Monday, August 4, 2014

Reviews - Handy Perinbanayagam a Memorial Volume & Jaffna Youth Congress


Handy Perinbanyagam and the Jaffna Youth Congress
1. Learning lessons from an inspired era:
February 25, 2012, 12:00 pm

Rajan Philips
(Book Launch:HandyPerinbanayagam Memorial Volume and the Jaffna
Youth Congress 5:30 pm, Sunday, 4 March 2012 at Saraswathie Hall, Bambalapitiya)
The coming week will be diplomatic high noon at the UNHRC session
in Geneva.The Sri Lankan government has reportedly decided to take an ‘ethical stand’ against what it has described as "unethical distortion", by interested parties, of Sri Lanka’s true position that "given the considerable progress that has been achieved in the implementation of the recommendations of the domestic mechanism from the release of the (LLRC) Report to date and the Road Map for further progress, any resolution (at UNHRC) of whatsoever nature is most unhelpful and highly unwarranted." If hearing is believing, the assertion of "considerable progress … to date" and the assurance of a "Road Map for further progress" by our diplomatic champions in Geneva should indeed be believable!

While we wait for the show to go on in Geneva, there will be a
different occasion in Colombo, far less spectacular but a lot more inspiring, for learning lessons from a different era. The occasion will be the release of the "Handy Perinbanayagm Memorial Volume and the Jaffna Youth Congress", in Colombo, on Sunday, March 4. The book is an update of the 1980 publication edited by Silan Kadirgamar, the dedicated historian of the Jaffna Youth Congress. The new edition is sponsored by the India-Sri Lanka Foundation, and the Indian High Commissioner Ashok Kantha will grace the book launch as Chief Guest.

A remarkable achievement of the book project is the simultaneous
release of Part 1 of the book in all the three languages of the land. The parity of language, India’s cultural support and the occasion for learning lessons are all in keeping with the Gandhian inspiration to freedom, the inclusive nationalistic ideals and the emphasis on education and the privileging of national languages that were the hallmark of the Jaffna Youth Congress, Handy Perinbanayagam and his illustrious contemporaries.
The short lived history of the Youth Congress is forever
associated with introduction of universal franchise in 1931. In an act of inspired notoriety, the Youth Congress spearheaded Jaffna’s boycott of Sri Lanka’s inaugural election to the State Council established under the Donoughmore Constitution and involving one of the early exercises of universal voting rights anywhere in the world. The Youth Congress like many others rejected the Donoughmore Constitution for falling short of full independence, but only the Congress translated its rejection into practical action.

The 1931 boycott and its consequences

The circumstances of the boycott and the intended and unintended
consequences that flowed from it for Tamil politics as well as national politics offer many lessons about Tamil society and politics as well as their creative and destructive tensions with Sri Lankan society and politics. The Memorial Volume chronicles the circumstances and the events of a brief but tumultuous period in the history of Tamil political society without embellishment and faithful to the dictum that "facts are sacred." It is for others to connect the plethora of dots in the subsequent evolution of Tamil politics and develop critical perspectives for historical analysis and prognosis.
At the height of the 1931 boycott, the leading lights of the
Jaffna Youth Congress (JYC), including Handy Perinbanayagam (HP, 1899-1977) were just over or under 30 years in age. Perhaps naming the organization as ‘Youth Congress’, was a reflection of the youthfulness of its founders. It was unique in that it was a youth organization without allegiance to any parent organization. In fact, it was its own parent organization challenging in every way the established orthodoxy of Jaffna society, especially its casteism. The JYC leaders were committed to non-violence and democratic values.

