A vignette of British Justice in Colonial Ceylon


This quotation from the book "Riots and Martial Law in Ceylon 1915’’ by Sir P. Ramanathan, K.C., C.MG pertains to the dismissal of Adigar S. N. W. Hulugalle by the British Government during the 1915 riots. P.B. Herath, his son-in-law who was the first Kandyan Civil Servant, was also dismissed and Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan refers to that act of injustice and the sequence leading up to it in the same book. (CS)

"The unjust dishonour of the public servants of the Sinhalese community has been the subject of much comment and dissatisfaction in Ceylon. I would refer to one or two typical cases.

Mr. S. N. W. Hulugalle is a most respected member of the Kandyan Sinhalese community. He began service in 1868, was appointed Ratemahatmaya in 1875, was chosen to represent the Kandyan Sinhalese in the Legislative Council in 1900, and retired from that seat in 1907. In 1903 the rank of Dissawe was conferred on him, and the "still higher rank of Adigar in 1906, while holding the office of Ratemahatmaya, from which he retired in 1913, owing to ill-health and old age. Having served the Government for forty-seven years loyally and efficiently, he was held in the highest esteem by his countrymen.

Soon after the riots ceased, the Government Agent for the North-Western Province requested Adigar Hulugalle to immediately explain why he left the district on or about the 2nd June, and made no attempt to assist the present Ratemahatmaya in keeping order, or to communicate with him (the Government Agent) as to the offer of his services.

The Adigar explained that, when he left Hulugalla on the 30th of May there was not the slightest indication of any disturbance there; that as he had retired from the Government service, and was suffering from the infirmities of old age, no one had requested his aid; that having received an invitation to a wedding at Balapitiya in the Southern Province, he visited, on the way, Mr. Charles de Soysa, at Moratuwa, and attended the wedding on the 1st June; that he signed the marriage register as a witness, returned with Mr. Charles de Soysa to Moratuwa on the 2nd, and proceeded on the 3rd to his daughter’s residence at Vanduragala; that he remained with his daughter till the 13th instant, met the Government Agent on that day, and, in response to his wishes, remained at Maho to help the Ratemahatmaya in preparing returns connected with the riots; and that after that work was over, he went to his daughter at Vanduragala on the 17th June, as her time of parturition required his presence there.

The Government Agent, by his letter of 4th September, 1915, informed him that, as he was absent from the scene of the riots in the Kurnegalle District between the 1st and 13th June, and had failed to assist in suppressing the disturbances, His Excellency the Governor had decided to deprive him of the rank of Adigar. A notification to that effect appeared in the Government Gazette.

Mr. Hulugalle fell a victim to the utterly groundless theory that he was a conspirator with the rioters. Did he leave the district for a fortnight for the purpose of denying to the rioters the pleasure of his presence at the scene of the riots? The Government and its Agent had no eyes to see the absurdity of the suggestion nor the completeness of the reason assigned by Mr. Hulugalle for his absence. He left the district upon an invitation to a marriage fixed months before, was present at it, and signed the marriage register, and stayed at his daughter’s house during her confinement, and readily responded to the call of the Government Agent to go and help the Ratemahatmaya in making up the papers connected with the riots. In the face of this complete explanation, and of the fact that a man close upon seventy years of age, and made more infirm by illness, could not go amongst a band of ruffians and take an active part in the quelling of their disturbances, he was deprived of the great rank which he had earned as a just reward for his lifelong devotion to the King and the Government. What confidence can the people have in Government Agents or Governors who are prepared to depart from justice and righteous judgment without the least concern for truth?

The case of Mr. P. B. Herat, of the Ceylon Civil Service, is also worth mentioning. He was the Police Magistrate of Avissawella, and as such had much to do with the rioters and the Police.

One Mr. Gunawardane, who was the Vidane Arachchi (rural police officer) of Kaluaggala, being charged before a Court Martial with treason and riotously damaging a mosque, some Muhammadan witnesses for the prosecution swore that he came in a motor-car, and gave to the second accused a parcel wrapped in a paper, and went away, and that the second accused distributed the contents of it to some persons in the crowd, who bored holes, and that thereupon some explosions were heard and a mosque was injured. The suggestion was that the first accused handed a packet of dynamite. He denied this in toto, and narrated how he was occupied throughout that day in the work of suppressing the riots. He cited Magistrate Herat and other witnesses to prove his innocence.

