Do you have any experience during the colonial rule in Sri Lanka?
The Thamil Mirror will be interviewing Community Leaders and or activists in Toronto / Canada with a view of recording their contribution to the development of the Canadian Thamil community. It is important that the future generation knows about them and our history of Thamils in Eelam and Canada. In this important effort we will be interviewing Mr. Veluppillai Thangavelu in this issue to obtain his view.
1)Thamil Mirror: What do you think of the Mahavamsam’s influence in the history of Sri Lanka?
2) Do you have any experience during the colonial rule in Sri Lanka?
3) Can you tell us about your involvement and or contribution in the post 1983 period, after the July Anti Thamil Pogrom with respect to the Political, Social and Economic life of Canadian Thamils?
4) What is your stand after the 2009 Mullivaikkal tragedy?
5) What would you like to tell the Thamil Canadians?
In May last year the editor of Thamil Mirror listed the above 5 questions to obtain my views on them. I answered the first question viz (1) What do you think of the Mahavamsam’s influence in the history of Sri Lanka? I gave my views in a 5 part article commencing from May. 2012. This was a subject I am familiar with so I was able to do justice to it. I wanted to answer only the first question and ignore the other questions for want of time. But, Thamil Mirror editor is insisting that I should answer all the questions he posed. He is of the opinion that it is important that the future generations knows about our history first hand and not by someone hundred years hence. On that score he is right.
If we look up of our past history, there are deep blackouts and holes through out. This is true of our own history as well as the history of Thamil Nadu. The solace is the absence of a well-chronicled history of the Thamils, Thamil Nadu and Thamil language has been compensated to some extent by the wealth of information contained in literary works like Tholkappiyam and Sangam literature.
The survival of the The Major Eighteen Anthology Series (பதினெண்மேல்கணக்கு) comprising The Eight Anthologies (எட்டுத்தொகை) and the Ten Idylls (பத்துப்பாட்டு) (150 BC – 250 AD) and The Minor Eighteen Anthology Series (பதினெண்கீழ்கணக்கு) we would had no history. The total number of available poems are 2381 penned by 473 poets. Madurai, an ancient city in Thamil Nadu (South India) was associated with fostering and developing the Thamil language by hosting Thamil Sangams (an academic gathering for the poets and the writers). Although it is claimed three Thamil Sangams existed in different time eras, the works of the First Thamil Sangam were completely lost to the ravages of elements.
To the Sangam literature we could add Tholkaapiyam (Old composition) by Tholkaapiyar. It is the oldest extant literary work in Thamil, a treatise on Grammar and Poetics written during the Second Thamil Sangam around 400 BC. Tholkappiyam is considered to be the First Grammar Book ever written in any language in the world. It is the magnum opus of Tholkaapiyar. It had 3 main topics with 9 chapters each. It deals with Phonology, Morphology and Syntax. All works prior to Tholkaapiyam have been lost without trace. It is more than a miracle at least these works survived the ravages of time. It is from these works that Thamil scholars have tried to re-construct the history of Thamils and Thamilagam. Dating events is a formidable problem. There is scant information about the poets and their lives. In fact even for works like Tholkaapiyam, even the exact period of this work is not known. Some scholars date it back to 4th century BC while others say it was compiled as late as 5th Century AD!
It has to be admitted though reluctantly our forefathers did not have a sense of history in the real sense of the word. Poets who wrote poems were not historians, though some of them to their credit recorded in some detail the lives of ordinary mortals, their beliefs, their sense of ethics, love, charity and so forth.
One more book deserves mention. It is called ‘Thirukkural’, (Holy Kural) written by Saint Thiruvalluvar in about the beginning of first century after Christ. BC. It is a treatise on ethics, wealth and love. Thirukkural contains 1330 couplets, and each verse is extremely short containing just two lines with fourteen syllables.
The ancient Thamil literature, dated between 100 B.C. and 250 A.D. is known as ‘Sangam Literature’. The total number of available poems are 2381 and written by 473 poets. Madurai, an ancient city in South India, was associated with fostering and developing the Thamil language by hosting Thamil Sangams (an academic gathering for the poets and the writers). Although three Thamil Sangams existed in different eras, the works of the First Thamil Sangam were have been lost for good.
There were four major Thamil Kingdoms in South India. These are the Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava dynasties. The Pandyas and Cheras were dominating from 500 BC to 400 AD, the Pallavas from 400 AD to 900 AD and the Cholas between 9th and 12th Century. They were great patrons of Thamil literature, culture and fine arts. The Temple gopurams (Towers) all over Thamil Nadu, the Thamil State of India, are standing testimony to the Thamils’ mastery of fine artistic sculptures. Also, the roots of today’s ‘Carnatic Music’ (Classical Music) and ‘Bharatha Naattiyam’ (Classical Dance) can be found in ‘Silappathikaaram’ (The Lay of the Anklet), one of the five great epics in Thamil.
Now, it so happens that archaeological findings in Thamil Nadu, though scanty, are nevertheless decisive. Indeed, we now have a broad convergence between literary, epigraphic and archaeological evidence. Thus names of cities, kings and chieftains mentioned in Sangam literature have often been confirmed by inscriptions and coins dating back to the second and third centuries BC. Kautilya speaks in his Arthashastra (c. fourth century BC) of the “easily travelled southern land route,” with diamonds, precious stones and pearls from the Pandya country ; two Asokan rock edicts (II and XIII) respectfully refer to Chola, Pandya and Chera kingdoms as “neighbours,” therefore placing them firmly in the third century BC ; we also have Kharavela’s cave inscription near Bhubaneswar in which the Kalinga king (c. 150 BC) boasts of having broken up a “confederacy of the Dravida countries which had lasted for 113 years.” From all these, it appears that the earliest Thamil kingdoms must have been established around the fourth century BC again, archaeological findings date urban developments a century or two later, but this small gap will likely be filled by more extensive excavations.
But there’s the rub : beyond the fourth century BC and back to 700 or 1000 BC, all we find is a megalithic period, and going still further back, a neolithic period starting from about the third millennium BC. While those two prehistoric periods are as important as they are enigmatic, they show little sign of a complex culture and no clear connection with the dawn of urban civilization in the South.
The Tholkappiyam also formulates the captivating division of the Thamil land into five regions (tinai ), each associated with one particular aspect of love, one poetical expression, and also one deity : thus the hills (kuriñji ) with union and with Cheyon (Murugan) ; the desert (palai ) with separation and Korravai (Durga) ; the forests (mullai ) with awaiting and Mayon (Vishnu-Krishna) ; the seashore (neytal ) with wailing and Varuna ; and the cultivated lands (marutam) with quarrel and Ventan (Indra). Thus from the beginning we have a fusion of non-Vedic deities (Murugan or Korravai), Vedic gods (Indra, Varuna) and later Puranic deities such as Vishnu (Mal or Tirumal). Such a synthesis is quite typical of the Hindu temperament and cannot be the result of an overnight or superficial influence ; it is also as remote as possible from the separateness we are told is at the root of so-called “Dravidian culture.”
The Thamils of the Sangam period were surprisingly very secular in thought and outlook. Only literary works in praise of Aham (love) and Puram (valour, charity, education etc.) were considered as Ilakkiyam (Literature). Because they are secular, they are free from the complex mythical allusions and literacy conceits found in Greek and Roman literature of the same period. Poems on love and valour display great freshness and vigour unparalleled even in modern times.
Even work like Thiru-Murugattup-padai (The first poem under the category Paththup-paaddu) composed by Nakkeerar in praise of Lord Muruga is devoid of the type of exaggerated mythology associated with Him in later works, specially the Puranas.
However, the Sangam works do reveal the cultural and religious influence of Aryans who migrated to India over a long period beginning from 1000 BC. There are detail descriptions of yaaga performances in Puram 166 and reference to Vedic gods in Puram 16, 23 and Pathitrup-paththu (example 11).
Influence of Buddhism and Jainism too is evident in Sangam works and the majority of the Sangam poets belonged to Jainism and Buddhism faiths. Names of poets such as Illambohthiyar, Theradan, Siru-ven-theriyar, Saththanar are self-evident of such poets’ adopted faith.
I am giving this account to illustrate the fact that our forefathers by and large somewhat failed to leave detail record of history for posterity. This is in sharp contrast to ancient Greeks who have left copious volumes of works on almost all the subjects under the sun. The Greek philosophers excelled in every sphere of human endeavours ranging from medicine to geometry, The Greek culture has made many contributions to western civilization. The ancient Greeks affected our fine arts, government, sports, medics, and philosophies. The Greek culture has had a very profound impact on the way people live nowadays. Greeks sow the seeds of democracy as we know today. The Greek statesman Pericles had three goals, to Strengthen Democracy, Hold strength in the empire, and to glorify Athens. Pericles stated that he wanted all citizens to have an equal opportunity to serve the public. The democracy now in vogue in US and other Western countries is identical or very similar to the Ancient Athenians theories.
Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato are some of the most well known philosophers ever. Socrates was famous for questioning about life and morals. Socrates once said to a court “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates had been charged with Heresy, a crime that threatened the established religion, and sedition, that threatened the state. Aristotle is well known for believing that if people study the origin of life they will understand it more.
Socrates (399 BC) is the Founding Father of western Philosophy. He is the first person who seriously asked and wanted answers for very embarrassing questions. Socrates spent his life asking philosophical questions of the citizens of Athens, questioning their answers, debating them. He wanted to know what goodness was, what morality was, what piety was, whether virtue can be taught, what knowledge is and similar questions. He was charged with teaching young people to disrespect the gods of the city. The ancient Greeks believed that the gods protected their cities from floods, storms, plague and other natural disasters, as well as from invasions by other cities. Socrates was convicted of these charges and sentenced to death. He was offered a reprieve if he would give up doing philosophy but he refused, on the grounds that life without philosophy would be meaningless to him and he would rather die than simply survive without any purpose. Socrates had a pupil named Plato (427-347 BC) who witnessed the trial of Socrates, the rather lengthy period of time between the sentence and his execution and the execution itself, which was done by having Socrates drink a cup of poison hemlock. Plato memorialized all that transpired at the trial and wrote a series of dialogues featuring Socrates discourse about his typical philosophical subjects. These dialogues are the primary source for our knowledge of Socrates’ life and beliefs. Plato himself later became one of the most important philosophers in western history.
Socrates is credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy. But he himself never wrote any books. He is known chiefly through the accounts of the writing s of his student Plato. Plato’s dialogues was named Apology, Crito, and Phaedo. Plato recorded the long speech Socrates made to the Athenian jury on his defence against the charges brought against him. Plato’s dialogues are the most comprehensive accounts of Socrates to survive from antiquity. Plato faithfully records the discourse between him and Crito before he took the cup of hemlock n tells his friend Crito to give back the chicken he borrowed from his neighbour.
Our ancient poets or philosophers have not recorded anything close to Plato’s Apology. Even short biographies of the kings and poets. As I said above they had no sense of history.
With all the facilities and technology available we should not repeat the same mistake of not recording contemporary history to our posterity. This is the reason why the editor of Thamil Mirror has posed these questions. I will go back in time and record my short experience during colonial rule. At the time of independence I was schooling in my 7th grade at St.John’s college, Jaffna! (Some material for this piece has been drawn from other sources)
A Snapshot Of Colonial Rule in Ceylon
The Island of Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka) for 443 years was the prey of successive foreign naval powers. Colonial conquest of the island was predicated on superior sea power and arms, military organization, political strength, and economic wealth. Popular history has generally differentiated between Portuguese rule (1505–1658), Dutch rule (1658–1796), and British rule (1796–1948) in the guise of first the East India Company and then the British Crown. The rule by these three powers took roots, grew, spread, and declined in space and time.
Colonial occupation by foreign powers commenced from 1505 when the Portuguese ship commanded by Don Lourenco de Almeida, son of the Portuguese viceroy in India. He was sailing off the south-western coast of Ceylon for Moorish ships when stormy weather forced his fleet to dock at Colombo.
In the 15th century search for trade routes to India intensified among European countries. By the middle of the 15th century, Portugal was the leading maritime nation in Europe despite its size and population, thanks largely to the legacy of Prince Henry the Navigator, who had brought together a talented group of mapmakers, geographers, astronomers and navigators at his school of seamanship at Sagres, in southern Portugal. Henry sponsored voyages of exploration south along the west African coast, but the southern extent of the continent remained unknown to Europeans. At time when everyone thought that the earth was flat and not round, Henry’s intention was to find a sea route to India that would give Portugal access to the lucrative trade in spices from the Far East and thereby overcome Muslim dominance of the Indian Ocean trade.
Vasco da Gama was the first European to open a sea-based trade route to India in July 1497 with a crew of 170 seamen. In an epic voyage, he sailed around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope and succeeded in breaking the monopoly of Arab and Venetian spice traders. His pioneering sea voyage to India is one of the defining moments in the history of exploration. Apart from being one the greatest pieces of European seamanship of that time – a far greater achievement than Christopher Columbus’s crossing of the Atlantic – his journey acted as a catalyst for a series of events that changed the world and course of history.
At the time of arrival of Don Lourenco de Almeida there were three Kingdoms ruling Ceylon. There were the two Sinhalese kingdoms of Kotte and Kandy and the Thamil kingdom in the North. Kotte was the principal seat of Sinhalese power, but none of the Kingdom had the strength to assert itself over the other two and unify the island.
Word of these white strangers who “eat hunks of white stone and drink blood (presumably wine) and have guns with a noise louder than thunder spread quickly and reached King Parakramabahu VIII of Kotte (1484-1508), who offered gifts of cinnamon and elephants to the Portuguese to take back to their home port at Cochin on the Malabar Coast of south-western India. The king also gave the Portuguese permission to build a residence in Colombo for trade purposes. Within a short time, however, Portuguese militaristic and monopolistic intentions became apparent.
This was also the time of the decline of the imperial Chola as a maritime power in the twelfth century, Muslim trading communities in South Asia claimed a major share of commerce in the Indian Ocean and developed extensive east-west, as well as Indo-Ceylon commercial trade routes.
The Portuguese first encountered the Sinhalese kingdom of Kotte with whom they signed a treaty. In 1521 the downfall of the Kotte Kingdom commenced with what was known as the “Wijayaba Kollaya” where the kings (Vijayabahu VII) three sons killed their father and divided Kotte into three kingdoms. The divided Kingdom of Sitawaka became more powerful with local popular support and Kotte Kingdom had to rely on Portuguese for help. By 1565 capital of Kotte was abandoned by the Kotte King Dharmapala (1551-1597) due to frequent attacks from Sitawaka led by Mayadunne and his son Rajasinghe I and he was taken into Colombo under Portuguese protection. Most of the areas of Kotte Kingdom was annexed to the Kingdom of Sitawaka and after the downfall of Sitawaka in 1594 these areas were occupied by the Portuguese. In 1597 Dharmapala bequeathed his throne to the King of Portugal (i.e. Philip II of Spain) and the Kotte era was officially ended. Their rule was established through the occupation of Kotte and subsequent conversion of the king to Christianity.
After consolidating their power over Kotte, the Portuguese turned their attention towards the Jaffna Kingdom in the North. The first expedition, led by Viceroy Dom Constantino de Bragança in 1560, failed to subdue the kingdom but the Portuguese captured the Island of Mannar. By 1582 the Jaffna king was paying tribute to the Portuguese of ten elephants or an equivalent in cash. In 1591, during the second expedition, led by André Furtado de Mendonça, King Puvirasa Pandaram was killed and his son Ethirmanna Singham was installed as the king. This arrangement gave the Catholic missionaries freedom of action and monopoly in elephant export to the Portuguese, which the incumbent king, however, resisted. He helped the Kandyan kingdom under kings Vimala Dharmasuriya I and Senarat (1604–35) during the period 1593–1635 with the intent of securing help from South India to resist the Portuguese. He, however, maintained autonomy of the kingdom without overtly provoking the Portuguese.
With the death of Pararasasekaran in 1617, Sankily II took control of the throne after killing the regent nominated by the Ethimanna Singham. Unable to secure Portuguese acceptance of his kingship, Sankili II invited military aid from the Thanjavur Nayaks and allowed corsairs from Malabar to use a base in Neduntivu, hence posing a threat to Portuguese shipping routes through Palk Strait. By June 1619, there were two Portuguese expeditions; a naval expedition that was repulsed by the Malabari corsairs and another expedition by Phillippe de Oliveira and his land army of 5000, which was able to defeat Sankili II. He along with every surviving member of the royal family, was captured and taken to Goa, where he was beheaded. The remaining captives were asked to become monks or nuns in the holy orders, and as most obliged, their celibacy avoided the production of further claimants to the Jaffna throne. Although the Portuguese attempted to eliminate the Jaffna royal family through celibacy, a number of families of Sri Lankan Thamil origin claim descent from the royal family today.
The Jaffna kingdom functioned as a logistical base for the landlocked Kandyan kingdom which had no access to any seaports. They gained access to the Thamil seaports of Trincomalee and Batticaloa in the east, but the Jaffna peninsula proved more convenient as an entry port for military aid arriving from South India. Moreover, it was feared by the Portuguese that due to its strategic location the Jaffna kingdom might become a beachhead for Dutch landings.
According to Queirós, an historian of Portuguese origin, the Kingdom of Jaffnapattnum in the 17th century consisted of the Jaffna Peninsula, the Islands off Jaffna and the Island of Mannar.
He says: “This modest kingdom is not confined to the little district of Jaffnapattnum because to it are also added the neighbouring lands and those of the Vanni which is said to be name of the lordship which they held before we obtained procession of them, separated from the proceeding by a salty river and connected only in the extremity or isthmus of Pachilapalli within which the lands of Baligamo, Bedamarache and Pachalapali forming that peninsula and outside of it stretch the lands of Vanni. Crosswise from, from the side of Mannar to that of Triquillemele, being separated also from the country of Mantota in the jurisdiction of Captain of Mannar by the river Paragali;which (lands) ends in the river of the Cross in the midst of the lands of Vanni and of others which stretch as far as Triquillemele which according to the map appears to be a large tract of country”.
This indicated the kings of the Jaffna Kingdom just prior to capitulation to the Portuguese had jurisdiction over an area corresponding to the modern Northern Province of Sri Lanka and parts of the northern half of the eastern province and that the Portuguese claimed these based on their conquest.
