It is just as well, at this point to study the communal problem as it arose at that time.
One of the main reasons why the Tamils occupied a better place in the government service and the professions under British rule than the Sinhalese did was due to the head start they had in the sphere of learning English although this was by accident and not design.
The American Ceylon Mission was started in the Jaffna peninsula by the American Methodist Missionaries in 1816. In her very recent book, "Communal politics under the Donoughmore Constitution" Jane Russell gives a good account of the services rendered by these missionaries to education in Jaffna.
According to her, the reason why the Mission chose Jaffna as the focus of its activities was because "the colonial government was anxious to avoid a clash with the English Missions and partly because its strategic position was the key to India which was the Mission's main target".
By 1822, 42 schools staffed by Americans who were fluent in Tamil, had been established in the peninsula. In 1823, was set up the Batticotta (not to be confused with Batticaloa) Seminary at Vaddukoddai. This was the first English school in Asia. It was a free boarding school whose standard has been compared to that of a University, It taught English, Tamil prose, Mathematics, Greek, Latin History, Geography and. Philosophy.
In 1833, a professor of Medicine arrived and thereafter the Seminary turned out medical students and potential doctors. The methods of the American Ceylon Mission was reported to be infinitely more advanced and the missionaries more dedicated than those in the English Mission Schools in the rest of Ceylon.
Having learnt Tamil thoroughly, the Americans translated English text books into Tamil and compiled comprehensive English-Tamil dictionaries. As Colebrooke pointed out in 1830, the level of English education imparted in Jaffna was much higher than elsewhere in Ceylon as a result of the Americans asserting the importance of teaching English (unlike other missions).
Due to a financial crisis, the colonial government cut down expenditure on education by half during the end of 1847. This did not affect the American Ceylon Mission. The effect was that the governments schools in the South-West were outclassed completely. In 1929 there existed in the Jaffna peninsula 65 English schools, 10 of them being first/class Collegiate Schools, and 426 Vernacular schools. In that year, the Northern province had 6 out of 7 children attending some form schools.
As K. Balasingam said in a speech in 1913, we have cultivated the only thing that could have been cultivated with profit despite the aridity of our soil. We 'have attempted to cultivate men'.
The Americans were followed by Catholic and Protestant Missionaries who all proceeded to set up schools as part of their aim of proselytising. When Hindu revivalism started, there was formed the Hindu Board of Education which, in turn, opened up its schools. Thus, Jaffna became blessed with many schools. It was said that, at one stage, Jaffna had more schools per square mile than anywhere else in the world.
This gave a great impetus to the study of the English, a language which was the language of administration of the British Colonialists. Naturally, the Tamils obtained more posts in the governments service and the professions, like law and medicine, out of proportion to their numbers. But, they were obtained in open competition and not through the back door. According to Jane Russel, the Ceylon Tamils constituted over 40 percent of the franchise for the Educated Members seat in 1918.
A particular reason as to, why the Tamil felt the urgent need for better and higher education, particularly in English, was his consciousness that he lived in the most barren and uneconomic part of Sri Lanka which did not boast of a river, a mountain or forest. Education was the only passport to a better life. So he studied hard.
It was a slightly different picture with the Sinhalese in the South. They were blessed with a more fertile land where literally anything grew. Sustenance was easy. But, the educational facilities available to them were less than those available to the Tamils. Besides, till the economic crisis of 1929-1931, the Sinhala middle classes were not that keen to join government service or the professions as their lands could sustain them. It was in the years just before and just after the Second World War that the competition for jobs between the Sinhala and Tamil middle classes grew.
According to the Soulbury Commission report, in the year 1938, out of 6002 pensionable officers, 3236 were Sinhalese and 1164 were Ceylon Tamils. Much of the friction between the two communities arose over the disputes about the social proportions in certain departments in the public service. The communal problem, therefore, is at bottom a competition between the respective middle classes for entry into government service and the professions and for trade opportunities.
