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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.