Posted on July 25th, 2020



Senator S. Nadesan (1904-1986) made a speech in the Ceylon Senate on 14 and 15 of May 1971 regarding the JVP insurrection of April 1971. This speech was published as a booklet in 1988, by the Nadesan Centre for Human Rights.

Suriya Wickremasinghe in her introducitn to the Nadesan Centre booklet said Nadesan’s speech on the 1971 insurrection in the Ceylon Senate, was the first forthright objective assessment made in public on the matter. There was a curfew and people could not easily meet and discuss. But Senator Nadesan had a curfew pass and ‘used it to the full’   to go about and make inquiries.  He used this information in his speech, she said.

In his speech, Nadesan attributes the rise of the JVP to population growth, higher education and unemployment. The insurgents were mainly poor undergraduates, staying in hovels, seven or eight in a room, for their undergraduate studies and exploited by the landlord in Peradeniya and Colombo.

These students saw no future for themselves, said Nadesan. There were no jobs awaiting them.  They were studying because there was nothing else to do. They did not go to the campus gymnasium or playground, instead they were seated discussing jobs, their futures, and socialist politics. Politics was the principal diet of the students. The     voting age had been reduced to 18 years, so they were very much a part of the electorate too.

Nadesan says JVP  campaigned for the United Front government of 1970. The JVP youth stopped their work and organized house to house campaigns in support of the United Front.  The UF  victory was the victory of the youth vote.  A study of the voting patterns will show that it was the youth who defeated the UNP, said Nadesan.

But once this new government came into power there was an unprecedented outburst of lawlessness throughout the  country. JVP had infiltrated  government industrial concerns and had intimidated the workers.  There were work stoppages.  ‘ I do not know why that happened,‘ said Nadesan.

Nadesan  agreed that the   armed uprising  had attacked a duly established, democratically elected, popular government. But  he  listed several weaknesses in the government , such as nepotism, favoritism when it came to jobs. Also said Nadesan, there was unemployment. People were thrown out of jobs.

MPs gave themselves pensions, enhanced allowances and  wanted to import Peugeot cars for official travel. The JVP has also complained that the MPs took the Rs 50 allowance per day and vanished without staying for the Constituent Assembly meetings. The Senators listening to Nadesan, helpfully  added at this point, ‘there  were also objections to MPs foreign  travel  and safaris’. Nadesan said he   did not know of those and was speaking only of what he did know.

One of the first items referred to at the JVP rally held at Hyde Park in Feb 1971,   continued  Nadesan,  and was the fact that the government had introduced compulsory retirement of those over 55.  Very  violent speeches were made by the sons of these dependants, observed Nadesan. JVP had also objected to the fact that  the government had gone to the agents of American imperialism such as World Bank, IDB  for loans like the previous government.

The government had failed to nationalize  banks as promised,  and put a ceiling on land ownership. So their only hope lay ,  JVPers said, in establishing by themselves a socialist society in this country. They proposed to give the government a little time and then take matters into their hands. These were the type of speeches made, said Nadesan.

The JVP leaders, instead of advising these youth that the government should be given a reasonable time and chance of redeeming its promise,  instead started propaganda against the government  and organized discontented youth to attack. The youth were impatient for radical measures, they had been prepared for warfare. They wanted results.

 The youth were either misled  or were foolish enough to think that immediate solutions were possible. The Youth may have thought that if they deferred their actions and make preparations quietly over the years, they would miss the bus,  because by that time the security forces would have hunted them down . That is my analysis. I am looking at this objectively, said Nadesan.

Government declared a state of emergency to wipe put this movement and the security forces ‘went  round to a number of places and sometimes through  good fortune and luck were able to find bombs, ammunitions and arms collected at various places and they started hot on the trail of this movement, continued Nadesan.

The significant part of Nadesan’s speech comes after this. Nadesan  draws attention to the weaknesses of the  Emergency Regulations enacted at the time, particularly Regulations 19 and 20  which deal with arrest, detention, cremation and burial. These Regulations say that any police officer may arrest without a warrant a person suspected of an offence under the Emergency Regulations.  The earlier safeguards that such a person must be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours and also that police must report to magistrate if they arrest a person without a warrant were removed.

