Colonial mentality and ‘independence’
Posted on February 4th, 2018

Janaka Perera

As Sri Lanka marks the 70th Anniversary of the British departure from her shores on February 4 we wonder whether we have paved the way for the emergence over the decades of corrupt and blundering rulers from among our own politicians to replace the old colonial masters, in the name of independence and democracy.

To cap it all we have seen the failure of our supposedly national leaders to get rid of their slavish colonial mentality for the past 20 years. The first display of this servility was inviting England’s Prince Charles as the chief guest at our 50th ‘independence’ anniversary celebrations – 26 years after we became a republic. Thereafter an attempt was made to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the arrival of the Portuguese in the country. Fortunately, the government which planned the celebrations lost the Parliamentary election of 2005.

Now our leaders have invited another member of the British royalty, Prince Edward as the chief guest at the February 4th event. Why could not our rulers invite the head of state of a neighbouring country for this?  If they wanted royalty to grace the occasion why could not they invite a member of the Thai or Bhutanese royal family? Merely because Sri Lanka is a member of the Commonwealth she is not bound to invite a member of the British royalty.

It is in this context we need to discuss the ‘meaning’ of Sunday’s celebrations.

Without understanding the different periods of European occupations this country since 1505 we can never understand the struggle against colonialism, which culminated with the fall of the Kandyan kingdom in 1815.

All the foreign invasions prior to the Portuguese encounter caused mainly physical and material destruction and political upheavals. There were no vast differences between the religious cultures, traditions and values of the invaders and those of the people of this country.

The entry of European adventurers to Asia changed all that. In addition to the loss of life and property it had a destructive impact on all spiritual beliefs and knowledge the conquered peoples had inherited from their ancestors. Sri Lankans were no exception. They were subjected to brainwashing by the colonialists in a way that no non-European invader did. (This servility is still reflected in many Sinhalas who have become ignorant of their roots including language)

We cannot see the true picture of this without demolishing the myth of the bloodless struggle for independence.”  This was spread by ‘Uncle Toms’ who wanted to indirectly create the impression that the real freedom fighters were those who campaigned for constitutional reforms and convinced the British to give the country dominion status (supposedly independent but still attached to the British crown under which foreign policy was executed).

These slavish leaders hardly paid attention neither to the blood sacrifices of our forefathers up to 1848 nor to the fact that the country gradually began losing its independence and identity 300 years before the British the occupation.

Our true independence struggle began with the arrival of European armies, starting with the Portuguese. Veediya Bandara, Seethawaka Rajasinghe (Rajasinghe I), Vimaladharmasuriya I and Rajasinghe II were among the pioneers who led that armed struggle.  Thanks to their efforts we were able to preserve our national and cultural identity to a considerable extent though our country eventually capitulated to the British, primarily due to the treachery and stupidity of some members of the Kandyan aristocracy.

If not for the aforementioned heroes this island would have ended up like the former Spanish colony, Philippines – an Asian aberration – almost totally uprooted from its Asian cultural roots.  In fact that is what Sinhala traitors like Don Juan Dharmapala (who willed his kingdom to the King of Portugal) wanted Sri Lanka to become.

The second stage of our freedom campaign began after the fall of the Kandyan kingdom.  In the two armed uprisings of 1818 and 1848 patriots like Monarawila Keppettipola, Puran Appu and Gongalegoda Banda sacrificed their lives fighting against British imperialism.

After 1848 their mantle was taken up by personalities like Ven. Miggettuwatte Gunananda, Walisnghe Harischandra and Anagarika Dharmapala on a cultural level, spearheading a strong movement for revival of Buddhist rights and values.

Politically however there was neither violent nor non-violent freedom struggles (like the civil disobedience campaigns of Mahathma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.) though some leaders were imprisoned by the British merely on suspicion during the communal riots of 1915.

The situation was different in the neighbouring subcontinent, where the British established ‘India’ (later to break up into three nations). From the anti-British Indian (sepoy) mutiny which broke out in 1857 to the time the British gave up the colony in 1947 the country experienced both armed struggles and non-violent civil disobedience campaigns causing much bloodshed and executions of freedom fighters. The last of these uprisings was the Royal Indian Navy mutiny of 1946.

However most of these campaigns did not cause noticeable cracks in Britain’s Empire on which ‘the sun never set.’   It was external factors that really forced the British to change their minds (these are hardly taught in Sri Lankan history books)

The event that heralded the beginning of the end of British imperialism, sooner than expected was the outbreak of war between Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939. Two years later it became World War II with Japan’s entry to the conflict following her attack on the American naval fleet in Pearl Harbour.

The national leaders of India and Myanmar decided to exploit the situation to the maximum.  According to the late Indian author Kushwant Singh the dilemma the Indians faced at the time was whether to give their unstinted support to Britain in the war and pressure the British to give independence afterwards or to first declare independence (the Quit India movement) and then offer support to the British.  The latter could not afford to face the war without Indian support. At the time it also meant the support of those in today’s Pakistan and Bangladesh.  Soldiers belonging to various ethnic groups in the British-Indian Army were fighting in the Middle-East, Europe and Asia.

