« Une étude novatrice de Delon Madavan sur les minorités tamoules à Colombo, Singapour et Kuala Lumpur » par Éric Meyer

Delon Madavan a soutenu brillamment sa thèse de doctorat en géographie à l’Université de Paris-Sorbonne le 26 septembre 2013.

Le travail de Delon Madavan associe dans une même étude Asie du Sud-Est et du Sud. Cette démarche, trop rare dans l’univers cloisonné des études aréales, est particulièrement pertinente, s’agissant des minorités tamoules établies sur le pourtour du golfe du Bengale, aire de circulation « connectée » bien avant l’impact colonial britannique. La propension spécifique des populations tamoules à émigrer concerne un large spectre sociologique, allant des travailleurs manuels (les coolies) aux marchands et gens de mer, aux artisans, et plus récemment aux professionnels du secteur tertiaire maîtrisant la langue anglaise et les outils informatiques. Delon Madavan analyse parfaitement la complexité de ces populations, et pose d’emblée la question de la création et des limites d’une identité tamoule transcendant cette hétérogénéité. Il conclut à juste titre que « la communauté tamoule est avant tout une agrégation d’expériences individuelles »
Parmi les concepts utilisés, ceux d’appartenance ethnique et de diaspora retiennent l’attention. Delon Madavan, dans le premier chapitre puis dans la dernière partie de sa thèse, montre comment le sentiment d’appartenance se fonde sur l’usage et la célébration de la langue tamoule, sur la large diffusion d’un imaginaire commun par la production cinématographique de ‘Kollywood’, et plus récemment sur le culte de l’héroïsme et sur le rêve d’un État national développés par les militants séparatistes sri lankais. Il évoque aussi la place tenue par les stratégies d’alliance qui maintiennent la cohésion par des mariages croisés (sans toutefois surmonter les segmentations internes de caste en dépit des efforts des militants de la cause tamoule). Le terme de diaspora, tel qu’il est défini comme « applicable à toute communauté post-migratoire caractérisée par une dispersion dans plusieurs pays à partir d’un foyer d’origine », est utilisé à bon escient ; il gagnerait à être mis au pluriel, pour prendre en compte l’importance de la segmentation des communautés tamoules ; à cet égard, la diaspora issue de la ville de Jaffna, qui fonctionne en réseau de Colombo à Kuala Lumpur, Singapour, Londres, Toronto ou Paris, répond mieux à cette définition que les communautés de travailleurs tamouls des plantations de Sri Lanka et de Malaisie, qui ont pourtant des origines communes et des destins parallèles, mais n’ont pas conservé de liens.
L’étude est menée dans une perspective géographique, son objet étant d’analyser l’inscription dans l’espace urbain du fait ethnique. Les terrains choisis sont les quartiers tamouls de Colombo, Kuala Lumpur et Singapour, cités qui ont en commun d’être des créations coloniales mais que distinguent leur composition ethnique et leur évolution politique depuis les indépendances. La méthode comparative est utilisée par Delon Madavan comme un procédé heuristique qui permet de prendre du recul pour mieux comprendre les situations particulières. Le plan qui juxtapose et combine dans des grandes parties thématiques le cas des trois cités permet de mener une véritable comparaison .
En ce qui concerne la ville de Colombo, le travail est totalement novateur, en dépit des difficultés considérables inhérentes à toute recherche sur Sri Lanka, et plus particulièrement sur les Tamouls sri lankais, dans un contexte politique marqué par la guerre opposant le gouvernement aux militants séparatistes des LTTE (Tigres de Libération de l’Eelam Tamoul). Le choix de ne pas traiter de la période postérieure à la défaite militaire des séparatistes (mai 2009) est amplement justifié par l’exigence de sérieux qui distingue le temps du chercheur de celui du publiciste. Il n’existait jusqu’à cette thèse aucune étude sur les minorités tamoules de Colombo, ni même d’étude géographique ou sociologique de qualité scientifique concernant cette cité, sur laquelle l’auteur aurait pu s’appuyer, et les données statistiques au niveau local étaient difficiles d’accès. En outre, le climat de violence urbaine généralisée interdisait à Delon Madavan de mener une enquête ‘au fil des rues’ comme dans les autres capitales, d’autant que ses origines tamoules le rendaient potentiellement suspect aux yeux des autorités en dépit de sa nationalité française, et que sa posture de chercheur ne le mettait pas à l’abri des pressions des militants. L’auteur explicite les moyens qu’il a employés pour surmonter ces obstacles, et la thèse prouve à l’évidence qu’il est parvenu à relever le défi.
Les analyses qu’il propose, illustrées par une cartographie abondante et inédite d’excellente facture, donnent une image précise de ces communautés. Elle révèlent l’existence de deux espaces tamouls géographiquement et sociologiquement séparés, l’un au nord de la capitale (Kotahena) et l’autre au sud (Wellawatte, Dehiwela) ; et la genèse en deux temps de ces quartiers, d’abord à la période coloniale, Kotahena, situé à proximité du port, ayant accueilli les commerçants et les manœuvres indiens, et Wellawatte les fonctionnaires et membres des professons libérales anglophones venus de Jaffna ; puis à partir des années 1970, Kotahena servant de refuge aux ouvriers des plantations chassés par la politique de nationalisation (comme en Malaisie), et Wellawatte de refuge aux Jaffnais chassés du nord de l’île par le conflit. Il en résulte ce qu’on pourrait qualifier de paradoxe de Colombo : « malgré la guerre, Colombo devient [ou plutôt reste] le principal centre de convergence des flux migratoires qui transforment la géographie de la population dans la ville (…) La part des Tamouls y augmente considérablement alors que celle des Cingalais ne cesse de diminuer » – ce qui contribue à la tamoulophobie de la communauté majoritaire. Les interviews menées par l’auteur, dont des extraits bien choisis soutiennent la thèse, montrent que cette nouvelle migration est perçue comme temporaire (« ils sont à Colombo mais pas de Colombo »), que l’espace n’est pas approprié, que « le logement est perçu comme une adresse », et que l’arrivée des nouveaux migrants ne réinjecte pas de particularisme culturel.
Cette situation, qui distingue Colombo des deux autres cités étudiées, est sous-tendue par la politique discriminatoire du gouvernement sri lankais à l’égard des minorités tamoules. Les développements que l’auteur consacre à ce sujet témoignent d’une remarquable exigence d’objectivité scientifique et d’un détachement de tout discours victimaire, sans s’abstraire d’une empathie pour le destin tragique de ces communautés.
Les qualités de chercheur de Delon Madavan, son dynamisme et sa détermination, sont mises en évidence par cette étude, mais aussi par ses travaux antérieurs sur Jaffna, par l’organisation d’un colloque international sur les communautés tamoules et le conflit sri lankais en Sorbonne en février 2010, et par l’animation du présent carnet de recherche sur Sri Lanka et ses diasporas depuis mai 2012.
La nouveauté et la justesse des analyses, la qualité de l’écriture, de la cartographie et des illustrations, font de cette thèse une production scientifique de grande valeur qui mérite une large diffusion.

