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Charged by an elephant at Wasgamuwa

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by Dianthi S. U. Wijeratne

I am grateful to my parents for encouraging me to appreciate nature. Both of them are great enthusiasts of wildlife and, as a result, our journeys to the wilds began at a very tender age.

One of my childhood memories is of an incident in 1973 where my family consisting of my parents, two brothers, sister and myself traveled to Yala in a car. At the time the roads were not like what they are in the park today. They were quite narrow and the surface was uneven. There was very little traffic unlike today.

I distinctly remember the tracker guiding my father into a little-used side-road. On the way we came across a large bull elephant, and the tracker told us that it was in musth. Usually bull elephants go through this process periodically when a thick fluid oozes from a gland between the eye and ear. Musth is an Urdu word which means `disoriented’. In other words, the elephant has no control over its mind. It is said that this period could last from a month to a year. During this time it makes the animal unpredictable and destructive, and is generally a time for it to attack whoever crosses its path.

As we were passing the animal it flapped its ears and the next thing we knew was that it was charging us. We children were small but excited and scared. My father was driving the car, and I remember my mother showing him the potholes in order to avoid them. However, in the excitement he drove over them, with much jolting of the vehicle. The tracker warned my parents that the road was a dead end, and this was not very soothing news, specially considering the situation we were in. Fortunately, by the time we turned and came back the angry elephant had retreated into the jungle much to the relief of all of us.

Camping at Wasgamuwa

As years went by we no longer traveled in cars to the jungle, but in four-wheel drive vehicles. In any case we were all grown up and could not be accommodated comfortably in a car. The trips too became more adventurous and exciting, with camping trips with family members and friends thrown in.

Our first trip to Wasgomuwa was in 1992 when we drove through the National Park on our way back from a trip to Polonnaruwa and a visit to the old Veddha chief, Uruwarigey Tissahamy in Dambane.

The Wasgamuwa Park is situated in the North Central Province in the extreme south-east corner of Tamankaduwa. It is bounded by the rivers, Mahaweli Ganga, Amban Ganga, Kalu Ganga and Wasgamuwa Oya, and was declared a National Park in August 1984. It was only in 1992 that it was opened to the public. Close to the park, on the way to Hasalaka, one would notice Minisgala which, as its name implies, is a rock depicting an upturned human face. The road to the park was in an appalling condition that year.

The only living creatures we managed to see in the park at that time were some deer and a python. The latter was on the main road within the park, and looked like a log. It was in the same position when we returned about an hour later. We did not have the privilege of seeing any elephants, though it was known to be a favourite habitat. The park was fairly new at the time and did not have any bungalows within for public use.

Yudaganawa

Within the park, a place with a historical significance was Yudaganawa, which is a vast plain with small black rocks visible here and there. The main road within the park passed through it. It was believed to be the venue of King Dutugemunu’s famous battle with King Elara, where the latter was defeated. In the mornings, when the sun shines at an angle, the glare from the pebbles is red, and legend attributes this colour to the blood of soldiers killed or wounded in the battle at this site.

My father had visited the dispensary in Marake on official duty about 35 years ago. The apothecary, as well as some of his officials had told him at the time, that elephants often visited the area, and a place called Yudaganawa, where an ancient battle took place, was only a short distance away from the dispensary.

I heard from Dr. Walter R. Gooneratne that the dispensary has since been moved to a new place, and that the old dispensary building, which my father had visited, had later been converted into a bungalow within the Wasgamuwa National Park, close to its entrance.

Camping

Our second visit to Wasgamuwa Park was on a camping trip. This meant that more effort was needed when planning out the menus, bedding, tents, camping gear and so on. We set off early in the morning, as we always did. I remember that the main road to the park was in a much better condition than on the previous occasion. We reached the park by afternoon. I expected the campsite to be similar to the one at Yala, but it was not up to that standard.

In Wasgamuwa there was actually nothing to indicate that it was a campsite. As always, each of us had a task to perform. We contributed by getting the place swept, cleaned and organized. This was not a problem since ekel brooms too were part of our camping equipment. It was the dry season and setting fire to the dried leaves was not a safe procedure.

