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5 June 1956

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The Federal Party conducts its sathyagraha protest on Galle Face Green against the introduction of an intended bill to make Sinhala the official language. The protest is attacked by Sinhalese mobs leaving several protesters, including Tamil parliamentarians injured. The protests spark communal violence in Colombo. Violence spreads to Ampara and the Gal-Oya Valley, where ten days of sporadic violence results in an estimated 150 deaths, mainly Tamil.

For the estimated 150 deaths: B.H. Farmer (1963): A Divided Nation, London Institute of Race Relations, OUP; Witness to History: A Journalist’s Memoirs (1930- 2004), S. Sivanayagam, 2005.

“While making Tamils virtually illiterate overnight in the transaction of public business, the bill proved to be a millstone round the neck of the country as well, dragging it into ultimate tragedy and ruination. … The Tamil Federal Party under the leadership of that gentle Christian, Samuel James Velupillai Chelvanayakam believed in the philosophy of non-violent action as a way of protest against injustice. Tamils had traditionally come under the influence of the Indian Gandhian movement for independence from the time of he Jaffna Youth Congress of the 1920s and 30s. The value of the concept of satyagraha was, unlike in the case of the Sinhalese, ingrained in the Tamil mind. It is this that led them to organise what they believed was a peaceful satyagraha at the parliament end of the Galle Face Green (but disallowed) on that momentous day.” S. Sivanayagam, 2005.

“The moment the volunteers and leaders reassembled at the hotel end, a waiting mob of more than a thousand Sinhalese toughs ell on them like a pack of wolves in a most inhuman and cowardly attack. [The satyagrahis] were thrashed at felled prostrate on the ground. Their placards were seized and the wooden poles used as clubs. Some were trampled upon, kicked, beaten and spat upon. Not a single satyagrahi raised his hand in retaliation, except Dr. Naganathan. Five ruffians singled him out and chased him to the end of the promenade. He turned and met them alone with his fists and legs, satyagraha or not. Naganathan by nature was one who would never brook an insult to his manhood. … The police stopped the satyagrahis at the northern end of the Galle Face Green and blocked their way to the precincts of Parliament House. The volunteers sat down peacefully where they were stopped and remained there for the rest of the day. A prominent Sinhalese lawyer of Colombo, Mr Paranavitane of the law firm of De Silva and Mendis, and a Roman Catholic pries, Father Xavier Thani Nayagam, the famous Tamil scholar, emerged out of the crowds and sat down with the satyagrahis . The gesture did not pass unnoticed by the press.” V. Navaratnam, then Member of Parliament for Kayts, Rise and Fall of the Tamil Nation, 1995.

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