Srimavo – Weeping arrogance
By K T Rajasingham, ‘Asian Times,’ Singapore
The defeat in the parliamentary elections of March 1960, clearly indicated that the Sri Lanka Freedom Party needed a popular leader, who could put the party back in the saddle. Accordingly, the SLFP stalwarts, on May 24, 1960, elected Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the widow of the slain leader, to the post of President of the Party.
The general elections for the fifth parliament was held on July 20, 1960, and the SLFP fielded 98 candidates, winning 75 seats with 1,022,171 votes, which was 33.6 percent of the total votes polled (2,827.085). Meanwhile, the UNP fielded 128 candidates but managed to win only 30 seats, although it received 1,144,166 votes, which was 37.6 percent of the total votes polled. In this election, the LSSP and the CP entered into a no-contest election pact with the SLFP and fielded 21 and seven candidates respectively, where the LSSP won 12 and the CP four seats.
The Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (Federal Party) fielded 20 candidates and won 16 seats, whereas, the Tamil Congress (TC) fielded 10 candidates and M Sivasithanparam retained the solitary seat, winning again the Udupiddy electorate. Unfortunately, the TC leader, G G Ponnampalam, was squarely defeated for the second time in succession by Alfred Duraiyappah. In Vavuniya, C Suntheralingham fell for the second time to T Sivasithamparam, and the defeat sealed the political fate of Suntheralingham.
On July 22, 1960, Dudley Senanayake, caretaker prime minister, conceded defeat and tendered his resignation to the governor-general. Subsequently, Srimavo Bandaranaike was sworn in as the Prime Minister of Ceylon and gained the unprecedented honor of being the world’s first woman premier, a unique distinction and honor hailed universally. She was the widow of prime minister Solomon Bandaranaike, who was assassinated in 1959. The family have dominated the country’s politics for most of the second half of the century and until now.
Sirimavo Ratwatte, born on April 17, 1916, came from a wealthy, aristocratic land-owning family. She was the eldest daughter among the six children of Barnes Rattwatte. Although a Buddhist, she was educated at a Convent school, in Colombo, run by Roman Catholic nuns.
In 1940, when she was 24, she married Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike, then a brilliant, young, Oxford-educated leader of the Sinhala Maha Sabah and a Minister in the State Council. The marriage was dubbed as the “wedding of the century”. Both were from the top Goyigama caste of landowners, and according to astrologers, their horoscopes matched perfectly.
After the assassination of Bandaranaike in 1959, Srimavo Bandaranaike took over the presidency of his party and was dubbed “the weeping widow” for frequently bursting into tears, as she pledged to continue her husband’s vague socialist and Sinhala Buddhist chauvinistic policies.
“What does she know of politics?” Scornfully asked a cousin of the assassinated S W R D Bandaranaike, when his widow Sirima announced that she was taking over his Party’s leadership in 1960. “In Solla’s [Solomon’s] time, Sirima presided over nothing fiercer than the kitchen fire,” continued Paul Pieris Deriyanagala, who had been the best man at the Bandaranaikes’ wedding. “She’ll end by spoiling her personal reputation and ruining the family name.”
Yasmine Gooneratne, another member of the Bandaranaike clan, who recounted “Uncle Paule’s” scathing comments in her family memoirs, Relative Merits, describes “Aunt Sirima,” as “the most formidable and charismatic leader, the country has ever seen”. And in the words of Maureen Seneviratne, her biographer: “If Mr Bandaranaike’s stature as a politician and leader was built up over decades of campaigning, Sirimavo donned hers like a cloak that had been lying in her wardrobe for years, unworn, but which had been pressed and kept ready for wearing at any given moment.”
At first, Sirima’s public role was that of a dutiful wife. Her eldest child, Sunethra, was born in 1943, followed by Chandrika, and finally a boy, Anura. But in 1948, as the island of Ceylon edged towards independence, the shy, methodical wife and mother found her home invaded at all hours by her husband’s friends, forever discussing politics and demanding, at regular intervals, refreshments.
For Srimavo Bandaranaike, her husband’s death was a traumatic tragedy. One morning, when she was in her house garden, she heard a commotion inside. She rushed indoors to find her husband collapsing, gravely wounded, with a Buddhist monk pointing a gun at him. It was reported that she courageously flung herself at the gunman, who was subsequently felled by police fire.
The following year, she assumed the party leadership and led it to a resounding victory by riding on a wave of public sympathy. Although, she had a rather shy and retiring outward appearance, and was always timid, she also had the inner strength, courage and commitment to be of service to her family and then to the Sinhala nation.
The new cabinet was sworn in on July 23, 1960. Srimavo Bandaranaike took her seat as a member of the Senate – the Upper House, and was sworn in as the Premier, as well as Minister of Defense and External Affairs. C P De Silva was appointed the Leader of the House and Minister of Agriculture, Land, Irrigation and Power. Felix Dias Bandaranaike (29 years old) the nephew and one of the Bandaranaike’s clan, was the Minister of Finance, and was the youngest minister, and upon whom Srimavo leaned heavily. Dr Badi-ud-din Mahamud was an appointed MP, and was sworn in as the Minister of Education and Broadcasting. Other ministers were T B Ilangaratne – Minister of Commerce, Trade, Food and Shipping; Senator Sam P C Fernando – Minister of Justice; Senator A P Jayasuriya – Minister of Health; Maitripala Seananayake – Minister of Industries, Home and Cultural Affairs; Senator C Wijesinghe – Minister of Labor and Nationalized Services; Mahanama Samaraweera – Minister of Local Government and Housing; and P B G Kalugalle – Minister of Transport and Works.
