point Pedro, where he was accosted by the Portuguese and captured. With him were his queens, children and his retinue. Portuguese soldiers confiscated 8,000 milreis (Portuguese currency) found in the boat and ran amok with the royalty, stealing their jewelry. When Cankli Kumaran saw this ruthless behavior, he took off his own jewels and gave them to the soldiers.
- This episode is a sad illustration of the Portuguese barbarism of the time. The Tamil kingdom, which extended up to the eastern province, came under Portuguese domination in 1621, and this was how the Tamils lost their sovereignty, independence and their traditional homeland. Nevertheless, after 1560, the Portuguese began destroying Hindu temples located in other regions. Destruction and vandalism by the Portuguese gathered momentum after the capture of the Tamil kingdom in 1621. Filipe de Oliveriya, the Portuguese governor, was acclaimed for destroying more than 500 Hindu temples, which were also the cultural treasures of the Tamils.
- These acts of vandalism and destruction were never censured, and they still have not, even today, 343 years later.In 1638, the Dutch came to Ceylon at the invitation of Rajasingha II (1635-1687), the king of the hill country called the Kingdom of Kandy, and entered into an accord with the monarch. The Dutch agreed to drive the Portuguese out of the maritime provinces of the island. They first captured Batticaloa, and in 1639 they captured the harbor city of Trincomalee.
- The Dutch carried on their war and utterly destroyed the power of the Portuguese in Ceylon by capturing Colombo in 1656 and finally the Tamil kingdom in 1658, thus bringing the entire littoral areas of the country under their domination. The Portuguese, when they captured the Tamil kingdom, appointed a captain-major as the governor of Jaffna and administered it as a distinct political unit. Accordingly, for the purpose of administration, the Dutch divided the maritime regions into three “commanderies” – Colombo, Jaffna and Galle. Three different lieutenant-governors administered these regions, with the one responsible for Jaffna administering the region based on the traditional laws of the region.
Sri Lanka: The Untold Story, Chapter 2
Beginnings of British Rule
by K T Rajasingham, ‘Asia Times, Singapore, 2001
In 1796 the British completed the capture of Ceylon’s maritime regions and drove the Dutch out of the country. Initially, the captured region was administered by the British East India Company. Lord Hobart, the governor of Madras, had ordered the troops of the East India Company to undertake the campaign.
After the capture, East India Company authorities were in no hurry to set up a formal administration because there was every reason to expect that soon Holland and Britain would make peace in Europe and that the land they now occupied would be restored to the Dutch. Colonel James Stewart (1795-96), the officer commanding the British troops in Ceylon, headed the civil authorities. He was succeeded by Welbore Ellis Doyle (1796-97), who on his sudden death was followed by Brigadier-General Pierre Frederic de Meuron (1797-98), who became the military governor.
With the view to recovering expenses incurred during the Ceylon expedition, the East India Company set up a temporary administration to collect revenue. On September 1, 1796, it imposed a tax of one silver fanam per annum on each coconut tree in the maritime regions of the country. But even the enumeration of trees for this purpose was opposed, and the collection had to be effected “at the point of a bayonet” the governor commented. Doyle suspended the collections in March 1797.
Lord Hobart then appointed a committee on June 9 to investigate the state of the revenues and other matters connected with the administration of the country. It consisted of Meuron, who had lived in Ceylon during the Dutch rule and was acquainted with the Dutch system of administration and the customs of the natives, as chairman, with a Major Agnew and Robert Andrews as members.
While the committee was still investigating, the British government decided to withdraw the administration of Ceylon from the East India Company. Its first proposal was to take over the Ceylon government completely under the secretary of state, and Frederic North was appointed as the first king’s governor with Hugh Cleghorn, a Scottish professor, as secretary.
Meanwhile, the committee recommended the abolition of the coconut tax, the banishment of coastal natives, the re-establishment of mudaliyars (headmen) and a “mild and upright administration”.
Cleghorn, who had been present at the time of the siege and capture of Colombo, subsequently toured the island and returned to England to report. The king’s commission, under the seal dated March 26, 1798, declared that the sovereignty and government of the settlement in Ceylon were vested in the Crown and that until further provision was made, North was to be the king’s representative on the island. However, he was to act under the direction of the East India Company, especially on matters of trade and commerce.
The ultimate disposal of the settlement of Ceylon was discussed preceding the peace treaty with the Dutch. According to the Treaty of Amiens of 1802, the littoral regions of Ceylon was ceded to the British. The British government decided to transfer the maritime provinces of Ceylon completely from the East India Company and place them under the control of the Crown, and thus on January 1, 1802, Ceylon became a British Crown Colony.
In a map published in England on January 1, 1803, in connection with the Treaty of Amiens, in conjunction with the famous minutes of Cleghorn and Sir Robert Brownrigg (1812-20), the first colonial secretary and the subsequent governor of Ceylon respectively, the area that constituted the traditional homeland of the Tamils is unmistakably shown to extend from Chilaw northward and eastward to a point near Madawchchi; south of Padavil Kulam extending to the Trincomalee district; and the Batticaloa district down to the mouth of the Walawa Ganga in the south.
Up to 1815, the Kandyan kingdom existed, but Sinhalese chiefs under the leadership of Ehelepola – the disava (district governor) of Sabaragamuva – plotted against Sri Vikrama Rajasingha (1798-1815), the king of Kandy, who was a Tamil from the Nayakar dynasty of Madurai in South India. This brought British troops into Kandy and a brief war they ended the suzerainty of the king. The king went into hiding but was discovered with his two wives by Ehelepola’s supporters on February 18, 1815.
KM de Silva and Howard Wriggins remind us of the capture of Sri Vikrama Rajasingha in their J R Jayawardene of Sri Lanka – A Political Biography, Volume 1, pages 21-24:
“Don Adrian was present at the capture of the Kandyan King Sri Vikrama Rajasingha at Bomure near Hanguranketa … he is the paternal ancestor of the subject of this biography [J R Jayewardene, President of Sri Lanka from 1978-89] about whom there is a record. He was descended from the family of the Chetty community, a community of traders, which had emigrated from the Coromandel Coast in India in the early years of the Dutch rule in the midst of the 17th Century and settled in the vicinity of Colombo. Two or three generations before the birth of Don Adrian, a male of his family had married a Sinhalese by the name of Jayewardene from the village of Welgama near Hanvalla some 20 miles from Colombo and from that time took on the name of Jayewardene.
“Don Adrian’s early service as an intelligence agent employed by the VOC, the Dutch East India Company or Vereenidge Oost-Indische Compagnie to give its full name. Our first sight of Don Adrian is an intelligent agent for the Dutch who, in 1795, faced alarming prospects of an imminent British invasion of Colombo and its environs. It was while engaged in this activity that he was captured by the British and was on the verge of suffering the fate – a swift and unceremonious execution – which armies normally reserve for a person of this sort, when thanks to a glib tongue, some quick thinking and, as the records have it, a stubborn refusal to reveal any information about the Dutch, his life was spared.
“The British themselves had gauged their man exceedingly well, for with the elimination of the Dutch, Don Adrian’s services became available to them. At each successive critical occasion that confronted the British as they moved to consolidate their hold on the maritime regions they had conquered, and to expand their authority over the whole island by subjugating the Kandyan kingdom, Don Adrian distinguish himself by his dedication to their cause.
“A major rebellion that broke out in the maritime regions in 1797 just a year after the British had established themselves in control of the territories of the V O C in Sri Lanka offered an early opportunity for the British to test Don Adrian’s loyalties. That he had proved himself is evident from his presence in the entourage of General Hay McDowell during the latter’s embassy to the Kandyan kingdom in 1800. Next, he was in the advance guard of the disastrous British expedition to Kandy in 1803. By the time the Kandyan campaign of 1815 came along Don Adrian was the tombi mudaliyar or guide headman, the man in charge of the intelligence agents and one of the trusted aides of Sir John D’Oyly who masterminded the subversion of the Kandyan kingdom by winning the backing of disgruntled chiefs.”
This account shows how the Jayewardenes, who were originally Tamils, descended from south India and gradually became assimilated as Sinhalese, by faith initially Hindus, later Christians to please their Dutch and British overlords and subsequently converted to Buddhism to lead the Sinhalese masses, and worked hand in glove with the colonial rulers to bring an end to the sovereignty of the last Sinhalese kingdom – the Kandyan kingdom, although its king was of Tamil origins.
After the capture of this last independent kingdom, the whole country came under British occupation. The Kandyan Convention of March 2, 1815, commented, “Led by the invitation of the chiefs, and welcomed by the acclamations of the people, the forces of His Britannic Majesty have entered the Kandyan territory and penetrated to the capital. Divine providence has blessed their efforts with uniform and complete success. The ruler of the interior provinces has fallen into their hands and the government remains at the disposal of His Majesty’s representative.”