According to Jane Russel, the "golden age" of the Ceylon Tamils can be approximately ascribed to the 50 years between 1870 and 1920. In this period. the excellence of the English school system in the Jaffna peninsula enabled large numbers of the Jaffnese to find lucrative employment in the civil and clerical services of Malaya, India and Ceylon. Economically wealthy, the Jaffna Tamils had become politically powerful. The Coomaraswamy - Ponnambalam dynasty had been able to dominate the other communal representatives in the Legislative Council in the 19th century, and had therefore become the acknowledged leaders of the English - educated elite of both communities.
When Ponnambalam Ramanathan was elected the first all-island representative in 1912 against the opposition of a Sinhalese, Marcus Fernando, he acquired de - jure the official recognition as spokesman of the English educated elite, which had been his de facto role for over 30 years.
In 1916, his brother, Ponnambalam Arunachalam entered the political arena. From the outset of his political career, Arunachalam towered above his Sinhalese and Tamil contemporaries. Almost immediately he was recognised as the leader of the English educated elite. The founder of the Ceylon National Congress, as well as a number of labour organisations, Arunachalam dominated Ceylon's politics for the remaining 7 years of his life. When he left the Congress in 1922 it marked the end of the ascendency of the Ceylon Tamils in Ceylon politics.
Under Colonial rule the Sinhalese and Tamil leaders worked harmoniously together in pursuit of more and more reforms from the Colonial power. In 1915, after the martial law riots, it was the Tamil knight, Ponnambalam Ramanathan who braved the torpedo infested seas to travel to England to plead the cause of the detained Sinhala leaders, like D. S. Senanayake. Everyone knows the story of how, when Ramanathan returned to the island, the Sinhala leaders, including the then labour leader, A. E. Goonsinha, unharnessed the horses from his chariot and dragged the chariot themselves.
When the Ceylon National Congress was founded in 1919, it was Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam who was elected its first president. In two consecutive elections, for the Educated Members Seat in the old Legislative Council, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan was elected despite the fact that a majority of the voters were Sinhalese.
But as the British colonialists gave more and more reforms, the Sinhala and Tamil leaders failed to agree about how to share the spoils. The parting of ways came over the refusal of the Sinhala leaders to support the Tamil demand for a communal seat for the Tamils of the Western province. The Sinhala leaders wanted territorial representation because it would favour them while the Tamil leaders wanted communal representation which would be beneficial to them. It was over this dispute that the Ponnambalam brothers resigned from the Ceylon National Congress.
With the advent of the Donoughmore reforms, the situation became worse. The Donoughmore constitution carried within the germs of communal dissension. By granting adult franchise and territorial representation, the British ensured Sinhalese majority rule.
That is why Ceylon Tamil leaders, like Ponnambalam Ramanathan, had vehemently opposed adult franchise. He opposed it for two reasons. One was that he didn't want to have "mobrule" by the franchise being thrown open to illiterates. On the other, he knew that majority rule would mean Sinhalese rule. That fear has been proved correct. It was for these reasons that the Tamils asked for communal representation or safeguards for the minorities which was rejected by the Donoughmore Commission.
In a homogenous society, a full franchise and territorial representation is the ideal thing. When the picture is complicated by the presence of racial and religious minorities, adult franchise and territorial representation would ultimately bring about the subjection of the minority to the majority. This is what happened in Sri Lanka. The only alternative would have been a healthy left movement which would have cut across, racial, linguistic or caste barriers and concentrated on economic issues which were common to all.
For a time, before the elections to the first State Council in 1931, there existed in the North a progressive organisation called the Youth Congress. The Youth Congress was formed in 1924 by radical Ceylon Tamil youths. Among those who were prominent in its leadership were; S. H. Perinpanayagam, C. Balasingham, P.Kandiah, 'Orator' Subramaniyam, M. Balasundaram, P. Nagalingam etc. J. V. Chelliah, Vice Principal of Jaffna College, was elected its first president.
Between 1926 and 1931 Indian independence leaders, Nehru, Satyamoorthy, Sarojini Naidu and Mrs. Kamaladevi came and spoke at vast meetings organised by the Jaffna Youth Congress and spurred the movement on which was to lead to the famous Jaffna Boycott of the State Council elections, nominations to which were to be received on May 4th, 1931.