On August 12, 1960, the Throne Speech of Srimavo Bandaranaike’s Government was read in all three languages. It was declared, “My government will implement the Official Language Act No. 33 of 1956, and the Tamil Language [Special Provisions] Act No. 28 0f 1958, so as to make Sinhala in reality the official language of this country by December 31, 1960, but without causing hardship to the minority communities and to the Tamils, whose language has already acquired a degree of reasonable use by the legislation of Mr Bandaranaike.”
The new SLFP government sprang a surprise by conveying the cabinet decision in the Throne Speech of its intention of vesting all schools. There was also an assurance given to implement the recommendations of the Buddha Sasana Commission. The government also announced that it would bring the national press under its control: “A commission will be appointed to inquire into the functioning of the press in connection with the general elections held in March and July this year.
“My government will introduce legislation to take over the newspapers controlled by the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd, and the Times of Ceylon Ltd, and to vest such newspapers in statutory public corporations with unlimited share capital in which individual holdings will be restricted, so as to ensure a broad-based ownership. This legislation will ensure a democratic character of newspapers in this country and prevent abuse by the formation of unhealthy monopolies.”
Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi and its leader S J V Chelvanayakam had their first taste of antagonism of the SLFP under Srimavo Bandaranaike. After the general elections, an ITAK delegation met the government leaders on November 8, 1960, at the Temple Trees, the Prime Minister’s official residence. The delegation included S J V Chelvanayakam, N R Rajavarothayam, Dr E M V Naganathan, V A Kandiah, S M Rasamanickam, A Amirthalingham, Mashoor Moulana and V Navaratnam. On the government side, Prime Minister Srimavo Bandaranaike was assisted by Felix Dias Bandaranaike, the Minister of Finance and her Junior Minister, Senator Sam P C Fernando; Minister of Justice, T B Ilangaratne; Minister of Commerce, Trade, Food and Shipping, C P De Silva; the Leader of the House and the Minister of Agriculture, Land, Irrigation and Power, Dr Badi-ud-din Mahmud; Minister of Education and Broadcasting, P B G Kalugalle; amd the Minister of Transport and Works and Dr Seevali Rattwatte, the private secretary to the prime minister and her brother.
The ITAK in their memorandum stressed:
- To establish Regional Councils;
- Implement the Tamil Language Special Provision Act;
- Urged the government to recognize Tamil as the language of the minority community and to administer the Northern and Eastern provinces in Tamil, and;
- Also urged the government to make arrangements for Tamils in the other seven provinces to conduct affairs with the government in the Tamil language.The discussion centered around Tamil government servants. Amirthalingham pointed out that they had to be classified into two categories – the old-entrants, those who joined government service when English was the language of administration, and new- entrants, those who would join government once the new language law had come into effect. It was pointed out that the old-entrants should be allowed to work in the English language or should be retired with full benefits. Compelling them to work in Sinhala or retiring them prematurely without giving them adequate compensation would be illegal and inhuman.
Furthermore, the Tamil delegates agreed to the government’s right to make the new entrants work in Sinhala, but they pointed out that acquiring proficiency in Sinhala should not be made an excuse to deny employment opportunities to Tamils. They also insisted that those government servants, such as teachers, village headmen and minor employees who would only work in Tamil areas, should be exempted from acquiring proficiency in the Sinhala language.
A second meeting was held on November 23 to continue with the earlier postponed talks. Both sides agreed to continue the talks until common working arrangements mutually acceptable to all had been explored.
Meanwhile, Senator Sam P C Fernando, the Minister of Justice, presented the Language of the Courts Bill in Parliament. Chelvanayakam and his men felt that the SLFP government had stabbed them in the back by introducing the bill.
The bill was taken up for debate on December 30, 1960. Standing orders were suspended to enable parliament to debate the bill to the finish. It was debated continuously without interruption until December 31. The amendment moved by the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi to make Tamil, the language of the courts in the North and Eastern provinces, was rejected.
When the Language of the Court Bill was tabled in Parliament, the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi met on December 4 at the Batticaloa Town hall and resolved to suspend discussions with the government, until the bill had been amended to provide for the use of Tamil as well.
The government reacted with an announcement that, it would implement the Sinhala Official Language Act fully and the entire administration of the country would be in Sinhala, from January 1, 1961. The government’s adamant insistence on the implementation of the Official Language Act, without making any provisions for the use of Tamil, worsened tension between the Tamil and the Sinhalese communities.
Meanwhile, the Srimavo Bandaranaike’s government ventured to nationalize the schools, a measure even S W R D Bandaranaike had earlier hesitated to implement. Buddhist groups had been advocating a state-controlled system of education for may years. A committee of inquiry set up by the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress to investigate the state of Buddhism in the country, and in its famous report called “The Betrayal of Buddhism”, recommended the granting Buddhism its rightful place and the take-over of all state-aided schools.
They argued that, since educational institutions run by private organizations were largely subsidized by the state, it was the government that met all the expenses of the schools. They argued that all the state-aided private schools were still under Christian dominance, as during the British colonial days. It was further alleged that Christian private schools that received state aid refused to teach Buddhism to Buddhist students, and it was further alleged that those Buddhist students, who were admitted to the Christian private schools, were taught Christianity, with a view to spreading Christianity.
The leftist Marxist parties supported the take-over of the schools, partly on ideological grounds, but mainly because, Roman Catholics were unsympathetic to their doctrines and policies. Earlier, S W R D Bandaranaike and his Education Minister, Dr W Dahanayake, had resisted Buddhist pressure for a school take-over.
After Srimavo Bandaranaike came to power, she began to introduce a series of legislation, to further subjugate the Tamils and non-Buddhists. The government, with the introduction of Acts No 5 of 1960, and No 8 of 1961, legally enabled the transfer of the ownership and administration of all schools and teachers training colleges to the state, except for 38 prestigious mission schools, that opted to continue to remain as non-fee levying institutions.