Eric Meyer, membre du jury de thèse, Professeur émérite, INALCO

PS: Cliquer pour lire le résumé de la thèse

Conférence de presse de Navi Pillai, Haut Commissaire des Nations Unies pour les Droits Humains

A l’issue d’une semaine de visite à Sri Lanka,où elle s’est entretenue notamment avec les familles des personnes disparues durant les années de violence qui ont traumatisé le pays, Navi Pillai, Haut Commisssaire des Nations Unies pour les Droits Humains, s’est adressée aux journalistes de la presse locale. Accusée à tort, en raison de ses origines tamoules, d’être à la solde des LTTE, la Sud-Africaine, l’une des juristes internationales les plus respectées, a porté un jugement sévère sur les dérives autoritaires du gouvernement et sur le comportement offensant de certains de ses membres, mais aussi sur l’attitude irresponsable d’une partie de la diaspora tamoule.
Nous publions in extenso son discours introductif, et invitons les lecteurs à consulter dans la presse les échanges avec les journalistes qui ont suivi.

Opening remarks by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at a press conference during her mission to Sri Lanka Colombo, 31 August 2013

Good morning, and thank you for coming.
As is customary at the end of official missions such as this, I would like to makesome observations concerning the human rights situation in the country.
During my seven-day visit, I have held discussions with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and senior members of the Government. These included the Ministers of External Affairs, Justice, Economic Development, National Languages and Social Integration, Youth Affairs and the Minister of Plantations Industries who is also Special Envoy to the President on Human Rights, as well as the Secretary of Defence. I also met the Chief Justice, Attorney-General, Leader of the House of Parliament and the Permanent Secretary to the President, who is head of the taskforce appointed to monitor the implementation of the report of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
I had discussions with politicians who are not part of the current Government, namely the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Tamil National Alliance; in addition I met with the National Human Rights Commission, and a total of eight different gatherings of human rights defenders and civil society organizations in Colombo, Jaffna and Trincomalee. I also received briefings from the Governors and other senior officials in the Northern andEastern Provinces.
I thank the Government for its invitation and its excellent cooperation during the planning and conduct of this very complex mission. It stated that I could go anywhere, and see anything I wished to see. And, despite some disturbing incidents which I will go into later, that commitment was honoured throughout.
Even though this is the longest official visit I have ever made to a single country, I am acutely conscious that I was unable to see everyone who requested a meeting. Nor will I be able to do justice to all the human rights issues facing the Sri Lankan people and government. Since I will be providing an oral update to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in late September, and a full written report in March next year, I will today confine myself to a few key issues that crystallized during the course of the mission.
I will divide these human rights issues into two parts: those related to the vicious and debilitating 27-year conflict between the Government and the LTTE, and its aftermath; and those that relate to the whole country.
Some media, ministers, bloggers and various propagandists in Sri Lanka have, for several years now, on the basis of my Indian Tamil heritage, described me as a tool of the LTTE. They have claimed I was in their pay, the “Tamil Tigress in the UN.” This is not only wildly incorrect, it is deeply offensive. This type of abuse has reached an extraordinary crescendo during this past week, with at least three Government Ministers joining in.
Firstly, let me say, I am a South African and proud of it.
Secondly, the LTTE was a murderous organization that committed numerous crimes and destroyed many lives. In fact, my only previous visit to Sri Lanka was to attend a commemoration of the celebrated legislator, peacemaker and scholar, NeelanTiruchelvam, who was killed by an LTTE suicide bomb in July 1999. Those in the diaspora who continue to revere the memory ofthe LTTE must recognize that there should be no place for the glorification of such a ruthless organization.
I would like to pay my respects to all Sri Lankans, across the country, who were killed during those three decades of conflict, and offer my heartfelt sympathy to their families, all of whom – no matter who they are –share one thing: they have lost someone they can never replace. I have met many people during this visit whose relatives or spouses – both civilians and soldiers –are known to have been killed, or who are missing and may well be dead.
It is important everyone realizes that, although the fighting is over, the suffering is not.
I have been extremely moved by the profound trauma I have seen among the relatives of the missing and the dead, and the war survivors, in all the places I have visited, as well as by their resilience. This was particularly evident among those scratching out a living among the ghosts of burned and shelled trees, ruined houses and other debris of the final battle of the war along the lagoon in Mullaitivu.
Wounds will not heal and reconciliation will not happen, without respect for those who grieve, and remembrance for the tens of thousands of Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims and others who died before their time on the battlefield, in buses, on the street, or in detention. As one wife of a missing man put it poignantly: “Even when we eat, we keep a portion for him.”
Throughout my visit, the authorities, at all levels, have been keen to demonstrate to me how much has been achieved in terms of resettlement, reconstruction and rehabilitation in the relatively short period since the conflict with the LTTE ended in 2009. And the reconstruction achievements, made with the help of donor countries, UN agencies and NGOs, are indeed impressive:in both the Eastern and Northern Provinces, large numbers of new roads, bridges, houses, medical facilities and schools have been built or rebuilt; electricity and water supplies have been greatly improved; and most of the landmines have been removed. As a result, the great majority of the more than 450,000 people who were internally displaced at the end of the conflict have now gone home.
