The ‘Whys’ and the ‘Wherefores’ of Sri Lanka -One ‘Son of the Soil’s’ reading of the past and the present
Posted on May 26th, 2012

By J.B. MƒÆ’†’¼ller

The Sri Lankan Diaspora overseas (mainly in Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the USA) eagerly and indiscriminately absorbs everything appearing about their Motherland in the international print and electronic media.  All what is done is done in the naƒÆ’†’¯ve belief that there isn’t a spin on the news and that it is completely unbiased and objective.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Of course, expatriates would like to believe that the BBC, VOA, Deutsche Welle, CNN, Al Jazeera and others are feeding their hungry and even curious minds with the unadulterated truth.

 It might be useful for those in the Diaspora to know, understand and acknowledge that Sri Lankans are no longer Eurocentric Anglophiles having at long last seen through the various Anglo-Saxon-Celtic ploys to continue their domination and exploitation by other, indirect means.  No longer are Sri Lankans willing to regard their erstwhile masters as “ƒ”¹…”superior’ beings with a “ƒ”¹…”higher’ civilization to which they should slavishly defer.  Those “ƒ”¹…”good old days’ are gone and good riddance!

Sri Lanka is a very old country with a long history of civilization and a matured polity unlike some “ƒ”¹…”Johnny-come-lately’ countries with hardly 500 years of history.  The latter period of its history was marred by 443 years of European exploitation, each European power building on its predecessors to refine its instruments of exploitation.  The British were the worst and the bloodiest when it came to merciless brutality as is evidenced by the manner in which it quelled the uprising of the Kandyans between 1818 and 1822.  It committed genocide before that word was coined by slaughtering every man, woman, and child (including babes suckling at the breast!) in the Uva Province.  That province comprised of the present Badulla and Moneragala Districts is yet to recover and is just now being developed by government.  The Colonial Office 54 series of documents available at the Public Records Office in London holds all the General Orders issued by Lt. Gen. Sir Robert Brownrigg, governor and c-in-c, to Maj. General Hay McDowall and the correspondence with the Colonial Secretary, the Earl of Bathurst. (The Great Rebellion of 1818 by Prof. Tennekoon Vimalananda, Five Volumes, Gunasena Historical Series, Colombo, 1970)

In 1823 the British began selling Crown Land at two shillings an acre to British entrepreneurs””‚first, to cultivate cinchona [from which quinine is obtained], then coffee, then tea and rubber””‚from which they made huge profits for 149 years””‚and Mincing Lane and the members of the London Stock Exchange prospered beyond the dreams of avarice. (Land Reform Commission Report by Colvin R. de Silva, tabled in Parliament)

They created a huge ethnic and social problem by transporting indentured labour from the Ramnad district of Madras Presidency (present day Tamil Nadu).  These helpless people were auctioned off at Matale like the African slaves at Charleston, SC, and families were cruelly torn apart.  They reached Matale walking over 100 miles from Talaimannar along a route that came to be known as the “ƒ”¹…”Skeleton Road’ because of the numbers that had perished by the wayside from hunger, thirst, snakebite, attack by wild beasts, cholera, dysentery, and what-have-you.  Their tragedy has been carefully documented by Donovan Moldrich in his “ƒ”¹…”Bitter Berry Bondage’“”‚the story of the 19th century coffee workers in Sri Lanka.  Another Burgher author, Lorna Ruth Wright, OAM, wrote “Just another shade of Brown” which graphically details the sexual exploitation of the women plantation workers and the creation of the Eurasian Community (disowned by their very prim and proper British fathers!)   Many authors domestic and foreign have written about what colonialism did to Sri Lanka (Ceylon up to 1972) and it is a wonder that the people of this country tolerated what was done to them for so long, so patiently. (“ƒ”¹…”Bitter Berry Bondage’ by Donovan R. Moldrich and “ƒ”¹…”Just another shade of brown’ by Lorna R. Wright)

Father Paul Caspersz, SJ, head of Satyodaya, Kandy, has been labouring amongst the Tamil plantation workers of Indian origin for decades and has written extensively about how these human beings have been mercilessly exploited.  They have lived in sub-human conditions for over one hundred years and their emancipation has been a long and hard struggle to restore to them their intric dignity as human beings. (Satyodaya Centre, Kandy, sri Lanka)

