Lamenting the Political Failures from 1948 Onwards … With Sinhala Only Act as a Profound Error

Elmo de Silva,  in The Island, June 23, 2016, where the title reads  “Sinhala Only Act and its Fallout”

article_image  I refer to the article on the above subject appearing in The Sunday Island Newspaper of 5/6/16 by Mr. Rajan Philip (RP). I thought it proper to comment on this subject as he has alluded to the fact that very few would know the consequences of the Sinhala only act (SOA). I am past 80 years of age and I think it is my duty to state my point of view. I was just completing my degree course at the Peradeniya University (1953-1957), when this Act had become law. This Act in my view is and will be the most disastrous piece of legislation ever promulgated in this country, because it ruined the amity between the different peoples in the country. That was accompanied with the unleashing of the forces of indiscipline and lawlessness. It also rekindled the embers of federalism, which was to placate the Tamil community and a betrayal of the Sinhalese. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike (SWRDB) agreed to federalism without a mandate from the electorate.

3a- Galle Face Satyagraha 05.06.1956 (3)--Federal Freedom Party satyagraha at Galle Face Green

Prof. E.F.C. Ludowyk, Dean of the faculty of English, Peradeniya University, published a book in 1966 on the Modern history of Ceylon. I remember that at the beginning of the book there was a picture of D. S. Senanayake (DS) standing on a dais with SWRDB standing on his right and if I remember correct Sir John Kothalawala was on his left. The description of the picture written below stated that on the right of DS was SWRD, who was the presumed successor to DS, Then one of the biggest mistakes of DS was , when he ignored the rightful successor to the premiership and sought a dynastic succession to make his son Dudley Senanayake the Prime Minister. It was thereafter that SWRDB crossed over to the Opposition stating that he had conquered himself and formed the new MEP and contested and won the parliamentary elections in 1956, which subsequently led to the Sinhala Only Act (SOA).

During our time in school or university the thought that we were Sinhalese or Tamil or Muslim never occurred to us. I would like to give two contrasting instances to demonstrate how attitudes changed with the SOA. While I was in the university I came to know Alfred Duraiappah (AD), through some mutual friends. In my first year I met his sister Stella. We were good friends attending the same lectures and sharing notes. On a subsequent visit to Jaffna I had lunch with Stella and her family.

I now bring into focus the animosity created by the SOA. In my final year at the university in 1957 I occupied a room at the Ramanathan hall of residence. The adjoining room was occupied by undergrad Sathyamoorthy (Sathy). A few rooms away was undergrad Molligoda (Molli.). They were good friends. One day I heard a heated argument between Sathy and Molli. It was regarding the SOA. I could not imagine such a ferocious argument between these two even at the point of breaking up their friendship.

The SOA had devastating economic repercussions on the Tamil Community. The northern districts, especially Jaffna, have a harsh environment, and opportunities to engage in any economic activity are limited. Therefore, employment in the public service was much sort after. Tamil public officers left their families behind, lived in chummaries in Colombo and other major cities, and sent back their earnings to their families in Jaffna. It was similar to persons now finding employment in the Middle East countries and sending money back to their families in Sri Lanka. I am sure my colleagues will agree that these Tamil officers were efficient and dedicated officers, who valued their jobs. With the enactment of the SOA the sod was cut under the feet of the Tamils. Even Sinhalese officers, like me were not proficient enough in this language to carry out our duties.

I was informed by some of my Tamil colleagues that in any case the Tamils were learning Sinhalese as it was the majority language, so that it was not necessary to shove a language down their throats. I recall that when the Pro Russian President Yanukovych was ousted, the new Ukraine legislature banned the use of Russian. The Russian speaking east Ukraine immediately called for a separate state. They had Russia to support them.

7-- 1958assaults on tamils Assaults on Tamils in Colombo, 1958

Coming to the question of federalism it is first necessary to accept that the Tamil Community had been wronged, both on the question of language, and destruction to persons and property, which led to separatist struggle. However, I would wish to request the Tamil community to consider the following. The Sinhalese are a microscopic minority in south Asia and the world, with no other country being there to support them. There are sixty million Tamils in India who have leverage on the central Indian government. There are a large number of Indian Tamils spread over the world and the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora in several countries. Therefore the Tamils should look at problems from this perspective.

It has being cogently argued by Izeth Hussain, formerly of the Foreign Service, in his several articles appearing in The Island Newspapers that federalism is not a solution. In my view this may aggravate the ethnic issue. K. J. H. Wijedasa, formerly of the C.C.S. and Secretary to President Premadasa in a book, authored by him, has argued convincingly that the question of a Tamil homeland in the eastern province and by implication in the Northern Province cannot be accepted as the Tamil Homeland. Wijayadasa Kamalika Peiris and Neville Ladduwahetty convincingly argue that the provincial and district boundaries, including the north and east, were arbitrarily established by the British, and constantly altered. There were first only five provinces and later increased to nine, and the boundaries have been shifting frequently.

In my view the Provincial and District council system, which was forced on us by India, is an absolute waste of public money and has added another layer of corruption and inefficiency in the administration of the country. The Government Agent, D.R.O. village headmen system, with first-past-the-post election and the District Co-ordinating committees, and Agricultural Committees was a far superior and efficient administration system.

What then of the future? It is my belief that as long as the Tamil politicians speak of federalism there can be no reconciliation between the races, as this is totally unacceptable to the Sinhalese. Firstly, it has to be accepted that the Tamil community has been wronged. Secondly, the constitution should provide for avoidance of any adverse legislation or administrative action against the Minorities. It has to be accepted that the Tamil community has the right to live with dignity peacefully, without discrimination, and to pursue their interests. Thirdly, at least one subject should be taught in Tamil and another in English to Sinhalese students and one subject in Sinhalese and another in English to Tamil students. This system should begin at the primary classes because educationists say that children are very quick to absorb languages when they are around five years of age. I remember that when I was about seven years of age, at St. Lukes, Ratnapura we were taught Tamil in addition to Sinhalese. The medium of instruction, of course, was English. When I worked abroad my colleague, from Finland informed me that their children studied five subjects in five languages, English being compulsory. This is because to secure a position in any corporate or international organization, in Europe, a person has to be conversant in at least three languages, one of which should be English.

As regards university admissions a complete rethink is required as the education arena has completely changed. More universities devoted to technical subjects should be established.

What is required is to forget the past, for communities to stand shoulder to shoulder, leave differences behind, come half way, and develop the country so that each and everyone could live in peace and prosperity. A comprehensive plan for economic development, particularly in the north and east is a sine qua non. I am reminded of a verse I read in the Time magazine long ago. I faintly remember that the poet was from a Scandinavian country. This applies to all of us. It said:

‘The Noble art of losing face

May someday save the human race

And turn unto Eternal Merit

What weaker minds would call disgrace’

The recent research done on the history of humans, named ‘D.N.A. NATION’ by researchers in Australia such as Dr. Richard Leakey , Dr John Mitchell etc, have traced our human lineage to Sub Saharan Africans who lived 200,000 years ago, and that humans left Africa 70,000 years ago to populate the world. So, if all of us are of the same ancestry why are we at war with each other?

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Filed under communal relations, constitutional amendments, democratic measures, economic processes, ethnicity, governance, heritage, historical interpretation, language policies, Left politics, life stories, plural society, politIcal discourse, power politics, power sharing, reconciliation, self-reflexivity, social justice, sri lankan society, tolerance, world affairs

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