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Edmund Samarakkody’s 18th death anniversary:

Politician and trade union leader

Edmund Samarakkody lawyer, politician and trade union leader passed away on January 4, 1992, leaving behind him, as great men do, footprints on the sands of time spanning over six decades. First part of this article was published yesterday

In 1940 after the outbreak of World War II, the British Raj having proscribed the LSSP also ordered the arrest and incarceration of it’s leaders. Dr N M Perera, Philip Gunawardena, Dr Colvin R De Silva and Edmund Samarakkody were arrested and imprisoned at the Welikada jail but were later transferred to the Bogambara military prison as the political prisoners had caused agitation at the Welikada jail by starting a hunger strike.

Edmund Samarakkody

The four political prisoners planned and executed a daring and dramatic escape from the Bogambara prison in April 1942. An exciting event in the saga of their sensational escape was that the car in which they were travelling was held up with the other vehicles on the road at the Victoria Bridge in Colombo due to an on going military exercise.

Political prisoners

Sir Geoffrey Layton the Commander in Chief in Ceylon then had chosen that same night to give orders for preparation to dynamite the Victoria Bridge in the event of a Japanese landing that was expected at any moment.

The four escapees whose car was also held up consequently had anxious moments and sweated quite for some time till they were cleared without being detected.

Thereafter Edmund went into hiding in Ceylon while the other three escaped to India.

Subsequently the four political prisoners were all arrested and prosecuted in court, convicted and sentenced to six months rigorous imprisonment.

This conviction and sentence had serious repercussions on Edmund Samarakkody. He not only lost his civic rights but also was faced with the dire threat of loosing his professional licence to practice his profession as a Proctor of the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court issued a rule on Edmund to show cause why he should not be struck off the roll of Proctors of the Supreme Court or otherwise dealt with on the ground that he being an officer of Court he had committed an offence by escaping from prison. Consequently Edmund was punished being suspended from practice for two years. Thus Edmund joined the ranks of the unemployed for two years consequent to his political activity as a patriotic citizen of Ceylon then.

The relevant question that arises is - Was this punishment fair and just? Edmund did not act in his professional capacity as a Proctor of the Supreme Court in this instance. He was exercising his rights as a patriotic citizen of Colonial Ceylon at that point of time in the struggle for independence of his Motherland.

Be that as it may. No political party or leader or professional organization or body stood up for Edmund or even the other three political prisoners at that point of time to demand their release that stands in sharp contrast to the current trend in Independent Sri Lanka when Opposition political parties and leaders vie with each other in their vociferous demand for the release of prisoners convicted of offences under the penal laws of the land even involving moral turpitude by merely dubbing them as political prisoners for undue political advantage and even threaten to break open the prison doors if they are not released.

Commitment and dedication

In 1947, Edmund remained disqualified to stand for election to Parliament in terms of rule 13 of the Order in Council. However good fortune smiled on Edmund when the UNP - the ruling Party then under the leadership of D S Senanayake, had skeletons in it’s political cupboard and decided to amend rule 13 (3) (d) to suit the UNP group. After obtaining approval from Whitehall the law was amended and automatically Edmund was also release to contest Senanayake himself for the Mirigama electorate.

This episode of the amendment was the subject of two cartoons by Colette the famous cartoonist of the day. One depicted D S Senanayake armed with a pickaxe standing by the prison wall showing a crack in the wall through which Edmund is seen sneaking out carrying a flag bearing the hammer and sickle and under the cartoon was the legend ‘Through the same loophole.’

Cartoon

The other cartoon with the legend ‘Birds Of Passage’ depicted Edmund as a ‘Sama Samaja Cuckoo’ in the ‘Mirigama Nest’ and D S Senanayake and Sir John Kottelawela as ‘UNP.

Love Birds roosting on a branch of a tree and Sir John saying “I think you had better go and lay your eggs in Minneriya or somewhere.”

Edmund had the distinction of serving as a Member of the Dehiwela-Mt Lavinia Urban Council for many years and also as its Chairman for at least one term.

In 1952, Edmund was elected as a Member of Parliament for the Dehiowita electorate.

In 1960, he was elected to represent the Bulathsinhala electorate: Edmund always acted during his tenure of office for nearly 12 years as a Member of Parliament with a sense of total commitment and dedication not only to serve the electorate he represented but also the larger interests of the country and its people.

In the discharge of his obligations and duties as a lawyer and politician Edmund always acted fearlessly in the public interest.

This indomitable spirit of his was eloquently demonstrated in Parliament in the course of a budget debate when Edmund seized the opportunity to move a token cut of Rs 10 under the Judicial Services vote to expose in Parliament the misconduct of a Magistrate without a substantive motion before Parliament.

Logical conclusion

Edmund did not stay his action after his tirade in Parliament; he proceeded to its logical conclusion by making a complaint to the Judicial Services Commission and caused an inquiry to be held against the erring judge by the appointment of a Judge of the Supreme Court to inquire into the allegations made by him.

Edmund displayed his courage and concern for public interest as a lawyer:

He never hesitated or refused to accept a brief to prosecute an erring policeman against whom members of the public complained of degrading or inhuman treatment.

Steadfastly

He stood steadfastly for the cause he espoused as a youth and laboured indefatigably to carry on the struggle of the working class in the true spirit of internationalism till his last breath.

Edmund Samarakkody certainly carved for himself a niche in the annals of history of Sri Lanka; his sterling contribution to the progress and development of his Motherland and in particular to the working class movement of the country is worthy of appreciation and remembrance.

Concluded

 

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