These are important achievements, and I understand the Government’s concern that they have perhaps not been sufficiently recognized. However, physical reconstruction alone will not bring reconciliation, dignity, or lasting peace. Clearly, a more holistic approach is needed to provide truth, justice and reparations for people’s suffering during the war, and I have repeated my previous offer of OHCHR’s assistance in these areas.
There are a number of specific factors impeding normalization, which – if not quickly rectified – may sow the seeds of future discord. These are by and large to do with the curtailment or denial of personal freedoms and human rights, or linked to persistent impunity and the failure of rule of law.
From the very beginning, I have placed great hopes in Sri Lanka achieving true peace and reconciliation after the war. I welcomed the LLRC report as an important step in that direction, even though it side-stepped the much-needed full, transparent, impartial investigation into the conduct of aconflictthat saw numerous war crimes and other violations committed by both sides. The Human Rights Council has expressed a strong interest in seeing progress in the implementation of the most important LLRC recommendations, and proper investigation of the many outstanding allegations and concerns.
The LLRC report contains a broad range of excellent recommendations regarding concrete improvements on human rights, and I was interested to receive a briefing on the extent of the implementation of some of those recommendations from the Permanent Secretary to the President. My Office will closely examine that update and future developments in the implementation of the LLRC, and I will of course make reference to any genuine progress in my reports to the Human Rights Council.
I will now briefly outline some of the other issues that were raised during my visits to the Northern and Eastern Provinces, and which I have in turn raised with various ministers.
I welcome the forthcoming elections to the Northern Provincial Council and hope they will proceed in a peaceful, free and fair environment, and usher in an important new stage in the devolution of power.
I was concerned to hear about the degree to which the military appears to be putting down roots and becoming involved in what should be civilian activities, for instance education, agriculture and even tourism. I also heard complaints about the acquisition of private land to build military camps and installations, including a holiday resort.
This is only going to make the complex land issues with which the Government has been grappling even more complicated and difficult to resolve. Clearly, the army needs some camps, but the prevalence and level of involvement of soldiers in thecommunityseem much greater than is needed for strictly military or reconstruction purposes four years after the end of the war.
I understand the Secretary of Defence’s point that the demobilization of a significant proportion of such a large army cannot be done overnight, but urge the government to speed up its efforts to demilitarize these two war-affected provinces, as the continued large-scale presence of the military and other security forces is seen by many as oppressive and intrusive, with the continuing high level of surveillance of former combatants and returnees at times verging on harassment.
I was very concerned to hear about the vulnerability of women and girls, especially in female-headed households, tosexual harassment and abuse. I have raised this issue with several ministers, the provincial governors and senior military commanders who attended my meeting with the Secretary of Defence. I challenged them to rigorously enforce a zero tolerance policy for sexual abuse.
I have also been following up on the status of the remaining detainees and have urged the Government to expedite their cases, either by bringing charges or releasing them for rehabilitation. I also suggested it may now be time to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act which has long been cause for concern.
Because of the legacy of massive trauma, there is a desperate need for counseling and psychosocial support in the North, and I was surprised and disappointed to learn that the authorities have restricted NGO activity in this sector. I hope the Government can relax controls on this type of assistance.
I met many relatives of missing or disappeared civilians and soldiers who are still hoping to discover the whereabouts of their loved ones, and they emphasized theurgent need to resolve this issue – something that was made abundantly evident at the two very moving meetings with relatives of the disappeared that I attended yesterday, to commemorate the International Day of the Victims of Forced Disappearances.
I asked the Government for more information about the new Commission of Inquiry on Disappearances, and stressed the need for it to be more effective than the five previous commissions of this kind. I was disappointed to learn that it will only cover disappearances in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, which means that the many “white van” disappearances reported in Colombo and other parts of the country in recent years will not fall within its scope.
I urge the Government to broaden the Commission’s mandate, and seize this opportunity to make a comprehensive effort to resolve the disappearances issue once and for all. I therefore welcome the new proposal to criminalize disappearances in the penal code, and hope this will be done without delay. The Government could also send a clear signal of its commitment by ratifying the International Convention on Disappearances, and by inviting the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances to visit Sri Lanka, ideally before I report back to the Human Rights Council in March.
The Human Rights Council will also be looking to see something credible in terms of investigation of what happened at the end of the war and many other past cases.
