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Impressions of Mahatma Gandhi, the Great Soul

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by Dr. W.A. Abeysinghe

Over the past seven decades or so, interpretations of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, some of which are lopsided, half baked and controversial, have been many and manifold. My readers may feel rather baffled, if I disclose the fact that my studies, however humble and disorganized they may be, have commenced on far back as the latter part of the year 1958 in the last century. A jewel of a book entitled ” An Autobiography or the Story of my Experiments with Truth” (I possess up to date, though in tattered pages) which I bought at a book counter of Ananda Bhawan at Pettah, Colombo, having paid Rs.1.25 during my teacher training days at the G.T.C.Maharagama has been dated by me as 25-11-58. Simply count the many years past, since then – from 1958 in the last century to Corona ridden gloomy year of 2021 of the present century!

From the day I concluded reading the incomplete unfinished autobiography of the great Indian Sage, I remained ‘Gandhian’ in spirit, heart and soul, transcending all my later studies of Marxism – or rather, Marxism – Leninism – culminating my doubts about the so called communist utopia of a classless society annihilating the bourgeois after having established a dictatorship of the proletariat ! And now, one would be rather amused to witness how this so called dictatorship of the proletariat ended up having enthroned a heinous autocrat – corrupt to the core – in the garb of a Russian Tsar, in the emergence of a man called who dreams to build a Chinese Super Empire encompassing Asia and Africa, and a Castro type degenerated family rule which brought into being the poorest state in the whole of Latin America !

So that, as a man who witnessed all these upheavals and political changes of universal magnitude, my attraction toward ‘Gandhism’ ( if you pardon me for the term) has been unavoidable.

At a time when crude nationalism raises its ugly head in the form of racialism, communalism and many other “tribal manifestations”, in my own country the life and, most importantly, the death of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi emerges supreme in the history of mankind. Undoubtedly His death, was that of a martyr, in the compact sense of the word.

I sometimes feel that most biographers of Mahatmaji have opted to glorify his death, rather than his many-faceted political, social and reformist life.

Louis Fischer, a conscientious biographer of Gandhi, who met the great Mahatma twice – in 1942 and later, in June, 1946, begins his book with a vivid description of Gandhi’s assassination.

I quote the two opening paragraphs of Louis Fisher, verbatim:

“At 4.30 p.m., Abha brought in the last meal he was ever to eat; it consisted of goat’s milk, cooked and raw vegetables, oranges and a concoction of ginger, sour lemons and strained butter with juice of aloe. Sitting on the floor of his room in the rear of Birla House in New Delhi, Gandhi ate and talked with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Deputy Prime Minister of the new government of independent India. Maniben, Patel’s daughter and secretary, was also present. The conversation was important. There had been rumors of differences between Patel and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. This problem, like so many others, had been dropped into the Mahatma’s lap.

“Abha, alone with Gandhi and the Patels, hesitated to interrupt. But she knew Gandhi’s attachment to punctuality. Finally, therefore, she picked up the Mahatma’s nickel plated watch and showed it to him. ‘I must tear myself away,’ Gandhi remarked, and so saying he rose, went to the adjoining bathroom and then started towards the prayer ground in the large park to the left of the house. Abha, the young wife of Kanu Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma’s cousin, and Manu, the granddaughter of another cousin, accompanied him; he leaned his forearms on their shoulders. ‘My walking sticks’, he called them.”

Gandhi felt completely relaxed with his “two walking sticks” and even joked with them.

“So you are serving me with cattle fare,” Gandhi said and laughed.

“Ba used to call it horse fare”, was Abha’s prompt retort.

“Ba” was their affectionate shortened name for Kasturba, Gandhi’s predeceased wife.

“Isn’t it grand for me to relish what no one else wants!” bantered Gandhi in the same jovial mood.

As many martyrs of history, Gandhi knew and even sensed that he would some day he assassinated. He didn’t fear death, for it was manifested number of times when he staged many a fast unto death. Really, he was even prepared for it.

As he was nearing the fateful day of January 30, 1948 Gandhi had once expressed thus.

“To die by the hand of a brother rather than by disease or in some other way, cannot be for me a matter of sorrow…. I would deserve praise only if I fell as a result of such an attack and yet retained a smile on my face and no malice against the doer….. All perpetrators should be won over through love.”

“Tomorrow”, he explained. “I may not be here”.

He was aware of the strengthening of the police guard on Birla House, but notwithstanding Home Minister Patel’s earnest request, Gandhi would not permit the police to search those attending the prayer meetings:

“If I have to die I should like to die at the prayer meeting. You are wrong in believing that you can protect me from harm. God is my protector.”

That was how he took death and admonished his massive following, accordingly.

On that fateful January 30th 1948, Patel and his daughter immediately left Birla House while Gandhi, a little vexed at being unpunctual, made his way to the prayer meeting. Leaning lightly on the two girls, walking briskly to make up for lost time, he mounted the six low steps up to the level of the prayer ground. As he took a few paces in the direction of the wooden platform on which he sat during services, the crowd opened to enable him to pass through, bowing to his feet as he went by. Gandhi took his arms off the girls’ shoulders and for a moment stood there smiling, touching his palms together in the traditional namaskar gesture. Just then, a stocky young man in a khaki bush jacket jostled through the crowd, roughly pushing Manu away, and when he was directly in front of Gandhi, he fired three shots at point-blank range. Mahatma’s hands, folded in friendly greeting, descended slowly. ‘He Rama (Oh, God),’ he murmured, and sighed softly as the frail old body fell to the ground. The assassin was overpowered after a short and fierce struggle, and the police quickly took custody of him.

