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House of Representatives on Sinhala Only Act, June
Senator S.Nadesan Q.C.,
Sri Lanka Senate
Hansard 26 June 1957
Virginia Leary: Ethnic Conflict and Violence in Sri Lanka - Report of a Mission to Sri Lanka on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists, July/August 1981
years later - Tamil an official language "only in name"
PK Balachandran, Hindustan Times, 12 February 2006
"....The Tamil-speaking population in Sri Lanka comprises Sri Lankan Tamils, Indian Origin Tamils and Muslims. Together they are 26 per cent of the island's population. But in the 9,00,000-strong public service, Tamil-speakers are just 8.3 per cent. The rest are Sinhala-speakers.Out of the 36,031 employees in the Police Department, 231 are Tamils and 246 are Muslims. Since Sri Lankan Muslims are also Tamil speaking, the total number of Tamil speakers in this vital department is just 477.
Wellawatte, a suburb of Colombo, is an overwhelmingly Tamil area, with 21,417 of its residents out of a total population of 29,302, being Tamil speaking. But in the Wellawatte police station, out of the 156 personnel, only 6 are Tamil speaking. The Sri Lankan armed forces are also almost completely Sinhala or Sinhala speaking. The few Tamil-speaking personnel there are Muslims, rather than Tamils as such..... There are only 166 official translators in Sri Lanka. And out of these, only 58 are Tamil-speaking. But translators are required in large numbers because of the existence of a massive linguistic barrier in the country.
In the Sri Lankan school system, Sinhalas learn through the Sinhala medium, and Tamils through the Tamil medium. This is so even in the universities. Very little English is taught, if at all, at any stage. This is the reason for the massive linguistic barrier between the two major communities in Sri Lanka, a barrier which has added to the distance between them since independence in 1948.
Speaking to Hindustan Times on the state of affairs, the Chairman of the Official Languages Commission, Raja Collure, said: "Successive governments have failed to implement the constitutional provision in regard to the use of Tamil as the second official language." This is regrettable especially in view of the fact that Tamil had been made the second official language of the country, through the 13th amendment, 18 years ago, following the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of July 1987.
At that time, it was presumed that the acceptance of Tamil as an official language would automatically lead to the recruitment of more Tamils and that there would be no glaring ethnic imbalances.But Tamil has been an official language "only in name" as The Sunday Times put it. Recruitment of Tamil-speakers, especially ethnic Tamils, has been abysmally low.
If at all the state wanted to remedy the situation, it was only in respect of the use of the Tamil language in official work. The accent was not on the recruitment of more Tamils or Tamil-speakers.
In the latter part of the 1990s, President Chandrika Kumaratunga tried to introduce an 'Equal Opportunities Bill' to redress the linguistic and ethnic minorities' grievances in regard to employment. The statistics brought out by it were telling. Notwithstanding the powerful case made out for such a bill, it raised a storm of protest among the Sinhala majority, which considered ethnic, linguistic and religious reservations as undermining the unity of Sri Lanka and its destiny as a Sinhala-Buddhist country..."
language provisions, provincial councils and 16th
Chelvanayagam inaugurated the Federal
Party, on December 18th, 1949. One of the demands of the
FP was parity of status for Tamil with Sinhala. This
concept of 'parity of status', sought by the FP, was
misunderstood by the Sinhalese. They thought that, it
implied bilingualism in administration, and in
government. They meant that, if a hundred Sinhala clerks
were recruited to the public service, a hundred Tamil
clerks should also be recruited. The 'parity of status'
in language rights, is a legal concept, whereby both
languages would become equal, before the law, as official
languages. 'Parity' does not mean that, both languages
should be used, in every part of Sri Lanka.
In 1956, a profound change had taken
place in the political history of Sri Lanka. The forces
of 'Sinhala Only' movement were spreading rapidly in the
South. The General Elections of 1956, were fought on the
language issue. The MEP led by Bandaranaike, swept to
power on 'Sinhala only'. The 'Sinhala only' cry was loud
in the South burgeoned FP, to victory in the Northern and
In 1965, Chelvanayagam helped Dudley Senanayake and
his UNP to form a 'National Government'. Consequently
Dudley Senanayake - Chelvanayagam Pact was signed and
District Councils Bill was gazetted in 1968. It
provided inter-alia that steps would be taken under the
Tamil Language Special Provisions Act to make (i) Tamil
as the language of administration and of record in the
Northern and Eastern Provinces, (ii) to make it possible
for a Tamil speaking person to transact business in Tamil
throughout Sri Lanka and (iii) to amend the Language of
the Courts Act, to provide for legal proceedings in the
Northern and Eastern Provinces, to be conducted and
recorded in Tamil. This Bill was opposed by the SLFP,
LSSP and CP, who organised the Joint Protest March. The
Bill was later abandoned.
