ALL LIES: The 1956 ‘Sinhala Only’ Act is NOT the root cause of ethnic tensions in Sri Lanka
There are some major misconceptions being floated even by learned academics & political pundits without putting facts & timelines in perspective. The Official Language Act of 1956 (which was to come into effect in 1964) returned the status of Sinhala language that the 3 colonial invaders usurped upon their arrival in 1505. Tamil was never an official language either before or during colonial rule to claim denial of what they never enjoyed. The much hyped about Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact in July 1957 (which was immediately annulled) Tamil leaders agreed to continue to keep Sinhala as the Official Language but wanted to promote devolution while the Tamil Language Act of 1958 allowed reasonable use of Tamil language. Therefore, all those parroting that the Official Language Act of 1956 was the root cause of Sinhala-Tamil ethnic tensions are completely wrong in deriving at this conclusion as evidence & facts completely demolishes this bogus theory.
Tamil leaders began quest for a separate Tamil state well before 1956 Official Language Act. Tamil Militancy began quest for a separate Tamil state well before 1983 July riots. But you have been ignorantly led to believe that Sinhala Only Act of 1956 & July 1983 riots were the reasons for Ethnic Tensions & Justify taking up arms. All this is utter lies. Please read and understand by putting the dots together by looking at the timelines of events & the demands and you will realise that what the Tamil leaders demand is EXACTLY THE SAME as what the LTTE and LTTE diaspora are now demanding.
The basic facts
The island of Sinhale (not Ceylon, not Sri Lanka) was invaded & occupied by 3 colonial rulers since 1505 with the British being virtually handed over the entire island under a deceptive agreement known as the Kandyan Convention in 1815. Sinhale rule covering 180 kings/queens ended in 1815 and was replaced by foreign rule that lasted 443 years of which 133 years was ruled by the British.
Foreign rule was replaced by dominion independence on 4 February 1948. Dominion status did not afford the island full independence which meant the UK Supreme Court had the final say in all legal matters & the Queen remained head of the State. This changed only in 1972 May 22 with the Republican Constitution.
Everyone seems to have forgotten a period covering over 2600 years before foreign rule where all of the rulers followed the Buddhist precepts of Dasa Raja Dhamma to rule including the invader rulers like South Indian Elara. At no point during this long period have there been any instances of ‘ethnic’ tensions or clashes! Under majority rule none of the minorities were discriminated in pre-colonial rule!
It was the created & manufactured colonial divide & rule policies that divided people who had been previously living in harmony together. Simple logic being that if historically there had been tensions between Sinhalese & Tamils it had to have existed before colonial rule but there is no such evidence! Who can answer why there were no trouble between people BEFORE the foreigners arrived?
Colonial rulers confiscated & discriminated for 443 years. There have been no calls for acknowledgement, accountability or reparations for the crimes suffered this period. We are suffering the legacy of what these colonial rulers manufactured to remain in power.
Unfortunately, the post-independence leaders, many who were educated in English & nurtured to be loyal to the foreign masters did not raise the need to reverse the discrimination suffered by the majority populace who defended the nation and sacrificed their lives doing so. Others were enjoying handouts of the foreigners in exchange for being their loyal servants.
Colonial divide and rule was such that the Colonial rulers were discriminating the majority who were defending the nation and showering perks and privileges to the minorities who were loyal to them. Why does no one raise objections to the manner the majority populace was discriminated during colonial rule?
Why does no one speak about the IMBALANCE? Or is everyone saying that this less than 10% should continue to enjoy what they did for 443years while the 90% others remain marginalized?
The issue is important primarily because the Tamils brought by colonial rulers from South India after 1505 numbered more than the Tamils who were termed ‘Ceylon Tamils’ since 1911.
