Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam Memorial Oration

by Justice C V Wigneswaran, Colombo, January 9, 2011

Often Religion is the refuge of the disappointed and the disillusioned. But I would submit in this lecture that Sir Arunachalam derived his inspiration to contribute distinction to the history of Sri Lanka, from his Religion...

It might not be out of place for me to say here that in modern Sri Lanka it has become fashionable to say that the British favoured the Tamils. I personally do not think so. There was something in the Ceylonese Tamil man’s religion nd heritage, his language and literature, in his culture, in his environment both topographical and social, in his native talents, which made him far ahead  of  others less endowed in the early days. Even after Independence, after the Englishmen had left us, until the ‘Sinhala Only Act’ was foisted on the minorities and a different political climate was ushered in, if you look at the successful candidates in any academic field, whether it was Medicine, Law or Engineering or Accountancy, Architecture or Clerical, the Tamil students did very well when the playing field was even. Perhaps it was because the Tamils took to education like ducks to water.

Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam Day

87th year Remembrance Meeting

At the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism Auditorium, (7th Floor) No:78,Galle Road, Colombo 3.

on 9th January, 2011 at

Chief Guest:  Hon. Dr. Sarath Amunugama


by Justice C V Wigneswaran


Guru Brahma Gurur Vishnuhu Gurur Devo Maheshwaraha

Gurur  Shaakshaat Para Brahma Tasmai Shree Gurave Namaha

Mr. Chairman! Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Born on 14th September 1853 Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam passed away on 9th of January 1924, exactly eighty seven years ago today. I have had the privilege of addressing such an august assembly of men and women as this, remembering Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam  on the 28th of September 2004 around the time of his  150th Birth Anniversary. The Organizers have asked me this time too as far as possible to tread less on his Public Life and stress more on his Religious Life in this Memorial Oration. May be they felt talking religion is a safer option these days!

Justice C V Wigneswaran

It would be fruitless, nevertheless, to divorce essential aspects of his life and to compartmentalize it. His life was a life of distinction, dedication and devotion as it was one of disappointment and disillusionment during his last two years of existence in this world. May be the disillusionment prompted him to undertake a pilgrimage to the sacred shrines of India in 1923 which culminated in his death on 9th January 1924 in Madurai in South India.

Often Religion is the refuge of the disappointed and the disillusioned. But I would submit in this lecture that Sir Arunachalam derived his inspiration to contribute distinction to the history of Sri Lanka, from his Religion.                                               

Let me first delineate briefly his achievements before dwelling upon the religious norms which contributed to his distinction.

Sir Arunachalam was the first Ceylonese to join the prestigious Civil Service by open competitive examination. He was the first President of the Ceylon University Association which campaigned for the establishment of a University of Ceylon. He was the first President of the Ceylon National Congress which for the first time brought together all communities in the Island to make a united demand from the British Government for self rule. He was the first Ceylonese President of the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch).As the first President of the Ceylon Social Service League and the Ceylon Workers’ Welfare League he led the movement for social justice to under privileged sections of the Ceylonese community. He was also the first Ceylonese leader to advocate manhood suffrage for elections to the Legislature. Indeed he was a pioneer in many fields and often ahead of his times!

During the initial stages of his Public Service he was a promising Judicial Officer. In fact a greater part of his working life as a Public Servant was spent as a Judge. In those days Judicial Officers were selected from among the Civil Servants. Sir John Budd Phear, said to be one of the greatest Chief Justices of Ceylon, in 1879, shortly before he retired as Chief Justice, specially commended the work of Arunachalam to the notice of the Governor and the Secretary of State. He said that he knew of only two men in Ceylon who rose to the standard of what judicial officers ought to be; and they were Berwick and Arunachalam. The Governor then was Sir Arthur Gordon. He studied carefully the work of Arunachalam and appointed him over the head of about thirty seniors to act in the office of Registrar General and Fiscal of the Western Province. Despite protests the Governor who recognized merit had his way. This act of the Governor used to be pointed out in later times as an example of executive indiscretions favouring the minorities. May be some self appointed pure Patriot of recent times might say so even today. But today too, many out-of-the ordinary appointments are made, ostensibly no doubt due to the appointee’s suitability on the grounds of so-called merit. But the only merit recognized today has something to do with their servile subservience to the powers that be and their self centered flexibility!