The Mahaweli, which flows by the campsite, had dwindled to a mere stream with large extents of sand exposed. Since trees surrounded the campsite the heat of the sun was not unbearable.

On this particular trip we managed to see a few elephants, with one in particular making a mock charge at us at a place called Sansthapitiya.

According to what we heard from the villagers, the human-elephant conflict was very much a threat to both parties. The roaming elephants had attacked many villagers. Chena cultivators apparently burned gunny bags and dropped them on elephants from their watch-huts in the trees in order to chase them away from their cultivations. Is it any wonder why elephants attack humans? It is said that an elephant never forgets.

One evening, while returning to our camp in the fading light, we saw a herd of deer by the side of the road. As we were approaching it, a deer suddenly dashed on to the road in front of us with another spotted animal in hot pursuit. The latter somersaulted and skidded in front of our vehicle and then ran back into the jungle from where it came. It was a spectacular scene of a leopard chasing its dinner, which it missed due to our presence.

Our third and final trip to Wasgamuwa was in May 1998. Everything was planned well ahead of time, since the preparations were very elaborate as we were embarking on another camping trip. We set off to Wasgamuwa in four four-wheel pick-up trucks. Each vehicle was packed with luggage, iceboxes, tents and foodstuffs.

We reached the campsite early, and this gave us ample time to pitch tents. Afterwards we decided on a bath in the river that was always on the agenda when it came to camping. Those who took beer and hot drinks enjoyed it the most, warming themselves from within and cooling from without while having a dip in the river. Next, we sat down to a sumptuous meal prepared by the cook who went with us, of course helped by the ladies as always.

Attack by an elephant

After our late lunch, the senior members of the party, including my father, Dr. Walter R. Gooneratne and Mr.Vernon Edirisinghe, made a decision that we could go for a quick round in the park. Ten of us managed to get into two vehicles leaving Mr. Senath Abegunawardena behind. My younger brother, Dishana with my mother and three gentlemen in it, drove my father’s Toyota. My husband, Rohan was at the wheel of our Mitsubishi with a young tracker by his side. Dr. Gooneratne, my father, Lakmali and myself were in the back seat.

We, who were in the lead vehicle, were taken along a narrow path when we encountered two large elephants with their backs facing us. The tracker wanted us to turn around suspecting they might attack us. My father came, to the conclusion that they possibly could be elephants from the Somawathiya National Park. Since the tracker mentioned that they were female elephants, the possibility that they were members of a herd was strong. It is a known fact that female elephants stay together with small baby elephants, but not with mature males.

Elephants have attacked vehicles many a time within the park. This knowledge did not deter our young tracker who knew very well that the party, which was very enthusiastic and loved wildlife, was willing to take risks. He therefore guided us to Sansthapitiya, which was a vast plain of grass with jungle bordering all round. At the time the sun was setting beyond the hills and nightlife was just beginning to manifest itself. I had my reservations about going to see wildlife at that time of day. Further, all of us were very tired at the time, having travelled most of the day.

There was nothing much to be seen except the bare plains and the jungle, which was about 50 metres away from the road. Everyone was straining his or her eyes ti catch a glimpse of an animal if there was one, when my husband suddenly spotted an elephant. Though we looked in the direction he pointed, we could not see it and neither did the tracker. My brother had followed closely behind our vehicle, in order to see what we were looking at.

The all of a sudden, without any warning, there came toward our vehicle a black ball of an elephant, all curled up and running as fast as its huge legs could carry it. Its ears were like large palm leaves flapping in the air, back and ford with its trunk and tail raised. The tracker got off the vehicle and started shouting and hitting the bonnet with his hands, but it was of no avail. The angry animal kept running directly towards us. The tracker, who was desperate and excited as all of us were, asked my husband to reverse the vehicle.

Reverse he did in haste, as was instructed. There was a thud and we all jolted. We had crashed into my father’s brand new vehicle, which was behind us. Well, that was more than we could stomach at a time like that, with a raging elephant still charging towards us. When my brother tried to reverse he could not move the vehicle. The buffer had been pushed backwards and it jammed the wheels. Then all of a sudden I could see a head with an enormous pair of ears flapping and fiery red eyes in front of our vehicle.