These laws were bitterly opposed by the Roman Catholics and Hindus. All along the Western coastal belt and in the principal towns throughout the island, irate Catholics forcibly occupied their schools. The resistance continued and attempts by the police to evict protesters led to violence and bloodshed, and but for Cardinal Gracious of Bombay, who intervened on the Vatican’s behalf to restrain Archbishop Joseph Coorey and the local hierarchy from resisting, further damage might have been done.
In 1960 it was identified that there were 1,170 Christians schools and 1,121 Buddhists schools in the country, in addition to nearly 6,000 other schools, all receiving state grants. The take-over affected the Catholic Church in loss of land, buildings and fixed assets.
In the case of the Tamils, the Hindu Board for the Promotion of Education had 161 schools with 40,000 Tamil Hindu children studying under its management. Besides, it administered a well-established orphanage and a training college for teachers. In 1961, the government denied assistance to run these schools. The cancellation of state grants cleared the way for the take-over of these schools by the state, thus depriving the Tamils the opportunity to impart religious studies, and language promotion, aesthetic and cultural education based on their language and heritage. These two pieces of discriminatory legislation did not affect the Buddhist’s state-aided educational institutions. They were left out of the purview of these laws.
In 1924, Sir Ponnampalam Ramanathan had inaugurated a Hindu Board for the Promotion of Education in Jaffna. In this great task, Sir Vaitlingham Duraiswamy, who was a member of the Legislative Council and later Speaker of the State Council, and S Rajaratnam, assisted Ramanathan, in organizing the Hindu Education Board.
By the take-over of the schools, the government gradually started introducing new education syllabuses, by rewriting and introducing the history and culture of the Sinhalese race and of Buddhism. The government at this time, prepared a scheme to send Sinhala teachers to all the Tamil schools in the country, including the Northern and Eastern provinces, to teach the Sinhala language to Tamil-speaking children. This would mean a slow emasculation of the Tamil language. When this was realized, the Tamils registered their bitter opposition.
Meanwhile, though C Suntheralingham had been defeated in the general elections held on March and July 1960, he was politically active. In a letter dated January 1, 1961 addressed to C P De Silva, the leader of the House and Deputy Prime Minister, he wrote, “Count Heads or Crack Heads”:
“My Dear Deputy Prime Minister,
“My attention has been drawn during the weekend, to your broadcast to the nation last Wednesday night (28-12-1960) on the Assisted Schools and Training Colleges [Special Provisions] Bill, where you state:
“It has been passed by an overwhelming majority of Members of both houses of parliament. Parliamentary democracy would be a mockery if the laws passed by parliament are allowed to be openly flouted or violated. The sovereignty of the parliament must be upheld. This passage from your broadcast, I am sorry to state reveals an abysmal ignorance of the postulates, principles and practices of modern parliamentary democracy.
“In the true name of democracy. you shall not do anything undemocratic. You shall not, for instance violate the fundamental rights of the minorities. The moment that is done, the minorities has the right to use whatever weapon they have at their disposal to counteract the situation. On many an occasion in parliament, I have given expression repeatedly to this dictum of mine. Democracy means and implies, the counting of the heads within certain bounds and cracking of heads beyond those bounds.
“On the language issue, already about 2,001 heads have been broken fatally. On the school issue, the tally is three. I noted some months back with pleasure that Mr J R Jayewardene himself was quoting this dictum in practically in so many words. You, Mr Deputy Prime Minister, you and your colleagues have still to realize the truth of the dictum and put into practice. D S Senanayake, who was then your prime minister, at the time of assuming the reins of the parliamentary government, in his first broadcast to the nation said very categorically, that his government was of ‘All’ the people, for ‘All’ the people – the word ‘All’ in the transcript of the message to the press, has been underlined. I asked you most earnestly: Is the Assisted Schools and Training Colleges Bill a legislative enactment of ‘All’ the people? Concurred in by ‘All’ the people? And for the good of ‘All’ the people? If your answer is not in the affirmative, your statement about parliamentary democracy being reduced to a mockery, exhibits an utterly fallacious notion of the scope of the parliamentary democracy.
“In my citation from the Hansard, I referred to this fundamental rights of the man. The UNESCO committee on human rights submitted a draft for consideration by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Article 14 of the draft reads as follows:
“14: The Right of Rebellion: In the event that the government of his nation operates contrary to the fundamental principles of justice and basic human rights in such fashions that no redress is permitted by peaceful means, man has the right to set up a government more nearly in conformity with justice and humanity.
“The General Assembly of the United Nations, however, toned down these provisions and, instead, provided in the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights thus:
“Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse AS A LAST RESORT, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that Human Rights should be protected by the rule of law.
“Ceylon is today full fledged and through its representative an active an alert member of the United Nations Organization and your government is committed to implementing the Declaration of Human Rights. Will the Tamil Eylom or the Catholics of Ceylon be committing an act of parliamentary mockery, if they seek to put into practice those principles ‘AS LAST RESORT’?”
Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi, too, was vigorously opposed the nationalization of schools. The party leaderships were unanimous in their opposition for the take-over. They felt that nationalization would result in schools in the North and Eastern provinces being deprived of funds needed to run the schools by the government. The Tamil medium schools in the Sinhala areas would be gradually superseded, leaving Tamil students no options but to study in the Sinhala medium. The party was of the candid view that the nationalization of the schools would mean Sinhalization.
While the school takeover had repercussions reverberating all over against the government and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and its leaders, the government’s announcement that it would implement the Sinhala Act fully from January 1, 1961, created another emergency situation, which warranted the Tamil leadership to act fast to counter the effects and the ramifications of the government’s announcement.
As a first step, the Working Committee of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kwacha, which met on December 18 in Jaffna, resolved to call upon the Tamil-speaking people of the North and Eastern provinces to observe hartal (work stoppage) on January 2, 1961, which would be the first working day of the switch-over of the administration in the Sinhala language.