It carried out the boycott of the 4 northern seats to the State Council during the 1931 elections on the grounds that the Donoughmore Constitution had not granted full independence (Poorna Swaraj) for the whole country - not because the Constitution had not granted special rights to the Tamils. Unfortunately, not one Sinhalese candidate either joined or sympathised with the boycott. The Youth Congress was soon to be submerged by communal politics.
In the South, Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, formed the avowedly communal organisation, the Sinhala Maha Sabha. The Sinhala Maha Sabha was founded in November 1936. A proposal to call it by that name was made by Piyadasa Srisena, a famous literary figure of that time. Bandaranaike tried to get the name changed to Swadeshiya Maha Sabha (The greater congress of the Indigenous peoples). But it was opposed by Munidasa Cumaratunga, another famous literary figure, and others and defeated. By, the late 1930s, both Piyadasa Sirisena and Munidasa Cumaratunga had left the Maha Sabha and it was developed into an effective political organisation by Bandaranaike.
In the North Mr. G. G. Ponnambalam formed the All Ceylon Tamil Congress. The interesting point is that communalism in the South spawns communalism in the North and vice versa.
The situation was made worse in 1936, after the elections to the Second State Council, when D. S. Senanayake, in search of unanimity inside his Board of Ministers for his reforms proposals to White Hall, formed a Pan-Sinhala Board of Ministers, excluding any representative of the minorities.
Communal politics had become the order of the day. The Soulbury Commission has pointed out that the formation of the Pan-Sinhala Ministry indicated a policy of the majority using its power to the detriment of the minorities. One of the Commissioners, F. Rees said, "the minorities were naturally more convinced than ever that the Sinhalese aimed at domination". It is interesting to note that the four European nominated members of the second State Council joined Senanayake in the 'Plot' to elect a Pan-Sinhala board of ministers. But, Senanayake went back on his promise to make one of them a minister and the alliance broke up.
On behalf of the Tamils, Mr. G. G. Ponnambalam, through his All Ceylon Tamil Congress, put forward his cry of fifty-fifty. Reduced to simple terms, this demand meant that electorates must be so delimited that in a Council of 100 members, 50 members would be Sinhalese while the balance should be distributed between the minorities (25 to the Ceylon Tamils and the balance to the other minorities). This demand was not acceptable to the Sinhalese leaders although it was rumoured that just before parliamentary elections of 1947, through his party man, A. Mahadeva, who had been Home Minister, D. S. Senanayake agreed to accept a proposal of 60:40. But, G. G. Ponnambalam was not statesman enough to accept it.
But, what was tragic in this situation was that these conflicting claims of the two major communities were. used by the colonial power to perpetuate its domination -the classical imperialist strategy of divide and rule. How much better it would have been for the Tamil leaders to have joined forces with their Sinhalese brethren in a common demand to the imperialist master. But that would have been statesmanship of a stature to which the bourgeois leadership of neither was equal. The Sinhalese leadership, for its part, was unable to be magnanimous and accommodate the just demands of the Tamil people and thus present a united front against British rule. They tended to identify the Sinhalese with the Sri Lankan nation and to be unmindful of the legitimate rights of racial, and linguistic minorities.
The British Government appointed the Soulbury Commission to hear the request for more reforms to Sri Lanka. When the Commission arrived in Sri Lanka, the different communities made their separate representation to the Commission. D. S. Senanayake and the Sinhala leaders did not appear before the Commission but gave their views in private to Lord Soulbury.
British imperialism was then going through the phase of transition from direct rule to indirect rule, from colonialism to neocolonialism. The end of the second World War saw Britain reduced to the status of a second rate power. It knew that it could not continue to rule its colonies by direct force as before. It decided to come to an agreement with the dominant local bourgeoisie and to transfer political power to it in return for the safe guarding of its economic interests.
Having held out all sorts of promises to the Tamil minority, ultimately, the British came to an agreement with the Sinhalese majority, leaving the Tamils out in the cold. The system of Parliamentary government, with a prime minister and a cabinet, was granted to Sri Lanka and the Tamil representatives were reduced to a permanent minority in parliament.