Further, nothing need be done in any part of the country in respect  not only of person shot dead while in combat between security forces and insurgents but also of person who dies while in detention after they have been taken into custody, said Nadesan. Any ASP of officer in charge of a police station can bury or cremate any dead body without inquest, or death certificate.  And the burials needed not be recorded anywhere.

In  the case of those who die in combat, it is well known all over the world that a count is taken of the people who die and their identities established if they can be   ascertained.  A list is given of the wounded and the dead, so that people from the other countries can know whether somebody is a prisoner, dead or wounded. These are dispensed with here in Sri Lanka, Nadesan said.

Nadesan observed that the police have many honorable capable people but ‘ there are also a  number of persons who oppress the public’. In certain police stations people are frightened that they will be assaulted,  even in normal times. When police are attacked some of them, not particularly educated,  may think of revenge. Some members of the police have been guilty of  cowardly attacks.  One can just imagine what they will do at a time of  civil strife when they can without giving  account to anybody, be a law unto themselves.

 The bulk of the police will not take advantage of ht regulations to abuse their powers,  but in any society, particularly in a country like ours  there are bound to be certain people who will utilize the safeguards provided by these regulations to carry out some private  vendetta or misuse the power granted to them, said Nadesan.

Nadesan then listed a series of allegations regarding criminal behavior on the part of the  armed forces  dealing with the insurgency. Allegations have reached my ears from  reputable sources  whose names I will not disclose here, that insurgents who surrendered or were captured were shot in a large number on the ground that there was no way of keeping them in prison and there were no faculties for transporting them or for accommodating them. Whether this allegation is true or not is a different matter.

 Allegations have been made that in areas far away from the place of actual confrontation between security forces and insurgents, a number of youth were arrested on suspicion, some were shot summarily, others assaulted, tortured, taken away and shot. Suspects were asked to run away from the police station and then shot when running.

Allegations have been made that  in some police stations torture and sadisms have been indulged in by some police officers, they were deprived of their wrist watches and then sent off. Nadesan had been able to verify one such case.

Allegations have been made that the houses of parents of a large number of young persons who were suspected of being insurgents have had their houses burnt down. Allegations have been made that some members of the police force and army have in broad daylight gone to shops, markets and other places and helped themselves to goods and in some cases they have indulged in looting of shops and boutiques, taking away jewellery.

Allegations have been made that after curfew house in places close to Colombo like Nugegoda and in faraway places like Badulla  members of security forces have gone into boutiques and shops and carried away jewellery and cash to the extent of Rs 5,000, 6000 and 7000. Allegations have been made that people’s residences, shops and boutiques with all valuables have been burnt down.

I do not  say the armed force and the police are lawless. What I say is that there are certain allegations of lawlessness made against them which it is not possible in the present climate to investigate.  Government should take up the position that it will investigate these when the time is suitable and every respondent who has a genuine complaint to make will be  given the opportunity.

Senator Nadesan then moved on to the main thrust of his speech, the need to tell the ‘truth ‘ about of  what the security forces had done  during the insurgency and after. The first casualty in civil  war is  truth” he said,  In a civil war, to ensure the security of the state, propagandists  prefer to  utter an untruth or  give a garbled version to the people, than to state the truth and run the risk of  more trouble.

‘I do not expect the government at a time like this, to come out with the truth, and to state the whole truth in respect of all that has happened. The time is not yet ripe for that. But eventually, it is necessary to report excesses committed by some members of the police and security forces.

  I implore the government  in respect of these allegations not to say whether they are true or false. I ask them not commit themselves one way or the other when they do not have the facilities’ for the purpose of investigating and arriving at the truth.  Better take the position.  Well there are these allegations, we cannot say anything one way or other, at  present but later we will inquire into them.

In the process of combating the insurgents and putting down the movement with a firm hand we should not give the impression that we are at any  time  prepared to tolerate indiscipline or lawlessness on the part of the  armed forces or the police. Once  matters have settled,  the government must promise to investigate.    Nadesan then called for economic reform and the speech ended  with a statement on  banning the import of  potatoes and chillies.

