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61st Independence Day

United effort of all gained freedom for us

We celebrate sixty one years of Independence today with honour and glory. This is the most wonderful event in the lives of all Sri Lankans who will share equally the soil of this land. Those who were fortunate to have been alive at that time would recall the joy, the relief and the celebrations that accompanied the dawn of freedom.


The Lion flag believed to have been used by King Dutugemunu as depicted in Dambulla frescoes.

For years, brave men and women of our country protested against grave injustices, and exploitation.

In a way we can be proud and be happy that we obtained independence without shedding one drop of blood.

However the most important reason and the secret behind is the united effort of all in the country to shake off the shackles of foreign domination.

In every territory of our small island courageous men and women pleaded passionately for the freedom of the people. We must never forget the fact that independence was not given to us on a platter.

It was after a continuous and sustained democratic struggle that we earned our reward. Many ancestors paid a high price for our freedom.

Our neighbour India patiently but with a lot of determination and character launched a bitter battle against all forms of segregation. They demanded complete self rule asking the British to quit India once and for all.

For more than twenty years Mahatma Gandhi unrelentingly urged British viceroys, governors, prime ministers, generals and kings to lay hands off India. The British leaders turned deaf ears to these agonizing pleas.

Even the great Winston Churchill responded to Gandhi’s cry for independence by saying “I have not become the king of England to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.” But in spite of resistance of the British powers the victory of the forces of justice and human dignity was gradually achieved.

Till 1815 the Kandyan Kingdom was independent and there were clear differences between the upcountry and the low country. The upcountry safeguarded our heritage and culture while the coastal areas were Westernised.

War

On the 10th of January 1815, Sir Robert Brownrigg, the British Governor declared war against the last Sinhala King. The British troops marched from Colombo the next day. It took only 34 days and on the 14th February, they entered Kandy in triumph.

They met with scarcely any resistance, for the king was unpopular and hated by his subjects, and only a few would fight on his behalf. It was our disunity that gave the invaders easy access epitomizing the fact “united we stand, divided we fall.” The king had to rush to Dumbara for protection.

Here, in a cave near the village of Medamahanuwara, he was captured by Ekneligoda Disava and some of Ehelapola’s men from Sabaragamuwa. The captive king was handed over to John D’oyly.

A convention was held in the audience Hall of Kandy on 2nd March 1815, Sir Robert Brownrigg occupied the principal seat, and the Kandyan chiefs came in according to their ranks.

First entered Ehelapola, who was received with special honour and given a seat at the Governor’s right hand; for it was he who had begun the revolt against the last king. After him came Molligoda, who was also accepted warmly, and then the Disavas and other chiefs. A treaty was signed and read both in English and in Sinhalese and agreed by all present.

By this treaty

a) Sri Wickrama Raja Sinha was deposed and the Kandyan Kingdom was declared to belong to the British Crown.

b) Buddhism was to be given high recognition and its temples and priests were to be protected and maintained as in the past.

c) The laws of the country, were to remain unaltered and the king’s revenues were to be levied as before.

The British flag was then hoisted, England national anthem sung and the firing of cannon announced the establishment of British rule in Ceylon. The Sinhala kings and their rule which lasted for over 2300 years now gave place to foreign sway.

Rulers

The Kandyan people were sullenly indifferent to the change of rulers. They were glad to be rid of the Malabar tyrant, but they were not altogether pleased to be governed by foreigners. The chiefs, on the other hand, were grievously discontented, because under British rule they found that the greater part of their power was taken away.

The real struggle for freedom started with the hauling down of the Union Jack, the flag of the British under the leadership of the Venerable Wariyapola Sumangala Nayaka Hamuduruvo.

Kandyan convention

This was way back in 1816 just after signing the Kandyan convention in March 1815. People from Uva, Wellassa, Kandy, Matale, Dumbara and Kurunegala rallied round in the thousands and the famous Kandyan Rebellion was launched in 1817. Robert Brownrigg the Governor proclaimed Martial Law to curb the freedom fighters. The magnitude of the rebellion was so great that the British army was forced to hire soldiers from India.

The Disaves Keppetipola and Madugalle who pioneered the Wellassa freedom fight were beheaded. The rebellion was suppressed in 1818 and British military power was re-imposed.

The Imperialists went on a relentless campaign of extortion, rape, arson and murder. The Sinhala leaders submitted petitions to the King and Brownrigg was replaced by Barnes. In 1827, within 3 years, Ceylon exported 500 tons of coffee. Sir Robert Wilmot Horton became the Governor in 1831, and progress continued to be made in Ceylon.

In February 1832, a company was formed to start a mail coach, the first of its kind in entire Asia, between Colombo and Kandy. This was a sign of prosperity, because it showed that frequent and regular communication between the hills and the low country was now established, other signs of prosperity appeared in the opening of a Savings Bank (1832) in the abolition of the Rajakariya or compulsory labour for Government (1832).

The cinnamon monopoly was stopped and all persons were now allowed to cultivate or trade in cinnamon (1833). A great stride forward in development was made when the Colombo Observer was started in 1834.

This was a sign that freedom of speech is now granted to the Sri Lankans. In the same year, a Commission was appointed to supervise the schools of the Island and to promote education generally.

Two years later, the Colombo Academy (now the Royal College) was established. By this time the missionaries have taken to education seriously and started establishing schools throughout the country. Two more important changes that happened in 1838 should be noted

i) The island was divided into five Provinces - the Western, Southern, Eastern, Northern and Central - with a government Agent over each. The two councils known as Executive Council and Legislative Council were formed.

ii) District courts were opened in various parts of the country. In these courts, ordinary cases were tried; but the more important cases were tried before the Supreme Court, which also had the right to alter or confirm the decisions of any District Court.