Thus the Sinhalese chiefs claiming to act on behalf of the inhabitants irrevocably surrendered the sovereign rights of the last politically independent remnant of the Sinhalese people to the English crown. The Kandyan Convention was signed by 10 prominent Sinhalese chiefs, one of whom was Ratwatte, the maternal great grandfather of the present Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunge.
After the annexation of the Kandyan kingdom, the British justified their action by proclaiming that they had acted on the pressing and unanimous desire of the people of the kingdom. “Led by the invitation of the chiefs, and welcomed by the acclamation of the people” is a common line of rhetoric used by the ambitious conquerors. Unfortunately, the Sinhalese chiefs surrendered the kingdom to the British by falsely claiming to act on behalf of the inhabitants of the kingdom. The proclamation had 12 clauses: The first two said that King Sri Vikrama Rajasingha had forfeited the throne and he was declared fallen and disposed of. Clause 3 stated that all male relatives of the king were enemies of the government and banished from the Island, “and all-male persons of the Malabar caste [Tamils], now expelled from the said provinces, are under the same penalties from returning, except with permission before mentioned”. Clause 5 said that the religion of the Buddha was inviolable.
Clause 3 was a cleverly crafted ploy by the Sinhalese chiefs to rid the Kandyan region of Tamils. The British connivance with the chiefs to do this was the beginning of their aiding and abetting the anti-Tamil program of the Sinhalese leaders.
Subsequently, though, the chiefs of Kandy were disappointed with British rule, which they sought to do away with. The British blamed Ehelepola for the revolt of 1817-18 and he was arrested, taken to Colombo and exiled to Mauritius, where he died in 1829.
In April 1829, King George IV appointed a Royal Commission headed by Major W M G Colebrooke to examine “all laws, regulations and usages of the settlements in the island and into every other matter in any way connected with the administration of the civil government”. He was followed by Charles Hay Cameron, who was commissioned to report on the judiciary.
The commissioners presented their recommendations in 1832, suggesting the creation of one government with one centralized, unitary form of administration under a governor in Colombo. The British did this without the consent of the people, and in doing so ended the hopes for a Tamil nation as a distinct political entity, something that no conqueror had managed to do – to stifle the flame of independent existence.
The Colebrooke commissioners also recommended that the Island should be divided into five provinces – Colombo, Kandy, Galle, Jaffna and Trincomalee. They further recommended the establishment of Executive and Legislative Councils.
This uniform administrative structure and the idea of a “united Ceylon” spelt doom for the Tamils’ distinctiveness, again, something the Sinhalese rulers had failed to achieve. Thus the British gave credence to a united Ceylon in 1833, ignoring the historical realities that existed by misinterpreting the history of the Tamils and Ceylon. Based on their ignorance, they legitimized their formation of a unified country by wrongly believing that the Sinhalese kings had earlier ruled the entire of Ceylon. The introduction of a unitary form of government was a tragic step in the wrong direction which led to the Sinhalese hegemony over the Tamils, followed by the bloody ethnic conflict that today ravages the country.
On the recommendation of the Royal Commissioners, the constitution of Ceylon was modified with the introduction of the Legislative and Executive Councils, by an Order-in-Council in 1833. The Legislative Council included six “unofficial” appointed natives. In the selection of these, Sir Robert Horton (1831-37) the British governor, took into consideration the national ethnic division that existed in the country. Thus he nominated J P Panditaratne, a Low Country Sinhalese, Arumuganathar Pillai Coomarasamy (1783-1836), a Tamil and J G Hillebrandt, a white settler, and three English planters. Until 1889, the interests of the Kandyan Sinhalese, Tamils of Indian origin, who were mainly laborers in tea plantations, and those of the Tamil-speaking Muslims were looked after by the single Tamil member in the council.
Coomarasamy had been chief Interpreter to the government. It was he who waited upon the deposed last king of Kandy, Sri Vikrama Rajasingha, and served him until the monarch and all his relatives were deported to Vellore in South India, where he died in 1832 at the age of 52.
Coomaraswamy died on November 7, 1936, and an erudite scholar from Puttalam, Mudaliyar Simon Cassie Chitty (1807- 1860) was appointed on June 29, 1838, by James Mackenzie (1837-1841) the British governor. He found time to continue with his prolific writings that included The Ceylon Gazetteer, Tamil Plutarch, The History of Jaffna,The Outline of the Tamil System of Natural History. He wrote and read numerous articles at the Royal Asiatic Society of Ceylon.
In one article, he wrote of the origins of the Sinhalese and, quoting from Lord Valentia’s Travels and from an article of Joinville which was published by the Royal Asiatic Society of Ceylon, he penned, “The Singhalese, though forming a distinct nation, and differing in their religion, language and manners from Tamuls [Tamils], had no kings of their own race, but of the latter, and according to Lord Valentia and Joinville ‘a Singhalese cannot be a king of Ceylon; that is every person born of a Singhalese father or mother is excluded from the throne’.” In 1845, Mudaliyar Simon Cassie Chitty resigned his membership in the Legislative Council to join the Ceylon judiciary.
Mudaliyar Edirmannasingham (1846-61), the brother-in-law of Coomarasamy, succeeded him, who in turn was succeeded in 1862 by Sir Muthucoomaraswamy (1833-79), the son of Coomarasamy. He was the first non-Christian or non-Jew to be registered in the rolls of the Inns Court and called to English Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in Victorian England. He married Elizabeth Beeby, a young English lady and they had one son, Ananda Coomaraswamy, who was a director at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and a fine exponent of Indian art, religion and culture.
Sir Muthucoomaraswamy was held in high esteem by Queen Victoria, who often invited him to the palace for broad-ranging discussions. Queen Victoria made him a Knight of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George – the first Asian to be so honored. Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Beaconsfield accompanied Muthucoomaraswamy to the palace for the ceremony. Disraeli, the great Conservative statesman, then urged Sir Muthucoomaraswamy to settle permanently in Britain and assured him of a seat in the House of Commons, but he declined. He died on May 4, 1879 at the age of 45.
Sir Ponnampalam Ramanathan (1851-1930), nominated to the Legislative Council in 1879, was the grandson of A Coomarasamy and the nephew of Sir Muthucoomaraswamy. The Legislative Council during his days was not a parliament, but an advisory body. The governor presided over meetings and he had the power to override the council and the official majority enabled him to carry out his plans even in matters of legislation.
Traditionally, the unofficial members nominated by the governor faithfully followed the government’s wishes. Sir Ponnampalam recalled that he and his colleagues had always sought to cooperate. “I remember in 1879,” he continued, “when I became the member of the Legislative Council, Mr. George Vane, the Treasurer of Ceylon, congratulated me upon my position as one of Her Majesty’s opposition. I was quite young then, and I replied: ‘No, Mr. Vane, you are mistaking my position. If you think I am going to constitute myself as one of the opposition. No, I am part of the government, and I have come to help them with my criticism, to cooperate with them as much as possible.’”
He proved himself a worthy servant during his 19 years in the council, beginning in 1879. In 1892 he relinquished his seat to take up the office of the solicitor-general. His eldest brother, Mudaliyar Ponnampalam Coomaraswamy (1849-1906), a lawyer, who was a member of the Colombo Municipal Council for 20 years, succeeded him.
On February 10, 1890, Sir Ponnampalam Ramanathan, who was then representing the Tamil community in the council, addressed a memorandum to Queen Victoria on the reform of the Ceylon constitution. In his capacity as the president of the Ceylon National Association, he urged that official members of the Legislative Council be given freedom of speech and voting rights in the council; that the unofficial members be appointed for a term of at least seven years; that members of the council be prevented from proposing any ordinance, vote resolution or question that created a charge on revenue matters, without the express leave of the governor.
In December 1908, James Peiris submitted a memorandum to the British under-secretary of state outlining his scheme for the reform of the Legislative Council. He was a Sinhalese leader and he initiated the argument for ending the equal representation of all ethnic communities in Ceylon. He called for the introduction of an elective principle.
The British parliament at that time was not convinced that the demand of the political leaders represented the consensus of the entire people of the country. However, the colonial rulers were unable to brush aside the leaders’ demands. The outcome was a compromise.
Governor Henry McCallum (1907-13) wrote to the secretary of state that “any attempt that may be made to represent the people of Ceylon as forming a single entity welded together by common interests to an extent to nullify these differences is in the last degree misleading”. Accordingly, it was proposed to add an additional Low Country Sinhalese representative and an elected member for “educated Ceylonese”, and to raise the number of officials to 11 to maintain the official majority.
Accordingly, by Ordinance No 13 of 1910, an educated Ceylonese member seat was added and the European and Burgher seats were turned into elected seats. In 1912, the election for the educated Ceylonese seat was held, which Sir P Ramanathan and Sir Marcus Fernando, a Sinhalese leader from the karava (fishermen) caste contested.
