Features
We must value our freedom

By Sp. Correspondent
This year marks fifty fourth anniversary of our Independence from British rule one of the most prolonged eras of domination by an imperial power in the long history of this country. We had been ruled by the British from 1815 to 1948. There is a propensity towards the belief among the people of this country that we had won our independence without a single drop of blood being shed to achieve it. In fact some of the national leaders of yesteryear were recorded as saying that: we won this independence almost without any effort on our part.

There is however very little truth in this statement. The recent history of the country records that there were two armed rebellions against the British rule first in 1817-18 when the British went back on their promise to rule the country on the conditions of an agreement reached between the leaders of the Kandyan kingdom and the British government under the terms of the accord now known as the Kandyan convention. Under this accord the British agreed to rule the country according to the laws of the Sinhala people whose leaders had signed the Kandyan convention with the British on this understanding. The rebellion known as the Wellassa Uprising was put down by the British under Governor Robert Brownrigg who used brutal methods to suppress the revolt.

The rebellion has been very valiantly fought by the Sinhala people led by a leader Monaravila Keppetipola Disawa, whose heroism surprised even the British who had sent him to the rebellious province to quell the revolt. But when Keppetipola went to the province meeting the leaders of the revolt he was convinced that he had to join his countrymen and not the rulers. He returned the detachment of troops that the British had given him with their arms.

Kepptipola had not only returned the detachment and the arms but sent a message to the British that it was not honourable for him to use the arms that British had entrusted him with. Kepptipola was later captured by the British and beheaded. Even when he faced the executioner, he died like a hero not flinching but facing death composedly.

In the rebellion thousands of Sinhala people from the province Wellassa were killed as the British had almost lost the battles in many parts of the province. Brownrigg is credited with the now notorious order he issued to the British troops," cut down every yielding tree, pull down every dwelling house, destroy all fields, canals and irrigation reservoirs, kill all Sinhalese males over the age of 14 years and slaughter all cattle leaving those which are needed for the use of the (British) army." This scorched earth policy adopted by Brownrigg drew severe criticism in the liberal British press and the British Parliament appointed a committee to investigate what the British press called" Brownrigg’s mad dog hunt in Ceylon (Sri Lanka)" Robert Brownrigg was recalled after the hearing of the committee.

The next rebellion comes three decades later in 1848 and is known as the Matale rebellion. This revolt was caused by the British take over of the land of the Kandyan peasantry and the introduction of the plantations to this country. One of the main factors that contributed to this revolt was the barricading of lands that were traditionally used by the indigenous population for grazing their cattle. When the British planters who had fenced lands that belonged to the people traditionally, public anger was increasing. The revolt which was led by a Buddhist monk Kudapola Unnanse, Gongalegoda Banda and Puran Appu was also crushed by the British. The leaders including the Buddhist monk was executed, this time by a firing squad.

Thousands of people had paid with their lives for the independence which we have got today. There was also the national resurgence movement headed by people like Ven. Mohottiwatte Gunananda, Anagarika Dharmapala, D. B. Jayatilaka, F. R. Senanayake, E. W. Perera, Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Abdul Cader, T. B. Jayah who had made their individual contribution to the freedom struggle in this country. Later when D. S. Senanayake, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, Dr. S. A. Wickramasinghe, Phillip Gunewardena, Dr. N. M. Perera and other leaders organized the freedom struggle they too made their own significant contribution to the freedom movements of this country.

Several of these leaders were jailed by the colonial authorities and they had made contributions for the regaining of independence and it is fitting to record their contribution as these leaders are no longer living with us today.

The transition from a colony to an independent state had been gradual though we had gained independence in 1948. Till the late 1950s the British bases remained here and the British Privy Council remained the supreme appellate court for lawsuits of this country. People continued to take oaths in the name of the British monarchs and the government was conducting its business in the name of the British king or queen.

Gradually these vestiges left over from colonial rule were shed by successive governments and in 1972 Sri Lanka became a Republic adopting a new constitution for the first time. In 1978 we once again underwent a constitutional change adopting a second constitution with an executive President and a parliament which still remained as the legislature. The new proportional electoral system was also adopted changing the pattern of electoral process followed hitherto.

The transformation of the economy to an independent one has also taken place in this period of nearly half a century. We have developed new economic ties with rest of Asia and new markets for our products have been opened. But, the overall pattern of our development has not made a large enough dent to overcome common problems in most third world countries like high rate of unemployment, inflation, incidence of poverty and the slow rates of growth.

It is important of a country which was rich natural resources and which has a considerable infrastructure base like the irrigation systems that had been existing for centuries. The ancient irrigation system in this country has not been understood by most of the decision makers though there had been piecemeal projects implemented from time to time by different governments that came to power. Even today after several years of completing the Mahaveli Development Scheme was implemented large areas which could have been developed under the existing irrigation systems remain neglected. In districts like Anuradhapura, Kurunegala. Polonnaruwa, Ampara and Hambantota.


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