The Serfdom demolished
Posted on January 24th, 2019

By : A.A.M.NIZAM – MATARA

The Muslim community in Sri Lanka prior to the formation of the people’s revolutionary government of late Prime Minister Mr. S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike in 1956 was more or less a community of serfdom depending entirely on the handouts from the rich traders/merchants, or from the landowners in the agricultural areas, or from the rich families in the fishing areas or from the owners of large herds of animal husbandry. An ordinary Muslim was voiceless and they had to dutifully oblige the master if they were to stay on their vocation and sustain their families. Due to these pathetic slavish status Muslims were forced to support and vote for the United National Party (UNP) of the elites, as dictated by their masters at times of election.

A notice calling for the formation of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party on 2nd September, 1951 was issued with the signatures of 44 eminent personalities of that time, which included persons of all religions and all races. Among the 44 signatories were 5 Muslims and 3 Tamils. The Muslim signatories were Dr. Badiuddin Mahmoud, Haji A.T.Kareem, A.M.Marker, C.A.S.Marikkar, and A.C.Marikkar.

Over 10,000 persons, a massive crowd at that time, heeded this call and converged at the Town Hall premises for the formation of the new Party. At this convention the naming of the new party as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party was proposed by the late Mr. H.Sri Nissanka and it was seconded by the late Dr. Badi-ud-din Mahmoud, who was elected as a Co-Secretary.

Education for the children of the poor Muslims at that time was mainly confined to the schools known as Government Tamil Schools most of which except in main towns had classes only upto 5th or 8th Standard. While the rich Muslims, whose children were educated in leading schools in Colombo and other places, resented the children of their servants acquiring higher education, the teachers in the so-called Government Tamil Schools, who were overwhelmingly Tamils discouraged these poor students pursuing even basic education. Elders relate that most of these teachers used to tell the students that as invariably they will be going to work in shops (or get involved in other labour related works) it would be sufficient if they learn to write something, read a few lines, and count 5 and 5 as 10. Even the far and few Muslim teachers, who belonged to the rich families and served in these schools held similar views and possessed the same attitude. The mosques were also managed by the rich families in the relevant areas.

The first major change made by the first purely Sri Lankan oriented government of 1956 as opposed to the proxy-British UNP governments for the emancipation of Muslims in Sri Lanka was to make a complete change of the teaching staff in schools where majority of students were Muslims. These schools were named as Muslim Schools and Muslim youth who possessed a minimum qualification of having passed SSC were appointed as Teachers to these schools, disregarding their age requirement. There was an acute shortage of Muslim youths with SSC passed qualifications at that time, and it is said by many that in the years of 1958, 1959 and early sixties, Muslim youth got their teaching appointments, even without submitting formal applications, along with their SSC passes, and even before attaining the required minimum age of 18 years.

Although ethnic based schools should not be encouraged and all children of an area should have the right to receive education in the school of that particular area the   establishment of Muslim Schools was a need of the era at that time in order to make a mass educational revolution in the Muslim community. This was a giant step taken by Bandaranaike government to emancipate the Muslim community and liberate them from the bondage to Mudalalis and open a new vista for Muslim children to pursue higher education. It was a well known fact that there were many villages and towns at that time without a single Muslim graduate, without a single Muslim Doctor, Lawyer, Accountant or even a middle ranking government servant.

This massive teaching employment drive initiated by the Bandaranaike government, produced at least one teacher in each Muslim family, and completely changed the changed the educationally backward Muslim society into an educated Muslim polity. It is the children of this new generation of Muslims that occupy seats of employment today in many fields including those in the professional fields and even in Foreign Missions.

It was the SLFP that legitimized the rights of Muslim girls to wear a school dress in conformity to their religious norms even in non-Muslim schools. While the pro_UNP Western countries were not permitting Muslims girls to wear Hijab in schools the SLFP led government in addition to providing school uniforms to Muslim girls studying in government schools also took action to provide Hijabs to Muslim girls annually.