D. S. Senanayake also struck against the Indian Tamils. These plantation workers, because of their class position, had supported the Left movement and helped to elect anti-UNP M. Ps in at least 14 electorates to the first parliament - apart from electing seven M. Ps through their own organisation.
D. S. Senanayake acted swiftly and, in 1948 by means of the Citizenship Acts, deprived the bulk of them of their citizenship rights and hence, their voting rights. This worsened what is being referred to as the Ceylon Indian problem. In 1964, Premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike went to India and signed a pact with Indian Premier, Lal Bahadur Shastry, by which Sri Lanka agreed to grant citizenship to three hundred thousand people of Indian origin while India agreed to take back five hundred and forty five thousand. The fate of the balance was to be decided later.
The acceptance of these figures by Sri Lanka was itself a tacit admission of the unfairness of the earlier citizenship laws. But, the major draw back of this Pact was that it said not a word as to what would happen if these figures were not reached on a voluntary basis. Supposing five hundred and forty five thousands did not opt to go to India? Was forced to be used? The question was left beautifully vague.
At a subsequent date, both governments agreed to divide equally between themselves the one and a half million people whose fate was left undecided earlier. This still left about half a million people of Indian origin stateless. After every communal violence there are increasing numbers of people of Indian origin who, are even willing to forego their Sri Lankan citizenship and return to India. This figure has increased beyond measure after the 1983 violence.
The communal situation in Sri Lanka became worse after 1956 and the passing of the Sinhala only act. The newly aroused nationalism of the Sinhalese, which was set in motion by the populist policies of Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, was unfortunately directed against the Tamils instead of against the foreign imperialists and their economic and cultural subjection of the whole country.
The communal cancer that was festering inside suddenly erupted into the open in 1955 — in the form of the language controversy. Up to that time, all political parties, had accepted that both Sinhala and Tamil (Swabhasha) would replace English as the official languages. In fact when, in 1943 Mr. Bandaranaike moved his reforms resolution in the Second State Council, he made this precise proposal. Incidentally one of the very few to oppose this proposal in the State Council was the present president, J. R. Jayawardena, then member for Kelaniya. Suddenly the agitation broke out among the Sinhalese that Sinhala only should be the State language.
Straight away one peculiar feature of this must be noted. In most countries, the communal problem takes the form of an agitation by a minority to safeguard its linguistic or other rights from being trampled, under foot by a majority. But, in Sri Lanka, it was a majority who spear headed an agitation to safeguard its language against what it feared was encroachment by the language of the minority. The peculiar reasons which make the Sinhalese majority behave and act as it was a minority must be studied and appreciated if we are to arrive anywhere near an understanding of this complicated problem
The reasons that make the Sinhalese behave like a minority in the land where they are actually a majority are many.
The first is the memory of the ancient Tamil invasions from South India. The Sinhalese are never allowed to forget this, Which school boy has not read of the epic battle between Duttugemunu, and Elara? Every time one goes to view the ruins of Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa, he is reminded that all these ancient glories of Sinhalese civilisation were brought to destruction by successive Tamil invasions from South India.
Secondly the British imperialists brought over nearly a million Tamil workers from South India during the last century to work in their plantations and dumped them in the midst of Kandyan territory. Thereby, they created the Ceylon-Indian problem — another cause for communal bickerings.
Thirdly the increased educational facilities made available to the Tamils in the North as a result of missionary activity resulted in Tamils obtaining a higher percentage in government service and in the professions than their population figures warranted. When, after the 1929-1931 world economic crisis, unemployment became a serious problem among the Sinhala middle classes and they started to turn towards service under government in large numbers they found the Tamils well entrenched.
It must be pointed out that economic issues were at the bottom of the language crisis. Before 1956, knowledge of the English language had been the passport to service under the government. As a result, the Tamils were able to compete on equal or even better terms with the Sinhalese. Compelled by the pressure of unemployment the Sinhalese wanted Sinhala only to be the official language — thus giving them the best chances of service under the government. Because, in a non-industrialised country like Sri Lanka, government is not only the biggest single employer but government service is also the most gainful occupation, the battle of the languages was in reality a battle for government jobs for the respective middle classes. That is also the reason why no solution other than an economic one can ever bring lasting results.
