S. J. V. CHELVANAYAKAM
S. J. V. CHELVANAYAKAM
- Introduction – A. Amirthalingam
- Publisher’s Note – Arul M. RAJENDRAN
- Chelvanayakam As i Knew him – N. Sinnatamby
- Chelvanayakam At Seventy-five – Roshan Peiris
- The Defender of Minority Rights – M.C.M Kaleel
- The Chelvanayakam I Knew – M. Rajendra
- His a Achievement – S. Kulendran
- The Schoolmaster – P.H. Nonis
- A Peer in the Profession – Shiva Pasupati
- A Lawyers Lawyer – Victor Tennekoon
- A National Asset – S. Sivasubramaniam
S. J. V. CHELVANAYAKAM
ARUL M. RAJENDRAN 111, PICKERINGS ROAD, COLOMBO 13.
It gives me great pleasure to write a few words by way of introduction to the tribute paid to my
late Leader Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam Q. C. by a representative selection of members of
various communities in this country.
Mr. Arul M. Rajendran who is bringing out this publication had the rare advantage of working as Mr. Chelvanayakam’ s Secretary over a long period of time and knowing the leader intimately. A publication brought out by such a person will naturally reflect the many facets of Mr. Chelvanayakam’ s colourful personality.
I hope this small publication will be a precursor to a bigger volume by the same publisher to
I wish Mr. Rajendran all success in his venture.
A. Amirthalingam, National State Assembly, M. P. for Kankesanturai & Colombo 1. Leader of the Opposition. 29th March 1978.
The eightieth birth anniversary of the late Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam Q.C., M.P., leader of the Tamils of this country for over a quarter of a century, falls on 31.3.78 and his first death anniversary falls on 26.4.78. This booklet is published in connection with these two events as a tribute to him.
Articles written about him and tributes paid to him by the following persons are included in this booklet.
Mr. N. Sinnatamby, Retired Puisne Justice. Mrs. Roshan Peiris, Journalist. Dr. M.C.M. Kaleel, President of the All-Ceylon Muslim League. Mr. M. Rajendra, Retired Secretary to the Treasury. The Rt. Rev. S. Kulendran, Retired Bishop, Church of South India, Jaffna Diocese. Mr. P. H. Nonis, Retired Principal, Wesley College, Colombo. Mr. Shiva Pasupati, Attorney General. Mr. Victor Tennekoon, Ex-Chief Justice. Mr. Sivasubramaniam, Attorney-at-law.
Mr. Sinnatamby’s tribute appeared in the Sunday Times of 31.5.77 and is reproduced with the kind permission of the Editor of that paper. On my suggestion Mr. Sinnatamby has made some additions to this tribute.
Mrs. Roshan Peiris’ article appeared in the Ceylon Daily News of 31.3.73 on the occasion of the seventy-fifth birthday of Mr. Chelvanayakam and is reproduced with the kind permission of the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.
Tributes of Messrs. Victor Tennekoon and Shiva Pasupati are those paid in the Supreme Court on 13.5.77. Copies of these tributes were kindly Supplied by them.
The articles from Dr. M. C. M. Kaleel, Mr. M. Rajendra, the Rt. Rev. S. Kulendran, Mr. P. H. Nonis and Mr. S. Sivasubramaniam were specially written for this volume at my request.
My thanks are due to all whose articles and tributes are included in this booklet and to the Editor of the Sunday Times for permission to reproduce the tribute of Mr. N. Sinnatamby and to the ANCL for permission to reproduce the article of Mrs. Roshan Peiris.
My thanks are also due to Mr. S. Doraiswamy for the cover design.
A special word of thanks is due to the Spartan Press for printing the booklet within a short period of two weeks. Mr. A. Amirthalingam M. P., the leader of the Opposition in spite of his numerous and onerous duties, as the leader of the Opposition apart from his other duties, has given an introduction to this booklet for which I am greatly indebted to him.
The late Mr. M. Tiruchelvam Q. C. used to tell me often that the biography of Mr. Chelvanayakam should be written and that the biography of Mr. Chelvanayakam would be the history of the Tamil people of this country for over a quarter of a century and that he would get the biography written one day. But unfortunately, Mr. Tiruchelvam predeceased Mr. Chelvanayakam suddenly and unexpectedly.
It is the duty of the Tamil people of this country to see that a comprehensive and complete biography of Mr. Chelvanayakam is written and published early.
Arul M. Rajendran
CHELVANAYAKAM – AS I KNEW HIM
Mr. CHELVANAYAKAM had been my friend from my boyhood days. I first came to know him when I was a student in the College Form of St. Thomas’ College. He had just joined the staff and I believe was in charge of Winchester Dormitory, where younger boarders were housed.
Even at that early age he evoked our admiration and respect by the way in which he handled what he considered an arbitrary and oppressive order made by Warden Stone. Rather than comply with it he tendered his resignation, though he could ill afford financially to do so. He was not prepared to compromise with his conscience to serve his personal needs.
He later joined the staff of Wesley College and when I left school, he persuaded the Rev. Highfield to invite me in re-organising the Science Department there. We were both law students at that time. Mr. Chelvanayakam had graduated in science as an external student of the London University despite the fact that there were no facilities for higher education then available. I graduated in law.
While at Wesley Mr. Chelvanayakam decided to don the national costume and was joined by Mr. Terrence de Silva. Though at the time it evoked much ridicule in certain quarters he unflinchingly adhered to his decision. We left Wesley College when we both passed out as advocates together, but I took my oath a day or two before he did and I recall telling him jocularly that I would be entitled to take silk before he did.
We both started our legal careers in the Court of Requests, Colombo, which at that time was dominated by giants of the calibre of Nagalingam, Nadarajah and Swan, all of whom later sat on the Supreme Court Bench. That G.O.M. of the Jaffna.
Bar, Kulasingam, joined us for a short time but left as he probably found it more lucrative to practise in Jaffna.
When Nagalingam and Nadarajah migrated to the District Court, Thiagalingam and Marshall Pulle, both of whom became Q. Cs, Joined us. Chelvanayakam, by his hard work, intimate knowledge of the law and his analytical mind, soon acquired a busy practice and was able to hold his own against these eminent lawyers. In due course he, too, proceeded to the District Court and I was offered and accepted a judgeship as Additional Judge of Jaffna.
When in due course I came back to Colombo and assumed duties as a District Judge, Chelvanayakam was a much sought after Counsel and I believe enjoyed a five-figure monthly income. During this period Chelvanayakam kept away from me, presumably because he thought as a practising advocate, he did not wish to create the impression among the litigating public that he was on terms of intimate friendship with the judge before whom he appeared frequently, and also, I think he did not wish to embarrass me. I, on my side, likewise respected his wishes.
As an advocate Mr. Chelvanayakam was not by any means glamorous. He indulged in neither rhetoric nor invective. He presented his case in simple language but marshalled his facts with consummate skill. He never presented a case beyond what he considered to be legitimate but a good case never suffered at his hands. He was courteous to witnesses and he exposed the false witness without either bullying or intimidating him.
He was only too well aware of the dangers and costs of litigation, and was prepared to advice his clients in their interests to settle when he considered such course desirable. When he argued a good case not even a hostile Bench could prevent him from presenting his case fully.
I recall a case he argued in the Supreme Court, before my brother Justice H. N. G. Fernando, later Chief Justice, and myself. It related to the effect of certain amendments to the Motor Traffic Act in regard to liabilities of insurers. My brother and I at first took the view that he had no case to argue. But Mr. Chelvanayakam persisted in his arguments and my brother became impatient. At this stage I whispered to my brother that if Mr. (“Chelvanayakam persisted in an argument there must be some substance in it sufficient to warrant a patient hearing. In the end he convinced us of the correctness of his arguments, and my brother wrote the judgement, which I believe is still a leading case on the subject.
