60th Anniversary of May 1958 Anti-Tamil Riots – Part 1

by Sachi Sri Kantha, April 20, 2018

Sachi (5 years old) with younger sibling at Mullaitivu house

In 1958, I was a five year old, living in Mullaitivu town with my parents and younger sister Kanchana. Then, I was in my first grade. That my father was affiliated to the Base Hospital, Mullaitivu, in the government clerical service explains the situation why I was there. My maternal grandparents Thiyagarajahs were living in a farm land at Thachadampan village, traversed by the Mullaitivu – Mankulam trunk road (now A34). I hardly remember anything about the 1958 anti-Tamil riots and what happened in other regions of the then Ceylon. Of course, I could notice that there was anxious talk between my parents and discussions with our Tamil neighbors by them, but I couldn’t grasp the seriousness of their concern. We had only a big radio at home to pick up the ‘latest’ news. Telephone was indeed a luxury item, not seen and never heard of.  Then, Mullaitivu was included in the dispersed Vavuniya electoral constituency, represented by eccentric Tamil academic turned politician, Professor Chellappah Suntheralingam (1895-1985).  And it was in the Vavuniya town that the Federal Party led by S.J.V. Chelvanayakam had scheduled its annual convention in the last week of May 1958, when the anti-Tamil riots flared up in Colombo and elsewhere.


Chronology of Prominent Events linked to the Conflict, 1957-1958

1957 July 26: Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and Federal Party leader S.J.V.

Chelvanayakam signed the well-known B-C Pact. [Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957 – Tamil and English texts]  In the photo presented nearby, Bandaranaike and to his left Chelvanayakam are seen. To the left of Chelvanaykam, few of his party representatives seated can be identified – V. Navaratnam, E.M.V. Naganathan and (probably) V. Kandaiah. I cannot identify the individual seated between Chelvanaykam and Navaratnam. He may be C. Vanniasingham. If wrong, I stand corrected.

1958 March 1-2: Bandaranaike addressed the Annual Session of SLFP convention held in

Kelaniya, in which he said, ‘an honourable solution was reached.’ [Bandaranaike’s address, SLFP convention, Mar 1958 – in English]

Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact meeting July 1957

1958 April 1: Campaign of obliterating Tamil name boards commenced.

1958 April 9: Bandaranaike abrogated the B-C Pact, due to pressure exerted by

Buddhist Bhikkhu front.

1958 May 4: J.R. Jayewardena organized first political rally for UNP in Malvana,


1958 May 22: Tamil civilians were attacked in Polonaruwa railway station.

N.R. Rajavarothayam, then MP for Trincomalee

1958 May 23-25: Federal Party convention held in Vavuniya. N.R. Rajavarothayam’s

presidential address was delivered on 25th. [N.R. Rajavarothayam address, FP convention, May 1958 – in Tamil]

1958 May 25: Murder of D.A. Seneviratne, ex-Mayor of Nuwara Eliya.

1958 May 27: Curfew imposed.

1958 June 1: Emergency situation pronounced.

1957 July 7: Curfew lifted.


Descriptions of Six Other Writers excluding Tarzie Vittachi

For better or worse, the 1958 ethnic riots and Tarzie Vittachi’s book ‘Emergency ‘58’ have become synonymous in island’s recent history.  I’ll provide the merits as well as bias and demerits of Tarzie Vittachi’s work in the next part of this series.  Prior to that, in this part, I provide descriptions by six other writers: Howard Wriggins, N. Sanmugathasan, K.M. de Silva, T. Sabaratnam, S. Sivanayagam and V. Navaratnam. Among these, other than Howard Wriggins, the other five are Sri Lankans – two politicians (Sanmuagathasan and Navaratnam), two journalists (Sabaratnam and Sivanayagam) and one academic (de Silva). Sabaratnam and Navaratnam have described eyewitness incidents in brief.


