Ethnic clashes in Sri Lanka and how to overcome them? Part 11
Posted on April 2nd, 2018

Dr Sudath Gunasekara, Retired Permanent Secretary. (SLAS)

1 The sad legacies of

  1. a) Colonial policies of 443 years of divide and rule, particularly those left behind by the British, still active on this soil
  2. b) Colonial tools of governance like a) The Constitution. b)The system of Government, c) Parliament. d) Political Parties e) legal systems, f) Administrative machinery and g) Interference by ex-colonial countries, individually and jointly in the internal matters of this country

In this section I will address only those colonial policies of divide and rule the British adopted. Among them I list the following strategies as most important. Geopolitical, political, social, demographic, ethnic and religious

To begin with the 1815 March 2nd Kandyan Convention was a masterpiece colonial intrigue of British Machiavellian strategy by Doily to trap the Sinhala Chieftains of the Kandyan Kingdom with false promises. Particular reference must be made to 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 by which they were enticed to cede the Kingdom to the British.

The convention upheld many of their traditional rights and powers. In addition, the convention specified that the traditional laws, customs, and institutions of the Kandyans were to be maintained and administered by the usual native authorities. Clause 2 they agreed to depose the Malabar king from throne and abolish and extinguish all claims the Malabar Tamils had to rule the Kingdom of Sinhale. No sooner deceptively taken over had they begun to show their true colours. Ahelepolas dreams of becoming the ruler were shattered and the British began to blatantly violate agreement especially those mentioned in Section 4 of the Convention regarding the rights and powers of the local Chieftains. The Kandyans came to regret this 1815 agreement and, in 1817, rebelled. By 1818 the rebellion was put down, and an ensuing British proclamation took away from the Kandyans most of the rights that had been guaranteed them by the convention.

Consolidating British hegemony had to follow. On 21 Nov 1818 Brown Wrigg Issued a Royal Proclamation drastically curtailing the privileges and powers  of native leaders violating the Kandyan Convention and thereafter the Island was run by British Royal Proclamations and directives ignoring the provisions of the Kandyan Convention, until dominion status was granted in 1948 under the Soulbury Constitution.  In 1833 the Island was artificially carved out in to 5 Provinces North, South, East, West and Central. They were increased to 9 by 1897. The boundaries of the Northern and Eastern Provinces were carefully carved out to ensure separate Tamil areas which I consider was the beginning of the present day idea of the EELAM territory. Thus the division of the Island in to provinces with artificial boundaries and a large area was the first step in their long term conspiracy to divide the country in to separate Sinhala and Tamil regions in future to implement their divide and rule policy in Sri Lanka. This British policy ran against the clause 2 of the Kandyan convention where they have promised to put an end to Malabar Tamil rule in this country. Unfortunately the British continue to do the same even today. But no one raise this issue against the British violations.

The artificial boundaries of new Provinces replaced the natural boundaries of Disavas and Ratas which kept the country intact for centuries as one country and one nation sans communal or ethnic strife. Meanwhile they also imported South Indian Tamils coolies in large numbers to the North and East to work in projects like roads and newly opened tobacco farms. This was the first step introduced by British for the divide and rule strategy geopolitically as well as ethnically setting Tamils against the native Sinhalese thereby planting the first seed of ethnic strife between Tamils and Sinhalese in this country. Fortunately their early plans to import south Indian Tamils to settle down in the Dry Zone plains for paddy failed. Had that been a success the subsequent settlement of landless native Sinhala peasants in the present day Dry Zone villages would have been a day dream and by now the entire DZ would have been populated by Tamils and all the vestiges of ancient Sinhala Buddhist civilization would have been vandalized and obliterated. Instead today we would have seen sprawling   Hindu Kovils and a replica of south Indian civilization in 2/3rd of the country.

This was followed by importing South Indian coolies in large numbers to work in the new plantations on the hills. Plantation areas were made out of bounds to the native Sinhalese. The hill country covering about 600 000 acre of newly cleared  which they converted in to an enclave of south Indian Tamil coolies speaking a different language following practicing a new religion, Hinduism, thus a cultural enclave was created to serve as a future threat to the surrounding Kandyan villages.