The angry beast looked at my husband who was frozen in his seat, then lowered its head, pushed it into the region of the right mudguard and then raised it up. With the power of the impact, the right side of the entire vehicle was lifted up, so that for a moment it stood only on the two wheels on the left side. We were all dumbstruck. I am sure everyone held his or her breath in shock and fear as I did. The angry animal then released the right side of the vehicle, hurriedly turned back, trumpeted in a frightful manner, lifted its trunk and tail and ran back into the jungle from where it came. It took only a few seconds for all this to happen, nevertheless the damage was vast.

We sat in our vehicle wondering what would happen next and how we were to get my father’s vehicle back to the campsite. Its radiator was bashed in and the buffer was damaged. No one dared to get down, not knowing where that brute of an animal was hiding and watching, maybe to attack again. From the time we reached the park, members of our party tried to get through to their homes in Colombo, but there were no signals on the mobile telephones.

The irony at that moment was that we managed to get a signal on the telephone and contacted the park office. The tracker informed the official of our plight, and the location we were in. He was quite shaken up, but for our luck he remembered the telephone number of the office. If he had not, I dread to think what could have happened next.

We were so relieved to see the rescue party, which included the park warden himself and his deputy. They spoke to all of us and asked us to be calm. The elephant had damaged the mudguard and the bonnet of our vehicle. We were more than lucky that only our vehicles were damaged and none of us was hurt. After inspecting the damage a person from the rescue party picked up a piece of the broken number plate and drew a line across the road in front of our vehicle, and recited a mantram. It was some kind of a protective charm considering the situation.

By this time the rest of the herd that had been hiding and probably watching us, came out on to the road one by one. This made us more nervous. One of the elephants did a mock charge slowly coming towards our vehicle. The rescue party left nothing to chance. Its members and the tracker together banged and thumped on our bonnet and with screams managed to chase them away. With the guidance of Dr. Gooneratne, my brother managed to steer the vehicle, which was towed to the trackers’ beat that was within walking distance from the campsite. The rescue party consoled us and once we were settled in camp they took leave of us at about 7.30 pm.

Our next step was to have a bath in the river, but that too was not possible, for just below the campsite, on the sand bank next to where we usually had a bath, was a large estuary crocodile. All hopes of washing away the aches and soothing the mental pain disappeared. Tension was quite high in the camp. The slightest thing triggered off my husband. I suppose it was unavoidable considering what we had gone through.

(To be continued) (Excerpted from Jungle Journeys in Sri Lanka edited by C.G. Uragoda)



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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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Marked stress on Asia in US foreign policy

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US President Joe Biden disembarks Air Force One as he arrives at the Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea May 20, 2022

US President Joe Biden’s recent tour of some Asian powers is indicative of a renewed and enhanced interest the US is beginning to take in the Indo-Pacific region. In this his first Asian tour the President chose to visit Japan and South Korea besides helming a Quad meeting in Tokyo and there is good reason for the choice of these venues and engagements.

The first phase of these bridge-strengthening efforts by the US began in late August last year when US Vice President Kamala Harris visited South-east Asia in the wake of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Besides being driven by strong economic compulsions, the US intention was also to ensure that too much of a power vacuum did not open up in the region, following its pull-out from Afghanistan, since China’s perceived expansionist designs are a prime foreign policy concern of the US.

However, the US President’s recent wide-ranging tour of East Asia seems to have been also prompted by some currently intensifying trends and tensions in the wider stage of international politics though the seeming power vacuum just referred to has a significant bearing on it. The immediate purpose of the US President’s tour seems to have been to bolster his country’s backing for Japan and South Korea, two of the US’ closest allies in East Asia. This is necessitated by the ‘China threat’, which, if neglected, could render the US allies vulnerable to China’s military attacks on the one hand and blunt US power and influence in the region on the other.

While Taiwan’s airspace has reportedly been frequently violated by China, sections in Japan have reasons to be wary of perceived Chinese expansionist moves in Japan’s adjacent seas. Moreover, many of China’s neighbours have been having territorial disputes with China, which have tended to intensify the perception over the decades that in the Asian theatre in particular China is a number one ‘bogey’. For historical reasons, South Korea too has been finding the increasing rise of China as a major world power considerably discomforting.

