LLRC on Colonial rule in Sri Lanka
Posted on March 24th, 2013

Senaka Weeraratna

As we celebrate our freedom from colonial rule on its 65th anniversary nothing is more conspicuous in our literature and written records as the absence of a White Paper and a Report of a Commission of Inquiry on the period of Western Colonial presence in Sri Lanka commencing from the landing of the Portuguese in Colombo in year 1505 until the inglorious exit of the last colonial rulers from our land in 1948.

Sri Lanka cannot move forward seeking a new destiny until we come to terms with our past – the past that shackled this country for nearly 450 years. No period in the country’s 2500 year history has had such a tumultuous impact on Lanka’s society and its people as the period of time under foreign western domination.

It may well be said that it was not all undiluted evil. But by any measure of stock taking it is clear that the demerits far outweigh the merits. If otherwise was the case there would not be much to celebrate in what is freely described as the ‘grant of independence’. We still suffer psychologically with a collective mindset that can be hardly called ‘free’.

What is a White Paper? A white paper is basically an authoritative report or guide that helps to confront an issue and solve a problem. Its main purpose is to educate the public, enable an informed consultation on government policy and proposed legislation and signal a clear intention to tackle thorny issues.

The colonial history of Sri Lanka is a thorny issue. The sense of historical injustice is deep – seated in the psyche of our people. It is not 1956 but year 1505 that must be regarded as the landmark year. The seeds of separation of our people on grounds of either ethnicity or religion were first planted in colonial controlled territory. The facts are there in black and white written by their own foreign historians.

Local historian Paul E. Peiris observes:

” They ( the Portuguese) found in Ceylon a contented race, and a fairly prosperous country …..

and it is melancholy to reflect that they succeeded in producing nothing but chaos. Out of a long list of high – born Hidalgos whom Portugal sent to Ceylon, it is difficult to point to one name as that of an enlightened statesman and high – principled administrator….

No stately fabric remains as compensating for that religious fanaticism to which ample witness is borne by the devastated ruins of those lovely structures which the piety of generations had strewn broadcast over the country… Their bequest to the Dutch was a colony of half -castes, a failing agriculture, a depopulated country, and a miserable and ill – conditioned people… They had in Ceylon an opportunity almost unique in the experience of European nations in the East, but their moral fibre had proved unequal to the occasion…”

The purpose of researching history is not to stir hatred. It is to bring to surface hard facts to prevent history being distorted or manipulated and historical wrongs and injustices denied to serve ulterior purposes. Sri Lanka has been a victim of foreign domination in the past and there is no guarantee that history will not repeat itself. We won a great victory in 2009 when the country was liberated from the fetters of terrorism. Thanks to wise leadership and our gallant soldiers who sacrificed their life and limb so that the rest can live in peace.

It is an appropriate time to remember a long line of heroic leaders and warriors such as Mayadunne, Sithawaka Rajasinghe, Veediya Bandara, Nikepitiya Bandara, Konappu Bandara (later King Wimaladharma Suriya), Rajasinghe the Second, among others, who kept the foreign conquerors at bay from taking over the whole of the country.

If those who destroyed the time honoured Buddhist citadel and shrine at Kelaniya in 1575 and the unique Buddhist – Hindu Temple at Devundara in 1587 followed by the mass destruction of over four hundred temples and four seats of Buddhist learning, had got hold of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, one can imagine what the religious and cultural status of this country would have been?

A White Paper followed by a Commission of Inquiry to investigate all aspects of the western colonial period with a Report to set the record straight is a sine qua non. Does Sri Lanka have claims for compensation in international law from our former colonial rulers? This is an area that must be explored by the best legal minds in this country if necessary with foreign legal input. The campaigns for Human Rights which have their origin in western countries is increasingly been seen as a strategy adopted by former colonial countries to distract world attention from their own accountability for centuries of plunder, war crimes, mass murder, religious and ethnic cleansing, forcible conversion, and theft of cultural artifacts and the like in poor third world countries, and instead to point an accusing finger at leaders of newly independent countries struggling to find their feet and feed their people.

Coming to terms with our past is a test of maturity. Sri Lanka though small in geographical size has shown the rest of the world right through our history that we are bigger than our boots. So should it be. We can awaken the rest of Asia with exemplary steps not necessarily confined to the economic sphere that we can be a source of light in areas that docile others fear to enter.