It might not be out of place for me to say here that in modern Sri Lanka it has become fashionable to say that the British favoured the Tamils. I personally do not think so. There was something in the Ceylonese Tamil man’s religion nd heritage, his language and literature, in his culture, in his environment both topographical and social, in his native talents, which made him far ahead  of  others less endowed in the early days. Even after Independence, after the Englishmen had left us, until the ‘Sinhala Only Act’ was foisted on the minorities and a different political climate was ushered in, if you look at the successful candidates in any academic field, whether it was Medicine, Law or Engineering or Accountancy, Architecture or Clerical, the Tamil students did very well when the playing field was even. Perhaps it was because the Tamils took to education like ducks to water. There were no Britishers at that time to favour the Tamils. Today the world over wherever the playing field has been designed even, the progeny of the Ceylon Tamils are doing marvelously well. No Britishers are behind them favouring their progress.

Arunachalam became Registrar General and Fiscal of the Western Province owing to his remarkable talents. It stands to the credit of the Britisher that he looked for and recognized innate talent, never looking for abject servility and sycophancy.

I may again take this opportunity to point out that there is a tendency today to belittle and disparage the contributions made by the minorities to the general welfare of this country in its long history. Suffice to say compare our Public Service when its performance was exalted by the minorities which included the Sinhalese Christians, Muslims and others with the present Public Service run by almost a monolithic majority. Of course ex-Civil Servants like Dr. Sarath Amunugama, our genial Chief Guest, could be considered the exception rather than the rule! And we must not forget that he belongs to a by-gone age as evinced by the nomenclature Senior Minister!

After politics and rank chauvinistic majoritarianism were forced upon our Public Service by powerful politicians for selfish reasons, merit based public service based on universal values slithered away, the independence, neutrality and integrity of public service was defiled, efficiency and uprightness, honesty  and  hard work, humaneness and empathic understanding have sought pastures elsewhere.

In his new office Arunachalam showed remarkable administrative ability. The Fiscal’s office soon ceased to be the cauldron of corruption and inefficiency. On his recommendation Fiscal’s Office was separated from that of the Registrar General in order to enable the holder of the office of the Fiscal to deal effectively with the reorganization of that Department.

Reorganization of the Land Registration Branch and the Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths’ Branch was an arduous task. Yet Arunachalam was able to rescue the Department from its deplorable condition. Let me quote what the ‘Times of Ceylon’ of that time said of the great work done by Arunachalam. (I quote)” In the Registration Department chaos and corruption held merry sway when Mr.Arunachalam came to it. The registration of deeds was subject to infinite delay and harassment. There was no index worth speaking of and references to transactions and encumbrances affecting land were exceedingly difficult to ascertain. Fraud was rife and dishonest transactions often took precedence over genuine dealings and everybody’s property and title were endangered. The records of the Department littered the floor of one particular room and most valuable documents which cannot be replaced, lay where no man but an interested clerk could lay his hands upon them. There was plenty of “baksheesh” exacted (we call it ‘Pagaawa’ these days) and little honest work done and yet the record room fees came to something like Rs.25000/-. Nobody could tell where the money went to. It was another Augean Stables and no Hercules could hope to cleanse it. It was not lack of will but lack of knowledge. Mr.Arunachalam had a persevering mind. He sat by the side of the various clerks and patiently learnt their work. Then he took charge and launched his reforms. He stopped the unconscionable delays and dishonesty in the registration of deeds, secured a fair day’s work from each clerk throughout the Island and reduced the lazy, overgrown staff. He would have none of the private practice and private fees in connection with official work. He re-organized the record room, appropriated the fees to the legitimate objects of the Department, recast the whole system, increased and set apart a special staff to keep the records , inaugurated a real record room with a system and an index, built fine shelves and with the surplus money derived from the fees he founded a Benevolent Fund which has now a funded capital of some Rs. 50000/- and which has saved many a clerk from the Chetty, disgrace and penury, relieved many a widow and orphan - it pays something like Rs.1000/- upon the death of a member- and conduced more than any grandmotherly scheme of philanthropy to make the clerks of the Department a thrifty, contented body of men. The same money also helped to establish a reading room and a library and generally to make the lives of the clerks lighter and brighter.”