Despite being called the Jaffna Youth Congress, the organization
was anything but peninsular in outlook and stood for a free and united Lanka committed to universal values and ideals. The use of the place name (Jaffna) in the title was mostly geographical identification without political connotations. The linguistic emphasis was on privileging national languages (Tamil and Sinhalese) as opposed to English, and not as the basis for narrow linguistic nationalism. It is also significant that the JYC founders were inspired by Gandhian ideals of all-India nationalism rather than the anti-Brahaminical but pro-colonial politics of the Justice Party in Madras, precursor to South Indian Tamil nationalism.
As Silan Kadirgamar has noted, the boycott activities of the JYC
did not go unnoticed in the South. Philip Gunawardena described the JYC as the only organization "displaying political intelligence" and called on the rest of the country to follow the lead Jaffna was giving. Four years later in the midst of founding the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, Colvin R. de Silva declared that the roots of the LSSP were inasmuch in the JYC in the North, as they were in the Suriya Mal movement in the South.
But whereas the LSSP was able to build a mass base and become a
force to be reckoned with in the South and to a lesser extent in the North, the JYC had disappeared even before the arrival of the LSSP. Counterfactually, it could be asked if the JYC leaders had contested the 1931 election, the course of Tamil politics would have been different. As it turned out, none of the JYC founders was able to win an election and become a parliamentarian. A number of them contested in elections after independence as candidates of either of the two Left parties.
The boycott of the elections in Jaffna reduced Tamil
representation in the State Council, the outcome was not popular in Jaffna after the euphoria over the boycott ended, and the JYC ended up paying the ultimate price for it. In the South, outside of the Left circles, the boycott was misinterpreted as a response to the failure to secure communal representation even though none of the JYC leaders ever had any truck with the school of communal representation. The fact of the matter is that the first State Council, elected through universal franchise, also became the first communal hothouse. This led to the emergence of full throated communal politics in the North and in the South. The JYC had come and gone.
The sudden rise and the rapid fall of the JYC, says more about Tamil society than about the youthful idealism or naiveté of the JYC founders. The numerical size of the community was a factor in the sudden rise of influence of the JYC, and it was equally a factor in its demise. Most of the principal JYC leaders were great teachers and accomplished intellectuals. Even without electoral success, they were held in
high esteem by the people, and even without becoming parliamentarians, they continued to be leaders of the people. We can only contrast the JYC experience with the more recent and tragic experience of the Tamil society involving a new generation of youth neither inspired by Gandhian ideals nor committed to universal values, non-violence, or democratic norms


2. Jaffna — the Making of Political Opinion

Selections from His Writings and Speeches and the Jaffna Youth Congress.
Handy Perinbanayagam Commemoration Society, 1980.