 — Howard Wriggins (1960)

Howard Wriggins (1918-2008) was an American academic, who subsequently served as the American ambassador to Sri Lanka, during President Jimmy Carter’s tenure. Two paragraphs from his book, ‘Ceylon: Dilemmas of a New Nation’ (1960) offer the following facts:

“The Federal Party’s annual public meeting was called for late May. The conclave was to decide whether or not to undertake a Satyagraha campaign now that the prime minister had withdrawn his support from the agreement he had endorsed a year before. The outbreak of violence began when a train, presumed to be carrying Tamil delegates to the meetings, was derailed and its passengers beaten up by ruffians. The next day Sinhalese laborers set fire to Tamil shops and homes in nearby villages where they lived intermingled with Sinhalese. Police stations were surrounded by large crowds and their communication cut so that effective protection to scattered Tamil residents could not be assured despite many instances of police heroism. Arson and beatings spread rapidly to Colombo. Gangs roamed the districts where Tamils lived, ransacking and setting fire to homes and cars, and looting shops. Many were subjected to torture and some killed outright. The outbreaks threatened to become religious riots when a Hindu priest and temple were burned and a Buddhist temple demolished. Some ten thousand Tamils were reported to have fled their homes to seek safety in improvised refugee camps established in requisitioned schools and protected by police and army units. Many fled to the north by sea. About two thousand Sinhalese in the north similarly sought camp protection.

The troubles had begun on May 23. After three days of terrifying disorders, the prime minister broadcast a message to the people, urging them to remain calm. But his reference to a prominent Sinhalese who had been killed in Batticaloa only insensed the Sinhalese masses the more and the riots grew in intensity. On May 27, the prime minister finally made his decision and asked the governor general to declare a state of emergency. The toll during the days of disorders included an estimated 300-400 killed, over 2,000 incidents of arson, looting, and assault, and 12,000 Ceylonese transformed into homeless refugees.”


— Sanmugathasan (1974)

While being held in detention during the first JVP insurrection in 1971, in his book, ‘A Marxist looks at the history of Ceylon’ (1974), Communist Party (Peking wing) leader Nagalingam Sanmugathasan (1920-1993) provided his anti-Federal Party view as follows:

“The Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact was possibly the best compromise possible under the circumstances. But it was not given a chance. The UNP tried to fish in troubled waters, and organized a March to Kandy to mobilise opposition to the Pact. Bandaranaike probably rose to his greatest height as a statesman in his defence of the Pact. His famous – probably his best – speech made at the Bogambara grounds, Kandy, will always be remembered as embodying all that was best in him. But the chauvinist elements in his camp also rebelled. Instead of coming to his help, the leaders of the Federal Party chose this very moment to launch the silly anti-Sri campaign. The Pact was torn up. The Anti-Sri campaign of the Federal Party was countered by the tar brush campaign led by the Sinhala ‘warrior’ K.M.P. Rajaratna in the South, in the course of which Tamil words on public places were all obliterated by a liberal application of tar.

Tension mounted on both sides, till it lead to the worst communal blood bath in Ceylon’s history. It is an event, about which every right thinking Ceylonese should hang down his head in shame. It will remain a permanent blot on our country’s history. Overnight, men turned into beasts, and descended to the level that they could pour petrol over and set fire to people with whom they had no quarrel, except that they spoke a different tongue.

The immediate cause for this dreadful outbreak must be shouldered by the extremist leaders of the Federal Party, who started the anti-Sri campaign, the fanatical communalists among the Sinhalese, who let loose the tar brush campaign, and the helpless indecisiveness displayed by the Bandaranaike government, as the movement spread. Only a declaration of a state of Emergency brought the situation under control. The fact that the Tamils stranded in the South had to be taken to the North by ship represented the lowest ebb to which communal relations between the Sinhalese and the Tamils had fallen in recent times.

The riots were also a reflection of the political bankruptcy of the Federal Party, whose leaders were detained during the early days of the Emergency. It was powerless to look after the interests of the Tamils, it claimed to represent. But it continued its sterile course – preaching communalism in the North, estranging even progressive Sinhalese opinion by opposing every radical measure brought forward by the two Bandaranaike governments, e.g. the Paddy Lands Bill, the Schools Take Over, etc., and living in the hope that they would be able to act as arbiters between the two rival groups of Sinhalese politicians, and thus strike an opportunistic bargain for the Tamils…”


— K.M. de Silva (1981)

Professor K.M. de Silva’s description in his ‘A History of Sri Lanka’ (1981), is meager and limited to only two sentences!