The Court Martial rejected the evidence for the defence and found all the four accused guilty, and sentenced them to death. Subsequently, the Governor, upon further enquiry, commuted the death sentences on the second, third and fourth accused to rigorous imprisonment, released the first accused, and directed the prosecution of the four Muhammadans who gave evidence against them for perjury.

But before this remarkable reversal of the case for the prosecution happened, the Government Agent for the Western Province reported to the Governor, on 7th of July, 1915, that all the damage done by the rioters at Puwakpitiya, Avissawella, Talduwa and

Napagama, amounting to Rs. 50,000, was, in his opinion, due to Mr. Herat not dispersing by a timely use of force by the Volunteers and Police, the crowd who caused the damage. Mr. Fraser added, "His constant associations on these days with Proctor de Mel, who is proved to have attended meetings held by Jayatilaka, and such like people, is suspicious."

But Mr. de Mel is the leading lawyer in the district, commanding a great influence over the people by reason of his high character, independence and proficiency in Sinhalese. Mr. Herat explained that there was no other gentleman in the district so powerful for good as he to confer with, and to help him, who was a stranger in Avissawella and carried no weight with the people except that of a Magistrate; and Mr. Jayatilaka is a distinguished Barrister practising in Colombo, whom the Mayor of Colombo had chosen to go and address the people who were coming from Avissawella to Colombo, via Hanwella, for the purpose of helping their fellow-religionists; who were reported to be in fear of massacre by the Muhammadans.

Mr. Herat explained to the Government how he did his very best to pacify the rioters, and how impossible it was with only five armed constables to oppose a crowd of over a thousand persons, whose passions were aroused against the Muhammadans on account of their intolerance and aggression. He said that, if he had ordered the five men to fire on the crowd, they would have clubbed them to death before they could reload their guns. He explained that, to avoid useless provocation and irritation he asked them to put away their guns, and did not think it advisable to let the European planters, who had enlisted as Volunteers, to use their guns; that in doing so, he followed the example of the Police Officers in Colombo; and that Mr. Jackson, the officer in command of the European Volunteers at Avissawella, agreed with him, that, as there was no disturbances at Avissawella that night, and no crowd present, it was not necessary to make a display of armed force.

He further explained that he ordered the release of certain men, who had been arrested as rioters, because he found that the Police could not possibly keep the rioters in confinement without drawing upon themselves the danger of being attacked and done to death by the crowd, and without the police station itself being wrecked. In this order of release, too, he was following the example of the Colombo Police, as reported in that very morning’s newspapers which he had read.

On the 9th of October, 1915, the Colonial Secretary wrote to Mr. Herat as follows;-

"I am directed to state that the Governor in Executive Council has carefully considered the evidence and charges against you, your reply thereto, and the report of the Committee of the Executive Council before which you were examined.

"His Excellency regrets that he has been compelled to come to the conclusion that you have shown yourself to be unfitted for Government appointment, and that it is, therefore, impossible to retain you in the public service.

"In these circumstances he is prepared to accept your resignation, if tendered within seven days. In the event of your not taking advantage of the opportunity now offered to you, it would be necessary to take other steps to terminate your employment under Government. "

Mr. Herat tendered his resignation without prejudice to his cause, and begged for a copy of the report of the Committee of Inquiry of the Executive Council, which the Government however refused to give. .

If the conduct of Mr. Herat deserved the forfeit of his office on the ground that he could have prevented, by the timely use of force by the Volunteers and Police, the damage done by the rioters in the Avissawella District, why has not the Government meted out the same punishment to Mr. Fraser and his Assistant Agents, and to other Police Magistrates, and the Inspector-General of Police, for not dispersing the crowds in other places by timely using the methods prescribed in the eighth chapter of the Criminal Procedure Code."

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