( January 12, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) President Maithripala Sirisena vowed to protect the country in the face of modern avatars of foreign colonisation as the country commemorated 199 years since the Uva-Wellassa Freedom Struggle yesterday.
The ‘Uva Wellassa’ battle was termed as a ‘rebellion’ with those taking part in it termed as ‘traitors’ by the British. On January 10, 1818, Keppetipola Disawe and 18 others were declared traitors of the struggle.
Last year, UNP MP Buddhika Pathirana pointed out this injustice in Parliament and asked that this ruling to be overturned. This, in turn, led to the President directing Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe to gazette them as national heroes and freedom fighters.
“We have a problem in our country. We know that the modern era comes with new forms of colonisation. Moreover, the competition between world powers is something that has been present throughout history,” the President said.
“Given the geostrategic location of our country, we have always been an attractive prize for many world powers,” President Sirisena said at a function held at the BMICH yesterday.
“But today we cannot use Keppetipola’s sword or T-56 and multi-barrels. Today we need to use our knowledge and wisdom to move forward. I promise that I am always ready to take the country forward as a unitary and prosperous nation, despite any challenge,” the President added.
The President asked that the people come forward with constructive criticisms and solutions rather than problems in order for the country to move forward.
The President was also given a petition of 980 other names who were also declared as traitors by the British and asked that their names too be cleared.
Prof. K. N. O. Dharmadasa who delivered the main speech highlighted the friendship between Keppetipola and the Britisher Simon Sowers as an example of how complex human history can be.
“Keppetipola was fighting against the British but continued to be friends with Sowers to the end. Keppetipola had asked him to attend his execution which the former refused. The story highlights the important principles of Buddhism, of kindness and friendship which Keppetipola upheld.
Keppetipola who was one of the Kandyan officials who signed the Kandyan Convention and later worked for the British, it is said regretted his decision having realised that the British would never allow them to practice their religion, culture and way of life freely.
“He realised that self-rule was the only option. The struggle started when people think back and ask themselves if they did the right thing”, Prof Dharmadasa said.
“History needs to be looked at with all its human complexities. There were some who betrayed the people to the British in return for monetary benefits, some actually preferred to work under the British, then you have those like Keppetipola who turned around and fought and the people who protected their leaders”, observed Professor Dharmadasa.