Patriot and Mentor


As a friend I am blessed to have known Gamini in the latter years of his life, shared his knowledge and be inspired by his visionary thinking. In my estimation, he was a genuine patriot. It is nine years since he passed away on 3rd February 2003, the day before Independence and barely two weeks before his birthday. He will remain a part of Sri Lanka’s modem history of the war period. He alerted the nation to the danger and destruction of the armed conflict in the North and East of Sri Lanka, when the sparks arose. He tutored the people on patriotism and was a defender of the Sinhala faith and culture. A historian par excellence. While many admired his integrity and outspokenness a few others had the audacity to walk on the side exploit his wealth of knowledge distort facts and lined their pockets ! The writer is duty bound to express "reflections and prognostications deduced from the numerous conversations and discussions with him. I hope this article will undoubtedly add further value to his national contribution, and keep the new youth know the man who single handed awakened the nation."

"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" (John F. Kennedy, Inaugural address, Washington, 20th January 1961, reads the" plaque on entry to the Iriyagolle house. Currently numerous friends, colleagues and well wishers reminisce and express with sadness "wish he was alive to see the change of events" in post war situation. When on 19th May 2009 the armed conflict in the North and East was quelled by the state the nation breathed a sigh of relief reviving fresh hope for a new future in Sri Lanka. Events and history changed course rapidly creating H. E. Mahinda Rajapakse, President of Sri Lanka and the Security Forces as heirs to the victorious struggle. A new era dawned for both perpetrators of violence, victims of violence, and spectators of violence.

Gamini Iriyagolle played a vital role commencing in the 1970’s after the Vadukkodai Convention, in the North. He had forebodings that the conflict would not end in the 20th century. He alerted the state, the media and Civil Society on the intolerable and inhuman role of terrorism. "The Island" and the sister newspaper "Divaina" published views and issues he highlighted, steadfastly.

Source Material

Iriagolla never put pen to paper without recourse to source material. In the course of search and research and presentations he confronted a few rival critics mainly university professors, Tutors, historians, and a few media personnel, fleeting politicians, commentators, et al. He exhorted religious dignitaries, politicians, youth and other spectators to be on the alert on the spread of terrorism. This covered a long period right upto the end of his life.

From 1970"s upto 2001 his studies on the ethnic problem earned him recognition as an authority on the subject. Many are unaware that he tutored the nation to be calm and, that was firstly to understand the issues and cause of the war and its consequences, before talking or writing. In a sudden turn of events he prepared an 88 page memorandum to be taken to Delhi to the late Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India in 1984, with copy to Mr. J. R. Jayawardene, President of Sri Lanka who was on his return journey to Sri Lanka from U. S. A. on the eve of Prime Minister Gandhi and J. R. talks in New Die-:-d prior to signing the agreement. He analyzed the history of I terrorism, the ethnic problem and issues arising and thus prevented signing the Sri Lanka India agreement.

Many requested a reprint of the articles on the ethnic issue so that complex issues relating to the concept of, and claims to separate traditional homelands for different communities in the island of Sri Lanka might be better understood by the average person, and by more people. Most non-Tamil people in Sri Lanka are still not aware of the basis of the claim of Tamil political demands.

Many misunderstood or were unwilling to understand that Gamini most se— V pursued the ideal that all communities live together in this beautiful island. He believed that language and culture of every ethnic community was the life-blood of the nation. Terrorism was repelled because it created destruction of the innocents, destroyed human values and other benevolent qualities of humanity, not to be easily re-built or replaced. He warned cussed rulers and the ruled that terrorists destroyed more innocent persons and not the "cruel devils"

The political solution was set aside for awhile, Gamin believed and insisted that the political leaders must first comprehend the national problem before action. He gave up preaching and continued with his legal practice until one day a police escort party fetched him from the Avissawella Courts. Where he was appearing in a case. He was a delegate to the conference on the ethnic issue convened by President J.R. Jayewardene H.E. the President sent the escort to bring Gamini to the Round Table Conference to present the case against terrorism from Avissawella Court and explain the ethnic issue. The audience remained aghast as he spelt out the case for nearly 2 hours to an audience comprising Religious dignitaries, Maha Nayaka’s H.E. the President and Prime Ministers & Ministers of the country, Political party leaders and other representatives. He admonished the audience of political leaders on the note "Let us never negotiate out of fear and let us never fear to negotiate". The entire exercise of a two day conference ended farcically because, the proceedings of the assembly had not been recorded for future reference ! Gamin’s lambaste for nearly 2 hours at the conference was welcomed by the religious leaders, and praise came to Gamini by all others too "where did you collate all these facts?" they queried. The contents presented had "gone with the wind"!

Iriyagolle held that "the major problem in Sri Lanka was the poverty of the masses of all races and not the distribution of privileges amongst the already privileged." He viewed the cry of "traditional homelands" as dangerous as well as historically absurd. More wars would mean more poverty of the peasantry and the under privileged. He writes, quote "How could any policy or proposal which has as one of its objectives the exclusion of the majority community from lands developed in this area with public funds of which naturally the biggest share comes from the majority be anything but a subversion of the integrity of the country? (P.31 Tamil claims to land: Fact and Fiction by Gamini Iriyagolle). Sold 11,000 copies "The Sinhalese view is that the entire country is the homeland of all." Statements by foreign reporters that the Sinhalese Buddhists regard the country as their exclusive homeland are false and perverse. (Ibid. p44). During the dark days of civil riots in Colombo and its suburbs, Gamini at risk to life and limb and his family rushed out to the streets to save his Tamil friends and University colleagues by providing food, shelter and protection. "They are our friends, they belong to this country", he stated to journalists who had the audacity to question him. Most Tamil people and non-Tamil people are not aware of the numerous publications and meetings he contributed to promote sanity amongst in the people of this country. For the future, he believed that poverty alleviation for all, equity in administrative use of the Tamil language, and a worthy place for cultures for all communities would enhance harmony amongst ethnic communities and peace in the country. Gamini quotes in his— book page 37 "CV Brayne, the first land commissioner commented thus on the Land Development Ordinance enacted in 1934 - "The most important problem before the government of Ceylon concerns the Welfare of the peasants - their establishment upon the land, the development of markets for their produce, the improvement of their methods of production and the raising of their standard of living". Gamini will remain in the memories of his generation as Administrator (Ceylon Civil Service), lawyer, historian, exemplary researcher and patriot. In conclusion an invitation is extended to his family, wife Indrani and children to publish his biography and his works with more collated material for the benefit of students, general readers of today and tomorrow, for "solid historians" and not mere scribes. Gamini dear friend we wish you were here to witness the change with us! The war is over inevitably by military might. May you be blessed to attain Nibbana.

A.R. de Silva

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