The Endowment Board known as Waqf Board was created to administer the affairs of mosques thereby providing the opportunity for the commoners to participate in the affairs of administering the mosques, and making them qualified to receive government assistance. Relaying the Azan call for the five obligatory prayers using loudspeakers from mosques throughout the island was permitted.

A Special Unit known as Muslim Service was created in the then Radio Ceylon solely dedicated for the Muslims to broadcast religious and cultural programmes and enlighten the Muslims with religious knowledge, their cultural values, and educate them about the affairs of fellow Muslims in other countries. Creation of this Unit helped Muslims to listen to whole night broadcast of religious programmes on special days such as Lailathul Qadr (the blessed night in the month of Ramadan) and listen to whole day programmes on Eid and other significant days, in addition to daily night and morning programmes.

A new set of teachers known as Maulavi Teachers, similar to teachers of other religions was appointed to teach religion to Muslim students even in non-Muslim schools. Two hours permission was given  for Muslim public servants to attend Ju mma Prayers on Fridays.. Days prominent for Muslims were included in the list of Public Holidays.

In the international arena too, the SLFP governments espoused the cause of Muslims and Muslim countries. During the Suez Canal War in 1958 the late Prime Minister Mr. S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike solidly stood supporting the steps taken by President Gamal Abdul Nasser of United Arab Republic (currently Egypt), to nationalise the Suez Canal. Historical records reveal that the late Prime Minister Mr. Bandaranaike speaking at the United Nations not only vehemently condemned the invasion of Egypt by the western imperialist forces together with Isreal but also threatened even to send the armed forces of Sri Lanka to fight these Imperialists along with the Egyptian and Arab armies. Not even the Muslim countries outside the Middle East region had the courage to support President Nasser in this manner.

It was the government of late Prime Minister Mr. Bandaranaike that appointed a Muslim as Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. The UNP which fools the Muslims in every election to get their votes and provide them nothing in return is yet to appoint a Muslim to such a prestigious position.

In the olden days Labour Ministry was the insignificant Ministry in the whole Cabinet. The UNP governments always kept this Ministry reserved for Muslims as nothing could be done to serve the community through this Ministry. It was the Bandaranaike government that nullified this discrimination and appointed Mr. C.A.S.Marikkar to the prestigious position of Minister of Post and Telecommunications.

Also the Bandaranaike government has the credit of appointing for the first time a Muslim as the Speaker of Parliament. The late Mr. H.S.Ismail was appointed as the Speaker of Parliament although he was not elected to Parliament as an SLFP MP.

The second structural change in the life of Sri Lankan Muslims and enormous service to the community took place during the reign of the late Prime Minister Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who dearly valued cordial relationships with Middle Eastern and Muslim countries all over the world. It was in gratitude to her cordial relationship that President Nasser sent several oil shipments to Sri Lanka when western countries imposed sanctions on oil supplies to Sri Lanka following the bold step taken by her to nationalise the oil companies in Sri Lanka and establish the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation. In gratitude to this friendly gesture, Mrs. Bandaranaike declared one week’s mourning on the death of President Nasser’s funeral proceedings were broadcast live through SLBC. Such a respect to President Nasser’s funeral was not accorded even in several Middle East and Muslim countries.

The late Prime Minister Mrs. Bandaranaike was the only non-Muslim world leader who severed Diplomatic relationship with Israel, for invading Arab countries and occupying their territory following the 1967 war.

When Mrs. Bandaranaike made arrangements to host the 5th Non-Aligned Summit in Sri Lanka, the UNP and its media not only condemned her decision but also slandered many Muslim leaders who were scheduled to attend. The Summit, however, provided the opportunity for the leaders and Heads of State of almost all Muslim countries to visit our motherland and obtain a first hand knowledge about the country, about the Muslims in this country, and also to interact with them. In spite of UNP’s criticism and vilification the Summit opened a new vista for Muslims and other Sri Lankans to find employment, particularly in the Middle East countries.

