The road to Independence

l by Walter Wijenayake

(February 04, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Today, February 4, 2012, we commemorate the 64th anniversary of the achievement of independence from colonialists.
We were under foreign domination for 443 years – 153 years of Portuguese settlement in the Maritime provinces (1505 to 1659) the Dutch for 138 years (1658 to 1796) and the British for 19 years (1796 to 1815) and again under the British for 133 years (the whole country), from 1815 to 1948, after the capitulation of the Kandyan Provinces and the signing of the Kandyan Convention on March 2, 1815 between the Governor, Sir Robert Brownrigg on behalf of the British monarch and the Principal chief of the Kandyan Province, on behalf of the inhabitants of the country.
It should be better to state here that the Nayakkar Kings from Malabar in South India ruled the Kandyan provinces since 1739. The British declared war on the Kandyan Kingdom and annexed on February 18, 1815 and deported the ex-king, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe and his family, to South India.On May 2, 1972, Ceylon became Sri Lanka. Since the time of the first king of the nation, the Sinhala King Vijaya, the resplendent country, thrice consecrated by the Buddha has a proud tradition and a recorded history of over 25 centuries.
The dynasty of Sinhala kings began with Vijaya, son of King Sinhabahu, when reigned in the kingdom of Lala, a kingdom near Magadha (Now Bihar) in North India and the mother was Sinha Sevali. The King Sinhabahu, finding his son Vijaya intolerable, banished him from his kingdom along with his followers who numbered around 700. The ship transporting them drifted in the sea and finally landed at Tammanna in the North-Western part of our country where Kuveni, a Yakkha tribe Princess, was reigning.
The Prince befriended this Princess and gradually became the master of the country. The neighbouring Yakkha chiefs were subdued and a capital named Tammenna Nuwara was built a few miles east of Puttalam. Vijaya was now in fact if not in name, the chief ruler of the country. We may therefore now begin to speak of him and his followers as the Sinhalese, the lion-race; for it will be remembered that the father of Prince Vijaya was Sinhabahu, the lion. The country itself afterwards took the conqueror’s name. It was called Sinhala-Dipa, the country of the Sinhala people.
No sooner he came to power, Vijaya rid himself of Kuweni and brought a princess from the South Indian city of Madura and ceremoniously crowned himself King and the princess, the Queen of Lanka.
After 38 years of reign in the country and after an year’s demise of the childless King Vijaya, his nephew, Prince Panduvasudeva, the son of his brother Sumitta came to the country and took over the kingdom and ruled from Upatissa Nuwara/Upatissa gama. He got married Baddakahchana, a Kastriya Princess from the Sakya clan, a relative of the Sakyamuni Siddhartha Gauthama Buddha.
Six of her brothers accompanied her, Rohana, Rama, Uruwela, Anuradha, Vijiha and Dighayu. These brothers, with the blessings of King Panduvasudeva, moved out and built their own settlements. Where Anuradha, the brothers of Queen Baddakahchana settled, became Anuradhapura, the city that later became the seat of the Kings of Sinhale for more than 14 centuries.
A formal announcement was made that February 4, 1948, would be the appointed day under the Independent Act, for the attainment of freedom of Sri Lanka. The Parliament of free Sri Lanka was opened by H. R. H. the Duke of Gloucester, at a historic ceremony, in a specially constructed Audience Hall at Independence Square on February 10, 1948, where the Independence Memorial now stands. Thus, began our journey once again as a free nation and a free people, after 443 years of foreign domination.
About this time also, the country was divided into three great provinces of which were I. Pihiti Rata or Raja Rata 2. Maya Rata 3. Ruhunu Rata, while the king reigned at Anuradhapura. Ruhunu and Maya reigned under two sub-kings who were invariably brothers or sons of the king. Since the Sinhalese kings were aware of the needs of the people whose main occupation was agriculture, they, with the advice and guidance of the Maha Sangha, developed the country, giving pride of place to agriculture.
Rivers were dammed and large reservoirs built to provide irrigation facilities for the vast land under paddy cultivation. The people were self sufficient in their food and other necessities and they found time to engage in religion, literature and cultural activities. However, the people of the country were disturbed from time to time by Chelas, Pandyans and Dravidiyans of South India who invaded the country and plundered its wealth.
As a result of these invasions, the Sinhalese Kings were compelled to shift the capital from Anurdhapura to Polonnaruwa and thereafter to several other places.
The arrival of the Europeans, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British in turn is another landmark in the history of the country. The Portuguese introduced Catholism by force and the natives were persuaded to embrace that religion and the converts were offered honorary ranks and high offices in the Government Services. Catholic churches were built and priests engaged in the propagation of the Catholic religion were rewarded. The Dutch, who followed them, followed the same procedure. The British, who took over the maritime provinces, fortified their position and the country was made a crown colony on January 1, 1802. Although the rites, the clergy and the places of worship of the Buddhists were to be maintained and protected in accordance with the fifth clause of the Kandyan Convention, it was not honoured by the British.
Having being presented to the British Parliament, in 1928, the Donoughmore Constitution came into operation in 1931. This Constitution granted Sri Lanka internal self-government, with an elected State Council and was largely characterised by attempts to introduce amendments later to the constitution, to further advance towards full self-government, in order to free the country from foreign domination.
Further, in addition to foreign domination, there arose another major unscrupulous, unseasonable crisis. It was when G. G. Ponnambalam, a leading lawyer at the time who contested the Mannar-Mullativu constituency and failed to win it, demanded ‘balanced representation’, which was not needed by the people in the legislature. He mentioned it as a ‘fifty-fifty demand’ and it was the foundation for the existing LTTE crisis based on the ‘State of Eela’ which led to the brutal assassination of thousands of youngsters in the country, without a cause.
Further, this so-called irresolvable crisis would not be soon an end, due to the power hungry politicians who came into power from time to time.
Later, organizations such as the Ceylon National Congress and National leaders such as D. S. Senanayake, F. R. Senanayake, Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Ponnambalam Arunachalam, James Peiris, D. B. Jayatilleke and A. E. Goonesinghe were clamouring for constitutional reforms with the object of securing for Sri Lanka the status of a self-government member of the British Empire and the right to elect their own representatives.
However, a Westminister type of Parliamentary system for this country with certain powers vested in the Governor and the British Parliament acting through its members, was recommended by the Soulbury Commission Report, published in October 1945. These reservations restricted the freedom of the country, to a certain extent.
The Ceylon National Congress, led by D. S. Senanayake, which with the Sinhala Maha Sabha, led by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, which merged later and became the United National Party formed in 1946, decided to work the Soulbury reforms, temporarily and to agitate for the removal of the factors which restricted the freedom of the people. After the General Election held in August-September 1947, under the Soulbury Constitution, D. S. Senanayake, the leader of the United National Party, which won the largest number of seats in Parliament, was elected as the Prime Minister and formed a government.
A formal announcement was made that February 4, 1948, would be the appointed day under the Independent Act, for the attainment of freedom of Sri Lanka. The Parliament of free Sri Lanka was opened by H. R. H. the Duke of Gloucester, at a historic ceremony, in a specially constructed Audience Hall at Independence Square on February 10, 1948, where the Independence Memorial now stands. Thus, began our journey once again as a free nation and a free people, after 443 years of foreign domination.
The Soulbury Constitution was abolished on May 22, 1972 and a new Republic of Sri Lanka was established under a new Constitution. The Republic Constitution was replaced by another similar Constitution in July 1977 and it still continues as the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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