The Island-wide single electorate had 2,938 voters, of whom Sinhalese numbered 1,659 or 56.4 percent and Tamils 1,072 or 36.4 percent of the voters. Sir P Ramanathan was elected with an overwhelming vote of 1,645 votes to 981, despite the electorate being predominantly Sinhalese. The reformed Legislative Council now consisted of 10 unofficial members who included two elected Europeans, one elected Burgher and one elected member to represent educated Ceylonese, two Low Country Sinhalese, one Kandyan Sinhalese, two Tamils and one Muslim member.
Sri Lanka: The Untold Story, Chapter 3
Muslim riots and communal rumblings
by K T Rajasingham, ‘Asia Times, Singapore
After 1910 a number of Sinhala leaders gradually emerged who were to leave an indelible mark on the political life of the country. Similarly, Sinhalese-Buddhist nationalism took hold, at the beginning led by reformers in the name of religion.
One of them was Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933). His original name was Don David, a clerk by profession. He was the son of Mallika Hewavitarne and Don Carolis. His father was a furniture dealer from Pettah, Colombo, who became an apostle of protestant Buddhism.
Anagarikas are lay preachers who wore yellow robes, take a vow of celibacy and withdraw from most of the commitments of lay life. Dharmapala was a dynamic orator and attracted a large following among the middle class and in villages. He began a tireless campaign to safeguard Buddhism and Sinhala nationalism.
Dharmapala preached that Sinhalese – the Lion Race – is a superior people descended from pure Aryan stock. “No nation in the world has had a more brilliant history than ourselves. There exists no race on Earth today that has had more triumphant records than the Sinhalese,” he wrote, even though his claims were based solely on myths and legends. His exhortations brought about a fanatical Sinhala-Buddhist national consciousness. The new wave of Buddhist awakening began to turn against non-Buddhists in general, and against non-Singhalese in particular.
This Buddhist revival in fact illustrated the birth of a new breed of chauvinistic Sinhala nationalism rather than a religion. It was argued that it was the way to make people feel about their language, customs and of their history.
Religious-ethnic preaching, however, gradually emerged as a communal hatred campaign against minorities. Sinhalese leaders decided to celebrate the centenary of the March 2, 1815, Kandyan Convention, which had already been dubbed as a “Charter of servitude” and was a very political instrument. It had brought the Kandyan kingdom, the last free territory in Ceylon, under the rule of the British.
After the Kandyan Rebellion of 1817-18 to overthrow British rule, the British, by a proclamation dated November 21, 1818, greatly reduced the privileges granted to Sinhalese chiefs and changed the guarantees on religion given in the Kandyan Convention. Consequently, it was absurd that the Sinhalese wanted to celebrate a clause in a convention that was no longer in force.
Also, the government agent of Kandy had informed the trustees of the Gampola Buddhist temple that in taking their annual perahera (procession) in Kandy they would not be allowed to beat drums or play any musical instruments within 100 yards of a new mosque in Castle Hill Street.
The trustees turned to the courts, arguing that a perahera of the old Kandyan kingdom was permitted in terms of the Kandyan Convention of 1815. The District Court of Kandy decided in their favor, but on an appeal, by the government, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment. The trustees then appealed to the Privy Council in England.
In the meantime, Buddhist preachers went about the country urging Buddhists to demonstrate against Muslims. Incidentally, the anniversary of the birth of The Lord Buddha fell on May 28, 1915, and a procession began that night. The celebrations were marred by an incident near the mosque, where some 25 men were arrested on charges of housebreaking and rioting.
Sinhalese attacks on Muslims continued, spreading from the central province to the western and northwestern provinces until June 6, 1915. Muslims sustained heavy losses. According to available records, losses sustained included 86 damaged mosques, more than 4,075 looted boutiques and shops, 35 Muslims killed, 198 injured and four women raped. Seventeen Christian churches were burnt down.
This was going on while Britain was at war with Germany. Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland, the Under Secretary of State for Colonies, told the House of Commons that, “It is quite possible that German intrigues were at the bottom of the rising in Ceylon.”
Sir Robert Chalmers (1913-16), the British Governor, and his Colonial Secretary, Edward Stubbs, interpreted the unrest as a rebellion against the British and martial law was declared, bringing the riots to an end.
The colonial government arrested many prominent men on charges of treason and their houses were searched. Those arrested included D C Senanayake, his brothers, F R Senanayake, D S Senanayake (later the first prime minister of Ceylon), D B Jayatilaka, W A de Silva, F R Dias Bandaranaike, E T de Silva, Dr Casius Ferreira, C Batuvantudawe, D P A Wijewardene, John de Silva, W H W Perera, Martinus Perera, John M Senivaratne, H Amarasurya, D E Weerasuriya, Reverent G D Lanerolle, E A P Wijeyeratne, Harry Mel, A H E Molamure, D B Jayatilaka, A E Goonesinha, Battaramulla Unanse – a monk, Edmund and Dr C A Hewavitharatne, the brothers of Anagarika Dharmapala, who was also interned in Calcutta, where he had been during the unrest. After the arrests, riot compensation was exacted under threat of force.
Edmund Hewavitharatne died in prison while several Sinhalese were summarily executed inside Welikade prison. Punjabi soldiers were brought from India, and many innocent Sinhalese were shot on sight.
At the time of the outbreak of the riots, Sir Ponnampalam Ramanathan, the Educated Ceylonese Member of the Legislative Council, was recovering his health at Sivan Adi, his holiday home in Kodaikanal, South India. Sinhalese friends and leaders sent numerous telegrams updating him of the situation, urging him to return immediately to Colombo.
This he did, and immediately appealed to the governor for an interview, which was initially denied. Later, he was given an appointment, where he gave his views on the causes of the riots to the governor, as well as to Stubbs, the Colonial Secretary. Sir P Ramanathan subsequently delivered a series of six memorable and impassioned speeches in the Legislative Council denouncing the ill-considered and the high-handed measures taken by the government to suppress the riots and the tyrannical and oppressive conduct of the officers.
Sir P Ramanathan met the Sinhalese leaders in prison and obtained sworn affidavits from them. Subsequently, he laid the whole blame for the outbreak and the subsequent spread of the riots squarely at the doors of the government for mishandling the entire tragic episode.
Anagarika Dharmapala wrote to Sir P Ramanathan, on October 21, 1915: “Please accept my sincerest congratulations for the historic speech you made at the Ceylon Legislative Council. The day you are taken away from Ceylon, from that day, there will be none to defend the poor, neglected Sinhalese. They are a doomed people, with none to guide and protect them. Unhappy Sinhalese. It is time to commence agitation in Ceylon to have Ceylon brought under the Government of India. Without the protecting shadow of India, Ceylon would decline. Ceylon should be brought under the India Office and made part of Madras or Bengal. You will, I hope, do all you can to save the poor Buddhists for you are trying to save the people from injustice.”
As the situation worsened, Sir P Ramanathan decided to take his case to England, against the advice of his wife, who was concerned for his health. He sailed for England on the M M Paul Lecat on October 30, 1915, braving German mine-infested seas and submarines.
When he reached England, he published an article, “Riots and Martial Laws of Ceylon, 1915”, for the benefit of the British public. He had number of personal interviews with Bonar Law, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, other ministers of state as well as with leading Members of Parliament.
He pleaded for the repeal of martial law by describing the atrocities committed on his Sinhala brethren by the Punjabis, the local police by led the Inspector General of Police, Sir Herbert Dowbiggin, and British troops. Much popular indignation and resentment were aroused and questions were asked in parliament
Soon after Sir P Ramanathan’s representations, Governor Chalmers was recalled, martial law was repealed and Sir John Anderson (1916-18) was sent to Ceylon as the new governor. The Sinhalese leaders and people honored Sir P Ramanathan, for he had served them with selfless gallantry and single-minded devotion in their hour of dire need.
Sir P Ramanathan returned to Ceylon after his successful mission from England on February 17, 1916, on the P&O Malawa. Sinhalese leaders organized a grand welcome and a reception committee of Sinhalese leaders was formed at Colombo harbor. Accordingly, A E Goonesinghe, A W P Jayetilake, R E W Perera, P N Jayanetti and Lionel Kotelawala (later Sir John Kotelawala, the third prime minister of Ceylon) were on hand with garlands to greet Sir P Ramanathan. Sinhalese leaders carried him all the way on their shoulders to his residence, Sukhastan, at Colpetty, a fitting gesture accorded to a hero.
Muslims, however, took the Singhalese attacks hard, and since then, they have remained a subdued ethnic group, subservient to the majority communities. Indeed, they have, from then, preferred to change their political colors according to the demands of the current political situation.