Fourthly, Tamil happens to be a language spoken by over 53 million people in Tamilnadu across the Palk straits. The Sinhalese thus feel that the number of Tamil speaking people in the region (bracketing Tamilnadu with Sri Lanka) out number those speaking Sinhalese by about 5 : 1. Hence the fear of cultural absorption of the Sinhalese by the Tamils.
Without an appreciation of these historical realities, it is impossible to understand the development of the language question of Sri Lanka. After the MEP victory, Mr. Bandaranaike made one serious attempt to settle the language question through negotiation with the Tamil leader, S. J. V. Chelvanayagam. The result of these negotiations was the famous Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact. It accepted certain safeguards for the Tamil language in the Nothern and Eastern part of Sri Lanka under the general context of the acceptance of Sinhala as the official language of the whole of Ceylon. It also reached certain compromises on the vexed question on colonisation in the Tamil areas.
It is necessary here to make some reference to the relationship between the communal problem and colonisation. The question of land or territory is intimately connected with the national or minority problem. Without a contiguous territory to inhabit, no national group can develop into a nation. That is why we find in Sri Lanka that, on the one hand, the Tamils want to protect their traditional homelands from forcible colonisation by State schemes which would end up by changing the ethnic character of these areas. On the other hand, we find that Sinhala bourgeois leaders, from D. S. Senanayake onwards, have harboured ideas about changing Tamil majority areas into Sinhalese majority areas by means of state colonisation schemes.
When, after the 1935 Land Commission report which highlighted the fact that the peasantry in Sri Lanka was dying out as a class, D. S. Senanayake started his colonisation schemes, most of these were located in what is called the dry zone. In the beginning most of these were in the North Central province. But some were also started in the northern and eastern provinces, which had been claimed by the Tamils as their traditional home-lands.
Of course, during a greater part of history the island was ruled by the Sinhalese. But there were intermittent invasions by the Cholas who had ruled big parts of Sri Lanka. Despite the attempts by the Sinhalese kings to subjugate them, Tamil Kingdoms repeatedly made their appearance, in the north. When the Portuguese arrived in the island in 1505, one such Tamil Kingdom existed in the north and was overrun by them. Therefore, if we take the last four centuries or so, the claims of the Tamils to have inhabited the Northern and Eastern provinces is not far fetched.
D. S. Senanayake, was not only a through going reactionary but a shrewd Sinhalese leader. He never openly professed communalism despite the fact that he was responsible for the pan-Sinhala Board of Ministers in 1936. But he steadfastly worked towards the goal of Sinhalising the Tamil areas. This fact was revealed by one of his closest colleagues. V. Ratnayake, in a speech made after the death of D. S..
The Bandaranaike - Chelvanayagam pact was possibly the best compromise under the circumstances, But it was not given a chance. The UNP tried to fish in troubled waters and organised a march to Kandy to mobolise opposition to the pact. This March was led by Mr. J. R. Jayawardena who was later to become the president of the country. The march was aborted at Imbulgoda by the SLFP M. P. for Gampaha lying on the road with his followers.
Bandaranaike probably rose to his greatest height as a statesman in his defence of the pact. His famous - probably his best - speech made at the Bogambara grounds, Kandy, will always be remembered as embodying all that was best in him. That speech was recorded and relayed repeatedly over Radio Ceylon. Faced with a hostile press, which was then entirely privately owned, Mr. Bandaranaike put his skill as an orator to the best use and used the state Radio to publicise his views.
But, the chauvinistic elements in his camp also rebelled. Instead of coming to his help, the leaders of the Federal party chose this very moment to launch the silly anti-Sri campaign. They did not have the statesmanship to realise that Mr. Bandaranaike was the only Sinhalese leader of recent times who had sufficient national stature and public support to have pushed through a solution to the Tamil problem. The pact was torn up. The anti-Sri campaign of the Federal Party was countered by the Tar-brush campaign led by the Sinhala 'warrior' K. M. P. Rajaratna in the south, in the, course of which Tamil words on public -places were all obliterated by a liberal application of tar.
Source: Political Memoirs of an Unrepentant Communist