“…Led by a group of bhikkhus who performed satyagraha on the lawn of his private residence in Colombo, the extremists in his own party compelled the Prime Minister [Bandaranaike] to abrogate the pact [B-C Pact]. The tensions generated by these pressures and counter-pressures erupted once again in race riots in May 1958.”


— K.M. de Silva and Howard Wriggins (1994)

It appears that Professor de Silva had saved some details of the 1958 riots for insertion in his biography of J.R. Jayewardena, who undoubtedly played a spoiler/irritant role to Prime Minister Bandaranaike.  De Silva had access to read Jayewardena’s personal diaries as well.  I provide excerpts below.  Words inserted within parentheses in the diary entries of Jayewardena are as in the original.

“…As the pressure mounted Bandaranaike found little support in the cabinet for proceeding with the implementation of the pact he had signed with Chelvanaykam. Nor did he show any firmness of purpose or any determination to implement the agreement in the face of the opposition that was emerging, and the reluctance of his cabinet colleagues to commit themselves to supporting the pact. But it was not dissident elements in the Cabinet or in the government that eventually forced the issue and compelled the Prime Minister to go back on the settlement he had reached with the leader of the Federal Party, but a group of bhikkhus who began a satyagraha campaign and used the lawn of the Prime Minister’s private residence for that purpose. Among the most prominent of these militant bhikkhus was the Revd. Baddegama Wimalawamsa.”

We turn again to JR’s diary and the entry for 9 April.

‘The Buddhist priests who sat in Rosmead Place and sought entry into Bandaranaike’s house were successful. B[andaranaike] announced over the Radio at about 4 pm that he was not implementing the Pact.”

JR commented that:

‘This is disgraceful conduct on the part of a P[rime] M[inister] who had signed an agreement.’

He welcomed this new and unexpected development nevertheless:

‘Met Dudley and drafted a statement welcoming the abrogation which we have always wanted and carried on an agitation [against] from the day the pact was announced.’


Bandaranaike, for his part, placed the blame for the breakdown on the Federal Party, and with good reason…..”

de Silva and Wriggins then provided excerpts of Bandaranaike’s speech made in the parliament on November 21, 1958.  Make a note that Bandaranaike made this speech, six months after the anti-Tamil riots of May 1958.  The version of de Silva and Wriggins on how J.R. Jayewardena ‘picked up the proverbial fumbled ball and ran to score a goal’ for his party is as follows:

“The failure to implement this pact, we need to repeat, impaired Bandaranaike’s political credibility and made him more vulnerable to pressure groups within the coalition of political forces he led, and also from opposition forces such as the UNP who naturally assumed that there were now greater opportunities than before for political initiatives directed against a weakened administration. JR was quick to grasp this latter point and he moved swiftly in an attempt, largely unsuccessful, to forge links with dissident groups in Bandaranaike’s camp, including those who held ‘fundamentalist’ views on language policy.

At this time, the UNP had begun a series of public meetings to publicize the policies incorporated in its new manifesto. On 4 May JR organized his first political rally at Kelaniya after his defeat there two years earlier. He chose the village of Malwana,a party stronghold, for this purpose. Earlier, just after the abrogation of the pact was announced, he had addressed a meeting at the Abeysingharamaya, a Buddhist vihara in Maradana in a crowded part of the city of Colombo, and spoke on the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact, welcoming its abrogation. In that speech he excoriated Bandaranaike as a man,

‘who was prepared to barter away the rights of the Sinhalese and one who had broken his word’ [foot note: J.R. Jayewardene Mss, JR’s diary entry for 12 April 1958]

He returned to these themes, again and again, at meetings in Colombo and its suburbs at this time….

Worse still, the pressures and counter-pressures on language policy, of which the abrogation of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanyakam pact was only one feature, erupted in another bout of ethnic violence in the last week of May 1958, vividly described by Tarzie Vittachi in his Emergency ’58. [foot note: Tarzie Vittachi’s account of these riots published in London in 1958 is still the only one we have of these events. It is far from being a comprehensive survey.]  These riots were more widespread than those of 1956; some of the most ferocious clashes occurred in the Eastern Province with its mixed population and in the North Central Province.  Over 500 people were killed and memories of these events would further poison relations between the two communities.”

