Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Satyagraha of February 1961 in Eelam

by Sachi Sri Kantha, February 20, 2011

The next phase of the direct action took the form of satyagraha before Government offices in the Northern and Eastern provinces. The Federal Party made this decision unanimously. The date of the commencement of the satyagraha campaign at Jaffna was fixed as the 20th February 1961. Its ultimate object was to bring pressure upon the government by non-violent means to make it realise the just demands of the Tamil speaking people.

Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha

It is a pity that Tamils have been bad record keepers, when it comes to history. This is a double whammy. First, we are sloppy in writing our history. Secondly, whatever that was written and preserved gets lost periodically (1958, 1977, 1981, 1983 and from 1984 to 2009) by the pyromaniac vandals belonging to the Sinhalese tribe.

Among the handful of books in English about the 1961 satyagraha campaign initiated by the Federal Party in the North and East of Ceylon, I should note that V. Navaratnam (ex Federal Party MP for Kayts, 1962-1970) had devoted a chapter or two to the 1961 satyagraha campaign in his 1991 memoir The Fall and Rise of the Tamil Nation, as a leading participant. Another book authored by S. Ponniah (1963) with the caption Satyagraha and the Freedom Movement of the Tamils in Ceylon is of merit. In the past, I have liberally quoted from this book. But, I feel that the complete text deserves preservation. As there are altogether 22 chapters (as listed below),

S Ponniah 1963 Satyagraha and the Freedom Movement of the Tamils in CeylonChapter 1: A Glimpse of Ceylon History

Chapter 2: The Constitution and Tamils

Chapter 3: The Tamil Question; How Arose

Chapter 4: The Riots

Chapter 5: The Reasonable Use of Tamil

Chapter 6: On the Eve of Satyagraha, 1961

Chapter 7: The Satyagraha, 1961

Chapter 8: Satyagraha Continues

Chapter 9: Atlee Offers Solution

Chapter 10: Satyagraha Continues

Chapter 11: The Premier’s Broadcast: The Pros & Cons

Chapter 12: Some Highlights of Satyagraha

Chapter 13: Government’s Anti-Satyagraha Moves

Chapter 14: The Premier Returns from Commonwealth Premier’s Conference

Chapter 15: The Talks

Chapter 16: The People’s Post Office

Chapter 17: Satyagraha vs. Violence

Chapter 18: The ‘Iron Curtain’ – The Hardships

Chapter 19: The Curfew, Military and People

Chapter 20: The Tamil Question and the Ceylon Indian Tamils

Chapter 21: Why not the Federal System?

Chapter 22: Ceylon Today

to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Satyagraha campaign of the Federal Party, I have transcribed chapters 7, 8 and 9 from this book. Subtitles for chapters are as in the original. These chapters cover the events of February 1961. If I’m not wrong, among the individuals who appear in these chapters, all have passed into history; the solitary exception being Chelliah Rajadurai (born 1927), then the Federal Party MP for Batticaloa. I present these chapters from Ponniah’s book to show that Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s legacy to Tamils can be summed up as: First, sending the military to the North. Secondly, ethnic cleansing of Tamils from the Sri Lankan armed services. Kachcheri, is the recurring word in these chapters. In Tamil, it has two meanings. First, the main office in which government business is transacted. Secondly, a classical music concert held for public view.

Next month, I’ll transcribe chapters 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14. I will make a few more pertinent observations, comparing the Federal Party’s nonviolent campaign led by S.J.V. Chelvanayakam in 1961 to that of LTTE’s violent campaign led by V. Prabhakaran since 1980s.

Chapter 7: The Satyagraha, 1961 (pp.54-64)

The next phase of the direct action took the form of satyagraha before Government offices in the Northern and Eastern provinces. The Federal Party made this decision unanimously. The date of the commencement of the satyagraha campaign at Jaffna was fixed as the 20th February 1961. Its ultimate object was to bring pressure upon the government by non-violent means to make it realise the just demands of the Tamil speaking people. By way of strategy, the Federal Party aimed at disorganizing the working of the Jaffna kachcheri by preventing its officers from entering the kachcheri office.

Jaffna satyagraha 1961

It was made public that Mr. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam would inaugurate the satyagraha campaign by leading volunteers from his own constituency in the morning of Monday 20th February 1961. At 7:30am satyagrahis occupied all the entrances to the kachcheri. All of them wore volunteer labels issued by the party office. But the number of satyagrahis was by no means heartening. In all there could not have been a couple of hundred. In the main entrance itself there were just 40 to 50 of them. Mr Chelvanayakam was seated there in their midst dressed in simple white. His characteristic smiles were betrayed now and then by a worried look that smacked of anxiety. What will come of this movement? Will it fizzle out in disgrace? Mr Chelvanayakam seemed to question himself. It was indeed a touching sight to see the revered leader of the Tamil speaking people and father of the freedom movement seated for long hours in spite of his age and sickly physical condition. The Federal Members of parliament, Dr. E.M.V. Naganathan, A. Amirthalingam, V.A. Kandiah, V. Dharmalingam, V.N. Navaratnam and K. Thurairatnam were on the spot and were giving directions to volunteers as to their conduct on the occasion.

Crowds began to collect on the pavement opposite to the entrances to the kachcheri. In half an hour, the streets and lanes approaches and pavements were filled with people. All eyes were focused on the satyagrahis. About quarter to nine, battalions of police arrived on the scene in jeeps, trucks and vans with speed and arrogance. The police force wore helmets and twirled their batons. They carried shields and held them in a somewhat unaccustomed fashion. At five to nine the Superintendent of Police, Mr. C.R. Arndt also arrived in a jeep. He drove direct into the kachcheri premises and the satyagrahis made way for him as it was part of their instructions that police and army personnel on duty should not be prevented from going in and out of the kachcheri premises. He inspected from inside all the entrances that were blocked by satyagrahis. Probably, he was trying an opening to take government servants into the kachcheri as it was already 9 o’clock.