Anagarika Dharmapala wrote months after the riot, “What the German is to the Britisher, the Mohammedan is to Sinhalese. He is an alien to the Sinhalese by religion, race and language … to the Sinhalese without Buddhism, death is preferable. The British officials may shoot, hang, quarter, imprison or do anything to the Sinhalese, but there will always be bad blood between the Moors and the Sinhalese. The peaceful Sinhalese have at last shown that they can no longer bear the insults of the alien. The whole nation in one day has risen against the Moor people.” (As quoted on page 541 in Return to Righteousness by Ananda Guruge.
Nevertheless, over the years there are no records of open conflict on a large scale between Muslims and Sinhalese-Buddhists. When trouble did flare, inevitably the Muslims were on the receiving end and were subdued.
The Tamil language is the mother tongue of almost all Muslims in the country. Unfortunately, strong forces within the Muslims have rejected any possibility of an ethnocultural unity with Tamils. Muslim leaders have rather relied on their religion for unity, thereby ruling out a collective identity with Tamils through their spoken language.
In 1917, elections for the Ceylonese Educated Member in the Legislative Council were held, and Sir P Ramanathan stood again. He faced a semblance of opposition from Justus Sextus, the younger brother of Hector Jayewardene, but Sir P Ramanathan romped home, improving on his 1911 margin.
In the meantime, Sir Ponnampalam Arunachalam’s (1853-1924), emergence on the political landscape needs to be mentioned. Unlike his elder brothers, Mudaliyar P Coomaraswamy and Sir P Ramanathan, Ponnampalam Arunachalam had his higher education at Cambridge University. He was the first Ceylonese to gain admission to the civil service by open competition.
In 1906, he was nominated to the Legislative Council as one of the Official members. In 1912, when holding the office of registrar-general, he was appointed as a member of the Executive Council. Though an official, he had remarkable courage and independence. He retired from public service in 1913, and in the same year was knighted, receiving the award from King George V at the Buckingham Palace.
From 1908, P Arunachalam was the vice president of the Royal Asiatic Society and in 1916 he became its president, the first Ceylonese to achieve this distinction. He was the pioneer of the labor organization in the country and through his Social Service League he continued to highlight the inequities of the Master and Servants Ordinance of 1865. Under this, plantation workers, who were Tamils of Indian origin, could be charged in a court of law for breach of contract and returned to their former employees, if they left their original estate.
In 1916, he spoke against the conditions of the indentured Tamil laborers of the Indian origin, holed in the estates describing them as “poor, ignorant, helpless, the Indian Tamil workers who are unable to protect themselves against the cupidity and tyranny of unscrupulous recruiters and employers”.
The Ceylon Workers Welfare League was organized by Sir P Arunachalam, of which Periannan Sundaram, a Cambridge University graduate and a Tamil of the Indian origin, became the secretary. In later years, Periannan, alias Peri Sundaram, played a leading role in promoting the welfare of the plantation workers, who had been brought to Ceylon by the British, as indentured laborers to work in the coffee, tea and rubber plantations owned by them
Sir P Arunachalam launched an island-wide crusade for national freedom, making it the burning issue of the day. His relentless political campaign led to a quick succession of constitutional reforms. The Montagu Declaration of 1917, which had proposed the progressive development towards self-government in India, kindled the imagination of leaders in Ceylon. In 1917, Sir P Arunachalam founded the Ceylon Reform League with the object of securing self-government.
In April, 1917, Sir P Arunachalam, in an address on “Our Political Needs”, set out what he considered to be Ceylon’s ultimate objectives in forthright terms, “The inherent evils of a Crown Colony administration remain. We are deprived of all power and responsibility, our powers and capacities are dwarfed and stunted, we live in an atmosphere of inferiority, and we can never rise to the full height to which our manhood is capable of rising.
“The Legislative Council, as it is at present constituted, hardly answers a useful purpose. It provides, no doubt, seats of honor to a few Unofficial and an area for their eloquence or for their silence. But they are little more than advisory members and their presence in the council serves to conceal the autocracy under which we live. The swaddling clothes of a Crown Colony administration are strangling us. They have begun even to disturb the equanimity of our European fellow-subjects. None are safe until all are safe.”
He concluded by demanding “We ask to be in our own country as self-respecting people – self-governing, strong, respected at home and abroad, and we ask for the grant at once of a definite measure of progressive advance towards that goal. Ceylon is no pauper begging for alms. She is claiming her heritage.”
The appeal created a deep impression among the educated Ceylonese and led to the formation of the Ceylon Reform League, with Sir P Arunachalam as the president.
Again, in September 1919, Sir P Arunachalam delivered an address on the “Present Political Situation”. It was a clarion call for constitutional reform and self-government. All his spadework culminated in the inauguration on December 11, 1919, of the Ceylon National Congress (CNC). He was unanimously elected as its first president.
Sir P Arunachalam managed to bring the Ceylon Reform League, the Ceylon National Association and the Jaffna Association into this single national organization – the Ceylon National Congress. This was done during a time when national consciousness was at low levels with little sprit to stir it, and when Buddhist-Sinhala communal aspirations were on the rise.
Sir P Arunachalam was the first leader to have made the freedom movement of the country a truly national one, and he wanted to etch this concept deep into the national psyche. Unfortunately, as events unfolded in the years to come, it was a short-lived expectation.
Sri Lanka: The Untold Story, Chapter 4
The Ceylon National Congress and its intrigues
by K T Rajasingham, ‘Asia Times, Singapore
During the period 1915 to 1928, members of the Ceylon National Congress, in combination with various political groups, devoted their attention to reforming the political-administrative structure of the island.
Their principal demands were related to the manner in which the electoral constituencies should take shape, the composition of the Legislative Council and extension of its powers and the composition and the role of the Executive Council and proposals regarding the franchise. Improvements of the local government administration and the “Ceylonization” of the public services were also presented but received lesser emphasis.
In December 1919 the Ceylon National Congress adopted the following resolutions:
“The Congress declares that, for the better government of the island and the happiness and contentment of the people, and as a step towards the realization of responsible government in Ceylon as an integral part of the British Empire, the constitution and administration of Ceylon should be immediately reformed in the following particulars, to wit:
‘That the Legislative Council should consist of about 50 members, of whom at least four-fifths should be elected on the basis of a territorial electorate, upon a wide male franchise and a restricted female franchise, and the remaining one-fifth should consist of official members and of unofficial members to represent important minorities, and the council should elect its own speaker.’”
The congress also demanded an Executive Council, with at least half its members Ceylonese, and that two of them should be elected members of the Legislative Council. They opposed a communal electorate and also asked for the control of the budget. The object of the congress was to have a fully representative government.
The above resolution laid emphasis on territorial representation for membership in the Legislative Council. Sinhalese leaders had made this demand as a grand cure for the country’s political and social maladies. Tamil leaders were opposed to it, as they knew that they would be outnumbered. A deadlock was reached.
A Sabapathy, the second Tamil Unofficial member of the Legislative Council of 1917, urged on behalf of the Jaffna Association, that the words “on the basis of a territorial electorate” be omitted from the resolution.
Consequently, James Peiris, president of the Ceylon National Association and E J Samarawickreme, president of the Ceylon Reform League, wrote to Sir Ponnampalam Arunachalam, the president of the Ceylon National Congress, “With reference to the suggestion of Mr A Sabapathy, that the words ‘on the basis of a territorial electorate’ be omitted from Resolution No 4; we shall be obliged, if you will point out to him that, the omission will seriously affect our case for reform as a whole. We beg to remind him of all that promoters of the reform movement had said of the baneful effect of the present system of racial representation.
“We had made the territorial electorate, a fundamental part of our demand. The omission of the words, especially after the publication of the draft resolution, will be considered a surrender of an important principle. It must be borne in mind that the resolutions contain only the essential principles which we desire to assert. They do not constitute a complete scheme, and while we desire to avoid the introduction of details into the resolution, we are anxious to do all that could be done to secure as large a representation as possible to the Tamils, when exceptional provisions consistent with the principles referred to come to be considered.”
The Sinhalese leadership, thus, managed to obtain Tamils’ approval for the resolution. They argued that Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim nominations to the Legislative Council would be communal and racial. (In fact, the desire of the Tamils was to hold on to their national identity.) Unfortunately, the Tamils, because of their desire for self-rule and the wish to cooperate with the Sinhalese to effect constitutional reform for the whole country, went along with the Sinhalese leadership, up to a point. But the Sinhalese leadership, which was adamant in its desire to abolish special electoral arrangements for the Tamils and Muslims, by branding such arrangements as communal and racial, was able to have their way. The Sinhalese also viewed the Tamils’ desire for cooperation, as a weakness in their leadership. It was an unfortunate presumption.