After the fall of Jaffna to the Portuguese, Senarat dispatched a 10,000 strong army to Jaffna under the command of Mudaliyar Attapattu. The Portuguese withdrew and the Kandyan army occupied Jaffna. The Portuguese General Constantino de Sá de Noronha later attacked with reinforcements from Colombo and defeated Mudaliyar Attapattu’s army and seized Jaffna. King Senarat’s wife’s two sons, Vijayapala and Kumarasinghe, were married to princesses from Jaffna.
Eventually the Kandyan King Rajasinghe II (1635 – 1687) sought help from the Dutch Empire to expel the Portuguese. He signed the Kandyan Treaty of 1638 with the Dutch and soon embarked on a war against their common enemy. The Dutch were appointed protector of the country.
However, Rajasinghe II double crossed the Dutch and approached the French offering them the Trincomalee fort as a check against Dutch power. The Dutch captured Trincomalee from the French and controlled all the maritime provinces of the island. Since Rajasinghe II and the Dutch were both playing a cat and mouse game trying to outwit each other, the treaty of 1638 was never implemented. The Dutch ruled all the Thamil provinces, except Vanni, and brought Tanjore Thamil immigrants to work in the Cinnamon gardens in the Western Province. These Thamils eventually got assimilated and formed a distinct caste called Salagama. After the collapse of the Iberian economy in 1627, the Dutch-Portuguese War saw the Dutch conquest of Portugal’s Asiatic colonies. On 8 March 1640, a Dutch expedition headed by Willem Jacobsz Koster landed north of Galle which was captured a few days later. The following Dutch–Portuguese War resulted in a Dutch victory with Colombo falling into Dutch hands by 1656. The last Portuguese governor left Jaffnapatnam in 1658 thus bringing to and end their 153 years of rule of North and South barring the Kandyan Kingdom.
Great Britain occupied the coastal areas of the island with little difficulty in 1796. Madras Robert Andrews from Madras was sent to negotiate the first proper British foothold in Ceylon. Two years later there was a British governor and commander in chief. Ceylon became part of the Madras Presidency of the East India Company and was governed by the Governor of Madras. In 1798 he was replaced by a Governor of British Ceylon appointed by the British monarch. The Dutch ceded the island to Britain in 1802.
As soon as Britain captured Ceylon from the Dutch they wanted to expand it by making Kandyan Kingdom a protectorate, an offer refused by the King of Kandy. Being a Nayakkar he already had bad experience with ever expanding British Empire. A small country like Holland or Portugal was never a threat to Kandy. But a great power like Britain had enough resources to overwhelm them. The Kandyan Chieftains were not happy with Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe and were plotting with the English to dethrone him.
In 1803 king Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe (1798-1815) faced a British invasion, but was able to retaliate successfully. By then, the entire coastal area was under the British East India Company, as a result of the Treaty of Amiens. On 14 February 1815, Kandy was occupied by the British, in the second Kandyan War, finally ending Ceylon’s independence. Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe, the last native monarch of Nayake origin was exiled to Veloor in Thamil Nadu. The Kandyan Convention formally ceded the entire country to the British Empire. The Kandyan treaty which was signed after the annexation of Kandy was called Kandyan Convention and consists of the terms under which the Kandyans will live under British rule.
Buddhist religion was given protection by the Crown and Christianity would not be imposed on the unwilling masses as it happened during Portuguese and Dutch rule. Kandyan Convention is an important document as some of the chieftains have signed in Thamil showing their Thamil ancestry. Attempts of Kandyan noblemen to undermine the British power in 1818 during the Uva Rebellion were thwarted by Governor Robert Brownrigg.
Reports reached the authorities that one Duraisamy,a relative of the deposed king and claiming his rights to the throne is mustering the support of the people in Uva for a rebellion and that some Sinhalese leaders too joined him. Duraisamy was the son of Kalu Nayakkar, a relation of the former king. He was a native of Sath Korale, a Buddhist priest for sometime and now appeared in public as Wilbawe. These facts were later confirmed by the evidence of Udugama Unnanse at the trial.
The appointment of a Malay Muhandiram Hadji by Major Wilson – Resident in Badulla was another action of the British which earned the displeasure of the Sinhalese to the British administration. The areas of Uva Wellassa, Nuwarakalaviya were neglected jungle areas which had a predominant population of Muslims who disrupted time and again the smooth supply of salt and dry fish to the people in the Kandyan Kingdom. During the campaign suppressing the Uva Rebellion, the British forces systematically destroyed the irrigation system on which the rice production in the Kingdom of Kandy depended. The Wastelands Ordinnance then deprived the Kandyan peasants of their property rights. Thus British who managed to conquer the Kingdom of Kandy became the first European power that ruled the entire island.
The seat of the British administration was Colombo. In 1833, a unified administration was introduced, as was a Legislative Council of advisory capacity, consisting of appointed (British) officials and of representatives of the various religious communities. English was declared official language. Until 1858, Ceylon was administrated as a separate crown colony; after India was transferred by the EIC to the British government, Ceylon was loosely attached to British India.
The British promoted the development of a plantation economy, based on coffee, coconuts, tobacco. Coffee, introduced in 1826 first went through a boom, but then suffered from disease. Tea was first planted in 1845, the area planted with tea soon expanded.
Ceylon postal service in 1857 began issuing postage stamps. The laying of the railway, the opening of coffee and tea plantations, road development schemes, establishment of hospitals and maternity homes throughout the island were some of the major works undertaken by the British who ruled Sri Lanka. The first railway in Ceylon began operating in 1864 and by 1880 the island’s railroad network had reached a total length of 224 km. In 1918, it has extended to a total length of 1,146 km. The improved transportation permitted an expansion of the plantation economy. In 1870 the Ceylon Medical School was established in Colombo. In 1880 it was upgraded to Ceylon Medical College and was absorbed into Ceylon University in 1942.
While the island’s various religious communities were represented in the Legislative Council, the (appointed) representatives were chosen from the wealthy segments of society, the upper castes. The Wastelands Ordinance deprived most of the peasants of Ceylon’s interior (the former kingdom of Kandy) of their land, allowing for an expansion of the plantation industry, lying at the root of the Matale Rebellion of 1848. In order to work for the country’s expanding plantation industry, indentured workers from Madras Presidency (modern Thamil Nadu) were brought in. They were treated not much better than slaves, housed in line rooms which compared favourably to cattle sheds. It remains more or less the same even now.
The Legislative Council of 1909 for the first time included a few elected representatives; elections were held based on literacy (in English) and property qualifications.
In 1901, Ceylon had a population of 3,578,333 and capital Colombo had 158,228 inhabitants. Of the island population, 1,458,320 were listed as low country Sinhalese, 872,487 as Kandyan Sinhalese, 953,535 as Thamils, 228,706 as Moors and 23,539 as Burghers. A large majority (2,790,235) were illiterate.
In 1833 the Colebrooke-Cameron Commission created the Legislative Council of Ceylon, the first step in representative government in British Ceylon. Initially the Legislative Council consisted of 16 members: the British Governor, the five appointed members of the Executive Council of Ceylon (the Colonial Secretary, the Attorney General, the Auditor-General, the Treasurer and the General Officer Commanding), four other government officials (including the Government Agents of the Western and Central provinces) and six appointed unofficial members (three Europeans, one Sinhalese, one Thamil and one Burgher). The unofficial members had no right to initiate legislation; they could only contribute to discussion. This was the first step towards giving the people of the country a voice in its administration.
In 1889 the number of appointed unofficial members was increased to eight (three Europeans, one Low Country Sinhalese, one Kandyan Sinhalese, one Thamil, one Muslim and one Burgher).
A Legislative Council was reformed in 1910 by the McCallum Reforms. Membership was increased from 18 to 21, of which 11 were official and 10 were unofficial. Of the non-official members, six were appointed by the governor (two Low Country Sinhalese, two Thamils, one Kandyan Sinhalese and one Muslim) and remaining four were elected (two Europeans, one Burgher and one educated Ceylonese).
The most notable aspect of the McCallum Reforms was the introduction of elected members. However, fewer than 3,000 people (4) could vote, as the right to vote was based on education and assets held. One of the four elected non-official members was Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan.
Further reforms were enacted in 1920 by the First Manning Reforms. Membership was increased from 21 to 37, of which 14 were official and 23 were unofficial. Of the non-official members, four were appointed by the governor (two Kandyan Sinhalese, one Muslim and one Indian Thamil) and the remaining 19 were elected (11 on a territorial basis, five Europeans, two Burghers and one Chamber of Commerce).
A notable change was the introduction of territorial constituencies. Of the 11 territorial constituencies, three were from the Western Province and one each from the other eight provinces. Three non-official members were elected to the Executive Council. The Second Manning Reforms of 1923 increased membership from 37 to 49, of which 12 were official and 37 were unofficial. Of the non-official members, eight were appointed by the governor (three Muslim, two Indian Thamils and three others) and the remaining 29 were elected (23 on a territorial basis, three Europeans, two Burghers, one Ceylon Thamil for the Western Province).
Due to the shortcomings of the Second Manning Reforms the Donoughmore Commission was sent to Ceylon. The Commission gained its name from the royal commission under the Earl of Donoughmore that came to Ceylon in 1927. Its recommendations led to Ceylon gaining limited self-government and the replacement of the Legislative Council with the State Council of Ceylon in 1931. But it turned out Donoughmore proposals spelt political disaster for the Thamils. First time in the history of the Island, the Sinhalese saw political power within their grasp under the principle of universal franchise “one man one vote”.
In a speech to the Legislative Council during the debate on the Donoughmore Reforms, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan appears the precursor of the Thamils demand for a sovereign state.
“Why did the (Donoughmore) Commissioners not study Ireland, which is next door to them? They (Irish) said that we are one lot and you are another. We cannot work together. We must have separate governments. Then I ask what happened in the Dominion of Canada? The officials concerned said, it is an impossible situation…. Let us give these French descendants one form of government and let us give the other people another form of government – forms of government suitable to the interests of each of these great big communities. Why did the Commissioners think of that?”
The Donoughmore constitution was further reformed when Britain decided to confer Dominion status to Ceylon. A Commission under Lord Soulbury was despatched to Ceylon in 1944 to examine and discuss proposals for the constitutional reform of Ceylon. I don’t want to elaborate further about the Soulbury Commission proposals and how the Thamils were inveigled by D.S.Senanayake to accept the proposals. He came a solemn promise that the Thamil and other minority communities that “no harm need you (non-Sinhalese) fear at our hands (Sinhalese) in a free Lanka.” But, Senanayake went for the kill in the first year of independence itself when he successfully piloted the Ceylon Citizenship Act of 18 of 1948 through which he disfranchised a million Thamils of Indian origin. Having domesticated G.G.Ponnambalam who fought for 50:50 before Soulbury Commission, D.S.Senanayake drove the final nail by depriving the stateless Thamils their voting rights by bringing forth a simple amendment to the Parliamentary Elections Ordinance that stated only citizens have the right to vote in elections. This reduced Thamils representation in Parliament from 33 in 1948 to a mere 20 in 1952. The rest is now history. I have given a snapshot of the history of colonial rule as a prelude to the narration of my own experience during the closing stage of the colonial rule. (To be continued)
Thamil leaders failed to act on warning signals coming from the Sinhalese politicians
Travelling back in tine down memory land my first brush with politics was at the young age of just 13 years. It was during the general elections in 1946 to elect a member of parliament from the Jaffna electorate my initiation into politics began. Of course, I must confess I was clueless of politics, political parties, the parliament, the Soulbury Commission report at that point of time. Learning political history came very much later, to be precise the passing of the Sinhala Only Act by the SLFP government headed by prime minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in 1956. It was certified as law on July 07, 1956.
The Sinhala Only Act (Official Language Act No. 33 of 1956) was an act passed by the Parliament of Ceylon. The act replaced English as the official language of Ceylon with Sinhala thus denying official recognition to Thamil, which did not received official recognition before. The Act was the culmination of a promise made by Bandaranaike during the election campaign that he will make Sinhala the Only Official Language within 48 hours of coming to power. The Act became a symbol of minority oppression and a justification for them to demand a separate nation state, which resulted in decades of civil war. Looking back this single Act of parliament conferred on the majority to oppress and assert dominance over the national minorities. At the time of the passage of the Bill to make Sinhala the Only Official language only around 69 spoke Sinhalese while 29 of the population (Thamils and Moors) spoke Thamil.
During the debate on the Sinhala Only bill, Philip Gunawardene a fiery orator, a die-hard Trotskyite and leader of the MEP and a Cabinet Minister spoke thus:
“We are completing by this (Sinhala Only) Bill an important phase in our national struggle. The restoration of the Sinhala language to the position it occupied before the occupation of this country by foreign powers, marks an important stage in the history of the development of this island.” (Hazard, 14 June 1956)
From the perspectives of Thamils, the Sinhala Only Act placed them and their language in an inferior position, that of second class citizens. required them to learn the majority language. It became more difficult and almost impossible for Thamils enter government service the main stay of their economy. Public servants appointed after the Act passed were required to pass proficiency exams in Sinhala. Standardization of marks that discriminated the Thamils and district quota systems became part of university admission procedures. Student enrolment among the Sinhalese consequently increased, while the number of Tamil students was cut nearly in half.
The passage of the Sinhala Only Act was made possible because of the disfranchisement of a million Thamils of Indian origin in 1949. If not for D.S.Senanyake’s ‘foresight’, Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike would not have enacted the Sinhala Only Act which required a 2/3rd majority in the parliament. As already alluded, the enactment of the Ceylon Citizenship Act of 18 of 1948 made a million men and women stateless. And the subsequent simple amendment to the Parliamentary Elections Ordinance made them vote less. The Amendment simply stated only citizens have the right to vote in elections. This reduced Thamils representation in Parliament from 33 in 1948 to a mere 20 in 1952. It should be mentioned here that Thamils of Indian origin exercised their franchise at the elections held to the State Council in 1930, 1935 and 1947 elections to the State Council. This may have lulled the Thamil leaders to believe that voting rights of the Hill country Thamils is an accepted fact and it will never be altered.
For purpose of record, it should be stated prior to making Sinhala Only as the official language, the understanding was that both Sinhala and Thamil shall be the administrative languages of Ceylon along with English.
In 1944 J. R. Jayewardene moved a resolution in the State Council to make Sinhala the only official Language and the medium of instruction in schools.
Thamil Councillors opposed the resolution and V. Nalliah from the eastern province moved an amendment to substitute Sinhala and Thamil instead of Sinhala only. include Tamil as well. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike who was responsible for introducing the Sinhala Only Bill in 1956 supported this amendment and J.R. Jayewardene’s resolution was adopted accordingly.
Whilst participating in this debate certain Sinhalese State Councillors expressed the fear that granting of equality of status for the Thamil language would result the Sinhala language being swamped as Thamils worldwide were numerically stronger. They said that Thamils lived in Thamil Nadu, South Africa and Malaysia whereas Sinhala was spoken only in Sri Lanka. Similar sentiments were expressed by well known Sinhala intellectuals in their contributions to the newspapers on this matter at that time.
An identical situation arose during the 1955-56 period. In October 1955, N.M. Perera leader of the LSSP introduced a motion for the granting of parity of status for Tamil when transacting government business with the members of public. Sinhalese once again echoed the same fears as in 1944. The word parity like federal became a dirty word. Some equated it with the old 50-50 demand of G.G. Ponnambalam. Yet others opined that bilingualism meant forcing the Sinhalese to learn Tamil.
In an article Julius de Lanerolle, an authority on Sinhala wrote an article which appeared in the Lankadeepa Sinhala newspaper. The writer had said that D.S. Senanayake, the Leader of the State Council had summoned him to get his opinion about the fears entertained by the Sinhalese over the amendment proposed by minority Councillors for the use of Thamil along with Sinhala for official purposes. The discussion had dragged on for three days. Laneroll had explained in detail to D. S. Senanayake about the historical development of the Sinhala language and the impact of Sanskrit and Pali on Sinhala. The Kotte period is considered as the golden era of Sinhala literature. At that time Thamil was taught as a subject in all leading Pirivenas and this in turn influenced the Sinhala language to a very great extent. This could be seen both in prose and poetry.
After listening to Julius de Lanerolle, D.S. Senanayake was finally convinced that the Sinhala fears were unfounded. Likewise English got enriched with Latin, French and Germen words. Nowadays we don’t hear about language heroes. Everyone, is interested in English education. When the letter SRI was introduced for vehicle number plates (probably as part of the implementation of the language policy) there was widespread mayhem in 1958. When English letters were re-introduced recently there was not even a murmur. Explaining the reason for the change the Minister Ferial Ashraff said that a sacred word like SRI should not be used for garbage carrying vehicles. (Ranjith Chandrasekara – The Island dated July 26, 2009)
So the danger signals were there as far back as 1944, but Thamil political leaders failed to fathom what was in store for them in the future. They failed to make representations before the Soulbury constitution parity of status for both Sinhala and Thamil. The same goes for citizenship. Both the language and citizenship were left undefined in the Soulbury constitution. It was all due to the machinations of D.S. Senanayake behind the scenes since he maintained a charade of boycott of the Soulbury Commission. He persuaded the Soulbury Commissioners that those two subjects should be left to the new parliament after independence.
To fast re-wind the contest for the Jaffna seat was fiercely contested. The leading candidates were G.G. Ponnambalam, leader of the Thamil Congress Party founded by him 1944. His rival was another distinguished political figure Sir Arunachalam Mahadeva, Minister of Home Affairs in D.S. Senanayake the Board of Ministers. He contested on the UNP platform.
The parapet walls of Jaffna were plastered with huge photographs and posters of G.G. Ponnambalam and A. Mahadeva. There were slogans written everywhere calling names. One slogan read ‘Down with Traitor Mahadeva who killed Kandasamy.” In Thamil the slogan தியாகி கந்தசாமியைக் கொன்ற மகாதேவா ஒழிக (Down with traitor Mahadeva who killed Kandasamy) sounded like ‘shock and awe’ and was totally damaging. At that point of time I was clueless as to who this Kandasamy and why he was killed. But, a few years later by a twist fate I was to organize meetings to commemorate the death of Veluppillai Kandasamy, member of the Government Clerical Union, by police fire on June 05, 1947. (To be continued)
D.S.Senanayake Appoints Sir A. Mahadeva as Minister to Pull Wool Over The Eyes of The Soulbury Commissioners
On June 5, 1947 comrade Veluppillai Kandasamy a young member of the GCSU was killed while participating in a demonstration in Colombo. He was a clerical officer of the department of Health and Sanitary services and was killed by police firing ordered by the British police superintendent Robins.
