Midweek Review

C. W. W. Kannangara
A man of many facets – II
by Savimon Urugodawatta
Executive Committee Member,
Central Colleges Past Pupils’ Association of Sri Lanka
Part I of this article appeared yesterday

Cambridge Junior - 1st in the British Empire

In 1901, he passed the Cambridge Junior Examination, obtaining the highest marks in the whole of British Empire. In 1904, he presented himself for Cambridge Senior (University Entrance) Examination but failed to win the only Scholarship, thereby hindering his life ambition to take to law. However, Rev. Darrel offered him a teaching post to teach Mathematics at Richmond where he continued for a few years. However, his ambition to take to law compelled him to join Prince of Wales college in Moratuwa as Senior Mathematics Master in January, 1907, since he could easily attend Law College from Moratuwa.

Mathematics Teacher

It was in this year that the Government decided to raise Moratuwa to the status of a Local Board and elections were held at the year end. J. G. C. Mendis, Principal of Prince of Wales not only entered the contest but also insisted that his staff manage the polling booth located in the College premises. It was customary for candidates to treat voters at the time and the Principal expected his teachers to serve the voters and also canvass. Two teachers among them, C.W. W.Kannangara and H.D.S. Gunasekara, refused to take part in the Election although their moral support was for the Principal. Kannangara drew his salary at the end of the month and bade farewell to Prince of Wales. This was Kannagara who always stood by his principles.

Later he joined the staff of Wesley College in Colombo, which job enabled him to continue his studies at Law College. It is worthwhile to mention here that Oliver Goonetilleke, who later became the Financial Secretary, a Minister of Finance and a Governor - General, was one of his erstwhile pupils, who later helped him to get the required funds for Free Education. To earn an extra income, he started teaching at Methodist College in the evening.

Social activities

Kannangara’s dedicated service to the society spread far and wide, starting from being elected as Secretary to the Galle Reading Room in 1911. Among other positions he held were, Secretary of the Richmond College O.B.A, Committee member of Galle Cricket Club and Gymkhana Club (where he was a versatile player of Billiard and Ajutha), Secretary of Galle Poor Relief Committee, Vice President of the Sinhalese Young Men’s Association and General Secretary of the Galle Temperance Movement. It was while practicing at the Galle Bar that he appeared free for innocent Sinhala Buddhist leaders who were prosecuted by the Colonial Government during the anti – Muslim riots.

In 1911, he supported Ponnambalam Ramanathan against Dr. H. Marcus Fernando in the election of the Educated Ceylonese seat for the Southern Province in the Legislative Council. In 1917 also, Kannangara supported Ponanmbalam Ramanathan against J.S. Jayawardene thereby enabling him to win the seat again. In the same year, he was instrumental in forming the first Political Association in Galle - The Galle National Association - and was elected as its secretary, which post he held and adorned upto 1923 when he resigned after he was elected to the Legislative Council. C. L. Wickremasinghe who was elected acting Secretary says that " first thing that struck me was the thoroughness and methodical and ungrudging manner in which Kannangara has carried out his duties as Secretary and the high standard he has set to his successor. However, after Kannagara’s resignation, the Association died a natural death.

Ceylon National Congress

This was a period of agitation for political reforms, and for this purpose,. The Ceylon National Congress (originally named as Ceylon Agricultural Association) and The Ceylon Reform League called a joint Conference in Colombo (with 144 delegates) on December 15th, 1917 and Kannangara led the delegation from Galle. At this conference, Ponnambalam Arunasalam and D.R. Wijewardene were elected as President and Secretary. The first Conference could not achieve any success and a second conference was held on 13th December, 1918 at which Kannagara proposed that:

(i) very liberal reforms be introduced into our Constitution;

(ii) Legislative and Executive Councils be enlarged;

(iii) there should be elected majorities in our Councils;

(iv) there should be more popular control of Municipal Council

(v) there should be larger employment of Ceylonese in more responsible and higher branches of the Civil and other public services ;

(vi) there should be larger grants for education;

(vii) there should be greater support and encouragement to agriculture and local industries;

(viii) iniquitous and inequitable poll – tax should be abolished.