Chelvanayakam in his statement declared, “This is another fraud perpetrated on the Tamil-speaking people, by the present government. At the time of passing the Sinhala only act, the late Prime Minister as well as the Minister of Finance gave the assurance, that the implementation of the Act would be effected in a manner, so as not to cause any hardship or any difficulty to those public servants who were recruited through a medium other than Sinhala. Those assurances were given both in and out of parliament. The delegation from our party which met the Prime Minister and some other Ministers recently pointed out those assurances and urged the government to honor them. But this government has on its own admission, gone back on the assurance given by the late Prime Minister.”
The hartal passed off peacefully without any untoward incidents. The Action Committee of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi met on January 8, 1961, and announced its first phase of the Direct Action Campaign, which consisted three components:
- To picket all the government offices in the Northern and Eastern provinces, where Sinhala was used as the language of administration;
- Carry out a campaign of non-cooperation against officials instrumental or engaged in implementing unjust moves, and;
- To take suitable steps to prevent the teaching of Sinhala in Tamil medium schools.The Seventh National Convention of the ITAK was held in Jaffna on January 21, 1961. S M Rasamanickam, the MP for Padirupu in the Eastern province, was elected as the president of the party. The convention authorized the Action Committee to launch a Civil Disobedience Campaign, on February 20, 1961.
On January 30, the leaders of the ITAK went on processions in various electorates in the North and Eastern provinces and distributed handbills, captioned, Appeal to every Public Servant:
“We have no grievance against you personally. But, if you are engaged in implementing the Sinhala Only policy in the Tamil-speaking areas, we make this appeal to you. What Sinhala is to the Sinhala-speaking people, Tamil should be to the Tamil-speaking people.
“An unjust and undemocratic government has refused a unanimous request of the Tamil-speaking people to establish Tamil as the language of administration in the Northern and Eastern provinces. Instead, the government is forcing the Sinhala down our throats.
“The Tamil-speaking people have no alternative but to resist the wicked policy of the government. We are engaged in a life-and-death struggle for our birthright.
“Hence this appeal to you: Please do not do any work in your office in Sinhala; Please do not attend any Sinhala official communication; Please do not sign or use a frank in Sinhala.
“Sgd S J V Chelvanayakam on behalf of the Working Committee of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi.”
Independence Day on February 4, 1961, as usual was observed as a Day of Mourning in the North and Eastern provinces. A huge procession was taken from Urumpirai to Jaffna, a distance of eight kilometers. The processionists carried a coffin in which copies of the Sinhala Only Act, the Language of the Courts Act and the Ceylon Constitution were carried. Subsequently, at Jaffna, the coffin was set on fire after funeral rites were performed by V A Kandiah, the MP for Kayts.
The Civil Disobedience Campaign was inaugurated by the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi, on February 20, 1961, in front of the Government Agent’s Secretariat or the Jaffna Kachcheri and in front of several government offices in the Jaffna peninsula. This was a massive picketing campaign – Satyagraha– non-violent in nature, in front of the government’s main administrative office in Jaffna and in front of other government offices.
On February 20, the party volunteers went on a procession and sat opposite the gates of the Jaffna Kachcheri around 7:30 in the early morning. Party leaders, such as Chelvanayakam, Amirthalingham, Kandiah, Dr Naganathan, V N Navaratnam, and V Navaratnam, sat in the front rows.
At 7:45 am, A R Arndt, the Superintendent of Police, Jaffna, arrived in a Police jeep and tried to enter the Government Agent’s residence. As the entrance was blocked by the volunteers, Arndt was furious and shouted at Mahendran, the Assistant Superintendent of Police, to “drag these buggers away from these entrances”. After an initial hesitancy, the police sprang into action to clear the volunteers. Once the volunteers were dragged away and the entrances cleared, immediately a fresh band of volunteers occupied and blocked the entrances.
The objective of the campaign was to disrupt the functioning of the government in a section of a country and to make the government accept Tamil as another official language, as well as to make them to accept a federal form of government in the country.
Thousands of Tamils converged on sites where the peaceful picketing was going on and expressed their strong protests to the dictatorial unitary government, monopolized by the Sinhalese-Buddhists.
The campaign spread in the entire Northern and Eastern provinces and the huge upsurge of the popular Tamil mass movement defying the autocratic rule of the government brought the functioning of the government machinery to a grinding halt in these two provinces. For a few months the government ignored the non-violent protest of the Tamils, even though the administrations of the entire Tamil areas, the Northern and the Eastern Provinces, were paralyzed.
Meanwhile, S Thondaman, the leader of the Ceylon Workers Congress, was appointed as an MP by the SLFP to represent labor interests in the parliament. Thondaman was annoyed at the way the government handled the Tamil issue. The SLFP government completely ignored their promises to the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi.
“Within six months of Mrs Bandaranaike’s assumption of office as Prime Minister, the Federal Party [ITAK] was totally alienated from her government, largely because of her insistence on Sinhalese becoming the language of administration throughout the island from January 1, 1961, as envisaged in the Sinhala Only bill of 1956, without any substantial concession to the Tamils, despite the understanding reached with the Federal Party before and during the general election of July 1960.” History of Sri Lanka by K M De Silva – pages 526-527.
But, it was learnt that Felix Dias Bandaranaike had declared at a cabinet meeting in February 1961, “That promise was given to the Federal Party in a completely different environment. Now we must not give room to the UNP to incite the Sinhala extremists.”
When the Civil Disobedience Campaign was in its full swing, S Thondaman and S D Bandaranaike, traveled together to Jaffna by plane. They were met at the airport by A Amirthalingham. S D Bandaranaike and held talks with the leaders of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi. Thondaman and Bandaranaike were struck by the discipline and determination of the Tamil volunteers, who sat peacefully in front of the government offices and expressed their resistance.
