By Dr Victor Ragunathan
In 1948, with the anticipation of independence which was to be declared on February 04, 1948, a motion was tabled in January 1948 calling for the adoption of Lion Flag of the last Sinhala King of Kandy, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe as the National Flag. Senator S. Nadesan who was part of the Parliamentary Select Committee has to say this
“I regret that I am unable to agree with the majority decision of the National Flag Committee. In my view a national flag apart from giving an honored place to all communities, must also be a symbol of national unity. From the point of view of giving an honored place to all communities irrespective of their numerical strength, I would have preferred a Tricolor of yellow, red and white or of saffron, red and green. But as objection was taken to a Tricolor by several members of the Committee on the ground that the Lion Emblem will be considerably reduced in size and that it will not be acceptable to majority community, this proposal had to be abandoned”.
He further stated that” As the Lion Flag has been used a distinctive flag; anyone viewing the design that has been agreed to by the rest of the committee cannot be blamed if he thinks that the minorities are given a place outside the Lion Flag. The minorities themselves will feel that they have been given a subordinate position in the flag. Besides the yellow border which runs round the Lion Flag effectively separates the two strips that have been devised to satisfy the sentiments of the minorities thereby effectively creating a division in the flag itself – a division which we are endeavoring, I hope, to eradicate in our national life. After all a flag is a symbol and the symbol must at least effectively show the unity and strength of the nation”.
“Accordingly I suggested to the committee the minimum modification which while not disturbing the proportions of the strips which had been agreed to by the members will ensure the incorporation of the saffron and green strips in the Lion Flag, so that the flag may embody the ideal of national unity which I consider most important in the conception of a national flag. The suggestion that I made was that the yellow border which according to the proposed flag separates the saffron strip from the red strip should be completely eliminated. In the result the flag would have been comprised of green, saffron and red strips in the proportion of 1:1:5 with the Lion on the red strip with the yellow border surrounding the entirety of the flag and encompassing the two strips. This would have meant only the sacrifice of a yellow border from one side of the Lion Flag to enable the saffron and green strips to be closely integrated with the Lion Flag. This I thought was the barest minimum concession that should have been made to minority sentiment if one desired a national flag which would symbolize the ideal of unity”.
“It is hardly necessary for me to refer to other countries like Great Britain where national flags have been designed not by superficially adding a strip to another flag and outside it, but by making the strips part and parcel of the flag. In our national life we do not want to create water tight compartments. Neither do we desire that one community should be segregated from another. Why then do we want to segregate the saffron and green strips which are provided to satisfy minority sentiments outside the borders of the Lion Flag? In my view, the suggestion that I have made does not entail the sacrifice of any vital part of the Lion Flag and thus cannot offend Sinhalese sentiments. At the same time it provides a method of evolving a flag which may be called ‘national’.”
Question 1: From the inception of independence and national flag, who segregate the minorities? Is Tamils themselves or Ruling Majority Sinhalese?
Since you raise the question of history, I would like to bring some light to some of the darkest and notable moments in the Island’s history.
Ms. Kumari Jayewardena wrote in the Journal of Asian Studies, (Economic and Political Factors in the 1915 riots. Feb.1970, vol.29, no.2, pp.223-233) “The Buddhist-Muslim riots of 1915 are often depicted as an eruption of religious animosity and friction between Sinhalese Buddhists and a section of the Muslim population. According to this viewpoint, the riots were sparked by religious fanaticism as the Buddhists saw in the ‘intolerance and aggressiveness of the Muslims, a permanent danger to their religious practices and celebration of their national festivals.
Charles Blackton in the same journal noted “From a communal clash up-country, disorders spread into six of Ceylon’s nine provinces, causing the deaths of 140 people, the arrests of 8736, and imprisonment of 4497 and at a cost of Rupees 7,000,000. British-Ceylonese relations were severely impaired and Sinhalese nationalism suddenly came of age. It happened, but why? Of a population of 4,106,350 in 1911, the Sinhalese made up 66.13% (24.32% Kandyans and 41.81% low-country people), 23.79% were Tamils and 6.45% were Muslim Moors of which 1/7 were Indian Moors. The remaining 3.5% included Burghers and British. The early years of the twentieth century recorded a few anti-Western riots, some aimed against the Roman Catholic Church (in Anuradhapura, a Buddhist shrine city) and other demonstrations reflecting Asian pride in the victory of Buddhist Japan over the Russian giant in 1905. Anti-Muslim violence directed against the Moors (the term is a survival of Portuguese rule) was, however, not unknown.