12 Responses to “LLRC on Colonial rule in Sri Lanka”

  1. Voice123 Says:

    Good point about colonial reparations. It will only work if Sri Lanka combines forces with other developing countries to this end.

    ” Their bequest to the Dutch was a colony of half -castes …”

    Senaka, try to avoid language like this. These children are as much children of the motherland as half-Tamils, half-Muslums or “half” anything else. Again, by referring to caste, Senaka is showing his Hindu colours.

    Genuine Buddhists do not judge people by caste or nationality or make such disparaging comments about people according to ancestry.

    Senaka, a clarification and apology is in order.

  2. S.Gonsalkorale Says:

    Despite minor issues, the main point is the “white paper” whether it works or not , there will be a written record.

  3. Fran Diaz Says:

    Excellent point here, Senaka !

    Even at this very late stage a White Paper on Colonial Rule is a need in Sri Lanka. At the very least it will awaken the population here how the indigenous people were thrown aside and untold damage done in the name of ports and crops.

    However, I am all for keeping some of the pluses brought in by Colonists while throwing out the negative side.

  4. Fran Diaz Says:

    I should say ” …. damage done in the name of ports, and imported Tamil labor numbering ONE & A HALF MILLION low caste poor Tamil people as indentured labor for the various plantations and crops such as tea & tobacco etc.”.

    Some of these Tamil folk, even though FREE education & health etc. were given to them after Independence from the British in 1948, became doctors & lawyers (free education in Sri Lanka), went abroad and told a pack of lies to the west about how badly they are treated by the ‘Sinhala govt.’. That remains the unkindest cut of all and become the core issue for some in the west to get involved in a Tamil Separatist movement. The rest is history ….

  5. samurai Says:

    I wonder whether Voice 123 carefully read the article Senaka has written. Senaka is only quoting local historian Paul E. Peiris on “a colony of half -castes.” They are not Senaka’s words but those of Peiris. When writing history it is necessary quote various sources whether we agree with all the terms or not. So no point in blaming the writer of the article. Furthermore half-caste does not always necessarily mean a person of low social status. It also means a culturally rootless individual who has no proper identity and consequently has lost his bearings. I think that is what the historian had in mind.

  6. Senevirath Says:

    Plese… do not appoint the members of the earlier L.L.R.C for this.

    What happened to the reserch done by DR . susantha gunatilake about the destruction done by Potugese

  7. Ben Silva Says:

    We could learn lessons from our history as well as the history of others. We could learn if we have a mindset for intelligent adaptive learning and are prepared to learn. Life is a competition for all living species. Natives of countries all over the world lost out to more aggressive and intelligent people. This is the law of nature. Any one interested in competition could look ar the thinking of Frank Dick on motivation. Living can also be a pleasure, if we are not depressed. There is a danger that some Indian thinking can make us depressed.

  8. Voice123 Says:

    Thanks for those insightful comments Sanurai. I see plenty if “full-blood”/caste rootless people. Dont worry about the so called “half-castes”!

  9. Voice123 Says:

    Actually Samurai, that commment is utter racist RUBBISH. Just because one is of mixed ancestry doesnt make one rootless. Some of the most rootless Sri Lankans I have met claim pure ancestry and vice versa. Its all wrong in the Sri Lankan context.

  10. samurai Says:

    I suppose your reference to “that comment” means the comment made by Paul E. Peiris. “Half caste” can have two meanings – one is mixed ancestry (in a physical sense). The other is a culturally uprooted person who has no sense patriotism or feelings for a country or the cherished values of a society – NO matter even if he / she is of royal blood. This what we call a ‘thuppahiya’ regardless of whether that person’s ancestors are aristocrats or nobles. I have known people like that. To me that is the real meaning of the historian’s comments which can be understood only when seen in the entire context of the article I know people like that.

    Anyway you are free to take it in anyway you like.

  11. S.Gonsalkorale Says:

    Someone has comprehension problem. No wonder counting stopped at 3. Wait until brain develops fully.

  12. Lorenzo Says:

    Voice123,

    “” Their bequest to the Dutch was a colony of half -castes …”

    Senaka, try to avoid language like this.”

    The English term half caste means of mixed parents in terms of ethnicity, etc. It is NOT an offensive term.

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