Lord Torrington, who came to Ceylon in 1847 imposed several new taxes. Taxes on dogs, guns, boats, stamp and road. These were strongly and angrily resented by the people. Another major rebellion flared up in protest against heavy taxes, despicable administration and increasing tyranny.

People from Sat Korale, Matale, Kandy, Kurunegala and Dumbara rose up against the ruthless Governor Torrington. The 1848 revolt was led by Gongalegoda Banda who hailed from Vanavasala, fearless Puran Appu from Moratuwa.

Dingirala a true leader from Hanguranketa and Kudapola Hamuduruvo a highly educated Buddhist prelate in the Sat Korale. Governor Torrington panicked, imposed martial law, and in severe reprisals executed a number of innocent men and women. His action was highly condemned by a British parliamentary inquiry. He was advised to leave Lanka immediately and was replaced by Sir Henry Ward.

With an energy and spirit that took everyone to admiration, Sir Henry Ward studied the needs of the country and supplied its most urgent wants. Bridges at Gampola, Kelaniya and Katugastota were made; repairs to the dams in the Southern Province; the useful irrigation works at Batticaloa, opening telegraph communication between Colombo, Galle and Kandy were the principal benefits gained by Ceylon from Sir Henry Ward’s rule.

Rallied

During the time of Lord Harcoles Rosmead, attention was again paid to the material improvements of the country. The people rallied round and demanded a freer legislative council. The railway to Kandy was opened in August 1867.

The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 largely increased the trade of Ceylon. The Colombo Port that was constructed and opened in 1880 provided the trading world with a good harbour. The Government established two new Provinces Uva and Sabaragamuwa in 1889. Irrigation works were vigorously attended to.

The most important being the repairs to the Kalawewa and Yoda Ela. By 1890, the railway was extended to most parts of the country. The latest being Bandarawela, Matara and Anuradhapura. In 1893, a Technical School in Colombo was opened where the students were trained for the Mechanical Branches of the Public Service. By 1899, the total population of Ceylon was 3,167,789. Tea was not firmly established, as the main plantation crop after the failure of coffee. The extension of the railway to Bandarawela provided good transport for the main tea growing area.

Ceylon established good trade relations with neighbouring countries and that also helped to launch our struggle for independence. The freedom march was slow, but steady and continued without a break. A lot of thinking and planning had to be done. Not only political freedom, but economic and social independence was the goal. The success was the unity that prevailed.

Every leader of yesteryear considered unity as the most ethical and moral responsibility. They united together and motivated the masses who rallied round them. By the beginning of the 20th Century, a new class of people engineered the struggle. The educated men and women of all communities presented reports, petitions to the English government demanding Independence.

Sir Henry McCallum arrived in 1907 and a number of important engineering works were then begun. The extension of railways was a noteworthy feature. Motor cars were imported and roads had to be developed.

A railway line from Madawachchi to Mannar was begun. The line was intended to connect the railways of Ceylon and India. Other extensions which got underway were those from Bandarawela to Badulla and from Ratnapura to Palmadulla.

Embraced

Colonel Henry Olcott visited Ceylon and embraced Buddhism. He was instrumental in setting up of Buddha Dhamma Schools to teach the Dhamma to the young. The schools have spread to all parts of the country enlightening millions of young people.

The Donoughmore commission brought about unique reforms to escape from the bondage, and come closer towards reaching the goal of independence.

a) Universal Franchise, where men and women over 21 were given the privilege of voting.

b) A State council consisting of 61 members

c) Opening of more State schools and universities

d) Setting up of hospitals in rural areas and campaigns to control diseases such as Cholera, Dysentery and Malaria.

Sri Lankan leaders protested against some of the proposals in the Donoughmore commission and soon Lord Soulbury led a delegation to bring about certain changes. They included -

a) Appointment of a Governor General to be the representative of the British Monarchy

b) Establishing a Parliament with Senate and House of Representatives

c) Forming a Cabinet of Ministers with the Prime Minister as head

d) Establishing a Public Service Commission and a Judicial Service Commission

It was after the Sinhala - Muslim revolt that made our leaders realise the repressive nature of the Colonial administration. Secondly the spread of the Indian nationalist movement under the leadership of the Indian National Congress made them aware of the importance of an effective organization.

Ceylon Reform League was formed in 1917 and Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam made a great contribution not only to inaugurate it but to get the protest march moving. In 1944 India got its independence after a bloody battle. Sri Lanka felt the need more than ever the value of anti-colonial movements.

Sir James Peiris, Ponnambalam Ramanathan, F.R. and D.S. Senanayake, Sir D. B. Jayathilake and A. E. Goonesinghe were the important leaders who formed the Ceylon National Congress and Chilaw Congress. The leftist movement led by S. A. Wickramasingha, Philip Robert and Leslie Gunawardena, N. M. Perera and Colvin R. de Silva was also active fighting for freedom. The contribution made by Sir Oliver Goonethilaka was truly great.

There was also a religious movement to revive the religions and cultural customs which by now had deteriorated due to the influence of English culture. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera and Ratmalane Sri Dharmarama Thera contributed greatly to the revival of Buddhism.

Movement

There was enthusiasm and Nationalist movements were active in the North and East also. Sir Arumuga Navalar and P. Ramanathan gave the leadership for National feeling. There was also a revival of Islam led by Siddi Lebbe and in Colombo T. B. Jayah took the initiative.

We have come over sixty years along the road of Independence. Let this noble conviction that all men are brothers and all women are sisters etches on the heart of everyone. Let us all remember that peace and love are the most potent weapons that bind everyone. They are the driving forces necessary for personal and social transformation.

Let us dedicate ourselves to build a disciplined, honest and a patriotic society. Let us go forward as Sri Lankans together.

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