Question 2: Since the early 20th century, who initiated the violence against minority (Muslims) based on either religion or language?
Here is some quote from the early history of Ceylon “From the 1911, the legislative council was enlarged to include “unofficial” Ceylonese members and with its new platform came to be provided for the articulation of demands for further participation. With this political advance, the Sinhalese and Tamil elite came together and intra Sinhalese caste rivalry at that time was so great that national leadership roles fell to the Tamils. They came together as equal partners on a vague platform of proto nationalism engendered by class interest, not on the basis of anti colonialism or a desire for political liberation. Their separate ethnic loyalties and identities were nevertheless held intact but were temporarily subsumed by the desire for political consolidation. At the time, inter caste rivalry among the Sinhalese was of political importance, as the Karava Sinhalese were economically and politically dominant and the Goigama Sinhalese were bent on ending Karava dominance, at least politically. So in the 1912 election to the legislative council, the Goigama elite supported Sir P. Ramanathan, against Sir Marcus Fernando, a Karava Sinhalese, and the former got elected.
Question 3: Who were the pioneers of sectarian politics in the Island as early as 20th century?
With the constitutional reform process gathering momentum after 1920, the Tamils took on a new self image as a national minority, vocal and articulate, on the lines of the Scots and the Welsh (but not the Irish) in British politics. They did, in fact, compare themselves to the Scots in their political struggles and bargains with the Sinhalese. The Tamil political leadership then resorted to demanding communally weighted representation and constitutional and legal safeguards, and sought to bargain with the Sinhalese leadership. By now the Ceylon National Council had passed into the domination of the low country Sinhalese, and reforming Congress politicians such as E.W. Perera, Paul E. Peiris, C.E. Corea, D.S. Senanayake and George E. de Silva advocated united nation state and a secular nationalism embracing the various ethnic, linguistic and religious communities. Many attempts were made to patch up differences and bring back the Tamils into the Congress. In 1924, C.E. Corea, a moderate Congress politician, was elected president in order to show “proof of Congress’s desire to secure unity and co operation with the Tamils and Kandyans”. At the time, there was no monolithic Sinhalese entity, but deep divisions within the Sinhalese on the basis of low country/Kandyan, Goigama/Karava, Buddhist/Christian rivalry and mistrust. In this context the Tamils were quite a major force. The centrifugal forces among the Sinhalese were so great that, in order to appease the Kandyan Sinhalese, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, in 1926, wrote in favor of a federal state structure for Sri Lanka.
Eranthi Premaratne in a paper presented at the Euro Regions Summer University, Institute of Federalism, University of Fribourg, Switzerland. 25th August – 12th September 2003 titled “Srilanka a unitary to federal state” noted that “A federal Sri Lanka even though envisaged as far back as the 1920s, remained a distant reality until the above declaration was made in December 2002(Oslo). Until then the word federal was regarded a bad word and those who advocated it traitors.
Question 4: Who first proposed the Federal state structure prior to independence and under what circumstances?
Nationality: In 1920, the Kandyan Sinhalese, suspicious of the low country Sinhalese and the Congress formed the Kandyan Association and asserted the distinctiveness of “the Kandyan nationality”. This association described the reform proposed by the Congress in 1920 as one that “threatens to destroy the present position of the Kandyans”. It accused the Congress politicians of seeking to keep “the whole of the administrative power in their hands to dominate the weaker minorities”. By 1925, most of the Kandyan notables had left the Congress and founded their own political organization, the Kandyan National Assembly. While the Kandyan Sinhalese, with much weaker claims to nationhood, asserted a separate nationality and were soon to demand a federal form of government, the Tamil leadership failed to perceive the Tamil ethnic community as a nation, although it possessed all the attributes of nationhood in full measure and was historically a separate nation state. This was because of their denationalized and deracine outlook and their bourgeois interests, which made them allies of the dominant low country Sinhalese. Their conceptual view of the state was derived from British history, thought and institutions, their model was multi ethnic Britain; and their perception of themselves was that of the Scots. Hence they were content to demand “minority rights” rather than define themselves as a nation, with rights of autonomy and self determination. The division between low country and Kandyan Sinhalese also made them believe they could strike favorable bargains within a united political structure. It was only in 1951 that, for the first time, Tamil politicians defined the Tamils as a distinct nation. The first annual convention of the Tamil Federal Party declared: “the Tamil speaking people in Ceylon constitute a nation distinct from that of the Sinhalese by every fundamental test of nationhood”.