When I was working at the then Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation as a Relief Announcer on the Commercial Service I distinctly remember reading a sign affixed to the gate of a British Club facing the Dutch Burgher Union headquarters which said: “Natives and dogs NOT allowed.”  This was in 1969!  I phoned friends working on the “ƒ”¹…”Ceylon Daily News’ and they sent a photographer round to snap a picture.  It was published and shortly thereafter the Government ordered the Club to take down the offending notice.  Do any self-respecting people endowed with inherent dignity have to tolerate such barefaced arrogance?

Britain was one of the most “ƒ”¹…”successful’ imperial powers on earth and they created a worldwide empire (on which the sun never set because it was everywhere on the globe) and bled its colonies.  London is such a magnificent city despite its foul weather because it has risen, literally, on the blood, sweat and tears of countless millions in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Australia.  In their imperial schema of things Australia produced the wool, New Zealand the milk, Malaya the rubber, Ceylon the tea, Rhodesia the tobacco, South Africa the diamonds and gold, Mauritius the sugar, West Africa the cocoa and so on””‚to the great delight of those who sat in London and counted their pounds, shillings and pence.  They didn’t mind exploiting their own in the textile mills of Lancashire and the coal mines of Scotland. [Charles Dickens]. The exported their poor Scots, Irish, and Welsh to all these colonies to supervise the black, brown and yellow natives [and the “ƒ”¹…”half-caste’ Eurasian offspring known as Burghers, Anglos and even bastards].  The slightest rumble from their workers and the Redcoats (now Khakied) were there to shoot their b***s off!

Look at the Burghers.  The British looked down on them with great disdain classifying them as “ƒ”¹…”half-castes’ and included them amongst the indigenous population.  In 1796 they issued the Burghers an ultimatum””‚learn English or leave.  Many who had the means went to Batavia (modern Jakarta).  The others stayed and learned the new tongue.  Very soon, these Burghers knew better English than the British themselves and were therefore enlisted in that great corps of clerks that they employed.  These Burghers also learned how to play cricket and challenged the British to a one-day on Galle Face Green.  They were superciliously asked what the name of their “ƒ”¹…”club’ was to which a Burgher sharply retorted:  “Nondescripts Cricket Club, Sir!”  The name stuck.  The club still exists (from 1889).  So do the “ƒ”¹…”nondescript’ Burghers. The entire British establishment including the “ƒ”¹…”shoppies’ turned out one fine Sunday morning to watch these half-caste upstarts being licked.  The imperial governor himself came and occupied the clubhouse that now stands before the Taj Samudra Hotel.  Well, to cut a long story short, the Burgher “ƒ”¹…”nondescripts’ beat the British who were “ƒ”¹…”hoist with their own petard!’  They were learning, ever so painfully, that other people were not only their equals but could also better them in many spheres and they learned this lesson on this Island.(People Inbetween by Michael Roberts, Ismeth Raheem, Percy Colin-ThƒÆ’†’´mƒÆ’†’©, Sarvodaya, Ratmalana, 1989).

There is no land on the globe that the British touched that has not been left with a wholly untenable legacy of problems:  India with Pakistan have Kashmir; the Holy land has Jewish Israel contending with Arab Palestine; the Cypriots are divided between the Greeks and the Turks; Africa is an indescribable mess.  Glaring problems were created on the North American continent with the marginalization of the native Amerindian and Inuit peoples not to mention the stand-off between Blacks and Whites.  In Australia the original inhabitants, the aborigines were decimated and then marginalized whilst their land was robbed from them by white colonists.  It is a despicable record of man’s inhumanity to man carried forward on the specious premise that “ƒ”¹…”White is Right’ and because they had a head-start in the practice of barbarism!  What is even more despicable is that their so-called “ƒ”¹…”Christianity’ condoned their barefaced discrimination and unfettered brutality.

