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November 1948

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All Ceylon Tamil Congress leader, G.G. Ponnambalam, asks for ‘50:50’ representation (50% for the Sinhalese, and 50% for other minorities) before the Soulbury Commission.


Dr. Jane Russell (1982): Communal Politics under the Donoughmore Constitution, 1931-1947.


“And what is the position of the Tamil Community? I want to repeat that our position is this. We are inhabitants of this country. We have lived here and a branch of the Tamil Community has lived here possibly longer than our brethren the Sinhalese. This is our home. We have as much right to claim to have permanent and vested interests in this country politically and otherwise as the Sinhalese people. We do not propose to be treated as undesirable aliens. We do not and will not tolerate being segregated in ghettos and treated like Semites in the Nazi States of Central Europe,” G. G. Ponnambalam, speech before the State Council in 1939.

“[Any] attempt by artificial means to convert a majority into a minority is not only inequitable, but doomed to failure,” Report of the Soulbury Commission, London, 1945.

“[Ponnambalam’s] powerful advocacy for “balanced representation” in the legislature for the minority communities, 50 percent of the seats for the minorities (Ceylon Tamils, Indian Tamils, Muslims, Malays, Burghers and European combined), with the other 50 percent for the Sinhalese found no favour with the Commissioners. They were impressed with his eight-hour advocacy, but set their face against any scheme for communal representation,” S. Sivanayagam, Witness to History: A Journalist’s Memoirs (1930- 2004), 2005.

“[The official boycott of the Soulbury Commission by the Board of Ministers led by Senanayake was a] “statesman-like action, if not a diplomatic coup. The fact that the more … communal-minded (politicians) held aloof …, enabled the minorities to have the floor unchallenged. This manoeuvre avoided a repetition of the situation … of the Donoughmore Commission where there had been a spiraling of communal demands as accusations and denunciations [which] provoked counter-accusations, … until communal tension reached … in outbreaks of violence. It enabled G. G. Ponnambalam to strut about the political arena for a few months unimpeded,” Dr. Jane Russell (1982): Communal Politics under the Donoughmore Constitution, 1931-1947.

“The riot was sparked by the inflammatory racist speech of [Ponnambalam] in Navalapitiya, attacking the Sinhala Buddhists and the Mahavamsa (see The Hindu Organ, June 1, 1939 and other newspapers of the time). It was then that S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike saw an opportunity, and went to every one of the cities touched by the riots, and established branches of the Sinhala Maha Sabha (see The Hindu Organ, June 19, 1939). It was in this extremely heated atmosphere that [Ponnambalam] developed his fifty-fifty solution as a means of safeguarding the dominant position of the Tamils. Far from bridging the gap between the communities, every action of [Ponnambalam] was designed to drive this ‘difference’ between the Tamils – descendants of the Dravidians, and the Sinhalese, a ‘hybrid mongrel race split of from the aboriginal Tamils and mixed with Aryan invaders’ (as stated by GGP in Navalapitiya in 1939). …The racism of the [Ponnambalam] et al was matched by the Bandaranaike group. It would seem that Bandaranaike the feudal aristocrat, and [Ponnambalam] the caste-conscious Catholic lawyer, were both power-hungry manipulators of the people for further their own interests. The elder statesmen of the times, i.e., Baron Jayatilleke, D. S. Senanayake (DS), Mahadeva etc. charted a reasonably non-communalist line,” S. Rasalingam, Tamils must ask for what is reasonable and accept their role in the conflict, Mawbima, 28 February 2008.

Related events
Soulbury Constitutional Commission established
Select Committee to look into official language policy
Soulbury Constitution adopted
700,000 Indian origin plantation Tamils become “stateless”

One comment for “November 1948”

  • unionblack said,

    Ten years before G.G. Ponnambalam’s famous ‘request’ or ‘demand’, Leonard Woolf, who had served 7 years in Jaffna and Hambanthota districts as a member of the Ceylon Civil Service, included this suggestion in his memorandum to the Labour Party:

    “Consideration should be given to the possibility of ensuring a large measure of devolution or even of introducing a federal system on the Swiss model.”

    The Swiss model is tripartite in character, and Woolf took the view that Sri Lanka’s Muslims also deserved to have their rights protected. Source: Failure can aid the science of comparative peace, The Guardian, 27 October 2006

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