I was pleased to learn that the case of the five students murdered on the beach in Trincomalee in 2006 has been reinvigorated by the arrest of 12 Police Special Task Force members known to have been in the vicinityat the time of the killings. I will be watching the progress of that case with interest, as well as the other infamous unsolved case of 17 ACF aid workers murdered in the same year, just a few kilometres to the south.
I also requested more information about the Courts of Inquiry appointed by the army to further investigate the allegations of civilian casualties and summary executions, and suggested that appointing the army to investigate itself does not inspire confidence in a country where so many past investigations and commissions of inquiry have foundered one way or another.Unless there is a credible national process, calls for an international inquiry are likely to continue.
The recent deployment of the military in support of police to control a demonstration in Welawariya, which resulted in at least three deaths, has sent a shockwave through the community. I stressed to the Defence Secretary the need to urgently complete and publish a proper investigation into this incident.
Too many other investigation files remain pending, for instance the custodial deaths of prisoners in Vavuniya and Welikada Prisons in 2012. The Government has since announced police powers will now be transferred from the Ministry of Defence to a new Ministry of Law and Order, but this is at best a partial separation as both Ministries will remain under the President, rather than under a separate civilian ministry.
I have also reminded the Government that Sri Lanka desperately needs strong witness and victim protection legislation, which has been languishing in draft form since 2007.
I expressed concern at the recent surge in incitement of hatred and violence against religious minorities, including attacks on churches and mosques, and the lack of swift action against the perpetrators. I was surprised that the Government seemed to downplay this issue, and I hope it will send the strongest possible signal of zero tolerance for such acts and ensure that those responsible (who are easily identifiable on video footage) are punished.The Minister of National Languages and Social Integration told me that he has proposed new legislation on hate speech. We have recently concluded a study of such laws and would be happy to assist in this area.The same Minister, along with the Minister of Justice, expressed to me his support for a visit by the Independent Expert on Minorities, and I hope this can happen as soon as possible. I also applaud the Government’s policy of introducing tri-lingualism all across the country.
I would now like to turn to a disturbing aspect of the visit, namely the harassment and intimidation of a number of human rights defenders, at least two priests, journalists, and many ordinary citizens who met with me, or planned to meet with me. I have received reports that people in villages and settlements in the Mullaitivu area were visited by police or military officers both before and after I arrived there inTrincomalee, several people I met were subsequently questioned about the content of our conversation.
This type of surveillance and harassment appears to be getting worse in Sri Lanka, which is a country where critical voices are quite often attacked or even permanently silenced. Utterly unacceptable at any time, it is particularly extraordinary for such treatment to be meted out during a visit by a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. I wish to stress that the United Nations takes the issue of reprisals against people because they have talked to UN officials as an extremely serious matter, and I will be reporting those that take place in connection with this visit to the Human Rights Council.
I urge the Government of Sri Lanka to issue immediate orders to halt this treatment of human rights defenders and journalists who face this kind of harassment and intimidation on a regular basis. More than 30 journalists are believed to have been killed since 2005, and several more – including the cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda¬– have disappeared. Many others have fled the country. Newspaper and TV offices have been vandalized or subjected to arson attacks – some, such as the Jaffna-based paper Uthayan, on multiple occasions. With self-censorship fuelled by fear, journalists report that there are articles that they dare not write, and others their editors dare not print. Freedom of expression is under a sustained assault in Sri Lanka. I have called for the right to Information Act to be adopted like many of its neighbours in SAARC.
The war may have ended, but in the meantime democracy has been undermined and the rule of law eroded. The 18 th amendment, which abolished the Constitutional Council which once recommended appointments to the independent bodies, such as the Elections Commission and Human Rights Commission, has weakened these important checks and balances on the power of the Executive. The controversial impeachment of the Chief Justice earlier this year, and apparent politicization of senior judicial appointments, have shaken confidence in the independence of the judiciary.
I am deeply concerned that Sri Lanka, despite the opportunity provided by the end of the war to construct a new vibrant, all-embracing state, is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction.
Ending on a more optimistic note, yesterday, at the Government’s suggestion, I visited the Youth Parliament. This unusual institution, founded in 2010, is filled with bright, enthusiastic students from all across the country, and dedicated to a tolerant and all-inclusive approach. The parliament draws on elected members of youth groups who meet once a month to discuss key issues such as the importance of Amendment 13 to the Constitution and the LLRC (indeed they claim they actually debated the latter before the National Parliament).
I hope that the current and future members of the Youth Parliament, three of whom delivered excellent speeches in my presence, will, when they graduate to the main political stage, usher in a new era of tolerant coexistence in this beautiful island, where – despite the problems I have listed above – I have been greeted with great warmth and hospitality.
Thank you.
ENDS