Main entrance

Finally he ordered the constables to stand closely in two rows across the main entrance. They obeyed, but stood over the satyagrahis who were seated. Mr. Arndt then made an appeal to the government servants to go to that entrance. Just two or three officers were seen going in that direction. At once the satyagrahis stretched themselves on the ground to prevent their ingress into the kachcheri premises. The Federal Members of Parliament also joined the ranks and lay prostrate on the ground obstructing the government servants on their way. This led to lot of pulling and dragging by the police. Some of the satyagrahis were carried away by the police by their hands and feet and heavily dropped or banged against the ground that bristled with sharp stones and rubble. Some others dragged by their legs violently, while others were pushed and knocked against the gate walls. As a result, several satyagrahis sustained bruises and swellings. Between the police and satyagrahis there was a mad scramble to secure their positions at the main entrance. In the process, the police inflicted violence on the satyagrahis who meekly suffered it without protest or retaliation. One Francis Pereira, a Tamil who hailed from Chilaw, gallantly stood up all the inhuman treatment he was subjected to by the police as he sought to foil their attempt to create an opening through this entrance. He must have been lifted and hurled on the ground more than fifty times. His shirt and pair of trousers were torn to pieces.

As the police were thus, cruelly ill-treating the satyagrahis, a large number of men from the crowd rushed to the entrances and replaced the dislodged satyagrahis. Hundreds of them mobbed the main entrance to secure squatting positions. No self-respecting Tamil would have remained silent over the humiliating treatment and insult heaped on the peaceful satyagrahis by the police. All differences between the Tamils, whether political or otherwise, dropped even as the rustling dry leaves from the trees at the blowing of a wind. The wave of united resistance was spontaneous and the author too, found himself on the crest of that wave. Federalist or non-federalist, it did not matter. At the main entrance alone the number of satyagrahis was found to have risen from 40 to nearly 200. In the face of the swelling numbers of satyagrahis the police abandoned their attempt to create an opening and stood up and gazed.

A few minutes later, however, some of the leaders of the Federal Party appealed to all those who were not approved volunteers and did not wear badges to leave the entrances giving them the assurance that their services would be called for if necessary. Non-volunteers accordingly left the entrances. At the main entrance there were still about a hundred satyagrahis even after non-volunteers had left. That was because some of the reserve volunteers, who had stood by to mmet a contingency of this nature had taken up positions there.

Old Park Entrance

Upto now all attention was focused on the main entrance. Hardly any one knew that the Old Park entrance was to spring into importance. 20th February was the day of the opening the Assize Sessions at Jaffna. The opening was to be at 11 am. The satyagrahis except the Federal Members of Parliament were not aware of this; nor did they know that the government agent, Mr. M. Sri Kantha would have to leave the kachcheri for the Assize Sessions, opening in his capacity as fiscal marshal to present the mandate. Those Federal Members of Parliament who were aware of it were told that the government agent would be deputized by another officer of the kachcheri and that this officer would leave for the Sessions from his own residence and not from the kachcheri. There was no truth in this story, but there was a plan in it.

Police Atrocities

It was 10:30am when Mr. Sri Kantha came out of his kachcheri residence in a police jeep accompanied by Mr. C.R.Arndt, Superintendent of Police and a constable. When the satyagrahis at the Old Park entrance saw the government agent driven close to it, they in all about 20 to 25 lay prostrate on the ground blocking the path of the jeep and denying exit through this entrance. Nevertheless, the driver drove in and the front wheel tyres nearly got on to the necks of certain satyagrahis , but they would not budge. A youth of 20 named Palaniappu nearly went in under the wheel. The Superintendent of Police, unhesitatingly, ordered the police force to ‘hammer them out and clear the way’. At first the police party hesitated, impelled by their good sense. Repeated orders by the Superintendent of Police, compelled the police to plunge into action. They baton-charged the satyagrahis as they lay prostrate on the ground. The youth who was nearly under the font wheel was extricated rashly by the police and baton-charged mercilessly on his head. He was in a serious condition. Several others were subjected to the same inhuman treatment.

While all this happened in a minute, the Federal Members of Parliament were still at the main entrance. On seeing the commotion they all rushed to the Old Park entrance. Dr. Naganathan blocked the passage of the jeep in which the government agent was seated. Messers V.A. Kandiah, A. Amirthalingam, V. Dharmalingam and K. Thurairatnam prostrated themselves in front of the jeep. The police attacked the five members with their batons. The baton-charge on the doctor was so severe that the baton broke into two. One of the broken pieces got into the doctor’s hand and he tossed it aloft which produced considerable amusement in spite of the occasion. But he took great care not to use it in retaliation on the constable although he was so close to him. The constable looked small and ridiculous! The other four Members of Parliament sustained injuries and some of them seriously. Their shirts and other articles of wear were torn to pieces. They were removed to hospital for treatment.

At the Old Park entrance there were more constables than satyagrahis. This indicated that the police had known that the government agent would leave for the courts by this entrance and that there would be trouble in consequence. As stated earlier, this was not known to the satyagrahis. There were two to three constables to every satyagrahi. They bodily carried away a few of the satyagrahis and thereby created an opening and the jeep driver at once drove the jeep through the entrance. The police assault was unbearable to some men in the crowd. They threw stones at the jeep and the police. The windscreen of the jeep was smashed. But the driver did not stop and he made full use of his skill and in an instance the jeep vanished. Mr. M. Sri Kantha, too made good his exit.

The police renewed their attacks as stones fell on them. Stones for stones they returned. It was not without reason that the police had brought sacks of stones in their trucks. They knew that there was every possibility of the crowds being provoked by their wanton and cowardly acts. More vehemently they struck on the satyagrahis although the latter were seated with folded arms and did not stretch a limb against them. A good number of them bled profusely and their head injuries were prominent as blood issued forth. The police with their boots on, trampled on the peaceful satyagrahis. They behaved like hooligans without responsibility, discipline or decency. Their atrocities on the unarmed and undefended satyagrahis aroused the feelings of women too. A young women called Alagammah and Mrs. Mangayarkarasi Amirthalingam wept as they saw these cruelties and, eventually, they flung themselves in the thick of the commotion and stood between the police and satyagrahis.

