By Arumugam Thevarajan –
1. Ancient History:
Sri Lanka land mass was never under a single Kingdom. There were three independent Kingdoms – Jaffna (Tamil) Kingdom, Kandyan Kingdom and Kotte Kingdoms (both Sinhalese Kingdoms but ruled by Tamil Kings as well ) .The Tamil Kingdom always remained separate and independent, except for a short while when the Tamil King of Kotte Parakrama Bahu VI conquered and subdued it for a while. But the Tamil kingdom shook off the yoke of Kotte and reasserted its independence within a short period. For most of the time, there were two or three Sinhala Kingdoms viz. Malayaratta (KANDY) Rajaratta (Anuradhapura) Ruhunuratta and Dhakshinadesa (Kotte). The Kingdoms of Dhakshinadesa (Kotte) and Ruhunuratta were generally united but at times remained separately also.
The country was ruled by a three tiered vibrant democratic system of devolved powers to regions. There were the gamsabas and the best of the administrators there were elected to the Rattasabas (the regional power centres) and the brilliant administrators there were elected to Ministerial offices in the Madhyama Anduwa (Central Government.) Those great men in the distant past realized that there can be no effective democratic governance with benefit for the people unless the power was devolved to the people at regional and village levels. That was the home grown vision and intelligence.
2.Tamils and Tamil Language:
The use of Tamil Language and the presence of Tamils in what is presently
known as Sri Lanka(i.e. throughout the entirety of the three Kingdoms) is attested to by the earliest lithic records where the language is Prakrit or regionalized Prakrit and Tamil and Parkritised Tamil. The script is the Damili of the Pandyan region. The script transforms into Asokan (or North Indian) Brahmi only after the introduction of Buddhism and that too only from first century A.D. The influence of Tamil on the development of the Sinhala language and literature is deep and indelible. Even the Sinhala grammatical work SIDAT SANGARAWA is an adaptation of the Tamil grammatical work VIRASOLIYAM.
The pre-Christian Sri Lankan polity is reminiscent of the Sangam period polity of Tamil Nadu. Social groups that played decisive roles in Tamil Nadu also played key roles in Sri Lanka too. The Ays, Vels, Baratas, etc. played key roles in Sri Lankan polity too. There are Tamil names as well. In fact, the name of the queen of the first known king of the historical period Devanam-piya-Tissa is Ramadatta – datta in Tamil and Malayalam means parrot. The Tamil language was considered the language of the learned. Even in the 16th century CE according to no less a person than Maitreya the scholar monk who lived in Velapura (modern Kalutara, where you still find the village Welgama) and rendered into Sinhalese many ethical works in Tamil.
3. Colonial Powers:
When the Portuguese arrived, they were able access the Kotte kingdom in 1505 by mere negotiation with the then tumbling royal family. The Tamil kingdom was conquered after a long bloody battle in 1619. They were separately administered according to the respective laws, customs and practices that obtained previously. Later, the Dutch took over and administered the two territories likewise. The Dutch divided the maritime Provinces under their domain into five Districts namely Jaffna, Trincomalie, Batticaloa Colombo and Galle. Of these, the first three were Tamil Districts and the last two Sinhalese. The Dutch also codified the local laws and customs of the Tamils and Sinhalese. They also introduced the Roman Dutch Law.
A very interesting aspect of the Dutch rule was the introduction of currency separately each for the five Districts and each of them had a distinctive letter viz. Jaffna – J , Colombo – C, Galle – G, and Trincomalie – T. There is no record of coins having been issued in Batticaloa. Perhaps the Trincomalie coins were in use there as well. However, there is the record of a currency note being issued in Batticaloa in 1798.
Only the British brought the Kandyan kingdom also under their administration under the treaty negotiated with the Chiefs in 1815. It was only in 1833 that the territories of the three kingdoms were brought under a unified administration. From then onwards, the Tamils co-operated with the British also to sustain the unified administration imposed by the British, as equals with other communities (representatives of the Kotte and Kandy Kingdoms) .