I have quoted from the ‘Times of Ceylon’ report of that time copiously with a purpose. Many a Public Servant and Judge of recent vintage, have themselves been saddled with Departments and Courts respectively with the same deplorable conditions that Arunachalam inherited as Registrar General. How many of them could say “We have ourselves undertaken similar reforms”? We have much to learn from Sir Arunachalam, the able Civil Servant he was.

Sir Arunachalam as a Public Servant stands out as a beacon light to all conscientious Public Servants where so ever and when so ever posted.

The system of registration of deaths which Arunachalam put into force in the Towns of Ceylon was at that time unique in the Eastern Hemisphere. Having registered the deaths Arunachalam studied the statistics which many a Public Servant today ignores conveniently. In 1895 he drew the attention of authorities to the alarming death rate in the country. He ascribed it to the insanitary conditions in the slums. He therefore advocated the establishment of street lines, model tenements and a proper drainage system. The information that was so carefully collected, tabulated and compared by his Department , enabled the Government to know at a glance the true economic and social state of the country and adopt the necessary measures to reduce crime and disease.

The organization of the 1901 Census of Ceylon was entrusted to Arunachalam by the then Governor Sir West Ridgeway. He carried it out in an exemplary manner. The ‘Times’ of London described the Report published by Arunachalam within a week of the enumeration as the most comprehensive authority on the ethnology of Ceylon and of its varied people, their history, their religions, languages and literature’. The Editor of the ‘Ceylon Morning Leader’, Armand de Souza said in his newspaper thus –“The curious reader will find the report which introduces the Census of 1901 perhaps the most luminous dissertation on the ethnological, social and economic conditions of the Island. A Government official report would be the last document the public would care to read for beauty of diction. But in Sir P.Arunachalam’s account of the history and religions of the Island in his Census Report would be found the language of Addison, the eloquence of Macaulay and the historical insight of Mommsen”.

It could be said of Sir Arunachalam –Nihil tetigit quod non ornavit- that is, he touched nothing which he did not adorn. After all he was “a classical and oriental scholar, a master of the English language and literature and brought to every task he undertook whether in literature, law or official work habits of thoroughness and exactitude and a practical mind” to quote Justice Moncrieff, acting Chief Justice presiding and speaking about Sir Arunachalam at a public lecture delivered by the latter.

Sir Arunachalam retired from Public Service in 1913 with a record of achievement unsurpassed by any officer of the Crown. His official career should ever be a source of pride to Ceylonese. But Sri Lankans today are a different breed to the Ceylonese of yesterday! We are not only changing road names but erasing all evidences of our ever having been Ceylonese. History too is being distortedly rewritten to suit the new Sri Lankan ambience!

After his strenuous labours in Public Service Sir Arunachalam would have been expected to seek rest and solitude to give himself up to philosophical study and contemplation which he loved so well. But he had dedicated his life to the service of his country. Freed from the shackles of office he was determined to place his exceptional gifts at the disposal of his countrymen. He started another career which was to be more vital for the Ceylonese than that in the Civil Service.

We see Sir Arunachalam showing interest in political study even during his College days in Cambridge University. When he became the President of the Ceylon National Congress in 1919 he declared- “To me the Congress is the fulfillment of dreams cherished from the time I was an undergraduate at Cambridge”. This shows that a composite, unified Ceylon despite its multifaceted population was his dream and passion.

The riots of 1915 convinced Sir Arunachalam that the agitation for political reforms could not be delayed any longer. He made strong representations to the Governor urging the appointment of an impartial Commission to ascertain the true cause of the riots and to check the indiscriminate condemnation of the Sinhalese people. His brother Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan undertook a perilous journey during those days of the First World War to ask the Queen of England justice for the Sinhalese. Such was the affinity between the two major communities at that time. Am I not correct in describing the Ceylonese and Sri Lankans as different breeds?

