A response to Prof. Nalin De Silva and Mr. Udaya Gamanpila by Dr. S. Thavarajah on behalf of EPDP at the APRC
Dr. S. Thavarajah’s Submission Part 4.
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. The only Sinhalese detained was K.M.P. Rajaratne, MP.
The passing of the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Bill in the House on July 17th , 1958 (second reading on August 15th), containing meager provision for reasonable use of Tamil was considered by Tamils something like trying to defuse a raging fire with bucketful of water.
The bill provides for the use of Tamil for certain administrative purposes in the Northern and Eastern provinces and the right of a Tamil to correspond in Tamil language. It would become effective only after promulgation of certain regulations under the bill, after the effective date of the Official Languages act of 1956, which was December 31, 1960.
A bill presented in the House to grant limited rights in respect of official use of Tamil language was passed without the participation of Tamil leaders who were in detention. Offer to attend the debate under police escort was turned down by the detained MPs.
The glimpse of a silver line, I found in the whole exercise, was in Mr. Bandaranayke's speech defending the bill wherein he had said that with regard to the use of Tamil for certain administrative purposes in the Northern and Eastern provinces the concession was on the ground that there were a very large number of Tamil citizens in those areas. I made the same point, Mr. Chairman, when I tried to explain why the Tamils chose the Northern and Eastern provinces as the unit for the consolidation of their political power.
The aftermath of the 1958 anti-Tamil riots and the assassination of Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandranayake in 1959 had seen a lull in the non-violence agitation campaign of Tamils. However, the two general elections held in March and July, 1960 gave again a clear mandate to the policies and the political programmes of the ITAK.
The ITAK supported the SLFP to defeat the UNP from forming the Government in April 1960, on the assurance given by the SLFP (at meeting with Felix Dias Bandaranayake at Chelvanayagam's residence on March 23rd 1960) that the SLFP would implement the B-C pact in its entirety. However, Dudley Senanayke dissolved the parliament with out allowing the SLFP to form the Government with ITAK support.
In the general election that followed in July, 1960 the SLFP secured adequate majority to form Government without any party's support, thus, the assurance given earlier to implement B-C pact in full had met with the same fate as that of B-C pact of 1957; another example of the ugly face of ethno-majority rule.
On January 1st 1961, Sinhala became the official and administrative language of the country in terms of the act. At the same time the government announced that public servants would be required to pass a proficiency test in Sinhala within 3 years from that date. The option was given to those above 50 years to retire before December 31, 1961 without compensation.
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 calling 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. The success, I measure Mr. Chairman, not because it brought to a complete halt of the civil administration in Jaffna for about two months and to a lesser extent in other parts of Northern and Eastern provinces, but due to the fact that it generated tremendous enthusiasm among all section 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 any form of 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 section of people including elderly men and women. The Tamil congress members, LSSP activists, Mayor of Jaffna T.S. Durairajah, professionals and businessmen; all throw their weight with the campaign by direct participation with their supporters, in spite of severe harassment by police.
I must say with special reference of the complete identification of the Muslim community with the campaign - lawyers, businessmen and people like M.C. Ahamed, MP for Kalmunai and Marcan Markar, MP for Batticaloa - they all played a very active role.
I wish to quote excerpts from what Mr. Chelvanayagam said during the high time of "Satyagraha Campaign", I quote.
"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 Gandian 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 Gandian 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 restore 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 arrest, detention." I unquote.
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-violence campaign to regain their lost rights was brought to an end by the use of violence; followed by declaration of curfew and arrest of Tamil leaders.
I will quote from the Times of Ceylon, the evening daily, in its editorial on 22nd February, 1961 about the police brutality. I quote.
"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." I unquote.
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, I quote.
"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." I unquote.
An acting G.A. Nissanka Wijeyeratne, a Sinhalese, who was quoted in the newspapers as saying, I quote " The Satyagrahis are very well behaved gentlemen"
The way the state handled the passive resistant 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 rooted impact 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 of the next decade.
