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British spawned today’s Sri-Lanka ethnic- conflict

by Saybhan Samat from Colombo

(July 10, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Many Sri-Lankans of this generation are of the view that the present communal conflict in the island is due to former prime-minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike passing the Sinhala Only Bill in parliament in 1958 depriving the Tamils of the favoured status they enjoyed when the British ruled. Still others think that the ethnic conflict aggravated after Mr.S.J.V Chelvanayagam after forming the Federal Party and subsequently the Tamil United Liberation front in 1976 at the 2nd anniversary at the Vadukoddai resolution of May 1976 declared that it was now the time for Tamil youth to take to arms to win their demands for a separate state. At that time Vellupillai Prabakaran was the leader of the youth movement of the Tamil United Liberation Front.

Still others are of the view that this intractable conflict started as far back as in 1931 after the Donoughmore constitution implemented a self- governing system in the island. Just like the Indian National Congress which was formed to gain independence in India, Ceylon formed the Ceylon National Congress with Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan,

D.S. Senanayake and Sir Baron Jayatilleke among its prominent members. The Ceylon National Congress did not permit Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan to be a special representative of the Tamils, broke away and formed the Tamil Maha Sabha, they rejected the Donoughmore constitution and refused to recognize the State Council. They then demanded the ‘’fifty fifty’’ proposal’’ i.e. fifty to be elected from the Tamil community the other fifty from the other communities. The Tamil leaders also claimed that the Muslims who were Tamil- speaking be categorized as Tamils. The Muslims created an uproar and objected to this Tamil claim arguing that they were of Arab origin. Even the Indian Muslims who came to Sri-Lanka from the Malabar Coast claimed that their fore-fathers were Arabs who came to South India for trade.

Many are unaware that this ethnic problem really began as far back as in 1818 during the time when Ceylon was under the British imperialists. Historical facts by no less than a Britisher, Jane Russel ‘’Communal Politics from 1931-1947’’ and ‘’History of Ceylon by the University of Ceylon’’ by father S.D. Perera clearly revealedthat it was the British with their divide and rule policy that spawned communal politics in this island which today has brought us so much of suffering and misery.

The reason for the ignorance of Sri-Lankan history which shows that the British were originally responsible for the communal strife in the island is on account of the government led by Srimavo Bandaranaike in the early 1970s removing history as a separate subject in the school curriculum.

Instead of this subject, a miscellaneous hotch-potch called Social Studies was introduced. The minister at this time being non- Buddhist a non Sinhalese, possibly had a hand in making this insidious change to benefit his own community. He was aided and abetted by Sinhalese officials who were working in the ministry.

The discontinuation of Ceylon history, which is rich in Buddhist culture has had serious repercussion on our society. Today many school children are growing up without any knowledge of our culture, traditional values and heritage.

After the British violated the agreement in the Kandyan Convention of 2nd March 1815 there were two significant uprising by the Kandyan Sinhala patriots, supported by Buddhist monks in 1818 and 1848. Hundreds and Thousands of patriots sacrificed their lives to gain freedom which they lost in 1796. These patriots fought incessant battles and conspired against the British to expel them from the island.

The 1818 uprising in Uva Wellessa was on account of the British Appointment of a Muslim from Malabar Coast to the prestigious post of Mudalige Vidane to the Dissawa of Wellassa. His name was Haji Marrikkar Mohandiram. The British to quell the rebellion sent Keppitipola who was in their service but Keppitipola joined the rebellion and fought the British. The war lasted for two years. It was the biggest single freedom struggle. The elevation of Haji Marikkar Mohandiram over the Kandyan nobility resulted in intense animosity towards the British and it was a great error of judgement that the British made.

James Emerson Tennent in his evidence before the Select Committee of the British House of Commons in July 1850 after he was recalled to Britain, gave considerable information on the uprising against the British from the time of the Kandyan convention. According to Tennent, there had been major uprisings every six years. There was also major wars of national liberation in 1818, 1823 and 1848 the last of the uprisings was in Matale in 1848. The British retaliated in cruel fashion by killing Buddhist youth, confiscating properties of the British leaders destroying temples, hanging their leaders and banishing some into exile.

Governor Fredrick North in a secret report to the British government in London recommended that the Sinhalese be not trusted as they were astute, vigilant and relentless and posed a great threat not to be treated lightly, as any further revolt would mean total annihilation of the British army in the Kandyan provinces and the possible invasion of the maritime provinces.

After this more arms and military personnel arrived and the Sinhalese Buddhist were suppressed and Britain adopted a divide and rule policy. American missionaries were directed to the Tamil dominated north, where 42 English schools were opened, while there were none in the south of the country. In Jaffna, Vellale caste Tamils could obtain external degrees from the London universities. Licentiate in Medicare and

Surgery [LMS], and the Surveyors and Leveling qualification’s were facilities only available to Jaffna Tamils.

Using these facilities 15,000 Jaffna Tamils passed out of which 10,000 were sent to Malaysia and Nigeria for employment. The remittances from these Jaffna Tamils made the northern province prosperous. In addition the ruling Britishers to marginalize the Sinhalese employed Tamils in preference to Sinhalese both in the public and private sectors. The Sinhalese boycotted employment in the plantations, so the British imported Indian Tamils to work in their tea estates.

The Tamils although a minority enjoyed more privileges than the majority Sinhalese. With these privileges they lost their heads and in their pride and arrogance over reached their ambition by demanding unreasonable rights and planting the seed of separation for Tamil Ealam.

With the coming of Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike to power, Mr. Bandaranaika was very keen and steadfast to restore the rights of the majority Sinhalese people which were denied to them by the British colonial power since 1796. The Tamils interpreted this action by Mr. Bandaranaike as persecution of their community and with the 2nd anniversary of the Vadukoddai resolution of May 1976 declared that it was now the time for the Tamil youth to take arms to win their demands for a separate state. At that time Vellupillai Prabakaran was the leader of the youth movement of the Tamil United Liberation Front.. The rest is contemporary history.

From the foregoing it could be seen that it was the British colonial government with its divide and rule policy, who was largely responsible for today’s ethnic problem in Sri-Lanka which has devastated this peaceful island for the past quarter century.
- Sri Lanka Guardian

1 comment

Unknown said...

Yes.. SWRD with a short sight, rushed to give the benefits to Sinhala whereas D.S.Senanayake took time. Perhaps DSS knew the results..the disaster.

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