Accordingly, the US considers it opportune to reassure South-east Asia in general and its allies in the region in particular of its continuous military, economic and political support. Though these are among the more immediate reasons for Biden’s tour of the region, there are also the convulsions triggered in international politics by the Russian invasion of Ukraine to consider.

Whereas sections of international opinion have been complacent in the belief that military invasions of one country by another are things of the distant past, the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine in February this year proved them shockingly wrong. We have the proof here that not all authoritarian rulers are prepared to adhere to the international rule book and for some of China’s neighbours the possibility is great of their being attacked or invaded by China over the numerous rankling problems that have separated them from their economic super power neighbour over the decades. After all, China is yet to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and is increasingly proving an ‘all weather friend’ of Russia. Right now, they are the strongest of allies.

The ‘China threat’ then is prime among the reasons for the US President’s visit to East Asia, though economic considerations play a substantive role in these fence-strengthening initiatives as well. While South-east Asia is the ‘economic power house’ of the world, and the US would need to be doubly mindful of this fact, it would need to reassure its allies in the region of its military and defense assistance at a time of need. This too is of paramount importance.

President Biden did just that while in Tokyo a couple of days back. For instance, he said that the US is ‘fully committed to Japan’s defense’. Biden went on to say that the ‘US is willing to use force to defend Taiwan.’ The latter comment was prompted by the perceived increasing Chinese violations of Taiwan’s air space. After all, considering that Russia has invaded Ukraine with impunity, there is apparently nothing that could prevent China from invading Taiwan and annexing it. Such are the possible repercussions of the Russian invasion.

Meanwhile, North Korea is reportedly carrying on with its development of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. On this issue too, South Korea would need to have US assurances that the latter would come to its defense in case of a North Korean military strike. The US President’s visit to South Korea was aimed at reassuring the latter of the former’s support.

However, as mentioned, economic considerations too figured prominently in the US President’s South-east Asian tour. While being cognizant of the region’s security sensitivities, bolstering economic cooperation with the latter too was a foremost priority for the Biden administration. For example, the US is in the process of formalizing what has come to be referred to as the Indo-Pacific Trade Treaty. The US has reportedly already inducted Japan and South Korea as founding members of the Treaty while, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand are mentioned as prospective members to the treaty.

The perceived threat posed to Western interests in South-east Asia by China needs to be factored in while trying to unravel the reasons for this region-wide endeavour in economic cooperation. It needs to be considered a Western response to China’s Belt and Road initiative which is seen as having a wide appeal for the global South in particular.

While the Russian invasion of Ukraine is having a divisive political and economic impact on the world, international politics will increasingly revolve around the US-China stand-off on a multiplicity of fronts in time to come. Both sides are likely to try out both soft and hard power to an exceptional degree to exercise foremost influence and power in the world. As is already happening, this would trigger increasing international tensions.

There was a distinct and sharp note of firmness in the voice of the US President when he pledged defense and military support for his allies in Asia this week. Considering the very high stakes for the US in a prospering South-east Asia, the US’ competitors would be naive to dismiss his pronouncements as placatory rhetoric meant for believing allies.

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A Majoritarian Constitution

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1972 Constitution in Retrospect – II

By (Dr) Jayampathy Wickramaratne, President’s Counsel

In this the second part of a three-part article on the 50th anniversary of Sri Lanka becoming a republic, the writer submits that the 1972 Constitution paved the way for constitutionalising majoritarianism in multi-cultural Sri Lanka.

The unitary state

Although Tamil parties expressed their support for the Constituent Assembly process, they were to be disappointed by the substance of the new constitution.

Basic Resolution No. 2 proposed by the Government called for Sri Lanka to be a unitary state. The Federal Party (FP) proposed an amendment that ‘unitary’ be replaced by ‘federal’.

In a memorandum and the model constitution that it submitted to the Steering Committee of the Assembly, the FP proposed that the country be a federal republic consisting of five states made up as follows: (i) Southern and Western provinces, (ii) North Central and North Western provinces (iii) Central, Uva and Sabaragamuwa provinces (iv) Northern Province and the districts of Trincomalee and Batticaloa and (v) Ampara district. The city of Colombo and its suburbs were to be administered by the centre. A list of subjects and functions reserved for the centre, with all others going to the states, was included. Interestingly, law and order and Police were to be reserved subjects.