Today, these Anglo-Saxon-Celts pontificate o the whole world about human rights””‚yes, fundamental human rights which they denied millions from the 16th to the 20th centuries of the Common Era.  They sanctimoniously presume to interfere in the internal affairs of countries that attempt to stand-up to their bullying (amply exposed by Wiki-Leaks).  The ongoing bloodletting in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate their manifest hypocrisy.

They left behind what were basically alien concepts, structures, systems, and constitutions that have confused and confuted the peoples they formerly ruled.  They uprooted and deliberately destroyed indigenous systems that had endured for millennia and which the indigenous people were comfortable with.  Today, the peoples of these lands are divided into innumerable factions and cliques contending bloodily for command and control in the name of the “ƒ”¹…”democracy’ they left behind.  They are happy with what they see because it is a continuation of their “ƒ”¹…”divide et imperia’ or “ƒ”¹…”divide and rule’ policy.  It is easy to manipulate and exploit those who are divided!

Sri Lanka’s problems which some expatriates gleefully point out (as a justification for their living overseas) is a damaging inheritance bequeathed by the departing British to a class of indigenous people brainwashed and nurtured by them in their own image:  the English-speaking Middle Classes represented by several leading families of Low-country upstarts and Up-country traitors.  These families have lick-spittle hangers-on who have attained some upward social mobility and the privileges that go with that mobility and occupy the second and third tiers of governance.  Whether they inhabit the governing party or the Opposition or their sundry and various coalition cohorts they have become the “ƒ”¹…”corrupt of the earth.’

The decent and law-abiding majority are a patient, tolerant and hospitable people (sometimes referred to as the “ƒ”¹…”broad masses’) who have taken much abuse. If you believe the many travellers who passed through, they are a giving and forgiving people.  If we are to trust the historical record, these gentle, hard-working people have been driven to and fro by the Pandyans, Cholas, Cheras, Pallavas and Javakas; then, by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British””‚each, in turn, more subtly brutal than the previous.  Ever since 1186, when the indigenous polity began disintegrating with the breakdown of central authority [and fissiparous tendencies manifested themselves], there has been a traumatic crisis that is yet to come to a conclusion.  We know that history works in cycles and that that conclusion will come, perhaps unobtrusively or dramatically to sweep away the detritus of several centuries.

True civilization does not consist of the worship of science & technology or the tinsel and glitter of modernity or of roads, railways, harbours, airports, and the frenzied rush one might be bemused by.  It consists of the maturity and wisdom gained through the practice of virtue, the development of good moral character, to decent family life and values, the unswerving commitment to social justice and equity.  This also means and implies the practice and active pursuit of harmlessness and a belief in the sacredness of all life””‚all mankind is of one blood.  The serene tranquility of spirit thus attained is a universal norm that needs no sectarian labels.  This is the civilization that grew and was nurtured on this Island for centuries until rudely and repeatedly disturbed.  It is yet the goal of those who appreciate the intrinsic beauty of Nature rather than that of soulless concrete, glass and steel.

Let’s discuss this further if you are minded to,

[email protected]

10 Responses to “The ‘Whys’ and the ‘Wherefores’ of Sri Lanka -One ‘Son of the Soil’s’ reading of the past and the present”

  1. Geeth Says:

    This is a wonderful article. I love it. This is the history that most of the Colombians have conveniently forgotten, and nevertheless still honored to be a part of. The most significant thing here is the honest and objective approach of the writer. Being a member of the community of Dutch decent, still Mr. Muller has sighted many things that some of the prominent native intellectuals have been unable to grasp even though they have been active in the vocation of politics for long time (not to mention, even handling foreign affairs). Thanks.

  2. Lorenzo Says:

    “Natives and dogs NOT allowed.”

    That means asses, pigs, skunks, dodos, Taliban, Nazis, etc. ARE allowed!

  3. Dham Says:

    DEar JB,
    Thank you for this and we need not add anything. Wonderful writing of the truth!

    “The decent and law-abiding majority are a patient, tolerant and hospitable people (sometimes referred to as the ‘broad masses’) who have taken much abuse.”
    Yes, these sons and daughters sacrificed their lives for the traitors to take full credit. Moreover they call themselves “People’s Presidents”. Presidents from the hell !