In 1927 The Kandyan National Assembly requested a federal system of government. Its memorandum stated: Ours is . . . a claim of a nation to live its own life and realize its own destiny…. we suggest the creation of a Federal State as in the United States of America…. A Federal system … will enable the respective nationals of the several states to prevent further inroads into their territories and to build up their own nationality
Question 5: Who claimed the first nationhood and nationality?
The 1931 election shifted the political focus, for a time, to Jaffna. The Youth Congress, an amorphous grouping of progressive minded young men in Jaffna, being inspired by the Indian freedom movement and following Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals, had by 1929 resolved to seek complete independence for Sri Lanka. The Youth Congress stood for a free united Srilanka and was resolutely opposed to the communal politics of both the Sinhalese and Tamil leadership of the time. It welcomed the Donoughmore reforms abolishing communal representation and extending the franchise, but condemned the failure to grant responsible government. Hence, when the 1931 election was announced, the Congress, without due deliberation, called for a national boycott of the election, emulating the call of the Indian National Congress for a boycott of the Simon commission in 1928. The Youth Congress expected organizations among the Sinhalese to follow their lead. Although a number of Tamil leaders, who were members of the dissolved legislative council, had earlier announced their candidature and had reservations about a boycott, they did not want to defy the call and decided not to contest the election. Hence there was no election for four Tamil seats in the Northern Province.
The Jaffna election boycott was hailed in the Sinhalese areas as a great act of protest. The Ceylon Daily News wrote: “Public opinion in Jaffna is a potent thing. Those who defy it do so at their peril. Ever the home of virile politics, Jaffna is determined to see that the public spirit of her citizens is equal to any crisis.” The All Ceylon Liberal League expressed support for the boycott. A joint telegram from Francis de Zoysa. E.W. Perera and T.B. Jayah to the Congress read: “Congratulate Jaffna heartily on her brilliant achievement and deplore failure to act likewise here for want of unity and a sufficiently strong public opinion, endeavoring to mobilize public opinion to attain the common object by best means available.”
Question 6: What difference did you find between boycotting election under British Colony which was praised by many and under Sinhala Colony which was granted as un-democratic?
By the Ceylon Citizenship Act No.18 of 1948, all Indian Tamils, even those born or domiciled in Sri Lanka, were denied Sri Lankan citizenship. The Citizenship Act laid down the law governing citizenship of Sri Lanka and prescribed qualifications necessary for a person born before or after 15 November 1948 to become a citizen of Sri Lanka. The qualifications deliberately aimed at excluding the Indian Tamils from Sri Lankan citizenship. The Sri Lanka Citizenship Act is unique in that it denies citizenship to a person born in the country before or after 1948 unless, at least, his father was born in or was a citizen of Srilanka. Citizenship is not related to one’s birth in the country but to the birth of one’s ancestors.
As early as 1940, DS Senanayake is on record as saying “It is unthinkable that we should give . . . full rights of citizenship to people who have not made Ceylon their permanent home. The vast majority of the Indians in Ceylon consider India to be their home and Ceylon their place of occupation . . . They are here only to earn and to make money and to take it away to India . . . Unless we stem the tide of the growing domination of Indians in Ceylon in our economic and social life, our extinction as a Ceylonese nation is inevitable. Senanayake also had no thought for one of the worst forms of human degradation—statelessness—that he was inflicting on one million people. The Indian Tamils had voted in 1931 and 1936, and in the 1947 elections they elected eight Tamil MPs, all belonging to the left oriented Ceylon Indian Congress (CIC). The Indian Tamils elsewhere voted for the Marxist parties and helped the election of LSSP and CP MPs.