On the 2nd of April 1917 with Mr.E.J.Samarawickreme in the Chair, Sir Arunachalam made an epoch making lecture on ‘Our Political Needs’. Sir James Peiris referring to this notable event said      ( I quote) “Although there were several agitators for political reform in Ceylon from time to time, the people woke to the necessity of persistent and organized agitation, only after Sir P. Arunachalam delivered his address on “Our Political Needs”….. I would ask especially those young men who are studying politics to read that lecture and cognate publications of Sir P. Arunachalam and treat them as a sort of political Bible”. I refer to the names E.J.Samarawickreme and Sir James Peiris with a purpose. They were the foremost Sinhalese leaders of that time. E.J.Samarawickreme was the President of the Ceylon Reform League and Sir James Peiris was the President of the Ceylon National Association. These Sinhalese leaders had made a demand of the British to grant territorial representation as the grand cure for the country’s political and social maladies. The Tamil leaders were totally opposed to territorial representation. They knew that they would be engulfed by such changeover from communal representation as later events proved them correct. These leaders approached Sir Arunachalam. To allay the fears of the Tamil leaders and to reassure them Sir James Peiris and E.J.Samarawickreme addressed a letter to Sir Arunachalam. Inter alia the following paragraph appeared in that letter – “We are prepared to pledge ourselves to actively support a provision for the reservation of a seat to the Tamils in the Western Province so long as the electorate remains territorial”.(unquote). That is, to assuage the fear the Tamil Association had of the Sinhalese taking control of the entire Island by virtue of their majority in the Legislature if territorial representation was brought into effect, they pledged to actively support a seat to the Tamils in the Western Province. On the strength of this pledge Sir Arunachalam pressured the leaders of the Jaffna Association to come within the fold of the Ceylon National Congress which they intended setting up amalgamating the Ceylon Reform League, Ceylon National Association and the Jaffna Association in order to make a common cause with the Sinhalese leaders. Sir Arunachalam pointed out to Hon. A. Sabapathy, the President of the Jaffna Association, that the assurance by these two responsible Sinhalese political leaders meant that the Tamils would have three seats for the Northern Province, two for the Eastern Province and one seat reserved for a Tamil Member in the Western Province in a Legislature which at that time was to have only 16 elected members. With Sir Arunachalam playing the honest broker the deal was put through. The two divergent groups were brought together into the Congress fold. The Ceylon National Congress was born on the 11th of December, 1919. Sir Arunachalam was acclaimed its Father and first President. The Ceylon Daily  News  claimed in an Editorial that the birth of the Congress marks  ( and I quote) “the first great advance in the growth of democratic institutions in Ceylon. The Congress takes up the position of the only accredited mouthpiece of all classes. Those who have worked to bring it into existence have reason to be proud of their achievement. The first President of the Congress has been the great pioneer”.

From a larger perspective no doubt Sir Arunachalam had acted properly and correctly. He had believed in the unity and brotherhood of man, in the fellowship of people and nations, in the integration of all racial, religious and linguistic groups into one organic whole. He had believed that all people who had made this Island their common home could co-exist as equal partners in a common polity unhampered by any trace or taint of racism, he had believed that the two principal linguistic communities were but the two eyes of Mother Lanka that together would see the same object. But he failed to recognize that his contemporary ambience and atmosphere, encompassment and environment, ethos and ethics could undergo drastic changes if a coterie of powerful politicians had ulterior motives and modalities.

No doubt Sir Arunachalam had been conditioned by the role and influence the English Language and Western Education have had on the contemporary Ceylonese intelligentsia. He failed to understand the perils and pitfalls inherent in a territorially elected unitary democracy. So long as English and Western Education kept the communities together, may be there was reason to expect a disparate society thrown together by the historic accident of foreign conquest and subjugation, to be moulded into a homogeneous society. But not so with a community waiting in the sidelines with an avaricious appetite for aggrandizement.

Soon a substantial measure of reform was granted by the British in the wake of a united agitation by all communities. The Official majority in the Legislature which from the beginnings of British rule had held a firm grip for over a century was to be superseded by the Unofficial majority. These Unofficial majority members were to be popularly elected. Communal representation which from the inception of British Rule had been the sole safeguard of minority rights now denounced as the cause for all national ills was replaced by territorial representation widely canvassed by majority leaders as the prelude to the emergence of a united and well integrated Ceylonese nation free from all taint of racialism or communalism. People it was said had secured for all time the whip hand of power. The Ceylon National Congress had become the chief spokesman of the nation. Once the grip on the polity was ensured by the majority community there was no need for the man from the so-called minority community. Sir Arunachalam was discharged and Sir James Peiris was voted President. But Sir Arunachalam paid high tributes to Sir James on his elevation to that position.