Once Bandaranaike returned to Colombo, he went straight to meet the Prime Minister and reported to her of what he had seen in Jaffna. Srimavo Bandaranaike requested him to talk with Felix Dias Bandaranaike. But the Minister was unsympathetic and he told Thondaman, who accompanied S D Bandaranaike, that his government was not in a position to yield to the political pressure campaign of the Tamils. Felix Dias Bandaranaike said, “Think of the Sinhala reaction if we give in.”
Thondaman countered, “But think of the Tamil reaction if you take a hard line.” Felix Dias Bandaranaike said that the government had to worry more only about the Sinhala reaction.
Thondaman warned, “You cannot ignore the feelings of the Tamil community for long.” Thondaman, who was annoyed and irritated by Felix Dias Bandaranaike’s lackadaisical reply, said, “First the husband, then the wife and the nephew have shown that they worry only about Sinhala extremists. They are not concerned about the Tamils and their feelings. One day the Sinhala race has to pay for this.”
Srimavo Bandaranaike addressed the nation on radio on March 25. In her speech she said, “I appeal to the leaders of the Satyagraha movement to call off the campaign, without delay. I repeat the assurances given by me that my government is ready and willing to listen to the grievances and make adjustments wherever necessary, after due consideration.
“Other matters which have come to my knowledge have given room for grave concern as to whether certain political organizations in the North and East are in fact endeavoring to paralyze the administration in these places, with a view to establish a separate state, by deliberately misleading the Tamil-speaking people into believing that, this government has deprived them of their language and their heritage.”
Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi, after carefully analyzing the appeal made by the Prime Minister, decided against it. Chelvanayakam, the leader of the ITAK in an official announcement, said, “The Prime Minister’s appeal amounted to requesting us to call-off the Satyagraha campaign, unconditionally. She was not willing, either to grant anything tangible, or else she has not even indicated that, she was prepared to discuss our demands regarding the language issue. Unfortunately, she was only prepared to discuss hardships, if any, caused by the implementation of the Sinhala Only Act. It is thus clear that the Prime Minister’s appeal was vague and nothing was mentioned about any proposed meetings.” ITAK decided to continue with its non-violent agitation.
“In the early part of April 1961, the international community began to express misgivings at the government’s handling of the Satyagraha. Members of Mrs Bandaranaike’s cabinet were themselves divided on what ought to be done in such explosive situation. Two senior ministers, both professed members of the Church of Sri Lanka – Felix Dias Bandaranaike and Sam P C Fernando – urged the cabinet to remain obdurate, a posture which their colleagues saw as arising from anxiety to prove their genuine dedication to the Sinhala Buddhist claims. For whatever reasons, Sam P C Fernando, the Minster responsible for the immediate cause of dispute, the [Sinhala] Language of the Courts Act, was deputed by the cabinet to hold talks with Chelvanayakam. But, Chelvanayakam gave no quarter and the minister himself was not a conciliator, and thus the talks, which had never raised even a glimmer of hope in the Tamil community, were a failure.” – S J V Chelvanayakam and the Crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, 1947-1977 – by A Jeyaratnam Wilson, page 97.
The cabinet met on April 4 to review the deteriorating law and order situation in the North and Eastern provinces in particular and of the country in general. The cabinet was not unanimous in its decision, when the hardliners in the cabinet led by Felix Dias Bandaranaike insisted on the declaration of the emergency, and the deployment of the armed forces to break up the Satyagraha. But, the moderate group led by C P De Silva and Sam P C Fernando was for a negotiated political settlement of the whole issue. The cabinet authorized them to make contact with the Tamil leaders and negotiate.
Sam P C Fernando, through his friend M Thiruchelvam, the former solicitor-general, contacted Chelvanayakam and persuaded him to “give negotiation a try”. Subsequently, the ITAK delegation led by Chelvanayakam, which included S M Rasamanickam, A Amirthalingahm and Dr E M V Naganathan, met Sam P C Fernando, on April 5, at the residence of M Thiruchelvam. It was reported that both parties met and despite their four-hour long marathon session, they failed to arrive at any agreement on any one issue.
The Tamil leaders explained to the government’s chief delegate, why they had resorted to adopting the Satyagraha Campaign. They explained that they opposed the government’s decision to implement the Sinhala Only law, in the North and Eastern provinces, where Tamil-speaking people predominantly lived. Chelvanayakam handed over to Sam P C Fernando a memorandum containing four minimum demands of his party:
- The Tamil Language be the language of the Northern and Eastern provinces for all administrative purposes;
- The Tamil language be the language of the courts in those areas;
- The position of the Tamil public servants in relation to the implementation of the Official Language Act has to be settled, and;
- The right of the Tamil-speaking persons outside the Northern and Eastern provinces has to be clarified.Sam P C Fernando placed the demands of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi at the cabinet meeting held on April 6. After a long deliberation, it decided to reject the demands of the Tamil Party. On April 7, C P De Silva, the leader of the House, made the statement in the House of Representatives (parliament), that the government was unable to concede to the demands of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi as they conflicted with the provisions of the Official Language Act and the Tamil Language Special Provision Act.
Meanwhile, at a public meeting held on April 11, at Jaffna, Chelvanayakam declared the failure of the talks they had on August 5, with the government. Chelvanayakam said, “I am sorry to report to you of the failure of the talks we had with the government on April 5. We went down to that far and requested the government to grant the barest minimum rights necessary for the Tamils to live with dignity. We only asked them to agree to allow us to administer the Tamil areas in the Tamil language. I told Mr Sam P C Fernando to place himself in my position and asked him what he would feel if he was told that Tamil would have no place. He was unable to come up with an answer. Now that the minimum demands have been rejected, therefore we have no alternative, but to launch the second stage of the Satyagraha – the Civil Disobedience.”