For further information or media requests please contact Rupert Colville (+ 41 79 506 10 88 / rcolville@ohchr.org )

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L’armée sri lankaise réprime violemment une manifestation pacifique

L’armée sri lankaise déployée dans des localités proches de Colombo, à Weliweriya, a réprimé très violemment (3 morts selon les sources officielles, plusieurs dizaines de blessés) une manifestation pacifique de villageois cingalais se plaignant qu’une usine locale de gants de caoutchouc ait cessé de traiter ses effluents toxiques, rendant ainsi l’approvisionnement d’eau de la zone impropre à la consommation. Le frère du Président, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, est tenu pour responsable de cette répression menée par les unités qui ont écrasé les LTTE en mai 2009. De nombreux observateurs notent que ces violences interviennent exactement trente ans après les massacres anti-tamouls de juillet 1983 qui sont à l’origine de la guerre civile qui a ensanglanté le pays, ajoutent que cette fois le gouvernement s’en prend à des Cingalais et risque de perdre l’appui de la majorité que lui avait valu sa victoire sur les LTTE.

Lire à ce sujet : http://groundviews.org/2013/08/02/weliweriya-gampaha-black-thursday-2013/

« Le Trésor » (Nidhanaya) retrouvé

Le chef d’oeuvre cinématographique de Lester James Peries, Nidhanaya (Le Trésor), présenté en 1972 et dont il n’existait que des copies usagées, va pouvoir être restauré, grâce à un double du négatif retrouvé au service des archives cinématographiques nationales indiennes de Pune, alors que l’exemplaire conservé à Sri Lanka était gravement détérioré. Ce film avait obtenu le Lion d’Argent à la Mostra de Venise en 1972. Sous-titré en français, il a été présenté à plusieurs reprises en France par la Cinémathèque et au festival de Deauville (2001), ainsi qu’à la télévision, et figure parmi les films étudiés dans les écoles françaises de cinéma. Il s’agit du plus original et du plus achevé des films du grand réalisateur sri-lankais, qui vient de fêter ses 94 ans.
On peut lire le récit de cette redécouverte dans http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/19565

« On the specificity and relevance of Sri Lanka in the history of modern South Asia » by Eric Meyer, Inalco, Paris

This unpublished paper was read at the International conference on Sri Lanka, Peradeniya, 23-25 February 1998.

There has been and still is an ‘insular’ tendency among historians of Sri Lanka (especially those writing on the ‘modern’ period), who often take it for granted that historical developments in the island are strongly specific and little connected with those of the rest of South Asia, except in the remote past or during short periods usually depicted as traumatic. In that respect historians (and in some measure other social scientists) inherited a colonial approach which insisted on the specificity of Ceylon. On the other hand, historians of the Indian subcontinent have hardly paid any attention to the island, implicitly recognizing its separatedness, or possibly considering it as an minor appendix unworthy of study. It is significant that when the Economic and Political Weekly (Febr 17, 1996, pp. 395-398) published a previous paper of mine on the comparative history of Sri Lanka and India during the modern period, they chose to add a caption of their own which read thus: « A comparative history of India and Sri Lanka reveals that there is more to be gained by recognizing the specificity of historical developments in Sri Lanka rather than by regarding it as a microcosm of India » – which was not exactly what I had in mind when writing that paper – And when the Lanka Guardian shortly aferwards reproduced it on their own initiative, they retained that caption as a matter of course.
Before revisiting and revising for the conference some of the arguments developed in that paper, I thought it useful to briefly review a few well known general histories of both countries, and to explore the reasons behind these enduring representations.

The standard History of India originally published under the British raj by V.A. Smith (Oxford, 1919), regularly reprinted and revised afterwards, is quite explicit on the matter: « Ceylon, although geologically a fragment detached from the peninsula in relatively recent times, always has had a distinct political existence, requiring separate historical treatment, and its affairs will not be discussed in this work, except incidentally » (1958 ed. p. 1). Smith actually uses Ceylon historical data to discuss the chronology of ancient India (one of his major concerns), and for the rest treats the island as a foreign country visited by Mahinda, Fa Xian, Indian, Greco-Roman, and later Portuguese traders, and occasionnally invaded by South Indian armies; there is not a single mention of Ceylon after the 16th century, not even of its annexation first by the East India Company, then by the British Crown.
V.A. Smith’s guidelines were implicitely adopted by well known Indian nationalist historians such as R.C. Majumdar (An advanced history of India , 1946, with subsequent revised editions). Although the theorician of a ‘Greater India’ in the 1930’s, Majumdar significantly enough does not include Sri Lanka in his study of what he calls ‘Indian colonies’ which he restricts to South East Asia countries (see for example his treatment of maritime trade where « commercial intercourse with China, the hellenic world, Ceylon, and Farther (sic) India » are on the same level (1978 ed., p. 129). In the other allusions to the island (starting with the Ramayana myth), Sri Lanka is always represented as a far off country. And it disappears after the 17th century. Smith and Majumdar’s biasses could be attributed to their focussing on North India. But take Nilakanta Sastri’s own Advanced history of India (1970): although the author of a classical History of South India, and a contributor to S. Paranavitana’s History of Ceylon vol 1 (1959, part. repr. 1993) with valuable chapters on South India, he does not devote to the history of Sri Lanka more significant developments than his predecessors – except to mention the problem of stateless Tamils after independence.
Romila Thapar’s History of India (vol I) first published in 1966 was undoubtedly the best informed and most perceptive general study of ancient India, and remains so in its revised version published in 2003 under the title Ancient India. Out of the 14 occurrences of ‘Ceylon’, one mentions the Ramayana as proof of the Arya penetration in the Peninsula, two associate Ceylon with Burma and other South East Asian countries as strongholds of Theravada Buddhism, one notes the importance of the Pali canon recorded in Ceylon together with Chinese writings as sources on Indian Buddhism; two point to the foreign relations between the Mauryan and Gupta empires with Ceylon; two deal with trade across the Bay of Bengal and put Ceylon and Burma on the same level; and the rest concern the relations (wars or alliances) between the Pandyas, the Cholas, the Pallavas and Ceylon (note the use of the term Ceylon and not the Sinhalas). In volume 2 of the same history by Percival Spear, Ceylon is practically absent: when dealing in three pages with the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean, the author never mentions their presence in Ceylon; the Dutch merchants fare a little better with two occurrences, and the English merchants with one. Afterwards, the island altogether vanishes from the picture as if it was never taken over by the British, nor emancipated from them, just to reappear together with Nepal and Burma as a country with which Nehru’s India relations « were not always happy » (sic).
Finally turning to American histories with a political science outlook, Stanley Wolpert’s New History of India (Oxford University Press, 1977) almost totally ignored Sri Lanka until Tamil Eelamists forced their way into its third edition (1989), compelling the author to belatedly admit that « India’s importance to Sri Lanka the tiny independent island suspended like a tear below Tamilnadu (sic) has always been enormous » (p. 431). One may speculate that a future revision will recognise that the importance of Sri Lanka to Rajiv Gandhi’s India was also significant.

