C. Suntharalingam, Part I: Tamil Story Telling on the Citizenship Bill
S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole
Cooked up Commitments to Hill-country Tamils
Ceylon Tamil leaders treated the hill-country Tamils perfidiously during the 1948 Citizenship Bill. Today, having wrapped oursleves up in the nationalist flag and it has become important for us to maintain that we were always with them. I had been asked to review Grandfather’s Letters edited by C. Suntharalingam’s (CS’s) grandson. I found myself quickly immersed in a web of lies on who voted how on the Citizenship Bill, especially CS himself. The review necessitated first a study of voting records of the time.
Let me begin with Prof. Bertram Bastiampillai in the Daily News (20.08.2005):
“Suntharalingam … walked out of the legislature … on the second reading of the Indian Residents Citizenship Bill on 10 December, 1948. Prime Minister wanted Minister Suntharalingam’s explanation. [He] immediately resigned in protest.
“Suntharalingam cleverly saw in the measure a plan to decitizenise and disenfranchise a majority of hill country residents who had made Sri Lanka their home. This was an obvious flagrant injustice. Suntharalingam had the courage of his conviction to forego a ministerial portfolio.”
This is the general, but false, view of CS. The truth is that CS had already voted to decitizenize the hill-country Tamils when he voted Aye for the Citizenship Act on 25.08.1948.The Hansard (25.08.1948, cols 1969-70) gives the division at the second reading. Ayes 58, Nays 35. Of the Ceylon Tamils, Ministers CS, and C. Sittampalam, and Members SU Ethirmannasingham and V. Nalliah voted Aye. Voting Nay were SJV Chelvanyagam, C. Vanniasingam, AL Thambiayah, K. Kanagaratnam, V. Kumarasamy and T. Ramalingam. The bill was passed on 02.09.1948, (Hansard col. 2003).
The Left opposed it. The Ceylon Tamil Congress (CTC) had promised S. Thondaman of the Indian Tamil Congress (ITC) to support them. So six from CTC voted Nay. CTC leader, GG Ponnambalam was the exception. He was negotiating to become a Minister, so he developed a fit of coughing and left the chamber as the Citizenship Act came up for division.
The Three Bills and Hansard Records
There were really three bills affecting Tamils. The first was the Ceylon Citizenship Act (18/1948). It stipulated that for citizenship one had to prove his father was(or his paternal grandfather and paternal great grandfather were) born in Ceylon. It was impossible for most hill-country Tamils to prove, thereby rendering them stateless. It was a low point in our race relations – when Pieter Keuneman was speaking against the Bill, SWRD Bandaranaike cast a snide remark on “the brown Hollanders” (Hansard, col. 1707, 19.08.1948).
The Second bill affecting Tamils was the Indian and Pakistani Residents Citizenship Bill(3/1949) which too the ITC wanted opposed. It provided for citizenship by registration by those Indian or Pakistani residents in Ceylon who had an uninterrupted residence in Ceylon, immediately prior to 01.01.1946, for a period not less than ten years for unmarried persons and seven for married persons. The ITC and CTC opposed the Bill. The Ceylon Tamil Ayes were G.G. Ponnamablam, K. Kanagaratnam, V. Nalliah, S.U. Ethirmannasingham, T. Ramalinkam and A.L. Thambiayah. The Nays were S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, S. Sivapalan and C. Vanniasingam. That is, six Ceylon Tamils for and three against.
The Third bill, Ceylon Parliamentary Elections (Amendment)(48/1949) was a sequel to the Citizenship Act and gave the franchise only to citizens and thereby stripped hill-country Tamils of their vote which they had enjoyed till then. CS Voted Nay. Ponnambalam voted Aye with C. Sittampalam, V. Nallaih, A.L. Thambiayah and S.U. Ethirmannasingam. Again the majority of Ceylon Tamils were for depriving hill-country Tamils of the vote. (Hansard, Cols. 551-2, 20.10.1949.).