He was participating in an orderly march of the members of the Government Clerical Services Union (GCSU).
The immediate cause of this demonstration was the interdiction of the GCSU president T.B. Illangaratne and nineteen others for having held a meeting on the Galle Face Green in contravention of public services regulations. By a twist of fate T.B.Illangaratne later became a Cabinet Minister of Labour and served under three successive Bandaranayke’s government.
The fact that the regulations was used against their leaders sparked a major strike of the public servants and on June 5, 1947 thousands of slogan- shouting but peaceful strikers took to the streets and marched headed by Dr N.M. Perera the leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) to hold a public meeting at Ralahamigewatte in Kolonnawa.
They marched through Dematagoda, at that time a politically strong left-oriented worker-based district of the City of Colombo.
When confronted by the police headed by the British police superintendent Robins, Dr N. M. Perera approached him to explain that the meeting was authorized and therefore a legal expression of the views of the GCSU. But Dr Perera was dealt with a stunning blow by the baton on his head and he fell on the ground. But before the second blow, Dr Perera was spirited away to safety by his comrades. K.C.Nythiyananda, one time President GCSU, told me years later how the comrades took to their heels when Police opened fire.
The officer, however, gave the order to shoot not in the sky but at the demonstrators who carried no weapons nor were they violent or provocative in any way. Altogether the police fired nineteen rounds of bullets into the strikers that killed one and injured nineteen others and five of them seriously.
Unfortunately for Sir A. Mahadeva he was in charge of the Police force as Minister of Home Affairs.
To digress a bit, Sir Mahadeva was appointed as Home Minister by D.S.Senanayake, Leader of the House under fortuitous circumstances. Sir A. Mahadeva was elected as a member of the Legislative Council of Ceylon and the State Council.
On April 15, 1931, the Order in Council to introduce the new State Council was published. On April 17, 1931, the Legislative Council was dissolved and the elections to the first State Council through universal franchise was held on June 13th to 20th. The last day for filing nomination papers from candidates who intended to contest the election was May 4th.
A total of 9 candidates from the south were returned uncontested, among them were Sir Baron Jayatilaka, D S Senanayake, S W R D. Bandaranaike, Sir Alexander Francis Molumre and Periannan Sundaram, a Tamil of Indian origin. Elections for the remaining 37 contested seats were fixed for the week beginning June 13, 1931.
In the North, the elections were boycotted by the Jaffna Youth Congress which demanded total independence. The Youth Congress was influenced by the Indian National Congress which was agitating for total independence (Poorna Swaraj).
The All-Ceylon Tamil league first opposed the Donoughmore Commission the grounds that the abolition of the communal (representation) principle when coupled with the universal franchise proposal would mean “death to the minorities”, as the Sinhalese would now receive over 50 of the seats.
The Jaffna Youth Congress was founded in 1924. The Congress worked towards a national culture, economic prosperity, social unity and total independence (Swaraj) for Ceylon. Leading members of the Congress included educationalists and people of standing like Handy Perinpanayagam, J V Chelliah, C S Navaratnam, A.E. Tambar, “Orator” Subramaniam, I. P. Thurairatnam, attorneys at law, M.S Ilayathamby, T.M Suppiah, Bishop S. Kulendran and P. Nagalingham (later a Senator). The Congress displayed its national consciousness by electing P. G. S. Kularatne as President, a Sinhalese principal of Ananda College, Colombo, at its second Annual General Meeting.
Answering the call for the boycott of the elections by the Jaffna Youth Congress, no nominations were received for Jaffna, Kankesanthurai, Kayts and Point Pedro constituencies in the North of the country. As a result elections for the remaining 37 contested seats were fixed for the week beginning June 13, 1931.
However, the Mannar-Mullaitivu electorate broke ranks and refused to join the boycott. One Mudaliyar Anantham Seemanpillai contested and won the seat. Other Tamil leaders who did not take part in the boycott were Dr. Saravanamuttu (Colombo North), M. Subramanium (Trincomalee-Batticaloa), Peri Sundaram (Hatton), S. P. Vytilingam (Talawakelle).
The boycott was later lifted and elections were held in the early part of July 1934 for the four vacant seats in the North. G.G. Ponnambalam made his entry to politics by winning the Point-Pedro seat defeating Sri Patmanathan, the nephew of Sir Ponnampalam Arunachalam. At Kankesanthurai, Subbaiya Natesan, the son-in-law of Sir Ponnampam Ramanathan was successful, while in Jaffna Sir Arunachalam Mahadeva, the son of Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam was victorious. In Kayts, Nevins Selvadurai was elected, and they all made their entry to the Council on July 17, 1934. (Sri Lanka: The Untold Story, Chapter 7)
- G.G. Ponnambalam an ambitious lawyer from Colombo who did not belong to the elite group of the earlier Tamil leaders, also rejected the boycott. He eventually took control of the leadership of the Tamils. The Indian Tamils brought by the British as indentured labour to work the tea and rubber plantations from late 19th century did not vote at the first State Council.
The transformation from unelected Legislative Council constituted by the Colebrooke-Cameron Commission in 1833 to elected State Council under the principle of one vote one man vote was the beginning of state power passing exclusively into the hands of the majority Sinhalese. The Sinhalese politicians realised for the first time the fact that they can emerge as the ruling class after the British finally renounced rule over Ceylon. This was foreseen by no other than Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan who cried “Donoughmore Tamils no more!”, but it was too late. He passed away on November 30,1930. Sir Ponnambalam Raman than 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 was right, he fought hard to wade off the danger, but he was ruled out as someone out of tune with times.
The Commission headed by Sir Donoughmore created a Ceylonese State Council based on territorial representation. It rejected the principle of communal representation. Under communal representation Tamils had a strong presence out of proportion to the population of the Tamil community. The Sinhalese had been divided into Kandyan and low-country Sinhalese. So the appointments were in the ratio of 2 Sinhalese and 1 Tamil to the legislature.
In 1931 there were approximately 12 Ceylon Tamils, 12 Indian Tamils (migrant and immigrant workers employed in the Tea plantations established in the late 19th century), 65 Sinhalese, and 6 Ceylon Moors.
The Donoughmore Commission was aware of the power struggles between Sinhalese and Tamils but less acute at that time compared to the history of post-independence. The Dounoughmore Commission naively thought like the Soulbury Commission 15 years late that it had devised a system of executive committees that would control all government departments. Every parliamentarian in Sri Lanka would sit on one of these committees, ensuring that no one ethnic group could control all levers of power and patronage. Instead, all executive decisions would require a measure of consensus among the different ethnic representatives.
The Donoughmore Report was adopted with the flimsiest majority of two votes. A majority of the minority communities’ representatives voted against the Report. Despite this, the British colonial masters foisted on the country a Constitution that was seen as the political conquest of the Tamils. It was further compounded by the Soulbury Commission which came to Ceylon 14 years later. These two commissions laid the foundation for the later conflict and acrimonious dissension between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils. It is still ongoing without the slightest sign of any settlement.
The State Council was inaugurated on ceremonial opening was held on July 10, but three days earlier, Sir Alexander Francis Molamure had been elected as the Speaker. In addition, the State Council elected the seven Executive Committees by secret ballot, and these met separately to choose their Chairmen.
Accordingly, the Chairmen of those Committees were announced as Ministers: Sir Don Baron Jayatilaka – Minister of Home Affairs, Don Stephen Senanayake – Minister of Agriculture and Lands, Tikri Banda Panaboke – Minister of Health, Charles Batuwantudawe – Minister of Local Administration, Sir Haji Mohamed Macan Markar – Minister of Communications and Works, C W Kannangara – Minister of Education, and Perannan Sundaram – Minister of Labor, Industry and Commerce.
But Sinhalese leaders like D.S.Senanayake had other ideas up their sleeves. In January 1936, under the Executive Committee system of the Donoughmore Constitution, the Sinhalese leaders manipulated the State Council in such a way they were able to form a Pan-Sinhala Board of Ministers, a cabinet comprising exclusively of Sinhalese. This effectively shut the Tamils from the decision-making process in the Island’s government. It is widely believed, it was Prof. C. Sunderalingam who provided the magic formulae by which Sinhalese got elected as the chairman of each of the seven boards.
Donoughmore Commission was followed by Soulbury Commission in 1944. D. S. Senanayake saw the danger in having a Pan Sinhala Board of Ministers at the time of the arrival of the Soulbury Commission. As a shrewd and wily politician he wanted to throw wool over the eyes of the members of the Soulbury Commission. To this end, he master-minded the appointment of Arunachalam Mahadeva, a respected Tamil politician as the minister of Home affaires. D.S.Senanayake quietly asked Sir Don Baron Jayatilaka to resign his post of Minister of Home Affairs and Leader of the House of the State Council. He appointed D.B.Jayatilaka as the Representative of Government of Ceylon in New Delhi, but he died while serving in his post in New Delhi.
Sir A. Mahadeva would not have dreamt that his Ministerial post will eventually turn out to be his undoing in politics. In the meantime, G.G. Ponnambalam, son of an ordinary Post Master slowly emerged as the leader of the Thamils by filling the void created by the legendry Ponnambalam brothers. He trounced Sir A. Mahadeva at the elections after a no holes barred contest for the Jaffna seat. (To be continued)
G.G. Ponnambalam son of a Post Master dislodges Sir A. Mahadeva from Aristocratic origin
The election battle for the coveted Jaffna seat was one of the hotly contested election in the Jaffna district. It was clash of titans like in Greek mythology set in the Greek city of Argos, where a war is about to explode between man and the gods.
G.G. Ponnambalam to challenge Sir A. Mahadeva parachuted to Jaffna from his home turf Point Pedro. Ponnambalam the rising star in Thamil politics wanted to defeat Mahadeva to prove his claim as the undisputed leader of the Thamils.
It might be appropriate to give the profile of these two politicians to get a better grasp of how the battle for Jaffna was fought. First A. Mahadeva son of distinguished Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, the younger brother of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan. The Ponnambalam brothers were towering figures who dominated the political scene during the first half of the 20th century. They were the most respected leaders among all communities. However, in their evening of life they were taken for a ride by scheming Sinhalese politicians who began to see opportunity to enjoy supreme political power within striking distance.
- Mahadeva’s family is one of the few families possessing continuous historical records of its members going back to the 16th century, a period before the defeat and subjugation of the Jaffna Kingdom by the Portuguese in 1619.
The family members comprised the ruling elite during the Jaffna Kingdom (1215 – 1619) Portuguese (1619 – 1658), Dutch (1658-1796) and the British (1796 – 1948) period. Since the 17th century its members built up Ceylon and played a pivotal role in public life.
A. Mahadeva’s family could be traced back to his illustrious forefathers beginning from Ponnambalam family.
Madava Mudaliyar (birth around late 1580s – 1600) is the oldest patriarch of the family.
His son was Kathirkama Mudali.
His son was Ulakanadar Mudaliyar
Ulakanadar Mudaliyar’s son was named Mathar Mudaliyar.
Lohanada Mudaliyar’s direct descendant Ponnambalam Mudaliyar married Sir Muttu Coomaraswamy’s sister.
It is nothing surprising that A. Mahadeva’s ancestory were commonly perceived to be of aristocratic origin.
Sir Muttu Coomaraswamy’s father, Arumugampillai Coomaraswamy (1783–1836) from Point Pedro joined the seminary that Governor North started for producing interpreters. Coomaraswamy passed out and served as an interpreter from 1805. He was rewarded by the Governor with a Mudaliyar position at the age of 26 and became the Jaffna Tamil with the highest government appointment. He played a critical role as the Tamil-English interpreter when the Kandyan king Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe was captured in 1815. He was rewarded with a gold chain and medal by Governor Brownrigg in 1819 for loyal service to the British crown.
Several members of A. Mahadeva’s family were married to western women. Muttu Coomaraswamy, P. Coomaraswamy, P. Ramanathan married western women. Ananda Coomaraswamy was married four times to western women.
Arunachalam Ponnambalam’s (1814–87) step Father Ariyaputhira was Coomaraswamy’s brother-in-law and in 1844 Ponnambalam married Coomaraswamy’s daughter Selachchi.
Ponnambalam was appointed cashier of the Colombo Kachcheri in 1845 and deputy Coroner for Colombo in 1847. Many leading Englishmen were his friends and it transpired in the 1849 Parliamentary Commission that he used to lend money to government officials.
His three sons P. Coomaraswamy (1849–1905), P. Ramanathan (1851–1930) and P. Arunachalam (1853–1926) were national figures and two of them, P. Coomaraswamy and P. Arunachalam married two daughters of Namasiyayam, an extremely successful broker. This closely related and endogamous clan emerged as the pre-eminent Thamil family of the country and rose to national elite status.
When territorial representation was introduced, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan contested and won the Valikaamam North Seat, in the Jaffna Peninsula, which he occupied from 1924 until his demise on 26 November 1930, almost 80 years old.
Despite the anglicized background and close relationship with the British rulers which propelled their rise, the family presented a staunch Hindu appearance and assumed the role of patrons of Hindu temples.
In 1856, Gate Mudaliyar Arunachalam Ponnambalam originally built the Ponnambala Vaneswara Temple 38, Sir Ramanathan road, Colombo, out of brick and mortar. Sir P. Ramanathan demolished it in 1906, and built a new splendid granite temple with delicately carved rock stone pillars and images on this site between 1907 and 1912. He also later built two small temples at the Ramanathan Ladies College Campus at Chunnakam and at the Parameswara Boy’s College Campus at Thirunelvely, Jaffna.
Sir P. Ramanathan’s monumental contribution to education has been the establishment of two Schools, the Ramanathan College for girls established at Chunnakam in 1913, and Parameshwara College for boys in 1920. The latter has since become the Jaffna University Campus.
A. Mahadeva’s family helped many young Thamils to secure employment in English banks and mercantile establishments. On the death of Mudaliyar Coomaraswamy’s wife in 1897, the leading daily, The Ceylon Independent wrote “to her and her husband, almost every important Hindu family in the city owes its rise.”
Sir Arunachalam Mahadeva, KCMG was born on October 05, 1885, Colombo, Ceylon. He died on June 08, 1969, Colombo as a disappointed man convinced that he has been let down by the conservative Sinhalese political elite. Like his illustrious father Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, Arunachalam Mahadeva was educated at the prestigious Royal College, Colombo.
He was elected as a member of the Legislative Council of Ceylon and to the State Council. He became the Home Minister when D. S. Senanayake became Leader of the House. From 1948 to 1950 he served as Ceylon’s High Commissioner to India.
At the time of contesting the Jaffna seat on the United National Party platform, he was Minister of Home Affairs of the State Council. After his defeat at the polls D.S.Senanayake appointed him as Ceylon’s High Commissioner for India in 1949. He held the post till 1950.
In comparison G.G. Ponnambalam, leader of the All Ceylon Thamil Congress came from an ordinary family.
Ganapathipillai Gangaser Ponnambalam, QC to give his full name was born on November 08, 1901. He died on December 09, 1977. He is best known by his initials G.G. Ponnambalam. He was a politician straddling British Ceylon, and then after independence, Ceylon. He founded the first Thamil political party the All Ceylon Thamil Congress. Ponnambalam stood for the principle of minority representation.
G.G. Ponnambalam’s parents were both from the northernmost part of the island, Jaffna District, his father Gangesar was a postmaster from Alvai North, Point Pedro, and his mother was from Navali, Manipay. He received his secondary education at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo, and then went to King’s College London on a scholarship and graduated with a degree in the Natural Sciences. He went on to Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, to study the Law Tripos. Ponnambalam graduated with a BA in Law and was subsequently called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn, London.
He was an outstanding criminal defence attorney. In the famous Ranjani taxi cab murder case, the first finger print case in Ceylon, he thoroughly demolished the testimony of Scotland Yard’s Inspector Godsell on cross-examination. He also successively defended the abortive coup d’état plotters consisting of Army, Navy and Police Officers together with a senior civil servant in 1962. The plotters made an attempt to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike. Twenty four persons were charged in courts and after protracted trial 11 were found guilty. However they were discharged later by appealing to the Privy council which ruled in their favour on technical issues.
Although Ponnambalam’s pedigree was no where near that of A. Mahadeva. However, the imbalance was more than compensated by Ponnambalam’s language fluency in both languages and his fame as a criminal lawyer. He mesmerized his audience with eloquent and witty speeches. On the other hand A. Mahadeva who was born and bred in Colombo had only a smattering knowledge of Thamil. Both his vocabulary and intonation of Thamil was so horrible Ponnambalam ridiculed and poked fun at him for claiming “நானும் ஒரு டமிலன்தான்” (I too am a Damil). Poor Mahadeva couldn’t match the virulemt tongue lashing by Ponnambalam on election platforms.
I have heard many jokes about Ponnambalam’s career as a politician and as an eminent criminal lawyer. Once a rustic man from Jaffna accused of first degree murder went to see Ponnambalam whose residence was at Queen Street, Colombo, a fashionable residential area of the elite, with the good office of a Proctor. In those days one has to go through a proctor to retain an advocate. It is said Ponnambalam demanded Rs.10,000 as his fee. Rs.10,000 may look like peanuts today, but 50 or more years ago it was a princely sum. One can order cloth to stich a troucer for little as Rs. 25! My first salary (1952) as a clerk in the clerical service was only Rs.212.50. A rattled client explained in detail the murder charge against him and finally concluded by saying that he is completely innocent and he did not murder the victim.
After listening to his story patiently, Ponnambalam told the Proctor “if indeed your client is innocent of the charge against him, please ask him why he came all the way to Colombo to see Ponnambalam?”
G.G. Ponnambalam entered the State Council of Ceylon in 1934 from Point Pedro after calling off the boycott campaign by the Jaffna Youth Congress. In 1931 he contested Mannar and lost.
