by S. Thavarajah,
Former MP, Spokesperson EPDP and Member of APRC representing
Continued from yesterday
Consequences of the
‘Sihala Only’ Act
The events that followed the April 1956 General Elections
widened the ethnic divide to the point of no return; they made
deep wounds in the hearts and minds of the Tamils. They are:
1. Legislating Sinhala as the official language in the
House of Representatives on June 5th 1956 while all Tamil
members, the LSSP and Communist party members opposed it.
2. About 200 Tamil volunteers led by 12 Members of
Parliament who were staging a silent protest outside the
Parliament building at Galle Face Green on the same day were
manhandled by a mob, while the police looked on.
3. This was followed by rioting in the city with Tamils
getting manhandled in buses, trains and on the streets.
4. In 10 days of sporadic rioting, an estimated 150 persons
were killed, with the majority of the victims, Tamils.
Consequent to these events, the ITAK reiterated their policy
objective of, "Autonomous Tamil linguistic state within a
Federal Union of Ceylon" as the only way of protecting the
"Cultural freedom and identity of Tamil speaking people."
Year long political dilly-dallying came to an end with a
compromise settlement referred to as the Banda-Chelva pact on
July 25, 1957. The concept of devolution of power as a means to
ensure the political rights of the Tamil speaking people got its
acceptance from the Sinhalese polity for the first time through
this accord. Further, the pact implied the need to maintain the
demography of the districts in land settlements. On the question
of language, it got the ‘parity of status’ as a parallel
language of administration in the Northern and Eastern provinces
and for ‘reasonable use’ in the rest of the country.
The delay in introducing the necessary legislative enactments
to give effect to the agreement was causing concern amongst the
Tamils. This vacuum gave impetus to various disobedience
campaigns in the North and East.
The intolerance of the Tamil polity for the delay in
implementing the pact could be seen from the following
expression by Dr. E. M. V. Naganathan on August 13th 1957:
"The policy of political agreement by negotiations appears to
be futile, because the government cannot be depended upon; the
possibility of carrying on our freedom struggle through civil
disobedience may be deemed necessary again."
Within nine months of signing, on April 9th 1958, Mr.
Bandaranayke announced abrogation of the pact unilaterally. The
pact finally found its resting place in the archives.
Since then the phrase "betrayal of assurances" became the
widely used axiom in the Tamil polity. It is worth recalling
what Mr. Bandaranayke is said to have told the Buddhist monks,
when he was under pressure to abort the pact.
"If you are against this pact, I would certainly tear it
up but it will endanger the future of the country. You have to
think about it."
Provoked by this course of action, the ITAK leadership called
upon the Tamil speaking people on April 10th, "to embark on a
non-violent civil disobedience movement," and declared that the
only alternative before the Tamils were to, "fight back for
sheer survival or to be forever content to remain a subject
race." As announced, the ITAK leadership continued with various
forms of disobedience campaigns.
The brewing up of tension as a result of all these
developments led to the anti-Tamil riots of 1958. It began with
the attack on May 22 on the ITAK delegates by stopping the train
in which they were traveling to attend a party convention at
Vavuniya. Four of the delegates were killed in the attack.
Another train carrying the delegates was derailed the following
day. Within a week, the riots spread to all parts of island.
The worst that reverberates in the minds of the Tamils, was
the burning of a Brahmin priest alive by pouring petrol on him
in Panadura. The other excesses occurred in Polonaruwa and
Hinguragoda, where Tamils were chopped with swords and grass
cutting knives or burnt alive.
In spite of all these, there was not even an attempt to harm
a single Sinhalese out of a total number of about 2,100 who
lived in Jaffna at that time.
Instead of arresting the perpetrators of the riots, the
Government detained the Tamil leadership. Several Tamil MPs
including ITAK leader S. J. V. Chelvanayagam and about 150 of
its district leaders were placed under house arrest. The
detainees included Muslims as well.
On January 1st 1961, Sinhala became the official and
administrative language of the country in terms of the act. The
implementation of the Official Languages Act, without any
conciliation for the Tamils, had spurred the emotions of the
Tamils. A large number of public servants opted to retire.
The resolution passed at the 1961 ITAK convention called on
the Tamils of the Northern and Eastern provinces;
"to launch a direct action campaign by picketing Government
offices and to refuse to co-operate with officials conducting
business in Sinhala and to resist the teaching of Sinhala in
schools in Tamil areas,"
is testimony to the emotional upsurge in the Tamil polity as
a result of implementation of this act.
As the Tamil polity had failed in its entire endeavour to
regain its status quo, the call by the ITAK for a "satyagraha
campaign" was met with grate success. It generated tremendous
enthusiasm among all sections of Tamil people and it brought
together the diverse polity of the Tamils with one motivation.
The participants at the "satyagraha campaign" were strictly
forbidden from resorting to violence either by deed or word,
even under grave provocation.
