Sri Lanka’s Independence – a by product of India’s Freedom Struggles
Posted on May 27th, 2022

Senaka Weeraratna

The transition from a colony to political freedom was a peaceful one in Ceylon unlike in a  large majority of Asian countries. Independence was attained by Ceylon relatively painlessly as a by product of India’s Freedom Struggles that were assisted by Japan through its support to Netaji Subash Chandra Bose and his Indian National Army (INA).

During the Second World War and thereafter freedom fighters all over Asia under the original leadership of Japan, fought under the banner ‘ Asia for Asians’, while the opposing forces comprising the Western colonial countries such as Britain, France, Netherlands, and USA, fought more or less on the footing ‘ Asia for Westerners’ ( to exploit and plunder the resources both natural and human). India and Ceylon were dragged into WW2 without the prior consent of the people. Some of the highly respected Asian freedom fighters were Mahatma Gandhi (India),  Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam), Sukarno (Indonesia), Aung San and U Nu ( Burma), among others. Anagarika Dharmapala was Sri Lanka’s only credible figure of international stature in the pantheon of freedom fighters, though he passed away before the outbreak of WW2.

Ceylon was a Dominion from 1948 to 1972 when it was declared a Republic.

One of the main purposes of gaining independence is Restitution (Restitutio in Integrum) of what was lost under colonial rule and the Rectification of Historical Injustices and in respect to Ceylon  committed during the Euro – Christian era of foreign occupation of Ceylon. All three colonial powers Portuguese, Dutch and the British were anti – Majoritarian from the day they set foot on this land. They had to be because their primary objective was to colonize and dominate the colony and so long as the locals worshipped and remained loyal to a different belief system, colonial rule was not going to be easy. That was the rationale for religious conversion. When you embrace the religion of the conqueror or conquistadors, your loyalty to the foreign sovereign is more or less assured.

Section 29 (2) of the Soulbury Constitution was artfully designed to prevent Restitutio in Integrum on the part of the majority community of independent Ceylon. Buddhism is deeply embedded in the Sinhalese people and by legislatively preventing Buddhism from being given its rightful place due to Section 29(2), it was meant to prevent a  Buddhist resurgence in Sri Lanka.

When Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake refused to appoint a Commission of Inquiry to probe into the Injustices committed on the majority community during colonial rule, acting under pressure from the Catholic Church, the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress under the leadership of Dr. G.P. Malalasekera, appointed a Committee of Inquiry in 1953 which published its findings in 1956.  L.H. Mettananda was a prominent figure on that Committee and was the ghost writer of that Report, assisted by several other eminent personages  including senior Buddhist monks and lay scholars.

The Report was firmly against the Soulbury Constitution and particularly Section 29 (2). Thereafter Mettananda and his Bauddha Jatika Balavegaya (BJB) campaigned heavily for a Buddhist Constitution and Buddhist Social Order for this predominantly Buddhist country, that would give Buddhism its rightful and foremost place among the religions. It was an outright rejection of Section 29 (2) of the Soulbury Constitution of 1947 and for the restoration of Article 5 of the Kandyan Convention (Sinhala – Ingrisy Givisuma) of 1815. 

Article 9 of the 1978 Constitution is a reproduction of the substance of this concept. The State is obliged not only to protect but also to foster Buddhism,  whilst assuring protection to all other religions. 

The purpose of a country becoming a Republic has nothing to do with economic betterment. The benefits are political not economic. It is an assertion of a country’s sovereignty. India became a Republic in 1950 and Burma in 1948 ( without becoming a Dominion).

There was a powerful hidden message from the State and people of Sri Lanka to the British Raj in 1972 on the eve of Declaration of Independence as follows:

” We are no longer subordinate to your authority even as a Dominion. We have now cut the umbilical cord”

People of Sri Lanka are highly respected in former colonies because of the role that our leaders of the calibre of Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike have played in world affairs in the past as assertive leaders of Republican countries.

Senaka Weeraratna

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