Exemplary Conduct

Meanwhile reserve volunteers who had stood by, rushed to the entrance and occupied it. Even members of the public crowded this entrance. It was packed to more than its capacity. From a handful of 20-25 satyagrahis the number rose nearly to five hundred. In spite of this number the satyagrahis conducted themselves with the utmost degree of restraint sufferance which came up to Gandhian standards. Their exemplary behaviour moved the more enlightened and disciplined section of the police force.

The Crowds

As a contrast, the crowds became excited and angry. Of course they had been sufficiently provoked by the police. As the city became alerted, more people began to surge in. The police force found the situation alarming. They used tear gas and fired thrice in the sky to disperse the crowds. But the crowds did not move; nor did the satyagrahis move away. The Federal leaders on the other hand feared whether the peaceful satyagrahis would turn violent. They appealed to the crowds to be calm and reminded them tht satyagraha was just the opposite of violence. The crowds obeyed them and left the entrance. But the volunteers, including the reserve, remained.

Tamil Public Servants

Tamil public servants who were close to the entrance and on their way for duty were assaulted indiscriminately by police constables. The kachcheri was completely deserted and no work was done there. A government communiqué later claimed that work was transacted at the kachcheri as usual. This was untrue. Out of a strength of about 250 officers only three or four officers reported for work. These officers were anti-Federal and went into the office at dawn; i.e. before the satyagraha started. They were asked to sign the register and go home but they could not leave the office till 1:30pm when the satyagraha was called off for the day. Most of the public servants said they would not attend office unless their personal safety was guaranteed against police assault. The Jaffna branch of the Government Servants Clerical Union telegraphed to the head of the government protesting against the police violence on the government servants. They also intimated to government that they would not work unless an inquiry was held forthwith.

Chelvanayakam’s Statement

Earlier at the commencement of the satyagraha campaign, Mr. Chelvanayakam issued the following statement:

“The campaign we are carrying on now is new to Ceylon, though it has been practiced and developed in India especially during the struggle of the Indian people against British rule in India. We have no alternative. To desist from action would be to betray the trust that our people have placed in us. The necessaryelements for the success of a campaign like ours are: (1) That it is used in support of a just cause; (2) That it is by the desire and aspiration of the people; (3) The moral strength and discipline of those who carry on the campaign and those on whose behalf the campaign is carried on must be above board.

Democracy is not merely rule by a majority. It is based on certain ideals and principles which any majority must not infringe. To give a simple illustration the majority in parliament should not pass a law that all the people belonging to a minority group should have one of their arms amputated. No civilized being would defend such a measure on the ground that it represents the view or opinion of the majority of members of the legislature. Something very similar to this illustration is what is happening in Ceylon to the language of the Tamil-speaking people. A non-Tamil-speaking majority in parliament has decreed against the status of the Tamil language in spite of the determined and almost unanimous opposition of the Tamil-speaking people.

The Tamil-speaking people have put up a strenuous struggle for the adoption of Tamil as a language of administration and of the Courts in the Northern and Eastern Provinces and for the use of Tamil in the rest of the country. But the government is proceeding to impose Sinhala in these Tamil-speaking areas as well. This is a most wicked policy of the Government. It cannot be explained away by falling back on the plea that it is sanctioned by the majority in parliament. The whole Tamil-speaking nation revolts against these measures and the question is what we should do now.

Should we stand by and witness the liquidation of our race or should we act in similar circumstances? Gandhi and the Indian National Congress resorted to action which was against the law of that country, but was characterized as moral and patriotic conduct. Our party has decided likewise. We are prepared to face the consequence of our actions which consequences may be serious. We have no alternative. To desist from action would be to betray the trust that our people have placed in us.

We have no misgivings about the strength or the capacity of the government to resort to repressive measures and oppress our people. One thing is certain. Our campaign cannot result in danger, unless we or our actions are disowned by our people. The measure of its success depends on the extent to which our people get trained to resist the unjust measures of the government that rules them without their consent.”


Police violence on unarmed and undefended satyagrahis was the subject of talk all over the peninsula in the streets and the villages; in the fair and in the town, in the bus and in the train. There was a general sympathy for the satyagrahis and for the movement as a whole.

In Colombo, Mr. J.R. Jayewardene, Cief Opposition Whip – a leading Sinhalese, told reporters that police violence against the Federal Party satyagrahis would be raised by the Opposition in the House of Representatives (on 21st February). He said that the matter would be raised ‘not only because of assault on the satyagrahis but also because five Members of Parliament had been dealt with in a totally unwarranted manner’. Mr. Pieter Keuneman, a Burgher and 2nd Member of Parliament for Colombo Central, said – ‘This government should hold an inquiry into these incidents. From the reports it would appear that the police have used a degree of force far in excess of anything warranted by the situation.’

Mr. A. Aziz of the Ceylon Workers Congress who visited Jaffna with Messers K. Rajalingam and S. Somasunderam said – “I am highly impressed with the orderly and peaceful manner in which the satyagraha campaign is being carried on inspite of all provocations. It is an acid test of their ability to suffer in the name of a just cause…It is a cowardly act to use violence on nonviolent satyagrahis and the whole police force should be ashamed of this dastardly assault.”

“The police seemed to have run amok”, said Mr. S. Somasunderam, an outstanding member of the Ceylon Workers Congress. He went on, “The police have behaved in a callous manner and obviously exceeded their rights in assaulting and injuring the Federal Party satyagrahis. The fact tat the government clerks, who had nothing to do with the satyagraha were also assaulted by the police is evidence that the police have acted in an utterly irresponsible manner.” Mr. Bernard Soysa, a leading Sinhalese Member of Parliament, who visited Jaffna and made an on-the-spot investigation said – “the Police have acted stupidly and cruelly.”

When Earl [Bertrand] Russell performed satyagraha at the entrance to the Defence Ministry in London along with about 6,000 demonstrators, he took umbrage at the remark that they were being tolerated by the police. Probably he would have been shocked to see his counterparts at the Jaffna kachcheri entrance treated in such a butal fashion! The Times of Ceylon in its editorial of 22nd February 1961, aptly described the difference between the London police and the local police in these words: “It is noteworthy that Earl Russell’s and Federal Party’s were both nonviolent demonstrators but the significant difference was that while Russell and his followers had to deal with the disciplined London police, the Federal Party had to reckon with the Ceylon police.”