  4. Vijendra Says:

    Mr. Muller, thank you very much for this fine lesson in history. I hope people like the present UK High Commissioner in SL will read this and learn that they are not in a position to preach to the GOSL how to run the country. They have no right to do that anyway and we are not their “slaves”.

  5. gamunu6 Says:

    As thanked by many others. Stilll there are many who value your remarks which certainly help us understand clearly how, our then rulers mainly British governed Sri Lanka.

    It is no wonder Dutch & Eurasian people have not asked for any special treatment, but continue be part of vibrant minority.

    Very insightful article, which our present leaders as well as opposition members should read & digest. Our foreign diplomats representing their mother countries ALWAYS forget that they are in Lanka, under the acceptance & goodwill of GOSL & not only because they represent interest of their own countries.

    It is very opportune time for all foreignn ambassodrs including ones from India should take note. Just expressing my views………from Canada~ Gamunu

  6. samaraweera Says:

    As usual JB has given a colourful picture of Sri Lankan history. A reminder to the ‘traitors’, who still hold the so called International Community as superior. It is very thoughtful of JB to give a glimpse of the past history of Sri Lanka. He deserves all the credit for his contributions. Thank you.

    P.A.Samaraweera
    Australia.

  7. Fran Diaz Says:

    Our heartfelt thanks Mr Muller for this article.

    I wish to add the account of how young Henry Pedris died in 1915. This is how the then Sinhala leaders were broken down to submission. Here is the story :

    Henry Pedris
    Born August 16, 1888
    Colombo, Ceylon
    Died July 9, 1915
    Colombo, Ceylon
    Service/branch Ceylon Defence Force
    Rank Captain
    Unit Colombo Town Guard
    Battles/wars World War I

    Captain Duenuge Edward Henry Pedris CTG (Sinhala:හෙන්රි පෙදිරිස්) (16 August 1888 – 9 July 1915) was a militia officer and a prominent socialite in colonial Ceylon (present Sri Lanka) who was executed by British officials for alleged incitement of racial riots in 1915, which were proven false. His execution at a young age was viewed as extremely unjust by most Sri Lankans, it hastened the movement towards independence for Sri Lanka and became a martyr providing motivation to those who pioneered the movement.

    Henry Pedris was born in Colombo, Ceylon, the youngest of five children and the only son of Duenuge Disan Pedris and Mallino Pedris. Both his father and uncle N.S. Fernando Wijesekara were leading businessmen of the time, and his family was among the wealthiest and most influential in Sri Lanka.
    Pedris first attended the Colombo Academy (later renamed as Royal College) situated in the Pettah. From there he joined St. Thomas’ College where he excelled in sports and shone as a good cricketer, playing for the school’s first eleven cricket team. After some time he returned to Royal College where he again played cricket and engaged in other sporting activities.
    Pedris was a teetotaler and his father had great hopes that Pedris would one day take over his business enterprises and become a leader in the commercial world.

    With the outbreak of World War I the British mobilized the Ceylon Defence Force and raised the Colombo Town Guard a regiment of volunteers to defended Colombo if attacked. Pedris opted to join the Colombo Town Guard as a private and first Sinhalese to be enlisted to the new regiment. He soon became an excellent marksmen and due to his excellent horsemanship was made a commissioned officer in the mounted section. Within a year, he was promoted to the rank of Captain. This, along with his immense wealth, resulted Pedris being much envied by many.
    [edit]Sinhalese Muslim Riots