The long standing Indian representation of Sri Lanka as a very distant country has certainly been fostered by the Ramayana myths, by the negative image of the sea-to-cross in the brahminical views (even in the Mahavamsa myths travel by air was preferred…), and by the northern origins of all these cultural traditions, including Buddhism. Other well known interconnected factors must have been at work, such as the fact that cultural links with North India vanished after Buddhism disappeared from Bengal, and that the empires centered in the Ganges valley, the Panjab or northern Deccan never extended to Sri Lanka.
Descriptive historical/geographical writing in/on India was until the XIXth century little valued and hardly practiced among Indian literati. It was generally left to outsiders from the West, Al Biruni (XIth century) being among the first and most brilliant: for them, developments in Sri Lanka were hardlyrelevant: what they constructed as ‘events’ was only what happened in the area between central Asia, Persia, Bengal and northern Deccan. The Southern part of the peninsula was seen as the locus of culture rather than history.
When the British established their raj first in Bengal and afterwards in the rest of India, they upheld that tradition for intellectual as well as practical reasons: orientalists such as William Jones (and the Frenchman Anquetil-Duperron before him) opened the field of Indian/sanskrit studies through Persian; and their successors such as Bopp and Max Müller were busy establishing or imagining Indo-European links rather than considering South Asia as a linguistic area by itself. On the other side, utilitarians such as James Mill were mainly interested in studying the predecessors of the British with a view to legitimise the new raj as the triumph of civilisation over barbarism. They complained of the lack of historical material for their reconstruction, attributing it to the mythical mentality of the Indians which they condemned as primitive. They adopted a periodisation which overstressed the advent of Islam and the British take over, and a geo-strategical approach which focussed on the North-west frontier and secondarily on the Indian Ocean, leaving the South of India and South East Asia as dark corners to be studied by locals (and in the case of Ceylon, to be administered by the Colonial Office).
On the other hand, the orientalist reconstruction of the history of Buddhism starting with Eugène Burnouf in the 1840s was a long drawn-out affair, which soon followed a specific course with the extensive use of Chinese, Tibetan and other Central Asian material. Contrary to Indian Brahmins, Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka were always as keen to preserve written records as their Chinese, Tibetan, Siamese and Burmese brothers, for a variety of reasons among which uncertainty about the survival of the Sangha is commonly stressed. There was a wealth of documents, contrasting with the dearth of evidence as regards India which historians had to cope with. The western production of knowledge about Buddhism and its history therefore adopted a multicentric view which may have reinforced the distinctiveness between India and Sri Lanka.
When Indian historians such as R.C. Dutt and R.C. Majumdar undertook to emancipate themselves from the British influence, they actually retained an ‘All-India’ representation which fitted with their nationalist outlook, and tended to underplay regional specificities. After Independence, historians of the ‘Aligarh school’ who recovered the history of Mughal India similarly sustained a north-indocentric view, and marxist historians focussing on socio-economic systems were more interested in aggregates than in specifics.
With the development of regional studies especially since the late 1960s, and the growing influence of the school of ‘Subaltern studies’ in the Indian intellectual landscape in the 1980s (which are contemporary with the crisis of the central state in India), the stage was set for a reappraisal of specifics. But as yet the outlook with a few exceptions remains indo-centric and turned inwards, as if an interest in comparative history could be interpreted as an interference with the affairs of an independent state.