In the first paragraph cited here, reference is made to Bandaranaike’s Cabinet members. Who were these individuals, who held diverging opinions from that of their leader in 1958?  13 individuals, other than Bandaranaike were,

C.P. de Silva – Minister of Lands and Land development and Leader of the House

Dahanayake – Minister of Education

Senator M.W.H. de Silva – Minister of Justice

P.H. William de Silva – Minister of Industries and Fisheries

Stanley de Zoyza – Minister of Finance

Philip Gunawardena – Minister of Agriculture and Food

T.B. Ilangaratne – Minister of Labour, Housing and Social Services

Senator A.P. Jayasuriya  Minister of Home Affairs

Jayaweera Kuruppu – Minister of Local Government and Cultural Affairs

C.A.S. Marikkar – Minister of Posts, Broadcasting and Information

Maithripala Senanayake – Minister of Transport and Works

R.G. Senanayake – Minister of Trade and Commerce

Mrs. Wimala Wijewardene – Minister of Health

There was a token Sinhalese woman with a dubious reputation and wealth (who herself was listed as the sixth accused in the Bandaranaike assassination case subsequently) and a token Muslim.  No elected or unelected Tamils were in Bandaranaike’s cabinet.  There were two Leftists, Philip Gunawardena and William de Silva, who resigned subsequently on conflict in policy directions.  Members who held ‘fundamentalist views’ on language policy included the right-leaning Charles Percival de Silva – then the leader of the House.  Then, there was the eccentric W. Dahanayake, who succeeded Bandaranaike as a stop-gap prime minister.


— Navaratnam (1991)

Federal Party’s veteran leader V. Navaratnam (1910-2006) wrote his memoirs, ‘The Fall and Rise of the Tamil Nation’ (1991), after he had retired to Montreal, Canada. When the 1958 riots occurred, he was residing in Colombo and practicing as an attorney in the Colombo bar.  Subsequently, he was elected to the parliament in a 1962 by-election to the Kayts constituency on the FP ticket. From memory, he described the dilemma he faced when subjected to mob attack, as follows:

“On the day following the Vavuniya convention, the goon squads of the Singhalese hoodlum army took over the task of dealing with the Tamils. They went on a rampage of senseless destruction and wanton brutality. Starting first with the Pettah in Colombo, where most of the Tamil business houses and shops were concentrated, they attacked, smashed, looted, applied torch and destroyed shops, houses, buildings and vehicles. They beat up and thrashed every Tamil they could lay their hands on. By nightfall the mob violence spread out to every corner of the city of Colombo and its suburbs.

That night a mob of about 40 or 50 thugs attacked my residence at Hulftsdorp in Colombo although it adjoined the Ministry of Justice and Supreme Court buildings and entrance had to be gained through the Court gates. They hurled at least 25 Molotov’s cocktails (petrol bombs) calling out my name with every throw. The front part of the house was smashed, and the furniture, doors and frames caught fire and burned. My wife and I and a house-aid by the name Muthusamy, a brave man of the Thevar clan of Tamils, were the only adults in the house. We gathered our little children, all 14 to 1½ years of age, and telling them to run wherever they could if anything happened to us, we ourselves took our position by the door leading into the living room ready to face the worst. The mob, however, made no attempt to enter the house but passed on when their ammunition was exhausted.

I learnt later from a mutual friend that the attack on my house was planned and organized by a Member of Parliament at a Buddhist temple in Maradana. I guess he had instructed his men not to cause bodily harm to the inmates while attacking my house. This friend, himself a Singhalese Buddhist of the finest quality and refinement, had made several attempts to warn me in advance but was unable to contact me owing to my absence in Vavuniya.

The next day I noticed that the local thugs had taken over the situation and kept my house under observation, possibly for loot. With the help of a Singhalese lawyer friend of mine, I escaped with the family to take shelter in a relative’s home on the other side of the Supreme Court building abandoning my wrecked house. The relative’s house was in the Muslim quarter of Hulftsdorp and was thereafter relatively safer.