However, Assembly proceedings show that the Tamils were clearly for a compromise. Dharmalingam, who was a main speaker of the FP under Basic Resolution No. 2, stated that the existing constitution had failed as it was not designed for a multi-ethnic country. He pointed out that in ethnically heterogeneous countries where unitary constitutions had been in operation, concessions to the federal principle have been made to meet the demands and aspirations of the minorities. Where there has been a refusal to concede the federal principle, there have been movements for separation. The FP distanced itself from secessionists such as C. Sunderalingam and V. Navaratnam, referring to them by name, and stated that it was not asking for a division of the country but for a division of power.

Dharmalingam made it clear that the FP’s draft was only a basis for discussion. Stating that the party was only asking that the federal principle be accepted, he suggested that as an interim measure, the SLFP, LSSP and CP should implement what they had promised in the election manifesto, namely that they would abolish Kachcheris and replace them with elected bodies. He stated: “If this Government thinks that it does not have a mandate to establish a federal Constitution, it can at least implement the policies of its leader, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, by decentralising the administration, not in the manner it is being done now, but genuine decentralisation, by removing the Kachcheris and in their place establishing elected bodies to administer those regions.”

Sarath Muttetuwegama of the Communist Party, the first political party in the country to propose federalism, in 1944, followed Dharmalingam and stated that ‘federal’ had become a dirty word not because of the federal system of government but because of what the FP had advocated. He was clearly referring to the FP’s association with the UNP and the conservative policies it had followed, such as voting against nationalisations, the takeover of private schools and the Paddy Lands Bill. Seemingly oblivious to the offer that Dharmalingam had made, he asked why the FP had not used the phrase ‘regional autonomy.’ Speakers from the UF who followed Muttetuwegama made it clear that the UF was in no mood to consider the FP’s offer to settle for much less.

Consequently, Basic Resolution No.2 was passed, and the FP’s amendment was defeated in the Steering and Subjects Committee on 27 March 1971.

Dr Nihal Jayawickrama, who was the Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, under the UF Government, and played an important role in the constitutional reform process, has said that the first draft prepared under the direction of the Minister of Constitutional Affairs did not contain any reference to a ‘unitary state’. However, Minister Felix Dias Bandaranaike proposed in the Ministerial Sub-Committee that the country be declared a ‘unitary state’. The Minister of Constitutional Affairs did not consider this to be necessary and argued that while the proposed constitution would have a unitary structure, unitary constitutions could vary a great deal in form. Nevertheless, the proposed phrase found its way to the final draft. ‘In course of time, this impetuous, ill-considered, wholly unnecessary embellishment has reached the proportions of a battle cry of individuals and groups who seek to achieve a homogenous Sinhalese state on this island’ Dr Jayawickrama observed. ‘Reflections on the Making and Content of the 1972 Constitution: An Insider’s Perspective’ in Asanga Welikala (ed), The Sri Lankan Republic at 40: Reflections on Constitutional History, Theory and Practice vol 1 (Centre for Policy Alternatives 2012) 43.

It is significant that the FP continued to participate in the Constituent Assembly even after its amendment was rejected. Records show that its leader, S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, regularly attended the meetings of the Steering and Subjects Committee.

With the advantage of hindsight, it could be said that acceptance of the FP’s proposed compromise for a division of power would have proved to be a far-reaching confidence-building measure on which more could perhaps have been built later. Moreover, such an acceptance would have ensured the continued participation of the FP in the Constituent Assembly. Even had the FP, as the UNP eventually did, voted against the adoption of the new constitution, their participation in the entire constitution-making process would have resulted in greater acceptance of the 1972 Constitution by the Tamil people.

Although they discontinued participation at a later stage, Federal Party MPs nevertheless took oaths under the new Constitution. Tamil parties soon united under the banner of the Tamil United Front (TUF), which later became the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). At the famous Vaddukoddai conference of 1976, the TULF embraced separatism and adopted a resolution calling for a separate state called ‘Tamil Eelam’ in the Northern and Eastern provinces. At the 1977 elections, the TULF contested on a separatist platform and swept the Tamil areas.

