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Victory & Beyond | dailynews.lk

A look back

The result was the then deputy leader of the UNP J.R.Jayewardene whipped up communal feelings and started the infamous march to Kandy accusing Bandaranaike of trying to divide the country. Though the march had to be called off when S.D.Bandaranaike slept across the Kandy road at Imbulgoda with a large number of his supporters but it did not stop just there.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa on his visit to Killinochchi with defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka and field commanders.

The national question or the ethnic problem that finally led to Tamil youth taking up arms to fight for a separate state for Tamils had to be viewed bearing in mind a plethora of socio-political as well as economic factors and machinations of certain political elements that paved the way to disastrous results over a long period of half a century after independence.


When we regained independence in 1948 our constitution introduced by the Soulbury Constitution had enshrined provision to safeguard the rights of the minorities yet it would be correct to observe that the majority of people,not only the Sinhalese or even the Muslims were disfranchised as the passport to employment or social mobility was English.

It would be pertinent to understand that the Tamils of the North had the best employment opportunities as they had an English education.

The disparity in education resulted from the British policy with 29 Grade I schools with English and Science education for the Jaffna District when we gained independence in 1948. While the other 21 districts where more than 88 percent of people lived, had only 28 Grade I schools. With the result, the disfranchised majority lost avenues of gainful employment and remained backward.

Therefore, when the demand to make Sinhala or Sinhala and Tamil to be made the official language/s came up, the then Premier D. S. Senanayake appointed a commission to make recommendations on the official language.

The commission headed by a retired Supreme Court Judge Sir Arthur

Wijewardena in its report said Sinhala could not be made the official language since it did not have a sufficient number of words to make it an official language.

Most of the analysts on the national question say that Sinhala being made official language was the main reason for the unrest among the minorities that finally resulted in Tamil youth taking up arms to fight for a separate state but when looking at what really took place it was only the elites among the Tamils who had an English education who had lost their privileged position in the country while the Tamils even in the east or elsewhere did not enjoy that position as a vast majority among them too did not have an English education.

Therefore when the National Languages Act was passed by Parliament the Tamil politicians like Chelavanayakam, or Ponnambalam drawn from the elites of the North found their privileged position in the country was lost.

That was one aspect of the matter but S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike who introduced the Official Language Act was prepared to make way for the Tamils by introducing the Tamil Language.

A special Provisions Bill was passed, allowing Tamil to be used in the North and East where the Tamils were a majority. But at that time the press that was antagonistic to Bandarnaike dubbed it “Sinhala only, Tamil also” policy.

Still later Bandaranaike held talks with the leader of the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kachchi S. J. V. Chelvananayakam and agreed not only for the use of Tamil in the North and East but also decided to set up regional of divisional councils, the first proposal for devolution of power to the North and East.

The result was the then deputy leader of the UNP J.R.Jayewardene whipped up communal feelings and started the infamous march to Kandy accusing Bandaranaike of trying to divide the country. Though the march had to be called off when S.D.Bandaranaike slept across the Kandy road at Imbulgoda with a large number of his supporters, it did not stop just there.

Jayewardene next moved to get some Buddhist monks to start a satyagraha, opposite the Rosmead Place residence of Bandaranaike and the premier was forced to tear the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact and abandon both the reasonable use of Tamil as well as the divisional councils proposals.

Next came the race riots of 1958. Though most people today do not understand the background for the riots, it was set up by the extremists UNP politicians and ably supported by the goons of Colombo. Tamils found that their rights would not be won easily and the thinking of the political leaders as well as the people changed after the riots.

In this regard it would be appropriate to note that the left political parties the Lanka Sama Samaja Party and the Ceylon Communist Party campaigned for making both Sinhala and English official language even in the teeth of stiff opposition from those who advocated only one language.

The Tamil political parties too had extremist elements among them and the name of the major political party though it was called Federal Party was Illankai Thamil Arasu Kachchi (Tamil State Party of Sri Lanka), when there was no demand for a state for the Tamils nor was Sinhala made official language. The name of the ITAK or FP gives much food for thought though none of the leaders demanded a separate state, at least openly, at that time.

However, there is no doubt that Tamil should have at least been made a regional official language if it could not have been made the second official language. The problem became more complex and the failure of successive governments from 1956 to address the language issue created the dissension among the Tamil minority but till early 1970s Tamil politicians did not decide to take up arms to carve out a separate state.

Most moderate Tamil politicians attempted to agitate for the language rights but it was when Appapillai Amirthalingam became the strong force in the newly formed Tamil United Front later to become the Tamil United Liberation Front that the move to arm and mobilize the Tamil youth for insurgency was made.

This is very clear from the evidence in the Sansoni Commission Report that Amirthalingam and some others who later passed the Vaddukoddai resolution in 1976 giving a mandate to fight for a separate state.

The beginning was marked with Amirthalingam using the members of the TULF youth league to start the insurgency and it is clearly stated in the evidence led before the Commission that he urged the youth to take up arms.

Though most moderate Tamil politicians, they were the majority, did not condone the move to egg on the youth to take up arms by 1972 Amirthalingam and a few others who were strong in the TULF had succeeded in their evil plan.

The rest is history and tens of thousands among all communities had paid with their lives for sin they had never committed.

And now that the terrorist group had been vanquished the time was opportune to work towards amity with suitable devolution proposals to be implemented as the majority among all ethnic groups wish to live in peace and wish to resolve their problems by discussion and dialogue.

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