Tamils Concoct Voting Records
Beginning with the Bastiampillai account, because the bills are a blot on the Ceylon Tamil commitment to hill-country Tamils, the history of that period is clouded in untruthful defences of those who abandoned the hill-country Tamils. Apparthuray Vinayagamoorthy, a Tamil Congress MP untruthfully wrote (Daily News, 08.11.2003)
“[Ponnambalam’s] political opponents carried on a persistent campaign of vilification and character assassination against him stating he was responsible for the disfranchisement of several Indian Tamils in 1948.This is absolutely incorrect. The act which disfranchised the Tamils of Indian origin was the Ceylon Citizenship Act No. 18 of 1948 and the ACTC and its leader G. G. Ponnambalam vehemently opposed this act and voted against it.”
We know this to be untrue from the Hansard in so far as Ponnambalam’s part is concerned.
Bastiampillai says Suntharalingam’s son Gnanalingam, during a SLAAS debate with Kumar Ponnamabalam, referred to GGP’s unjust act regarding the Bill in contrast to another Tamil Minister’s [his father’s] bold response in forfeiting a portfolio than endorse an unjust act like GGP. But CS had voted for the Citizenship Act months earlier on 24.10 1948. Some days later, according to J.L Fernando (Three Prime Ministers of Ceylon, MD Gunasena, 1963, p. 27), GGP “The Damila [Ponnambalam] bowed low before the Sinhala Lion,” DS Senanayake, and was made a Minister, thereby striking one million Central Tamils off the electoral registers”. The correct number was more like 700,000.
CS resigned as Minister much after he voted to deny citizenship to the poorest Tamils. He resigned only during the Indian Residents Citizenship Bill (in December, 1948) after rendering many of us stateless. Bastiampillai’s and Gnanalingam’s sleight is to confuse the Citizenship Bill of August with the latter bill of December. Lankan scholarship makes heroes of those we like regardless of the record.
Suntharalingam: Ceylon for the Ceylonese
Ponnambalam was simply ready to do anything for power. But Suntharalingam? Could it be that CS voted for the Citizenship Bill out of collective cabinet responsibility and then broke off because he saw the iniquity? This view could be sustained except for CS’s explanation in Parliament detailed in the Hansard (14.12.1948, cols. 599 –).
DS Senanayake (DSS) is furious that CS had absented himself from the chamber after a division had been called on the second bill (Indian and Pakistani Residents) on 10.12.1948. DSS says in his letter dated 11.12.1948 to CS,
“As you are undoubtedly aware, the proper procedure for a member of the cabinet as long as he remains in the Cabinet, is to vote with the Government on any Government measure that comes before the House. If any Minister does not wish to associate himself with any particular measure that is brought forward by the Cabinet he must not appear as a member of the Cabinet at the time the measure is taken up, and his clear duty then is to send in his resignation. On the other hand, a Minister who does not resign is required to vote with the government though he may tender his resignation immediately afterward. It is really difficult for me to believe however glaring the circumstances may appear to be, that you would be guilty of improper conduct. I shall therefore be glad if you will let me know as early as possible the reasons that prevented you from discharging your obligations as a Member of the Cabinet.”
CS states he does not agree that he is obliged to vote with the government and that he had been unable to find any such precedent. In explaining his objections to the Bill he has no word for the rights of hill-country Tamils. “Speaking of his dreams of a Free Ceylon,” he adds that the “national economy had been gravely jeopardized by British Capital, British entrepreneur, Ceylon land and Indian labour [sic.]. In this sorry scheme where did the Ceylonese come?, he asks, going on to say,
“Since [25 years ago] I have been closely associated with the Hon. Mr. D.S. Senanayake in most public questions, one of which has come to be known as the Indo-Ceylon problem. If he was in his seat today, he would have admitted that the provisions in the Land Development Ordinance restricting the alienation of Crown land to Ceylonese were introduced at my suggestion – I almost said at my insistence. If I refer to these events, it is because I wish to give this House an insight into what I have always regarded as the fundamental principles on which the national economy of Ceylon should be founded. Indeed, the principles can be summed up in one phrase: Ceylon for the Ceylonese.”