Question 7: Who made the Upcountry Tamils (referred to as Indian Tamils) stateless third class people and for what purpose?
Solomon West Ridgeway (named after British Governor Sir Joseph West Ridgeway) Dias Bandaranaike, who, on his return from Oxford in 1925, apologized to a delegation of his Walauwa (manor) for not being able to speak to them in Sinhalese and coming from a Westernized family which had converted to Christianity, soon learnt Sinhalese, re embraced Buddhism and adopted local dress.
In 1932 G.K.W. Perera moved two resolutions in the state council calling for the use of Sinhalese and Tamil in the judicial and civil administration. Two years later, at the annual meeting of the CNC, he said: “One of the greatest handicaps the people suffer from is the language of government. It is most absurd for us to fight for rights on behalf of the large majority, when we deny ourselves the right of conducting our government in the people’s languages.” In 1937 Philip Gunawardena of the LSSP moved a resolution in the state council calling for the use of the Sinhalese and Tamil languages in recording entries at police stations and in lower court proceedings. In 1939, the CNC demanded that Sinhalese and Tamil be introduced as the official languages. This emphasis on the national languages was carried into the educational field. In the 1930s many central schools were established in the Sinhalese rural areas with Sinhalese as the medium of instruction. In October 1945 the state council resolved to introduce “free education” and accepted, in principle that education should be in one’s mother tongue. In May 1944, a resolution moved by J.R. Jayewardene was passed in the state council that Sinhalese and Tamil should be the official languages. This was followed up by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, who on 20 September 1945 proposed that steps should be taken to effect the transition from English to Sinhalese and Tamil. A select committee of the state council made its report in 1946, entitled “Sinhalese and Tamil as Official Languages” Munidasa Cumaratunga (1887-1944) In place of the earlier slogan, “Country, Race, Religion”, substituted a new slogan in a new trinity: “Basa, Rasa, Desa” (“Language, Nation, Country”). He was a member of Bandaranaike’s Sinhala Maha Saba, but left and founded his Hela Havula (“The Pure Sinhalese Fraternity”)
After independence, this accepted policy continued until the Sinhalese Buddhist lobby became active in 1953-54. In 1954, a commission on higher education was appointed under the chairmanship of Sir Arthur Wijewardene (a retired Chief Justice). Sinhalese Buddhist propagandists such as L.H. Medananda went about collecting figures of Sinhalese and Tamil students entering the university and presented evidence to the commission that the proportion of Tamil students was considerably greater than their proportion in the population. The commission produced a majority report, written by Sinhalese, recommending that “in the interests of equal opportunity” provision for higher education should be available to at least six Sinhalese students for every one Tamil student. The commission was also pressured by the Sinhalese Buddhist lobby to go beyond its terms of reference and question the desirability of having two official languages. The commission accordingly questioned the need for two official languages. This provoked the governor general, Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, to write to the commission as follows: “You are no doubt aware that it is the accepted policy of the Government that Sinhalese and Tamil should be the official languages of the country, and any examination of this policy would be contrary to the terms of reference.”
For the May 1956 general elections, an electoral front called the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) (Peoples’ United Front) was formed between Bandaranaike’s SLFP, Philip Gunawardena’s VLSSP and W. Dahanayake’s newly formed Sinhala Basa Peramuna (Sinhala Language Front). Bandaranaike was the leader of the MEP. MEP election manifesto included “Sinhala only” with ‘ reasonable use of Tamil”, during the campaign Bandaranaike made no mention of the “reasonable use of Tamil”. Bhikkhus formed the Eksath Bhikkhu Peramuna (“United Bhikkhu Front”) with Buddharakita, the High Priest of the famed Kelani Raja Maha Vihare (the greatest of the great temple), as secretary to support the SLFP for “Sinhala only”.