Then followed the in-disciplinary actions of the soldiers during curfew hours. There were incidents of shooting causing death and injuries in the pretext of maintaining law and order. Shops were robbed of soft drinks, cigarettes and eatables; request for payment from shopkeepers met with the answer "ask Chelvanayagam"
The then Point Pedro Magistrate, S.N. Rajadurai, who ordered the Police to remand a soldier who had shot dead a deaf washer-man on the road, was promptly transferred to Kurunegala. Many cases, in which military personnel were accused, were transferred to courts in Colombo on Government orders, thereby causing hindrance for a full scale hearing, with witness sometimes poor villagers.
I am citing all these to show that every single action of this nature had left behind a deep scar in the Tamils, particularly with the younger generation.
Mr. Chairman, I wish to categorically state, 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.
When the whole country was in grieving mood when the "coup d'etat" came to light in January, 1962 and the sensational trial that followed involving top ranking people, the Tamil polity had not carried out any agitation campaign as responsible citizens of this country.
Again from the beginning of 1963 till the General election of March 1965 the Tamil polity adopted all the available democratic, non-violent and extra- parliamentary methods with the sole motive to regain their 'status quo' that was being stripped away day by day. These agitations were met with; harassments and provocations by the security forces, legal suits and tit-for-tat attitude by the government. For example, a 'black flag' protest to a Government Minister in Point-Pedro in early 1963 was met by a stringent Treasury Circular, on his return to Colombo, in the strict enforcement of Sinhala only to public servants.
Another action of the government that worried the Tamil community during this period was the closure of many Tamil schools and Tamil streams in schools outside North and Eastern provinces, with the introduction of 'suyabasawa' (mother language) as medium of instruction, and the decision to send 2000 Sinhala Teachers to the schools in North and East.
The de-facto introduction of 'chit system' in giving employment in state sector was a growing concern because Tamils would not stand a chance under such a system.
The inaction of the government against physical threat to Tamil public servants in work places by the Sinhala brethren, particularly by the employees in lower strata, was also another growing concern, since it was aimed at forcing them to vacate their posts.
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 Chelvanayam. An agreement coupled with assurance from ITAK to support to form the Government. It was a political marriage between UNP and 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 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 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.
Although the B-C and D-C pacts had admitted that the best option to give the righteous place to Tamils in the political power sharing of the country was through a mechanism of devolving power to the areas of their habitation, as far as the degree of devolution of power was concerned, both these pacts had not made any headway; in fact it was vague. Critics expressed concern that it would be glorified Municipalities.
In spite of this drawback, 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, 1966 giving effect to Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Bill of 1958.
These positive signs towards honouring the agreement had generated immense enthusiasm within the Tamil polity. They were prepared to shelve their original demands for a compromise. The following historical events stand testimony to this statement.
1. The Tamils for the first time since 1956 wholeheartedly participated in the Independence Day celebrations on February 4, 1966. Up to then it was a day of mourning and boycott of celebrations.
2. Prime Minister Dudly Senanayake was the guest speaker on the final day of ITAK convention in Kalmunai, in June 1966. The first and only occasion in the country where Head of State was invited to address the gathering of a mainstream Tamil political party.
In his addressed he stated, I quote.
"As long as I am the Prime Minister, I wish to assure the Tamils that the Tamil language and heritage will never suffer. You will agree with me that in a multi-racial country like Ceylon, preservation of the culture and the language of the different groups is essential part of democracy. If we want to enjoy the fruits of freedom this racial harmony must be present" I unquote.
3. A new chapter in Jaffna's history was witnessed on September 9, 1966; more than 100,000 Tamils gathered to welcome Prime Minister Dudly Senanayake. The ITAK and the Tamil Congress, the two rivals, sunk their differences and joined together to welcome the PM. It was a scene never witnessed before or after in Jaffna, where only black flags greeted the Ministers in the past.
I, myself had witnessed this occasion as a teenager. The entire town was colorfully decorated and the road leading to the Jaffna railway station was decorated with whole cut stems of plantain trees with bunch of plantains and young leaves of coconut. I could still remember how that large gathering cheered when the PM spoke from the specially erected platform in the Jaffna esplanade.
Why I am citing all these events are Mr. Chairman, to show that the Tamil polity believed that the Sinhala leadership will stand to honour the agreement. The reception I referred to was not a reception given to the PM of this country; it was a reception accorded to the policy of the UNP at that time towards the Tamils question.
To be continued tomorrow
- Asian Tribune -