Chapter 8: Satyagraha Continues (pp.65-77)

The second day of the satyagraha commenced at 7:30 am the following day, i.e. 21st February. The satyagrahis were led by Mr. A. Amirthalingam, Member of Parliament for Vaddukoddai. There were about 150 satyagrahis. Already there were large crowds not less than 5,000 and they appeared to be rather restless. Obviously the previous day’s incidents had perturbed them.

At 8:30 am the police party arrived. They again, carried with them shields, batons and helmets. But most of them did not have the vigorous look they had the day before. Instead, they looked tamed and quite. Probably, their own reflections on the cowardly violence and brutality they inflicted on the peaceful satyagrahis who were seated inanimate objects had put them to shame. They conducted themselves with marked restraint and nodded smilingly to the satyagrahis. The Superintendent of Police and his assistants were their like spectators and far from interfering with the satyagrahis, they seemed to have developed a sudden sympathy for them and an appreciation of the just cause they were pursuing.

Except the Assistant Government Agent and three clerks who had entered the kachcheri office at dawn long before the day’s satyagraha commenced, the entire staff of the kachcheri struck work. They said they had no confidence in the police and that they could not work in fear. The public servants insisted on an inquiry within three days in the assault of public servants by the police. They would not attend to their office work, they maintained, unless this inquiry was held. They however, maintained an attendance register outside the kachcheri. A committee of twenty was appointed by them to deal with the situation that had arisen.

As a protest to the police violence on the satyagrahis, the city fathers hoisted a black flag on the Town Hall building. The students of the Technical College, Thirunelvely, marched out in a procession protesting against the police atrocities. Students of the leading colleges of Jaffna deserted their colleges and marched in a lengthy procession and finally assembled in front of the kachcheri entrances. A good number of them insisted on joining the ranks of the satyagrahis although they were advised to the contrary by the Federal Party leaders. A woman also volunteered to perform satyagraha, but she was promised that she would have her day. One of the keen observers of the movement was Mr. R.R. Crossette Thambiah, QC, the eminent lawyer and scholar of Colombo. He evinced considerable interest in the movement and was seen talking to a number of people in a fervent and earnest manner.

Satyagraha on the third day started with a bit of a tussle between the satyagrahis and the police, the police to maintain an opening for the government servants  to go into the kachcheri office and the satyagrahis to block the entrances. The police had arrived at the kachcheri at dawn long before the satyagrahis and kept guard over all the entrances. They were brandishing their batons with truculence. Half an hour later a contingent of about 300 satyagrahis arrived led by Mr. V.A. Kandiah, MP for Kayts. They took up their positions in front of the police blocking the entrances. The number of satyagrahis swelled rapidly. At one of the minor entrances police attempted to drag and pull away the satyagrahis who were there. At once more satyagrahis were rushed to that entrance and the police had to abandon the entrance. A little later the entire police force receded into the inner premises of the kachcheri and waited there. The police however, before they abandoned their guard over the entrances, offered to take in some of the public servants who were there. But they declined it with a quick nod.

On the fourth day of satyagraha, women flock plunged into the movement. About 5400 satyagrahis were led by Mr. V.N. Navaratnam, Member of Parliament for Chavakachcheri, and nearly 80 of them were women who squatted at the main entrance and performed satyagraha. They were headed by Mrs. Rajapoopathy Arunasalam, president of the Federal Party Women’s Front. In a forthright statement to the press, she said, “The question that confronts the Tamil-speaking people of Ceylon today is whether our progeny – more than the present generation- shall have the right to continue to exist as a self-respecting national entity. Our men-folk engaged in peaceful satyagraha were subject to a most inhuman and brutal assault by forces of the present tyrannical government. We cannot conceive of a more sacred duty than to stand shoulder to shoulder with our men-folk and share their trials and tribulations. Come what may, we propose to stand by their side.”

No incidents whatever occurred and the satyagraha peacefully ended for the day at 4 pm.

All Parties Conference

In the evening at 6 pm, there was a conference of all the political parties of Jaffna. Its chief object was to convert the Federal Party movement into an All-Party movement to win language rights. They discussed at length the details of strengthening the movement. Representatives of all the parties, except the Communist Party attended the conference. Those who attended the conference were: M. Sivasithamparam, Member of Parliament and M.M. Sultan (Tamil Congress), R.R. Dharmaratnam, S. Visuvanathan, N. Devapalasundaram and A. Dhuraisingham (Lanka Sama Samaja Party), S. Kathiravetpillai and S. Nadarajah (Federal Party), Haji V.M.S. Aboosali and the Mayor of Jaffna Mr. D.S. Thurairajah, who convened the meeting. The striking feature of the conference was the unanimity of thought, decision and action. They passed the following resolution: (1) to require the government to give statutory recognition to Tamil; (2) conference to take steps to strengthen the satyagraha movement; (3) conference condemns the police violence on the satyagrahis; (4) to require the government to appoint a commission to inquire into the police atrocities.

Batticaloa and Trincomalee

On this day, the Federal Party branch of the Batticaloa district unanimously decided to stage a hartal on 27th February, as a protest to the police violence. It was also announced that satyagraha might start at Batticaloa any time thereafter. The Federal Party Members of Parliament, Messers C. Rajadurai and S.M. Rasamanikkam and other leaders of the area decided on what steps should be taken to start the campaign. Similar decisions were made at Trincomalee by a committee of Federal Party leaders of the district presided over by Mr. N.R. Rajavarothayam, Member of Parliament. They had already made an appeal to the public servants of this area not to transact any business in Sinhala.

The 5th day of satyagraha at Jaffna was conducted peacefully. The satyagrahis were chiefly from the Udupiddy constituency, and were led by Mr. K. Jayakody, the Federal Party candidate who contested this seat in 1960. There were more than 500 satyagrahis and a good number of them were women volunteers. Mr. M. Tiruchelvam, QC, ex-solicitor general of Ceylon was found among the satyagrahis. A long procession of students arrived from Urumpirai, about six miles from the kachcheri carrying placards and uttering slogans.