The place of Buddhism

According to Dr Jayawickrama, Dr. de Silva’s original proposal called for the guarantee of freedom of thought, conscience and religion to every citizen. However, the Prime Minister requested that this proposal be added with a provision for the protection of institutions and traditional places of worship of Buddhists.

Basic Resolution No. 3 approved by the Constituent Assembly was for Buddhism to be given its ‘rightful place’: ‘In the Republic of Sri Lanka, Buddhism, the religion of the majority of the people, shall be given its rightful place, and accordingly, it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster Buddhism, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Basic Resolution 5 (iv).’

Basic Resolution 5 (iv) referred to read: “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have and adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

But by the time the final draft was approved, the proposal had undergone a further change. Article 6 of the 1972 Constitution is as follows: ‘The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster Buddhism while assuring to all religions the rights granted by section 18 (1) (d).’ Section 18 (1) (d), in the chapter on fundamental rights, assures to all citizens the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

To the question of whether constitutionally guaranteeing special status to Buddhism not available to other religions of the land might adversely affect the non-Buddhists, Dr de Silva retrospectively responded in the following manner: “The section in respect of Buddhism is subject to section 18 (1) (d) and I wish to say, I believe in a secular state. But you know when Constitutions are made by Constituent Assemblies they are not made by the Minister of Constitutional Affairs. I myself would have preferred (section 18(1) (d)). But there is nothing…And I repeat, NOTHING, in section 6 which in any manner infringes upon the rights of any religion in this country. (Safeguards for the Minorities in the 1972 Constitution (Young Socialist 1987) 10.)

Dr Jayawickrama has been more critical. ‘If Buddhism had survived in the hearts and minds of the people through nearly five centuries of foreign occupation, a constitutional edict was hardly necessary to protect it now’, he opined. (‘Colvin and Constitution-Making – A Postscript’ Sunday Island, 15 July 2007).

Language provisions

Basic Resolution No.11 stated that all laws shall be enacted in Sinhala and that there shall be a Tamil translation of every law so enacted.

Basic Resolution No.12 read as follows: “(1) The Official Language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala as provided by the Official Language Act No. 32 of 1956. (2) The use of the Tamil Language shall be in accordance with the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act No. 28 of 1958.”

Efforts by the FP to get the Government to improve upon Basic Resolutions Nos. 11 and 12 failed. On 28 June 1971, both resolutions were passed, amendments proposed by the FP having been defeated. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam informed the Constituent Assembly that they had met with both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Constitutional Affairs, and while the meetings had been cordial, the Government had refused to make any alteration to the Basic Resolutions. He stated that the FP would therefore not attend future meetings. “We have come to the painful conclusion that as our language rights are not satisfactorily provided in the proposed Constitution, no useful purpose will be served in our continuing in the deliberations of this Assembly. By taking this step, we mean no offence to anybody. We only want to safeguard the dignity of our people.” There was not even a dramatic walk out. ‘We do not wish to stage a demonstration by walking out’, he added.

That Dr Colvin R. de Silva, who prophetically stated in 1955, ‘one language, two countries; two languages, one country’, should go so far as to upgrade the then-existing language provisions to constitutional status has baffled many political observers. In fact, according to Dr Jayawickrama, the Prime Minister had stated that it would be unwise to re-open the language debate and that the better course would be to let the ordinary laws on the subject operate in the form in which they were. By this time, the Privy Council had reversed the decision of the Supreme Court in A.G. v Kodeswaranthat a public servant could not sue the Crown for breach of contract of employment and sent the case back for a determination on other issues, including the main issue as to whether the Official Language Act violated section 29 (2), as the District Court had held. Dr. de Silva did not wish the Supreme Court to re-visit the issue. ‘If the courts do declare this law invalid and unconstitutional, heavens alive, the chief work done from 1956 onwards will be undone. You will have to restore the egg from the omelette into which it was beaten and cooked.’ He had, however, resisted a proposal made by Minister Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike that Sinhala be declared the ‘one’ official language of Sri Lanka.

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