G.G. Ponnambalam shot to prominence when he appeared before the Soulbury Commission to plead for the famous 50:50 balanced representation. In a legislature of 100 seats, 50 seats to the Sinhalese and the balance 50 divided among minorities (25 to Thamils) and the balance to other communities like Moors, Malays, Burghers and Europeans.
The Soulbury Commission visited during 1944-45 and held public sittings in the principal cities of the island. All the important minority communities made representations through their organisations. An ad-hoc body of Thamil leaders under the leadership of G. G, Ponnambalam made representations before the Commission on behalf of the Ceylon Thamils. He was the sole spokesman. He demanded fifty fifty – a demand for balanced representation for the minorities within the unitary character of the Constitution. Earlier, consensus for fifty-fifty formula for parliamentary representation had been reached among all the Thamil leaders of the time. The Soulbury Commission paid a polite tribute to G. G. Ponnambalam’s performance and language eloquence, but rejected his demand for balanced representation. The Commission rubberstamped the scheme of the Board of Ministers in its totality though it was not submitted publicly. For outward appearance D.S.Senanayake maintained the charade of boycotting the Commission sittings. The Board of Ministers’ draft constitution was completely a Singhalese proposal, and that the appointment of the Commission by British government was merely for the sake of appearance that Thamils and other minorities were consulted.
The ad hoc committee was transformed into Thamil Congress in 1944 just before the arrival of the Soulbury Commission. G. G. Ponnambalam became its President while Dr. Naganathan was its Secretary. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam became its Deputy Leader.
The marathon evidence that lasted for more than ten hours G.G. Ponnambalam gave before the Soulbury Commission deserves close examination. And why Ponnambalam after waxing eloquence abandoned ship and joined D.S. Senanayake cabinet, after reviling him without mercy, under the guise of “offering responsive cooperation” the very first year of independence is equally baffling and needs scrutiny for the sake of posterity. (To be continued)
G.G. Ponnambalam’s Balanced Representation (‘Fifty, Fifty’)
I made mention of Donoughmore Commission (1931) which laid the foundation for political power being transferred from the British Colonial Secretary and the state council to Ceylonese on the basis of universal suffrage that is one man one vote. Then followed the Soulbury Commission in 1945 which allowed the majority Sinhalese community to consolidate power in their hands. These two commissions laid the foundation for the later conflict and the great divide between the majority Sinhalese and minority Thamils. At the cost of repetition this great divide is still ongoing without the slightest sign of any settlement.
It was Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan who rightly figured out that universal suffrage will eventually vest political power in the hands of the Sinhalese since they form the majority. That is the reason why P. Ramanathan denounced the Donoughmore Commission as “Donoughmore means no more Thamils.”
There was another reason why P. Ramanathan opposed the Donoughmore Commission reforms. Universal suffrage meant the high caste Thamils have to go begging for votes from the so called low caste Thamils. P. Ramanathan who was a staunch Hindu did not relish this turn around in politics.
In fact, Thamil politics during the time of the Donoughmore Commission was dominated by casteism with P. Ramanathan, Arumuga Naavalar as their chief exponents. Thamils who were numerically smaller (about 15) of the population maintained a dominant position in the early legislatures of the country. The introduction of Universal Franchise in 1931 completely changed the character of Ceylonese politics, where Thamil politicians found it that they would become numerically a minority. The Ceylon National Congress founded by P. Arunachalam in 1919 collapsed after he resigned abruptly as president when the Sinhalese leaders reneged on the promise to nominate him as a candidate for the Western Province (Colombo)electorate.
Earlier, he has secured a written promise on 07.12.1918 from James Peiris, President, Ceylon National Association and E.J. Samarawickreme, President, Ceylon Reform League, that they “would actively support a provision for the reservation of a seat to the Thamils in the Western Province (Colombo) so long as the electorate remains territorial”. He was told, that they were against communal representation and therefore opposed to a separate seat for the Thamils of the Western Province. He was advised, perhaps rightly, that he should contest from the Northern/Eastern province where the Thamils were in a majority.
- Arunachalam must have taken the advice quite seriously and on 16th September, 1923 formed the Ceylon Thamil League (Ilankai Thamil Makkal Cankam) to safeguard Thamil Culture in the Thamilakam (Arunachalam’s speech in the ‘Morning Leader’ of that date). Evidently he was the originator to the concept of a Thamil Homeland comprising the North and Eastern provinces. Up to that time both the Sinhalese and Thamil communities were considered as the two ‘founding peoples’ or majority communities. P. Arunachalam strived to achieve national unity, but some Sinhalese began to regard the Thamils as a minority community from 1922 onwards.
Unfortunately, P. Arunachalam could not accomplish the historical task he embarked for the Thamil people. He died at Madurai on 9 January 1924, while on a pilgrimage worshipping at the Hindu Temples in South India.
The vacuum left by the Ponnambalam brothers remained unfulfilled till the entry of G.G. Ponnambalam to national politics in 1934. Being an orator and a good debater in both languages it took only a few years for him to emerge as the undisputed leader of Ceylon Thamils. By the time the Soulbury Commission arrived in Ceylon in 1944, G.G. Ponnambalam metamorphosed as a champion for Thamil peoples’ rights and a formidable foe of the Sinhalese Ministers. He used the formation of the Pan Sinhala Board of Ministers under the Donoughmore constitution to prove Sinhalese leaders like D.S. Senanayake’s bad faith. After G.G. Ponnambalam unfurled his cry for balanced representation, popularly dubbed fifty fifty formulae, he became a household name both near and far.
G.G. Ponnambalam mesmerized and galvanized the Thamils by raising the captivating slogan தமிழன் என்று சொல்லடா, தலை நிமிர்ந்து நில்லடா which I heard it first hand. What more I myself have been shouting hoarse when processions were organized during elections in support of G.G. Ponnambalam the star candidate contrasting Sir A. Mahadeva for the Jaffna seat. People from all corners of Jaffna electorate marched in their thousands to the famous ground at the heart of the town called Mutraveli.
தமிழன் என்று சொல்லடா
தலை நிமிர்ந்து நில்லடா
Herald that you are a Thamil
Stand upright head high
Proclaim you have no
Equal in the world!
Ponnambalam’s Congress supporters also coined another slogan which was chanted liberally during elections. It was a spin around his name Ponnambalam. ‘பொன்னம்பலம் எங்கள் பலம்’ (Ponnambalam our might) worked wonders during elections. A. Mahadeva and his supporters couldn’t counter the vitriolic and fiery propaganda unleashed by his adversaries.
Contrary to the popular believe that G.G. Ponnambalam was the originator of the demand for balanced representation, in actual fact the inspiration for such a demand came from Sir William Manning’s warning for non-domination.
Governor, Sir William Manning and Secretary of State for the Colonies the Duke of Devonshire displayed their political and constitutional interests about Ceylon. Between 1924 and 1934, these two gentlemen, tried in their own way to protect the interests of the Thamil community. They sent numerous dispatches emphasising the need to protect minority interests in general and Thamil interests in particular. Of course the Sinhalese accuse these two functionaries of having adopted a policy of”divide and rule,” which no doubt is baseless and unfounded.
In 1922, Sir William Manning laid down the governing principles for constitutional reform, which from the mid-1930s onwards became the sheet anchor of the bold and marathon crusades launched by G.G. Ponnambalam for balanced representation for the minorities (“Fifty-Fifty”). Governor Manning wrote: “The composition of the Legislative Council was so arranged that while the Government cannot carry a measure, except under clause 52 of the Order in Council, in the face of the united opposition of the Unofficial Members, no single community can impose its will on the other communities”.
Clause 52 provided that if the Governor deemed the passing of any bill of paramount importance, only the votes of the Official Members and the Nominated Official Members, not those of the Unofficial Members, needed to be taken into account for the bill to be carried through. On 11, 1923, the Secretary of State approved this arrangement. The result was the demand for balanced representation.
However, Sir Andrew Caldecott, who succeeded Manning as Governor, disposed of the demand for balanced representation “in one line,” according to G.G. Ponnambalam. (The Marathon Crusade for ‘FIFTY, FIFTY’ (Balanced the State Council 1939)
Before Ponnambalam argued his case for balanced representation before the Soulbury Commission, he articulated the nuts and bolts of balanced representation in a speech he made at the Legislative Assembly on June 1936. Here is an extract of the speech as recorded by Late Professor Jeyaratnam Wilson in his book “Sri Lankan Thamil Nationalism – Its origins and Development in the 19th and 20th Centuries”:
“…… In a marathon speech in the State council, the longest on record at that time, Ponnambalam spelled out in the fullest and in simple language why he was pressing hard for his solution. By 1940, it was clear that Ponnambalam was acknowledged as a leader by the Northern Province members of the sate council, among whom were members of the distinguished Arunachalam – Ramanathan family…..”Outside the State Council, Ponnambalam received support from S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, Dr. E.M.V. Naganathan and the prominent Colombo solicitor, S.Sivasubramaniam. At first, not all of the Thamil political class, especially in law and other professions, readily accepted Ponnambalam, but he proved an aggressive and bold leader and successfully silenced his critics. By 1940 he had won over the major conservative Thamil political organizations in Jaffna ……. for a man just turned forty, this was unusual in a society embedded in tardyon….”
Below is an extract of Ponnambalam’s speech in the State Council in 1939:
In a marathon speech delivered by Ponnambalam in the State Council in 1939, the longest on record up to that time, on the Reform Dispatch of Sir Andrew Caldecott, he said:
“Mr. Speaker, I now come to an observation made by His Excellency the Governor. His Excellency the Governor, before he deals with the machinery of Government, disposes of in one line what he has chosen to call the fifty-fifty demand, a crude arithmetical formula. The demand, as far as I am aware, of the minorities in this country has been for balanced representation, for representation on the basis that no single community should be in a position to out-vote a combination of all the other communities in the Island. That does not necessarily mean a fifty-fifty basis. It might mean more or less”.
“His Excellency must have been aware more than any one else that what was contemplated by all of us was not a reversion to communal representation, not a demarcation or reservation of communal seats, not even a reservation of seats in joint electorates for particular interests, but a re-demarcation, a re-delimitation of the electoral boundaries in this country in such a way as to permit members of the minority communities, if they feel so disposed, for some time to come, to return Members belonging to their communities so that the major community should not be in a position to out-vote the other communities. I submit to every right-thinking Member of his House that to make that demand is one thing and to put down an inflexible, crude mathematical formula such as fifty-fifty is another thing. And by whom was this demand made?”
“Not by me, It might appear to some Members of this House that this is the demand of a mischievous mind, made within the last few years: that neither the Thamils as a community nor the accredited leaders of the Thamil community in the past, had made a demand of this nature. Sir, I should like to nail that misapprehension to the counter.
“His Excellency, as a matter of fact, wanted the imprimatur and sanction of the Colonial Office to go forward. Why, I ask Hon. Members, this unbecoming haste even on the part of His Excellency? One can only put the one possible generous interpretation on it and that is that there was persistent pressure brought to bear by the Board of Ministers in order that the scheme, the little pet scheme, hatched in secret and in darkness may receive the approval of the Colonial Office before Hon. Members had an opportunity of discussing it.
And I am happy to be able to pay my humble tribute to British legislators, to the Colonial Office and to His majesty’s Government that they thought if fit to send back the Dispatch of His Excellency to be discussed in this House before any action was taken. Otherwise we would have been completely shut out from expressing our opinions on this question”. (“Minorities and Constitutional Reforms”)
More on balanced representation or Fifty, Fifty next time. (To be continued)
D.S.Senanayake officially boycotted the Soulbury Commission but worked behind the scene!
The marathon speech delivered by G.G. Ponnambalam in the State Council in 1939 as well as an Examination of Soulbury Constitution Proposed for Ceylon The Thamil Minority Case were subsequently published as a book under the title “Marathon Crusade for FIFTY FIFTY (Balanced Representation) In the State Council by Manimekalai Publications, Chennai. Interested students of history can read the full book in Sangam web (http://sangam.org/g-g-ponnambalams-50-50-speech-to-sri-lankas-state-council-1939/). One can glean a wealth of information in this publication. In his speech G.G. Ponnambalam made a passionate plea for balanced representation since he feared the majority Sinhalese community will monopolise political power through the parliament controlled by a permanent majority Sinhalese.
Let me now fill some gaps leading to the appointment of the Soulbury Commission and its final report on constitutional reforms since this important commission was a watershed in the history of Ceylon Thamils as well as Thamils of Indian origin. The Soulbury Commission re-enforced the Donoughmore Commission’s perception that Thamils are a minority community in perpetuity.
We have seen that when Sri Lanka’s campaign for independence was in its final stages, the British government appointed a Commission on July 5, 1944, led by Lord Soulbury, to visit Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon), in connection with the reform of the Constitution. The Soulbury Commission’s terms of reference were as follows:
“To visit Ceylon in order to examine and discuss any proposals for constitutional reform in the Island which have the object of giving effect to the Declaration of His Majesty’s Government on that subject dated 26th May, 1943, and, after consultation with various interests in the Island, including minority communities, concerned with the subject of constitutional reform, to advise His Majesty’s Government on all measures necessary to attain that object.”
The declaration of May 1943 had referred to the British commitment to grant Ceylon “full responsible Government under the Crown in all matters of internal civil administration.”
As mentioned before the Soulbury Commission visited Ceylon during 1944-45 and held public sittings in the principal cities of the island. The Commission had sittings from December 1944 till April, 1945.
In accordance with their mandate, the Commissioners met 80 deputations of organisations and individuals covering political, ethnic, religious, professional, women’s, business, administrative, regional, and agricultural and workers’ interests in the island. Among them were Thamil parties, politicians and eminent persons, including G. G. Ponnambalam, C. Suntharalingam, The All-Ceylon Thamil Congress, The Jaffna Association, The Ceylon Thamils Association, The Ceylon Indian Congress and The All-Ceylon Minority Thamil Maha Sabha. All the deputations were free to convey all their grievances and aspirations as forcefully as they wished.
ALL the important minority communities made representations through their organisations. The Thamil Congress founded in 1944 under the leadership of G. G. Ponnambalam made representation before the Commission on behalf of Ceylon Thamils. G. G. Ponnambalam presented the case as its sole spokesman. He enunciated the fifty-fifty formula for parliamentary representation, which represented the consensus that had been reached among all the Thamil leaders of the time. The fifty-fifty formula simply meant that fifty percent of the seats in the legislature to be established under the reformed constitution should be allotted to the Singhalese by virtue of their being the majority people, while all the other minority communities put together should be given the remaining fifty- percent.
Towards this end G.G. Ponnambalam went about forging unity among political leaders of the minority communities. T.B. Jaya appointed member representing Malays and K.Nadesa Iyar an Indian leader from Hatton strongly supported the demand for fifty fifty by G.G. Ponnambalam. Members of the European and Burgher communities too supported G.G. Ponnambalam. But, Ponnambalam failed to win the support of the Muslim League over differences in allocating pro rata the 50 seats for the minority communities. Of course none of the Sinhalese leaders came forward to support Ponnambalam’s balanced representation scheme. They were opposed to representation on communal basis and demanded territorial representation where they stood to gain immensely.
It is said that S.W.R.D. Bandaranayke put forwarded a 60:40 ratio in lieu of 50:50 demand by G.G. Ponnambalam, but the latter rejected it. There appears to be no credence to this claim since Ponnambalam categorically denied later that there was a proposal to that effect and he rejected it. (More on this later)
Under colonial dispensation the Thamils were treated as a major community. They had 1 member for 1 Sinhalese from 1837 to 1889. From 1889 to 1910 there was 1 Thamil member for 2 Sinhalese members. From 1910 to 1921 there were 2 Thamil members for 3 Sinhalese members, with one elected seat for the educated Ceylonese who also happened to be a Thamil.
In 1921, territorial representation was introduced resulting in the State Council nearly swarmed by minority Sinhalese. Following protest by Thamils the constitution was withdrawn. In 1923, a new constitution introduced the ratio of 1 Thamil to 2 Sinhalese thus embodying the principle of balanced representation under which no single community could outvote a combination of the rest in the Legislature. In the Legislative Council from 1923 to 1931 there were 37 unofficial members of whom 18 were Sinhalese and 19 minorities, the latter never combined against the former.
The principles of representation were based on the realization that:
(a) The people of Ceylon were not a single entity.
(b) The population was heterogeneous.
(c) The needs of the various communities differed widely.
(d) Under territorial representation, important communities would not be represented at all or be most inadequately or under represented.
D.S. Senanayake and the Board of Ministers drew up a constitution for Ceylon without the approval or knowledge of the minorities, incorporating therein a scheme of representation with which the one and only Thamil Minister (Sir A.Mahadeva) on the Board would not agree. When the Soulbury Commission was appointed, affording to minorities an opportunity to make their representations the Ministers withdrew their scheme and did not appear before the Commissioners either to defend or elucidate its numerous provisions. D.S. Senanayake and the Board of Ministers resorted to an official boycott of the commission as an expression of their disapproval for widening scope of the commission. However, this merely meant that they did not appear before the commission in public or “official” sittings, but Senanayake and his associates held private meetings where the commissioners were the guests of honour.
In fact the Soulbury Commission in its report wittingly or unwittingly acknowledged that it had “several valuable private discussions with the Sinhalese leader (apparently D.S.Senanayake) but what they discussed was neither the Thamils nor the public knows.
D.S. Senanayake worked behind the scene after presenting a draft constitution drawn by Sir Ivor Jennings, QC, Litt D (Cantab) LLD (Lond), who was a British lawyer and academic and Principal University College and later the first Vice Chancellor of the University of Ceylon. D.S. Senanayake also used the services of Sir Oliver Earnest Goonetillake a top ranking and influential public servant serving as Auditor General under the British as a go between the Board of Ministers and the Commission. In fact Oliver Goonetilleke became an “unofficial secretary” to the commission and significantly influenced it. This enabled Senanayake and his advisors to present their views without getting into confrontational politics with G. G. Ponnambalam who was allowed to dominate many of the official hearings.
Sir Oliver Goonetilleke was later rewarded by D.S.Senanayake by appointing him as Governor-General of Ceylon (1954-1962) and the first Ceylonese individual to hold the vice-regal post.
