By Rajan Hoole –
Sri Lanka: A Haunted Nation – The Social Underpinnings Of Communal Violence– Part 6
“D.S. Senanayake was extremely concerned about ethnic and religious harmony [having the example of the terrible happenings that were going on in India before him].
“Senanayake distrusted India and it was he who took the initiative in having a defence agreement with Britain, a decision which the Left was going to go on sniping at alleging that it showed Ceylon was not totally independent of Britain. He successfully took the Indian plantation workers who kept mi- grating between South India and Ceylon off the voters’ register and was able to get G.G. Ponnambalam [and several other Ceylon Tamils] to vote for this measure…”
He then goes on to add that the plantation labour voted Left and distorted the electoral bal- ance, and that after their disenfranchisement, “The Kandyan Sinhalese rural voter for the first time had a voice in the country’s affairs.”
There is again a simple assumption in the writer’s mind that the rural Kandyan Sinhalese voter was better served by representatives ap- pealing to the nationalist doctrine of the low country Sinhalese elite, rather than to class in- terest. One could also see the place of the Indian bogey in the nationalist doctrine of the ruling interests. If India was the cause for the defence pact with Britain, it points to a flight from real- ity on the part of the local leadership (see Sect. 5.4). Even long after the pact had lost all signifi- cance, Prime Minister Premadasa thought of in- voking it in the 1980s rather than mend fences with India.
It may however come as a surprise to many that, it was D.S. Senanayake himself who had on earlier occasions floated favourably the idea of federation with India. This was recalled by Darem, the Times of India political correspondent (6th May 1952 – Saturday Review 9.8.86). Darem had been told this by D.S. Senanayake in 1942, when, at the height of the Second World War, Ceylon would have been totally isolated but for the Royal (British) Navy and India. Ceylon’s economy was in the doldrums and India’s role was crucial in keeping Ceylon supplied with several essential food items. Senanayake also perceived that it was on India that Ceylon’s long term security interests would depend. What Senanayake sought were certain guarantees of autonomy. The problem was evidently, accord- ing to Darem, that the Indian leaders already had enough on their hands regarding India’s future. After the war, there was a boom in tea and rub- ber prices and it became a different story with a prosperous Ceylon.
The Legacy of the Citizenship Act
We will take a brief look at how inhuman and irrational the citizenship laws of 1948/49 are. We have mentioned that the passage of these laws just about co-incided with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 10th December 1948, Article 15 of which reads: 1.Everyone has the right to a nationality.
2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.
The first must necessarily mean that a per- son has the right to nationality in the country in which he is born. To make it conditional on other factors would make it impractical and throw the Law into ridicule as would be seen below.
The Citizenship Act of 1948 stipulates that a person born in Ceylon before 15.11.48 is a citi- zen of Ceylon by descent if the father was born in Ceylon. A person born after 15.11.48 is a citizen by descent if at the time of birth the father was a citizen of Ceylon. These conditions covered a period when the practice of registering births and marriages had not taken root. If the law were to be strictly applied, the majority of the people in this country would have lost their citizenship, including as it was pointed out in Court, the Prime Minister, D.S. Senanayake. Administratively, however, it was the estate population who were targeted, although most rural folk at that time would not have been able to produce a marriage certificate or the father’s birth certificate.
Even more tricky was Article 7 of the Act:- viz. “Every person first found in Ceylon as a newly- born deserted infant of unknown and unascertain- able parentage shall, until the contrary is proved, be deemed to have the status of a Citizen by Descent.”
It was as though the Law made it a privilege to be born a bastard rather than a child of estate parents. Then what of a child born out of wed- lock to a stateless woman through a father who is a citizen by descent? The Law that obliges policemen to snoop around and determine the paternity of a child before confering citizenship makes itself, surely, an ass!
It is thus clear that the right to citizenship in the country in which one is born is a practi- cal necessity that needs to be unconditional. To think otherwise is to lay the foundations for racism, totalitarianism and everything irratio- nal. It was again a practical necessity for newly independent countries to accept as citizens all those living there at the time of independence. Thus from about the time of independence Sri Lanka had abrogated Article 15 of the UDHR. Even more, the UDHR will not countenance a law that creates an absurd category of inhabit- ants called ‘Stateless.’ In passing the Citizen- ship Laws soon after Independence, the ruling class of Sri Lanka created a political culture that was founded on irrationalism and was intel- lectually stunted to begin with. Such were the founding fathers and the foundations of Inde- pendent Ceylon.
For the most part the ruling elite continued to treat Plantation Tamils of recent Indian ori- gin as aliens, and the impetus to give them what was their due, stemmed mainly from the civil war which commenced in the mid-80s. A sum- mary of developments is given in Appendix V.
To be continued..