The campaign, which started with about 200 volunteers of the
ITAK in front of the Jaffna Kachcheri on February 20th 1961 drew
a large crowd from various cross sections of people, including
elderly. Tamil congress members, LSSP activists, Mayor of Jaffna
T. S. Durairajah, professionals and businessmen; all threw their
weight behind the campaign by direct participation with their
supporters, in spite of severe harassment by police.
This is what Mr. Chelvanayagam said during the height of the
"As the political parties in south Ceylon treat the Tamil
question as a suitable issue to play upon the emotions of the
Sinhalese voters and enthrone themselves on the seats of power,
these parties or their politicians refuse, or are unable, to see
the justice of our demands."
"The Tamil Arasu Kadchi, which admittedly represents the
Northern and Eastern Provinces and which claims that it is not
merely a political party, but is a liberation movement, has one
of three courses open to it. The first is to surrender, the
second is to rise in armed revolt and the third is to adopt the
Gandhian technique of Satyagraha and civil disobedience."
"The first one of abject surrender will be a disgrace to our
people and will be aiding and abetting the political crime of
genocide. The second one of rising in revolt is both
impracticable and immoral. We are thus left with the third,
namely the Gandhian technique. What do our critics want us to
do? Do they want us to give up the struggle for the vindication
of our unalienable rights?"
"The Parliamentary means of objection have failed merely
because the party was outnumbered by a communal majority.
Therefore, the party wants to resort to extra-Parliamentary
measures which are not normal. By adopting this method, the
party subjects itself and its supporters to undergo suffering
without hurting its opponents. The party members and its
supporters know very well that they would be subjected to
The two months of "Satyagraha Campaign" was brought to a halt
by police using force against Satyagrahis. They were trampled
with boots, attacked with batons, kicked and dragged away. A
strictly non-violent campaign to regain their lost rights was
brought to an end by the use of violence; followed by
declaration of curfew and the arrest of Tamil leaders.
The Times of Ceylon, the evening daily, in its
editorial on 22nd February, 1961 about the police brutality
reported as follows;
"It is noteworthy that Earl Russel’s and Federal Party’s were
both non-violent demonstrators, but the significant difference
was that while Russel and his followers had to deal with the
disciplined London police, the Federal party had to reckon
with Ceylon Police."
S. D. Bandaranayake, a government MP at that time, who had
been critical of the Tamil claims, after visiting Jaffna to
assess the situation stated;
"It is the duty of patriotic Sinhalese people to grant the
Tamils in the Northern and Eastern areas their rightful place in
the use of the Tamil language; the only alternative to a
settlement is division of the country like what has happened in
Korea, Vietnam and the Congo."
Acting GA, Nissanka Wijeyeratne, a Sinhalese, was quoted in
the newspapers as saying; "The Satyagrahis are very well
The way the state handled the passive resistance of the
Tamils to win over their rightful place had left behind
un-healable deep wounds in the mindset of the Tamil community.
It had left behind a deep scar amongst the teenagers of that
time, who were onlookers of the treatment meted out to the elder
generation of their community. These teenagers became
militants in the next decade.
With all the violence unleashed against the Tamils, in 1956
and in 1958 by mobs and in 1961 by the forces in crushing a
non-violent uprising, the Tamils by and large had not resorted
to any form of violence. But they started to realize that the
state cannot be depended upon to provide them with adequate
protection against lawlessness.
In spite of all these bitter experiences, the March 1965
general election turned out to give a glimpse of hope to Tamils.
The election was followed by an agreement between Dudley
Senanayake and Chelvanayagam; an agreement, coupled with
assurance from the ITAK to support to form the Government. It
was a political marriage between the UNP and the ITAK, but the
honeymoon did not withstand time.
This agreement conceptually embodied the underlying
principles of the B-C pact, thus reiterated the acceptance by
the Sinhala polity that, (1) devolution of power is the only
means to ensure the political rights of the Tamils (2) there is
a need to maintain the demography of the districts and provinces
in land settlements (3) Tamils should be given ‘parity of
status’ in the administration of executive and judiciary in the
North and East.
As compared to the B-C pact, the D-C pact had acknowledged
one more conception; that the Northern and Eastern provinces
were the traditional habitat of the Tamils. It is evident in
the pact by acceding to (a) land in the Northern and Eastern
Provinces should in the first instant be granted to landless
persons in the District; (b) secondly to Tamil speaking persons
resident in the Northern and Eastern provinces; (c) thirdly to
other citizens in Ceylon, preference being given to Tamil
citizens in the rest of the Island.
Critics on the Tamils side expressed concern that the pact,
if implemented, would result in glorified Municipalities. In
spite of this criticism, the Tamil polity by and large was
prepared to accept the pact as a compromise.
The first phase of the agreement was honoured by passing the
Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Regulations in January,
Part IV Continued on tomorrow
Chelvanayakam, Amirthalingam & Mangayarkarasi