Wounding India’s Self-respect Affecting their honour
In his mind, Ceylon is not for the estate labour then. What then is his objection to these bills? It is relations with India. He refers to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, coming as an emissary of Mahatma Gandhi, not being happy with features of the Bill, and his [CS’s] playing a “small but significant” role behind the scenes to secure an adjustment with “the concurrence and approval of the Hon. Mr. D.S. Senanayake.” He quotes his letter to Senanayake on 02.12.1948 just before the vote on the second bill where he states
“I have been unhappy about this question since I know that Jawaharlal Nehru had not agreed to certain features in the Bill. I need hardly state we will be committing a grave wrong if Jawaharlal Nehru felt that our bill wounds the self-respect of India and affects their honour. I have endeavoured to convince my colleagues in the Cabinet that the points of difference that now exist are trivial in their economic consequences but are fundamental in their political repercussions. We cannot, if we can avoid it, have in our Statute Book an Act which will be a source of constant irritation to the people of India. As the friendship between India and Ceylon is an issue, I beg of you to give this matter some favourable consideration and concession. You know my attitude in this matter for the last quarter of a century; and I would submit, in fairness to all concerned, we should have in view the happiness of Ceylon and India and not leave to our successors a legacy of ill-will.”
CS tries to meet DSS who is sick and is unable to. He writes to DSS and gets a “brusque” reply insisting that traditions be kept by his resignation. Contrary to Bastiampillai, he tried to hold on to being Minister and DSS insisted that he go.
Thus most Ceylon Tamils MPs voted against their hill-country brethren. CS felt no sympathy for the plantation labour. Like many upper-class Tamils, he looked only to placating Nehru and India. Only SJV Chelvanayakam and his MPs showed consistency on standing up for hill-country Tamils. G.G. Ponnambalam was ready to do anything for office, even if it meant tricking his Congress MPs into thinking he was against the bills while he negotiated positions for himself.
By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole
April 18, 2017,
Three Vantage Views Before reading Grandfather’s Letters, I had an anecdotal view of C. Suntharalingam (CS). In 1958 as a six year old, I was terrified when classmates talked of Sinhalese marching to Jaffna to slaughter us. CS (in the climax of the book) held the line in Vavuniya, distributing unlicensed-guns and placing dynamite in culverts. One day as lorry-loads of men careened down Chemmany Road Nallur to Vavuniya, I ran alongside the convoy behind senior boys (including our Sinhalese baker’s sons) shouting “Thamilarukku Jai” (Victory to Tamils), wondering what the Hindi word jai meant.
Our high opinion of CS was formed from such experiences. When a Tamil Hindu is clever, Tamil society was ready to adulate him regardless of his principles. Both CS and Ponnambalam fell in this mould.
CS’s brilliance was unquestioned. His eccentricity was well known. The only academic blot seems his 8 years doing his MA Oxford. Although I like him for his forthrightness, his awareness of his own intelligence comes through as arrogance. His brilliant genes show through when his grandchildren and even great grandchildren got admission to Cambridge and Stanford from Colombo, even as the granddaughters Gnanalakshmi and Dhaniyalakshmi Gnanalingam admitted to engineering degrees, suppressed their talents and chose science degrees close to home.
Then I married, Gnanalakshmi’s close friend growing up in Colpetty. Gnanalakshmi believed religiously in living by the Hindu Shastras. Through my wife and common friends in Colpetty I had another window into their lives.
Now I have a third view which CS sought to project through his letters to his grandchildren. The claim in the introduction that Ceylon got independence without bloodshed with CS mathematical manoeuvring perhaps is the grandson’s excess in excusable exuberant affection. I will examine some of the glaring contradictions.