The elections were to be held under the new 1921 Constitution of which Sir Arunachalam was the principal architect. Everyone expected Sir Arunachalam to be announced as the candidate for Colombo. But the Senanayake Brothers, D.S. and F.R., put forward Sir James Peiris as the candidate. Arunachalam gracefully withdrew. Not that the Seat was important to him since he had for many years been a member of both the Legislative and Executive Councils. But what of the solemn letters and pledges  given by Sir James Peiris and E.J.Samarawickreme in order to persuade the Jaffna Association to come into the fold to constitute the Ceylon National Congress?

Sir James Peiris repudiated the pledge on the ground that he gave it as President of the Ceylon National Association and that now he was President of the Ceylon National Congress. Therefore he contended that he was no longer bound by his pledge. Seeing that there was objection to this type of prevarications from among the people of all communities the Congress directed the Sinhalese electorates to nominate only Sinhalese candidates for election.   The new leaders of the Congress went further. They objected to the provision of any safeguards for the Tamils on the ground that the Tamils like the Sinhalese were themselves a majority community. In this regard M.Vythilingam, former Principal of Hindu College, Chavakachcheri  who wrote a chapter on Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam in his book in two volumes on “The Life of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan “ has this to say- “In saying so , Sinhalese leaders gave utterance to a solemn and stupendous truth , long since forgotten, that the Tamils , far from being a minority , have from remote ages been and continue to be a full-blooded majority in their ancient homelands, where their own kings and potentates had held unquestioned sway. It was when the evil genius of a foreign conqueror subdued the whole Island with its separate and sovereign peoples, pulled down age old national frontiers and for no other reason than his own ‘supervisory convenience’ made the Island a single political and administrative unit, that the Tamils became a minority in the conglomerate mass of the Island’s population.’

C.E.Corea later in his Presidential Address to the Congress said “On account of the undutifulness of these few (meaning the then prominent members of the Congress including Sir James Peiris and E.J.Samarawickreme) the Congress as a whole stands under the reproach of base ingratitude”. He made a forceful plea on behalf of the Tamils. He said “The Tamils only asked for equal treatment in that common family of equal brotherhood. They said that though their territory was small and their numbers few, they should not be rated below their brothers. They were absolutely and indisputably right. They also said that, if there were to be given safeguards to minorities, the Tamil minority in Colombo which was a community considerable in numbers, which played an important part in the political, economic and social life in Colombo should be safeguarded. If Europeans in many towns needed to be safeguarded, they said, so did the Tamils in Colombo. Again they were absolutely and indisputably right”. He went on to say that “the Colombo Tamil Seat was beyond all doubt a minority safeguard”.

This act of the then powerful Sinhalese leaders though it had vociferous critics among the Sinhalese themselves created disillusionment, despair and embitterment in Sir Arunachalam. His cherished hopes of building up a free and united Ceylon were dashed to the ground. Again let me quote from Mr. Vythilingam’s Book – “It now dawned on him that all the fierce protestations of national unity and solidarity, of equality and fraternity and liberty for all, were mere claptrap, a ruse to beguile the unwary minorities into accepting a majority dictatorship.” How true those words are! This trend of beguiling and terrorizing the minorities including other unyielding socio-political groups to accept a majority dictatorship had progressively gone from then on until the present days with Pan Sinhala Cabinet, Sinhala Only Act, avoidance of our Appellate Court to determine the validity of the Sinhala Only Act in Kodeeswaran’s Case when the Original Court found it ultra vires the Constitution , by Pogroms and riots to displace minorities from southern areas, planned colonization of North Eastern Provinces with those from the South without giving first preference to the people of those Provinces, promulgation of the 1972 Constitution despite the refusal of the minority parties to participate, removing even the minimum safeguards for minorities provided by Article 29 of the 1948 Constitution thus compromising the secularity and neutrality of the Independence Constitution, Standardisation to prevent large scale minority entry into the Universities, and the  use of the armed might of the State on its citizens.

 In recent times we see the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka having a profound effect on the office of the President and the devolution debate. While it was earlier debated that the executive presidency should be abolished and the State’s powers must be shared by the majority with the minorities the end of the civil war had ushered in a new era. The defeat of the LTTE has provided an opportunity to reaffirm the country’s commitment to the need for the continuation of the executive presidential system and the rationale behind the 1978 constitution which since the coming into effect of the said constitution was in doubt. This is visible in the passing of the 18th Amendment which has further centralized power in the Executive Presidency.