G.G.Ponnambalam recalled the magnificent grandeur of the past and articulated before the Commission with intellectual vigour that Thamil people should be afforded parity of status. Like Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, G. G. Ponnambalam and others refused to accept that the Thamils are a minority community in Ceylon. His submissions before the Soulbury commission included unfair discrimination against Thamils. These included claims of discrimination in appointments to the Public Service, claims of settlement policies in newly opened colonisation schemes which favour the Sinhalese, the Buddhist Temporalities act of 1931, the Anuradhapura Preservation Ordinance of 1931, the question of ports in the Northern peninsula, discriminatory bias in education, medical services etc., favouring the Sinhalese.
- G. Ponnambalam in his marathon speech regarding balanced representation in the State Council in 1939 asked:
“And what is the position of the Thamil community? I want to repeat that our position is this. We are inhabitants of this country. We have lived here and a branch of the Thamil community has lived here possibly longer than our brethren the Sinhalese. This is our home. We have as much right to claim to have permanent and vested interests in this country politically and otherwise as the Sinhalese people. We do not propose to be treated as undesirable aliens. We do not and will not tolerate being segregated in ghettos and treated like Semites in the Nazi States of Central Europe.”
Sir A. Mahadeva also submitted proposals suggesting 60:40 representation to Sinhalese and other minorities combined together. This was rejected by the Commissioners. G.G. Ponnambalam’s proposals too were rejected since it had only the support of 12 members.
G.G. Ponnambalam relied more on his debating skills rather than on practical politics in his submissions before the Commission members. Politics and history are inseparable and that one tends to impact heavily on the other. His proposals were considered as an insidious attempt to confer a minority supremacy over a virtual majority and thus a “denial of the democratic principle”. The Hindu organ, an influential newspaper of the time, condemned it as something that “can only be maintained against the united opposition of the Sinhalese by British bayonets.”
In more than one sense Ponnambalam was over-confident. He did not attempt to create a political strategy that accepted the reality on the ground. He did not have an alternative plan of action if the demand for fifty fifty is rejected by the Commission which it did. He stuck to his fifty fifty demand till the end and refused to compromise.
Granted the Soulbury Commission acceded to the demand of G.G. Ponnambalam, there was no guarantee that the other minorities like the Muslims and the Hill country Thamils would have stood with the Ceylon Thamils against the Sinhalese. Like now, in all likelihood the Muslims would have thrown their weight with the Sinhalese in return for ministerial portfolios, diplomatic postings and other numerous perks. (To be continued)
There was no offer of 60:40 in lieu of G.G. Ponnambalam’s fifty – fifty
As mentioned before, The Soulbury Commission was officially boycotted by D.S.Senanayake, but he worked behind the curtains to sell the draft constitution authored by Sir Ivor Jennings for the Board of Ministers.
The British historian Jane Russell argues that the official boycott of the Soulbury Commission by the Board of Ministers led by Senanayake was a “statesman-like action, if not a diplomatic coup. The fact that the more … communal-minded (politicians) held aloof …, enabled the minorities to have the floor unchallenged. This manoeuvre avoided a repetition of the situation … of the Donoughmore Commission where there had been a spiralling of communal demands as accusations and denunciations (which) provoked counter-accusations, … until communal tension reached … in outbreaks of violence. It enabled G. G. Ponnambalam to strut about the political arena for a few months unimpeded”, while the Board of Ministers maintained a quiet dignity while doing behind-the-curtain politics. Thus the visit of the Soulbury Commission and the final Soulbury Report did much to reconcile the minority communities with the Sinhalese leadership under D. S. Senanayake. The voting in the third reading (in March) of the “Free Lanka” bill of January 1945 was supported by all the Muslim members, and by T. G. Raja Kulendran, S. P. Vythilingam, and V. Nalliah. Some of the other minority members who did not want to openly support the bill took care to be absent or abstain. Finally, the debate and the vote of acceptance on the eighth and ninth of September 1945 was the most significant indication of general reconciliation among the ethnic and regional groups. Far exceeding the 3/4 majority required by the Soulbury Commission, Senanayake had 51 votes in favour and only three votes against the adoption of the constitution. The vote was “in many ways a vote of confidence by all communities in … Senanayake”, and the minorities were as anxious as the majority for self-government.
D.S. Senanayake wanted to avoid a repetition of the acrimonious debate before the Donoughmore Commission where there had been a spiralling of ‘communal’ demands as accusations and denunciations (which) provoked counter-accusations until communal tension reached in outbreak of violence.
In the 1930s, the leader of the Ceylon Thamils was G.G. Ponnambalam. The very first communal riots between Sinhalese and Thamils took place in Navalapitiya in 1939. He rejected the Sinhala identity camouflaged as Ceylonese identity and described himself a proud Dravidian. The Mahavamsa, especially in modern Sri Lanka, has acquired significance as a document with a political message. The Sinhalese majority often use Mahavamsa as a proof of their claim that Sri Lanka is a Buddhist nation from historical time.
George Turnour’s translation of the Mahavamsa in 1838 helped establish it as Sri Lanka’s original historical text and contribute to the belief among both the colonizers and the colonized that the Sinhalese race had an unbroken magnificent past. British writers and later Sri Lankan writers contributed to this belief due to the way in which they narrated the history of Sri Lanka.
Anagarika Dharmapala (1864 -1933 – Homeless Protector of the Dhamma) is an early Sinhala nationalist who was to have a tremendous influence on the historiography of modern Sri Lanka. His writings emphasize his commitment to the belief that Sri Lanka had a wonderful Sinhalese past which originated with the Buddhist religion. He depicts the Sinhalese as the descendants of the Aryan colonists “whose ancestors have never been conquered and in whose veins no savage blood is found.” His comparison of Sri Lanka’s ancient civilization against that of Britain, Greece and Rome find the latter three lacking in comparison.
Anagarika Dharmapala had negative perceptions of non-Sinhalese such as the ‘pagan Thamils’ or the ‘European vandals’. He propagated ethnic nationalism and made the general claim of most nationalists who say that they represent “ancient racial, religious and linguistic communities”. To him the history of the Sinhalese which is equal to the history of Sri Lanka. For there is “no race on this earth today [with] a more glorious, triumphant record of victory than the Sinhalese.” Significant is also the fact that the history of Sri Lanka is not just founded on the Sinhalese race but also on the Buddhist faith, archaeological artefacts and the literary chronicles. No other nation is able to boast of such a ‘history of the island’, of such ‘a history of Religion’ and it is only the Sinhalese race which has a “Dipavamsa” and a “Mahavamsa”. He firmly believed the Sinhala nation as the perceived historical custodian of Buddhism. His chauvinistic rhetorical fire aimed not only at the colonial invaders but at his own countrymen as well. For him Lanka was only for Sinhala Buddhists and none other!
Anagarika Dharmapala’s hatred of Non Sinhala and Non Buddhist knew no bounds. His intolerance of Thamils and Muslims and their religions the other was clearly evinced through his customary vitriolic outbursts. For example he claimed “This bright, beautiful island was made into a Paradise by the Aryan Sinhalese before its destruction was brought about by the barbaric vandals. Its people did not know irreligion … Christianity and polytheism [i.e. Hinduism] are responsible for the vulgar practices of killing animals, stealing, prostitution, licentiousness, lying and drunkenness … The ancient, historic, refined people, under the diabolism of vicious paganism, introduced by the British administrators, are now declining slowly away.”
He also said “The Muhammedans, an alien people … by shylock Ian methods become prosperous like Jews. The Sinhala sons of the soil, whose ancestors for 2358 years had shed rivers of blood to keep the country free of alien invaders … are in the eyes of the British only vagabonds. The Alien South Indian Muhammedan come to Ceylon, sees the neglected villager, without any experience in trade … and the result is that the Muhammedan thrives and the sons of the sol go to the wall.”
Anagarika Dharmapala did not spare the Sinhalese Christians who converted from Buddhism with his customary invectives. He ridiculed their Westernized way of life, foreign dress and European names (such as Perera, Silva, Diaz, Cabral, Gomez).
Anagarika Dharmapala the foremost propagandist wrote in 1902 on the origin of the Sinhalese:
Two thousand four hundred and forty six years ago a colony of Aryans from the city of Sinhapura in Bengal……… sailed in a vessel in search of fresh pastures ………The descendants if the Aryan colonists were called Sinhala after their city of Sinhapura, which was founded by Sinhabahu, the – armed king. The lion-armed descendants are the present Sinhalese.
He also called on the Sinhalese to reject all that was foreign and to resurrect the past. Dharmapala wrote:
The sweet gentle Aryan children of an ancient historic race are sacrificed at the altar of the whisky-drinking, beef eating bell god of heathenism. How long, O how long, will unrighteousness last in Sri Lanka …………Practices that were an abomination to the ancient Sinhalese have today become tolerate………………………..Arise, awake, unite and join the army of Holiness and Peace and defeat the hosts of evil. (Return to Righteousness by Anagarika Dharmapala, Government Press, Colombo, pp 484 and 660)
In order to idealize the Sinhalese past, Dharmapala wrote “No nation in the world has a more brilliant history than ourselves …… There exists no race on earth today that has had more triumphant record of victory that the Sinhalese. (Ibid p 735)
Not surprisingly it was Anagarika Dharmapala who coined the words Sinhala Buddhism and Sinhala Buddhist.
G.G. Ponnambalam launched a counter attack against the “proud Aryan” concept propagated by Anagarika Dharmapala and others like Piyadasa Sirisena and Munidasa Cumaratunga. Hence his claim” I am a proud Dravidian.” He did not stop at that, but dubbed the Sinhalese “hybrid mongrel race split from the aboriginal Thamils and mixed with Aryan invaders” that created the racial rift between the Sinhalese and the Thamils for the first time.
The British historian Jane Russell has recounted how a process of “Mahavamsa bashing” began in the 1930s, especially from within the Thamil Nationalist movement. The Mahavamsa, being a history of the Sinhala Buddhists, presented itself to the Thamil Nationalists and the Sinhala Nationalists as the hegemonic epic of the Sinhala people. This view was attacked by G. G. Ponnambalam, the leader of the Nationalist Thamils in the 1930s. He claimed that most of the Sinhala kings, including Vijaya, Kasyapa, and Parakramabahu, were Thamils. Ponnambalam ‘s 1939 speech in Navalpitiya, attacking the claim that Sri Lanka is a Sinhalese, Buddhist nation was seen as an act against the notion of creating a Buddhist only nation. The Sinhala majority responded with a mob riot, which engulfed Navalapitiya, Passara, Maskeliya, and even Jaffna. The riots were rapidly put down by the British colonial government, but later this turned through various movements into the civil war in Sri Lanka which ended in 2009. (The Hindu Organ, June 1, 1939)
G.G. Ponnambalam was accused by Sinhalese nationalists (read racists) as inciting violence. But, that was a misrepresentation . G.G. Ponnambalam was merely stating a fact, that he thought was a fact. If the Sinhala people reacted violently that only showed their intolerance. G.G. Ponnambalam had some truth in his statement. One has merely to look at the ancestry of S.W.R.D. Bandaranayke, J.R. Jayewardene and Parakramabahu I of Polonnaruwa. All of whom have some Thamil ancestors.
According to James Rutnam, a historian, SWRD Bandaranaike’s direct male ancestor was Nilaperumal, a Thamil from South India who arrived in Ceylon in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century. He was described as a ‘High Priest’ of a temple in Ceylon. He was the first Kapurala in his family of the Nawagomuwe Dewale, with the fortunes of which the Bandaranaike’s were long associated. Kakapuge was a name which the family used to affect in the past. It is the Sinhalese version of Nilaperumalage, the ge name of the Bandaranayakes.
Likewise, J.R.Jeywardene descended from a family of the Colombo Chetty Community who trace their origins to the Coromondel Coast of India during Dutch rule (mid 17th century). Several generations before the birth of Don Adrian, a male member of his ancestors had married a Sinhalese lady by the name of Jayewardene from the village of Welgama near Hanvalla about 20 miles from Colombo. It was from that time that the family took the Sinhalese name of Jayewardene. One of his ancestors is Don Andryas Wijesinha Jayawardena Tamby Mudaly who accompanied John D’Oyly, Capt. and others to bring the last King of Kandy to Colombo.
- G. G.Ponnambalam’s speech declaring that he was “a proud Dravidian” and calling the Sinhalese a as “hybrid mongrel race split from the aboriginal Thamils and mixed with Aryan invaders” exacerbated the racial rift between the Sinhalese and the Thamils further. The nationalism of the G. G. Ponnambalam was matched by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike who saw an opportunity, and established the Sinhala Maha Sabha with branches all over the Sinhala areas. That was beginning of nationalism and racial politics in Sri Lanka.
I briefly quoted D.S.Senanayake’s speech in proposing the motion of acceptance of the Soulbury constitution. In fact it is a misnomer to refer to the constitution as Soulbury’ s constitution when in fact it was essentially drafted by Sir Ivor Jennings for Senanayake’ s board of ministers in 1944.
Senanayake in his acceptance speech made reference to the minorities and said “throughout this period the Ministers had in view one objective only, the attainment of maximum freedom. Accusations of Sinhalese domination have been bandied about. We can afford to ignore them for it must be plain to every one that what we sought was not Sinhalese domination, but Ceylonese domination. We devised a scheme that gave heavy weight to the minorities; we deliberately protected them against discriminatory legislation. We vested important powers in the Governor-General… We decided upon an Independent Public Service Commission so as to give assurance that there should be no communalism in the Public Service.) I do not normally speak as a Sinhalese, and I do not think that the Leader of this Council ought to think of himself as a Sinhalese representative, but for once I should like to speak as a Sinhalese and assert with all the force at my command that the interests of one community are the interests of all. We are one of another, what ever race or creed.”
D.S.Senanayake’s acceptance speech was mere rhetoric to dupe the Thamils as subsequent events proved. His reference to building a Ceylonese nation and not a Sinhalese nation was a subterfuge to camouflage his racism. (To be continued)
There was no sixty – forty offer in lieu of G.G. Ponnambalam’s fifty – fifty demand
A majority of Thamil legislators were duped by the smooth talking double speak of D.S. Senanayaka, who never passed his matriculation, calling for cooperation and the promise that there want be any Sinhalese domination, but only Ceylonese domination. They failed miserably to learn from past history. They were completely unaware of the fact D.S. Senanayake had a few bills up his sleeves that will soon erode parliamentary representation of the Thamil people by half. The Thamil leaders woefully failed to learn from history.
It was Ponnambalam Arunachalam almost three decades before who tried to build a Ceylonese nation. He formed the Ceylon National Congress in 1919 precisely to bring both the Sinhalese and the Thamils under the banner of Ceylonese. He was elected the first president of the Ceylon National Congress. But Sinhalese politicians betrayed P. Arunachalam when they denied him nomination for Colombo electorate. As mentioned already a disillusioned Arunachalam left the Ceylon National Congress and founded the Thamil Mahajana Sabhai (Thamil League) in 1921 to better advance the cause of Thamils in their political struggle.
The resignation of Ponnambalam Arunachalam from the Ceylon National and Congress and the formation of the Thamil League destroyed any hope of Ceylonese nationalism. It remains so even today. The Sinhalese and Thamils stood divided paving way for the emergence Sinhalese nationalistic and Thamil nationalistic movements. A frustrated and disillusioned Arunachalam describe the turmoil situation that has arisen between Sinhalese and Thamils as follows:
The Sinhalese and Thamil political trouble is at present creating much turmoil among the Ceylonese ………………… whatever view our informant may hold as to its wisdom and expediency and whether or not it is binding on others, to the unsophisticated mind there can be no question that these two gentlemen (James Peiris president Ceylon National Congress and E.J.Samarawickrama president of the Reform League) are bound by it, and ought to keep to it and use their influence with their followers to do likewise. But they have both repudiated it ….. is it any wonder that the Thamils refuse to trust the Sinhalese leaders of the Congress any longer and have decided to take independent action to safeguard their interests? My own duty is clear. I must stand by my pledge. (Tamils in Sri Lanka – A comprehensive History – page 425).
This was in 1921, and 92 years later Thamils still refuse to trust the Sinhalese leaders. The Thamils are in a worse position politically, economically and culturally as a distinct people living in their historical habitat and their very survival is at stake!
Unfortunately for the Thamils P.Arunachalam did not survive for long to safeguard the interests of Thamils and pursue his goal for a Thamil Homeland. He died at Madurai on 9 January 1924, while on a pilgrimage to the holy Hindu Temples in Thamil Nadu. He was 71 years old at the time of his demise.
G.G. Ponnambalam’s fifty- fifty was shot down by the Soulbury Commission saying it’s not workable. The Sinhalese strenuously attacked the fifty – fifty demand as undemocratic. The Soulbury Commissioners rejected virtually all the demands put forward by G.G. Ponnambalam’s claims as being without foundation. It even characterised the fifty-fifty demand as an attempt to subvert democracy.
I already referred to the proposal by Sir A. Mahadeva, who was the Home Minister in Senanayake’s cabinet, suggesting sixty – forty representation to Sinhalese and other minorities combined together. It is claimed D. S. Senanayake agreed to accept such a proposal, but G. G. Ponnambalam stuck to his ground and was not statesman enough to accept it. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike is also ‘credited’ of proposing something similar in lieu of Ponnambalam’s fifty – fifty. (http://www.sundaytimes.lk/070204/News/117news.html – February 04, 2007 published posthumously)
Unfortunately there is no truth in such anecdotes according to G.G.Ponnabalam’s son Kumar Ponnambalam who got his father to clarify such rumours then floating around. For purpose of record, I am giving the full text of the testament given by Kumar Ponnambalam titled “Fifty-Fifty” my father’s cry.
The late Kumar Ponnambalam, only son of G.G. wrote…
I was not ‘alive’ when the demand for the scheme of “balanced representation” in Parliament was put forward by my father, G.G. Ponnambalam.
Appu, as my sister and I called our father, put forward this demand in June 1936.
Appu had returned to Ceylon sometime in 1927 via France. After his days at Fitzwilliam House, Cambridge University and Lincoln’s Inn in London, he could not quite resist the allure of France, doubtless because of its proximity to England!
Having returned to Ceylon in 1927, Appu started dabbling in politics rather tentatively because he was studying French also during his spare time.