As a Legislator

His entry to Legislative Council politics commenced by contesting the bi – election for the Galle seat when it fell vacant on the death of O.C.Tillekeratne in 1923. He defeated David de Silva collecting 1969 votes against 115. In 1924 also, he won the Southern Province Western Division seat defeating Francis de Zoysa by a majority of 1867 votes. After the promulgation of the Donoughmore Constitution, Kannangara entered the State Council as the member for Galle, defeating S. H. Dahanayake by a majority of 6640 votes. At the 1936 State Council Election, he shifted to his own native place Matugama and returned as Member for Matugama, defeating S, Suriyagoda by a majority of 4459 votes. He remained in the State Council upto 1947 General Election at which the forces that worked against the Free Education System led by D. S. Senanayake and the Catholic Church defeated him.

Now let us turn to the lesser known aspects of Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara which have been least dealt with by numerous writers and journalists since his immense contribution to Education has been adequately and profoundly dealt with.

Religious holidays for Non - Christians

In 1925, it was Kannangara who agitated for equal treatment for Buddhists when the minority Christians enjoyed all the plums and puddings. He drew the attention of the Legislative Council in the following words : " The provisions regarding Public and Bank Holidays for Buddhists are given in the Ordinance No. 4 of 1886. In that Ordinance, Section 4 states that all the Sundays shall be ‘dies non’ and schedule 4, list is given of the days that shall be holidays in the Colony. In this Schedule, 4 days, December 24 - 27 are given to the Christians to commemorate the birth of Christ. Then again January 1st has religious significance and January 1st and 2nd are holidays. Therefore, Sir, we would ask that some proper and adequate provisions be made for the Buddhists as well as those of other religious faiths. " But nothing was forthcoming and he had to raise the issue again and again. As a result, Poson and the day following Vesak were declared Public Holidays on 28th February, 1928.

Salaries of lower Grade Employees

Kannangara opposed paying high salaries and giving numerous other privileges to the top rungs in the Government. He always fought for a better deal for the lower rungs. In 1926, he fought for higher salaries for Headmen. This is how he addressed the issue:

" The general Public are very anxious to see that the work of the Headman is done well. For that purpose, it is necessary that the Headman should be a man of character, intelligence, large – hearted and liberal – minded and that he should have the physical fitness, social position and local influence necessary for public office. Men with these qualifications cannot be attracted for Rs. 10 / - or Rs. 15 / - per year.

In the midst of Workers’ struggles

In 1927, harbour workers led by A. E.Gunasinghe struck work demanding higher wages and the Colonial Government appointed an Arbitration Committee with Justice Schneider as Umpire and C. W. W. Kannangara on behalf of workers and C. S. Burnt to look after the interests of employers. After deliberations, the Arbitrator awarded higher wages and 13,000 workers returned to work. As result of the award, the workers not only got higher wages but also one hour for meals and double wages for night work.

In 1928, All Ceylon Trade Union Congress was formed consisting of 11 men and 9 women. The list included, among others, C.W.W.Kannangara, C.H.Z.

Fernando, A. Mahadeva, Victor Corea, G.C.S.Corea, George E. de Silva, and Dr. Muttiah.

Among the women members, were Agnes de Silva, Dr. Mrs. Iyer, Mrs A. E. Gunasinghe, Mrs. A. E. de Silva , Mrs Cyril Jayewardene and others. This was precursor of the Ceylon Labour Party.

Ceylon National Congress

In 1930, CWWK was elected President of the Ceylon National Congress and in welcoming him to the Annual Sessions held in Knady, E.A.P.Wijeratne, Chairman of the Organizing Committee, ushered Kannangara saying : " Mr. Kannagara is a worthy successor to the phalanx of the great men who had held this exalted office.

Continued on Thursday


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