Mr. Chelvanayakam never wasted the time of the court by irrelevant or unnecessary questions or arguments. I recall another case in the District Court of Colombo involving a large sum of money. Mr. Chelvanayakam, who had then taken silk, was on one side and an eminent Q.C., who was quite capable but inclined to be loquacious, was on the other side. An important witness was examined at length for a couple of days.
When it became Mr. Chelvanayakam’ s turn to cross-examine and I called on him to do so, he got up, bowed and said “No questions. I personally was taken aback, and there was consternation written all over his client’s face. The case went on and when the time came for counsel to address, Mr. Chelvanayakam said that it was not necessary to cross-examine this particular witness as all the facts he wished to elicit had been got out in the lengthy examination in chief. It was then obvious to me that Mr. Chelvanayakam did not wish by cross-examining to give the witness the opportunity in re-examination to explain away the damaging admissions he innocently and unconsciously made.
One great asset Mr. Chelvanayakam enjoyed as an advocate was the complete confidence the Bench had in regard to any statement he made from the Bar. He never even unintentionally misled the Bench. Every statement he made was checked and re-checked before it was uttered. If he was not sure he preferred to make no statement at all.
With regard to Mr. Chelvanayakam’ s political life I saw it only from the side line. I was not a member of his party, but that does not mean that we did not discuss political questions affecting the Tamil community. Even in his early days as a member of the Tamil Congress, Mr. Chelvanayakam who was far-seeking, knew that the problems facing the Tamils, particularly in regard to their language, would become acute and thought that the only solution would be by federalism. Whether he was right
or wrong is not for me to say. He firmly believed that was the only solution. He never forgave Mr. Ponnambalam for voting in favour of the citizenship Acts, which fact eventually made him to break away from the Tamil Congress and form the Federal Party.
In the political field his acts and achievements will no doubt be aired in another place. Suffice it to say here that he made an immense sacrifice for the Tamil cause by giving up a large and lucrative practice to espouse and further the interests of the Tamil-speaking people. This he did even before he was afflicted by an illness which handicapped him considerably in pursuing his objectives.
Mr. Chelvanayakam’ s interests were not confined to law and politics. They were wide and varied. He had, for instance, interests in tea and printing trade. He formed a Syndicate and purchased controlling interest in Pettiagalla Estate, Balangoda which overlooked Massena Estate, where his brother was at one time employed. It turned out to be a very profitable venture. He also: purchased a printing press, mainly I suspect, for political purposes but this turned out to be a financial failure.
Finally, if I may quote from memory – I trust correctly – “He was a man take him for all in all I shall not look upon his like again’. He was a good a devout Christian, charitable to his enemies and fond of his children and family. May his soul rest in peace. (Courtesy: The Sunday Times 1-5-77)
(supplementary to the above)
At St. Thomas’ College, Chelvanayakam was of a quiet and retiring disposition and became a central figure only when he fired the imagination of the senior boys by his open defiance of the dictatorial order of Warden Stone to which I had referred to: earlier. Some time thereafter I left school and joined the Law. College. Chelvanayakam had by then joined Wesley College as its chief Science Master. He was looking for an assistant to help him to re-organise the Science Section and had suggested my name to Rev. Highfield, the Principal, but Rev. Highfield preferred to have a Christian – I was a Hindu. He could not find one and eventually one morning he came cycling home to my father’s house in Kynsey Road dressed in a dark grey Cananoor suit and white tennis shoes to offer me the job, which I accepted on the then princely salary of Rs. 135 a month.
Mr. Chelvanayakam and I worked together till we both passed out as Advocates at the same examination. Mr. Chelvanayakam set himself up in practice at Hultsdorp itself. He was able to procure a house in Hultsdorp Street, and I used to go down to his house where my lunch was sent daily. It was in his house that I first met Mr. G. G. Ponnambalam who had then just arrived from England. I recall the visit very vividly. Mr. Ponnambalam was dressed like a typical English Barrister with striped trousers and dark coat and he carried a walking stick with a silver knob. Ponnambalam tried his luck in the Court of Requests where Mr. Chelvanayakam and I practised but he found the intricacies of the Civil law too much for him. He then turned to the criminal side and took to it like a duck taking to water.
In course of time, I had my own chambers in Hultsdorp and Chelvanayakam moved into more spacious quarters in St. Sebastian Hill. His practice grew and he was much sought after. have already mentioned some of the men who graduated from the (“Court of Requests. Among them was also Mr. S. Nadesan Q. C. it was at this time that I was offered and accepted a judicial appointment. I soon got tired of that kind of work and wrote to Chelvanayakam seeking his advice on whether I should return to the Bar. He refused to advice on a matter which had to be decided at a personal level.
In course of time Chelvanayakam moved to the District Court and I lost touch with his professional life till in due course came back to Colombo as a District Judge. Chelvanayakam had in the meantime established himself as an outstanding lawyer enjoying a large practice in the District Court, in due course he took silk and appeared in many big cases,
Chelvanayakam appeared quite frequently before me in the District Court and I recall two big cases in which he figured. One was a case in which the grand daughter of a prominent Muslim gentleman sought to change her sect, appoint her a guardian or “Wali and marry the man of her choice. The girl was a minor of about 16 years of age. The grandparent objected to the marriage on the ground that the proposed bridegroom was considered by them to be undesirable. To me it seemed preposterous that a young immature girl should be able to defy her natural guardian and by changing her sect – I don’t recall whether it was Hanafi or Shafiq – be entitled to appoint her own Wali and with his consent marry. However, the question was one of law and I thought it desirable to speak to the girl in Chambers with the consent of both parties. I did so but it proved futile. Eventually after hearing learned arguments on the Law, I was obliged to hold much against my own inclinations and Mr. Chelvanayakam’ s arguments that she was entitled in Muslim law to act as she did. There was the inevitable appeal ending in the Privy Council where the original judgement was affirmed.
Another big case in which Chelvanayakam appeared related to the estate of a wealthy Nadukkottai Chetty. The questions involved related to Hindu Law and the joint family system. Hearing went on for several days. As the main issues related to foreign law, expert evidence was led and the Advocate General of Madras gave evidence for one side and a former Advocate General for the other. The bar table at each hearing was piled up with Law books and Indian Law Reports. The subject was new and this was one of the first cases in which it was sought to apply the Hindu Law. The Attorney General, Mr. H. S. Basanayaka, appeared for the Crown who was claiming estate duty. The stupendous amount of research and study put in both on behalf of the Crown and on the other side was phenomenal. Eventually held with Mr. Chelvanayakam’ s client. This case too went up to the Privy Council and the original Court Judgement was affirmed.”
These cases demonstrated the untiring research and the lucidity of argument which Mr. Chelvanayakam was capable of. During the time Mr. Chelvanayakam was teaching at Wesley he became acquainted with my wife’s family and took part in 6. amateur theatricals organised by them. I remember he took the part of Portia in Merchant of Venice and made quite an enchanting and attractive Portia.
In his school days like all school boys Mr. Chelvanayakam had his boyhood fancies and was apparently attracted by the charms of a young lady in Jaffna. Years afterwards this lady married a friend of mine and I was best man at the wedding. When un-wittingly I mentioned this to Chelvanayakam I could see that he was visibly moved and we did not broach the subject thereafter. Chelvanayakam became engrossed in his professional work and when some years later he became engaged I heard of nothing but the charms and virtues of the good lady, I remember on one of our visits to Balangoda we could not return by the route through Ratnapura as roads were flooded. We had to come back through Haputale, Nuwara Eliya, Gampola —— a long and tiresome route. We had no alternative as we had to attend courts on the Monday. I was driving and Chelvanayakam was seated by my side. Throughout the whole journey Chelvanayakam expanded on nothing else but on the virtues and achievements of his future wife and the correct way to pronounce her name.