Thus began the era of foreign employment for Sri Lankans and it has now become the leading source of foreign exchange earning for Sri Lanka, and a means of alleviating poverty throughout the country. People who went for employment in the Middle East countries in the early phase recall that the general public in the Middle East were not aware of the existence of a country called Sri Lanka and they knew Sri Lanka only as Madam Bandaranaike country.

Under the UNP governments from 1977 to 1994 Muslims faced many hardships and the UNP Ministers and MPs numbering 11 persons were utterly powerless to do anything to help the Muslims. If it was not for the Middle East employment avenue opened up by Mrs. Bandaranaike the pathetic situation Sri Lankan Muslims would have faced is horrific even to imagine it.

During this Adarmishta period of 18 years Sri Lankan Muslims living in the North and East and in the districts of Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura and Puttalam were continuously subjected to LTTE atrocities. Unable to withstand these atrocities when a delegation of Muslims led by Dr. Badi-ud-din Mahmoud met President J.R.Jayawardene, to request him to provide protection to Muslims, they were bluntly asked to meet the LTTE leadership and sort out their problems. Ultimately they were compelled to go to Chennai, South India, meet the LTTE leadership and negotiate an agreement under which LTTE promised to desist from harming the Muslims. This agreement however was implemented by the LTTE only in the breach.

In the Eastern Province, when the atrocities of Tamil terrorist elements against the Muslims, particularly by the LTTE continued to increase and when more than 500 houses were set on fire by the LTTE in Kalmunai, Sainthamaruthu and Maruthamunai areas within two or three days and the Muslim leaders in the then ruling party failed to press the JR Jayewardene government to act, in order to bring peace to the area,

The massacres of Muslims by the LTTE which started in the latter part of the J.R.Jayawardene government increased to a horrendous level during the Premadasa administration. In the Kattankudy massacre carried out on 3rd August 1990, Muslims who were performing Isha Prayers were sprayed with bullets and 103 Muslims got killed on the sport and 71 were injured and most of them died subsequently.  Premadasa government which was having a honeymoon with the tiger terrorists feasting them at Hilton Hotel, Colombo did not take any action against these massacres or provide adequate protection to the Muslims. Even the families and the widows of the dead were not compensated. Similar massacres continued in several places of the Eastern Province.

In October 1990 Muslims of all the five districts of the Northern Province, Mannar, Vavuniya, Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, were given notice by the LTTE ordering them to leave the Northern Province within 24 hours. The UNP government of President Premadasa did not take any preventive action to protect these Muslims amounting to nearly 100,000 persons. Ultimately the LTTE forcibly chased them out from their traditional habitats where they used to live for centuries. In this world’s worst ethnic cleansing episode the victimised Muslims were not allowed to take any of their belongings except for whatever the dress they were wearing at that time. Even the ear-rings worn by women and children were forcibly removed. A father who had a child of less than one year explaining the ordeal they underwent told a newspaper that the tiger terrorists did not even allow him to take the partly used milk food packet he was carrying to feed his baby.

The UNP government of President Premadasa, in which the anti-Muslim UNP leader Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe was a top ranking Minister, did not care to provide some decent shelters to these victimised Muslims. They were forced to put up their own cadjan  shelters in the coconut lands in places like Ismail Puram, Kalpitty, Palavi, Madurankuliya etc, in the Puttalam District, and several other areas in Kurunegala and Anuradhapura districts, and languish as refugees in their own country living in cadjan huts without any basic amenities for almost two decades.

One Response to “The Serfdom demolished”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    [Quote] A notice calling for the formation of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party on 2nd September, 1951 was issued with the signatures of 44 eminent personalities of that time, which included persons of all religions and all races. Among the 44 signatories were 5 Muslims and 3 Tamils. [Unquote]

    Of the 3 Tamil signatories at least 2 of them were Tamil Christians.

    At that time almost 18% of the population was Hindus. At least 8 signatories should have been Hindus. But it was not the case. Muslims were around 6% but 5 signatories means 11% of them.

    This proves my point that Muslims are the most patriotic ethnic group after Sinhalese and after Buddhists and Christians. Tamils and Hindus are the least patriotic.

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