In 1977, J. R. Jayewardene purported to proclaim that,
'there were numerous problems confronting Tamil speaking
people, and the lack of solution to their problems, made
Tamil speaking people to support a movement, for creation
of a separate state'. In the Manifesto of 1977 General
Elections, UNP also declared that 'the party would take
all possible steps to remedy the grievances of the
Tamils, in such fields as, (1) education, (2)
colonisation, (3) use of Tamil Language and (4)
employment in the public and semi-public
In the years that followed, there was continuous and
sustained agitation not only with regard to language
rights, but also for devolution of power, leading to the
Lanka Pact. The Indo - Sri Lanka Pact was signed on
July 29th, 1987 by Rajiv Gandhi, then Prime Minister of
India and J. R. Jayewardene, then President of the
Republic of Sri Lanka. Consequently, a Bill for the
amendment of the 1978 Constitution, known as the 13th
Amendment to the Constitution was gazetted. It had
two parts: one part was with regard to the Official
Language, and the other part, to provide decentralisation
of powers, through the Provincial Council system.
The Bill contained an amendment to Article 18, of
Chapter IV, of the Constitution to read as: Article 18
(1) - 'The Official Language of Sri Lanka shall be
Sinhala', Article 18 (2) ¬'Tamil shall also be an
official language;, Article 18 (3) - 'English shall be
the link language', Article 18 (4) - 'Parliament shall by
law provide for the implementation of provisions of this
India brought necessary pressure on JR, and
consequently the Sixteenth
Amendment to the Constitution, was brought in, on
December 17th, 1988 by which, the anomalies with regard
to the constitutional status of the Tamil Language, so
created by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, were
rectified. The implementation by law enacted by
Parliament of Article 18 (2) as amended by the 13th
Amendment, and of Articles 22, 23 and 24 as amended by
the 16th Amendment, became otiose...
On 24th January 24th, 2008 the APRC presented a set of proposals to the President, with the recommendation that 'the Government should endeavour to implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution'. Clause 4:1 of the aforesaid Proposals states that, the Government should take immediate steps, to ensure that Parliament enacts laws, to provide for the full implementation of Chapter IV of the Constitution'.
It clearly shows that, even the APRC does not desire
to implement the constitutional provisions, with regard
to the use of the Tamil Language, directly from the
Constitution, but is attempting to implement them, by
legislation. It brings out succinctly that, the APRC too
wants to relegate the constitutional provision, of the
use of Tamil Language, by legislation, even after the
16th Amendment. It is a political deceit.
Mr.J.R.Jayawardene on 'Sinhala Only and Tamil Also' in the Ceylon State Council, 24th May 1944
Sir, the motion standing in my name reads as follows:-
My motion seeks to displace English from the position which it has held for over 125 years as the official language of this country. Though English has been the official language for so many years, only to per cent of a population of over 6 million speak and know that language.
The tragedy that is enacted everyday in our Courts, in our Public Departments and in the very lives of our people is very vividly described in that famous book, which I would advice Hon. Members of this Council to read, called The Village in the Jungle.
There, Sir, a villager from a hamlet in the. Hambantota District is brought up for trial in the Courts before an English Magistrate, and after a number of days of trial, during which lie did not understand a single word of what passed between the Judge, counsel and the other officials, he is sentenced to a long term of imprisonment:, and even at that stage does not know what had happened. That tragedy is occurring even today.
It is argued by those who know only English, who have been educated only in English, that if we displace English and make Sinhalese and Tamil the official languages, we will be shutting out a large world of literature and culture from our people. They little understand that that world of literature is already a closed book to go per cent of our people. We can today after so many years of English as the official language, measure its achievements in this country. It is true that we have produced a number of famous lawyers, doctors and judges and possibly legislators, but in the field of literature, of science, of culture, we have been entirely barren of achievement.
It was not so when the native language was the language of the Government. I think history records that wise men both from the East and the West came to the shores of Lanka to read the books that were preserved in the sanctuaries of the Buddhist Sangha. If one reads the travels of Hsuen Tsang, Marco Polo and Fa Hien and the lives of great Western philosophers such as Dr. Dhalke and Rhys Davids and others, we would find the contribution that this country made to world literature when we had our own language as the official language.
It is said that many of the mysteries of Indian history were unravelled by the translation of the Mahavansa into English, but today our youths, after so many years of British rule, are more interested in the love affairs of Henry VIII than in the historical events pictured in the Mahavansa; they are more aware of the materialism preached by western pundits, than in the truths which are embodied in the Abhidhamma. It is with a view to changing" this situation, a situation which can only be changed by substituting the national languages as the official languages, that I have thought it wise to introduce this motion.