On the devolution front, 18th of May 2009 has brought regression to the debate on devolution of powers. No more is the necessity felt that devolution to the minorities is necessary. This shows that the military strength and weakness of the LTTE reflected decisively on the constitutional forms of devolution that were under consideration by the State throughout the warring period. There was never a heart to give.

This feigning footwork in politics seems to characterize our leaders then and now. In an interview with the Times of Ceylon on 14th December 1921 Sir Arunachalam said – “My feeling is one of profound distress”. He went on to say that that the goal of responsible government cannot be reached unless there is mutual trust, harmony and co-operation between the various sections of our Island population. He further said that a blow had been dealt to the trust of the Tamils in the Congress and its leaders which spread to every other minority who realized that they would be dealt with in the same way.

Soon he founded the Ceylon Tamil League having all his life spoken of ‘ the  unification of the diverse peoples and races of the Island into one compact and coherent whole, binding them all together in one common loyalty, one common patriotism, while each remained true and loyal to its own heritage and tradition.”Of course Tamil audiences heckled him mercilessly at many meetings he addressed them thereafter. He soon died a sadder but wiser man. But the fact that he was able to understand reality and retrace his steps to try and discover a way out of the impasse created by him in pressurizing the Tamil Association to come into the fold of the Congress, when he was reaching his life span of three scores and ten on this earth spoke well of his integrity and at the same time his public spiritedness and dogged determination.

So far we have seen the Public Life of Sir Arunachalam both as a public servant and a politician. Let us now examine the fertile role that Religion and Philosophy played on his life.

In 1919 Sir Arunachalam contributed the inaugural message to his countrymen published in the first issue of the Ceylon Daily News where he said as follows- “In our zeal for public reform we must be on our guard against making it an end. We seek it only as a means to an end. We seek it not to win rights but to fulfill duties – duties to ourselves and our country…..People like individuals have each a divinely appointed end, a distinct task to perform”. He continued “I look to our youth to spiritualize public life and I believe they will do it. They will each seek his own well being in the well being of all, will identify his own life with the life of all and his own interest with the interest of all. They will lay at the feet of our dear Motherland the love-offerings of passionate service. They will work in unity ….” These memorable and inspiring words would correctly describe his vision and passion in life. His passion was to do service to mankind as his designated duty and his vision was unity of mankind in diversity. The concepts of duty and dharma were foremost in his mind. He had been attracted by the Eastern Ideals though he received primarily a Western Education. It may not be out of context to examine the Eastern and Western Ideals here, especially when dealing with the life of one nurtured in both outlooks. The philosophic background of these outlooks is what I wish to impress upon you.

The Eastern Ideals based on the wisdom of the ancient saints and sages were lost sight of and overwhelmed and submerged by the Western Ideals based on the Rights of the Individual after the Colonial powers took control of the countries  in  the East. From the middle of the 18th century number of changes took place in the West. In England the feudal system got shaken up. In France the system fell with a crash under the might of the French Revolution. Such sudden or gradual breakdown brought about in the West a rapid growth of the mundane mind dealing with concrete objects. This was the reasoning mind, the questioning mind, and the so called scientific mind. This mind takes for granted the “I” principle or the ahamkara which sees differences everywhere. It distinguishes the “I” and the “you” and this separateness gets stronger and stronger .The strengthening of the feelings of the personal self started growing on the basis “I am myself” ,”you are yourself”,” This is mine”, “That is yours” and so on. From this was born the Ideal of the Individual. Man was looked upon not as a part of the whole, a part of the Universe, but as an independent man, as a self reliant, self dependent being not depending on others but standing by himself with  a right to exercise all his powers for his own advantage. The society thus became a group of self reliant, isolated individuals. Then the question arose what of the society in which such individuals lived. Jean Jacques Rousseau provided the answer with his Social Contract Theory. He said “Man is born free”. Therefore none may command him except with his own consent.” Might was Right” was the corollary of Man being born free. If all are born free the strongest must survive and his might becomes the right. But even the strongest can sometimes get weakened. He might get old or feeble or diseased and weak. So Rousseau formulated the theory of a Social Contract. What that meant was that a man can give up some of his natural, inherent rights to do as he pleased to the society on a contract. That is in exchange for the protection of his other rights, man would not take from others by force when he was strong, if others would protect him in the enjoyment of his possessions when he was weak and feeble. That was how the modern jurisprudence grew – on a contractual basis. That is “I shall not murder” or “I shall not steal” in exchange for the society too not murdering me nor robbing me and further the society punishing the one who murders or robs me. The entire fabric of laws were built upon the theory of mutual agreement. No person may be ruled except with his consent was the basis of democracy. No person may have part of his property taken from him as taxes except with his own consent was another facet of democracy. The Policeman came in under the Social Contract. Normally if someone robbed you, you had the inherent right to knock him down and seize back the stolen goods. But now since the society looked upon you under this social contract you were asked to send for the Policeman.

