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Veddahs, jungle creatures, medicinal plants and the cry of the ‘devil’ bird



(Continued from last week)

By Jayantha Jayewardene


I have heard it said that the jackal has a unique way of getting rid of the ticks and fleas that get onto its skin and hide in its thick hair. It gets a piece of coconut husk in its mouth and wades into a stream with the husk held high. It goes deeper and deeper into the water till the drowning fleas all move up and get onto the husk, which is still above the water. Then the jackal releases the coconut husk into the water, thus drowning the fleas and then comes back to shore. I have not seen a jackal with a coconut husk or anything else in its mouth though I have seen many of them in the water.

Elephant legends

There is a legend that elephants, when they know they are going to die, proceed to the ‘elephant cemetery’. Most people, if any, have not seen these cemeteries but some believe that they do exist. When a sick or aging elephant is in discomfort, it looks for water and continues to stay close to this source because it is in constant need of water when in this condition. The elephant ultimately dies there and adds to the bones of other elephants that have ‘ gone before’.

Brohier (1971) mentions that he came across a place called Mahapelessa near Embilipitiya, where he found bones of dead elephants including one which had died about two weeks previously. He found ‘in one of the many pockets of this vast stretch of glade’ a spring from which gushed out plenty of water. This water was so hot that a hand could not be kept in it. He deduced that the animals had come for the therapeutic value of these thermal waters. Tests have shown that the water from these springs contains an excess of sodium and chloride. Elephants are known to be attracted to ‘salt licks’ wherever these are found in their jungle habitats.

I have been to Mahapelessa many times when I was working on the Mahaweli Development Project, Uda Walawe being one of my working areas. I have not seen any evidence of elephants dying there though they visited the place regularly.

When on a camping trip with Emil van der Poorten in Kantalai in the late 1950s, an interesting legend was related to me. An elephant is supposed to have trampled the young of the small quail, whose nest happened to be on its track. The elephant did not even realize that it had crushed the quail. However, the mother bird went and told the crow, the fly and the frog what had happened. They decided to teach the elephant a lesson. The crow pecked at the eyes of the elephant and the fly deposited its eggs in the wounded eyes. As a result, the elephant was blinded, and over a period of time it became very thirsty. The frog started croaking, and the elephant thus thinking that it was close to water, went towards the direction of the croaking. The frog then led the elephant to the edge of a precipice, over which it fell and was killed.

Coastal Veddhas

Since my association with the coastal Veddhas of Panichankerni was nearly 40 years ago, I had to consult my friend Emil van der Poorten for some details. Emil owned a house at Panichankerni, which we used regularly as a base for our forays into wild places. Though the coastal Veddhas that lived in Panichankerni were not considered true Veddahs at the time, Emil and I observed that they appeared to be quite different in their lifestyle when compared to the established Tamil and Muslim populations of the eastern coast and of course the better known Veddhas of Bintenne.

The houses of the coastal veddhas were far less substantial than those of the Tamils and the Muslims and they gave the impression that they were in transition from the thatched, mobile houses of the Veddahs and the gypsies, to the more permanent dwellings of the non-aboriginal settlers. They kept the gardens around their homes clean. The compounds were littered with the light sea sand found in Panichankerni and some of the other villages around.

The Veddhas subsisted on crops grown in their chenas, as well as collections of crabs, prawns and fish they caught by throwing their nets into lagoons and estuaries around them. I think they were responsible for setting up crab and prawn traps, known in Sinhala as kotuwa in the lagoon. We never saw them doing any canoe fishing in the ocean, and neither did they go out to sea as other communities did.

They relished the flesh of the land monitor (thalagoya) but did not seem to harvest honey, though they picked palu and weera fruit in season, as anyone who lived close to those forests would do. They appeared to place a very low priority on formal education, and the majority lacked functional literacy in Tamil, which was their spoken language. They did not seem to have any deep knowledge of the jungles in the area. I do not recall the presence of any trackers of note among them.

They did not have any contact with the Veddahs of Bintenne and its adjoining country. They have lived in coastal areas for a considerable period of time. I am not sure whether they owned the land they lived in or whether they were squatters on the land after they were prevented from leading a wandering existence by laws involving land tenure brought in by the British.

They did not seem to intermarry with the mainstream Tamils of the area. It may be that the latter with their caste system looked down upon the Veddahs. Apart from caste, this dissociation could also have been forced by an economic factor, namely poverty. It did not seem likely that Veddhas, who did not possess cattle, could have provided a dowry of any significance for their daughters. They appeared to be a relatively non-violent people who subsisted on the fruits of the jungle and produce from the lagoons and perhaps the sea.

A special feature of the many occasions we spent at Panichankerni was to go onto the reef at low tide during certain times of the year, and catch crawfish or rock lobsters. These were slightly smaller than the ordinary lobsters. The crawfish is a marine species, while the crayfish is a freshwater crustacean. One rare night we literally caught a sackful of rock lobsters. Since I was nursing a cartilage injury on my knee, Emil had to carry this load all the way back to our abode on the beach.

Kalu nika

The twig of the legendary plant kalu nika is supposed to help one to achieve eternal youth. However, a kalu nika plant is supposed to be something that is extremely difficult to find. It is believed that the crow pheasant, uses a twig or two of the plant (some say it is a root), to build its nest. If one finds this nest, it should be taken to a place where two rivers or streams meet and thrown into the water. The kalu nika twigs float upstream whilst the other twigs float downstream. However, the crow pheasant, being from the cuckoo family, does not build a nest but lays its eggs in that of another bird. All cuckoos are parasitic in their breeding habits.