Dr. E.M.V. Naganathan came to visit me in the evening with Balasubramaniam, a young officer in government service with strong Federal Party sympathy. He insisted on going to my wrecked house to retrieve some essential articles without heeding my protests. An hour later he returned with his clothes drenched in blood that was streaming from head injuries. His car was smashed. A few hoodlums had attacked with burning bricks soaked in petrol. He and Balasubramaniam had given chase to the ruffians with hockey sticks in their hands, but they disappeared into the maze of the District Court buildings.

I rushed to Dr. Naganathan to Dr. Sulaiman’s private hospital at Grandpass and had him attended to. In that hospital I saw sights which God forbid any man to see. Victims of Singhalese mob violence were writhing in agony, not just fighting to retain life. They bore eloquent testimony to the type of horrible brutality and torture which some human beings could inflict on their fellow human beings. Who can help developing a bitterness of feeling against those who could inflict all this suffering for no reason except that the victims were Tamils?

In three days the mob violence against the Tamils engulfed all parts of the country and was unabated by any official action. It was not until the Prime Minister was prevailed upon by the Governor General Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, whom some prominent Tamil citizens of Colombo had interviewed, that action was taken. The Prime Minister SW.R.D. Bandaranaike then invoked the Public Security Act and declared a state of Emergency under which the army and naval forces were called out to restore law and order. An island-wide curfew was clamped down, and eventually the situation was brought under control by the firm and disciplined action of the then security forces.”

Dr. Naganathan (1906-1971), mentioned above was not a stranger to mob attack. Though well known and respected in Colombo circles by virtue of his profession as a family physician, being an active frontline Federal Party leader, he had been attacked previously during Federal Party’s 1956 satyagraha campaign as well. Subsequently, from 1960 to 1970, he became an elected FP legislator representing the Nallur constituency.


— Sabaratnam (1996)

In his biography on A. Amirthalingam, ‘The Murder of a Moderate: Political Biography of Appapillai Amirthalingam’ (1996), Sabaratnam offered the following nuggets:

“At that time I lived in Colombo. I witnessed the incidents that took place in the capital city. I saw hordes of thugs being ferried from Avissawela, the constituency of Philip Gunawardene, the Minister of Agriculture. Thugs also came from Moratuwa, Panadura and other suburban towns. They joined those from Colombo and burnt cars, torched hotels and eating houses, looted shops and some houses owned by Tamils. Rioting also spread to government offices. Tamil officers were assaulted by their own junior staff. Tamil commuters were pulled out of buses and trains and manhandled. The worst incident took place at Panadura. A Hindu priest was dragged out of the Panadura Ganesh temple, doused with petrol taken from the adjoining petrol station and torched alive. It wounded Hindu pride and sentiment. It was the incident that influenced LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, then a young boy, to take to violence.

Things took a turn for the worse the next day. Riots spread to the hill country. This made many prominent citizens pressurize Bandaranaike to make an appeal for calm. Bandaranaike addressed the nation over the radio on 26 May. His speech inflamed the Sinhalese instead of calming them. His reference to the murder of D.A. Senaviratne, former Mayor of Nuwara Eliya, did more damage. In his address Bandaranaike said, ‘An unfortunate situation has arisen resulting in communal tension. Certain incidents in the Batticaloa district where some people lost their lives, including Mr. D.A. Senaviratne, a former Mayor of Nuwara Eliya, have resulted in various acts of violence and lawlessness in other areas, for example, in Polonnaruwa, Dambulla, Galewela, Kuliyapitiya, and even in Colombo.’

Bandaranaike, thus, made the shooting of Senaviratne the official cause for the uprising, although the communal riots started with the stoning of the Batticaloa mail train on 22 May, a day before the killing of Senaviratne. Chelvanayakam made this sequence clear in parliament two weeks later when he spoke on the riots. He established that the murder of Senaviratne was the result of a private feud….”