Sir P Arunachalam, trying to play the role of an honest broker, informed A Sabapthy that the assurances given by James Peiris and Samarawickreme regarding the representation of the Tamils, as envisaged by them in the territorial representation scheme, were as follows:
- Three seats in the Northern Province
- Two seats in the Eastern Province
- One seat in the Western Province
- In addition, possible seats for Tamils in other provinces and in the Colombo municipality
- Their willingness to support the Muslim member in the Western Province.In October 1920, James Peiris was elected as the president of the Ceylon National Congress, replacing Sir P Arunachalam.The 1920 reforms were advocated and practiced by the Governor Sir William Manning (1918-25). The Duke of Devonshire, the Colonial Secretary, wrote to the governor, “Every community shall be represented and while there is a substantial non-official majority, no single community can impose its will on other communities if the latter is supported by the official members.”Accordingly, the Secretary of State for Colonies, after considering the representation of different sections of opinion in Ceylon, procured an Order-in-Council, of August 13, 1920, reconstituting the Legislative Council. There were to be a total of 37 members – 14 officials and 23 unofficial. Eleven of the unofficial were to be elected on a territorial basis and five others to represent the Europeans, two for Burghers, one to represent the Chamber of Commerce, two nominated seats were given to the Kandyans and one each to the Indians and Muslims. For the first time in the history of the Ceylon Colony, there was to be an unofficial majority of nine members.When the time for the election for the territorial seats arrived, Sir P Arunachalam was prepared to file his candidacy in Colombo, largely because of the residential qualification stipulated in the constitution.Immediately, a Sinhalese militant group, which had gained control of the congress, repudiated the assurances earlier given to the Tamils. F R Senanayake branded Sir P Arunachalam “an egoist who had an exaggerated notion of his importance and an extremist in politics”. They put forward James Peiris, who readily announced his candidature. Sir P Arunachalam gracefully withdrew. By that time, he was nearing his seventies and had already had a strenuous life in the service of the country. He said that he was retiring from politics and had no interest in a seat in the Legislative Council.Earlier, Sir P Arunachalam and the Tamils, despite their reservations, had accepted the idea of coexistence and a unified country. Unfortunately, due to the betrayal of the militant group of Sinhalese leaders, Sir P Arunachalam, to his great regret, was forced to leave the Ceylon National Congress, which was his brainchild.Territorial representation had come to stay and was accepted by the ruling power as the main principle of parliamentary representation. Racial representation – through which the Tamils had been able to uphold their identity and which from the beginning of foreign rule had been the sole safeguard of the minority rights, was given a severe beating by leaders, such as F R Senanayake, D S Senanayake and James Peiris. It dawned on Sir P Arunachalam that the only road to salvation for the Tamils lay in a return to the pre-Western order of things, in which the Tamils had for ages enjoyed separate nationhood and separate sovereignty. He founded the Ceylon Tamil League and sang a new tune – safeguarding Tamil interests and distinct nationhood.In an address to the league, he said, “The league was brought into existence by a political necessity. But politics is not the raison d’etre of its existence. Its aim is much higher. The committee and those responsible for the league consider that our aims should be to keep alive and propagate the Tamil ideals, which have through ages, and in the past, made the Tamils what they are. We should keep alive and propagate those ideals throughout Ceylon and promote the union and solidarity of what we have been proud to call ‘Tamil Eelam’. We desire to preserve our individuality as people, to make ourselves worthy of our inheritance. We are not enamored of the cosmopolitanism which would make us ‘neither fish, flesh, fowl nor red-herrings.’”After 1920, the politics of Ceylon began to polarize into two feuding groups – the Sinhalese represented by the Ceylon National Congress and the Tamils, spearheaded by Sir P Ramanathan.The new Legislative Council met in June 1921. James Peiris moved in the council, as amendments to the Order-in-Council of 1920, resolutions embodying the proposals of the Ceylon National Congress. Accordingly, he urged for a council of 45 members, of whom six were to be officials, 28 territorially elected; communal and minority representations to be retained with slight alterations; an elected Speaker; the Executive Council should have three official members with whom should be associated three ministers with portfolios, chosen from members of the Legislative Council; the repeal of the governor’s powers to stop debates and other changes.Meanwhile, Sir P Ramanathan caused a joint-memorandum, drawn up and signed by the minority leaders, which he forwarded to the Secretary of State for Colonies, moving for such modifications in the congress scheme of representation as would enable the voice of the minorities to be heard in the council. It was a document meant to safeguard the interests of the Tamils and other minorities in the country. However, the spokesman of the Ceylon National Congress, E W Perera, branded it “infamous”.Sir P Ramanathan elaborated his scheme as follows, “When it came to the working out of this territorial representation in detail, Tamil delegates discovered that their Sinhalese colleagues, with certain exceptions, were striving to create electorates numerous enough in the Sinhalese districts to efface any opposition that may be offered on behalf of the other interests. Consequently, Tamil delegates and all the Tamil associations which had been affiliated to the congress retired from it and refused their cooperation.“Thenceforth, the congress ceased to represent the joint views of the Sinhalese and the Tamils and at its last session it represented only the views of the Sinhalese, and even of them, the views of the Sinhalese were represented only by those who had consented to be politically organized. My brother Arunachalam, who was the founder and president of the Ceylon National Congress, from its inception in 1919, until the latter part of 1920, and was a member of the Executive Committee in 1921, has withdrawn from the congress. In an interview granted to the ‘Times of Ceylon,’ on December 14, he said, ‘The National Congress has now been reduced to one representing merely a section of the Sinhalese and the feeling of mutual confidence and cooperation between various communities has been destroyed and the power prestige of the congress wrecked.’”Recommendations were considered by the Secretary of State, along with those of the European, Burgher, Tamil, Muslim and Indian members of the council. By the Order-in-Council of December 19, 1923, still further powers were conferred upon the unofficial members of the Legislative Council. The governor continued as president, but the council elected a vice president.The existing council was dissolved in August 1924 and the reconstituted one was established on October 15, 1924. It consisted of 12 official members, five ex-officio and seven persons holding public offices and nominated by the governor, and 34 elected members. Out of the elected representatives, 23 represented territorial constituencies, (five in the Western province, five in the Northern province, three in the Southern province, two each in Eastern, Central and Sabragamuwa provinces and one each in the North, Central and Uva provinces. Six were elected communally, three Europeans, two Burghers and one Ceylon Tamil for the Western province and five to be nominated communally, three Muslims and two Indians.Governor Sir William Manning, in his farewell address to the council, said, “It is of necessity that I am deeply concerned in everything that appertains to the present council since the constitution has been wrought under my own hands, and I cannot but feel a great responsibility for the future, and though I shall not be here to see its full development, I shall watch its performance with jealous regard and in the trustful belief that it will fully achieve the high destiny which I and others desire for it.”Sir Hugh Clifford (1925-27), the new governor, soon realized that the Legislative Council with its unofficial majority led to troubles as its power was concentrated with those unofficial members lacking responsibility.
- Chapter 5: Political polarization on communal lines
Sri Lanka: The Untold Story, Chapter 5
Political polarization on communal lines
by K.T.Rajasingham, ‘Asian Times,’ Singapore,
September 8, 2001
The Legislative Council was dissolved in August 1924 and elections for a new reformed council were held. According to the Order-in-Council, a candidate had to be over 25 years of age, be a British subject, able to read and write English, and possess a property qualification. Furthermore, the voters had to be male, British subjects, not younger than 21 years of age, able to read and write English, Sinhalese, or Tamil and possess a small property or income qualification.
Though women were still excluded from voting, the total number of those qualified to vote rose to 204,997, or 4 percent of the total population. After the elections, the new council was constituted on October 15, 1924.
The council’s membership was expanded to 49, of whom only 12 were officials. Out of the 37 unofficials, the governor nominated three and 34 were elected members. Eleven of those elected entered the council from the communal constituencies. The other 23 were from the territorial constituencies – 16 from the Sinhalese and seven from the Tamil electorates.
Sir Ponnampalam Ramanathan was elected from the Northern province (North) constituency. Other elected Tamil members were, Duraiswamy Waithilingham – Northern province (West); T M Sabaratnam – Northern province (East); S Rajaratnam – Northern province (Central); A Kanagaratnam – Northern province (South); E R Thambimuthu – Batticaloa; M M Subramaniam – Trincomalee; A Mahadeva – Western Province (Ceylon Tamil); I X Pereira – 1st Indian member; S K Natesa Iyer – 2nd Indian member; K Balasingham – nominated (Tamil); and three Muslim members – H M Macan Markar (1st Muslim member), N H M Abdul Cader (2nd Muslim member) and T B Jayah (3rd Muslim member).