Later when in due course he got married he brought her to Colombo where they lived so happily till the time of his death.
CHELVANAYAKAM AT SEVENTY-FIVE
He is a sort of grey eminence, a brooding, benign leader. Slim, frail and just over five feet in height, Shy, he lacks the politician’s penchant for self-inflation. He is Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam, leader of the year-old Tamil United Front and for twenty-five years the leader of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi, the federal party of Sri Lanka. He is seventy-five years old today and despite physical disabilities he said with a quiet courage and determination “I hope to stay in politics until my death’.
As a young man of twenty-six Mr. Chelvanayakam once took the horoscope of a friend of his to a well-known astrologer. The astrologer seeing the bright young man before him asked to see his horoscope as well. With much reluctance Mr. Chelvanayakam gave his horoscope. The astrologer told the astonished young lawyer that he would be a leader in his country and a leader among his people and “your name’ said the astrologer “will be known outside the shores of this country. Now almost fifty years later the astrologer has been proved right. His political associates say that he is unique in that for the first time the three different factions among the Tamil people have been united under him. The federal party, the Tamil Congress and Mr. Thondaman’s Ceylon Workers’ Congress all acknowledged his leadership.
Mr. Chelvanayakam’ s political associates don’t quite accept his political views some times. They consider him the last of the conservatives and right of centre in politics. He himself told me that he is a democratic Socialist whose political vision and ideals have been moulded by Gandhi and the Labour Party in Britain in the early thirties. The mild Mr. Chelvanayakam abhors violence and he will never knowingly encourage violence and autocracy both of which are repugnant to him. His mildness is regarded with reservation by youth element in his own party and the not so youthful members of the Tamil United Front.
A Christian by religion he told me that he has a simple faith in the essential goodness of man irrespective of race or religion. After twenty-five years or more in politics he still believes despite the fluctuating political fortunes of his party that both the Sinhalese and Tamils can yet live together in peace and harmony in happy integration respecting each other’s culture and language. Some of his senior political followers told me that he is the only one who will agree to a dialogue with the Sinhala people. “He still loves and believes in them; in fact, his Proctor is a Sinhalese. Mr. Chelvanayakam can enter into a dialogue with the Sinhala people and he is the only person who can convince the Tamil people to accept whatever agreement he makes with the Government’.
Many may not agree with Mr. Chelvanayakam’ s politics but one can never doubt the sincerity of the man or the integrity of character. In 1945 when he began controversial politics he was earning as much as ten thousand rupees a month at the Bar as one of the finest and most clear-headed lawyers at the time. He had both the respect of the Bar and the Bench. He is unique in public life in that he gave the sure chance of being a millionaire twice over to become a politician. Today he has lost much of his wealth but it has not embitted him.
Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam was born in Malaya in 1898. His father was a businessman in Malaya, while still young he came over with his mother and brothers to live and school in Jaffna. He received his secondary education at St. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia, where he met and made friends with Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike a year younger than himself. At College he excelled in work and went on to become the youngest science graduate of the London University, which distinction he achieved while still not quite twenty-one,
At school the young Chelvanayakam enjoyed his cricket and learnt to play the violin and the intricacies of Carnatic music which he still loves.
After university he joined the staff of his old school but taught there only for a week resigning when the School authorities did not grant him leave to see his younger brother who was
critically ill, He next joined Wesley College and while teaching there passed out as an advocate in 1923.
Very soon he made his mark as an able and versatile civil lawyer with one of the largest practices at the time, He was also an acknowledged expert on tea plantation and he did a great deal of tea planting with Sir E. G. P. Jayatilleke.
In 1942 when the Tamil people led by Mr. Ponnambalam sent a petition to White Hall asking the British to give the Tamil people their due rights, Mr. Chelvanayakam joined in the petition. With the coming of the Soulbury Commissioners who wanted to make possible the granting of Dominion Status, Mr. Chelvanayakam joined Mr. Ponnambalam to form the Tamil Congress and began the struggle for minority rights in the future Parliament on a fifty-fifty basis.
Mr. Ponnambalam chose Mr. Chelvanayakam as his trusted lieutenant. The Tamil Congress failed in its demand. In the 1947 general elections to the first Parliament Mr. Chelvanayakam was one of the nominees to be returned to Parliament.
In 1948 Mr. Ponnambalam changed his political ideas and joined the Cabinet of Mr. D. S. Senanayake as the Minister of Industries, Industrial Research and Fisheries. Mr. Chelvanayakam was disillusioned by his leader accepting office, unconditionally but nevertheless he stayed with the party until the House of Representatives passed the Indian and Pakistan Residents (Citizenship) Bill. He then together with two others left the Tamil Congress and formed the Federal Party.
At the 1952 elections, he and his party suffered defeat because, he said, he had to start from scratch. But in 1956 with both the M. E. P. and the ruling UNP pledging Sinhala only as the official language of the country the Federal Party won ten seats and the Tamil Congress only one seat. The Federal Party’s opposition to the language bill led to communal riots in 1958 and the declaring of a state of emergency by Premier S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. Mr. Chelvanayakam and his followers were placed under house detention.
In February 1961 the Federal Party decided to launch a sathityagraha movement when Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was “rime Minister. Mr. Chelvanayakam decided to do so after having spent some time praying alone in his room. On April 18 a state of emergency was declared and Mr. Chelvanayakam and other Federal leaders were placed under house detention. While under detention Mr. Chelvanayakam fell seriously ill and he was allowed to be taken to London while still under detention by Premier Mrs. Bandaranaike. He returned from London in 1961 and both he and his party members were released. asked him whether these fluctuations in his political life had made him bitter. ‘No’ was the answer. “I don’t think bitterness pays. There is no point in feeling bitter. It is my nature’, he said with a wavering voice, “to suffer without feeling bitter’.
In 1965 Mr. Chelvanayakam decided to join the Government of Mr. Dudley Senanayake. The reasons were, he said, that Mr. Senanayake’ s Government promised regional status for Tamil, Tamil language in the Courts and administration and no State aided colonisation scheme in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Mr. Senanayake’ s Government failed to honour these pledges, he said, and so they broke away in September 1968.
Mr. Chelvanayakam’ s party won thirteen seats in 1970 and he resigned from his seat last year as a protest against the new Constitution which he says does not give the Tamil people their clue rights. He said he would contest his seat Kankesanturai when bye-elections are held.
Last year the Tamil United Front was formed thus uniting the Tamils in the Northern, Eastern and Central Provinces Mr. Chelvanayakam said he was glad that there was seventy five percent unity among the Tamil people for the first time. We will not ask for a separate State if we are given our rights. Otherwise, there is no other solution.
“Already the North and East is fast becoming self sufficient, thanks to the government banning chillies, potatoes and onions which has given these crops grown in the Northern and Eastern Provinces a ready market. In the interest of Sri Lanka, the
Sinhala people and the Tamil people must settle their differences by amicable dialogue if possible” he said.
Mr. Chelvanayakam at seventy-five feels his life still belongs to his people. He has a sense of destiny that he must never desert his people. He refused a place on the Bench because of this and sacrificed both his professional and business life. One cannot agree with Mr. Chelvanayakam’ s politics but still both political friend or foe cannot but admire the man’s integrity and dedication.
In the evening of his life, he told me quietly “hope springs eternal in the human breasts and I still hope that both the Tamil people and the Sinhala people will yet resolve their differences’.