Importation of South Indian labour by British and leaving them behind on the plantations when British left to upset the demographic balance and create future political and economic problems and social unrest and setting India against Sri Lanka at the same time, creating regional instability and destabilizing Sri Lankan State as well

Providing special English Educational facilities to minority Tamils (12%), which enabled them to invade, flood and monopolize the job market (for ex Engineering, Medical, Legal., University staff, Accountancy, Civil service and even Clerical Service over 65 % and sometime even more in almost all these fields. Thus Government service at that time almost became the monopoly of the Tamil minority at the expense of the Sinhalese majority (>85 %) then.

Meanwhile American Missionary schools were opened up in large numbers in the peninsula Jaffna where the best of English education was provided for the high cast Tamils.  Coomaraswamies, Ponnambalams, Arunachalams and Lingams were elevated to elite position. Some of them were married to English women. For example Ananda Coomaraswamy’s mother was a British. Some of them were taken to England for higher education. Ponnambalan Arunachalamwas, the first Sri Lankan, to be recruited to the then Ceylon Civil Service. By 1845 out of 103 English schools in the Island 45 were located in the peninsula of Jaffna. Rests were located in Colombo, Batticalloa and Galle. Thereby the British planned to get a new generation of Tamils to the Public service.  This kept the native Sinhalese badly backward and uneducated during their entire rule. The impact of this conspiracy of discrimination was found even in late fifties. This educational advantage also gave a superiority complex to Tamils over the Sinhalese who were badly deprived and neglected without such educational facilities.  How this British treatment benefitted the Tamils could be clearly seen if you study the employment figures in the public sector even in late fifties especially in areas like Medicine, Engineering, Accountancy, law and Railways. The cumulated discrimination against the native Sinhalese caused by these colonial actions is perhaps the mail reason for the Sinhala Tamil ethnic strife.

At the same time with political reforms they provided equal representation to Tamils (12 %) and Sinhalese (75%) when unofficial members were appointed. This is why G.G.Ponnambalam demanded his famous 50 50 formula in 1932 before the Donoughmore Commission

Thus if you carefully follow the British policy towards Sri Lanka since 1818 up to date you will clearly see how all their actions throughout have been inconsistent and diametrically opposed to the promises made by them in the Kandyan Convention are. In fact all what the British had done since 1818 and which they continue to date is aimed at restoring the Malabar Tamil rule back on this Island and they have completely violated the covenants of clause 2 of the Kandyan Convention.  As the Kandyan Convention has never been annulled at any time, in my view it is still a legally valid International Convention and therefore all what actions taken by British since Nov 21st 1818 could be challenged.

The socio-political changes brought about in 1956 by Bandaranayaka along with the Kannagara educational reforms and change over to Sinhala medium drastically turned this situation upside down. The doors of public service in all spheres from the lowest of the highest level including the Civil Service and other higher echelons were opened for the Sinhalese majority who were thus far neglected and remained backward. This situation badly reduced the disproportionate numbers thus far got by the Tamils. This, the Tamils now call discrimination against them. But they conveniently forget the discrimination done against the majority Sinhalese by the British for 150 years and continues up to date.

To be followed in Part 111

Ethnic clashes in Sri Lanka and how to overcome them?

Colonial tools of governance like a) The Constitution. b)The system of Government, c) Parliament. d) Political Parties e) legal systems, f) Administrative machinery and g) Interference by ex-colonial countries, individually and jointly in the internal matters of this country

2 Responses to “Ethnic clashes in Sri Lanka and how to overcome them? Part 11”

  1. Christie Says:

    The Sinhalese Buddhists, Muslims and Christians should unite and stand up to India and Indian Colonial Parasites.

  2. Nimal Says:

    Quickest way to ethnic harmony is stop the present divide and rule policies and bringing back the colonials will help.We see the division in Kandy where it is sacred for us the people not to drive past the Maligawa but not for the few privileged scoundrels it ok to drive past.This is divide and rule that will bring conflicts among us.

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