S K Natesa Iyer was a gifted orator and his chequered political career is worth examination. The following quotes are from Out of Bondage “S K Natesa Iyer had been in the Legislative Council earlier, too. He succeeded S R Mohamed Sultan, the fresh Indian [sic] nominated to the Legislature Council of 1920. Sultan died a year later.”
“Natesa Iyer, a Tanjore Brahmin who worked as a government clerk in Madras (Chennai, South India) and was brought to Ceylon in 1920, to edit a Tamil newspaper, Thesa Nesan, published by Arunachalam and Dr E V Ratnam, both executive committee members of the Ceylon National Congress, created a stir. Natesa Iyer joined A E Goonesinghe’s Ceylon Labor Union and quickly came to be its vice-president.”
“From 1925, he took an interest in Indian plantation labor and wanted to organize them under the Ceylon Labor Union. Natesa Iyer quit the Ceylon Labor Union in 1928, disgusted by Goonesinghe’s anti-Indian campaign. From then on, he devoted himself to the cause of estate labor. He formed the All Ceylon Estate Labor Federation with headquarters in Hatton. He launched a short-lived English Language journal The Indian Estate Labor, and published many pamphlets espousing this cause.”
Normally, Natesa Iyer used to go with his wife to estates to attend meetings and to deliver rousing speeches to make plantation workers aware of their plight. His wife, a minstrel, use to sing the poems of India’s poet laureate, Subramaniya Bharathy. She also sang her own compositions in a melodious, sweet but stirring voice. All her poems were of a revolutionary nature. They were printed in small booklets and distributed to the workers. One of her poems is as follows:
“Clearing of the jungles is by the Indians – you
Study and speak because of the Indians – you
Developed the country with the help of the Indians – you
Now speak ungratefully of the Indians.”
1924-30, the Legislative Council witnessed the political entry of Don Stephen Senanayake, who was to take up the first prime ministerial position in the independent Ceylon. He entered the council as an uncontested member from Negambo. Also, the people in the North Central province (Anuradapura) elected Herbert Reiner Freeman, a former British civil servant.
The Executive Council constituted three “ex-officio” members – the colonial secretary, the attorney-general and the government agent of the Western province – and such others as the governor might appoint under instructions from the secretary of state.
The governor was to consult the Executive Council on all important matters, such as granting land, the appointment of judges and other officials, granting pardons or reprieves to criminals, fines and the dismissal or punishment of public officers.
This new Legislative Council, for the first time, elected a vice president to take the chair at ordinary meetings, while the governor continued to retain the position of president of the council. James Peiris was elected by a unanimous vote. While accepting the office, he said, “I beg, in the first place, to thank my old friend Sir Ponnampalam Ramanathan, whose name has been mentioned in this connection, for intimating to you that his duties will not permit him to accept the office, and I also thank the whole council for accepting my name.”
James Peiris was knighted in 1925. He held the position of vice president of the Legislative Council until his death in 1930. This in effect meant that Sir James Peiris occupied the highest position available to a Ceylonese – and it was the highest position which any Ceylonese had ascended to up to that time.
When the governor was abroad on leave, he acted as governor, the first Ceylonese to do so. He was, therefore, the first Ceylonese occupant of Queens House – an achievement which is often overlooked by those who regard Sir Oliver Goonetilleke as the first incumbent.
The change in the composition of the Legislative Council led to a change in the style of government. Due to the unofficial majority, the government often found it difficult to get its measures through. Firmness combined with diplomacy was needed to carry out the administration. Often the government was compelled to devise compromise formulas acceptable to the majority to have measures passed.
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely is a common adage, but it is an appropriate one to describe the political situation of the Legislative Council. It was unfortunate that the British government, in reforming the constitution, failed to look into the disadvantages that might arise by granting an unofficial majority in the council without making it accountable.
Sir Hugh Clifford, the governor, soon realized that the new Legislative Council was unworkable and he urged the secretary of state to introduce reforms to rectify the position, by a secret dispatch, in November 1926. He stated that the 1923-1924 constitution ought to be considered a transitional one and that a greater measure of responsible government for the Colony of Ceylon was the logical and almost the inevitable step.
The reasons given by Sir Clifford in justification of his desire for the appointment of a royal or parliamentary committee to review the constitution of the colony were the following:
1. The revival of Buddhism in the past 20 years for political rather than religious purposes.
2. The substitution of the vulgar abuse of the tenets of other creeds for the toleration of ancient Buddhism.
3. The acquisition of wealth by the Karava caste (fishing community) and their endeavor to break the monopoly that the highest caste or the Goigama (cultivators) aristocracy had until then enjoyed representing the Sinhalese interests in the Legislative Council.
4. The ill feelings and racial animosity generated by caste prejudices.
5. The first scheme of reform worked out in 1909 by Colonel Seely, then the parliamentary under-secretary of state for the colonies, and its acceptance by Governor Sir Henry MacClum (1907-1913) despite the protests of his executive councilors and the obvious inapplicability of it to local circumstances. This involved elections for the Educated Ceylonese Seat in 1910.
6. The first election of the representative of the Educated Ceylonese, which was fought purely on caste lines, when a high caste Tamil was chosen, with the aid of high caste Sinhalese votes, and from which time caste prejudices proved to be a stronger passion than racial bias.
7. The growth of unrest thus created and maintained with vigor during World War I.
8. The outbreak of riots in all the districts occupied by the Sinhalese in 1915, owing to a religious fracas between Buddhists and Mohammedans (Muslims) at Gampola.
9. The misapprehension of the situation by Governor Sir Robert Chalmers and the Colonial Secretary, who through want of colonial experience failed to deal promptly and firmly with the disturbances by using their trained civilian officers and the police, but allowed martial law to be proclaimed, surrendering their responsibility to the general officer commanding the troops and who had been in the Island for only one month. They allowed him to adopt measures for the suppression of the riots that left behind them a legacy of grievance and hatred.
10. The strengthening of the hands of the local politicians, by the mismanagement of the riots and by granting a series of legislative reforms during the governorship of Sir William Manning, the final installment of which in 1924 vested all financial control in the hands of the 36 unofficial members and the administrative responsibility in the hands of the governor only. But he could not discharge this save for the goodwill of the unofficial majority in the Legislative Council.
William Ormsby-Gore, the under-secretary of state for the colonies adopted a favorable approach to Governor Clifford’s views. He saw the governor’s memorandum as a “skillful diagnosis of the diseases” and as a “masterly document”. He was in favor of the appointment of a royal or parliamentary committee to review the constitution of the colony. Thus, in April 1927, Sir Clifford announced the impending appointment of a commission to look into constitutional reforms in Ceylon.
When the news of the appointment of a royal commission was made public, a resolution was passed in the Legislative Council calling for the publication of Governor Clifford’s dispatch. Though the colonial office refused, the colonial secretary published, brief extracts of it in an official communication to the Ceylon National Congress, which had adamantly pressed for it. By this time the congress had been weakened by the departure and subsequent death of Sir Ponnampalam Arunachalam, on January 9, 1924.
In the 1924 elections to the Legislative Council, only three Kandyans were elected. They had accepted the 1924 reform package, but only on an undertaking by the Ceylon National Congress that no Low Country Sinhalese would contest the territorial constituencies of the Kandyan provinces. As the Kandyan leaders were disillusioned, they left the Ceylon National Congress and formed their own Kandyan National Assembly and campaigned for separate representation for Kandyans. And by November 1927 they had called for a federal state in Ceylon, with autonomy for the Kandyan provinces.
Ceylon was not a nation then, and it is not now. It is a union of multi-ethnic groups. The English-educated middle-class tried its best to instill a semblance of the national feeling of being “Ceylonese”, but it did not work. From the very beginning, the Sinhalese were not prepared to make any compromises with the Tamils.
Unfortunately, Tamil leaders insisted on their importance as a race and opposed the territorial representative system, fearing that it might force them to be a minority group and they failed to adopt any uniformed structured proposals for the betterment of the Tamils.
During this period, the country witnessed the formation of two distinct political grouping – a majority and a minority. The main minority group was the Tamils, which by then had lost everything, including its distinct identity. The majority of Sinhalese were able to re-establish their political superiority through territorial representation, a cunning design aided and abetted by the British colonial masters.
Donoughmore – Tamils no more
Sri Lanka: The Untold Story, Chapter 6
By K T Rajasingham, ‘Asian Times,’ Singapore
In 1927, the British government sent a Special Commission to Ceylon, consisting of the Earl of Donoughmore, Sir Mathew Nathan, Sir Geoffrey Butler and Sir Drummond Shiels, with the following terms of reference:
“To visit Ceylon and report on the working of the existing constitution and on any difficulties of administration which may have arisen in connection with it; to consider proposals for the revision of the constitution that may be put forward, and to report what, if any, amendments of the Order-in-Council now in force should be made.”