Many feel that Mr. Chelvanayakam represents both the strength and weakness of the Tamil people. He has no doubt not tailored his ideas to political realities but he has with a convert’s zeal embraced non-violence as a political faith notwithstanding his followers. Crasser sort of politics does not suit his Gandhian temperament and Mr. Chelvanayakam remains at seventy-five a Biblical type father figure: humane, gentle and WSC. (Courtesy: The Ceylon Daily News, 31-3-73)
THE DEFENDER OF MINORITY RIGHTS
Dr. M. C. M. Kaleel
The late Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam is one of those leaders whom friend and foe alike honoured and respected. His integrity, sincerity of purpose, self-sacrifice, perseverance in the face of almost insuperable difficulties made even those who did not agree with his political creed appreciate his point of view and go out of the way to meet even partially some of his demands without violating their own convictions. Those members of the Federal Party which he led loved him and literally worshiped him. They knew that he was fighting not for any advantage for himself but for the future welfare of his community. Chelvanayakam was a great admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and he followed Gandhian principles of non-violence throughout his political life. He never worked in secrecy but always announced publicly what he proposed to do next in the result that the authorities were able to take preventive measures to foil his efforts.
We do not know much about the early life of Mr. Chelvanayakam except that he was born in the year 1898 in Malaya where his parents had migrated from Ceylon but the family soon returned to Jaffna while he was still a little lad. His mother sent him to St. John’s College, Jaffna and thereafter he came to Colombo and joined St. Thomas College, Mutwal which was one of the leading secondary schools in the island. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike who later became the 4th Prime Minister of Ceylon was one of his contemporaries at School. After passing out of College he obtained his B.Sc. (London) and thereafter joined Wesley College as a teacher at the same time attending lectures at the Law College. He passed out as an advocate and started practice straight away. He concentrated on his professional work and soon made a name for himself both in the lower and appeal courts. Government soon recognized his ability and integrity and appointed him King’s Counsel. At that time politics was far from his thoughts. He wanted to make
himself economically independent before entering into that hazardous avocation of a political career.
Chelvanayakam did not fight for the Tamil cause alone.
Whenever or wherever he found people being unjustly treated he promptly took action to see that justice was done. For instance, in February 1976 when the Muslims who gathered in the Puttalam Mosque completely unarmed were shot down by the police causing six deaths and injuring many more, he was the only M.P. who promptly demanded from the Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike to appoint a commission to inquire into the incident.
A year before his death hen attended the birthday celebrations of Mr. Chelvanayakam held by the people of Vavuniya. It was like a Festival day. He was taken round the town which was decorated in a car followed by a procession. After that while he was seated many people both men and women came and knelt before him kissed his feet even though he did not encourage it. It was the honour and respect they paid to their great leader for his selfless service to the people.
On the 26th day of April 1977 Mr. Chelvanayakam passed away and a multitude of humanity gathered in Jaffna from all parts of the island to pay their last respects to the great leader.
THE CHELVANAYAKAM I KNEW
The Chelvanayakam I write about is not the eminent Q. C., nor the founder of the Federal Party nor the Chelvanayakam who was the universally accepted leader of the Tamil Community in Sri Lanka. The Chelvanayakam I am writing of is a young school teacher in his early twenties.
He was our guardian in Colombo when my brother Tiruchelvamr and I attended St. Thomas College, Mt. Lavinia and our parents were in Malaya. Chelvanayakam was one of the earliest Ceylonese who passed the B.Sc. External Examination of the London University by private study from Colombo. Graduates of British Universities at that time were few and far between. They mostly were persons who had won University Scholarships or were children of rich parents who could afford a foreign education. A graduate of the London University who acquired the degree by self-study from Colombo was almost unique.
After graduation in 1922 Chelvanayakam spent a holiday in Malaya visiting his father who was a business man. He spent a few days at our home in Kuala Lumpur. I was about 10 years old and Tiruchelvam was in his early teens. I have vague recollections of Chelvanayakam discussing our future education with my father. He may have impressed upon him that we could receive a more liberal education in Colombo; for schools in Malaya at that time only trained students for clerical positions. My father had passed the entrance examination to the Calcutta University before going to Malaya to join the Postal Services. He appears to have read widely and had a good library in Tamil and English. His talks with Chelvanayakam must have created a deep impression. Soon afterwards literature about schools in Ceylon such as St. Thomas, Trinity and Wesley came home, in 1924 Tiruchelvam joined Wesley College where Chelvanayakam was teaching.
settled in Jaffna while my father continued in employment in Malaya. The experiment of running two homes was not a success and my mother decided to rejoin my father in October or November 1924. At this stage, I appear to have volunteered to stay back and continue my studies in Colombo with Chelvanayakam as my guardian. As it was mid term, I did not join a school boarding but stayed with Chelvanayakam who at that time was living with his aunt in the newly built Government quarters at Narahenpita.
Chelvanayakam was Science master at Wesley College and was also doing his apprenticeship in lawyer’s Chamber in Hultsdorp having passed his Advocate final examination. He wore national dress for his teaching and western attire when he attended courts. To wear national dress in Highfields’s Wesley College required courage. The 1920’s saw to the beginnings of middle-class nationalism with talk of revulsion against western habits and clothes. While many middle-class intellectuals talked Chelvanayakam acted according to his convictions. He was not an aggressive nationalist who tried to inflict his views on others. His Christian relatives considered him mildly eccentric because of his attire.
As he was planning to leave Wesley College to practice law, it was decided that Tiruchelvam and I should join St. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia as boarders at the beginning of 1925. When Chelvanayakam assumed my guardianship, he took the responsibilities seriously. To ensure that I would be able to join my correct age group at St. Thomas’, Chelvanayakam ascertained the standard of proficiency that I should attain in the various subjects to join the lower fourth form and tested me.
He found that I was backward in Latin. In spite of other pre-occupations, he spared time to tutor me. As a teacher, I remember him as being kindly, considerate and strict but never over-bearing. His ascertaining the standard I should attain to gain correct admission to college was typical of the care and thoroughness with which he carried out whatever he undertook. He displayed the same qualities in his practice of the law.
During the four years I was in the Thomian Boarding House, he was my guardian. He paid my fees and gave me my pocket money.” lived with him during my holidays. When he began it tice as a lawyer, he lived for many years at 144, Hultsdorp Street. As there were no children of my age in the vicinity, I WAs often bored. He was not too pre-occupied with his affairs not to notice my boredom. He allowed me to go to the Cinema once or twice a week and discussed the film I saw at dinner. He sometimes could be persuaded on a Friday evening to see a cowboy film which I had found particularly thrilling. He also introduced me to the Pettah Library, the predecessor of the Public Library which was located in the premises that later came the Senate building at Queen Street. With his guidance learnt to read the Victorian classics and acquired a taste for good literature and serious reading.
Chelvanayakam came from a Christian family. He practised his religion. Throughout the years I knew him not only did he attend services regularly but I have the impression that he made conscious efforts to lead his life according to the highest tenets of his faith. There was integrity in all his actions. He led an austere sober life. He neither drank nor smoked though he could be persuaded to enjoy a drink on a festive occasion. He was fastidious about the clothes he wore – whether it was national dress or suits for the Courts. He was always well dressed. He was simple in his food habits but enjoyed a well-cooked meal. particularly remember him relish a fish dinner I gave him when was stationed in Hambantota. The fish had been freshly caught. He was a loyal son. After his father’s death, he happily looked after his mother and brother. He was ungrudging in helping his relatives who sought his assistance.
