Category Archives: land policies

Caste Relations over Time: Challenging Frank Conlon’s Reading of My Work on the Karava

CONTEXT

In the academic circuit most books are sent to reviewers by journals in the field of study encompassed by the book. My work on Caste Conflict and Elite Formation: The Rise of a Karāva Elite in Sri Lanka, 1500-1931 published by the Cambridge University Press in 1982 was sent to Frank Conlon, a historian at the University of Washington by the Journal of Asian Studies. His review appeared in 1985. It was, and remains, a serious reading that is not informed by any personal animus, while being obviously guided by his own work on caste interaction in India.

 

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How It Became. Documenting the Ceylon National Congress

Michael Roberts

   BU4A8624 (1) Haris de Silva

The four volume Documents of the Ceylon National Congress produced by the Department of National Archives in 1977 runs into 3208 pages. In keeping with bureaucratic rigidity, the four volumes are still sold at some Rs 250. The give-away price has not enabled it to reach the public. The treasure trove of documentary data within these four volumes –  encompassing LSSP and Communist Party meetings in their early days — remain unknown and unseen. How many scholars, let alone armchair historians, know that FC “Derek” de Saram, Oxford Blue and Ceylonese cricketer of note, was among the ginger group (identified as “Young Turks” by me as the editor of the documents) who attempted to rejuvenate the CNC in 1938/39 by converting it into a party that could contest elections?[1] Continue reading

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Introducing Prophetic Indictments by Mervyn De Silva

Noel Ranjith

Regular readers of “The Island” newspaper over the twenty year period from the 1980’s will remember the almost weekly columns written by Dr. Mervyn D. De Silva, who was in those years a Deputy Director of the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs, followed by being appointed as the Director of the Ministry of Plan Implementation, and later becoming a Member of Parliament through the National List. His most profuse and provocative period was during the tenures of four Presidents from Mr. J. R. Jayawardene to Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. His writings covered a wide range of public and national concerns and took their cue from what the controversial American journalist I.F. Stone believed was the purpose of good journalism  –to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”.

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Colombo’s Wetlands: IWMI”s Concerns and Explorations

Darshanie Ratnawalli, in Sunday Island, 4 February 2018, where the title runs “Understanding Colombo’s wetlands with IWMI

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According to historians the very position of Kotte in the middle of a marsh attests to peril. It was to arrest peril emanating from the North that a city was built in the middle of a marsh. For what except the most dire necessity would induce anyone to locate a capital city in a marsh? Given any other choice what self-respecting feudal overlord would opt for a marsh as a location of a capital? Continue reading

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The Early Phase of Sinhala-Tamil Rivalry in Ceylon, 1931-70s

Michael Roberts[1]

The factors promoting political agitation among the Sri Lankan Tamils since the 1920s, particularly the developments after Sri Lanka secured independence in 1948, have inspired a large literature.[2] Three turning points in the temporal progression of this agitation have often been marked: one in 1956 when an electoral transformation helped enshrine Sinhala as the language of administration and placed the majority Sinhalese peoples in a dominant position in the political dispensation; secondly, in the early 1970s when militant Tamils placed secession at the forefront of their demands; and, thirdly, in July 1983 when an anti-Tamil pogrom in the Sinhalese-majority regions that involved state functionaries as well as people from many walks of life alienated the mass of Tamils and sparked an expansion in the militant separatist struggle.[3]

  Bandaranaiake in rhetorical mode

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Ken Dharmapala’s Pessimistic Evaluation of the Sri Lankan Situation–2016 and Now

Michael Roberts

Mark Salter’s feisty “Comments” placed recently in the Thuppahi Item conveying Padma Rao Sundarji’s Q and A Session with Erik Solheim sustains the combative stance he has adopted in previous Colombo Telegraph interventions.[1] I rarely engage in the verbal fisticuffs that are the standard pattern in blog commentary. Most bloggers hide behind pseudonyms and their physical location in the world is not self-evident. Nor does the format enable citations and bibliographical listings that may sustain an argument.[2]

Yesterday, however, in once again reading the sixty-four (64) comments that were inserted way back in time in response to my article of 5th April 2016 about “Attempts to Rescue Piräpaharan et al in 2009,” I came across a set of comments by Ken Dharmapala that I deem pertinent to our reflections today – as they were, indeed,  pertinent then in 2016.

 “SINHA-LE” agitations of yesteryear pertinent to Dharmapala’s critical thrust

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Barron’s Mss History of British Planters via Three Case Studies

Tom J. Barron … a typed Manuscript I discovered in my study; …. an article drafted in 1972/73 [see below]; …..an essay that does not seem to have appeared in print [see elaboration at the end] …Highlighting emphasis is the work of The Editor, Thuppahi

The history of British plantation enterprise in Ceylon is a relatively neglected topic. Most historical works on 19th and 20th century Ceylon mention the estates, but few have troubled to give them any special attention. In some ways the neglect is rather surprising for by the 1870’s. if not earlier, Ceylon was celebrated throughout the world as one of the most progressive and enterprising centres of tropical agriculture. The reputation of the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens and of its most distinguished director, Dr. G. H. K. Thwaites, extended far beyond Ceylon, and Ceylon’s contribution to the science of botany and to the study of agricultural economics was widely regarded as second to none. But, for reasons that are not difficult to detect, the planters have never greatly appealed as heroic figures to the historians of independent Ceylon. For the most part the estates were situated in the hills of the central highlands, remote from the affairs of the mass of her people; the capital and business organization which supported these enterprises were largely imported from Europe; the proprietors, superintendents and assistants who ran the estates were mostly British by birth; and the labour force was recruited principally from South India. There is another difficulty, too; considered from the standpoint of independent, nationalist Ceylon, the planters, who relied upon and openly supported the imperial political and economic systems, are not very sympathetic individuals. Dr. Bastiampillai speaks for many people in Ceylon when he refers to the planters, in his book on Sir William Gregory’s administration, as ‘petulant and peevish,’ ‘self—interested’ and ‘unreasonable.’ It is interesting to note, however, that recently some local historians (of when Dr. Lal Jayawardena and Dr. Michael Roberts are principal) have begun to challenge the notion of the ‘dual economy,‘ to question the theory that most Ceylonese were unaffected by the changes introduced by large-scale plantation agriculture, and to re-examine the achievements which the planters made. Continue reading

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