Chelvanayakam and his party leaders explained that by violating the laws, they want to demonstrate to the government, as well as to to the international community, their opposition to the government’s policy of Sinhalization. They announced that the first law they intend to violate was the Postal Ordinance, which makes the postal service, a government monopoly.
The Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi, with the view to heighten the activities of their Civil Disobedience Campaign, selected the Post Office Ordinance, that empowered the Postal Department to issue postage stamps and run the postal services in the country.
On April 14, 1961, the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi issued the Tamil Sate-Thamil Arasu, the national postage stamps, and Chelvanayakam took his seat behind the counter of the Thamil Arasu Post Office, as Post Master of Jaffna, and committed the first act of civil disobedience by selling the first 10 cents Thamil Arasu postage stamp to M Sivasithamparam, the Tamil Congress MP for the Udupiddy constituency.
Also, with the view to continuing with the violation of the Postal Ordinance, the Tamil leaders launched the Thamil Arasu Postal Service. M Sivasithamaparam and V N Navaratnam, the Members of Parliament for Udupiddy and Chavakachcheri respectively, volunteered to be the Thamil Arasu Postmen and delivered letters, which amounted to running a parallel postal service.
The government was disturbed over the Civil Disobedience Campaign launched by the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi. Felix Dias Bandaranaike, the Junior Minister of Defense had a meeting with the Defense Chiefs. He also met Sam P C Fernando, the Minister of Justice. Subsequently, the government dispatched 15 officers and 300 soldiers in a special train to Jaffna, on April 15. Thje governor-general clamped down an island-wide emergency on April 17. On the same day, the Prime Minister issued a Gazette extraordinary proscribing Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi and the Janatha Vimukthi Perumuna. The notification banned processions in Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mannar, Trincomalee and Batticaloa. It also imposed curfew, beginning on midnight April 17, within the limits of Jaffna Municipality, Trincomalee and Batticaloa Urban Councils and Vavuniya and Mannar Town Councils and prohibited public meetings and imposed censorship.
Major General Wijekoon, the Commander of the Ceylon Army, flew to Jaffna on the evening of April 17 and took personal command of the army units deployed in the peninsula. Srimavo Bandaranaike addressed the nation over the radio and explained the reasons for the government to proclaim the emergency. She said, “Most of the emergency regulations will apply only to those areas which are affected by the anti-government campaign.”
She appealed to the people to remain calm and said, “The Federal Party’s demands were unreasonable. Since last week the Federal Party has opened, what they call, a postal service and formed a police force. They have decided to establish Land – Kachcheries, to allot crown lands to their supporters. It will thus be clear that the Federal Party leaders had challenged the lawfully established government of the country, with the view to establish a separate state.”
After four days of the inauguration of the Postal Disobedience Campaign , on April 18, 1961, at about nine in the evening, the soldiers belonging to the Sinha Regiment of the Ceylon Army, swooped down on all the centers in the Northern and Eastern provinces simultaneously, where peaceful picketing was on. The peaceful protesters were thrashed by the government military forces. Several sustained serious injuries when the armed forces used brutal force to disperse the peaceful protesters. The Tamil volunteers who were present during that time were beaten and chased out.
The five districts in the North and Eastern provinces were placed under the following military coordinating officers: 1: Lt-Col A Richard Udugama – Jaffna; 2: Lt-Col Wickramasooriya – Trincomalee; 3: Lt-Col P D Ramanayake – Batticaloa; 4: Major T S B Sally – Mannar, and; 5: Major C P Fernando – Vavuniya.
The army took control of the Kachcheries and Major Udugama of the Sinha Regiment was placed in charge of the military administration in the Jaffna Kachcheri.
On the orders of N Q Dias, the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, the volunteers and the Tamil leaders, nearly 90 of them, were arrested by the army, under the emergency powers. The Tamil leaders were taken to the army cantonment at Panagoda, Maharagama, where they were held in custody. This custody lasted for well over six months. Ninety detainees, including Chelvanayakam, were released, on October 4, 1961.
“Thus the violence of the oppressor silenced the non-violence of the oppressed; the armed might of Sinhala chauvinism crushed the ahimsa of the Tamils. This historical event marked the beginning of a political experience that was crucial to the Tamil national struggle, an experience that taught the Tamils that the moral power of non-violence could not consume the military power of a violent oppressor whose racial hatred transcends all ethical norms of humanness and civilized behavior. To the oppressor this event encouraged the view that military terrorism is the only answer to the Tamil demand and that the non-violent foundation of the Tamil political agitation is a weak and impotent structure against the barrel of the gun.” Liberation Tigers and Tamil Eelam Freedom Struggle by Dr A S Balasingham, the political theoretician of the LTTE.
Within two years of Srimavo Bandaranaike becoming the Prime Minister, she had to face an abortive coup of 1962. Some top officials of the army, navy and police had plotted to remove her and capture power on the night of January 27, 1962.
The abortive effort was led by Colonel F C De Saram and C C Disanayake, both Protestant Christians, along with Royce De Mel of the Navy, another Christian. A total of 31 officers were said to be involved in the campaign to overthrow the government. The coup leaders were all Sinhalese Christians – both Protestants and Roman Catholics, except for a few.
The object of the coup leaders was to topple the government and install in its place a council of former prime ministers who would run the country for a short while, until fresh elections were held. The coup leaders also planned to arrest the Leftist leaders, as well as Felix Dias Bandaranaike and N Q Dias, the Junior Defense Minister and the Permanent Secretary,
Stanley Senanayake, the Buddhist Police officer who was involved in the coup at last minute, revealed the impending coup to his father-in-law, P De S Kularatne, the UNP MP for Ambalangoda. On a tip-off by Stanley Senanayake, the coup attempt was foiled in the nick of time.