Vavuniya and Mullaitivu

The news was suddenly divulged that the Member of Parliament for Vavuniya, Mr. T. Sivasithamparam had started satyagraha at the Mullaitivu police station with about 500 volunteers. The people of Mullaitivu arranged a meeting on 24th February to protest against the police cruelties on the satyagrahis at Jaffna. As the meeting commenced, the police seized the microphone, Mr. T. Sivasithamparam, Member of Parliament for Vavuniya and Mullaitivu, intervened and tried to prevent the police from taking it away. But the police snatched it and took it to the police station. The people led by Mr. Sivasithamparam followed the police to the police station and demanded the microphone. On refusal by police, they at once squatted and commenced satyagraha at the police station under the leadership of Mr. Sivasithamaparam. They refused to go away until the microphone was taken back to the venue of the meeting. Police orders, manoeuvres and even subsequent entreaties failed to bring the satyagraha to an end. After three hours, the police took back the microphone to the venue of the meeting, fitted it and kept it ready for the meeting. The people who followed the police, assembled in the venue in large numbers and insisted on the meeting being held though late. Mr. T. Sivasithamparam who addressed them said that very soon civil disobedience movement would be started at Vavuniya to win the rights of the Tamil speaking people.

The other speakers wee Messers I.U. Marikkar, A. Samoon, A. Sinnappen, S. Sanmugam and E. Chelliah. Messers Marikkar and Samoon emphasized the importance of Tamil-Muslim unity and condemned those favourite Muslim of the government who were ready to barter their basic Tamil rights for their selfish benefits at the hands of the government. They warned the Muslim community against being trapped by the pretensions of such government stooges who talked glibly of protection of Muslims at the cost of fundamental rights of language etc. They also pointed out that in everything such stooges said and did, they had an axe to grind. They finally issued the warning that after Tamils, Muslims would be the next target for oppression by the government.


The initial phase of direct action at Mannar started this day; i.e. 24th February, when a party of volunteers organized by the Mannar branch of the Federal Party led by Mr. V.A. Alegacone, Member of Parliament, went carrying placards to the public offices viz. the kachcheri, post office, executive engineer’s office, police office etc. and distributed  leaflets among Tamil public officers exhorting them not to support the government in its implementation of the Sinhala Only Act and not to transact any business in Sinhala. Large crowds collected to witness this event and they cheered the volunteers in their task.

Satyagraha for the 6th day in succession commenced at the Jaffna kachcheri at 7:30am on 25th February. The number of volunteers was unusually big and they were led by Mr. M. Balasunderam, Member of Parliament for Kopay. This was the day for Kopay volunteers. They went in procession accompanied by thousands of people. Over their heads were conspicuous life-size painted pictures of the late Mr. C. Vanniasingham, the former Member of Parliament for Kopay, who was their idol.

The satyagrahis alone amounted to more than a thousand and being a Saturday, the number of spectators rose to nearly fifteen thousand. The crowds of people had to keep on moving as the kachcheri precincts were not spacious enough to contain them. Volunteers from Mullaitivu also joined the satyagrahis. Among them was Mr. T.M. Sabaratnam, one time Member of the Legislative Council.

Law Students

About 20 law students participated in this day’s satyagraha. They carried placards and one of them had the following: “Tamil is sweet and dear to us; when she dies out soul dies.”


Muslim residents of Jaffna went out this day in procession led by Muslim leaders and joined the satyagrahis. More than two thousand participated in the procession. The Muslim volunteers included lawyers, business magnates, boutique keepers and workers. They were prominent in their fez caps and sang hymns in Tamil and Arabc. Several wealthy Muslims served the satyagrahis with drinks, biscuits and lunch packets. One of their elders was heard to say in a loud voice, “Our Muslim youth must know that Tamil is our first language; it is our wealth; it is our comfort.” Again on 28th February, a huge Muslim procession was organized. All shops were closed. The procession was led by Messers M.M. Sultan and V.M.S. Aboosali.

For the sixth day in succession no work was done at the kachcheri and the administration at Jaffna was completely paralysed. The government agent, Mr. M. Sri Kantha, who had experienced the excruciating ordeal of going out of his residence through a crowd of peaceful satyagrahis with broken heads and bleeding injuries had gone on a month’s leave. The assistant government agent, who woke up these satyagraha days with the cock crow, got into the habit of going to the kachcheri at 6 am, long before the arrival of the day’s volunteers. He must have been contented, at noon, with the parcel of sandwiches, he used to carry with him. He was, at the time, almost the sole occupant of the entire kachcheri and must, certainly, have felt himself placed in the pleasurable and elated situation of being the sole monarch of all he surveyed within those precints. Daily at about 5 o’clock in the evening when the day’s satyagraha had ended, this officer could be seen leaving the office with the satisfaction of having marked his attendance on the office register. Members of the Government Clerical Service Union met Mr. Moorthy on 24th February and told him that they were unable to attend office as they were faced by the satyagrahis on the one hand, and an infuriated public on the other. They also told him that they would not work with the protection of the police in whom they had no confidence. General Secretary of the Government Clerical Service Union who was included in the delegation, said that this delegation would press the government for a public inquiry into the police assault on public servants.

On 26th February, speaking at a meeting of Indian Tamils in the Valukkapparai Estate, Mr. S. Thondaman, Member of Parliament, said: “Suppression of the Federal Party campaign would mean a suppression of Tamil language and culture. The Ceylon Workers Congress which has been striving  for years for the betterment of the workers would not hesitate to play its part for the rights of the Tamil-speaking people… Now let us all get ready, even if it means a fight. If that situation arises we must have food and clothing to last three months.” He concluded his speech amidst thunderous applause.

27th February was earmarked for Uduvil volunteers who were led by Mr. V. Dharmalingam, Member of Parliament for Uduvil. All cigar-rollers, boutique keepers and farmers gave up their work that day to participate in the satyagraha. Muslim establishments in Jaffna also were closed to enable the Muslim employees to participate  in the satyagraha – this being the day fixed for Muslim workers. The Muslim procession alone counted nearly 3,000. Even the city fathers went out in procession headed by the Mayor. They carried black flags and at the end of their procession they joined the ranks of the satyagrahis who had swelled to more than 2,000 at the kachcheri entrances.