Sabaratnam also had described the censorship imposed, on his riot-related reports, as follows:

“I had just then taken to serious reporting after having served for 15 months with the Tamil Thinakaran. Most of my reports were censored. I preserved most of them. Three of them are of relevance to this story.

The first report was an interview with Amirthalingam. It reads:

‘The Federal Party Youth Front leader A. Amirthalingam issued an appeal yesterday to the Tamil youth to protect Sinhala brethren living among them and warned the government that unless it takes steps to end rioting, it would be difficult for the Federal Party to contain the Tamil youth. He told the Thinakaram that Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike should take the entire blame for the rioting in the country, and said his failure to honour the pledge given to them to implement the B-C Pact within six months was the prime cause for the violence. ‘He gave enough time for the dead UNP to resurrect itself and gave a free hand to the extremists within his party to whip up Sinhala communalism’, Mr. Amirthalingam said. He also took Mr. Bandaranaike to task for selectively arranging the sequence of events to suit the government and added that the slaying of former Nuwara Eliya Mayor Seneviratne was a murder committed by his enemies.

The rest of the story dealt with the incidents and the sufferings of the Tamil people. The Censor passed the first part of the opening paragraph and scored out the rest of the story with a red pencil.

The second report was on the condition in the refugee camps. I visited the refugee camps in most parts of Colombo and wrote an article on the mood of the refugees. The story dealt with the experiences of the refugees and about the lack of facilities in the refugee camps. It read:

‘There was a general feeling of anger and annoyance among the Tamil refugees in the 12 refugee camps spread over Colombo city and most of them said the riots had sowed the seed of separation.

Mr. V. Kandaiah, a trader from Pettah, summed up the predicament of many of Colombo Tamils: ‘I lost my shop. I lost my house. I lost everything. That does not matter. My family had lived in Colombo for three generations. We have developed a sense of belonging to Colombo. Now, I have been rudely told that I don’t belong to Colombo. That is what I cannot understand, apprehend.’ Mr. Kandiah added, ‘Now I must look for my roots, that I have been told that I belong to Jaffna and nowhere else.’

For Mr. V. Shanmugalingam, a government servant, it was more a case of injured pride than physical or property loss. His Sinhalese neighbor had hidden him and his wife in the toilet and the two children under a bed for two nights and a day and then sent them to the refugee camp. ‘I am forever indebted to my Sinhala friend and his family for protecting us. That was a personal obligation. But why was I made to hide in his toilet? I will never forget or forgive the race that did that to me,’ he said.

Most of the refugees were anxious to go back to their homes in Jaffna or Batticaloa. They said they were told that ships were being arranged to take them to the northern port of Kankesanthurai….”


— Sivanayagam (2005)

In his memoirs, ‘Sri Lanka: Witness to History’ (2005), journalist Sivanayagam presented his observations as follows:

“At the annual sessions of the SLFP held at Kelaniya on March 1-2, the Prime Minister defended the B-C Pact as an ‘honourable solution’. Speaking in parliament on April 8, he tried to put up a brave front and virtually indicated that he would go ahead with the implementation of the Pact. The Prime Minister’s hands were forced within 24 hours of his speech, and a publish disowning of the Pact followed. The draft legislation was relegated to the dustbin of history, preceded by a political blackmail drama staged at his own doorstep by his own supporters led by Buddhist monks. About 200 Buddhist monks, accompanied by 300 others squatted opposite the Prime Minister’s residence from 9 am. The Prime Minister who was away, returned in the afternoon accompanied by some Ministers and listened to the denunciation of the Pact by the monks. After a quick consultation with his colleagues, he announced that the Pact would be abrogated. But the monks were not prepared to accept his word. They insisted on a written pledge. Mr. Bandaranaike went into the house, and Minister of Health Mrs. Wimala Wijewardene (whose credentials in the whole affair were suspect) returned, bringing the Prime Minister’s written pledge.

In order to cover his discomfiture the Prime Minister made a broadcast to the nation the same night in which he blamed the Federal Party leader’s action in defacing the Sinhala ‘Sri’ symbol as ‘having created a new situation’, thereby implying that led to his abrogation of the Pact. It was an abject surrender on the part of Bandaranaike, but having marshaled those very forces to help him to come to power, and become both their leader and creature in turn, it was inconceivable he could have remained an unfettered head of government for long. By mid-April, threats to law and order had become increasingly evident.”