4. Agitation for Independence:
The British introduced several administrative changes in stages thereby involving local people in the administration. First the Legislative Council system was introduced. Sir Muttukumarasamy, P. Kumarasamy, Britto and P. Ramanathan were members of the legislative council during different periods of time. Representation in the Council was on communal basis and that helped to maintain the balance and equality of the different communities. When an election was held for the educated Ceylonese seat in the Legislative, Marcus Fernando, a Sinhalese and Ponnambalam Ramanathan, a Tamil, contested and Ramanathan, a Tamil won comfortably. Sam Wijesinghe PC, a leading lawyer and former Clerk to Parliament explains that Ramanathan won because he knew practically every family cordially, be it Sinhalese or Tamil and that personal touch and popularity made him win.
In the thirties, Donoughmore was sent to Ceylon to study the progress and make recommendations. Donoughmore recommended the abolition of the communal representation and the introduction of the territorial representation. However, he recommended the creation of Regional Councils to look after the needs and welfare of people at the regional levels – a compensatory measure to keep the balance of power at Regional levels. The territorial representation coupled with universal franchise made the Sinhalese members of the State Council large reducing the Tamils to a minority. That tilted the hitherto maintained balance of power and overwhelmingly favoured the Sinhalese. That is why Ramanathan with foresight said, on seeing the Donoughmore Commission report, “Donoughmore means Tamils no more.” – When it came to elections under the Donoughmore Constitution, the Jaffna Youth Movement, a vibrant movement for pourna swaraj (full independence) led by great leaders like Handy Perinpanayagam and others held sway in Jaffna and boycotted the first election totally. The Tamils were inspired by Mahathma Gandhi and other Indian leaders. Gandhiji, Swami Vivekananda, Thiru Vi Ka, Somasundara Bharathy and others addressed the Jaffna Youth League. Even Pirabakaran was an admirer of Mahathma Gandhi and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. .There is a provision in the Donoughmore Cmmissionn report for the creation of Regional Councils – a form of devolution of powers for the Regions. This was to enable the Tamils and Muslims to have a say in the administration of the Tamil regions. The Sinhalese leaders were never prepared to implement it although leaders like R.S.S. Goonewardene, the first permanent representative of Ceylon at the UN pleaded for it even after Independence..
The Ceylon National Congress founded and led by P. Arunachalam, brother of Ramanathan agitated for independence for Ceylon(Sri Lanka). The Sinhalese leaders scared by the Martial Law of 1915 occasioned by the Sinhala-Muslim riots did not come in the open. They took shelter in the Buddhist temples under cover of temperance movement. In fact, the Sinhala leaders like D.S. Senanayake and Samarawickreme and others held under arrest were facing execution by firing. Ramanathan , as a true national leader undertook a risk voyage through the mined seas (as the first world war was on) and went to London and pleaded with the authorities and succeeded in lifting the Marshall Law and the consequent release of the Sinhala leaders. On his return, Ramanathan was driven in a carriage from the Jetty to his home pulled by the released Sinhala leaders as a mark of gratitude. The Tamils always thought and acted in terms equality in a unified adminiatration.. Ramanathan’s statue was installed in the precincts of the Legislative building but in later years, there was a conspiracy to throw that statue into the sea.
5. Sinhala mindset:
Although there was a substantial Tamil population in the Western Province there was no representation for them in the legislature. The Sinhala leaders were not prepared to accommodate a seat for the Tamils who came from the Tamil Kingdom in the area that was under the Kotte Kingdom. Arunachalam agitated for it amidst Sinhala opposition. However, in 1918, James Peiris and Samarawickrema entered into a signed agreement with Arunachalam on 7 December 1918 agreeing to a Tamil representation in the Western Province.. When the implementation of this Pact was raised at the Annual Conference of the Ceylon National Congress held in Kandy, the Chair ruled that it was not on the agenda and hence cannot be taken up. Arunachalam had left the Ceylon National Congress founded by him owing to the racist obstinacy of the Sinhala leaders and had formed the Ceylon Tamil League to safeguard the interests of the Tamils.. The implementation of this pact was raised at the next annual Conference of the Ceylon National Congress held in Galle. The Chair ruled that the Congress was not there to sit in judgement over Pacts reached between individuals. Another pact with James Peiris in 1920 was also broken the following year. The 1936 Mahendra Pact following the disastrous pan Sinhala Ministry episode promising to address the grievances of the Tamils was also broken the following year. And finally, all Pacts, agreements and reports between 1918 and 2008 have been unilaterally abrogated by the Sinhala leaders in monotonous regularity – a clear edification of the unrelenting Sinhala racist obstinacy.
