Sinhala Only and SWRD: “I never thought I would win”

Rohini de Mel | Published on March 15, 2012 at 8:07 am

PERSONAL STORIES

Rohini de Mel’s story of reconciliation and hope

‘I am a Sri Lankan and happen to be born a Sinhalese. Sri Lanka is a heterogeneous nation comprising of  a majority  72% Sinhala Buddhists,18% Tamils (of which

Rohini de Mel

1 million are abroad) 8% Muslims and the balance 2% comprising of Malays, Chinese, Parsis & Burghers and others. Although Jaffna is predominantly populated by Tamils 60% reside outside of Jaffna, mostly in the southern & eastern areas of the country. In the capital Colombo, Cinnamon Gardens (like the West End of London) 60% of the land was owned by the Tamils and now Muslims own these properties.

We are a Democratic Socialist Republic. In my own family , my nephews and nieces are married to Tamils, Muslims, Indians, Germans, Norwegians, Philippinos & English. We are a Global family and live Democracy.

“I never thought I would win”

At the 1956 General Elections S W R D Bandaranaike (SLFP) won a sweeping victory. It is known that his election slogan “Sinhala ONLY” which meant Sinhala only as the National Language won him this victory. My parents who knew him well asked ;”why did you say this?” His reply was,”I never thought I would win!”.

This Language promise which came into effect over 24 hours of victory ,was a terrible blow to the Tamils since at the time they held 75% of Government Administrative positions.

When SWRD sent a delegation of 15 to Mackinac Island our MRA centre in the USA, a senior Civil Servant Mr D.B. Ellepola ,a Sinhala Buddhist publicly apologized to young V.N.Navaratne Tamil MP (TULF) for the hurt caused by this act. This was in 1957.

In 1958 when a delegation from the south made a visit to meet citizens in Jaffna, V.N.Navaratne MP (TULF) had been organizing to tar Sinhala letters on the name

"At the 1956 General Elections S W R D Bandaranaike (SLFP) won a sweeping victory. It is known that his election slogan “Sinhala ONLY” which meant Sinhala only as the National Language won him this victory. My parents who knew him well asked ;”why did you say this?” His reply was,”I never thought I would win!”"

boards and signs (which had all three languages) the District Judge a Tamil Hon. Mr H.W.Thambiah asked Navaratne “ DO YOU REALISE THE MONSTER YOU ARE LETTING LOOSE?”

In 1976 Mr V. Prabhakaran shot the Mayor of Jaffna , Mr Alfred Dhuraippa, (a Tamil), thus creating the MILITARY ARM of the TULF- the Liberated Tigers of Tamil Elaam-LTTE- with the MISSION to divide the country!

Hate filled eyes

With the birth of the LTTE ,its members introduced suicide killers to the world, thus becoming the most powerful terrorist organization, and we all know about the subsequent thirty year war.It was also in 1976 visiting Jaffna with MRA films , we stayed with Mr Kadiravellupillai MP who was a follower of Gandhi and wished for non violent change. It was also in his house that I first saw a man with hate filled eyes. Having shown our films to 16 schools we realized that tensions were rising. On our return to Colombo Vijitha (Yapa) and  I visited the Leader of the Opposition Mr J.R. Jayawardene (UNP) and shared our thoughts. Mr Jayawardene asked,” What do you think I should do first?” “You must deal with this Tamil question first sir,” replied Vijitha.

In 1977 The UNP led by Mr Jayawardene won a landslide victory. He asked Vijitha to visit Jaffna and meet with their leaders. It took Vijitha three days to return to Colombo.By that time Mr “JR” had changed his mind. His priorities to build five river dams to introduce hydro power to the south as well as create employment opportunities, thus resulting in giving priority to economics, before the aspirations of the Tamil people.

I did not know it was so beautiful

During an MRA delegation visit to Jaffna in 1979, my nephews and another lad who accompanied us stayed at St John’s School Boarding.They saw written on the walls”Kill all the Sinhalese and drive them out of Jaffna” During the night they lit fire crackers and threw them under their beds. This was the first time the Sinhala boys witnessed ethnic hate. Rajmohan also in the delegation, asked my nephew, the next morning to speak to the 900 students attending our meeting. My nephew said, “This is the first time I have come to Jaffna, I did not know it was so beautiful. I will come again.” The boys cheered loudly. Many years later my nephew did go to Jaffna to serve as a medical doctor.

We are Freedom Fighters

In 1986 I accompanied a British woman writer to Jaffna. The LTTE cadres stopped us at midnight and demanded to see her passport. She asked them,”Who are you?” ‘We are the Freedom Fighters, we attacked the Killinochi Army post last night.” Yes, the tar on the road was hot and melting . They let us proceed. The LTTE was in control in Jaffna. We met our friends the next morning and gave them copies of “Which Way Sri Lanka?”

In 2002 & 2003 Lalana Yapa (Vijitha’s wife) visited Jaffna with her son Daminda who at the time was working on his architectural thesis which involved the restoration of the Jaffna Library, after being burned down by thugs from the South. Since there were no hotels ,for two weeks they stayed with two Tamil families in Jaffna and Point Pedro. While visiting and speaking to Tamil citizens in various parts they came to know how the people had suffered being harassed by the LTTE, not being allowed to use their own wells.

Apologised for the destruction of the Jaffna library

During a meeting with a History Professor Lalana apologized for the distruction of the Jaffna Library. He replied “You don’t need to apologise, for the LTTE destroyed my personal Library which had precious Ola Leaf Documents. He added that the LTTE did not want the Tamil people to be educated.

Rajmohan in Colombo

In 2010 we invited Shri Rajmohan & Usha Gandhi to visit Sri Lanka, at a time when most people were in a state of shock after an election where the opponent was arrested and locked up. We made arrangements for them to meet many people of significance,as well as meetings in Kandy and Colombo. Shri Rajmohan brought us words of healing as well as challenges for the next step forward and HOPE..

Soon after their visit we received the DVD “Two Boys and an Orange” a tool for Reconciliation which we have used through-out the country. It is a FLT Productions video which is followed by discussion & dialogue for young and old. In fact after showing it in a school in Killinochi where there was heavy bombing by both sides, one youth of 17 said, “If we had known about this method, we need not have had a war”

I would like to close with the message Rajmohan brought us about the HEALING we so needed.

They are the words of Abraham Lincoln :

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nations wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

A speech given by Ms Rohini de Mel at the Courage to Act Sessions held on January 11, 2012 at ASIA PLATEAU, Panchgani India as part of the ‘MAKING DEMOCRACY REAL IN ASIA’ Conference held from January 8 – 12, 2012

Rohini de Mel is a Philanthropist, photographer and author and lives in Colombo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Sinhala Only and SWRD: “I never thought I would win”

PERSONAL STORIES Rohini de Mel’s story of reconciliation and hope ‘I am a Sri Lankan and happen to be born a Sinhalese. Sri Lanka is a heterogeneous ...