Reviewed by
Prof. Wiswa Warnapala

Lanka Guardian April 1982

Politics in Jaffna, as in the Sinhalese areas, was first dominated by the English educated elite, which, irrespective of the nature of the nationalist movement in neighbouring India, thought that political power could be used in the interest of this limited class. This feature of the constitutional movement, because of its failure to identify itself with the people, prevented the emergence of a mass movement committed to the cause of political independence. Jaffna politics therefore came to be dominated by elite-oriented associations like the Jaffna Association (1904) which included in its ranks a galaxy of the Jaffna elite   – J. Hensman, K. Balaslngham, H. A. P. Sandarasagara, I. Thambiah, A. Sabapathy and W. Duraiswamy. Similar organisations, though functioned within the Sinhalese polity, were not considered political organisations capable of leading mass struggles against colonial domination. The political docility and the constitutionalism, which the political associations of the English educated elite displayed in the early twenties and thirties disillusioned the younger elements of both the Sinhalese and the Tamils who, through the influence of the progressive political ideas, saw the need to accelerate the process of the struggle against imperialist domination. The dominance of the Jaffna political scene by the English educated elite-oriented conservative politicians disillusioned the young radicals who, disenchanted and discontented with the constitutionalism of the leading lights of the Tamil political scene thought in terms of forming their own political machine, the story of which has been carefully and scholarly documented by Santasllan Kadirgamar.
The inadequacy and the ineffectiveness of such political organizations as the Tamil Mahajana Sabha and the All Ceylon Tamil League convinced the younger elements of the need to form an organisation capable of mobilising and articulating the Tamil community for political independence. Similar organizations came into existence in the Sinhalese areas, and the Colombo South Youth League, from which the Suriyamal Movement, the precursor of the left wing politics, later emerged, was one organisation which derived inspiration from the Jaffna Youth Congress, which by this time, had become the most articulate of the political associations of the Jaffna political scene. The inability of the previous political associations of the Tamil political scene in generating mass enthusiasm for political independence of the Island and deriving inspiration from the Swaraj movement of India led a group of young men - some of whom later played key role in the left wing politics of Jaffna - to form the Jaffna Youth Congress in 1924. Jaffna College, as Ananda College of Colombo for certain nationalist radicals of the Sinhalese, became the epi-centre of the Youth Congress, which drew most of its cadre from  Jaffna College and thereby imbibed democratic and nationalist ideas into the already nascent youth movement In Jaffna. The activities of the young men of the Jaffna College, including those of the Servants of Lanka Society, as revealed by Kadirgamar in his piece on the Jaffna Youth Congress, demonstrated the desire on the part of the educated young to bring about social reform in a society, which from times immemorial, has been submerged in traditional and feudal prejudices.
Handy Perinbanayagam, the live-wire of the Jaffna Youth Congress deriving inspiration from the liberal tradition of the College played the key role in articulating the Jaffna Youth Congress in order to convert it into the vanguard of the youth interested in political Independence. Many faceted activities of the Jaffna Youth Congress demonstrated its commitment to a number of issues, which subsequently became burning problems of the day. The 1925 sessions of the Jaffna Youth Congress, and the various resolutions placed before this session, displayed in no uncertain terms the radical posture of this organisation which, irrespective of the backward conservative society from which it sought legitimacy, demanded the abolition of the dowry system, the advocacy of the temple entry to the harijans and the abolition of inequalities based on caste. Such demands, though gave expression to certain issues of parochial importance, were not devoid of all Island national importance since they impinged on the need for social emancipation. The stand of the Jaffna Youth Congress on the question of self government was to invite full cooperation from the Sinhalese, and this, as Handy Perinbanayagam stated on numerous occasions, demonstrated its desire to build Sinhala- Tamil unity as the hallmark of self government. The leaders of the Youth Congress, as some of the pioneers of the Arya Sinhala dress movement among the Sinhalese, advocated the adoption of the national dress, and this, apart from its spirit of anti-imperialism, contained features of both political mobilisation and legitimisation. Such initiatives, as the work of G. P. Malalasekera and P de S Kularatne among the Sinhalese Buddhists, naturally disturbed the imitative life styles of the English educated upper crust of the Tamil community, and it was this process, in my view, which successfully socialised the Tamil commoner to politics during the period of the boycott of the 193 I elections. The early attempts of the Jaffna peninsula derived inspiration from the nationalist movement of India and they, above all owed a lot to the ideas of both Gandhi and Nehru. The use of slogans with an appeal· to national sentiments demonstrated the impact of the forces in neighbouring India on this movement of the Jaffna youth. The harijan movement of Gandhi in the twenties could be recognised as an example. Its activities, since the inception of the Youth Congress, demonstrated its desire to bring about social reform which eventually became a movement for national resurgence (page 14). It has been stated that ‘it is worthy of note that nowhere in these resolutions is there any indication that they were concerned with a purely Tamil revival’ (page 14) and it is this all Island perspective of the Jaffna Youth Congress which needs to be emphasised in the interest of national unity and understanding.
The growth of this movement, which occurred in the period 1925­1931, was characterised by the political, volatility of the Jaffna Youth Congress, and it was during this phase that it played the most crucial and  controversial role in the Jaffna political arena. Jane Russell who made a superficial examination of the role of the Jaffna Youth Congress, saw the issue of the boycott of the elections in 1931 as the major turning point in its history.l The boycott of the elections in 1931, which was considered its main achievement, needs to be examined from the point of view of the major perspectives of the Youth Congress which, unlike many of its counterparts, advocated the attainment of Swaraj. This organisation of radical youths, by 1930, had emerged as one of the powerful platforms of national independence. Kadirgamar, in his study, has made an attempt to highlight this aspect which hitherto remained unexplored by our historians who excel in the glorification of Imperial history. The leaders of the caliber of Gandhi, Nehru and Kamaladevi Chattophadhya , graced its platform as guest speakers, and these fire  brand nationalists injected into the ranks of the JYC a new form of militancy with which they, as Kamaladevi Chattophadhya’s presence in 1931 amply demonstrated, entered into the boycott campaign.