Militarised oppression and structured genocide through stratified phases led to the Mulliavaikkal holocaust of 2009.
This was made possible by the British Colonial masters. It is indispensable to hark back to 1883 when those in the higher echelons of the Colonial power in London bluntly disallowed a proposal from the grass root administrators in Colombo to make Ceylon a three unit Federation. . In 1883 a universal recession compelled Britain to curtail expenses in their Colonies. At that time Ceylon was being administered by a Legislative Council and the country was divided into five Provinces, each under a Governor. The Legislative Council appointed a sub Committee to explore means of reducing expenditure. One of the proposals was to divide the country into three Commissionerships along the former status quo – the Tamil Unit, the Kandyan Unit and the Low Country Sinhalese Unit. Mr. E.J. Young, the Member representing the Plantation area proposed this division as it would bring considerable reduction of overhead expenses –abolition of two Governors positions and their Offices. Mr. E.J. Young moved :-
“That with a view to retrenchment combined with greater efficiency the Government be requested to consider how the public service can best be improved on the basis of dividing Ceylon for Administrative purposes into three Provinces, corresponding with the division of races-viz. Tamils, Kandyans and Low Country Sinhalese and employing European supervision over larger areas than at present with a sufficient number of qualified natives of the country as subordinate officers in the service.”
The motion was carried unanimously although the notable absentee at the sitting was Mr. (later Sir) Ponnambalam Ramanathan. It is unclear how this unanimous recommendation was excluded from the final report.
However, this line of practical approach was not ignored by Mr. J. F. Dickson who was Government Agent, North Western Province in 1873-1882 and Government Agent, Central Province. Though he was also a member of the Select Committee he sent a special memorandum bypassing the Select Committee direct to the then Governor Sir Jams Robert Longden on 6 February 1883. In it he stressed the need to divide the country for administrative purposes into three provinces on the basis of concentration of ethnic populations in areas that could be easily demarcated_ i.e. Tamils, Kandyans and Low Country Sinhalese. He wanted the three units placed under three European Commissioners. He argued that this would not only suit the aspirations of the local people with distinct ethnic backgrounds but also reduce the expenditure …. According to his plan, there will be three commissioners instead of seven Government Agents as at then- a reduction by four. He annexed a map of Ceylon showing the demarcated three units and supported it with population statistics of the three units.
Though Mr Dickson was also a member of the Select Committee he bypassed the Committee and put his suggestions to the Governor direct. In his opinion the Committee was accentuated by imperialistic interests. He observed in his dissenting report of 13 February 1883 thus:
“There are some proposals of the Committee which appear to me unnecessarily to disregard native interests and native feelings: from these proposals I feel bound to dissent: and I would like to offer some remarks.
To shift the Administrative Centre backwards and forward in an Oriental Country is very dangerous, and impresses them with a feeling of uncertainty as regards the character and determination of the rulers… and in this case nothing of any amount is gained by the change”.
Sir James Longden, the Governor in his special despatch No” 243 dated 16 May 1883 enclosing Dickson’s memorandum and map made the following observations among other things-
“If it now were a question of what form of government should be setup in Ceylon, the enclosed paper would have much greater value than it appears to me to possess” for it is impossible without injustice to individuals and public inconvenience to ignore the existing state of things and the interest created under it …
The leading proposal of Mr Dickson is the abolition of the existing division of the island into seven provinces and its reduction into three Commisionerships, one containing half the island and the other two the remaining half – see map attached to Mr Dickson’s report enclosed.