Another variation that I heard with regard to obtaining kalu nika, is that one must find the nest of the crow pheasant with a chick in it. One leg of the chick should be fastened by a small chain to the bottom of the nest. The parent bird will then fly off to try and get a twig of kalu nika, which has the power of breaking the chain and setting the young bird free. The kalu nika is left behind in the nest and can then be collected. In this story the crow pheasant does not use kalu nika as material to build its nest

Devil bird

The controversy and mystery of the devil bird, known as ulama in Sinhala and pe-kuruvi in Tamil, have been unresolved for a very long time. Those who have been out in the jungles at night and heard this eerie cry credited to the devil bird will never forget it. It is a piercing cry that frightens and chills one to the bone. It has been likened, by many who have heard it, to a woman being strangled. I have heard this cry when we were camping at Padaviya, in North Central Province, but not having heard the cries of a woman being strangled, I cannot make the comparison. I have also heard this same cry in Panama on the south-east coast. The cry is nevertheless very frightening.

On both occasions the sound I heard was similar. The villagers who were with us said that the cry bore ill will and that something tragic would occur soon. Even if it did occur after we left, I did not hear about it.

However there are many others who have heard the devil bird but describe what they have heard as ‘a long drawn out hoo note, persistently repeated and then ending in a loud agonized and strangled sobbing. The sound struck sheer, stark inexplicable terror, and died away somewhat abruptly’.

At night in the jungle when we discuss the events of the day, old tales, legends and superstitions are recounted. The ulama and its cry come into the conversation from time to time. The villagers, especially the old stagers, have very firm opinions as to what the ulama is. However, who or what the ulama is varies from place to place.

One of the legends has it that there was a family in which the husband was a drunkard. One day when the wife was away, he killed their small daughter and cooked the flesh. On her return, he gave it to his wife to eat. She was serving herself with a wooden ladle when she came across a little finger. She immediately asked for her daughter and on seeing her grinning husband, realized what had happened.

She was distraught and sticking the ladle into her hair in despair, she ran out of the house into the jungle shouting ‘mage lamaya ko?’ (where is my child?). In another version it is said that the husband had brought home a hunk of flesh to be cooked. While the wife was cooking it the husband started to drink. Unfortunately the wife burnt the flesh and told her husband what had happened, expecting a severe reprimand from him.

However, he did not say anything but went back towards the jungle. In the garden he spotted their daughter playing. He killed her and brought a piece of her flesh to his wife to cook. When she was cooking this flesh unsuspectingly, she came across the daughter’s finger in the ladle. She then stuck the ladle into her hair which was tied in a knot at the back of her head and ran out shouting as in the earlier version.

The source of its eerie and frightening cry has been attributed to two or three birds. The two birds that most naturalists consider as culprits are the forest eagle owl and the crested hawk eagle, now known as changeable hawk eagle. This bird’s crest, according to legend, happens to be the handle of the ladle.

Korawakka or waterfowl

The waterfowl (korawakka) once went across the river to get some arecanut. (puwak). Since there were a number of bags of arecanut to be brought across the river, the waterfowl hired the boat belonging to the woodpecker. In the middle of the river, the boat capsized and together with the bags of arecanut sank to the bottom of the river. The wailing of the waterfowl and the woodpecker brought a flock of geese to their assistance. The geese dived in and tried to get the bags of arecanut up. However, due to the weight of the bags, the geese failed to lift them up, but in trying to do so, they stretched their necks. As a result, even to this day they carry long necks. Even now the waterfowl goes about calling puwak, puwak, puwak in search of its arecanuts and the woodpecker goes pecking from tree to tree in search of suitable wood to build himself a new boat.

Rumassala and Ritigala

When I was working in the Mahaweli Development Project at Kalawewa we used to regularly climb Ritigala, which was close by. Ritigala is now a Strict Nature Reserve. The higher you go the more changes you see in the vegetation and climate. The place abounds with bird life and unique plants.

Ramayana, the ancient Indian epic, states that Ravana the king of Lanka went to India and abducted beautiful Sita, the wife of Rama, and brought her to Lanka. Rama then came to Lanka to wage war against Ravana and take Sita back.

He brought with him a band of Vanaras, a tribe of ape-like creatures led by Hanuman. Rama was injured in the battle and Hanuman was sent to the Himalayas to bring back the herbs required for Rama’s recovery. On getting there he forgot what plants he was to bring and so he wrenched a whole chunk of the Himalayan soil including its vegetation, and started his return journey. On the way a part of this load of forest fell at Ritigala in North Central Province. The other piece was dropped off in Galle at what is now known as Rumassala.

Rumassala is next to Unawatuna, which is derived from onna watuna (there it fell). Galle is a name said to originate from gala or cattle pen, where Ravana kept his cattle. This particular place is now known as Pattiyamulla, where pattiya means herd of cattle.

Most of the flora in both these places are endemic. Ritigala is a lone mountain about 2,500 feet above sea level and rises from the plains of North Central Province. Rumassala abuts the sea and is on a hillock. Recent surveys have revealed 179 species of medicinal plants in Ritigala and 152 species in Rumassala.


The wild areas of Sri Lanka are rich in lore and legend. This makes one’s visits more interesting. These stories add spice to the camp gatherings at sundown when we recapitulate the day’s events, plan for the morrow and generally relax with friends in a congenial atmosphere. Sri Lanka is fast losing most of its exotic wilderness. We who have enjoyed going to these places for a long time should make every effort to ensure that they continue to exist for the future generations too.


Knox, Robert (1681) An historical relation of Ceylon, reprint 1958, Saman Press, Maharagama.

Brohier, R L (1971) Seeing Ceylon in vistas of scenery, history, legend and folklore, 2nd ed., Lake House Investments Ltd, Colombo.



Thomians triumph in Sydney 



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



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



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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