The resolution, which the Youth Congress passed on 25th April 1931, stated that the Donoughmore Constitution militated against the attainment of Swaraj. The attitude of the Youth leaders to the Donoughmore deal has been succinctly described by quoting certain statements of Nadesan (page 40). Long before Donoughmore proposals came into operation, the Jaffna Youth Congress had adopted the view that they fell short of self government (page 71). The Youth Congress, which devoted its 1931 sessions to the issue of the boycott of elections wanted the people of Ceylon to boycott the elections. The passage of the resolution calling for the boycott represented the peak point of the radicalism of the Jaffna Youth Congress, and it, in fact became the affirmation of its commitment to Purna Swaraj. This boycott, which certain observers described as an aspect of communalism, created a different political situation, from which the forces of anti-boycott emerged as saviours of the Tamil community. Though, the influence of the Youth Congress declined with the boycott issue and with the emergence of political forces interested in taking advantage of communalism, it established links with the radical political organisations of the Sinhalese areas. The South Colombo Youth League of Terrence de Zylva and the Suriyamal Movement, from which the LSSP was born in 1935, derived inspiration from the radicalism of the Jaffna youth who, without anchoring their activities to the motivating force of an ideology, attempted to bring about total independence for their motherland. Its association with the nascent left wing politics of the country resulted in the emergence of a group of left wing politicians who subsequently played a role in the formation of branches of the LSSP and the CP in Jaffna. The JYC, with its radical posture. socialised such men as P. Nagallngam, S. Nadesan, P. Kandiah, T. Duraslngham into the left wing political process and they began to look at issues from a national perspective. The Handy Perinbanayagam Commemoration Society, in publishing this memorial volume has made an excellent contribution to the political literature of the country at a time when people tend to look at the Jaffna political scene from the narrow perspective of communalism. The role of the Youth Congress, which hitherto remained hidden under a collection of personal papers and memories of its leaders, has now been explained for the benefit of the scholar and the practitioner of the art of politics. Handy Perinbanayagam Memorial Volume has rightly exposed the political issues relevant to the politics of Jaffna and the Youth Congress, in advocating a united Sri Lanka in the early twenties, saw the irrelevance of parochial politics to the achievement of national unity in a developing nation.
This volume, in addition to its timely discussion on the nature and role of the Jaffna Youth Congress contains selections from the speeches and writings of the late Handy Perinbanayagam whose role became part and parcel of the nationalist role of the Jaffna Youth Congress. Handy Perinbanayagam, in his own right as an educationist, wrote and commented on a wide variety of national issues, some of which still remain the burning questions of the day. The second part of this volume has been devoted for this purpose. Forty seven such issues have been discussed in this part of the volume and they, though invite examination and comment, could not be undertaken in a brief review. Yet certain issues, especially those relating to education need to be given attention. It is known that the Northern Province Teachers Association and the All Ceylon Union of Teachers inherited some of the ideals of the Youth Congress, and the issues as free education, a National System of Education and the use of Swabasha as the medium of instruction, for which the Youth Congress fought, later found entry into legislation. Handy Perinbanayagam, as his writings and speeches demonstrated, remained committed to a national system of education from which he expected the social emancipation of the masses. Handy long before others thought of the mother tongue, fought for the right of the child to learn in his mother tongue. K. Nesiah in his Mother Tongue in Education (1945) made a scientific case for the use of mother tongue in education and this work in addition to the exposition of views on the use of the mother tongue, emphasised the need to change the language of the Island’s administration. Handy Perinbanayagam advocating the use of the mother tongue wanted the education system to be modernised on the basis of the existing linguistic context and he, as a member of the Education Commission of 1961, stressed the importance of this aspect of education. The Memorial Volume, taking into consideration the issues to which Handy attached importance, has carefully selected the relevant speeches dealing with the use of the mother tongue and they both in terms of content and emphasis are still relevant to the issues of the island’s system of education. The rest of the collection, when examined from the point of view of the subject matter and the coverage demonstrates the versatility of this educationist-cum-politician who without joining the bandwagon of a political party did a worthwhile service to the social and political emancipation of the masses, particularly those of the North. There is a tendency in Sri Lanka to attach importance to the careers of those politicians who enter the portals of the country’s legislature and others, who found no entry into the hallowed precincts of the legislature, are either forgotten or their careers go unrecognised. Handy Perinbanayagam, irrespective of his contributions is therefore not known and this is especially so among the Sinhalese intelligentsia. The editors of this memorial volume, by unfolding the story of the Jaffna Youth Congress and the versatile career of Handy Perinbanayagam who was its leading light, have provided the reader with an interesting lot of information relating to the politics of the thirties, and it, above all, unfolds the story of a radical group of people who struggled for national independence in the context of national unity. This message, in itself, is a service to this country.  People, who see tigers among the Tamils, should read this book to discover that there were Tamil patriots who spoke and also fought relentlessly for Sinhala-Tamil unity and total political independence when certain Sinhalese leaders were licking the boots of the imperialists.