In this model Mr Dickson has avowedly copied Indian models, and I think that if, at the time of the conquest of the Island it had been determined to annex Ceylon to India, it would probably have been formed into one or most two Commissionerships (corresponding to the Sinhalese and Tamil nationalities respectively) and administered much on the system advocated by Mr. Dickson. But in that case, there would have been no local government, no governor or councils or governmental central staff. The commissioners would have been Lieutenant Governors wielding despotive powers and responsible for the exercise of them to the Central Government at Calcutta or Madras.
In order to carry out his scheme of Government Mr. Dickson proposes “to abolish the system of Government Agents and Assistant Government Agents and substitute for these District Agents who will in all matters of account be directly under the financial authorities in Colombo” while “in all matters of administration they will be as the Assistant Agents now are under the direct control and supervision of Commissioners who will take the place of the present Government Agents…”
This system of government has answered splendidly in India for many years and might well be adopted in Ceylon had it just been conquered and it were now a question of what form of government should be installed. But I submit we have already an established form of government and I apprehend that in all reforms we must start from where we are, and I give consideration to the interests we have allowed to be created and the sentiments we have encouraged.
It is from this point of view that I should depreciate the suppression of existing provinces. Under the present system there are seven provinces and seven centres of provincial administration. Four of these provincial centres, Colombo, Galle, Jaffna and Kandy are towns with populations in each varying from 22,000 to 110,000. The others are small towns. But all have derived more or less importance from either the seat of an Agency, the centre of administration, the existence of the Government Agent and the role of the Kachcheri.
If it could be shown that any great and certain advantages to the native population would result from the changes advocated by Mr. Dickson, it might be thought worthwhile to affront the sentiments of a very large section of the people for the benefits of the whole. But of such great and certain advantages there is absolutely no evidence and I think that in some respects there are no advantages that which must not be overlooked.
The abolition of the Government Agents and Provinces.
Colombo 389, 788
Kandy 288, 332
Galle 209, 686
Jaffna 265, 583
Kurunegala 215, 173
Batticaloa 105, 358
Anuradhapura 66, 141
Total 1,540, 061
While thus laying fully before your Lordships the objections I see to this adoption of Mr. Dickson’s proposals, I fully recognize the merit of his scheme and think it would have been admirably suited to the government of the native population (not the European population) had it been adopted at the time of the conquest of the island under the conditions named in the 5th paragraph of this despatch”
The observations of Sir James Longden were replied to by the Rt. Hon: Earl of Derby, the Secretary of State for Colonies (Sessional Paper No XVII of 1883). He favoured Longden and disallowed Dickson’s proposals. In his despatch sent to A. H. Gordon, Governor of Ceylon who succeeded Longden,he observed:
“For this reason it appears to me that a sweeping change of the kind suggested needs to be justified by evidence that the system proposed to be altered is either radically bad in principle or ineffective in practice, and I fail to see that either of these changes can be sustained against the present organization of Ceylon, while if the financial results be taken into consideration it is not clear that any great economy would be affected by the change.
These are the general objections to be taken to a scheme of this kind, but Mr. Dickson has worked out his suggestion so dearly and fully that they deserve at any rate, careful consideration, and I do not feel satisfied that they have been sufficiently appreciated.
The Earl of Derby, The Secretary of State for Colonies said at the outset that these suggestions deserve due consideration even in the context of retrenchment and he chooses to dismiss them. However, he has subtly given reasons for his action. He feared that if Dickson’s proposals were implemented “the prospects of Civil Service would be injured” and added that “it would be difficult to carry it out for sometime to come without affecting the posting of the existing officers.”
The very terms of reference of the Retrenchment Committee had categorically cautioned that the recommendations should ensure “due regard being had to vested interests.” The proposal sought to reduce the top Civil Service posts to three from seven. Above all, implementation and re-structuring demanded a painstaking commitment to a heavy workload.