At Trincomalee, a mammoth meeting was held at the esplanade at which representatives of all parties and interests of the Tamil-speaking people spoke. The keynote of their speeches was the urgency and importance of the unity of the Tamil-speaking people. They all pledged their support to the satyagraha movement. This memorable pledge was signed in blood by a number of persons. Mr. N.R. Rajavarothayam, Member of Parliament for Trincomalee, presiding over this meeting vouch-safed that the struggle launched by the Tamil-speaking people was not a struggle against the Sinhalese people. He appealed to the Sinhalese residents of Trincomalee to support the direct action of the Tamil-speaking people as it was aimed at winning their fundamental rights. His appeal met with a spontaneous ovation from the Sinhalese crowd assuring him of their support for the just cause. Mention should be made of the active support given to this cause by the Communists of Trincomalee. The behaviour of the Communists of Jaffna was a great contrast and by this the people of Jaffna were led to believe that they were playing the role of fifth columnists for the communal Government of Ceylon! It appears that these Communists had pursued the election results of March and July 1960 which had established their colossal defeat in Jaffna, with a degree of vengeance that had blinded them even with regard to their own fundamental rights!

Batticaloa Hartal; Then Satyagraha

On 27th February throughout Batticaloa a complete hartal was staged as a protest against the police atrocities perpetrated on the peaceful satyagrahis and Tamil public servants on 20th February. Waves of black flags darkened the sky; black flags were flown on Town Hall buildings, shops, houses and even tops of trees. In all government departments, no work was done. Traffic throughout Batticaloa town was at a standstill. Shops and hotels were closed, including those of Sinhalese residents. Buses were plying almost empty. Students deserted their schools and colleges which had to be closed at noon for want of attendance. Students picketed students from going to schools. They squatted at the entrances of several schools and colleges preventing even teachers from attending them. There wee huge processions of motor cars, motor bicycles and bicycles bearing placards, black flags and Tamil Sri. Many vehicles flew the Federal Party flags. Slogans and ovations were heard everywhere. Even the street workers and scavengers of the Batticaloa town struck work and joined the processionists. The Member of Parliament for Batticaloa, Mr. C. Rajadurai said, “The hartal has made it clear that the whole of Batticaloa protests against the police violence on the satiyagrahis.” He also assured that satyagraha at Batticaloa would start the next day, i.e. 28th February. Earlier leaflets were distributed by Federal Party supporters led by the Members of Kalkudah, Batticaloa, Paddiruppu, Kalmunai and Pothuvil, to all public officers working at Eravur, Senkaladdy, Valaichenai, Kaluvanchikkudy, Nindavur and a number of other areas.

The following day, i.e. 28th February, at Batticaloa satyagraha commenced for the first time at 6:30 am in front of the kachcheri. About 600 volunteers from all parts of Batticaloa set out from the Federal Party branch office at the Main Street in a procession towards the kachcheri. The Satyagrahis at the front entrance were led by Messers S.M.Rasamanikkam, President of the Federal Party, and Member for Padiruppu, and C. Rajadurai, First Member of Parliament for Batticaloa, while the satyagrahis at the rear entrance were led by Mr. P. Manikavasagar, Member of Parliament for Kalkudah. There were about 80 women satyagrahis.

Despite the burning heat of the Sun, the satyagrahis remained at the entrances throught the day. A good many fasted the whole day, refusing to take even water. To them the occasion was a solemn one, every moment of which signified the earnest endeavour of the Tamil speaking people to win their fundamental rights, the sanctity of which they would like no one to violate. They sang devotional songs and spent the rest of the time in prayer. There was not the slightest trouble from the police. The quiet behavior of the Batticaloa police was a marked contrast to the conduct of the police in Jaffna. Probably, the public condemnation of the police atrocity on undefended satyagrahis had produced some effect on them. Police came in their jeeps in large numbers but did not give any provocation and stood like spectators. The Superintendent of Police and the Assistant Superintendent of Police also came to the scene fairly frequently but did not interfere in any manner.

Only on the night of 30th March 1961, when satyagraha was performed both day and night, that a contingent of about 20 or 25 police constables and inspectors made deep stir and excited themselves and the public when they rushed over the satyagrahis into the Bank of Ceylon office (Batticaloa branch) armed with batons, rifles and bayonets. They did so on information given by a police on duty at the bank office that some noise was being heard inside the bank and that he suspected burglary. The police party, on its arrival, looked here and there into the office building through the available openings, but no one could be found.

‘Tada! Tada!’ came the sound from the office. ‘There is it. Did you hear?’ ‘Don’t take me for a mad man’, said the police constable who had summoned the police party with an air of satisfaction. Again there was a mad scramble around the bank office to catch the thief. But no thief was caught. ‘Tada! Tada!’, again came the sound more vehemently and frequently. It appeared to be an inexplicable mystery. Some constables  got on to the roof, some surrounded the building, some ran out to fetch the keys and one of them violently pulled out a window, put on the light switch, which he had known to be close to that window and in the light looked into the office. Just as he looked in, by happy coincidence, he heard the sound and saw how it was produced. What did he see? To his astonishment, he saw a huge map of Ceylon fastened on a wall lifted by the wind and the lower frame of that map striking violently on the wall and producing that exciting sound ‘Tada! Tada!’. The constable’s face beamed as that of a great explorer when he realized he had found the thief! The constable’s discovery both startled and humoured the entire police party and all of them left the premises on their tiptoes, half ashamed and half amused.

No work whatever was done at the kachcheri that day. Public servants did not at all enter the kachcheri premises. All of them signed the register that was kept in a garage close by, outside the kachcheri and went back. Mr. B.R. Devarajan, Government Agent, Batticaloa also came to the kachcheri entrance, but he was refused entry. He however got down from his car, had a close look at the satyagrahis and had a talk with the leaders, S.M. Rasamanikkam and C. Rajadurai and went away quietly. Close observers remarked that Mr. Devarajan’s lips began to move involuntarily to the accompaniment of a song sung melodiously at the time he was amidst the satyagrahis. He was just captivated by the devotional ecstasies of the occasion. Mr. Devarajan told the gathering that he had made arrangements to have rice rations issued. Other offices in the kachcheri premises such as the Bank of Ceylon (Batticaloa branch) did not function as the officers could not cross over the satyagrahis.