Tamils cannot evolve in 2 different countries. They have to either evolve in South India or Sri Lanka however, The Missionary Guide Book affirms “The Tamulians who it is supposed came over from the opposite coasts of India” while G G Ponnambalam himself said Tamils are not Ceylonese but Dravidians. Patrick Peebles claims that of the 123,565 working in the 996 plantations, 115,092 were Indians. According to Devotta, between 1843 & 1859 (within 16 years), 903,557 Indian coolies had entered Ceylon brought by Colonial British.
What is unfair is not Tamils holding portfolios but that the ratio against the population was biased by purposely marginalizing the majority & denying them equal opportunities. However, equitable distribution based on ethnic ratio against population is acceptable.
The inequality was evident,
· Tamils constituted over 40% of the franchise for the Educated Members seat (1818 Jane Russel)
· 44 schools were functioning in the Jaffna peninsula by 1822 by 1848 it rose to 105 schools and 16 English schools. By 1834 more than 100 Christian Missionary schools were teaching over 7000 students when the country population was just 1.1m
· Asia’s 1st English education school was opened in Vaddukoddai in 1823
· In 1931 the country population was 5.3m but Tamils held 19.4% of government jobs
· In 1946, two years before independence 33% of the civil service & 40% of the judicial service were Tamils (Chandra Richard de Silva, 1983)
· In 1948, after independence 60% government jobs were held by Tamils who were less than 10% of the population.
· Even by 1956 (8 years after independence), 30% Ceylon Administrative Service, 50% Ceylon Clerical Service, 60% Engineers & Doctors, 40% Armed Forces were held by ONLY Tamils while 31% of students admitted to university were Tamils.
· The intake of 1969-70 to science & engineering courses at university, Tamils constituted 35%, 45% engineering & medical faculties – where was the discrimination?
Another factor that even academics chose to ignore is that before 1505 there were no Sinhala Christians or Catholics. There were only Sinhalese and all Sinhalese were Buddhists. Before 1505, there were no Tamil Christians/Catholics only Tamils who were Hindus.
Sinhalese had been the official language used before 1815 while Buddhism was the state religion. Tamil was never an official language during the rule of Kings neither was it the language of administration during rule of British and this is key as it completely demolishes the argument that in making Sinhala the Official Language of Sri Lanka, Tamil language was being discriminated. The demand to make Sinhalese the Official Language after independence was solely to rectify the injustices to the Sinhalese by foreign invaders and had NOTHING whatsoever to do with denying Tamils as Tamils never enjoyed official status for Tamil language ever.
This is extremely important in understanding the background to the issue & to realize there is no real basis or foundation for a grievance when in 1956 the Official Language Act declared Sinhala as the Official Language.
From 1815 the language used was English but only a handful of elite Sinhalese & elite Tamils who had converted to Christianity after studying in missionary schools & obtaining foreign qualifications were handed the post-independence leadership. The majority of Sinhalese & the majority of Tamils did not know English!
The British handed over governance to these elite handful, but how could they run a country in English where 99% of the populace did not know English, please note SWRD Bandaranaike could not read or write in Sinhalese possibly the Tamil leaders suffered same in Tamil as they were all educated in English!
Some dates are important to decipher & comprehend the true status quo of the issue
Firstly, there was NO SINHALA ONLY ACT – it was called the Official Language Act No 33 of July 1956. “Be it enacted by the Queen’s Most Excellent majesty by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and the House of Representatives of Ceylon in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same,” This act proclaimed that Sinhala language ‘shall be the one official language of Ceylon’. The Act was to come to effect on 1 January 1964 while provision was made for the reasonable use of Tamil Language by the special provisions Act of September 1958.
The reaction of the Tamils to the 1956 Official Language Act was mild in comparison to their reaction when SWRD introduced the Social Disabilities Act in April 1957 denying discrimination by caste a crime which Tamils were guilty of against their own.
Tamils had been denying their own low caste Tamils the right to education, to enter restaurants even kovils to worship! The mass protests by Tamil leaders against the 1957 Social Disabilities Act was way more powerful and vociferous than the pocket protests against the Official Language Act of 1956. Tamil leaders even travelled to UK to plead against this.