                                          Thus the Rights of Man formed the basis of the Declaration of Independence by the American Colonies from the British Crown. It formed the basis of the French Republic. Thomas Paine’s famous “Rights of Man” became the battle cry of English Democracy too. So the ideal of the strong, free, independent man in whom various rights were inborn, inherent, incorporated became the foundation for the Western Ideal. Such an Ideal is not quite understood by the Easterners. They do not realize that to an Englishman, an American or a Frenchman on account of the historical conditionings they went through, tyranny and oppression are intolerable outrages. Such qualities on the part of the Governors are an insult to their personal dignity, to their self, to their pride of individuality. It is so even now. Our heads of States do not seem to appreciate this facet of Western orientation.

                                          There was a sense of Egoism in this orientation. The citizen enlarged his “I ness” and “my ness” to include his country as “my country”. This enlargement transformed into a militant Ideal. Thus the West became famous during the last three centuries for men of action rather than saints, sages and philosophers. The militarism in their thoughts fanned the aggrandizing spirit and arrogance in their attitudes. The habit of looking down on all other countries and carrying their own ways of life everywhere made the English for example a much disliked Nation. There was no doubt a time when the Sun never set on the British Empire. The Ideal of the free, independent, self reliant man standing apart took control not only the Englishman’s imagination but almost the entire Western Civilisation. In such an attitude there was the seed of separatism, there was the seed of conflict, there was the seed of warring factions pointing towards disharmony. When the “I” Ideal grows it must conflict with similar egotistic Ideals of another. Thus you will see that the Ideal of free, independent, self reliant man of the last three centuries had the characteristics of selfism which invariably  led  to war and disharmony. The only Peace and Harmony that might be countenanced by such culture would be one built on tolerance.

‘I don’t like you” ‘I don’t believe you” ‘I don’t understand you” and “I don’t trust you” but I will tolerate you so that we could keep the peace. This type of peace is not genuine. It is not built upon understanding nor mutual respect. Thus the individualistic Ideal built up selfism which is not conducive to Peace and Harmony.

                                            I must confess many an Eastern Country in the hands of leaders oriented in the Western Ideals or desirous of aping the West, is fast becoming more Western in its attitudes, assertions and belligerence.

The Eastern Ideal nurtured by our ancient saints and sages has been over shadowed by outside influences.

But Sir Arunachalam for one was appreciative of the Eastern Ideal.

                                           The Eastern Ideal is embodied in one word. And that is the word “Dharma” which in English due to the want of a better word could be translated as Duty. This Ideal is basically a by product of the Hindu Way of Life. The fundamental teaching of the Hindu Religion was Unity. Core of Hindu thought was that there was but One Existence in which all beings are rooted. However varied the appearances, however different the forms and structures all such differences branch out from a single trunk. Modern sub atomic researches have now confirmed the correctness of such an outlook. What it meant was that each person was but a part of a whole. Such a person was not independent. He or she was a part or portion of a vast interlinked and interdependent order. Such person was not as the Westerners thought born free. On the contrary he or she was born into numerous obligations. Thus the happiness of the individual could not be divorced from the happiness of the society. It was upon the harmony and due integration of the parts that the whole was able to be happy and contented.

                                            Thus an individual existed not for himself nor his separate ends. He existed for all and for the common ends. It is like a finger in a hand. It is part of the body. It exists in the body for the use of the body. A finger cannot call itself free to do as it pleased. It existed only for the body. So too Man was part of the larger society. If you think otherwise it would be the outcome of the illusion of separateness.                                                       

                                              Under such a view of man and society it was but natural that the Hindu society stressed not on individual rights but rather individual duties. Man was expected to recognize all his obligations and live as part of a greater whole not as an independent being. There was no need for a Social Contract which in any event was an artificial agreement or a legal fiction foisted on society. The truth was that every person was born into a society and with his or her birth obligations arose naturally.