I have been trying to recollect how he spent his leisure. remember that he was fond of playing the violin and for sometime had a tutor to give him regular lessons. Not being musical myself, I cannot say how good he was. He was interested in Carnatic music and attended recitals by visiting artistes. He invariably spent his Court holidays with his mother at Tellippalai or with relatives and friends in various parts of the island. He endeavoured to have a holiday up-country every year. In spite of his austere habits, he was not a gloomy Puritan. He enjoyed intellectual company and was a stimulating conversationalist. He had a wide circle of friends. We who were his wards grew up to establish a warm friendly relationship based on deep trust and affection. Even when we ceased to be his wards, we visited him frequently and consulted him on our problems. In later years, my brother, Tiruchelvam as a colleague in the same profession was much closer to him and became closely associated with his political activities. As I became a Senior Public Servant, our relationship became somewhat aloof.
Looking back on my association with him in his younger days, it was his modesty and integrity that impressed me most. In later life when he became involved in politics and espoused unpopular causes, his opponents persistently attributed his adoption of such causes to disappointment at not being offered Ministerial office when his colleagues in the Tamil Congress joined the government after Independence. Those who knew Chelvanayakam from his younger days knew how wrong the judgement was. After his death even his bitterest opponents conceded that he was a rare politician who entered politics to serve his people according to his highest lights and sacrificed fortune, career and health for the cause he believed in.
The Rt. Rev. S. Kulendran
I joined St. John’s College, Jaffna, in May 1913, in the Second Form (6th Std.) There were then three brothers of the (“Chelvanayakam family at the school; himself, his brother just junior to him, one class below me, and his youngest brother well below us, who died when he was still at school. Chelvanayakam was in the junior Cambridge Class, with my brother Sam (A. Sabapathy) two class above me. His other classmates, whom I remember, were the late Rev. J. T. Arulananthan (then called Thiagaraja) and Archdeacon J. A. R. Navaratnam (then called Richard).
The Chief way to attract attention at a school in those days was by being in the Cricket or Football team, and particularly by doing well in some capacity in them. The other way, though not a popular way, was by being a Prefect; but mostly Prefects were also members of the one team or other or both. Chelvanayakam did not fulfill either of these conditions and so did not attract undue attention. But we were certainly aware of the three brothers (along with two brothers of the future Mrs. Chelvanayakam). He probably was not concerned with attracting our attention but was spending his time on his studies, which few of us were doing.
I, however, well remember the Senior Cambridge class of 1915. My brother may have become the Football Captain by then, but he certainly was in the team and was also wicket-keeper in Cricket. We had then an imposing array of teachers in the Higher forms: the Rev. Jacob Thompson, Messrs., T. H. Crossett, W. A. Walton and J. N. Vethavanam, the Rev. S. S. Somasundram and F. H. V. Gulasegaram. I well remember an event of that year in which Chelvanayakam figured. A “Sham Court’, i.e., a dramatic performance of an Assize trial, was staged in which Mr. Chelvanayakam, I think, prosecuted and my brother, l thinks, defended. The scene of the imaginary murder was laid in Mr. Chelvanayakam’ s own village of Tellippalai.
hereafter, our paths, to my belief hardly crossed each other for many years, though I did see him occasionally. He went to Colombo to continue his studies and did some teaching in various places. I did my studies and teaching in other places. He had been parted for a long time from his father, who was in Malaya. The mother and children had come to Jaffna early, for the education of the latter and he, therefore, developed a great devotion to him. I was told that he paid him a visit in 1918; the father died in 1919.
When the first Parliament under the Soulbury Constitution was to be inaugurated, Mr. G. G. Ponnambalam formed the Tamil Congress to fight for the rights of the Tamils. He had great difficulty in deciding on a candidate for Valigamam North and East. He had to choose between one who had distinguished himself in another field, and Chelvanayakam and consulted a neutral friend who said, “Choose Chelvanayakam, because as time goes on, Chelvanayakam will rise in people’s esteem and the other will sink.’
To choose a Christian for a campaign, that would be fought hard, was in those days a great risk; because till then there had been no parties and elections had been fought on the basis of genealogy, caste and creed. But in 1947, Mr. Ponnambalam was at the height of his influence and so under his aegis Chelvanayakam was elected. However, he soon broke away, but saw no reason to resign his seat, since he said it was, he who had remained loyal to the aims of the party and not the leadership.
But the test came in 1952, when he had to stand on his own. In a distinctively Hindu religious meeting, it is customary to open and wind-up proceedings with an anti-phonily chorus, the leader chanting the first part and the audience responding with the second part; this is done thrice. This chorus is not chanted, for instance, in a Co-operative Society meeting. But a candidate fighting for his political future may well resort to it, if he has anything to gain by it and this is what happened at the Election meetings in that constituency in 1952. Even otherwise, the whole campaign was given the colour of a religious struggle. Mr. Chelvanayakam was defeated; he carried on a protracted legal battle on a technical point, in which also he suffered the same fate.
This defeat was Mr. Chelvanayakam’ s making. With his devoted lieutenant, A. Amirthalingam, he began to gather, to start with about 10 – 12 people, mostly young men, under margosa trees in village after village, and address them on the Tamil cause. He was creating a hard core. His political adversary was in the meantime a Minister in Colombo; but the hardcore in Jaffna was increasing in size; the audiences began to grow to 20-30 and to still larger and larger numbers, till most people in each village had become a hard core. When the next election came Chelvanayakam was ready and his Party, termed the “Federal Party’, captured most of the seats in the Northern Province and quite a number in the Eastern.
During those days used to meet him in the train going to Colombo and since the idea of Federalism was new and not sufficiently understood, he used to explain its meaning to all and sundry and expound the possibility of “Deficit provinces under the system becoming “Credit provinces.
By now, however, the disease, which was to be his enemy for life, was beginning to get an increasing hold on him. It impaired his hearing and affected the mobility of his limbs. But, it in no way deterred him from launching his now famous “Satyagraha. Campaign in 1961. He himself however, was far from being well. I remember leaving the Jaffna Rest House after lunch one day at 12.30 p.m., and his arriving there at the time for his own meal. I returned at 3.30 p.m., and he was still at it. But the campaign met with a tremendous response both in the North and the East, till things reached such a pass that the Government decided to step in. An “Emergency state’ was clamped down on the country and not merely the leaders of the campaign but even possible sympathisers were sent to an Internment Camp at Homagama. There were about 150 of them shut up there; and this included Sir Kanthiah Vaithianathan – about whose sympathies with the movement there could hardly have been much ground.
Soon after arrival at the Camp, Mr. Chelvanayakam happened to develop a temperature. Government, unwilling to take any risk insisted on his being taken home, were, of course, he would be under house-arrest. He however, refused to go
leaving his companions in confinement, till finally the Police came and put him into a car and took him to Bambalapitiya. It was extremely difficult to gain admission into the Camp; but I managed to wrangle it. Here, I was asked to persuade him to leave for Britain to get surgical treatment for his disease. The Police arrangements at his house were peculiar; no outsider could get in; but from outside one could communicate with Mrs. Chelvanayakam, but not with Mr. Chelvanayakam. This, of course, was a farce; but both sides kept a straight face over it.
Mr. Chelvanayakam, however, would not desert his post, unless there was a written request from his colleagues. This meant my writing a letter to those in the Camp asking for such a request; and knowing that my letter would have to go through the censor, I composed a suitable communication with a strong literary flavour meant for the censor’s eye, my message in the meanwhile being carried by word of mouth through Mrs. M. Tiruchelvam to the husband. The upshot was that I was entrusted with the unexpected responsibility of collecting the necessary funds; but I managed to transfer my responsibility to more suitable hands and within one week a sum of Rs. 21.000 had been collected.