Lawyers Object

The Point Pedro lawyers, this day, suddenly turned satyagrahis and obstructed all work in the Magistrate’s Court of Point Pedro and its offices. This signified their protest to the police violence on satyagrahis at Jaffna and their opposition to the Languages of the Courts Act. They carried placards and one of them contained the following “Tamil is the language of our Courts”. All sections of the lawyers, whether they belonged to the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, the Federal Party, the Tamil Congress or were independent, participated in the satyagraha. The Member of Parliament for Udupiddy also was seen in their midst seated in front of the Court. This day the lawyers of the Magistrate’s Court of Jaffna passed a resolution at a meeting of theirs that they would stage satyagraha at the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court to indicate their protest against the Language of the Courts Act.

The satyagraha at the Jaffna kachcheri on this day (i.e., 28th February), included six Sinhalese. The whole time they were seated at satyagrahis, they engaged the attention of all spectators. In fact they were the central figures of attraction. They sat in the front row, cheerful with nods and smiles for the spectators. One of them, a trader, offered food to the satyagrahis. A middle aged Sinhalese satyagrahi was heard to say, “The Jaffna people are very good people to live with. They are good neighbours. The Government is not fair to them. It is trying to divide us and poison the peaceful atmosphere in which we all live.” He said these words in a firm and serious tone. The satyagrahis were led by Mr. K. Thurairatnam, Member of Parliament for Point Pedro.


Chapter 9: Atlee Offers Solution (pp. 78-85)


The Government get alerted

When the House of Representatives assembled at 2pm on 28th February, Mr. W. Dahanayake, Member of Parliament for Galle and a Sinhalese leader, speaking on the condition prevailing in the North and East, said that the incidents happening in the Northern and Eastern provinces had gone beyond control of the government. “What will Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s Government do if the Federal Party or the Tamil speaking people decide to run a parallel government in their provinces?” He exhorted the government to make a sane approach to the language problem and give Tamil its rightful place. Similar views were expressed by Dr. N.M. Perera and many other members of the House of Representatives.

Troops Airlifted

As conditions were in the two provinces, anything could have happened if only the Tamil speaking people had decided. It was as if they woke up from a reverie that the ministers came to appraise of the real position in these areas when member after member of the House spoke with a note of admonition and exhorted the government to solve the language problem in full. The government felt as if it had received a shock but was, still, not interested in finding a solution to this vital problem. Instead, it adopted a tough line to quell the satyagraha campaign. Accordingly the following day, i.e. Wednesday March 1st, troops were airlifted from Ratmalana airport to the Northern and Eastern provinces. It was reliably learnt that the armed services had been instructed to clear the government offices of all satyagrahis. It was the determination of the government that the administration in the North which had been paralysed by satyagraha should be restored at all costs.

Mr. A. Aziz of the Ceylon Workers Congress, in a press statement said: “I have read with very grave concern the reports that army and navy personnel have been sent to the Northern and Eastern provinces. The statement by Mr. Felix Dias Bandaranaike from the floor of the House yesterday also indicated that the government had no intention of making any effort to solve this problem. Perhaps they hoped to be able to quell it by adopting a tough line. This attitude was unfortunate as it was unrealistic because it was the fight of a people for their language and culture which was being trampled under by the powers. A tough line cannot settle this issue; it can only strengthen further the determination of the Tamil speaking people. I still appeal to the government to realise the fact that the country needs economic development at this moment. What is happening now will ruin all efforts in this direction. I only hope that even at this late stage government will take the initiative to call the Federal Party leaders to a conference to discuss the matter with a view to negotiating a settlement. ”

But the words of wisdom very seldom prevail on perverse natures. It is a case of ‘whom the Gods wish to destroy they first make them mad.’

Satyagraha in Jaffna was further intensified on March 1st when satyagrahis barricaded the offices of the Divisional Transportation Officer, District Agricultural Officer, the Assistant Commissioner of Excise, the Assistant Commissioner of Local Government, and the Election Officer, Forest Officer, Educational Office and the Office of the District Registrar of Births and Deaths. No work whatever was transacted in these offices.

On March 1st, Navy men were stationed at various spots outside the kachcheri. They were armed with rifles and bayonets. The Captain of the Navy, Mr. Rajan Kadirgamar, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Mr. Vandenburg and another high naval authority arrived at Jaffna. They inspected the satyagraha affected spots in the company of the Superintendent of Police, mr. C.R. Arndt. The military authorities declared the roundabout at the kachcheri junction as a prohibited area. They formed a cordon around the spot and prevented satyagrahis and members of the public from moving about the place. Even the Federal Party Members of Parliament were disallowed. Dr. E.M.V. Naganathan and a few others insisted on their freedom movement and even broke the cordon in some measure.

Women satyagrahis, however, continued to sit at the entrances and refused to leave them. As the army and navy were engaged in preventing male satyagrahis from reaching the entrances, women volunteers managed to slip through the cordon and swell the ranks of the women satyagrahis ‘How did  all these women manage to come here?’ inquired a high-ranking naval authority, hardly able to conceal his astonishment. Gradually, men satyagrahis began to mob at this cordon with the object of reaching the entrances. This led to a good deal of harassing of the satyagrahis by the armed forces. The crowds, annoyed by the behavior of the army and navy rushed in large numbers and occupied the entrances despite vigorous obstruction by the forces. The movement of the crowds became so massive and quick that it went beyond the control of the armed forces and the number of satyagrahis rose to thousands.