CS readily admits his admiration for and association with Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan who opposed equal seating and the franchise for the oppressed castes, and yet is passed off as a national hero. In the 1960s when oppressed castes were denied entry to Maviddapuram Temple, CS vigorously stood with the oppressors although he had no claims on the temple. As a result, Prof. Bryan Pfaffenberger labelled CS “a caste fanatic.”
In the book’s first letter, to Gnanalakshmi, he advises her that he rejected proposals to women with fat dowries and fatter physiques, and that she must “choose someone after your own heart, of your standing and of your caste, and don’t commit yourself to any proposal without speaking to me first.” We see the attitude continuing when granddaughter Dhanyalakshmi fell in love with an IIT qualified Lankan they considered not up to their standard. A Colombo Librarian from the family even tried to use security guards to prevent the suitor from entering the university. To no avail, however. Dhanya married privately with the help of an aunt. She is happy.
The book reveals that of CS father’s three brothers, one converted to Roman Catholicism “may be for his job and for his bride, ”returning to Hinduism later. Another married an Indian Tamil from the estates “for beauty.” Both were cast out by CS’s parents.
In his letter to grandson Prof. Gnanalingam Anandalingam, CS boasts of “the position in the social order in which your Appah’s parents belonged.” That is himself. After describing their caste, he gives the purpose of his communication: to know that “life is influenced by heredity and the early environment of home life and home gossip.”Anandalingam, despite the advice, home life and home gossip, married a Catholic Malayali. Curiously, after advising the difficulties of arranging marriage to children if one marries below caste, CS urges Anandalingam to value men by their intrinsic worth rather than their parentage.
CS witnesses to his faith in astrology when he describes to Gnanalakshmi his own father going to the best astrologer in Jaffna to cast his first son’s horoscope. The astrologer forecasts that there will be five children in all but he would die before any of them reached manhood and that the first would not live beyond his early manhood. CS then adds, every word proved by events to be correct. In contrast, however, even CS in his 70s had shown his palm to my wife telling her, “See. My lifeline says I would have died in my sixties. But I will live to 90.” And he almost did, to 89+!
According to CS’s relations, his mother was a widow with five young sons finding it difficult to make ends meet. She thereupon married a rich man for the second time, who educated the children in Colombo. If this is so, the second marriage of CS’s mother is a serious violation of Hindu orthodoxy. There is no mention of this in the book. CS, in contrast, says that his uncles collected incomes from her properties and gave it to her for her children’s education.
Christian Bashing Tamil Militancy
The greatest value of this book is CS’s description of the 1958 riots. He puts down Tarzie Vittachi’s Emergency 58, which has been reprinted and distributed by many Tamils: “It did not contain a true account of the racial riots in the Northern area,” says CS. The book needs reading for his contrarian views.
That CS was an extremist in Tamil matters is accepted. Unwittingly admitted, perhaps, is that his electoral losses were reversed only after DS Senanayake urged Sinhalese in the Vavuniya-Mullaitivu-Mannar area to vote for him. His ego puts his regular losses to “cash, cassock, and crookishness”, despite his formation by Christian schools. After the initial glamour of his resignation, he continued to be defeated, presumably because he opposed the FP: when asked to be present at their convention, he thundered, “I would have no truck with the Federal Policy, plan, or program.” It is at odds with his attempted parliamentary motion detailed in the book for Tamils to separate.
CS studied at Christian schools – CMS Kopay Christian College, St. John’s (where he presumably studied mathematics under my grandfather the Rev. Canon S.S. Somasundram previously of Maviddapuram Temple), and St. Joseph’s – won a scripture prize at St. John’s, was a teacher at St. Joseph’s (a position for which Christians were almost exclusively preferred), and was a member of Interim and Organizing Committees of the Student Christian Movement House at University College London in 1917. Did he, like his uncle, move into Christianity and then revert to Hinduism? In the last chapter he says his 5 years in England almost made him a Roman Catholic, but that transformed him into a modern Hindu. Roman Catholicism in the UK while dabbling with the Protestant SCM? A modern Hindu looking at his lifeline?