There were interruptions to Senator Nadesan’s speech. There were interruptions while Nadesan was narrating this list of ‘allegations’. Senator Kumarasuriar had interrupted Nadesan to say these allegations are false. Senator Somaratne asked to whom these allegations have been made. Nadesan’ reply was  people dare not complain, so they don’t. In any case the police will deny.” Nadesan  speech seems to have  led to laughter as well. Nadesan said, at one point,  ‘this is not an occasion for laughter,’  and again, ‘this is not a time for levity.


Neville Jayaweera was in Vavuniya   as Government Agent when the 1971 JVP insurgency took place. He wrote about it in  The Vavuniya Diaries”.

In Jan and Feb of 1971 headmen of Madukanda, Mamaduwa and Pavatkulam had  reported unusual activities among the youth of the area. They were holding secret meetings in the jungles, were seen wearing strange blue uniforms, guns were vanishing from homes and there was a sharp increase of burglaries from Coop stores. Similar reports were made from most Sinhala districts  in Vavuniya, said Jayaweera.

Jayaweera was  informed in April, 1971 that a  bus load of JVP had set off for Vavuniya from Jaffna.  200 JVPers  attacked Vavuniya Police station on April 4th 1971.  The attack was resisted by Jayaweera and his team. Village headmen of adjacent villages  then  informed Jayaweera on April 5th that 100- 150 rebels were mustering on eastern shore of Vavuniya tank. They were planning to raid the town that night.   The monks at Madukanda temple and Iratperiyakulama temple also kept Jayaweera  informed  of the movement of the JVP. They reported that JVP were planning to take Vavuniya on 12th April.

JVP did succeed in taking Vavuniya. They did so   in a planned manner. JVP  controlled the road at Iratperiyakulama and Omanthai, cutting Vavuniya off from Anuradhapura and Jaffna. JVP also  controlled roads at Medawachchiya, Rajangana, and Polgahawela, which meant they had control of  all key road and rail junctions.    JVP controlled Madukanda, a village   in Vavuniya which  provided a link to  Trincomalee.

 Vavuniya was one of the pockets where the JVP  was able to hold out for a long time, observed Jayaweera.  They were eventually defeated, but   a hard core of about 25 stayed on in the  thickly forested ridge off Mamaduwa village, north east of Vavuniya from where till mid August they made regular incursions into town and torched school buildings and buses and sniped at army camps and patrols. Air strikes failed to flush them out,  said Jayaweera.

Finally, they were taken  and brought to the police stations where the public flocked to see the arrested JVPers.  The JVP  were much loved by the public whom they protected from the sadistic army captain ,sent to Vavuniya with the army unit, who every night had   engaged in the murder of innocent village youth. The JVP had said that it was their anger towards the sadistic army  Captain that made them destroy public property in retaliation and   hold out for so long without surrendering, stated Jayaweera.

Jayaweera   was impressed by the JVP. My encounters with them in 1971 in Vavuniya had been wholesome ones, he said. Jayaweera had sent some money to his wife through a trusted bus driver.  JVP had stopped the driver, detained him, used the bus, and then sent him on  to Colombo with the money intact. JVP leader attacking Vavuniya police station was shot and killed. He took over three hours to die, it was heart rending Said Jayaweera.

Jayaweera said the  JVP were  not mean criminal types. They were decent and most respectful. Very young and idealistic.They were fighting for a new society. They were a couple of thousand starry eyed youth armed with shot guns and homemade bombs, with a charismatic leader. They had no idea what they were to do after capturing Vavuniya police station and Kachcheri, added Jayaweera.

Neville Jayaweera felt sorry for the dead JVP.  They were misguided  but they had caught a vision . The loss of their lives was no less tragic, their deeds no less heroic. For their dead no bugles, no volley in salute, only the indignity of tyres.  I was left with a pang of conscience at the wanton killings of their cadres carried out by the security forces, said Jayaweera. 

Jayaweera found that several young men had disappeared under burning tractor tyres and he was not allowed to inquire into the matter. However he prepared a list of names of the disappeared. But Jayaweera’s dossier of missing youths was not taken up by the government. Jayaweera said that the government number of 1100 missing  was far too little. ( Continued)

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