Appu’s day: Young Kumar, then 9, with his father the day he took oaths as Minister of Industrial Research and Fisheries in the D.S. Senanayake government. The family is at the Colombo jetty, from where G.G. Ponnambalam sailed to England the same day for a conference.
His first foray into politics was at the 1931 General elections to the then legislature which was the State Council under the Donoughmore Constitution. This proved an absolute disaster, he lost by a mere 980 votes to S.M. Anantham whom he opposed at Mannar-Mullaitivu.
Appu contested Mannar-Mullaitivu as there was a boycott of the General Elections in the four of the five Northern Province constituencies called by the Jaffna Youth Congress.
Appu strenuously campaigned for the lifting of the boycott in the Jaffna peninsula and succeeded. By-elections were called in 1934 and he ran at Point Pedro and won by a majority of 8600 votes. At the General Elections of February-March 1936, Appu again contested Point Pedro and won. It was during his membership of the State Council, after the 1936 General Elections, that Appu put forward his demand for balanced representation in parliament.
When I was at Royal, both teachers and friends used to taunt me over this demand, calling me “Fifty-Fifty”. In fact that became my nickname. I did not know what all this was about and could not understand either.
After I got interested in politics, perhaps due to the environment at home, I mustered enough courage to ask Appu what on earth “Fifty-Fifty” was all about.
The very, very hard man that he was, Appu did take time to explain to me what “Fifty-Fifty” was all about, not because he wanted to be patronizing towards me but because he had two pet positions. One was that a son’s best friend was really his father. The other was that he always wanted to be a teacher, of sorts, to me, as he indeed was for the best part of my life.
So, this is what Appu told me about “Fifty-Fifty”. He said that it was in 1931 that the pan-Sinhala Board of Ministers was set up. This was the Cabinet of that time and it consisted entirely of Sinhalese. This move meant that the Tamils were thrown out, lock, stock and barrel from the decision-making process of this country. Appu could not accept this but was helpless to do anything about it because he was, at best, only a voice in the wilderness, as indeed I am at this moment.
Appu said that he was convinced that the pan-Sinhala Board of Ministers was set up with impunity because the Tamils were a minority and, therefore, helpless. He believed that this was an act of oppression on the part of the Sinhalese and set him thinking about how best to prevent the Tamils from being trampled upon. It dawned on him that if a mechanism could be evolved whereby the legislators would not be able to ignore the Tamils, there would not be oppression by the majority. It was this process of thinking that culminated in his formula of “Fifty-Fifty”.
Appu thought that in any legislature, if exactly half the number of seats is reserved for the majority and the other half given to all the minorities put together, the majority will never be able to bring legislation that would be detrimental to any minority.
Appu said that the Englishman understood his scheme very well as was evidenced in the Soulbury Commission Report which said that “the voting powers in the legislature should be based on a balanced scheme of representation that would avoid the danger of concentration of power in one community, but would ensure its equitable distribution among all communities and the people as a whole”.
Appu was alive to the inherent weakness of his scheme too. He said that this scheme was not foolproof because if one or more in the minorities group decided to join the Sinhalese, what he sought to prevent would not be achieved.
Appu also said that his scheme presupposes a number of situations – that all the minorities will be keen on seeing that it is not discriminated against; and that there will be loyalty to high principles and idealism.
Appu thought that he could put forward this demand in a meaningful way only if he himself was in Parliament. That is why, he said, he started contesting elections.
Appu said that he did not put his theory in Parliament after he won the 1934 by-election at Point Pedro because he wanted to ensure winning the General Elections in 1936 when he would have more time to see that his demand was accepted. So it was that he put forward the demand in June 1936 after the February-March General Elections.
Appu said that the “Fifty-Fifty” cry was very popular with the Europeans, Burghers, Muslims and Indian Tamils who were all “minorities” like the Ceylon Tamils, whom I refer to as the “Tamil Eelavar” today.
I asked Appu about some vague talk that he was offered “45-55” by the Sinhalese political leaders but that he refused to accept it because of his “arrogance” and that he had thereby done a disservice to the minorities. Appu said that such talk could only come from fools because if the whole idea of balanced representation was to see that the minorities were not oppressed by the majority, then it had to be “Fifty-Fifty” or nothing. Not even 49-51. No other combination or permutation would have achieved what he sought to achieve.
Appu said that at first he wanted the whole island to have 100 constituencies and Parliament to comprise 100 members. Of the 100 seats, 50 would be reserved for all the minorities. Of the 50 seats for the minorities, he wanted 25 seats for the Indian and Ceylon Tamils with the other 25 being divided between the Muslims, Burghers and Europeans. The other 50 seats were to be termed “general seats”. He said it was this scheme that got him into hot water with the Sinhalese because they cried that it was open to minorities to contest and win some of the “general seats” in which case the majority (Sinhalese) would become a minority. He immediately made his first amendment to his scheme and conceded that the other 50 seats described as “general seats” must be reserved for the Sinhalese.
Appu was so wedded to this demand that he put it before the Soulbury Commissioners when the All Ceylon Tamil Congress gave evidence before them in February 1944. For two long days he laboured on this point.
But the Soulbury Commissioners did not bite and gave, as a sop, Section 29 in the 1946 Soulbury Constitution only as a “safeguard”. Even this “pittance” was removed by the great Sinhala Constitutions of 1972 and 1978!
Appu said that it was his insistence on “Fifty-Fifty” that earned him the appellation the “Father of Communalism” because his demand had the seeds of communal representation. But Appu said that if his scheme was accepted, communal tension would have ceased to exist and there would have been more compromise and co-operation between ethnic groups.
Appu said that he was even prepared to consider a second amendment to his original scheme when he put forward the proposition that the Cabinet, at least, should be such that any one community should have less than half the Cabinet as its component of members. By this means, he said, he tried to ensure that the minorities took their due place in the government of the country. The Sinhalese and the Soulbury Commissioners were against even this.
Appu emphasized that his original scheme and two subsequent amendments would show that he had the interests of all the minorities at heart and not only one group. They also showed that he was prepared to be reasonable and accommodative at every stage and not arrogant or difficult.
I verily believe that if Appu’s demand for “Fifty-Fifty” was accepted, then all discriminatory and draconian legislation, starting with the macabre Sinhala Only law would not have seen the light of day, the country would have been spared much loss of blood and lives and we would not be standing at the parting of the ways, as we surely are at the moment.
At least on the charge that G.G, Ponnambalam was uncompromising, not flexible and stuck to his fifty – fifty demand come sun or rain, in all fairness he ought to be acquitted. (To be continued)
Section 29 (2) Provision Proved Illusory in Practice
G.G. Ponnambalam’s very artificial and unusual schemes for securing the continued parity of status of Thamils, contrary to the concept of “one man-one vote” accepted in European liberalism, met with severe disapprobation by the Commissioners. They stated that “any attempt by artificial means to convert a majority into a minority is not only inequitable, but doomed to failure”. Ponnambalam’s proposals were considered to be a means of conferring a minority supremacy amounting to virtual majority rule, and “denial of the democratic principle”. The Hindu Organ, an influential newspaper of the time, condemned it as something that “can only be maintained against the united opposition of the Sinhalese by British bayonets”.
G.G. Ponnambalam in his eight hours marathon submissions before the Soulbury Commission over 2 days claimed unfair discrimination against Ceylon Thamils. It included specific grievances and discrimination in appointments to the Public Service, claims of land settlement policies in newly opened colonisation schemes which favoured the Sinhalese, the Buddhist Temporalities act of 1931, the Anuradhapura Preservation Ordinance of 1931, the question of ports in the Northern peninsula, claimed discriminatory bias in education, medical services etc., favouring the Sinhalese.
Surprisingly the grievances and discrimination still continue hundred fold worse than during Ponnambalam’s time. Through a twist of fate, Ponnambalam after his appointment as a Minister in D.S. Senanyake’s cabinet became a willing partner in crime by aiding and abetting state aided Sinhalese colonization schemes in the eastern province. D.S. Senanayake had a master plan to colonize the east with Sinhalese settlers under the guise of giving land to landless peasants.
The Gal Oya, Allai-Kantalai settlement schemes were implemented with jet speed and with foreign funding while Ponnambalam remained the Minister of Industries and Fisheries. He joined the cabinet in November, 1948. It was a supreme irony that after complaining about discrimination in the newly opened colonization schemes Ponnambalam himself became a willing tool of D.S. Senanayake’ s Sinhalization of the eastern province. As a result of state aided colonization Thamils in the eastern province have been reduced as a minority. According to 2012 census the population of Thamils in the eastern province nose dived from 48.75% in 1946 to 39.79% in 2012 a drop of 9.36%. On the other hand the Sinhalese population increased from 8.40% in 1946 to 23.15% an increase of 14.75%. The following Table shows the change in the demographics of the eastern province before and after independence.
Population of Eastern Province by ethnic group 1881 to 2012
Source: Census Department
Grabbing of lands belonging to Thamil people by the successive Sinhalese dominated governments under various pretexts pose further threat to their very existence of Thamil people as a Nation with traditional territory of their own.
Reverting to the Soulbury Commission, though it concluded that “the evidence submitted to us provides no substantial indication of a general policy on the part of the Government of Ceylon of discrimination against Thamils, it included Section 29 (2) to prevent any potential discrimination by the majority Sinhalese. This the Commission thought will allay the concerns of the minorities, including Thamils who feared political domination by the majority Sinhalese.
The Thamil people largely accepted the Soulbury constitution that paved the way for independence, primarily because it contained this protective clause Section 29(2) and also because it provided recourse to the Privy Council in the event the protections afforded by the constitution were violated. The Privy Council and the British Crown were thus the guardians of this covenant. Thamils trusted and accepted that assurance.
It was reinforced by D.S. Senanayake the first Prime Minister of independent Ceylon, solemn promise to the Thamil and other minority communities “Do you want to be governed from London or do you want, as Ceylon, to help govern Ceylon? On behalf of the (Ceylon National) Congress (founded by Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam in 1919) and on my behalf, I give the minority communities the sincere assurance that no harm need you fear at our hands in a free Lanka.” D.S. Senanayake was giving an assurance on behalf of the ethnic majority that they will not avail themselves of the numerical superiority in parliament to discriminate against the Thamils.
As I have always maintained, D.S. Senanayake never had the intension to deliver on his promise. He was speaking tongue in cheek as subsequent constitutional moves by him proved. One of the glaring examples is the enactment of the Citizenship Act 1948 which rendered a million Hill Country Thamils stateless and later vote less. Therefore, his promise was meant to deceive the unsuspecting Thamil members of the State Council.
Now let us see the text of the much touted Section 29(2) safeguard provision of the Soulbury constitution. Section 29 reads as follows:
LEGISLATIVE POWERS AND PROCEDURE
- (1) Subject to the provisions of this Order, Parliament shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Island.
(2) No such law shall –
(a) Prohibit or restrict the free exercise of any religion; or
(b) Make persons of any community or religion liable to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of other communities or religions are not made liable; or
(c) Confer on persons of any community or religion any privilege or advantage which is not conferred on persons of other communities or religions, or
(3) Any law made in contravention of subsection (2) of this section shall, to the extent of such contravention, be void.
(4) In the exercise of its powers under this section, Parliament may amend or repeal any of the provisions of this Order, or of any other Order of Her Majesty in Council in its application to the Island:
Provided that no Bill for the amendment or repeal of any of the provisions of this Order shall be presented for the Royal Assent unless it has endorsed on it a certificate under the hand of the Speaker that the number of votes cast in favour thereof in the House of Representatives amounted to not less than two-thirds of the whole number of Members of the House (including those not present).
What this provision means is that it prevented Parliament of Ceylon from conferring benefits on the majority community and imposing disabilities on the minorities.
It was on the basis of this safeguard that the Thamils acquiesced in the granting of independence to Ceylon in 1948. But, a critical reading of clause 4 of Section 29 (2) above reveals that powers under the provision could be amended or repealed with a two-thirds – majority of the whole number of Members of the House (including those not present).
Therefore, Section 29(1) was not an entrenched clause that cannot be amended by parliament. It was not by any means a real safe guard for the minorities.
Thus in the 1970 elections the United Front won 77% of parliamentary seats (but, only 49% of total votes polled) and if the UF government wanted it, it could have amended or repealed subsection (2). But it deliberately chose not to do so. What it did was to ditch the entire section. We shall analyse the reason(s) why it did so in the next instalment. (To be continued)
Confronted With a Legal Quandary Government Decided To Axe Section 29 Altogether
As mentioned already, the United Front won 77 of parliamentary seats (but, only 49 of popular votes) in the 1970 general election that gave the 2/3rd parliamentary majority needed by the United Front government led by Mrs.Bandaraike to amend the constitution legally in terms of the Soulbury constitution, but expressly chose not to do so.
Section 29 was the pivotal minority protection mechanism of the Soulbury constitution, which constitutionally restricted the Parliament of Ceylon from enacting legislation having the effect of discriminating against any ethnic or religious community.
Section 29 laid down the procedure for constitutional amendment, for which it established essentially three requirements:
(1) A two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives;
(2) A simple majority in the Senate; and
(3) A certificate from the Speaker that the requisite two-thirds had been obtained in the passage of the amendment bill.
We saw earlier, despite Section 29 protections of minority rights, the discriminatory Citizenship Act of 1948 and the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Act of 1949 (both discriminated against the Upcountry Thamils) were passed by the UNP Government under D.S.Senanayake and that the Sinhala Only Act of 1956 (which discriminated against the entire Thamil speaking community) was passed by the SLFP led MEP Government under S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. Legal appeals were made, but in regard to Citizenship Acts they were ultimately turned down by the Privy Council, in Britain.
The discriminatory legislations deprived the Upcountry Thamils of their electoral power in the Highlands. In the elections held in 1947, they returned 7 members to parliament and influencing the result in another 20 electorates mainly contested by the left parties. They like the rest of the voters voted as British subjects.
In most Constitutions in Third World countries, the question of citizenship becomes a subject of importance to the future stability of the country. The Soulbury Constitution at the behest of D.S.Senanayake left the subject out of its ambit. G.G.Ponnambalam who was the undisputed leader of the Ceylon Thamils completely failed to raise the issue before the Soulbury Commission. This was an unpardonable sin committed by him and reveals his lack of foresight.
In fact, G.G.Ponnambalam inaugurated the All Ceylon Thamil Congress on 29 th August 1944 to safeguard and look after the interests of Thamil speaking people in the whole of Sri Lanka.
Out of three days allotted to the Thamil Congress by the Soulbury Commission, G. G. Ponnambalam spent one whole day to represent matters relating to the rights of the Indian Thamils before the Soulbury Commission. This resulted in Soulbury commission recommendation that 14% of the seats in Parliament be “reserved” for the Indian Citizens. However, when elections were held in1947, the Ceylon Indian Congress led by S.Thondaman managed to secure only 7 seats. But after the passage of the Ceylon Citizenship Act 48 in 1948 and the Ceylon (Parliamentary Elections) Amendment Act No.48 of 1949, Thamils of Indian origin completely lost representation in parliament.
- Thondaman opposed these laws and argued that most of the Indians were permanent residents and were the sons and daughters of the soil as are the Sinhalese or the “Malabar Thamils”. The Marxist politicians criticised the move as the act of capitalist-imperialist lackeys, while S.J.V. Chelvanayakam criticised the government as a Sinhala extremist regime and branded Ponnambalam a traitor.
Had these laws were not passed, subsequent pogroms of 1956, 1958, 1977, 1979, 1981 and 1983 could have been avoided and the Sinhala Only Act which made Thamils Second Class Citizens and humiliated them would not have been passed in Parliament.
A plain rending of Section 29 will make it clear that this provision was intended to only impose a procedural restriction in the form of the two-thirds requirement on Parliament’s legislative power. It was not meant to be an absolute or substantive restriction. If the procedural requirement imposed by the constitution was met, Parliament could effect any change it wished on the constitution, including Section 29. There was thus no provision that was absolutely protected from change. There is no doubt from Jennings’ writings on the Soulbury constitution that this is what was intended in the formulation of Section 29.
However, there was contrary opinion that section 29 was an entrenched provision and un-amendable by parliament even with a two-third majority. One of the ardent advocate of this argument was Dr.Colvin R de Silva the fiery Trotskyite of the 4th International. This was in the sixties, but in 1972 as Minister of Constitutional Affairs under Mrs. Bandaranaike he was asked to axe section 29 and the senate. It is claimed the order was given by Felix Dias Bandaranaike, Minister of Justice and nephew of Mrs. Bandaranaike. It was made clear that failure to comply with the order will be at the expense of Colvin’s Ministerial portfolio. Dr. Colvin R de Silva not wishing to become job meekly complied with the order.
There was debate whether Section 29 became a legal quandary in the context of certain observations about the scope and content of Section 29 of the Soulbury constitution made by British judges in the Privy Council in several cases filed in the 1960s. It was suggested that the anti-discrimination provision was absolutely un-amendable, even by a two-thirds majority. The Privy Council in London was then the final court of appeal for Ceylon, and as such, the final adjudicator of constitutional questions under the Soulbury constitution. Section 29 was the pivotal minority protection mechanism of the Soulbury constitution, which constitutionally restricted the Parliament of Ceylon from enacting legislation having the effect of discriminating against any ethnic or religious community.
- S.J. V. Chelvanayakam, the leader of the newly formed Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) contested the Citizenship Act before the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, and then in the Privy council in England, on grounds of discrimination towards minorities, but he did not succeed in overturning it.
Kodakanpillai, an Indian Tamil from the Ruwanwella electoral district, applied for his name to be included in the electoral register on the basis that his exclusion was violative of section 29(2). His application was refused by the Assistant Registering Officer and he appealed to the Revising Officer. The latter held that the two Acts referred to above were invalid as offending section 29(2). The Assistant Registering Officer and the Commissioner of Elections moved the Supreme Court for Writs of Certiorari to quash the decisions of the Revising Officer.
With regard to the Citizenship Act, the Supreme Court held that it was a perfectly natural and legitimate function of the legislature of a sovereign country to determine the composition of its nationals. In the instant case, the object of the legislature was to confer the status of citizenship only on persons who were in some way intimately connected with the country for a substantial period of time. The Court took the view that the language of the impugned provisions was free from ambiguity and therefore their practical effect and the motive for their enactment were irrelevant. The Court even doubted whether it was the intention of the Soulbury Constitution to make section 29(2) a safeguard for the minorities alone and stated that such intention has not been manifested in the words chosen by the legislature.