Lord Donoughmore, who was chairman of the Royal Commission, had earlier been Under-Secretary of State for War and Chairman of the committees of the House of Lords. Sir Geoffrey Butler was a Cambridge Don, a Member of Parliament and an expert on the procedures of the League of Nations. Sir Mathew Nathan had served as Governor in Hong Kong, while Sir Drummond Shiels was a Labor Party member and a Scottish Fabian.
The Commission left England on October 27 and arrived in Ceylon on November 13, where it remained until January 18, 1928. It held 34 sittings and interviewed 140 witnesses and delegations.
The three main Tamil associations that appeared before the Donoughmore Commission were the Ceylon Tamil League, the Tamil Mahajana Sabah and the All Ceylon Tamil Conference. Tamils emphasized their desire to maintain the proportion of seats they held in relation to the Singhalese, as set out in the 1924 constitution – 2:1.
W Duraisawamy, representing the Jaffna Association, and M Sri Pathmanathan, representing the Tamil Conference, also insisted on the 2:1 ratio, while many other Tamil associations, which believed that self-government would be a passport to Sinhalese rule and therefore they opposed any concessions sought by the Sinhalese leadership.
A E Goonesinha, the Sinhalese communal leader and also a trade unionist, advocated universal suffrage without discrimination of gender, religion, caste or race. E W Perera, who led a deputation of the Ceylon National Congress, said that the franchise should be restricted to those earning at least 50 rupees per month. Women would have to be over 25 years of age and would have to qualify by a rigid literacy test or property qualifications. The issue of suffrage became a divisive factor among various Sinhalese interest groups.
Meanwhile, Sir Ponnampalam Ramanathan foresaw the dangers that would befall the Tamils and other minority groups, by the granting of franchise. He perceived that universal franchise would bring about the rule of the majority, which might over time come to suppress even the most basic rights of the Tamils. He asked, “Is there anything sacrosanct about adult suffrage? Did the leaders of the people ask for it? Did the Commissioners feel in their heart of hearts that the country was ripe for it?
“They count people by their heads like cattle, 50 men on this side and 40 men on that side, or 60 men on one side and 40 on the other side.” He pleaded with the Commissioners that the constitution they proposed was extremely ill-suited to the needs of the country, and when they replied that, he was the one who was out of tune with times. Ramanathan, in sheer exasperation, cried out, “It is meaningless casting pearls before swine.”
He asked in desperation, “Who are they, the Commissioners, to adjudicate upon what is good and what is bad for the country? What are their credentials for the very weighty and arduous task they had taken on themselves to perform? Were they equipped with a sound knowledge of the peculiar political, social and economic conditions prevailing in the country? Did they apprehend the gravity and sanctity of the task they set out to perform? Was it their motive to foist on the country a constitution that was beyond human ingenuity to work successfully and then proclaim to the wide world outside the inherent incapacity of the subject people to rule themselves?”
It became clear that the British, as with other imperial powers, when they realized that they could not hold oppressive sway over their subject people when the forces of nationalism and self-determination became irresistible, they devised machinery for the transference of power to the people as to render strong, healthy, peaceful and progressive government all but impossible.
The seeds of discord were sown and the subsequent history of the country becomes one long tale of racial hostility, internecine strife and ultimate national decadence.
Ceylonese leaders were bitterly divided over the nature and the extent of the constitutional reforms. The Ceylon National Congress was for a parliamentary form of government, with a prime minister and a Cabinet of ministers. They advocated a scheme with literacy and property qualifications, as the basis for the granting of suffrage. The Tamils and the other minorities showed extreme caution and demanded safeguards for minorities. The Kandyan Sinhalese demanded autonomy.
P B Nugawela, the president of the Kandyan National Association, appeared before the Donoughmore Commissioners and demanded a distinct nation under a federal scheme for the country. “Ours is not a communal claim or a claim for the aggrandizement of a few; it is a claim of a nation to have the right to live its own life and realize its own destiny.” The Kandyan National Association build its case around the Kandyan Convention of 1815, and they refused to accept that the Proclamation of 1818, which followed the Kandyan Rebellion of 1817-1818 against the British presence on their soil, which had made the convention invalid.
The Commissioners signed their report on June 26, 1928. They concluded that the unofficial members of the Legislative Council had reduced the existing constitution to an unqualified failure. The Commissioners issued the following indictment of them:
1. They were making continual attacks on government officials.
2.They became a permanent opposition, because they were not given executive responsibility.
3. They made use of every opportunity to embarrass the government.
4. They failed to appreciate the value of the services rendered to the country by public servants because they thought that it would weaken their claim for self-government.
5. The abuse of government officials thus became a familiar phenomenon. In the council, in sessions of the finance committee, on the public platform and in the press, attack followed attack and criticism was heaped on criticism.
6. Policy was too frequently discussed in terms of personalities and the discussion carried at times beyond the bounds of what was courteous or decent.
7. Doubtful motives were imputed to and allegations of all sorts were made against those who had little opportunity for reply. Though the heads of departments were naturally the worst sufferers, no class or grade of public officer was exempt from these painful experiences.
The Donoughmore Commissioners came to the conclusion that, any further constitutional development of Ceylon had to be something that would create a sense of responsibility towards government. Therefore, they recommended a reform package that provided responsibilities for Ceylonese politicians.
The commissioners also recommended to the Secretary of State, as a remedy for all these ills, the granting, among other things, of adult suffrage to the people of Ceylon. Accordingly, all men above 21 years of age and all women above 30 were recommended for adult suffrage. The Commissioners believed that this was the only way in which the government could be made to represent the entire country.
“We have decided to recommend the adoption of manhood suffrage. On this basis according to the figures supplied to us, the possible voting strength of the electorate will be increased to 1,200,000. We desire, however, to make two reservations. In the first place, we consider it very desirable that a qualification of five years residence on the island (allowing a temporary absence not exceeding eight months in all during the five year period) should be introduced in order that the privilege of voting should be confined to those who have an abiding interest in the country or who may be regarded as permanently settled in the Island … this condition will be of particular importance in its application to the Indian immigrant population. Secondly, we consider that the registration of voters should not be compulsory or automatic, but should be restricted to those who apply for it …”
The Commissioners failed to pay heed to the representations made by the Tamil delegations regarding distinct electorates for the minority communities on the Island.
The Commission felt that the provision of communal or race-based electorates had led to no unity or to a better state feeling among the various ethnic groups or to diminution of the demand for such electorates. Instead of finding ways to solve the growing ethnic divide, the Commissioners came up with the declaration, “We have unhesitatingly come to the conclusion that communal representation is, as it were, a canker of the body politic, eating deeper and deeper into the vital energies of the people, breeding self-interest, suspicion and animosity, poisoning the new growth of the political consciousness and effectively preventing the development of the national or corporate sprit.
“There can be no hope of binding together the diverse elements of the population, in a realization of the common kinship and an acknowledgement of common obligation to the country of which they are all citizens, as long as the system of communal representation, with all its disintegrating influences, remains a distinctive feature of the constitution.”
Unfortunately, it was not to be so. Territorial representation was foisted on the Tamils, which became the real flashpoint for racial disharmony where language and religion were considered the basic criteria to distinguish ethnic identity.
The Commissioners rightly identified that there existed no racial unity and that the issue of communal disharmony had to be tackled and proper medication prescribed. But they failed to go deeper into the root causes of the communal divide. Instead of prescribing medication, they made the malady worse. They could have at least recommended a federal form of government, with a decentralized administration, instead of a unitary government with a centralized administrative structure.
The Commission took the minority fears into consideration only to reject their demands, as well as their demand for self-government. On-Page 31 of their report they said, “Not only is the population not homogenous, but the divergent elements of which it is composed distrust and suspect of each other. It is almost time to say that the conception of patriotism in Ceylon is as much racial as national and the best interests of the country are synonymous with the welfare of a particular section of the people. If the claims for full responsible government be subjected to examination from this standpoint, it will be found that its advocates are always to be numbered among those from the larger communities and who, if freed from external control, would be able to impose their will on all who dissented from them. Those on the other hand, who from the minority communities, though united in no other respect, are solid in their opposition to the proposal .”
The Commissioners managed to identify the problems that the minorities faced in the country, but ignored the problems and left the ethnic groups to adjust their problems in the best way possible by being at the mercy of the majority community.
As a solution to the minorities issues, they made recommendations as follows, unfortunately, not all of them were incorporated in the subsequent Orders-in-Council.
1. To take the responsibility from politicians of the affairs of public servants, over which there was much heartache among the different communities and castes, especially among the Tamils, they proposed that all matters affecting the salaries and emoluments, pensions and gratuities of all government services should be left to the decision of the Secretary of State, and appointments to the Governor. They further recommended the appointment of a Public Service Commission to advise the Governor regarding appointment, promotions and other matters connected with the services.