    The Sinhalese Muslim Riots (known as the 1915 riots) which began in Kandy when a group of Muslim attacked a Buddhist pageant with stones soon spread across the island. The British Governor of Ceylon Sir Robert Chalmers fearing he might loss control of the colony, on advice of Brigadier General Malcolm came down with a heavy hand on the Sinhalese community and declared martial law on 2 June 1915 and ordered the police and the Army to shoot any one who they deemed a rioter without a trial. It is said the numbers of Sinhalese killed this way were thousands. With the escalation of the violence looting brook out within Colombo. Capt. Pedris as he was responsible for the defence of the city successfully managed to disband several rioting groups after peaceful discussions.
    The vanity and jealousy towards Capt. Pedris and the rich Pedris family of both the British and their sinhalese henchmen, led by Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranike the Maha Mudaliyar (chief native interpreter and adviser to the Governor) culminated in false charges being drawn up against Capt. Pedris and which would result him being court martialed. It was alleged Pedris shot at a group of Muslim and had incited people to march to the city of Colombo from Peliyagoda. Based on these accusations, he was swiftly arrested.
    Following his arrest the British, fearing open rebellion, imprisoned more than 80 prominent Sinhalese leaders. Among those imprisoned were D. S. Senanayake, D. R. Wijewardena, Edwin Wijeyeratne, Dr. Cassius Pereira, E. T. De Silva, F.R. Dias Bandaranaike, H. Amarasuriya, A.H. Molamure and several others.

    Soon after his arrest and incarceration he was tried by a military court. Pedris was tried by a special court of three military officials and declared guilty and a traitor on 1 July 1915 thus was sentenced to death by firing squad. The date of the execution was set for 7 July 1915 without any form of appeal.
    Chalmers passed on the decision to confirm the death sentence to Brigadier General Malcolm. The only person who was able to intervene in this case was Sir Hector Van Cuylenberg who was the elected representative in the legislature, but his representations were not taken seriously by the military. Many prominent citizens and educationists, both British and Ceylonese alike appealed against the judgment, without any impact. An appeal was made to King George V. The execution was promptly carried out to prevent these action from taking any effect. On 7 July 1915, Capt. Pedris was stripped of his rank and executed by firing squad. Its said that he refused the blindfold offered to him, requesting to face death fearlessly. After the execution in keeping with military tradition, his body was buried in an unmarked grave against the wishes of his family. In 1987 Capt. Pedris’s grave was unearthed and the remains were verified as his and reburied with military honors (it is said his father knew exactly were his son was buried).
    A Court inquiry that followed, found Pedris not guilty and his and his family name cleared.

    Legacy

    Capt. Pedris’s death was also meant as a warning for other Ceylonese leaders who were leading the Independence struggle. After the execution the blood soaked chair on which Capt. Pedris was shot was taken to the prison cells that contained many Sinhalese leaders including D. S. Senanayake and shown to them with the warning that they would be next.
    Many claim the execution of Pedris and the actions of the British, marked the beginning of the independence movement with many people specially from the educated middle class taking an active role in it. Their action resulted in Ceylon gaining independence in 1948.
    Governor Chalmers was removed from the post and made Under-Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland Lord Wimborne. The powers of the Mudaliyars were abolished when the Native Department was closed down in 1938.

  8. Fran Diaz Says:

    Anud,

    Might is still Right ? Or is the Pen of Truth mightier than the Sword ?

  9. heladuwaniyak Says:

    Dear Sir J.B. Muller,

    You have been a real patriot more patriotic than the so called sinhala people who hates being sinhala and go and worship west or become sinhala kotiyas ruining our motherland. I am sure your article would have appeared before and If I remember correct this honourable patriot has passed away last year with a heart attack when we need the people like him most. I am sure his articles are forever so important and enlighten all of us with big realities just as all above patriots have appreciated him.
    If I am right dear Sir, May You attain supreme Nibbana with the merits you have collected by being a real human being with good moral values as you mention in all your articles and lived your life shared with your good family and children who are equally good role models for this ever changing cruel world.
    Dear Lankaweb please allow this to appear if I am right and I am sure this has been a repeat publication and it is valuable for any time. I am sure everyone else will remember him fondly too.

  10. Lorenzo Says:

    “The vanity and jealousy towards Capt. Pedris and the rich Pedris family of both the British and their Sinhalese henchmen, led by Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranike the Maha Mudaliyar (chief native interpreter and adviser to the Governor) culminated in false charges being drawn up against Capt. Pedris and which would result him being court martialed.”

    Father of SWRD Bandaranayaka and grandfather of CBK!

    It was SWRD Bandaranayaka who started this political solutions madness and changed the name of this country from Sinhala to Sri Lanka.

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