As soon an Gandhi was pronounced “dead” by the doctors first to arrive at the Birla House was Patel, who had left his master a while ago. He managed an outward calm, despite the unexpected shock of his life. Then came Nehru, and he wept unrestrainedly by the side of his dead “Bapu”.

And among those others who arrived just then was Mountbatten, the Governor General of newly born free India and former viceroy. He had to push his way to the door through the growing crowd. Just then he heard someone shouting in a loud voice, “It was a Muslim, who did it.”

Mountbatten turned round and shouted back: “You fool! Don’t you know it was a Hindu?” Some in the crowd wanted it to be a Muslim, for they could then have a pretext to run a riot. Mountbatten’s spirited response with his characteristic presence of mind had a calming effect on the excited crowd. A member of the Governor-General’s staff remarked to him: “How can you possibly know it’s a Hindu?” Mountbatten replied: “I don’t. But if it is a Muslim we’re all finished, so it may as well be a Hindu.”

Mountbatten stood by the Mahatma’s body momentarily and then, seeing both Patel and Nehru together in the room, he acted with his instinctive sense of timing. He drew the two leaders aside and told them of his recent meeting with Gandhi, when the Mahatma had said how deeply he wished that they would resolve their differences. Nehru and Patel looked at each other, and then at Gandhi, who now lay before them on the floor, wrapped in his shroud of khadi. They moved towards each other and embraced in a gesture of reconciliation.

For a long time Manu and Abha cradled the dead Mahatma’s head on their laps, while the other women watched in silence or chanted verses from the Bhagavad Gita.

That was how Mahatma rose in death as a martyr for India’s unity.

But his death, was much more.

It was meant for the good of the entire mankind.

Never in modern history has any man been mourned more deeply and more widely.

“The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere and I do not quite know what to tell you and how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we call him, the father of our nation, is no more,” Nehru announced the death of Mahatma Gandhi, in a hastily broadcast radio talk.

At the time Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi entered the Indian political scene, the Indian national movement was in a matured state. It was gaining momentum among the middle class Hindus and Muslims. But there existed a marked distance between the National Congress and the Indian peasantry.

Gandhi’s emergence in the national movement at that juncture, as Nehru described in his treatise The Discovery of India, was “like a whirlwind that upset many things.”

To quote Nehru:

“And then Gandhi came. He was like a powerful current of fresh air that made us stretch ourselves and take deep breaths; like a beam of light that pierced the darkness and removed the scales from our eyes; like a whirlwind that upset many things, but most of all the working of people’s minds. He did not descend from the top; he seemed to emerge from the millions of India, speaking their language and incessantly drawing attention to them and their appalling condition. Get off the backs of these peasants and workers, he told us, all you who live by their exploitation, get rid of the system that produces this poverty and misery. Political freedom took new shape then acquired a new content.”

Having fought for the liberation of the Indian community in South Africa, Gandhi returned to his native land on January 09, 1915. He brought along with him, two well sharpened political weapons – namely, passive resistance and non-corporation which during the later years of the Indian national struggle turned into Sathyagraha and a movement of civil disobedience against the British rule.

By about the dawn of the second quarter of the last century, Gandhi was the undisputed leader of the Indian national movement. Under his aegis, the national movement was geared not only toward Swaraj-home rule – but also to a wider moral, ethical and cultural movement aimed at reforming the primitive, illiterate and backward India into a vibrant new nation in the spirit of self-reliance and national awakening. His campaign of Kadhi and his struggle against untouchability and caste system should be viewed and interpreted in this context – that Gandhi was essentially a reformer.

Greatness of Gandhi lies in the fact that, unlike many other fighters for national independence the world over, he brought into being a reconciliation between political freedom and national reformation into one unified movement. His concept of future India was a far sighted and ever widening phenomenon.

The combination of Gandhi, the politician and Gandhi the reformer was remarkable indeed. To call him a saint – which is implicit in the epithet of Mahatma – does not reflect his true personality. His religious convictions and spirituality were an integral part of his personality. These attributes would, in time to come, totally eclipse the prevalent notion that Gandhi wrought the miracle of India’s freedom. Trite phrases like ‘Hindu saint’ and ‘Father of the Nation’ do not describe his true place in the history of human civilization.

Gandhi showed the world that the love of one’s people need not be inconsistent with the love of humanity. He strove to free the downtrodden from the shackles of injustice, slavery and deprivation. But he was also obsessed with the future of the entire human race. “There is no hope for the aching world except through the narrow and straight path of non-violence”, he wrote. “Milions like me may fail to prove the truth in their own lives; that would be their failure, never of the eternal law.”

When names of the giants of Indian independence movement are embedded in the fossils of history, Gandhi’s name shall shine for ever, for his humanist message of truth and non-violence.



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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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