From Sachi’s File – Chapter 21

On the Sri Lankan Army recruits between Oct 1949 and Dec 1976

by Sachi Sri Kantha, January 14, 2023

V. Dharmalingam in 1972, engaging in a public protest against the 1972 Constitution

After the July 1977 General Elections in Sri Lanka, followed by the August 1977 Sinhala-Tamil riots, I became interested in writing on local politics and establishing myself as a Tamil writer in English. Towards this purpose, I subscribed to the Official Reports of National State Assembly Debates (popularly known as the Hansard) of Sri Lanka, to read the debates and questions posed by the then TULF MPs – (especially A. Amirthalingam, M. Sivasithamparam, K.P. Ratnam and their colleagues). As one interested in gathering authentic statistics, I cherished the questions asked by those folks. R. Sampanthan, now the senior most Tamil leader, was a rookie then.

In this chapter, I provide details of one such question asked by two TULF veterans, V.N. Navaratnam (1929-1991) and V. Dharmalingam (1918-1985), to place on the parliamentary record – the low number of Tamils recruited into the Sri Lankan military in the post-independence era. Navaratnam and Dharmalingam had formulated this question and solicited an answer to it from J.R. Jayewardene, the then Prime Minister and Minister of Defence. The question was captioned as “State Officers appointed by the President”. It was as follows:

The Hansard of October 4, 1977 recorded the question as,

V.N. Navaratnam in 1983, with his trademark beard.

“V. Dharmalingam (Manipay), on behalf of V.N. Navaratnam: asked the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, Minister of Planning & Economic Affairs and Minister of Plan Implementation: Will he table a list in chronological order of the date of: (a) commencement of original continuous service; and (b) original appointment to posts held on 31.8, 1977; of State Officers appointed by the President (vide sections 35, 53, 56, 82, 89, 102, 103 and 108 of the present Constitution of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) with their (i) date of birth; (ii) academic and/or professional qualifications; (iii) date of commencement of pensionable service; (iv) post held on 31.8.1977 and date of permanent appointment to that post?”

J.R. Jayewardene answered the question by tabling a 32 page document (which in contemporary context, could be assigned to a ‘state secret’ category). This document appeared as a supplement to the Official Report of National State Assembly Debates (Hansard, uncorrected) of 4th October 1977, Tuesday. With some foresight I preserved this document and carried it with me in my peregrinations of the past 45 years. Finally, I found time to reformat the information presented on 426 Sri Lankan Army officers in an Excel file and present to the readers of this site. There was one missing entry #54, in the original document. A pdf of this file is presented nearby. This is a document one will NEVER find posted in the history column of the Sri Lankan army’s website.

Sri Lankan Army Officers appointed by the President (source-NSA debates – appendix, Oct 4, 1977)

Here is a synopsis of the SL Sinhalese army personnel available in this document. It is a reasonable assumption that those who participated in the Eelam Wars, from 1983 to 2009, were recruited from Oct 11, 1949 to Dec 20, 1976. The army officers in this list were born between 1921 and 1956. Only the surnames are provided, with initials, in the original document. Prominent names among the deceased soldiers in the war were, A. Ariyapperuma (no. 52), Denzil Kobbekaduwa (no. 84), Lakshman (Lucky) Algama (no. 103), Wijaya Wimalaratne (no. 116), Janaka Perera (no. 181) and Parami H.B. Kulatunga (no. 290). Of course, one can also check the vital educational information of the 12 Sri Lankan army commanders who pitted their forces against Prabhakaran’s LTTE, after 1976. They were D.S. Attygalle (no.1), J.E.D. Perera (no.3), T.I. Weerathunga (no. 8), G.D.G.N. Seneviratne (no. 16), H. Wanasinghe (no. 27), L.D.C.E.Waidyaratne (no. 79), G.H. De Silva (no. 83), R. De S. Daluwatte (no. 110), C.S.Weerasooriya (no. 141), L.P.Balagalle (no. 161), S.H.S.Kottegoda (no. 228) and G,S.C. Fonseka (no. 232).

A prominent war deserter, Nandasena Gotabhaya Rajapakse is listed as (no. 269) and G.A. Chandrasiri, one-time governor of the Northern Province, occupies no. 412

What a dandy document is this? With the exclusion of a few medical doctors and dentists, the majority of the Sri Lankan Sinhalese army recruits had only GCE (Ordinary level or Senior School Leaving Certificate or 10th grade) qualifications. Yes, Sarath Fonseka and Gotabhaya Rajapakse entered the SL army with GCE (Ordinary level) qualifications.

We can also use the data from these 425 names for onomastics (the discipline devoted to the study of names) research of 20th century Sri Lanka.

Distinctly recognizable Tamil names in this list include, R.T. Thambiah (no.5), E.G. Thevanayagam (no. 17), A.W. Thamby Raja (no. 24), A.J.N. Selvadurai (no. 37), M. Kandiah (no. 44), S. Ananthasuntharam (no. 60), J.A.S. Ratnasabapathy (no. 77), Y. Balaratnarajah (no. 80), C. Thurairajah (no. 90), S. Subramaniam (no. 95), T.C. Sivashanmugam (no. 127), D.B. Nadarajasingham (no. 189), S.M. Mootatamby (no. 194), H.M. Chitraranjan (no. 351), D. Ratnasabapathy (no. 359), L. Nadarajasingham (no. 371). V. Mariappam (no. 396), S. Krishnamurthi (no. 422) and T. Ganeshamuthali (no. 423). Only 19 among 426. Even among these 19, the first 13 listed up to no. 194 and Mariappam (no. 396) were recruited into the army before 1962, when ‘Sinhala-Buddhist only’ recruitment was strongly enforced during Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s regime. It should also be noted that Krishnamurthi (no. 422) and Ganeshamuthali (no. 423) had medical degrees.

Distinctly recognizable, the 15 Muslim and Malay names in this list were, M.N. Jilla (no. 2), T.S.B. Sally (no. 4), S. Musafer (no. 22), K.I.M.T. Deen (no. 34), M.S.M. Naleem (no. 124), M.N. Jaiman (no. 184), M.G. Mutalib (no. 191), S.H. Mohamed (no. 203), A. Zahir (no. 222), M.M. Meerasaibo (no. 289), T.M. Bohoran (no. 292), M.M. Hassan (no. 308), I.M.F. Deen (no. 356), T.A. Ameer (no. 364) and M.R. Kassim (no. 394).



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