If we now turn to the historians of Sri Lanka, the picture is apparently quite different: most of them have an acute awareness of the importance of India; but at the same time most of them stress separatedness from the so-called big brother – or rather the big ma-bap . They tend to historicise it by admitting close contacts in earlier periods and denying them in later times.
An exception to that tendency is found in the works of G.C. Mendis, who first developed the theme of Ceylon as ‘a miniature of India’. Mendis had a fair knowledge of Indian historiography and Indian historians, as well as a deep interest in the first fifty years of British rule in the island. For example in his widely read Ceylon today and yesterday, first published in 1957 and revised in 1963, he devotes several pages to sketch the political and cultural relations between the two countries, and insists that these relations had always been much closer than the relations between Ceylon and South East Asia and between India and South East Asia; according to him, Sri Lanka was culturally ‘a unit of India’ until the 16th century (p. 29 of the 1963 ed.). He nicely delineates the slow and progressive de-linkage of Sri Lanka from India: first the development of Muslim states in North India and the Deccan would have cut Sri Lanka from the great northern tradition, then Portuguese and Dutch rule in Sri Lanka would have distended links with South India and limited the Islamic influences, without however deeply affecting the Indian characteristics in its culture and social organisation. According to him it is paradoxically when both Sri Lanka and India were under the British rule that the gulf widened between them, notably as the result of the so-called Colebrooke-Cameron reforms (1833).
After Mendis, the emphasis is put on growing specificity rather than on enduring similarity. The standard History of Ceylon volume I of the University of Peradeniya edited by S. Paranavitana (1959, partly reprinted in 1993), devotes extensive developments to the religious and political history of India, but in juxtaposition to rather than in combination with the history of the island: the authors of these chapters (among whom are R.C. Majumdar and Nilakanta Sastri) are not familiar with Sri Lanka. In that work and in its shorter version (C.W. Nicholas and S. Paranavitana, A Concise History of Ceylon, 1961), the relations with India in the earlier periods of Ceylon history are depicted as a great heritage from the North, while their role during the so-called ‘period of decline’ is represented as destructive, or at best as introducing from South India a less valuable ‘little tradition’.
In the volume II of the Peradeniya History of Sri Lanka edited by K.M. de Silva in 1995, relations with the continent are not dismissed as irrelevant, but the focus is more on the history of the Portuguese in India and on the history of maritime trade in the Indian ocean than on the relations with inland India. In the index the 46 entries on Goa contrast with 17 entries on Tanjore, a single entry on Madurai, the absence of Vijayanagar and only 2 entries on the Mughal Empire.
Volume III covering the ‘British period’ appeared much earlier in 1973. K.M. de Silva wrote the opening and closing chapters of the book, on the two periods during which the question of the links with India arose (the first and the last years of the raj). He stresses(p. 11) that the importance of Trincomalee for the control of India which appeared vital at the start to the British policy makers (Pitt and Dundas) soon receded in the background after Nelson’s victories; but the interest in a comparative study in the historical evolution of both countries seems to recede as well. In his own History of Sri Lanka (1981), K.M. de Silva shifts the emphasis towards the inside history of the island, and attributes the delinkage, contrary to the wishes of Wellesley, to the failure of the experiment to administer Ceylon from Madras with South Indian methods and agents, especially in the matter of fiscal policy. India reappears during the last phase of the British raj, with a few pages contrasting the courses taken by the Indian and Ceylonese national movements, and interpreting the nomination of a Ceylon Government representative in New Delhi in 1943 as proof of the emancipation of Ceylon from the British tutelage in diplomatic matters, rather than as a guarantee that the island would not be included in an Indian confederation.
*

The resilience of Buddhism in Sri Lanka as compared with its extinction in India, the length of the colonial impact in the coastal areas of the island, and the apparently smooth transition to independence in Ceylon have usually been stresssed as the major distinguishing factors between the island and the sub-continent. But there are other particular features more or less linked with them, such as the taxation structure, the extension of the plantation system, the impact of Roman-Dutch law on society, the early development of communications and education, etc., which are no less important. On the other hand, the severance of the links between the two countries since the XVIth century has been generally overemphasized and has led to underestimate certain elements of continuity in migration patterns or socio-religious influences and behaviour.