Elsewhere Indian (Bengali) nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose and Myanmar’s General Aung San (father of Aung San Suu Kyi) had formed armies with Japanese support to fight the British. (Japan’s early successes in the war shattered the myth of the white man’s superiority over the ‘coloured’ races).

All these developments weakened Britain’s hold on the colonies and drained her economy despite the eventual defeat of the Axis Powers, Germany, Italy and Japan in the war. Consequently, the British were no longer in a position to maintain her Asian empire.

When they lost the Indian subcontinent (their ‘jewel in the crown’) there was little purpose in keeping Sri Lanka as a colony.

However since 1983 the island has been opened once again to foreign meddling, this time by the so-called international community, which includes our last colonial master. With a set of cowardly rulers at the helm the process will no doubt be accelerated.

3 Responses to “Colonial mentality and ‘independence’”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    While agreeing with the writer in most part, allow me to point out obvious errors.

    1. The Japanese tie up did nothing to achieve Independence for India or Burma. Independence of India, Burma, Ceylon, etc. was signed and sealed on August 14, 1941 between the US president and British prime minister in the Atlantic Charter. Point 3 of it required that Britain allows Independence for its subjects after the war. In return USA would enter WW2 which saved Britain from Germany. This is what paved the way for Independance. USA suffered enormously under British colonialism but was one of the first to fight it successfully. USA had a strong sentiment against colonialism at that time. Well, it changed thereafter.

    Local resistence and Independence movements only achieved symbolic value. However, local movements to uplift natives’ religion, language and customs must be commended as they played a key role in it. Some of the greatest national heroes including Anagarika Dharmapala understood this well and focused more on ‘fighting’ with the locals to uplift their sense of belonging to the nation even by teaming up with Western groups, than fight against them for Independence at a time it was not on the table.

    2. International interference in Sri Lanka started since 1972, not 1983. Although there are good and bad of being part of the British monarchy as an Independent nation from 1948 to 1972, two good things happened. Ceylon has far better law and order because any legal matter adjudged or neglected in Ceylon could be taken up by the British Privy Council which was like our Supreme Court. Local politicians could not mess with it! Justice was delivered. Fearing Privy Council local courts, police and the government interfered far less in justice. All this collapsed after 1972 as politicians intefere in justice.

    Second and the most important things was under the system before 1972, only Britain could interfere in Ceylon, After 1972, all foreign nations, most destructively India started messing with Sri Lanka. This is what ruined Sri Lanka’s global standing. LTTE could never have started had Ceylon remain how it was until 1972. LTTE and other Indian funded terrorist groups would have earned the wrath of British government had Celon (later Sri Lanka, officially) remained as it was before 1972. This shows very clever manipulation by Indians (including Tamils in the island). They bid their time for the most appropriate moment.

  2. Christie Says:

    Where are the British?

    Edward has already left or will be leaving soon.

    We got millions of Indian Colonial Parasites who arrived under the cover of the British.

    They decide the fate of us Sinhalese.

    These Indian Colonial Parasites are still in the Indian Colonies from Fiji to Guyana, the Indian Empire the sun never sets.

    The Indian puppet Sirisena did not see the difference between 70 and 30.

  3. RohanJay Says:

    @Dilrook Actually your wrong regarding the US suffering terribly under British colonialism. Between 1604 to 1776 England ruled the United States. Most of the American population was English with other European settlers mainly from rest of the UK and Ireland and continental Europe. By all accounts they the Americans enjoyed a better more wealthier lifestyle with more freedoms than their counterparts in England at the time. This was the case for about 170 years of English rule of the United States from London until the American revolution. The problems started when London started raising the taxes of Americans in the 13 colonies who like I said were miuch better off than their counterparts in England in order to fund Englands wars against some of the continental European nations England was waging war at the time chiefly France and Spain. The American Revolution started around 1760s to 1770s. It is during this short period of the war that the US suffered terribly as they were in a war situation with Britain. London sent British troops otherwise known as the redcoats to quell the uprising in the US at the time, this exploded into full scale war with the 13 colonies with France and Spain coming on the Americans side against England. The American Revolution became a global war as a result. The Battle of Trincomalee off the coast of Sri Lanka for example the navy of France and England in 1782 was one of the global battles related to the American war of independence. The French scored a naval victory their and many others around the world which helped the Americans win the war of independence from Britain.
    It was a very tough,brutal struggle during this period for the US and its citizens and it was only during this period that US suffered under British Colonialism because it was a war situation between US and England at the time.
    But its completely false to say that the US suffered during British Colonialism. The US for most of this period unlike a lot of other colonies of England actually benefited greatly from British rule. But you are right to assert that Americans after independence weren’t big fans of British Colonialism afterwards after went about building their own country called the United States. Even though United Staes practiced their own brand of colonialism after this war similar to their British Cousins in England.

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