1. Russell, Jan.. Th. Ceylon Tamils under Donoughmore Constitution 1931­1947.Unpublished thesis, University of Peradenlya, 1976.

A Glorious Chapter in Sri Lankan History - Review of JYC by V. Suryanarayan

3.  A Glorious Chapter in Sri Lankan History

(Santasilan Kadiragamar, Ed., HANDY PERINBANAYAGAM: A Memorial Volume (Kumaran Book House, Chennai/Colombo, 2012), pp. 339.

 V. Suryanarayan

Paper no. 5052
Prof. Santasilan Kadiragamar has done yeoman service in bringing out this edited volume, which provides rare insights into one of the glorious chapters in the modern history of Sri Lanka. The Jaffna Youth Congress (JYC), inspired by the ideas and ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress, was in the forefront advocating complete independence for Ceylon from British domination. It stood for national unity, it advocated a secular state and highlighted the necessity to get rid of the evils of untouchability and caste barriers and stood for an education policy which laid emphasis on mother tongue and bilingualism, without ignoring the English language. The book, as Prof. Wiswa Warnapala has written, will be an eye opener for many Sinhalese youth. To quote Prof. Wiswa Warnapala, “People who see Tigers among Tamils should read the book to discover that there were Tamil patriots who fought relentlessly for Sinhala-Tamil unity and total political independence”. 
The first edition of the book was brought out in 1980 by the Handy Perinbanayagam  Society, Jaffna. This revised edition has been made possible with the financial assistance of the India-Sri Lanka Foundation. The book is divided into two parts. The first part traces the history of the JYC. Written by Prof. Silan, the chapter provides a synoptic view of the origins of political consciousness in Jaffna, the beginnings of the JYC, the leaders who were behind the movement, its policies and programmes  and how it was able to galvanise and inspire the educated sections of the Jaffna population. Based on a variety of published materials and interviews with those who were active in the movement, this lucidly written section of the book is delightful reading. For a whole generation of Jaffna youth, the life and writings of Handy Perinbanayagam were a source of great inspiration.  More so for an academician/political activist like Prof. Silan Kadiragamar. In the last phase of his life, Mahatma Gandhi was interviewed by a Western journalist, who asked him what his message was for future generations. Gandhiji said, “My life is my message”. The same holds true of Handy Perinbanayagam. He believed in practicing what he preached and in preaching what he practised.To quote Handy Perinbanayagam, “Conscience has been my guide and not my accomplice”.  Leaders like Handy Perinbanayagam have become a rare species in South Asia today.   
The second part of the volume contains selected speeches and writings of Handy Perinbanayagam. For the convenience of the readers, the editor has arranged them under different heads; politics, language rights and freedom of expression; social and justice issues; education and teachers rights; cultural and religious; Mahatma Gandhi and some memorable personalities. Few statements of Handy Perinbanayagam are pregnant with meaning and points to the perils of nation building in Sri Lanka. In his memorandum to the Constituent Assembly in 1972, Handy Perinbanayagam highlighted the incalculable damage to communal unity brought about by the “Sinhala Only” policy of 1956. To quote, “When “Sinhala Only” was made the law of the land, not the slightest effort was made to temper the wind to the shorn Tamil lamb. The self-esteem of the Tamil-speaking community was trampled underfoot. The law was stark, blunt and without any recognition of the fact that there was in Ceylon another sizeable linguistic group to whom their language was as vital and precious as Sinhala was to the Sinhalese. It was tantamount to a declaration that the Sinhala speakers were the only group entitled by right to the fruits of national independence”. In the same essay, Handy Perinbanayagam describes how Lord Soulbury changed his views about the rights of the minorities in independent Sri Lanka. Lord Soulbury has pointed out “The Soulbury Constitution had entrenched in it all the protective provisions for minorities that the wit of man could devise. Nevertheless in the light of later happenings, I now think it is a pity that the Commission did not also recommend the entrenchment in the Constitution, guarantees of fundamental rights, on the lines enacted in the Constitution of India, Pakistan, Malaya, Nigeria and elsewhere” and adds that in the light of later happenings it was a pity that it did not also recommend the entrenchment in the Constitution of fundamental rights.  In the context of the death and destruction brought about by the violence of the Tigers and far more brutal and horrendous response of the Sri Lankan State, the statement of Handy Perinbanayagam made in his presidential address to the First Sarvodaya Conference on May 29, 1963, are relevant: “We who belong to the Sarvodaya persuasion are also revolutionaries- but with a difference- the difference being we have foresworn violence as a method of ushering the new millennium. We have no manner of doubt that revolutions achieved by violence are unstable, have to be maintained by further violence and provoke violent reprisals at every turn”. Speaking on the relevance of Gandhian philosophy Handy Perinbanayagam highlighted that “his feeling for the starving millions of India is not part of a conscious creed, but rather a part of his being … In  Gandhiji’s identification with Daridra Narayana there is neither art nor artifice”. I am tempted to quote Gandhiji’s famous talisman: “I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man (woman) whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him (her). Will he (she) gain anything by it? Will it restore him (her) to a control over his (her) own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj (freedom) for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and self melting away”.
I can cite only another book which deals with the period, but not in a satisfactory manner. Jane Russell’s book, Communal politics under the Doughmore Constitution, 1931-1947. The book traces the inter-relationship between communal politics and constitutional changes in Ceylon. However, Jane Russell’s description of the role played by the JYC is very sketchy. In this context, Prof. Silan Kadiragamar’s book fills an important void in the modern history of Sri Lanka.