James Longden was a lazy sluggish man who was no match even for routine work. He was a mediocrite, a poor administrator and far from knowledgeable. John Ferguson, the powerful editor of the Observer characterised him as “too antiquated and sleepy in his ideas to promote anything beyond the bounds of red-tape official routine.” H. A. J. Hullugalle in his portrayal says “…… and safe men have their uses and James Robert Longden did not let the Colonial Office down.”
It is evident that Longden did not want to bear the burden or re-structuring and hence did not support the three unit Federal Structure proposed by E. J. Young the Legislative Councillor and J. F. Dickson the Government Agent. Longden and the Secretary of State for Colonies agreed on
- The proposal admirably suited the native context and aspirations.
- It did not bring to bear any advantages on the Europeans
- It did not promise any additional revenue to the Imperial Government.
- It sought to disadvantage the prospects of Britishers in the Civil Service.
In their Balance Sheet, items 2,3 and 4 weighed heavily against item 1. And therefore, Federal structure was disallowed, and disallowed only on those counts-the entrenched vested interests of the Colonial Masters.
Britain’s refusal to grant the three-unit federal structure in 1883 became the foundation for the alienation of Tamils from power-sharing in the political and economic activity of Sri Lanka – structured genocide. twentieth century, the British began to modify the structure of the Legislative Council giving the natives more roles to play. They were alert to disallowing any action, political or otherwise, that would be advantageous to one community and disadvantageous to another. This was entrenched in what they termed Royal Instructions. It was repeated in the 1910 and 1920 changes to the Legislative Council.
In 1923, Arunachalam started the Ceylon Tamil League when the Ceylon National Congress degenerated into Sinhala Goigama Congress. In his inaugural address he hinted that the salvation for Tamils lies in Tamil akam- a Tamil land. He added:
“But the Tamils are not going to abandon the proud duty and privilege of service to all our brothers of every race and creed But we do object strongly to being bullied or TERRORISED, we object to being underdogs of anybody.”
The parting of ways had set in as far back as 1920 when the first pact was breached. Eighty years on, the Tamil struggle continues, though forms have changed from time to time. All along it is the endless tale of breaching of pacts, It was never hunkyif not naked cheating, by Sinhala leadership. Due to the stinky-wonky handling of the ethnic crisis, it has today blown up into a brutal bloody war.
From this time (1920) onwards, the Sinhalese began edging towards territorial representation knowing well that they will be empowered and privileged in the Legislature with an elected majority.
Sir William Manning was the Governor of Sri Lanka during this time. He became aware of the emerging trend among the Sinhalese which was detrimental to the rights of the Tamils as an ethnic group. In his despatch to the Secretary of State for Colonies on 1 March 1922 he added:
“The composition of the Legislative Council was so arranged that while the Government cannot carry a measure, except under clause 52 of the Order-in-Council, in the face of the united opposition of the unofficial members, no single community can impose its will on the other communities.”
Not only the Tamils but also the Kandyans have lost their identity, let alone sovereignty. In 1926 S.W. R. D. Bandaranaike proposed Federalism as the best solution for multi-ethnic Ceylon . The Kandyans pleaded for Federalism before the Donoughmore and Soulbury Commissions and miserably failed.
D.S. Senanayake found A.F. Molamure to undercut the Kandyan Chiefs, giving up Kandyan identity and support him. Though H.A. P. Sandarasagara, who was Member of the State Council for Jaffna, carried forward Sir P. Arunachalam’s idea of a Tamilakam (restoration of the sovereignty of the Tamil Kingdom) without joining hands with the racist Sinhala leadership in a unified administration of Ceylon, Don Stephen Senanayake found A. Mahadeva, Arunachalam’s son and G.G. Ponnambalam convenient defectors from the trend of Tamil objective.
Even J R Jayawardena who thundered loud about Sinhala supremacy, while in his death bed pronounced Federalism as the best solution for a meaningful unified Sri Lanka. The Rajapakse regime is successfully implementing genocide for which the British laid the foundation in 1883.
* Arumugam Thevarajan from New Zealand -Received a Queen’s Service Medal in 2010