Another costly court challenge under Section 29 followed after the passage of the Sinhala Only Act in 1956. (Attorney-General of Ceylon v Kodeeswaran, Supreme Court S C. 408/64-D. C. Colombo, 1026/Z, Lawnet, Sri Lanka; Kodeeswaran v Attorney-General of Ceylon, Privy Council Appeal No. 38 of 1968, Lawnet, Sri Lanka.)
A Thamil public servant, C Kodeeswaran, was a senior officer in the executive grade of the Government Clerical service. In 1962, Kodeeswaran, a member (later President) of the Arasanga Eluthu Vignar Sangam (AES) sued the Government in the Colombo District Court on the grounds that the regulation under which his increment was stopped was illegal and unreasonable.
AES was a breakaway group from the Government Clerical Service Union (GCSU) controlled by the Ceylon Communist Party. The GCSU dominated by Sinhalese supported the stand of the government that those who are not proficient in Sinhala should study Sinhala and pass exams to qualify for annual increments and promotions. Thus the GCSU which stood for working class solidarity forsake its Thamil members. Thamil public servants who joined government service before July, 1956 refused to study Sinhala claiming they are not bound by the Act.
A galaxy of prominent lawyers appeared on behalf Kodeeswaran that included M.Tiruchelvam QC, C. Ranganathan QC, and C. Navaratnam QC. Mr. Victor Tennakone, Attorney General who later became Chief Justice appeared for the Crown.
The lawyers for Kodeeswaran all appeared pro-bono publico while the AES picked up the tab for other legal costs. A special fund was raised by the AES for the purpose.
M.Tiruchelvam the leading Counsel for Kodeeswaran argued that the Official Language Act of 1956 which made Sinhala the sole official language was in violation of Section 29 of the constitution which prohibited discrimination.
The trial judge, O.L. de Kretser, a Burgher upheld the plea and ruled that the Official Language Act and the regulation was ultra vires and contravened Section 29 of the Constitution.
In 1967, the government appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court set aside the judgement on the ground that a government servant had no right to sue the government in a court of law for salary or increment; the Supreme Court did not address the constitutional issue and stated that if it became necessary to consider it, the matter would be placed by the Chief Justice before a bench of five judges of the Supreme Court.
Kodeeswaran subsequently appealed to the Privy Council which set aside the Supreme Court’s decision and directed that the Supreme Court should rule on the constitutional question, that is, whether the Official Language Act of 1956 which made Sinhala the official language was in violation of Section 29 of the constitution, which prohibits discrimination.
Confronted with a legal quandary the government thought the best way to solve the problem is to axe Section 29 and the Privy Council. (To be continued)
The Soulbury Commissioners had a Cursory Knowledge of the Age-long Antagonism Between Sinhalese and Thamils
Before proceeding further let me quote an extract from the judgement of the Privy Council that ruled in favour of Kodeeswaran in the case of Kodeeswaran vs. Attorney General (Privy Council Appeal No. 38 of 1968, Lawnet) for purpose of record.
“A civil servant in Ceylon is entitled to sue the Crown for arrears of salary which, have accrued due, by the terms of his appointment, in respect of services which he has rendered during the currency of his employment. In such a case the fact that his appointment as a Crown servant is terminable at will, unless it is expressly otherwise provided by legislation, is not relevant. …
“Although in their Lordships’ opinion a civil servant in Ceylon does have a right of action against the Crown for arrears of salary which accrued during the currency of his employment, this answer to the preliminary issue does not dispose of the Crown’s appeal to the Supreme Court from the judgment of the District Judge. There are the other important constitutional issues to be decided upon which neither the Supreme Court nor their Lordships have heard argument. As already indicated, their Lordships would think it inappropriate to enter upon any of these matters without the benefit of the considered opinion of the Supreme Court of Ceylon thereon. They accordingly express no opinion upon any of the other issues as to the constitutionality of the Official Language Act or the effect of Treasury Circular No. 560 of 4th December 1961, or of any other material facts upon the plaintiff’s contract of employment. The case should be remitted to the Supreme Court for further consideration of these other issues and their Lordships will humbly advise Her Majesty accordingly.”
To be fair the Soulbury Constitution of 1947 was secular and had an ‘inclusive’ approach. It recognised the multi-ethnic nature of the society and inserted the all important provision of Section 29. But the 1972 Constitution, which the government had no mandate to change the 1947 Constitution and no participation from the elected representatives of the Thamils of North and East, got rid of wholesale the Soulbury constitution along with the all important Section 29. The government did not provide any similar provision safeguarding the rights of national minorities in the new constitution. Mrs. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike did not possess the political sagacity or the intellectual capacity to provide such constitutional safeguards. Instead the entire constitutional process was aimed at abolishing the Soulbury constitution so that there will be no more appeal to the Privy Council. The Senate meant to give some semblance of minority representation too was abolished. By proclaiming the new republican constitution all ties with Britain were severed once and for all.
After abolishing the Soulbury constitution Mrs. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike went ahead and gave Sinhala Only Act constitutional status and officially enthroned the supremacy of the majority community.
The abolition of appeals to the Privy Council and the introduction of the new constitution in 1972 consigned the Kodeeswaran case to the dustbin of history. The Privy Council was found to be an inconvenient obstacle in exercising unfettered power and authority by the government.
The Privy Council in London was then the final court of appeal for Ceylon and as such the final adjudicator of constitutional questions under the Soulbury constitution.
Lord Soulbury who was the chairman of the constitutional reforms Commission lived to regret the bitter disappointment he and his fellow Commissioners felt over the inadequacy of Section 29. In a Forward to the book “Ceylon a Divided Nation” by B.H.Farmer wrote as follows:
In promoting the advance to self-government and independence of the various communities comprised within the British Commonwealth and Empire, the relations of minorities to majorities have constituted one the most contentious and complicated problems confronting successive British Governments. Mr. Farmer’s brilliant exposition of the problem, as it has affected Ceylon, provides a striking example of it complexity.
A Commission, of which I had the honour to be the Chairman, was appointed by the British Government in 1944, to examine and discuss proposals for the constitutional reform of Ceylon. It did not take long to discover that the relations of minorities to majorities and particularly of the Tamil minority in the northern and eastern provinces to the Sinhalese majority further south, were in the words of the Commission’s report ‘the most difficult of the many problems involved’. The Commission had of course a cursory knowledge of the age-long antagonism between these two communities, but might have been less hopeful of a solution had Mr. Farmer’s book been available to underline the deplorable effect of centuries of troubled history upon the Ceylonese of today.
The Commission devoted a substantial portion of its report to this minority question, and stated that it was satisfied that the Government of Ceylon was fully aware that the contentment of the minorities was essential not only to their own well-being but to the well-being of the island as a whole. And to quote the Commission’s report: ‘If it were otherwise, no safeguard that we could devise would in the long run be of much avail.’ Recent years have shown that this observation was only too true. But had Mr. D.S. Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of independent Ceylon, lived I cannot believe that the shocking events of 1958 and the grave tension that now exists between Tamils and Sinhalese would ever have occurred.
Mr. Senanayake would have scorned the spurious electoral advantage that a far-sighted Sinhalese politician might expect to reap from exploiting the religious, linguistic and cultural differences between the two communities, for it was his policy to make Ceylon a united nation and, as he told the State Council in November 1945 in his great speech recommending the proposals of the British Government, “The Tamils are essential to the welfare of this island’.
Unhappily, and for reasons indicated by Mr. Farmer, adoption of a different policy which he would never have countenanced. Needless to say the consequences have been a bitter disappointment to myself and my fellow Commissioners. While the Commission was in Ceylon, the speeches of certain Sinhalese politicians calling for the solidarity of the Sinhalese and threatening the suppression of the Tamils emphasised the need for constitutional safeguards on behalf of that and other minorities… As Sir Charles Jeffries has put it in his admirable book, Ceylon -The Path to Independence, ‘The Soulbury constitution had entrenched in it all the protective provisions for minorities that the wit of man could devise’. Nevertheless, in the light of later happenings, I now think it is a pity that the Commission did not also recommend the entrenchment in the constitution of guarantees of fundamental rights, on the lines enacted in the constitutions of India, Pakistan, Malaya, Nigeria and elsewhere.
Perhaps in any subsequent amendment of Ceylon’s constitution those in authority might take note of the proclamation made by the delegates at the African conference which met in Lagos two years ago: ‘Fundamental human rights, especially the right to individual liberty, should be written and entrenched in the constitutions of all countries’. Nevertheless the reconciliation of Tamils and Sinhalese will depend not on constitutional guarantees but on the goodwill, common sense and humanity of the Government in power and the people who elect it.
If, as I hope, Mr. Farmer’s book will influence public opinion in that direction, he will have made a notable contribution to the peace and prosperity of Ceylon.” (Soulbury)
This forward was written in 1963 almost 15 years after independence. All his expectations came to naught. The very section 29 was unceremoniously got abolished.
It was a sad but significant confession by Lord Soulbury that the “The Commission had of course a cursory knowledge of the age-long antagonism between these two communities.” The fault is not entirely with the Commissioners; on the contrary the fault was with the Thamil leadership during that time. Instead of demanding fifty-fifty, G.G.Ponnambalam should have made out a case for an autonomous Tamil state, if not out right separation. He should have made a strong case for the reversion of sovereignty which Tamils lost to the Portuguese in 1619 on the battlefield.
G.G. Ponnambalam should have argued that the Thamil Nation is a distinct nation. He should have cited what Sir Hugh Cleghorn wrote in June 1799 to the UK Government in support of his argument.
“Two different nations from a very ancient period have divided between them the possession of the Island. First the Sinhalese, inhabiting the interior of the country in its Southern and Western parts, and secondly the Malabars who possess the Northern and Eastern Districts. These two nations differ entirely in their religion, language and manners.” (Malabar meaning Tamil).
Also an illustrious Chief Justice, Sir Alexander Johnstone wrote on 01.07.1827 to the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland thus:
“… I think it may safely be concluded both from them and from all the different histories which I have in my possession, that the race of people who inhabited the whole of the Northern and Eastern Provinces of the Island of Ceylon, at the period of their greatest agricultural prosperity spoke the same language, used the same written character, and had the same origin, religion, castes, laws and manners, as that race of people who at the same period inhabited the southern peninsula of India…”
The Cleghorn Minute of 1799 and the Arrow Smith Map of 1802 are official proofs that the Island of Ceylon consisted of two separate countries.
It should be remembered that the British became masters of the whole island only after the fall of the Kandyan Kingdom in 1815 and the Vanni Chieftains in 1818. Unlike the Portuguese and Dutch, the British looked at this Island from the distant West as a geographical unit and not as political or national states.
It was only in 1833 that the administration was unified for convenience sake. Though the British Government unified the administration in 1833 it incorporated the different native administrative structures that existed earlier, with the Kachcheri system which it introduced. This shows that the British did not want to make a break with the past. Local and customary laws were allowed to govern relations amongst members of the community. The Roman Dutch Law, introduced by the Dutch in the maritime areas, was continued as the common law of the Island. This is very instructive. No system of law that existed before the RDL could cover the entire Island. This is again testimony to the fact that the Island was not one country. (To be continued)
Miss-Reading of History by Lord Soulbury
We saw earlier the naivety of Lord Soulbury who mistakenly believed Section 29 provided sufficient and adequate safeguard to minority rights. We also saw his pathetic confession that the “The Commission had of course a cursory knowledge of the age-long antagonism between these two communities and the deplorable effect of centuries of troubled history upon the Ceylonese of today.”
Lord Soulbury and his fellow commissioners fell for D.S. Senanayake’ s subterfuge that he stood for a “Ceylonese Nation” and his pledge that “On behalf of the Congress and on my own behalf, I give the minority communities the sincere assurance that no harm should you fear at our hands in a fee Sri Lanka”. This statement ended up as one more fraudulent, hollow Sinhalese politician’s false promise when D.S.Senanayake passed Citizenship Act No. 18 of 1948 the very year of independence.
The Citizenship Act No.18 of 1948 was unique in that it denied citizenship to a person born in the country before or after 1948 unless, at least, his father was born in or was a citizen of Sri Lanka. The following year, they were deprived of their franchise rights by a simple amendment to the Parliamentary Elections Ordinance that stated only citizens have the right to vote in elections. This reduced Thamils representation in Parliament from 33 in 1948 to a mere 20 in 1952.
The Citizenship Act opened the floodgates to further discriminated legislative and administrative acts, which robbed Thamils of their language, educational, and employment rights. The pathetic plight of Thamils today is solely due to the Citizenship Act and the Amendment to the Parliamentary Elections Ordinance.
Lord Soulbury ignored the historical divide and enmity between the Thamils and the Sinhalese on the basis of territory, language, religion, and culture that went up at least two centuries before Christ. He also turned a blind eye to the miserable lives of the Indian labourers and their exploitation by the British planters who owned the estates.
A somewhat repentant Lord Soulbury wrote on April 30, 1964, a few years before his demise, a reply to the maverick politician C. Suntharalingam meant to answer his concerns. I reproduce the letter in full for purpose of historical record.
Dear Mr. Suntharalingam,
I have read the dozen documents in the folder which I now return to you with much interest and also much sorrow.
During my tenure of the office as Governor-General of Ceylon I never expected that there would be such a bitter cleavage between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities and you are quite right when you say that the cause must be laid at the door of Sir John Kotalawala and his government. But if he chastised the Tamils with the whips, the late Mr. Bandaranaike chastised them with scorpions. The Sinhalese behaviour to the Tamils has been excessively short-sighted and foolish. When as Chairman of the Commission on the reform of the Constitution of Ceylon in 1945 I studied the relations of the two communities.
I was much impressed by the important contribution that the Tamils had made and were making to the economy of Ceylon and I was aware that the Ceylon Tamils were better educated and more industrious than the Sinhalese in many ways they were playing the part of the Scots had played and still play in the economy of England. In fact during 18th and part of 19th century the English were rather jealous of the Scots who were getting a greater share of the jobs going in England than their population warranted. The reason, I think, was that the Scots were better educated and more industrious. Northern folk often work harder than Southerners; the climate and soil compel them to do so. But the English were never so stupid as to antagonise the Scots. Had they behaved like Sinhalese to the Tamils, Britain would never have achieved a title of her prosperity at home or overseas in the Empire.
If at this time of the act of Union between England and Scotland at the beginning of the 18th century the English had insisted on “English only”‚ as the language of the two nations, every Scot would have hung on to Gaelic, but the English had more sense and every Scottish Mother had her children taught English because it was England that offered the greatest opportunity of employment.
If the Sinhalese had been as sensible, every Tamil Mother would have been anxious for her children to learn Sinhalese for the same reason. I do not know what is now the best solution, or if there is any solution.
In the constitution which I recommended, there seemed to me at the time to be ample safeguard for minorities but section 29 has not as efficacious as I had hoped and I now wish that that I had recommended a human rights clause as in the constitution of India and elsewhere. But I do not believe that other federation or an autonomous Tamil State will work. Federation is cumbersome and difficult to operate and an autonomous Tamil State would not be viable.
I am afraid that I can only counsel patience and vigorous participation in the work of the House of Representatives. You might imitate the Irish party in our House of Commons before Ireland was separated from us. Incidentally the Tamil Members of Parliament were, in my opinion, very unwise not to support Dudley Senanayake. They could, I believe, have kept him in power.
The position of the Tamil workers on the estates is also very disquieting; it is deplorable that such a larger body of men and women should be vote less.
I can understand the reluctance of the Sinhalese in the area of Kandy to an enfranchisement of numbers large enough to swamp the electorate. But a reasonable solution would be to create four or five seats available to Tamil voters only no matter what part of the island they live in; outside of course Northern and Eastern provinces.
Well I feel sorry for you and your community and I wish I could provide some acceptable solution.
Were I in your shoes I would do all I could to support the UNP and secure the defeat of the present Government.
Lord Soulbury was referring to Mrs. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s government which came to power after the defeat of Dudley Senanayake led UNP government in July 1960. There were two elections held in 1960 one in March and another in July. The results of the March 1960 parliamentary election were as follows:
Ceylon Parliamentary election – March 1960
|National Liberation Front||
|Sri Lanka National Front||
|Bodhisattva Bandaranaike Front||
Governor-General Sir Oliver Goonatillake invited Dudley Senanayake, the leader of the majority party, to form a government. Dudley Senanayake accepted the invitation and formed a minority government. On March 23, an eight-member UNP cabinet was sworn in with Dudley Senanayake as Prime Minister and Minister of Defense and External Affairs.
Before the formation of the minority government, Dudley Senanayake met the leaders of the Federal Party (FP), but his response to the demands of the FP (ITAK) was outright rejection. However, Dudley Senanayake offered ministerial portfolios in a coalition type government. This was a complete mis-reading of the mind-set of FP readers. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam was disappointed when it was widely known the pledge by the FP not to accept any ministerial portfolios until the rights of the Tamils are won. The meeting with Dudley Senanayake ended in failure.
On the other hand the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) wanted to capture power was feverishly negotiating with the FP leaders. The task was assigned to Dr. Badi-ud-din Mahmud who was one of the founders of the SLFP along with S.W.R. D. Bandaranayke. Dr. Badi-ud-din Mahmud met Chelvanayakam and made headway with the Thamil leaders. An Agreement was reached and it was agreed that in the event the SLFP is asked to form the Government, the leaders assured the FP to include provisions of the B – C pact of 1957 in the Throne Speech as the policy statement of the government. Later, Chelvanayakam visited Srimavo Bandaranaike, who declared that she would stand by the Agreement.
The vote on the Throne Speech was taken up on March 22, 1960. At the debate, followed by the Throne Speech, Chelvanayakam made his Party’s intention very clear. He charged that Dudley Senanayake and Jayewardene were the two leaders responsible for leading the infamous Kandy march against the B – C pact. He described how that march mislead the people and stated that the UNP surreptitiously arranged the protest of the Buddhist clergies in front of the Prime minister’s house, resulting in the repudiation of the pact that ultimately led to the racial holocaust of 1958.