When Mr. & Mrs. Chelvanayakam were leaving for Britain, went and had a prayer meeting for them in their house and presented Mr. Chelvanayakam with a copy of the New Testament of the “New English Bible’, which had just then come out. After some weeks, we knew that an operation was coming on; but nobody knew the result when it had taken place. So, I was approached by some friends and asked to send a wire at their expense to a medical student in Edinburgh who was helping him, but whom I myself did not know. The reply came that the operation had been successful; and I had the satisfaction of communicating that news to the Press.
After the operation, when Mr. Chelvanayakam found that he could actually use his hands easily once again, he wrote me a letter, telling me that it was the first he had written with his own hand after many years. My family used to treasure that letter; but I find it missing from among my papers now. I wrote back that I would be at his house, when he got back, to hold a prayer-meeting of thanks-giving. I was at Ratmalana to meet him when he arrived and the demonstrations of his followers were extremely noisy, with Mr. Alagakone, M. P. for Mannar taking the lead. I held the Prayer-Meeting in the house; tears running down Mr. Chelvanayakam’ s cheeks all the time, while his followers were impatiently waiting to open up the flood-gates of their oratory.
It is a common temptation for a politician in minority religious community to soft-pedal his own religion and fall into line at least at certain points with the religious practices of those of the major community. Mr. Chelvanayakam never succumbed to it. The meetings of the Federal Party were usually held in the open space outside a Hindu Temple, in fact, the outer court of the temple. It is a venue that is most easily available, and to obtain which no formalities are required. It is a common practice at the end of any meeting in such a place for the Brahmin priests to go round distributing holy ashes to those present, especially to the leaders and for the recipients reverently to rub them on their foreheads. Those who were not Hindus could receive the ashes but not rub them on their foreheads; not Mr. Chelvanayakam, however. When they came to him, he would invariably say, “I am a Christian’; they would leave him alone and respect him all the more for it. As long as he was able, he would regularly attend the monthly Holy Communion Services at our Tamil Church in Colombo. It may cause some surprise too many to know that he was something of a connoisseur of Carnatic Music and if the singing of any lyric deviated from the set tune, he would easily detect it and point it out.
To speak about his “honesty’ and “integrity’ is to make a singularly inept comment. He lived in a world where no kind of dishonesty enters one’s thoughts. Dishonesty consists in the procedure of transferring money from the pockets that belongs to the public to the pocket holding your own money. His transactions consisted of the opposite procedure of constantly transferring his own money into the pocket of the public. This procedure is of course commendable; but his interpretation of honesty could also take bizarre forms. He had once got some campaign posters printed at a certain Press. The manager thinking it discourteous to send a bill to such a great man refrained from doing so for a long time, thinking that the money
would come automatically. When finally, the bill was sent; Mr. Chelvanayakam replied saying that he had already submitted the statement of his Election expenses to Government and, therefore, could make no further payment.
Because of the extreme Puritanism of his views and his rather rigid interpretation of the implications of honesty, it might be imagined that he would have been politically naive. A Britisher once told me that this was exactly the mistake that Lord Reading. when he came out as Viceroy, made about Mahatma Gandhi; but when he arrived, I was told, “He found Gandhi a tough nut to crack’. Chelvanayakam’ s mind was sharp and incisive, could get behind words and go straight to the heart of a problem. Once a gentleman from the Eastern Province questioned his right, as a Jaffna man, to speak for the Eastern Province. His reply was terse: “The Mudaliyar having entered Parliament on the ticket of the Federal Party has no right now to question my representative capacity, he said. He viewed every situation with a dispassionate eye and brought a cold and acute judgement or every issue at stake. He was; in fact, a supreme politician, as a strategist and tactician, taking a long-range view and knowing what to do and when and how to do it – in the interests of the Tamil cause. Because his cause seemed minor in the maelstrom of the struggles that engaged the attention of most people, his political acumen was not generally recognised.
Mr. Chelvanayakam had, of course, no axe of his own to grind, was unconcerned with praise and undeterred by blame. All his purpose was to promote the cause. To this he devoted all his efforts, Once naming two prominent personalities, he said, “They think that the task of a politician is like that of a lawyer; it is like that of an evangelist.’ An Evangelist is one who has a message, believes in it whole-heartedly and in season and out of season is bent on promoting it with single-minded devotion. What he meant by his reference to the role of a lawyer was that the latter spoke to a brief, depended on his ingenuity and merely desired victory on a particular occasion,
How Mr. Chelvanayakam looked upon his task was well-known to his followers. Therefore, we might certainly have expected from them an attitude of admiration, respect and deference. But their attitude to him was not that of admiration or respect, it was attitude of awe. Here he was discussing the same questions as laity, having the same ultimate aims, but bringing to bear on them Mansards different from theirs and looking upon things from view-points different from theirs. So, they always felt that while he was among them, he was not of them, as if he had strayed from a higher and different sphere into theirs. All Colombo homes would usually be seething with political rumours of in tricks, manoeuvres, manipulations and corruption in high places; but I found that he was mostly neither aware of them nor interested in them; Such things were alien to the world in which he lived. So, while his lieutenant Amirthalingam continued to refer to him as “Chelva’, the habit sprang up among his other colleagues of always referring to him in private conversations as “the Great One’ and in public meetings as “The Father’.
Transactions in the Party also reflected this attitude. When hic wanted to advocate a cause, it was put forward without any recourse to rhetoric or any appeal to emotion; points may have had to be clarified, implications drawn and details worked out; but it was understood that that course would be the programme adopted by the Party. When issues arose and there were arguments on either side, he would listen patiently, sum up and give his opinion; it was looked upon as a verdict. In later years, when points were put to him, a shake or nod of the head settled the matter. Once, when I was on holiday in Bandarawela, the Bishop of Colombo called me by phone and asked me to go round to the important members of the Federal Party with a document which a Senator had submitted to him. One member harangued and another “laughed his guts out; Chelvanayakam read through it carefully and shook his head. I knew the Party lead had spoken the final word.
After all, Mr. Chelvanayakam had himself been a lawyer, accustomed to speak on the one side or other of many cases. low then did he come to adopt such total devotion to one cause? At the Memorial Service, held in his home-Church at Tellippalai, a week after his funeral, I quoted the words of the Prophet Ezekiel which God had spoken to him: “Son of man I have set thee a watchman over the house of Israel’. So, nothing else
mattered; it was a God-given task which he could not disown and to avoid which he could give no excuses; and nothing should deter him from carrying out his duty. I once asked him whether he realised that if the Tamils came into their own, there was not a possibility of the Hindus persecuting the Christians. “I know, he said, “but that does not mean that I should not do what I know to be right’. The fate of his own small community was not argument against the Tamils getting their rights. It was as if at man jumping into a boiling river to save somebody and was asked, “What will happen to your wife and children, if you are: drowned?’ and his replying “My duty now is to save this drowning person’.
Chelvanayakam has sometimes been called “the Gandhi of Ceylon; but as compared with Chelvanayakam the Mahatma had a much easier task. In the first place, his struggle was a clear-cut one; here was a country, under his leadership, fighting for its freedom against an alien power; the issue was clear and easily intelligible. Chelvanayakam’ s struggle was an internal and complicated struggle; the issues were ill-defined. How far could he go and where should he stop? Secondly, though the Mahatma had to face 30 – 40 thousand British bayonets, he had 300 million, people behind him; Chelvanayakam had only a meagre community. behind, whose very right to be in this country has occasionally been questioned. Also, because of the fact that India’s case was clear-cut, the Mahatma had international opinion heavily, if not overwhelmingly, on his side. Chelvanayakam’ s case was hardly; known to the out-side world and, therefore, he had no such, support. It is, therefore, obvious that the Mahatma had every, advantage over Chelvanayakam.