The coup leaders had planned to execute their scheme on the night of January 27. It was a Saturday and Srimavo Bandaranaike had arranged to spend the weekend at Kataragama – a temple for Lord Murukan alias Skandan. According to the program, Srimavo Bandaranaike was to leave Colombo on Friday, attend the poojas – ritual worship – on Saturday and return to Colombo on Sunday. This decision was made 10 days before the date of the planned coup.
However, the Kataragama trip was cancelled at the last moment. The coup leaders had planned their strategy assuming that Srimavo Bandaranaike would be at Kataragama on the 27th. Actually, if Bandaranaike had been at Kataragama on that fateful night there was every possibility of a bloodshed and the coup succeeding.
When the coup attempt became known, Felix Dias Bandaranaike became all powerful. While Srimavo Bandaranaike was trying to get over the shock, Felix tightened security and started investigation. In fact, he took all the police powers into his hands, made Temple Trees a virtual CID headquarters and continued investigations day and night. The general impression was that Felix faced the situation very boldly and efficiently. Subsequently, suspects were brought before a special tribunal.
Based on the facts revealed at the investigations, Srimavo Bandaranaike was quick in making changes in certain key positions in the government. The most important change was the replacing of Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, the governor-general. On February 18, 1962, Felix Dias Bandaranaike made a statement in the House of Representatives that during the investigations of the coup suspects, the name and certain role of Sir Oliver Goonetilleke too surfaced.
When this was brought to the notice of Sir Oliver, he had indicated that he had no objection in being questioned like any other citizen, Felix Dias Bandaranaike added.
However, nobody had the power to question the duly appointed representative of the Queen of England. Under the circumstances, the first thing that the government had to do was to remove Sir Oliver from Queen’s House. He was in fact removed in disgrace and he chose to go into exile in London.
Consequent to the abortive coup of 1962, Prime Minister Sirimavo R D Bandaranaike decided with the consent of the Queen of England to appoint a new governor-general under the Soulbury Constitution. Accordingly, William Gopallawa, the uncle of the prime minister, who was at the time serving as the Ambassador of Ceylon in Washington, was appointed as the Governor-General with effect from March 2, 1962, being the first Buddhist to hold office. He took his oath of office administered by H H Basanayake, the Chief Justice, before a statue of Lord Buddha, in the presence of the prime minister. One of his first acts as Head of State was to construct a shrine room at Queen’s House.
The story of the coup was set out in a White Paper issued by the government on February 13, 1962. This gave the names of 31 alleged conspirators. It concluded with an observation that a deterrent punishment of a severe character must be imposed on all who were guilty. With this in view, the government on March 16, 1962, enacted the Criminal Law (Special Provisions) Act No 1, 1962 (the first Act). It was given retrospective effect from January 1, 1962, and was limited in operation to those who were accused of offences against the state in or about January 27, 1962. It legalized the imprisonment of the alleged conspirators, while they were waiting for the trial. Under this act, the Minister of Justice was empowered to nominate three judges to try the case, without a jury.
In October 1962, the Supreme Court upheld an objection that Section 9 was ultra vires the constitution of Ceylon and the nomination was invalid. Subsequently, the government hurriedly enacted The Criminal Law Act No.31 of 1962 (the second Act). Under this act, of those arrested, 26 of them, faced trial before the Supreme Court and the other five were not prosecuted due to lack of evidence. A judicial bench consisting of Justice M C Sansoni, Justice (later Chief Justice) H N G Fernando and Justice L B De Silva, sitting without a jury, conducted the trial-at-bar, which went on for almost three years. On April 6, 1965, 11 of those accused were convicted under section 115 of the Penal Code, as amended by the Criminal Law (Special Provisions) Act No 1 of 1962, and were sentenced to 10 years rigorous imprisonment and to forfeit all their properties.
Meanwhile, Don Francis Douglas Liyanage and 10 others who were convicted, appealed against the judgment and sentence of the Supreme Court of Ceylon in the Privy Council. The appeal came up before Lord MacDermott, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, Lord Pearce and Lord Person and was heard on October 27, 28, November 1, 2, 3 and December 2, 1965.
The appellant held: (i) the first and second acts were invalid for the following reasons:
Under the Constitution of Ceylon there was a separation of powers and the power of the judicature, while the Constitution stood, could not be usurped or infringed by executive or the legislature.
The first and second acts were aimed at the individuals concerned in the abortive coup and were not legislation affecting criminal law of general application, and, although not every enactment ad hominem and ex post facto necessarily infringed the judicial power, yet there was such infringement in the present case, by these two Acts.
(ii) The joint effect of the Ceylon Constitution Order in Council 1946 and the Ceylon Independence Act 1947, was intended to and resulted in giving the Ceylon parliament the full legislative powers of an independent sovereign state; consequently the legislative power of the Ceylon parliament was not limited by inability to pass laws which offered fundamental principles of justice.
E F N Gratiaen QC, H W Jayawardene QC, (of the Bar of Ceylon) D Taverne QC, W Jayawardene, MP Solomon and S J Kadirgamar appeared for the appellants. V Tennekoon QC, (Solicitor-General of Ceylon) V S A Pullenayegum (of the Bar of Ceylon) and R K Handoo appeared for the Crown.
On December 2, 1965, the Privy Council upheld the plea of the 11 convicted prisoners, that they were tried under retroactive legislation that applied only to them and not to any other citizens of Ceylon. In their Lordships view, the acts were ultra vires and invalid. The appellants right to a jury does not therefore arise and their Lordships expressed no opinion on the matter. The Privy Council advised that the appeal should be allowed and the convictions should be quashed. Thus all those convicted by the Supreme Court of Ceylon were duly discharged.