The throne speech was defeated on April 22, 1960 by 61 votes in favour and 86 against. The FP voted against the throne speech. Dudley Senanayake then summoned an emergency cabinet meeting and recommended the dissolution of parliament and fresh general elections.
Despite the offer by the FP to support SLFP to form a government Governor-General (Sir Oliver Goonatillake), dissolved the parliament and ordered for a fresh election.
In the meantime both the SLFP and the FP were in constant communication and the latter encouraged Thamil voters living outside the North and East to vote for the SLFP. However, both the UNP and SLFP campaigned on a strongly anti-Thamil communal platform, promising to repatriate the estate Thamils to India, and implement the Sinhala Only Act.
In 1964, Srimavo Bandaranaike signed the Srima-Sastri agreement under which 525,000 plantation Thamils will be repatriated to India. These people have lived in Ceylon since the 1800s. They had voting rights in both local and federal elections before independence. This is a harrowing story of split families and broken hearts who were repatriated to India against their will. They were resettled in Rehabilitation Plantations in Kollathupuzha, a Panchayat in Kerala; Sullia, a taluk in Karnataka and in Nilagiri in Tamil Nadu.
At the general elections held on July 20, 1960 the SLFP won convincingly securing 75 seats, the UNP 30 seats and the FP 16 seats. The following is the detail results of the elections.
Ceylon Parliamentary Elections – July 1960
|Lanka Democratic Party||
|National Liberation Front||
|Source: Government statistics|
Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the widow of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who was assassinated by a Buddhist monk in 1959, was sworn in as the Prime Minister. She took her seat in the Senate and became the first woman head of state in the world.
Once in power, history began to repeating itself with a vengeance. The SLFP ignored the FP thus reneging on the pledges given during the elections. The SLFP also began in earnest to launch several anti-Thamil steps. The government announced that it would implement the Official Language Act into force from January 1, 1961. In addition, the Minister of Justice, Sam P C Fernando, introduced legislation in Parliament to make Sinhala language as the language of the courts throughout the country. (Sri Lanka The Untold Story – Asia Times)
When Lord Soulbury advised C.Suntharalingam saying “Were I in your shoes I would do all I could to support the UNP and secure the defeat of the present Government” he was referring to Srimavo Government (1960-1965) as though the UNP was anything better. Both the SLFP and the UNP were birds of same feather. Lord Soulbury also drew a parallel between the Sinhalese and Thamils viz a viz the English and Scots and claimed that had English behaved like Sinhalese to the Thamils, Britain would never have achieved a title of her prosperity at home or overseas in the Empire. Here again Lord Soulbury was mis-reading history since the Scots are now on the brink of securing a historic victory in the referendum to be held on September 14, 2014. The question to be asked in the referendum will be “Should Scotland be an independent country?” (To be continued)
Thamils Are Paying A Heavy Price Because Of Lord Soulbury’s Miss-Calculations And Mis-Reading of History
Lord Soulbury never came to terms with the demise of Section 29(2) which he fondly thought is the panacea for communal peace and prosperity. He thought he had made ample safeguard for minorities, but section 29 has not as efficacious as he had hoped. He wished that he had recommended a human rights clause as in the constitution of India and elsewhere. Even as late as 1964 he did not believe that a federation or an autonomous Thamil State will work. “Federation is cumbersome and difficult to operate and an autonomous Thamil State would not be viable” he concluded.
Lord Soulbury cited the example of Scots in defence. Like Scots, the Thamils had made important contribution to the economy of Ceylon. He stated “I was aware that the Ceylon Thamils were better educated and more industrious than the Sinhalese in many ways they were playing the part of the Scots had played and still play in the economy of England………. the Scots were better educated and more industrious. Northern folk often work harder than Southerners; the climate and soil compel them to do so. But the English were never so stupid as to antagonise the Scots. Had they behaved like Sinhalese to the Tamils, Britain would never have achieved a title of her prosperity at home or overseas in the Empire.”
He continues “If at this time of the act of Union between England and Scotland at the beginning of the 18th century the English had insisted on “English only” as the language of the two nations, every Scot would have hung on to Gaelic, but the English had more sense and every Scottish Mother had her children taught English because it was England that offered the greatest opportunity of employment.”
Unfortunately, Lord Soulbury never expected that despite English offer to “every Scottish Mother had her children taught English because it was England that offered the greatest opportunity of employment” Scots will one day take part in a historical referendum to severe ties with Britain.
The Scottish people are poised to take part in a national referendum to be held on 14th September this year. Voters will be asked to answer Yes or No to the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” Right now opinion is divided about Scottish independence and polls show support for independence at between 32% and 38% of the Scottish population.
Scottish independence is the political aim of some political parties, advocacy groups and individuals in Scotland but for the country to become an independent sovereign state once again the Yes side must win the referendum. In Britain, opposition to independence is represented by the three main British political parties as well as UKIP and the BNP. Within the Scottish Parliament, the Union is supported by the Scottish Labour Party, Scottish Conservative Party and Scottish Liberal Democrats. Opposition to Scottish independence is also an opinion held by George Galloway of the Respect Party. Unionism ranges from those who support a centralised unitary state governed exclusively by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, to those who support varying degrees of devolution to the Scottish Parliament, including federalism.
Scotland was an independent country from its foundation in the Early Middle Ages, with some historians dating its foundation from the reign of Kenneth MacAlpin in 843. The legitimacy of the Scottish kingdom was challenged by many English invasions. English monarchs claimed Scottish territory on many justifications, which were usually sent to the Pope and other foreign rulers to explain their military aggression. A popular myth in English folklore was that Britain had been founded by Brutus of Troy, who had left England to his eldest son, Locrinus, and Scotland to his youngest son, Albanactus. Scots disputed this and established their own popular myth, which was that Scotland had been founded earlier, by a Greek prince Goídel Glas and his wife Scota, daughter of the Pharaoh. According to legend, Scota carried the Stone of Destiny from Egypt to Scotland.
From 1603, both Scotland and Britain shared the same monarch in a personal union when James VI of Scotland was declared King of England and Ireland in what was known as the Union of the Crowns. The two kingdoms united in 1707 with the Treaty of Union and subsequent Acts of Union, to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was formed by the Acts of Union 1800, which united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland. The 26 southern counties of Ireland left the Union in 1922, which became known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The “home rule” movement for a Scottish Assembly was first taken up in 1853 by the National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights, a body close to the Conservative Party. A key element in this movement was the comparison with Ireland. The original movement broadened its political appeal and soon began to receive Liberal Party backing. In 1885, the post of Secretary for Scotland and the Scottish Office were re-established to promote Scotland’s interests and express its concerns to the British Parliament. In 1886, however, William Ewart Gladstone introduced the Irish Home Rule Bill. When many Scots compared what they had to the Irish offer of Home Rule, the status quo was considered inadequate. It was not regarded as an immediate constitutional priority however, particularly when the Irish Home Rule Bill was defeated in the House of Commons.
- Population: 5.3 million
- Area: 81,610 sq km (31,510 sq miles)
- Capital city: Edinburgh
- Official language: English
- State religion: Church of Scotland (aka The Kirk)
- Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II
- Time zone: Late October to late March is GMT. British Summer Time (BST), from late March to late October, is GMT +1
- Currency: pound (sterling) £. £1 = 100 pence (p)
- Country code: +44
Immediately before the First World War, the Liberal Government led by Herbert Asquith supported the concept of “Home Rule all round”, whereby Scottish home rule would follow the Irish home rule proposed in the Government of Ireland Act 1914. Asquith believed that there was an iniquity in that the component parts of the United Kingdom could come together to act together in common purposes, but those components could not deal with internal matters that did not require consent across the UK.
This was not a nationalist philosophy, but instead Asquith was acting in the belief that federalism was the “true basis of union” and that centralising power in Westminster was the “worst of all political blunders”. A Scottish Home Rule bill was first presented to parliament in 1913, but its progress was soon ended as Parliament focused on emergency measures necessitated by the First World War.
Unlike Ireland, which rebelled in the Easter Rising and fought a War of Independence, Scotland did not resist central rule. There was, however, a persistent demand for Scottish home rule. The Scottish Office was relocated to St Andrew’s House in Edinburgh during the 1930s. The Scottish Covenant was a petition to the UK government asking for home rule. It was first proposed in 1930 by John MacCormick and formally written in 1949. The petition “was eventually signed by two million people” (the population of Scotland was 5.1 million in the census of 1951.) The covenant was ignored by the main political parties. Also in 1950, the Stone of Destiny was removed from Westminster Abbey by nationalists.
The question of full independence, or the less controversial home rule, did not re-enter the political mainstream until 1960, after the famous Wind of Change speech by UK Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. This speech marked the start of a rapid decolonisation in Africa and the end of the British Empire. The UK had already suffered the international humiliation of the 1956 Suez Crisis, which showed that it was no longer the superpower it had been before World War II. For many in Scotland, this served to undermine one of the principal raisons d’être for the United Kingdom and also symbolised the end of popular imperialism and the imperial unity that had united the then-prominent Scottish Unionist Party. The Unionist Party subsequently suffered a steady decline in support.
First devolution referendum 1979
A referendums was held in 1979 under a Labour government which stipulated that a Scottish Assembly would come into being if the referendum had been supported by 50% of votes cast plus at least 40% of the electorate. Although 51.6% voted in favour, this was only 32.9% of the electorate so the Assembly was not brought into being. Shortly afterwards, the predominantly anti-devolution-led Conservative Party won the United Kingdom general election in 1979.
The result of the referendum in Scotland was a narrow majority in favour of devolution (52% to 48%), but a condition of the referendum was that 40% of the total electorate should vote in favour in order to make it valid. But the turnout was only of 63.6%, so only 32.9% of the electorate voted “Yes”. The Scotland Act 1978 was consequently repealed in March 1979 by a vote of 301–206 in Parliament. In the wake of the referendum the supporters of the bill conducted a protest campaign under the slogan “Scotland said yes”. They argued that the 40% rule was undemocratic and that the referendum results justified the establishment of the assembly. Campaigners for a “No” vote countered that voters had been told before the referendum that failing to vote was as good as a “No”. It was therefore incorrect to conclude that the relatively low turnout was entirely due to voter apathy.
A second Scottish devolution referendum was held in Scotland on 11 September 1997 over whether there was support for the creation of a Scottish Parliament with devolved powers, and whether the Parliament should have tax-varying powers. The referendum was a Labour manifesto commitment and was held in their first term after the 1997 election. Turnout for the referendum was 60.4%.
On 15 November 2013, the Scottish Government published Scotland’s Future, a 670-page white paper laying out the case for independence and the means through which Scotland might become an independent country. Salmond described it as the “most comprehensive blueprint for an independent country ever published”, and argued it showed his government “do[es] not seek independence as an end in itself, but rather as a means to changing Scotland for the better”. The leader of the Better Together campaign, Alistair Darling, described it as being “thick with false promises and meaningless assertions. Instead of a credible plan, we have a wish-list of political promises without any answers on how Alex Salmond would pay for them.”
The UK Parliament retains parliamentary sovereignty over the United Kingdom as a whole. However, the application of the principle of parliamentary sovereignty to Scotland has been disputed. In MacCormick vs. The Lord Advocate, the Lord President of the Court of Session, Lord Cooper of Culross stated obiter dicta that “the principle of the unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle which has no counterpart in Scottish Constitutional Law.” It has been suggested that the doctrine of popular sovereignty, proclaimed in the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, articulated by Scottish political thinkers like George Buchanan and reasserted by the Claim of Right 1989, is of greater relevance to Scotland.
The legality of any British constituent country attaining de facto independence (in the same manner as the origins of the Irish Republic) or declaring unilateral independence outside the framework of British constitutional convention is uncertain. Some legal opinion following the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on what steps Quebec would need to take to secede is that Scotland would be unable to unilaterally declare independence under international law if the British government permitted a referendum on an unambiguous question on secession.
In the land mark ruling by the Canadian Supreme Court found that there is no right to unilateral secession in international law except for colonies and oppressed people, which it said does not apply to Quebec. This is because although Quebecois constitute a “people” they are not subject oppression and therefore not entitled to secede from rest of Canada. However, the same Supreme Court said if a clear majority of the people in Quebec wants to secede, the justices said, the rest of Canada would be obliged to negotiate the terms of secession as though it were an amendment to the constitution.
A positive vote for independence in a referendum would have “enormous moral and political force… impossible for a future [Westminster] government to ignore”, and hence would give the Scottish Parliament a mandate to negotiate the passage of an act of the UK Parliament providing for Scotland’s secession, in which Westminster renounces its claims to sovereignty over Scotland.
The United Nations Charter enshrines the right of peoples to self-determination, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also guarantees peoples’ right to change nationality; the UK is a signatory to both documents. Politicians in both the Scottish and British parliaments have endorsed the right of the Scottish people to self-determination, including former UK Prime Ministers John Major and Margaret Thatcher. The Claim of Right 1989 was signed by every then-serving Scottish Labour and Scottish Liberal Democrat MP, with the exception of Tam Dalyell. Johann Lamont stated in her December 2011 acceptance speech for the Scottish Labour leadership that “sovereignty lies with the people of Scotland”.
There is some contention as to who represents the people of Scotland in the matter of the constitution, especially in light of the Scottish Government’s insistence that the SNP’s majority in the Scottish Parliament provides a mandate for an independence referendum. This is because the electorate voted for their MP, not their MSP, to represent them on issues of the constitution. However, the Edinburgh Agreement between the Scottish Government and the UK Government agrees that the British Parliament will pass a Section 30 order to temporarily grant the Scottish Parliament the legal power to hold the referendum. Furthermore, the Agreement states that both governments will accept the outcome of the referendum and thereafter will “continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome, whatever it is, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom”. (Source – Wikipedia)
The Scottish National Party, whose central aim is independence, won the 2011 Scottish Parliament election by a landslide, giving them a mandate to stage the vote.
The Scottish government, led by First Minister Alex Salmond, says the 300-year-old Union is no longer fit for purpose and that an independent Scotland, with its oil wealth, would be one of the world’s richest countries. He says it’s time for Scotland to take charge of its own destiny, free from what he describes as the “shackles” of a London-based UK parliament.
On the opposite side of the debate, the UK government, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, says Britain is one of the world’s most successful social and political unions. In recent months, two major issues have emerged – oil and currency.
North Sea oil and gas reserves (or more precisely the tax take from Scotland’s share) are vital to the Scottish government’s case for independence. Mr Salmond says earmarking a tenth of revenues – about £1bn a year – could form an oil fund similar to the one operated in Norway, creating a £30bn sovereign wealth pot over a generation.
Mr Cameron says the North Sea has been a British success story – and now the oil and gas is getting harder to recover its more important than ever to back the industry with the “broad shoulders” of the UK. The SNP’s opponents also argue they are pinning future hopes on something that is eventually going to run out. North Sea oil in numbers – 40 bn barrels extracted 24bn could remain 30-40 years of production remaining.
If in the referendum the ‘Yes’ side wins it could end Scotland’s 300-year union with England and Wales as Great Britain and see it launch into the world as an independent nation of some 5.3 million people. Activists on both sides are stepping up their efforts as the historic referendum approaches. Opinion polls suggest that support remains higher for maintaining the status quo, but key to the outcome will be those who remain undecided, roughly 1 in 10 of those entitled to vote.
Whatever may be the outcome both the Scots and the British are seeking a friendly divorce and not an acrimonious and violent separation. Both sides are negotiating with utmost civility keeping with British democratic credentials and traditions.
The world has turned a full circle since the UN officially came into existence on 24 October 1945. A total of 51 original members (or founding members) joined that year. Now the membership stands at 193 thanks largely to the break-up the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in the early nineties. It is the UNO that has given the green light for people to claim statehood based on the principle of self-determination. The 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (UN General Assembly Resolution 1514, 14 December 1960) asserted that continued subjugation and denial of human rights is an impediment to world peace and cooperation; thus, “All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic social and cultural development.”
At its most basic, the principle of self-determination can be defined as a community’s right to choose its political destiny. This can include choices regarding the exercise of sovereignty and independent external relations (external self-determination) or it can refer to the selection of forms of government (internal self-determination).
The fundamental concept of self-determination-the right to choose-has its roots in the American and French revolutions in the eighteenth century with their emphasis on justice, liberty, and freedom from authoritarian rule. By virtue of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, all peoples always have the right, in full freedom, to determine, when and as they wish, their internal and external political status, without external interference, and to pursue as they wish their political, economic, social and cultural development.
The United Nations came into existence on October 24, 1945, after 29 out of 51 nations ratified the Charter. Over the years the number kept increasing and now stands at a total of 193. With all its faults, shortcomings and deficiencies UNO is playing a pivotal role in maintaining world peace. The world has enjoyed 69 years of relative peace since 1945. WW II broke out within 20 years of WW I.
When the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) formally ceased to exist on 26 December 1991 the Soviet of the Republics of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union acknowledged the independence of the 15 republics, USSR, of the Soviet Union. In similar fashion the violent breakup of Yugoslavia resulted in the birth of 5 new states. Yugoslavia itself got disintegrated and disappeared from the world map.
Even if the referendum on 14th September fails, Britain has to be applauded for recognizing the principle of right of self determination of the Scottish people. It is a lesson to be learnt by other rogue states that deny the right of self determination of minority nations.
Iraq right now is the second most violent country in the world, after its neighbour Syria, because of its intransigence of the majority Shiites to share power with the minority Sunnis. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is refusing to share power with the Sunnis – who comprise about 20 percent of Iraq’s population – and that has driven them into opposition, extremism, and terrorism. US is floating the idea of breaking up of Iraq into 3 separate states one each for the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds. Kurds already have their own semi-autonomous state in the north.
In Ukraine, the Russian dominated east and southern parts are demanding autonomy based on federal principles. Already regions of Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence last May 12, 2014 and those in Donetsk even asked to join Russia. The sprawling areas along Russia’s border is home to about 6.6 million Russian people and form Ukraine’s industrial heartland.
So when Lord Soulbury stated he did not believe that federation or an autonomous Thamil State will work, he was mis-reading and mis-interpreting history. He never thought that the Scottish people will not be satisfied with employment, but will hold a referendum for independence from Britain.
The Thamils are paying a heavy price because of Lord Soulbury’s mis-calculations and mis-reading of history.