Looked at from one point of view, Chelvanayakam’ s political life was one of unrelieved failure. When first he tried to explain the meaning of Federalism, he was misinterpreted and laughed at. The Press (except for his own weekly paper which was merely his echo) and all other agencies of mass media were always against him. In Parliament, except for a brief period, his part consisted merely in saying “No to everything that was brought up; and the record of Parliament, as far as its own part was concerned, consisted in saying “No’ to every proposal or amendment of Mr. Chelvanayakam. The requests he made were turned down
and the agreements he tried to reach with those in power, except in one or two matters, always fell through. Yet looked at from another point of view, herein lay his success. In spite of his utter apparent failure, he never gave up. The wind had blown consistently and with almost irresistible force; but the flame had not been quenched; it had hardly flickered.
What then was Mr. Chelvanayakam’ s achievement? About 450 years before the Christian era, the Carthaginian armies had invaded Italy and defeated the Romans in every battle; but Cincinnatus, the Roman Dictator, would not give up. And the Roman Senate passed a resolution thanking him, because “he had not despaired of the republic’. The logic was, “If he did not despair, why should we?’ The Tamils of Ceylon, in like manner, looked upon this gaunt and haggard man, stricken by disease, who could hardly walk and could hardly speak above a whisper, who through a life of continued failure and disappointment, yet had not despaired; and they asked themselves, the question, “If he did not despair, why should we?’ This then is Chelvanayakam’ s achievement: that he has taught the Tamils of this country to believe in themselves.
THE SCHOOL MASTER
P. H. Nonis
Prior to 1921 neither the University nor even the University College existed in Sri Lanka, so that about five of the leading schools in Colombo including Wesley College conducted classes for post-Matriculation students preparing for the London Intermediate in Arts and Science.
The employment of Advocate Students then was a regular feature at Wesley; these were taken on short term contracts and among them were found several dedicated and capable teachers who rendered splendid service in the upper forms – a future Chief Justice, two Supreme Court judges, a Queen’s Counsel, a Solicitor-General and judges of the Lower Courts. This practice was advantageous to students since such teachers were some of the brightest products of our schools – the cream of the students completing their secondary education later pursued the study of Law as Advocate Students.
About this I found myself with five others in the London Intermediate class at Wesley, which was known as the “Sixth Form’. Valentine Jayawickreme, who was in charge of Higher Mathematics, was later appointed Minister of Justice. He was succeeded by S. J. V. Chelvanayakam B.Sc. in 1919. When he came to be interviewed for appointment, he met me and told me to take him to the Principal, Rev. H. Highfield. Chelvanayakam had such a young face that I asked him if he wished to join the school (meaning as a student); he answered in the affirmative. When he came to the little Sixth Form Room next morning to give his first lesson in Mathematics, neither he nor I was able to resist a smile after the previous day’s incident.
The students soon recognised in him a clever Mathematician and a dedicated teacher. He gave me a new impression that of a master who while commanding the complete respect, talked to one as though we were on entire and friendly equality; such teachers were not common before 1920.
Though a Law student at the time, Chelvanayakam threw himself whole-heartedly into teaching Mathematics in the Sixth Form and later became the Head of the Science Department. He was a true friend of his students and knew their homes and families. He found time to visit their parents and often gave them advice regarding their sons. He gave his lessons with so much personality that his success was unlimited. He had the kindest of hearts, never gave a punishment and never raised his voice.
Almost at the beginning of his teaching career he joined the Boarding House Staff and was appointed Senior Master. He was always an ardent admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and of his principles of non-violence in the political spheres. He moved freely with the Senior boarders and found opportunities of expressing his views on current world affairs. He was a gentleman of high principles and of simple habits. His students at Wesley I were not at all surprised when he became the leader of a powerful ‘political party.
Chelvanayakam was a practising Christian and remained so until his death. He was never known to change or hide his religious principles for political expediency.
Though no expert at games he followed the activities of this department with real enthusiasm. He loved cricket. His appreciation of it, however, was balanced. He would give 50 cents to a certain interesting individual asking him to cheer the Wesley cricketers to the annoyance of their opponents. Even in the last days of his earthly life he used to recommend the physical exercises which he himself practised. He rejoiced over the fact that at least three of his students in the Sixth Form were regular members of the First Eleven at cricket.
He brought such a wealth of sympathetic and healthy affection to every pupil that I shall always think of him as one of the kindest of schoolmasters I have ever known.
A PEER IN THE PROFESSION
The last few months have witnessed the demise of peers in the profession, men who were independent, courageous and forthright, men who were destined to be leaders.
Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam was born at the
turn of the century. He graduated in science in 1918. He spent a short but turbulent period as a teacher at St. Thomas’ College and later at Wesley College. He projected his personality even at that young age. He would accept nothing unless he was convinced that it was correct. He, therefore, turned to a
profession which would provide ample scope for his dedication
to his work and to his principles. He had little choice but to turn
to the law and so he was called to the Bar in 1924, having worked
in the chambers of the late Mr. Francis de Zoysa. Bereft of
patronage, he had to make his modest beginnings in the Court of
Requests. The extraordinary qualities he possessed – patience,
hard work and an unruffled temperament combined with
incisiveness and intelligence led him from success to success, from
the Court of Requests to the District Court, from the District Court to the appellate Courts. He was made Queen’s Counsel on 31st May, 1947. Judges before whom he appeared learnt never to question the correctness of what he said on the facts of any case and never failed to give weighty consideration to his relevant, precise and persuasive presentation of his case.
He gave more than his share to help the legal profession to be regarded in this country as a noble and a learned profession. Those who had the privilege to have worked in his chambers often recall with warm affection the patience he always displayed to instil in them a Sound grasp of legal principles and more important, an unswerving adherence to principles in their conduct in the profession. He never missed an opportunity to help a junior to build confidence in himself and many a diffident junior looked to him for support.
He never craved for wealth and was satisfied with modest rewards. When he ventured into the realm of politics, he took with him that rare characteristic of being able to inspire trust and confidence in persons who sought his services. The unprecedented mass of humanity from every walk of life who gathered to pay, their respects at his cremation will for ever be a silent reminder that as in law, so in politics, people will never forget those who never betrayed the trust that they had reposed. Might I request that a minute of these proceedings be conveyed to the members of the bereaved family, one of whom is with us in the profession.
A LAWYERS’ LAWYER
Mr. Attorney, Mr. Perera, Members of the Bar, The Judges of the Supreme Court would like to join you in paying tribute to the late Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and in expressing our deepest sympathies to his widow and other members of his family.
Mr. Chelvanayakam had in the last thirty years or so, built himself into the structure of our national life. It is perhaps true to say that his departure has left bereaved not merely the members of his family but also the members of a whole community.
But we are assembled here today to remember Chelvanayakam the lawyer. Many tributes to him have appeared in the newspapers and other journals from men of eminence. Your tributes to which we have listened today, contain a worthy summation of Chelvanayakam’ s career in the law and the characteristics which took him to the top of the profession.
Having started as a teacher he moved on to law. He started practice in the Court of Requests which has in the past provided to many lawyers unrivalled source of experience on which to build up a successful career. When he moved on to the District Court, in due course, he became one of the leading lawyers there. He was a man of great forensic skill. He found no need to make a spectacle of the case he was appearing in for the amusement and encouragement of an uninitiated gallery. Nor was he anxious to provide headlines for the newspaper reporters. He was indeed a lawyer’s lawyer. He had a deep knowledge of legal principles, an analytical mind and such a command of the language as to enable him to express himself simply but forcefully and convincingly; he set for himself rigorous standards of hard work and devotion to duty. His courtesy to witnesses and opposing counsel was proverbial.