The Bhikkhu Front presented a ten point program to Bandaranaike at a massive rally in Colombo. The program called for an SLFP government to be elected to practice non violence, oppose injustice, implement the Buddhist Commission Report, make Sinhala the only official language, defend democracy against fascism and communism and acts of UNP government, give Buddhism its rightful place, promote ayurvedic (indigenous) medicine and withhold state assistance from institutions not promoting communal harmony or peace and equality among peoples. During the election campaign MEP polled 39.5% of the votes and won 51 of the 95 seats and so formed the government. The first important legislative act of the new government concerned is “Sinhala only” promise on which it had campaigned and got elected. On 5 June 1956, Prime Minister Bandaranaike introduced in the House of Representatives a bill to make the Sinhala language the only official language of Sri Lanka. From the day the bill was introduced to the day it was passed, the precincts and approaches to the House were barricaded and armed police and army personnel stood guard outside. The galleries were closed to the public. It was a short bill, with just three clauses, but it gave rise to the longest debate in the annals of Sri Lanka’s legislature. The bill was supported by the MEP and the UNP and opposed by the LSSP, CP, FP and TC. The “Sinhala only” bill was passed entirely by the MEP and UNP Sinhalese MPs.
Question 8: Who decided that the people’s language is only Sinhala when in state council a resolution was passed Sinhala and Tamil as official language?
December 1957, a bill in parliament to put the Sinhalese letters “SRI” (i.e. the prefix “Sri” in “Sri Lanka”) in place of the English letters that had hitherto been used on motor vehicle number plates. According to the Motor Traffic Act, the use of any unauthorized letters was an offence liable to punishment. Accordingly, when the Tamil letters “SRI” was used several FP MPs, including Chelvanayagam, were prosecuted in the courts. Chelvanayagam was convicted and served a sentence of two weeks imprisonment at Batticaloa jail. Thereafter the Tamils defied the law prescribing the Sinhala letters “SRI” and used the Tamil equivalent on their motor vehicles The Buddhist Bhikkhus retaliated by leading a campaign to deface Tamil writings on the name boards in government buildings in Colombo and throughout the Sinhalese areas. They also incited the ordinary Sinhalese people against the Tamils. There were sporadic acts of violence against the Tamils in Colombo and other suburban areas. Tamil owned shops were looted and Tamil homes stoned.
Towards the end of May 1958, the Federal Party held its annual convention at Vavuniya, in the Northern Province, and resolved to “launch direct action by non violent Satyagraha as the ‘Banda Chelva Pact’ had been abandoned”. Tamil FP supporters from Batticaloa district, returning by train after the convention, were stopped at Polonnaruwa railway junction and assaulted. Some were knifed and killed. Violence against the small number of Tamils in Polonnaruwa became the order of the day. On 25 May 1958, a Jaffna bound train from Colombo was derailed near Polonnaruwa and Tamil passengers were beaten and their baggage stolen. On the same day, one Senaratne, a Sinhalese ex Mayor of Nuwara-Eliya, was shot dead at Kalawanchikudi, in Batticaloa district, as a result of personal rivalry. This was announced over the radio several times to show that a Sinhalese had been killed by Tamils.
Sinhalese mobs went on the rampage, stopping trains and buses, dragging out Tamil passengers and butchering them. Houses were burnt with people inside, and there occurred widespread looting in all areas where Sinhalese and Tamils lived together. Tamil women were raped and pregnant women slaughtered. A Hindu priest performing pooja ceremonies at Kandasamy temple at Panandura, near Colombo, was dragged away and burnt alive. After two days of rioting, on the 27 May, the Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka contacted Prime Minister Bandaranaike and asked him to declare a state of emergency. But Bandaranaike vacillated. During the next two days the rioting intensified. Hundreds of people were killed, homes burnt and shops looted. The police stood by, not know how to control the Sinhalese mobs. Even then Bandaranaike did not want to proclaim an emergency. On the fourth day of rioting, instead of waiting for the prime minister’s advice, the Governor General, Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, with the consent of the prime minister (and therefore technically on “advice”), proclaimed an emergences called in the army and restored order. Before order was restored, however several hundreds of Tamil people had lost their lives and thousands their homes. About 150 Tamils, including the 10 FP MPs, were arrested and detained About 10,000 Tamil people assembled as refugees in Colombo refugee camps, set up by the government, and were sent to Jaffna by commandeered cargo ships berthed in the Colombo harbor. A de facto division of the country and the people, into the Sinhalese south and the Tamil north, had taken place. Sinhalese and the Tamils reached the parting of the ways. But Tamil political leaders were confined in detention until September; hence there was no leadership to decide whether May 1958 represented the parting of the ways.