While the government was riding a tumultuous political environment, the economic sphere was no better when the government moved towards increasing the state control of the economy of the country. On July 27, 1961, Bank of Ceylon, the premier commercial bank in the country, was nationalized under the Finance Act No 65 of 1961. The People’s Bank was established as a joint venture between the government and the cooperative movement under the People’s Bank Act No 26 of 1961. The People’s Bank was launched on July 1, 1961, by T B Ilangaratne, the Minister of Commerce, Trade, Food and Shipping.
In 1961, the insurance market was valued at Rs75 million per year and it was almost controlled by British and Ceylonese firms. On January 1, 1962, the Insurance Corporation of Ceylon began business in Colombo and in five other branches, thus terminating the business of the private insurance companies, both local and foreign.
American petroleum companies, Shell, Esso and Caltex controlled the import and the retail distribution of petrol and petroleum products in Ceylon. It was estimated that the annual value of petroleum import and distribution was in the region of Rs300 million. The government nationalized the assets of all the foreign petroleum companies and in 1963 the retail distribution of petrol and the petroleum products was made a monopoly of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation.
As a retaliatory measure against the appropriation of the assets and investments of the American oil companies, President John F Kennedy applied the Hicken-Looper Amendment to the Foreign Aid Bill, which had been passed in the American Congress in 1962, whereby any nation that had nationalized American property and not taken adequate steps to pay compensation was denied American aid.
In the economic field, the international market for rubber began to dwindle steadily with the advancement of the synthetic rubber. As the global consumption of tea became stagnant due to steady growth of American soft drinks, such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Seven-Up etc, sale of tea in the international market began to drop. These factors brought about a marked drop in foreign trade and foreign exchange earnings. The country was forced to introduce stringent controls on foreign exchange. The import of motor cars and other luxury items were gradually banned. Consumer items such as Gillette shaving blades, Parker Pens, Raleigh Bicycle, Cadbury’s Chocolates, Nescafe, Horlicks, Ovaltine, Maidenform brassieres, Guinness stout, State Express 555 cigarettes, cakes, apples, oranges, grapes etc, suddenly disappeared from the local markets, of which the Ceylonese were used to.
Furthermore, suddenly dry fish, which was a popular food item in every household, became scarce. Maldives fish, another imported item, a household delicacy, became so scarce and subsequently it was given on ration. As there was a scarcity of salt in the country the government was forced to import it. Sarongs, bicycle tires, mamotties (hoe) torch batteries were available from State owned cooperatives strictly on the production of the previously owned unserviceable units.
In the meantime, while the government was gripped with political and economic problems, S Thondaman, who was a nominated Member of Parliament then, protested to the government and told the press that the induction of the army in the North and Eastern provinces on purely political conflict was unwise. Political solutions should be found for political problems. He alleged that resorting to armed actions bespeaks of the political barrenness of the government. He levelled allegations against Felix Dias Bandaranaike – the senior Minster in the Srimavo Bandaranaike’s government – for what he termed for his “military adventurism” and described him as being “immature and power drunk”.
Thondaman’s relations with the SLFP government and with Srimavo Bandaranaike soured further when on October 5, 1961, he flouted the government whip’s instruction and voted against the Immigrants and Emigrants amendment Bill. The SLFP leaders began to take baiting on Thondaman.
On October 16, 1962, the Peoples Republic of China invaded parts of Himalayan India, in a surprise attack that ended millennia of peaceful co-existence between the two Asian giants. As a result, approximately 43,000 square kilometers of Indian territory is still under occupation by China.
R G Senanayake made use of the Indo-China clash to belittle Thondaman. He in one of his comment made to the Observer, the leading English daily said, “General Thunder Man” [Thonda – man] should lead his million-strong army to fight the Chinese in the North-East Frontier of India. An often-overlooked conflict, it is significant because it is the primary cause of consternation between two of the largest countries, economies, militaries, and civilizations of the world. It is a conflict that, today, directly involves one-third of humanity.”
In reply Thondaman said, “Sena – nayake means Commander-in-chief of the army. So my good friend R G is better qualified for the post he has offered me. As for going back to the motherland, his ancestors came here before mine, so he should be the first to go to the defense of the land of his ancestors.”
The Chinese attack made the Indians take stock of their military lapses. It was generally agreed that the country lacked proper intelligence gathering arrangements, domestic as well as internationally.
Subsequently, the Delhi Special Police establishment acquired its popular name – the Central Bureau of Investigations, on April 1, 1963. In 1968, the Research Analysis Wing (RAW) the Indian version of the CIA was established. The intelligence Agency RAW is attached with the Prime Minister’s Office and it is a well-known secret in the midst of the international diplomatic circle that RAW operatives are usually posted as diplomats abroad, with the view to establish moles wherever they are being posted, to set up net work of links.
India, in between organizing the official intelligence agencies, both domestic and foreign, Indian army after the Chinese fiasco, recruited youths for a two-year military, intelligence, espionage and counterespionage training. After the completion of the training, by the latter part of 1965, nearly 50 of those specially trained officers were deployed in the South East Asian countries to work as undercover agents. Many of them were attached to the Indian embassies as consuls, enjoying diplomatic immunities. But, nearly a dozen of those trained officials were arranged to join as writers and journalists with leading daily newspapers and weekly magazines, in Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand and other Southeast Asian capitals.
Though they were allowed to function independently, they continued to be in touch with their bosses and were given instructions as and when required to create international awareness, focus and concerns on varieties of subjects, to promote and propagate Indiais interests. Those undercover agents who masqueraded as leading journalists in Southeast Asian capitals were assigned look over the activities of China. They played a leading role in promoting India’s image and prominence, whenever needed and in 1971 when the Indian army entered East Pakistan with the view to create the new state of Bangladesh, and again in 1987 when the Indian forces entered Sri Lanka as peacekeepers.
At present, except for one or two who are still in active journalistic career in Southeast Asia countries, other old gangs have faded off. The last big name to leave on retirement with his European wife, which happened in the beginning of the year 2000, was from Hong Kong.