The best example is Sir P Ramanathan leader of Tamil elite who objected to the Donoughmore Commission granting universal franchise to males & females above 21 in 1931. He even pleaded with the Governor not to give voting rights to Tamil low castes & demanded separate carriages to low castes when the train from Colombo to Jaffna was launched.
Anyone trying to present arguments claiming Sinhala Only to be the cause of the conflict must first explain why Tamils would oppose the 1957 Social Disabilities Act which criminalized discriminating people by caste. Why would Tamils travel all the way to UK to demand the UK Government annul this Act? There have been more caste riots between Tamils than the handful of ‘riots’ that are being used to demand a separate state!
Caste of the Tiger – http://www.island.lk/2002/08/25/featur12.html
The Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchchi or Federal Party carried out an anti-Sri campaign on 19 January 1957 tarring cars that bore vehicle number places ‘Sri’. Counter campaigns started only after ITAK action.
ITAK also called for action against ministers visiting the northeast & cabinet ministers Dahanayake, M Marikkar were attacked in Batticoloa, MP Siriwardena who was on a mail train to Jaffna was blocked by Amirthalingam’s ‘boys’.
Noteworthy is that the Official Language Act was in 1956 July, the Social Disabilities Act was in April 1957 while the BC Pact was in July 1957 & the Tamil Language Act came in September 1958.
It is clear that the Social Disabilities act is what prompted Tamil leaders to push for the BC Pact as the elite Tamils became worried they were losing their hold over their own people!
All those who publicly claim 1956 Official Language Act to be the ROOT CAUSE of the Sinhala-Tamil conflict must explain why if Sinhala Only was the issue in 1956 why should the 1957 Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam pact continue to maintain Sinhala as official language but promote devolution? This was how ‘devolution’ was plugged to be peddled as the ‘solution’ to a bogus ‘ethnic problem’. It is a pity that academics and historians are yet unable to put the key facts into perspective.
Tamil leaders were further exposed when the university standardization was brought in 1973. The standardization enabled students from less developed districts to gain admission to university. Those that had been enjoying inequitable distribution was naturally angered because the 1973 standardization meant students from less developed cities/towns finally got a chance to enter university which previously they were unable to do.
For the Vellala Tamil high caste leaders this was another jolt for it meant low caste Tamils could not only gain school education as a result of the 1957 Social Disabilities Act but they could also enter university because of the 1973 standardization.
The 1973 Standardization was objected by elite Sinhalese families too because it meant less privileged Sinhalese could also gain admission to universities.
We next move on to the claims that the calls for a separate Tamil state (using nomenclatures of self-determination, homeland etc) was AFTER the Sinhala Only Act or rather the Official Language Act was introduced in 1956.
Here are some questions for those who claim that the 1956 Official Language Act making Sinhala the Official Language was the cause for ethnic tensions
1. Why did Tamil leaders demand a separate Tamil state from the British Empire in 1941?
2. Why did Tamil leaders create ethnic-based political party All Ceylon Tamil Congress in 1944 if they wanted to live in peaceful coexistence with other communities?
3. Why did Tamil leaders demand 50-50 representation in Parliament when Tamils were 733,000 and Sinhalese populace was 4.6million at time of demand? In fact Lord Soulsbury declared the demand a ‘mockery of democracy’.
4. Why did imported Chelvanayagam form the Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchchi (ITAK) in 1948 with aims & objectives to form a ‘separate Tamil state’?
5. In 1951 ITAK declared “the Tamil speaking people in Ceylon constitute a nation distinct from that of the Sinhalese by every fundamental test of nationhood”
6. Why was there no objections when LTTE declared ‘Tamil Only’ in 1990 when it ran its own defacto region with LTTE police, post offices, currency/notes, stamps, courts etc?