Nearly a thousand students from Urumpirai went in a procession towards the kachcheri. When the procession was a few yards away from the ‘prohibited area’ at the kachcheri, navy men stopped it and asked the students to disperse. Refusing their orders they squatted down on the tarred road which had reached melting point owing to the burning heat of the mid-day Sun. Spectators were so moved that they requested the students to leave the road. Again they refused to disperse and performed satyagraha there for nearly four cruel hours. Some of the spectators climbed adjoining coconut trees and brought them leaves to sit on, which they acknowledged with thanks. They rejected their luch and even soda water. Later some naval authorities who came there in the company of the Superintendent of Police asked the students where they were bound. ‘We are going to fight for our rights’, came the reply. The students were then allowed to proceed to their destination. Besides, ten thousand students, both boys and girls marched in a mammoth procession to the kachcheri. Students of Jaffna College, Jaffna Hindu College, Vaideeswara College, Kokuvil Hindu College, Jaffna Central College, St. Johns College, Urumpirai Hindu College, representatives of the Tirunelvely and Kandarmadam Young Men’s Associations participated in this procession. It is heartening to realise that the youth of Jaffna spontaneously showed their love for their language, national entity and fundamental human rights.

On 1st March, when a procession of 700 satyagrahis arrived early morning within a distance of 500 yards from the Batticaloa kachcheri, the police superintendent stopped them and told that they could not proceed towards the kachcheri. ‘The road is common to us all and we have the right to proceed’, replied Mr. S.M. Rasamanikkam, Member of Parliament for Padiruppu. But the army, navy and the police would not listen to reason and they refused entry. The satyagrahis then squatted at the three-street junction close to the kachcheri. The military, thereupon erected a barbed-wire barricade at the spot where the three streets met. The armed forces, then took their positions near the barbed wire barricade.

Not a single officer however, was able to penetrate the ranks of the satyagrahis and enter the kachcheri. Mr. B.R. Devarajan, who told the satyagrahis that he had received orders to go to the kachcheri for work requested them for permission to go in. With one voice they said ‘No No’. Mr. Rasamanikkam on their behaf, told him that their grievances were just and their rights far outweighed the convenience of a government agent or even the government. He was refused entry. As more troops arrived the Batticaloa Urban Council at an emergency meeting held that day, unanimously decided to warn the government against the possibility of creating a grave situation in Batticaloa by rushing down troops. The resolution called upon the government to withdraw forth with the armed forces out of the urban council limits if it wanted peace in the area.

In the House of Representatives on 1st March, Dr. N.M. Perera criticized the manner in which troops had been deployed by the government to the Northern and Eastern provinces. “Under what Act was the Government acting?” he enquired.

Mr. W.Dahanayake: ‘Under the Lunacy Act’.

Dr. N.M. Perera: ‘Yes, the Government has acted foolishly indeed.’ He said that as a result of a few blunders committed by the government, the present situation had arisen. He also had to remind the House that there were megalomaniacs in the Cabinet.

Mr. Felix R.Dias Bandaranaike, Minister of Finance and Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, said in reply that the armed forces were sent in anticipation of a possible breakdown of the administration. He also denied that there were megalomaniacs in the Cabinet. The same Minsiter, the previous day (i.e. 28th February) had defended in the House that the police violence inflicted on the satyagrahis was reasonable and justifiable!

The ministers completely disregarded the criticism and advice of the Opposition and decided to rush down further troops to the North and East. They also decided not to negotiate for settlement of the language question. This decision was in pursuance of a resolution brought by Mr. D.P. Wickremasinghe, Member of Parliament for Mahawattagama, and seconded by Mr. Wijebahu Wijesinghe, Member of Parliament for Mirigama.

Earl Atlee

Earl Atlee, former Labour Prime Minister of Great Britain and one of the greatest statesmen of all times and one who had done much to preserve the Commonwealth links by his liberal negotiations visited Ceylon during these days of satyagraha. At a press conference in Colombo on 2nd March, when he was asked about his impression of political developments of Ceylon since its independence, he forthrightly remarked that he had not heard much about Ceylon’s political development but that it was ‘having teething troubles like anybody else.’

 ‘In a democratic country like Britain or say even Ceylon, can people organize demonstrations and voice their opposition to any parliamentary legislation?’ enquired Mr. K.P.Haran, the editor of the Eela Nadu.

Earl Atlee: ‘Oh yes, we are always doing that in England’.

Then he went on to cite an instance where he was taking round an American visitor to the United Kingdom. At Hyde Park, they both stopped their car to listen to one of the speakers at a meeting. The speaker was, then denouncing the government and its administration. The American knew that the speaker was doing a terrible thing. He looked at the policeman on duty. To his profound surprise, the policeman hastened to the car and asked the driver to switch off the car radio so that they could hear the speaker well!

At this conference, Earl Atlee also observed that minority rights could be safeguarded in the following manner. (1) could be protected by law; (b) by representations in parliament; (3) by a spirit of toleration in a majority. He finally concluded that to be able to run the administration of the country efficiently and benevolently, there should be trained personnel gifted with tolerance, tact and vision.

Subsequent handling of the satyagraha by the Ministers however, established the fact that the politicians in power were unable to appreciate the wisdom of that great statesman, but to be frank amply betrayed their ignorance, tactlessness and rawness in political administration.

As armed forces were being rushed to the North and East, and as grave events were happening affecting the very basic structure of Ceylon’s society, the government tabled a motion in the House of Representatives on March 2nd that the House should adjourn till 2pm on April 4th. It was rather strange that when parliament should meet as often as possible to discuss and settle the important matters during these days of crisis, the government sought to fight shy of parliament, the body of people’s representatives and to adjourn its sittings for a long span of time. This came under severe criticism by the Opposition.

Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, MP asked whether the government proposed to present a fait accompli to parliament by adjourning parliament till April 4th. He said the government should allow parliament to govern. Mr. Pieter Keuneman, MP reminded the House that the Finance Minister had stated that the government should govern or get out and that now the Finance Minister was getting out (meaning thereby that he would accompany the Premier who would leave the following day for the Commonwealth Premiers Conference in London). He pointed out that the situation was so grave that parliament should meet daily if necessary.

In reply to a question as to why armed forces were rushed to the North and East, the Prime Minister said in the Senate on 2nd March: “There is no government in the Northern and Eastern Provinces”. The kachcheris were not functioning and she could not allow the situation to continue. The police were not sufficient and the armed services were sent to assist the police, she said.




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