On the Federal Party’s convention held at Vavuniya in May, Sivanayagam reminisced as follows:

“While violence was being let loose elsewhere in the island on the 23rd, the town of Vavuniya was wearing a festive air on that day. Delegates to the FP convention (and others like me, mere observers) were pouring in from the north, east and Colombo. The ebullient Independent MP for Vavuniya, C. Suntharalingam was a strong critic of the FP, but that did not prevent him from going about in an open jeep with his henchmen, providing what he said ‘protection’ to visitors to his constituency. On the 25th, the final day of the Convention, the party endorsed a resolution to launch a civil disobedience campaign on August 20, and we all boarded the empty train that had arrived from Anuradhapura to take us to Jaffna. The mood on the train was upbeat, largely ignorant as we were of the monstrous happenings taking place elsewhere. Party volunteers had persuaded the engine driver to permit the party flag to be hoisted at the top of the engine, making it a Vavuniya-Jaffna FP special! By arrangement with the driver and guard, the train stopped midway between two stations at Eluthumatuval, to enable those who wanted to pay their last respects to the Tamil police officer who was killed on the 23rd, and whose home happened to be there. Jaffna itself seemed surprisingly quiet as we arrived, although news of violence in the south was trickling through. It was not until two days later that angry crowds began to gather in Jaffna town, bent on violence. The Buddhist Naga Vihare in the town was stoned, and the Buddhist temple in the island of Nagadipa off Jaffna was partly destroyed. Sinhalese residents including the popular long-standing resident Ariya Pathirana were not harmed however.

Meanwhile, the refugee movement from Colombo to Jaffna had begun. The government requisitioned five British ships and one French vessel to transport nearly ten thousand men, women and children out of an estimated twelve thousand housed in temporary refugee centres. The operation directed by the Navy was carried out in two stages, during the nights of June 2-3 and June 5-6 under conditions of complete secrecy. About 2,000 Sinhalese were similarly transported from Jaffna to Colombo on June 3, despite the fact that no attempt was made to do bodily harm to any of them. The government claimed it was a precautionary measure and stationed a permanent army unit in Jaffna under the command of Col. F.C. de Saram, an all Ceylon cricketer. That marked the first presence of the military in Jaffna, nearly two decades before the advent of the Tamil Tigers.”


While Communist leader Sanmugathasan placed the blame partially on Federal Party’s extremist leaders for their “silly anti-Sri campaign” in Jaffna that precipitated the opposition of Buddhist monks in Colombo, Navaratnam’s angle in defending the Federal Party will be presented in part 2 of this series.

Part 2

Cited Sources

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike: Speeches and Writings, Information Division, Dept. of Broadcasting and Information, Colombo, 1963, pp. 165-171.

K.M. de Silva: A History of Sri Lanka, C. Hurst & Co, London, 1981, pp. 514-515.

K.M. de Silva and W. Howard Wriggins: J.R. Jayewardene of Sri Lanka – A Political Biography vol.II. From 1956 to his Retirement (1989). Leo Cooper/Pen & Sword Books Ltd., London, 1994, pp. 49-53.

Navaratnam: The Fall and Rise of the Tamil Nation, Madras, 1991, pp. 144-45.

Sabaratnam: The Murder of a Moderate: Political Biography of Appapillai Amirthalingam, Nivetha Publishers, Dehiwela, 1996, pp. 90-94.

Sanmugathasan: A Marxist Looks at the History of Ceylon, 2nd ed., 1974, Colombo. pp. 65-66.

Sivanayagam: Sri Lanka: Witness to History, Sivayogam, London, 2005, pp. 63-70.

Souvenir Committee of Six, headed by A. Amirthalingam:  Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi Silver Jubilee Volume, published by S. Kathiraveluppillai MP, Jaffna, 1974.

W. Howard Wriggins: Ceylon: Dilemmas of a New Nation, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1960, p

Posted .

Filed under Sri Kantha.

Comments are disabled on this page.