                                              Though rights and duties are the two sides of the same coin the approaches were different. The perspectives were different. The standpoints were different. In fact our 1978 Constitution probably realizing this difference set out the Duties of the State and Individuals but made those provisions cosmetic by saying in Article 29 that they are not justiciable, not enforceable. Curiously the number of the Article (i.e.29) which made Duties directive and not enforceable was the same as that in the 1948 Constitution which formed the only safeguard for minorities.

When I speak from the standpoint of Rights I say – “This is mine. I demand it as my right”. But when looked at from the perspective of Duties I would say “This is yours. It is my duty to render it to you.”You would notice here the attitudes are also different. From the standpoint of Rights my attitude is one which is aggressive, combative and savours of separateness. From the point of view of Duties it is an attitude of yielding, peaceful and tends towards unity. When we are nurtured by a sense of duty we look at ourselves only in relation to others and we are interested in performing our duties only not in demanding anything for ourselves. The other important aspect of dutifulness is that one has to perform his duties even to the other who is undutiful. Under Rights if you fail to recognize the other’s rights then there is repudiation and the other person would break up any relationship he or she had with you. It is not so under Duty. The bond does not get broken even if one is dutiful and the other is not. The pith and substance of the Bhagavad-Gita is “Disinterested Devotion to Duty”. One does one’s duties whether the other person recognizes your action or not. The philosophical basis for this is that karma will look after the breach of obligations by the other. I need not do any harm to the other person.

                                           Thus from a Hindu point of view social leadership had been given from ancient times by the saints and sages setting up the norms and standards of behaviour for the society instead of politicians and generals. They stressed on duties and obligations than on rights and privileges. Peace and harmony could prevail only if we could calm down our aggressive egos as far as possible and consider the wants and needs of the other person. In this connection self analysis is very important. Unless we understand our strengths and weaknesses and adjust ourselves to the environment and to those around us we must expect quarrels and controversies. It is only the person who is duty conscious who could adjust to his environment properly.

Sir Arunachalam’s life reflects the Hindu ethos and ethics. He worked for the unity of mankind, integration of disparate groups. He had a vision for the Ceylonese nation. But when he found that such vision was not subscribed to by a group of selfish individuals who only paid lip service to such a vision only to further their parochial ends, Sir Arunachalam did a rethinking about his norms and actions. The formation of the Ceylon Tamil League was the outcome of such rethinking. When the Kaurawas would not part with any portion of the State power they  had  surreptitiously acquired unto themselves, the concept of Dharma and Duty demanded war by the Pandavas. Even though Sir Arunachalam formed the Ceylon Tamil League his goals and ideals still remained noble.  

He said at the second General Meeting since the inauguration of the Ceylon Tamil League as follows- “That does not mean that we are to be selfish and work only for the interests of the Tamil community.  Who have done more for the welfare of all Ceylon than the Tamils? Who has fought more vigorously for the welfare of the Sinhalese? In the ‘dark days of 1915 ‘ when our Sinhalese brethren were in distress and helpless who came to their rescue but the Tamils….’.  ‘……..the Tamils are not going to abandon the proud duty and privilege of service to all our brothers of every race and creed.’   But he continued and what he said then  were almost prophetic – “But we do object strongly to being bullied and terrorized, we object to being under dogs of anybody. We mean to make ourselves strong to defend ourselves and strong also to work for the common good……We cannot any longer afford to be   apathetic”.     

What we find in Sir Arunachalam’s life is that he believed that means and ends must both be noble.  Wrong means leads to wrong and adverse repercussions. Noble means, noble ideas, noble actions must certainly have noble consequences. Even when others resorted to deception and deceit though he felt sorry for them he did not thereby lose faith in his paramount duty of working for the common good. He brooked no ill-feeling towards those who let him down. Yet he was not prepared to be terrorized and subjugated. He was not daunted by the ephemeral incidents of life.  It was his religion which guided him whether it was during the days of his Public Service or later when he was in the midst of politics. Religion moulded Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam.  In that respect it was a life of Religion to Public Service!

I thank the organizers for giving me this second opportunity to dwell upon the life of an extraordinary Ceylonese human being.   

Justice C.V.Wigneswaran



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