Question 9: Who created the de-facto division, violence against the un-armed, violence against the democratically elected leaders in the first place? Who first slaughtered the un-armed eastern Tamils?
In 1959, internal fissures within the MEP government led to a “cabinet strike” when 10 rightwing ministers demanded that Bandaranaike expel Philip Gunawardena from the cabinet. Bandaranaike duly sacked Gunawardena from the MEP government in May 1959. At this, the LSSP and CP withdrew their “critical support” and moved into open confrontation with Bandaranaike’s government. The CP’s statement on that occasion said: “Now that the right wing has taken command of the Government and set a course that can only lead to an increasing repudiation of the progressive policies of 1956, the CP will not extend to such a Government the critical support it gave the MEP Government in the past.”
In this deteriorating situation, on 25 September 1959 a Bhikkhu named Somarama shot and killed Bandaranaike on the veranda of his residence when he was paying obeisance to the visiting monk. This resulted in Bhikkhus being chased and stoned on the streets, and for a time they confined themselves to their monasteries. Involved in the conspiracy to murder Bandaranaike were Buddharakita, the Kelani temple high priest and secretary of the Eksath Bhikkhu Peramuna, and another. At the trial, the former was convicted of murder and the latter of conspiracy to murder. The assassination of Bandaranaike was not a simple act carried out by a murderous Bhikkhu, at the instigation of Buddharakita. It had wider political ramifications. During the trial two ministers, Stanley de Zoysa and Mrs. Wimala Wijewardene, and a number of others were mentioned as possible accomplices. Bandaranaike’s murder was the culmination of a running struggle by extreme right-wing reactionaries and Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinists against his eclectic middle-of-the-road policies and his lack of resolve to stand up against the Marxist politicians and their trade-union agitators.
Question 10: Who committed the first assassination of any kind in the history of Srilanka?
Since I have limited time with my professional activities, I would like to halt my questions at the 60’s. I hope the history after 60’s will be much fluent to you than me as you were in the Journalism field. Let me ask you about few other relevant matters as you may be able to provide answers.
What sins the seven Tamil youths committed for attending a Tamil conference to be slaughtered by the state arm when violence was not the language they spoke? Have any Sinhala thug who committed the violence in 1958, 1977 or 1983 been prosecuted? What has happen to the child soldiers who were slaughtered in Bindunuwara camp? Is Justice System in Srilanka blind? I may suggest you to look what Dr. Devanesan Nesiah wrote titled “What is terrorism, and who is a terrorist?” on January 31, 2006 in Daily Mirror.
I have been a victim of both state terrorism and separatist terror activities and I survived. However, if LTTE is not strong enough to create a bulwark, there would have been many island wide pogroms after 1983, besides all the selective massacres by its armed forces and I wouldn’t be here to write this. There is no justification for violence of any kind but history tells me that state sponsored massacres created the vicious cycle of massacres as you may check the dates.
There is no question that LTTE is committing, committed and will commit grave violation of human rights. Does it mean the state has every right to create more homelessness in the name of war for peace? What have you, your WAPS, or the Government of Srilanka tabled so far to justify that they are talking peace? At the least, LTTE has tabled an Interim Self Governing Authority? How can anyone claim that this is a stepping stone for separation without even discussing or the least countering with a proposal acceptable to the majority Tamil speaking people? Is it an excuse not to find any meaningful solution in the name of LTTE terrorism or simply fox is crying for goat is in the rain? What have you done to the Tamil speaking people in the Island to isolate them from LTTE if you are so worried about their terror tactics and the Sun God? [TamilWeek, Mar 26, 2006]
[The writer is a full time medical practitioner in USA. He had been a victim of state and separatist violence and currently a medical NGO activist in the welfare of Northeastern war affected people.]