He practised in the Courts in an age when it was the fashion to bully witnesses in cross-examination. Chelvanayakam set an example of courtesy and dignity. He was indeed the picture of a gentleman in search of truth.
His death however creates no impact on the calendars of the courts in which he used to practice. That is of course because from nearly 30 years ago he gradually withdrew from his very lucrative practice in order to devote his full time to promote and fight for the interests of the Tamil speaking people; added to this was the fact that he was greatly handicapped by illness during the evening of his life. I make no reference to Mr. Chelvanayakam’ s skill as a political leader and parliamentarian. They will, I am sure, receive recognition in other places and in other ways. Suffice it to say that his success as a lawyer was only a small facet of a career which had its full flowering in another sphere.
As a lawyer Mr. Chelvanayakam will be remembered and honoured as a great model for civil lawyers practicing in the highest or the lowest courts of this country. As a politician his death has been like a great tree falling. It has left his friends and supporters surprised to see how bare the landscape is without him.
Our deepest sympathies go out to Mrs. Chelvanayakam and the other members of the family in their great loss.
In response to your requests I would order that a copy of today’s proceedings be forwarded to Mrs. Chelvanayakam.
A NATIONAL ASSET
“To live in the hearts of those whom you leave behind is not to die”.
A person who is not enamoured of office, wealth, and the good things of life and who is simple and polite in his ways and accessible to one and all at all times and who does not lose his temper and who exercises the virtue of self-control is not often found in this world.
In a country like Sri Lanka or Eelam, a lawyer who did not aspire to become a judge of the Supreme Court is one of rare calibre. Similarly, a politician or Parliamentarian who did not care to become a Minister in the Government of the country is an exceptional personality. Such a combination of qualities was found in the late Mr. S. J. W. Chelvanayakam, the leader of the Tamils, whose 80th birth anniversary falls on the 31st of March, 1978 and whom I had the privilege of knowing from about the year 1914.
It is not always that we in this country had a leader and gentleman of Mr. Chelvanayakam’ s character and attainments. It is noteworthy on this occasion to recall that he had been one of the most successful lawyers of our generation. It would be superfluous to refer to his industry, his thoroughness, his systematic methodicalness, efficiency, integrity, and erudition as a lawyer. These qualities commanded the respect of those who had the good fortune to come into contact with him. Though he had been successful as an eminent lawyer, and attained one of the foremost places at the Bar, it is particularly gratifying to record that he gave and rightly gave a very secondary place to what are called “Professional fees. He was not exacting and not rigid in the matter of fees. On the other hand, he would recover only that amount of fees as was within the paying capacity and financial means of his clients. In that respect, he was an extraordinary phenomenon. He used to mention always that nobody should feel sad in his mind over payment to him. He would quote the saying in the Bible “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you’. He also would mention that the legal profession existed for the public to render service and the public did not exist for the profession. A favourite dictum of his was that money making is a very secondary item in any professional career and that service and that too the maximum possible service humanly possible should be rendered by professionals to members of the public at times even free.
Extreme courtesy was yet another quality he displayed in his professional career. He was held in the highest possible regard by lawyers, judges and clients of all communities and creeds and of all stations in life. He was considered one of the best of men at Hultsdorp, even as he was considered so in the outer world.
His simplicity of nature, affability, accessibility, plain and almost austere way of living are not easy to find. Such an individual is in short, a national asset though he might belong to a particular community and profess a particular religion, as is natural in a country like Sri Lanka with a heterogeneous population. It might be worthy and pleasant to record that persons like Mr. H. W. Perera, Mr. R. L. Pereira, Mr. J. W. R. Illangakoon, Mr. H. V. Perera, Sir E. G. P. Jayatilleka, Dr. F. A. Hayley, Mr. H. M. Bartholomeus and Mr. N. E. Weerasuriya, eminent among legal and judicial circles, had the utmost regard for “Chelva’ affectionately referred to by them, and many in the legal fraternity.
While at the height of his successful professional career, he was prevailed upon by members of the public to enter the political arena. His career as one of the original founders of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress, thereafter of the Federal Party, and subsequently of the Tamil United Front and later of the Tamil United Liberation Front are well-known to the public. His career as a Parliamentarian is also equally well-known. As a Parliamentarian he commanded deep respect in his political and parliamentary walks of life.
He was a standing example of the ideal of simple and plain living and high thinking. He also practised the difficult art of .?
“Fortiter in Re Suaviter in Modo” (Soft in manner, but strong and firm in relation to the subject matter). He practised these qualities in speech, both oral and written, and in action, in all departments of life, personal, social, professional, political and public and is a constant source of ennobling inspiration. –
He had the art of using the gentle word at proper occasions, which turned away wrath. Once both of us, Mr. Chelvanayakam as advocate and myself as proctor, were engaged together in a fairly heavy case in the district court of Colombo which went on for nearly twenty days or more. One of the ablest and subtlest lawyers in Sri Lanka, the veteran Mr. J. A. Perera, Proctor, was appearing as counsel against us. He was much older than the Presiding Judge the late Mr. V. M. Fernando who afterwards became a Judge of the Supreme Court or Mr. Chelvanayakam or myself. The case was going against Mr. Perera. He lost his temper and attacked both Mr. Chelvanayakam and myself personally of “malpractice’ – a serious charge against lawyers. Mr. Chelvanayakam listened patiently, whispered to me “old man is going too far, Siva. After Mr. Perera concluded his unfounded diatribes against us both, Mr. Chelvanayakam stood up and absolved both of us from any improper conduct and said to Mr. Perera, the Judge and entire court waiting for a reply from us and listening.
“I have to respect your grey hairs – if not for that, we would pay you back in the same coin”. The entire atmosphere in the court room was transformed and elevated. The Judge smiled without uttering a word. Mr. J. A. Perera stood up and expressed regret. There was no storm. Mr. Chelvanayakam proceeded with the case as if nothing had happened.
A striking instance of Mr. Chelvanayakam’ s uniform impartiality, uprightness and balanced judgement, of which I had many examples, was evident on a very important occasion. There were two important public personalities both of whom were friends of Mr. Chelvanayakam even as they were of me. One had made a mistake of a kind. The other had given a statement to certain authorities, not of his own accord but upon inquiry by officials. In fact, both of them were friends between themselves.
All four of us were friends among ourselves. The friend who made the mistake wanted the other friend who made the statement to give a subsequent different version. Mr. Chelvanayakam told me: “Siva, both are my friends (even as they are yours). I am interested in both. But there is a thing called Truth. One friend has committed a blunder and you and I are sorry. However, we cannot recommend an untruthful version to be given. It will ultimately harm both our friends both of whom are dear to us both and the entire community of which they are considered important personalities’.
Though the majority of the Tamils in Sri Lanka are Hindus, Mr. Chelvanayakam, a Christian, became the leader of the entire community, regardless of religion. He used to say “I am not a representative of the Christians only, though a Christian; I am a representative of the Hindus as well. I am always conscious of my deep obligation.’’
In the task of getting Maha Sivarathri declared a public holiday he laid the first foundation stone firmly and well and obtained an undertaking from the then Prime Minister Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, which was acted upon subsequently.
Mr. Chelvanayakam was a pious Christian and a firm believer in the supremacy of God and in the Grace of Lord Jesus Christ. At the same time, he respected other religions and was always prepared to co-operate with and assist causes and persons of religious denominations. He was one of God’s own good gentlemen who had been trying to carry on the burdens of an entire community against very heavy odds and difficulties both within and without. Such a person is entitled to deep love and abiding respect.
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