If we look again at our educational structure, which will come up for examination on the motion to be moved by the Minister of
Education, we will find that we are spending over Rs 2o million a year for maintaining a system of education which creates two classes. Over 8o per cent of our schools educate our children in Sinhalese and Tamil, while only about 6 or 7 per cent of the children are given an English education. But the official language is English, and that is why this country is always in danger of being governed by a small coterie who go through those English schools whereas the vast majority who go through the Sinhalese and Tamil schools
must always be in the position of hewers of wood and drawers of water.
We have not only defects in our own system of education as an example and an argument for accepting this motion; we have also the example of other countries which have been for many centuries under foreign domination, and once they have become free or almost free they have dropped the foreign language and adopted their own language. I will take an example, first, the Irish Free State. After centuries of Anglicization, the native language of the people of Ireland, Gaelic, was forgotten; hardly 10 per cent spoke the language of the people. Thanks to the efforts of Dr.Hyde, who later became President of the Irish Free State, the Gaelic League was started, and Gaelic was again made popular among the people. When Mr. De Valera began his great fight for freedom, and succeeded, he insisted that the native language of the people of Ireland, though it was spoken only by to percent, unlike in Ceylon where only to percent speak English, should be made the official language. He set aside all objections-he is a man who does not care for objections-and he made that language the official language of Ireland.
We also have the example of India where the Indian National Congress had insisted that English should be supplanted from its position as the official language, that linguistic provinces should be created, and that Hindi should be the official language. We see that in Hyderabad and in the other Native States of India the -official language is the language of the people. No difficulty, I think, can be visualized once the spirit of the motion is accepted and the methods which I have outlined are put into effect.
If only the Board of Ministers elected in 1931 and the Minister of Education who was elected in 1931 had taken the necessary steps with a vision that should have been theirs, to put into effect a proposal such as this, it may be that today we would be able to speak in the languages of the people in this Council and in our other legislative assemblies. It is not too late even at this stage to make a start to see that Sinhalese and Tamil are made the official languages of this country.
It becomes all the more important that we should adopt this motion at this stage, because the Minister of Education is introducing very far-reaching proposals next week in this Council, one of which is to make English education free. Before you create an educational system in which you teach English as a free and compulsory language, you must have clear before your eyes what is going to be the official languages of this country. Are you going to educate the people of this country, 80 per cent of whom do not at present get an education, in English, while the official languages of the country are to be Sinhalese and Tamil ? Or are we in the future going to have English as the official language ? I think that that is the most important decision which should he taken by the educational authorities before they decide whether the medium of instruction should be the mother tongue or English. The educational structure should be suited to the official languages.. One might as well teach Dutch and not English if English is not going to be the official language.
Therefore, I would place this motion before the House; and I wish to speak a word of explanation with regard to my desire to include Tamil also. I had always the intention that Tamil be spoken in Tamil speaking provinces, and that Tamil should be the official language in the Tamil speaking provinces. But as two-thirds of the people of this country speak Sinhalese, I had the intention of proposing that only Sinhalese should be the official language of the Island; but it seems to me that the Tamil community, who speak Tamil, wish that Tamil also should be included on equal terms with Sinhalese. The great fear I had was that Sinhalese being a language spoken by only 3 million people in the whole world would suffer, or may be entirely lost in time to come, if Tamil is also placed on an equal footing with it this country. The influence of Tamil literature, a literature used in India by over 40 million and the influence of Tamil films and Tamil culture in this country, I thought might be detrimental to the future of the Sinhalese language; but if it is the desire of the Tamils, that Tamil also should be given an equal status with Sinhalese, I do not think we should bar it from attaining that position.
I do not think there will be any difficulty in this House, which is composed of representatives chosen on a universal franchise, in securing the end we have in view. It is the universal franchise that has brought the English-educated and she masses together, and it is the impulse created by the use of the universal franchise, by the ideals realized by the grant of universal franchise which enable the people to choose their rulers, which Neill ultimately make Sinhalese and Tamil the official languages of this country. I would therefore suggest to this House that we anticipate that event, and give it the sanction of our vote and decision.Language, Sir, is one of the most important characteristics of nationality. Without language, a nation stands a chance of being absorbed or of losing its identity. With language, it has a chance of living for centuries. It is because of our language that the Sinhalese race has existed for 2,400 years, and I think that, composed as we are in this House, on the eve of freedom as a free country we should prepare for a national official language. This House, I am sure, will vote with me that English should be deposed from its position as the official language of the country and Sinhalese and Tamil, the ancient languages of our people, spoken by over 8o to go per cent of our people, should be made the official languages of Lanka.