It has been said that CS’s children had no interest in politics. Gnanalingam’s harsh words about Ponnambalam, however, show his strong political feelings. Moreover, after my return to Sri Lanka in 1995, I got a letter from Anandalingam whom I am yet to meet, abusing me at length for not supporting the LTTE. He seemed to think that a Tamil returning to Sri Lanka was a public message that all is good for Tamils here, whereas I wanted to assert my right to Sri Lanka as home. It would seem that CS’s fanaticism lives on at least in one grandson.
Some Tall Claims?
I have heard it commonly said that CS was Queen Elizabeth’s tutor in mathematics. CS does not mention it in his biography or letters. The only references I have seen are in Anandalingam’s Wikipedia page and a review by Chelavathamby Maniccavasagar (best known for writing exaggerated biographies of Tamil Nationalists) in the Daily News (16 Feb. 2012) and Deirdre McConnell in Colombo Telegraph (21 Feb. 2012).
When CS left the UK in 1931, the Queen was hardly 5 years old.
CS claims he “introduced the [Ceylon] Engineering Faculty” in 1925, although it was not formed until 1954. He was one of the few to oppose the appointment of Sir Ivor Jennings and resigned his chair in 1940 when Jennings was selected to succeeded Principal Robert Marrs, although Jennings is considered the best VC we have had. CS thought a Welshman with no knowledge of Ceylon was inappropriate. He also objected later to Jennings’ vision of the university at Peradeniya, arguing it would be a White Elephant. CS admits that the Governor prevented him from continuing his part in the controversy – that is, asked not to speak on the subject.
On p. 120 CS refers to “hoodlums leaders.” On p. 42 is the phrase “about he being a Thamil”. I think ”he” should be “his”. On the word Thamil, I think he is off. If we Tamils can Tamilise Englishman to Aangileyan, I think the English too can Anglicize Thamil to Tamil. Other issues concern his interchangeable use of the correct “Yours affectionately” versus the incorrect “Yours Affectionately.” Similarly “Northern” for “northern” in mid-sentence. These are just a few of the language mistakes in the book, whose early pages are unnumbered. An index would have been helpful. The grandchildren called CS “Appah” and their father “Aiyah”. Until one gets used to it, these references are confusing, especially when one does not know the named addressees of the letters.
The editor of Grandfather’s Letters, Chelvadurai Anjalendran (son of CS’s second daughter Lingawathie), is a much-sought-after architect in Colombo. The book (David Robson, Anjalendran – Architect of Sri Lanka, Tuttle, 2009) is just about him. Anjalendran was a friend at Moratuwa whose charm and kindnessgirls found endearing. I recall lunch hour when he would lie on a long table in a chronic cap with six or so girls standing around him feeling safe with him, adjusting his cap and engaging in banter.
Anjalendran entered a major political controversy when in a New York Interview, he stated that ”I was born a Tamil but I am a Sri Lankan and I have had every opportunity to engage in my profession and to achieve the heights of excellence as I have done. Nobody stood in my way. There was no discrimination. …. The LTTE was not really fighting for the rights of Tamils at all.”
I wonder if his first cousin Anandalingam, harangued him too. Anjalendran, however, seems to be the only grandchild to share CS’s love for Ceylon and make a successful life here.
Suntharalingam is a villain to many Sinhalese because of his separatism so he is not a National Hero, like Ramanathan who too was a caste fanatic. And villain to Tamils because of his enmity towards the Federal Party. So he is not Thanthai (Father, as Chelvanayakam is), although he was the first separatist. His being caste conscious has never mattered to Tamils as clear from Navalar and Ramanathan, our heroes. So why is he not feted the way lesser beings are?
The book is an important window to one of Sri Lanka’s most colourful, intelligent, and even lovable characters as he wanted us to see him. Posted by Thavam