7. Immediately after the Official Language Act in July 1956 & even before its implementation, the ITAK summoned its national convention in Trincomalee on 19 August 1956 and passed the following resolutions:
· the replacement of the present pernicious constitution by a rational and democratic constitution based on the federal principle and the establishment of one or more Tamil linguistic state or states incorporating all geographically contiguous areas in which the Tamil speaking people are numerically in a majority as federating unit or units enjoying the widest autonomous and residuary powers consistent with the unity and external security of Ceylon;
· The restoration of the Tamil language to its rightful place enjoying the absolute parity of status with Sinhalese as an official language of the country;
· The repeal of the present citizenship laws and the enactment in their place of laws recognizing the right to full citizenship on the basis of a simple test of residence for all persons who have made this country their home;
· The immediate cessation of colonization of the traditional Tamil speaking areas with Sinhalese people.
While the above demands & overtures were made by Tamil leaders for a separate state BEFORE the 1956 Official Language Act, the following calls by Tamil leaders for a separate state were made BEFORE the supposed 1983 riots which has become another ruse to justify demand for a separate Tamil state.
1. Professor C. Suntharalingam the father of Tamil Eelam concept created Eela Thamil Ottrumai Munnani (Unity Front of Eelam Tamils) in 1959. “We have made up our minds, come what may, that we shall constitute a separate state of Eelam”
2. ITAK leader S. J. Chelvanayagam after winning the by-election for the Kankesanturai Parliamentary seat, held on 7 February 1975 declared “I wish to announce to my people and to the country that I consider the verdict at this election as a mandate that the Tamil Eelam nation should exercise the sovereignty already vested in the Tamil people and become free.”
3. 1976 May 14th Vaddukoddai Resolution the 5 objectives were
a) State of Tamil Eelam to consist of North & Eastern provinces to all Tamil speaking people
b) Constitution of Tamil Eelam based on principles of decentralization. No foremost place to any religion or territorial community.
c) Tamil Eelam will assure equal status to all
d) Tamil Eelam will be a secular state with equal protection to all religions
e) Tamil will be language of the State but Sinhala speaking minority can educate and transact in Sinhala subject to reciprocity of Tamil speaking minority in Sinhala state. (didn’t they demand equal language rights – if so why make only Tamil language of the state?)
4. In 1977, Tamil United Front (TUF) which became Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), asked the Tamil people for a mandate to secede as the separate State of Tamil Eelam. The TULF election manifesto stated “The Tamil nation must take the decision to establish its sovereignty in its homeland on the basis of its right to self-determination. The only way to announce this decision to the Sinhalese government and to the world is to vote for the Tamil United Liberation Front.” Tamil United Liberation Front General Election Manifesto, July 1977
5. Armed militancy began in the 1970s and LTTE was formed well before 1983 completely demolishing the notion that Tamils took up arms because of July 1983 riots.
Anyone who has doubted links with LTTE & the Tamil leaders need to only refer the statement by Y. Yogi on behalf of LTTE on 26 April 1992 in Nallur Jaffna at the commemoration of Chelvanayagam
“Thanthai Chelva was the elder statesman who opened the path for the present struggle of the Tamils. He had to carry the struggle forward under great difficulties. We of the LTTE accord Thanthai Chelva and his sincere followers a respected position in the Tamil Eelam liberation struggle.”
If anyone is in doubt all that needs to be done is to read the election manifestos of the TNA in 2001, 2004, 2010, 2013, 2015, Sampanthan’s speech at the ITAK annual convention in 2012
Some people have been lying to the world and making people believe a lot of lies. It is up to the intelligence of people to find the truth for themselves and the best way to do that is by asking questions and figuring out the answers and using the timelines and events to draw one’s own conclusions.
What can be concluded is that 1956 Official Language Act was not the root cause of ethnic tensions as Tamil separatist chants by Tamil leaders began before 1956 while Tamil armed militancy began before July 1983 squashing the argument that Black July was reason for Tamils to take up arms.
Shenali D Waduge