2. They assured minority representatives that through the executive committee system in the State Council they would be informed of matters that came up for discussion and be given an opportunity to object.
3. They recommended that the Governor be given the power to reject bills, “where persons of any particular community or religion are made liable to any disabilities or restrictions to which the persons of other communities or religions are not also subject to or made liable or are granted advantages not extended to persons of other communities or religions”.
4. They recommended the establishment of Regional Councils, one of the arguments in favor of which was that the special views of the different communities predominant in different parts of the island would have an influence on the administration of those parts.
5. Further, they reserved 12 seats for nominated members, so that unrepresentative minorities could be represented in the State Council.
These recommendations clearly showed that the British were no longer concerned about the welfare of the Tamils and other minorities in the country. They considered Ceylon to become a homogenous unit through their ill-conceived recommendations, and it became important for them to appease the majority Sinhalese community for the retention of British rule.
The Commission recommended a semi-responsible government and conceded a substantial measure of responsibility to the colonial political leaders. The central feature of the constitutional structure recommended was the unicameral legislature – the State Council – with seven executive committees. The Council would divide itself into seven committees; each of which would be responsible for a public department. Each committee would elect its own Chairman. The Executive Committee’s Chairmen to be designated as Ministers. Meanwhile, three of the most important executive departments were to be assigned to officers of the state. Seven ministers with these three officers of the state – the Chief Secretary, the Finance Secretary and the Attorney-General, constituted the Board of Ministers.
The Donoughmore Commission’s Report was presented to parliament in London, in July 1928. A commission report was subsequently drawn up and published on July 18, 1928. It has been described as the most memorable state paper on colonial affairs of the 20th Century.
As soon as it had been received in Ceylon and studied, a series of debates were initiated in the Legislative Council. On September 27, 1928, E W Perera introduced a motion in the Council in the following terms, “That this Council is of the opinion that government by committee is not suited to the local conditions and unacceptable to the people, and recommends that all the duties and responsibilities proposed to be assigned each committee should be assigned to minister elected by the Council.” An overwhelming majority in the Council adopted the motion.
Most representatives of the minority communities were hostile to the Donoughmore Report due to its forthright condemnation of representations based on race and the adoption of territorial representation. Sir Ponnampalam Ramanathan put forward a motion, seconded by H M Macan Markar, for the retention of racially-based representations. A Canagaratnam came up with an amendment to the motion for the preservation of the existing proportion of representation between the Sinhalese and the minorities. All but one Sinhalese member voted against the motion and saw it firmly defeated.
Meanwhile, the Ceylon National Congress, which represented the interests of the Sinhalese majority, resisted the granting of the vote to the Indian Tamils, who are employed as laborers in the plantation sector. D S Senanayake said that the very Indian Tamil laborers who were about to be enfranchised in Ceylon did not even have the vote in their own country.
D S Senanayake said that, there were about 700,000 Indian immigrant laborers on the tea and rubber plantations of Ceylon and if all the adults among them were given the right to vote, a large number of rural seats in the council would go to them, leaving the Ceylonese indigenous population without representation.
Leaders of the minority communities, including T B Jayah, spoke in support of the Indian franchise in the Legislative Council. He was supported by the Ceylon Indian representative member Natesa Iyer and by A Mahadeva (later knighted and the son Sir Ponnampalam Arunachalam).
Sir Hebert Stanley (1927-1931), the Governor, suggested to Sidney Webb, (Lord Passfield), the Secretary of State for Colonies, a formula for resolving the deadlock over the franchise. In reply, Webb wrote, “The question of franchise has involved more controversy than any other of the proposals of the Special Commission. I cannot fail to recognize that unless some material modifications of the proposals relating to franchise can be announced, the prospect of a general acceptance of the scheme and of active cooperation for its working if it is to be put into force, would be remote. I propose to adopt your suggestions, under which, subject to special provisions made for British subjects not domiciled in Ceylon being allowed to qualify for the franchise in accordance with the conditions of the present constitution, domicile should be the standard test for inclusion in the register.”
To pacify the Sinhalese, Governor Stanley suggested that the Indians plantation workers, apart from a certificate of permanent settlement granted on evidence of five years’ residence, voters should also sign a declaration of their intention to settle permanently in the country. Governor Stanley’s guidelines unnecessarily imposed restrictions on the grant of franchise to the Indian Tamils.
Also, both the Governor and the Secretary of State believed that the proposal to set up Regional Councils should be deferred. This rejection had far-reaching consequences, as it formed the cornerstone of the rejection of alternative proposals to the existing unitary form of government. Something that is, to this date, “the Mother of all the Conflicts,” in the country.
On November 14, 1928 a critical point was reached when Governor Stanley intervened, on the instruction of the Secretary of State for Colonies. He informed the council that “the recommendation of the commission must be regarded as a whole and that amendments which touched on matters of principle would therefore not be accepted”.
Subsequently, the Legislative Council began the debate afresh, on December 5, on a motion presented by Sir Bernard Bourdillon, the Chief Secretary, in the following terms. “That in the opinion of the Council, it is desirable in the interest of Ceylon that the constitutional changes recommended by the special commissioners on the constitution, with modifications indicated by the Secretary of State’s dispatch of October 10, 1929 should be brought into operation.”
The official members, it was announced, would take no part in the debate except so far as it might be necessary to remove any misapprehension on points of fact. After amendment the Council accepted the recommendations of the Donoughmore Report, resolving that in the case of females the age qualifications as a voter should be 21 and not 30 years. Also, every voter had to be able to read and write one of three languages – English, Singhalese or Tamil.
Sir Ponnampam Ramanathan opened the debate with a long speech. He opposed territorial representation, as well as the suffrage. He said, “for the simple reason that ignorance must not be put on the same level with knowledge and that the ignorant, excitable man is an awful danger to the country, but a man with knowledge is a good asset to it.”
The Legislative Council resolved to have 50 territorially-elected representatives and eight nominated members, instead of 65 as suggested by the report. The governor supported this amendment. This changed the ratio of the Sinhalese/Tamil representation from 2:1 to 5:1.
The Donoughmore Report in its new form was adopted in December 1929 by a narrow margin of the vote. Governor Stanley restricted the voting to the unofficial members, whereby 19 members voted in favor of the adoption, while 17 voted against it.
E W Perera and C W W Kannangara were the two Sinhalese leaders who voted against the adoption, while E R Tambimutu, representing the Batticaloa constituency, was the only Tamil voted in favor of the adoption of the motion.
T B Jayah, the Muslim representative in the Legislative Council, on behalf of the Muslims, sent a memorandum, “Muslims and the Proposed Constitutional Changes in Ceylon,” to the Colonial Office in London, pointing out that the Muslims remained a minority ethnic group in the country and the new scheme was unacceptable to them.
Shortly before his death in 1930, the Grand Old Man of Ceylon, Sir Ponnampalam Ramanathan, who was in the twilight of his life, went to England to meet officials in Whitehall to unsuccessfully point out to them what he believed to be the harm that the Donoughmore Report might bring to the country if it was implemented.
A short time before, Sir Ponnampalam Ramanathan took his final leave, he addressed a meeting of Tamil leaders at Ramanathan College, built by him, located on the Jaffna-Kankesanthurai Road, at Chunnakam. He spoke with a voice charged with emotion, “Gentlemen, dangerous times are ahead of us. The Donougmore commissioners have framed a constitution which will be the ruin of the country. The uninstructed masses will henceforth choose your rulers … I see before my eyes a surging mob. Before … the future of our Tamils is in peril.”
According to Ramanathan, Donoughmore meant “No more Tamils”. He contended that any form of government that foreigners formulated should guarantee the Tamils the absolute freedom to work out their destiny, as the Sinhalese could work out theirs. Ramanathan ultimately passed away on 30 November 1930. His death marked the end of a great era.
Earlier, British troops in 1796 captured the former Tamil kingdom from the Dutch. Instead of making the captured kingdom a free sovereign state, they acquired it as a possession. In 1802, they made it a part of the Crown Colony. In 1815, the British colonial masters denied the Tamils entry into the Kandyan kingdom after its capture through the Kandyan Convention, which they entered into with the Sinhalese Chiefs. In 1833, without listening to the views of the Tamils, Colebrooke commissioners recommended the unification of the areas that belonged to the Tamil kingdom with the rest of the country.
It was the grave mistake on the part of the British to bind together in a common polity the two ethnic groups with no common links and to bind them together by the whip they wielded. It was a death knell for the Tamils’ distinctiveness, freedom, independence and centuries-old sovereignty. In 1930, by the Donoughmore Commission, the British foisted Sinhalese ethnocentricity over the Tamils, something for which they can be blamed for the troubles of today.