The question may be asked, how have the protagonists of the separate State of Tamil Eelam dealt with the role of the JYC? Four years ago, I happened to read Dr. Murugar Gunasingham’s book entitled Tamils in Sri Lanka: A Comprehensive History (C 300 BC – C 2000 AD). The author claims that it is the first comprehensive history of the Tamils, based on authentic sources. This lengthy book, running into 575 pages, does not even make a mention of the pioneering role of Handy Perinbanayagam.  Understandably so, because a political philosophy which upholds Sri Lankan nationalism and Sinhala- Tamil unity  will be repugnant to the votaries of the separate State of Tamil Eelam. It may also be mentioned that this lengthy book does not touch upon the political developments among Tamil speaking Moslems, because the author claims that they are not involved in Tamil nationalism.  
S. Handy Perinbanayagam (1899-1977), as Prof. Silan mentions, pioneered the movement for complete national independence. Gandhian ideals were his inspiration. Not even once did he deviate from the ideal of a united independent Sri Lanka. A Christian by religious faith and teacher by profession, from the very beginning, Handy advocated a non-sectarian approach to politics. Handy’s early life coincided with revolutionary changes across the Palk Straits. Naturally the Indian national movement exercised a profound impact on the Jaffna youth. The result was the founding of the Jaffna Youth Congress (JYC) in December 1924. Handy Perinbanayagam was the chief organizer. From its very inception, the JYC adopted a radical line in social reforms. The organisers regularly invited Sinhalese leaders, who shared their political beliefs, to address the delegates in the annual sessions. In addition, the leaders of the JYC were able to persuade great Indian leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Satyamurti, Kamaladevi Chatopadhyaya and Kalyana Sundaram to visit Jaffna and address the people. These idealistic and radical impulses, as Silan highlights, “gave rise to a movement that was independent, democratic, anti-imperialist and anti-feudal”. No wonder the JYC was in the forefront of boycotting elections which were held in 1931. It is the tragedy of Sri Lanka that the JYC gradually lost its momentum and it was replaced by communal forces, which vitiated the political atmosphere in the post-independent period. Finally it led to the parting of the ways of the two communities.
The crowning glory of the Jaffna youth was to persuade Mahatma Gandhi to visit Ceylon in 1927. Gandhiji was involved at that time in the popularization of Khadi and fighting against the evils of alcoholism. When Handy Perinbanayagam, on behalf of the students Congress approached Gandhiji in Bangalore, where he was camping at that time, Gandhiji readily agreed  to visit Ceylon, but on one condition, that Ceylon should donate 100, 000 rupees to the Khadi fund. So munificent was the public response in Ceylon, the donation exceeded by 18,000 rupees beyond the target.  Rajaji asked Gandhiji to congratulate Handy Perinbanayagam and Handy recalls that “the famous toothless smile was bestowed on me”. After addressing crowded meetings in Colombo, Galle, Kandy and Nuwara Eliya, Gandhiji arrived in Jaffna on November 26. At his very first meeting in Jaffna, Gandhiji said, “Having come to Jaffna I do not feel that I am in Ceylon, but I feel that I am in a bit of India. Neither your faces nor your language is foreign to me”. Gandhiji was plagued by autograph hunters and he insisted that he will oblige them only if they promised to wear Khaddar. In addition to Jaffna, Gandhiji addressed gatherings in Puttur, Atchuvely, Velvettiturai, Point Pedro, Chavakachery, Chunakkam, Telipalai, Moolai and Karainagar. Gandhiji touched upon the burning problems of the day like inter-caste issues, prohibition, revival of ancient culture, Hindu-Christian relations and nationalism. Above all, he drew attention to the starving millions in India. Gandhiji left for India via Talaimannar and before his departure gave his farewell message to the people of Jaffna: “The message that I can leave for Jaffna as for the whole of Ceylon is “let it not be out of sight, out of mind”.  Let the description that I have given you of the starving millions haunt you and keep you in touch with them and in so doing keep you also simple and living pure, free from drink and untouchability, if not for your own sakes, at least for theirs”.
Unfortunately Prof. Silan Kadiragamar has not given extracts from the famous speech that Gandhiji delivered under the auspices of Reddiar Sangham in Colombo. In that speech Gandhiji underlined the policy of the Indian National Congress towards Indians Overseas. He highlighted the necessity for Indians to identify themselves with the aspirations of the indigenous peoples. To quote Gandhiji, “I would leave one or two thoughts with you before I leave Colombo. Since you are earning your bread in this beautiful island, I would ask you to live as sugar in milk. Even as a cup of milk which is full to the brim does not overflow when sugar is gently added to it, the sugar accommodating itself in the milk and enriching its taste, in the same way, I would like you to live in the island so as not to become interlopers and so as to enrich the lives of the people in whose midst you are living”.
Sri Lanka today is groping in the dark as to how to bring about ethnic reconciliation in the country. Intoxicated by majoritarianism, the ruling elite is going back on their past commitments relating to devolution of powers to Tamil areas. The only salvation for Sri Lanka is to follow, both in letter and in spirit, what Handy Perinbanayagam said one year before Ceylon’s independence. “In spite of the reverses which the ideal of one Ceylon, has received recently we hold to our faith in it. The conception of a free country where politics is free from the ideas of race and caste calls for courage and imagination and true statesmanship. We shall not subscribe to anything less than that, for nothing less will save Ceylon”.  
(Dr. V. Suryanarayan is Senior Professor and Director (Retd), Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras, Chennai. Since his retirement, he is associated with two think tanks, the Center for Asia Studies and the Chennai Centre for China Studies. Prof. Suryanarayan was a member of the National Security Advisory Board of the Government of India for one term. His e mail address:

Friday, August 9, 2013

Jaffna College - Reflections on the History of the College 2013

Reflections On The History Of Jaffna College

Filed under: Colombo Telegraph,Opinion | 

4 Responses to Reflections On The History Of Jaffna College

  1. Hopefully these good memories of those good days will prompt a few of us to try to recreate them.

    S.R.H. Hoole - August 6, 2013
    6:43 am
  2. Silan must be congratulated for this paper on Jaffna College helping us to reminisce on Jaffna College. His father the Rev. Kadirgamar was chaplain in the late fifties. his brothers Alagan, Rajan the one time principal and the other who became a priest whose name I cannot remember now, made singular contributions to the society in Jaffna. Alagan was secretary to the central YMCA in Colombo. His reference to S V Balasingham the brilliant teacher of history is very refreshing. Silan has perhaps missed out on the fact that the Morning Star that Lyman Kulathungam was editor of for 42 years was the first English weekly in Sri Lanka. jayahanthan

    S. jayahanthan - August 6, 2013
    5:12 pm
    • The Morning Star was bilingual and may claim to be the first Tamil newspaper or first bilingual newspaper but not the first English newspaper. The Morning Star started in 1841.
      Technically the first newspaper was the Government Gazette, Ceylon, first out in 1802. On the recommendations of the Colebrooke Commission in 1833 other newspapers were started. Then the Colombo Journal was begun by Governor Barnes. The Observer was the first independent newspaper and was begun I believe in 1834.

      Correct-the-Record - August 7, 2013
      11:56 pm
  3. Thank you for this very informative article ! I learnt a lot from this, my grandfather went here many years ago.
    Hopefully we will rise again to even greater heights.

    Dev - August 6, 2013
    5:59 pm