The beginnings of the modern period in Sri Lanka are signalled by the rise of the maritime trade from the XIVth century onwards under the impulse of Muslim merchants. The next phase involved the expansion of the European demand for spices (a market eventually captured by the Portuguese in the XVIth century). The development of coconut and arecanut cultivation, cinnamon peeling, gem digging and pearl diving provided important export resources for new States which came into existence along the western coast in interaction with South-west India, such as the kingdom of Kotte. The west-east routes of trade linking Sri Lanka with the Middle East and Europe on one side, South East Asia and the Far East on the other, became more important than the north-south axis linking the island with the peninsula. But south Indian groups especially from Kerala such as weavers, fishers and agricultural labourers continued to trickle in and were integrated into the caste system of the Sinhalese if they settled in the South-West.
After the annexation of Kotte and of Jaffna by the Portuguese, the channels of exchange with India were kept open by the new Sinhala kingdoms established in the interior at Sitawaka and Kandy. Even under the Dutch who expelled the Portuguese in the middle of the XVIIth century and attempted to cut Kandy from access to the coasts, the Indian connection was maintained through the north and east. The Kandyan kings married princesses from Madurai and in the XVIIIth century a Nayakkar dynasty of South Indian (telugu) origin came to power in the highlands. As protectors of the Sangha, these rulers played an important role in the revival of Buddhism. By the end of the XVIIIth century however, they were finally cut from the mainland by the British conquest, and their authoritarianism intensified by the British intrigues made them unpopular.
The establishment by the successive European powers of a system of direct rule in the coastal regions left a deep imprint on the economy, society and institutions, which distinguished Sri Lanka from India and brought it closer to the Javanese experience, especially under the Dutch. The island was integrated, together with Kerala and the Indonesian archipelago, into a network which linked it with the world market of agricultural products, whereas the larger part of India under the Mughals was the major world centre of textile manufacture and exports. As a result, Ceylon was much more dependent on a limited range of products over which it had no control. The Salagama, a South Indian weaver caste turned into cinnamon peelers, produced under a system of compulsory labour the main article of export, which was exceedingly profitable for the Dutch Company. But these profits were imperilled by frequent revolts encouraged by the Kandyan authorities.
In areas controlled by the Dutch, the Roman civil law was imposed much earlier and more efficiently than under the British in India. Individual land rights became the rule, instead of the traditional undivided rights in a family share of the village land. Personal and familial law tended to erode status hierarchies, although the Dutch recognised the hegemony of high caste Goyigama and bestowed honorific titles upon their headmen, the so-called Mudaliyar of the Low country, who formed a kind of landed gentry. The courts of law became the focal point of public life, and a class of lawyers, generally recruited among the Burghers of Dutch or mixed descent, became very influential. Together with the Mudaliyar, they formed the backbone of a new élite in the XVIIIth century. The early development of western education ensured the continuing power of these groups imbued with a colonial and urban culture, to an extent which is not found in any XVIIIth century European settlement in India.
As a result, at the turn of the XIXth century, when the British took over from the Dutch, western influence was by no means a new thing in Sri Lanka. What the British did was to extend it to the interior and generally make it more pervasive. Unlike in India, they had not to deal with the legacy of a vast imperial system, nor with the dynamism of an autonomous trade economy, nor with the intricacies of a highly caste-conscious peasant society. While they returned Indonesia to the Dutch after the Napoleonic wars, they reinforced their control on Ceylon between 1796 and 1815, because of the strategic value of its ports (Trincomalee, Galle) for ruling the South Indian coasts. But as soon as they found themselves unpopular as a result of a succession of political mistakes, they delinked the Ceylon administration from that of Madras and made it a separate Crown Colony. Afterwards the British undertook to rule the island like any other colony, with administrators who had made their careers in Africa, South East Asia or the Caribbean rather than in India; but a glance at the biography of Ceylon civil servants suggests that many of them were the sons, brother or cousins of Company servants and officers of the Indian army. Moreover, the British could not ignore that Ceylon, with its ancient civilisation deeply influenced by India, was not just another « sugar island » which they could fill with slaves or coolies and govern at will.
Instead of transforming Kandy into a tributary ‘princely’ state as so many upland areas of India, they attempted to conquer it in 1803: the war ended in failure. They then added fuel to court intrigues so as to destabilise a young king, until then rather popular, and eventually succeeded in annexing the kingdom in 1815. The cession was recognized by the aristocracy and the Sangha in a written convention by which the British undertook to protect the Kandyan traditions and privileges, including State protection of the Sangha – a very uncommon feature in South Asia. But the Kandyans were soon disillusionned and in 1817-1818 they joined en masse a rebellion stirred up by the appearance of a pretender. This rebellion can be compared to the great upheaval of 1857-1858 in India, in that it involved people who had lost faith in the fairness of the raj. But there are also obvious differences: it flared immediately and not long after the annexation; and its repression weakened the Kandyan aristocracy to such an extent that it could never recover. While the British chose after the Mutiny to come to terms with traditional forces and pamper the princes, in early XIXth century Ceylon, where they felt the legitimacy of their rule to be more secure, they did not hesitate to foster the missionaries and openly denounce the contents of the Kandyan convention by severing the links between the State and the Sangha. The missionaries gave a major impulse to the development of English medium education in Colombo, Jaffna and to a lesser extent Kandy and Galle, and they insured the formation of an anglicised elite conforming to the program proclaimed in India by Bentinck and Macaulay.
But an exclusive focus on the elite, which has been a general tendency in the historiography of modern Sri Lanka, leaves in its shadow deeper enduring features in the ‘subaltern’ stratas of society, which can be glimpsed at in the works of social anthropologists. The study of popular upheavals such as the 1817-18 rebellion and subsequent pretender appearances, the analysis of ‘mentalités’, of medical and bodily practices, the history of religious revivalist movements, of rituals and pilgrimages (such as Kataragama), now a major field of research in India, have not received in Sri Lanka a comparable attention. A better knowledge would probably show more time continuity and more space proximity with India than usually made out.

The economic strategies developed by the British in the early XIXth century were parallel in both countries. They aimed at dismantling the impediments to free enterprise. Until 1832, the East India Company retained the cinnamon monopoly and manipulated prices to suit its interests on the continent. The Colebrooke-Cameron commission of enquiry pointed out this anomaly and on the basis of its report the monopoly was abolished together with the corvée system which supposedly hindered the development of free enterprise, while private appropriation of uncultivated land was encouraged shortly afterwards. These measures enabled European adventurers and speculators to lay hands more easily than in India on a substantial part of the highlands and open coffee estates; but the reluctance of the local villagers to accept working conditions akin to slave labour led the planters to attract coolies from Tamilnadu, first on a temporary basis, and later when tea replaced coffee as the major crop, as permanent labourers.
At that stage, the evolution of Ceylon radically deviated from that of India, in spite of similarities with some regions of the sub-continent such as Assam, Coorg and Travancore. The strength of the plantation economy model was such that when the coffee estates were abandoned in the 1880’s as a result of a leaf disease and of South American competition, the island was so dependent on that system that tea was promptly adopted as a substitute, soon followed by rubber. Contrary to a common view, the plantation and the subsistence sectors did not operate in watertight compartments but were linked, so that any crisis in one sector affected the other. Enterprise was by no means limited to Europeans: in the latter part of the XIXth century, Ceylonese invested in estates (especially coconut) the wealth amassed in their indirect involvement in the plantation economy: between 1868 and 1906, 72 per cent of the land areas sold by the Crown were acquired by non-Europeans. The estates eventually provided a large amount of various resources to the local population: regular employment in coconut and rubber estates, casual employment on tea plantations; arrack, coir and latex manufacture; carpentry and wood products; transport, building, trade in agricultural produce, and derived activities in towns and roadside markets. The rising standard of living on the island at the beginning of the XXth century stood in clear contrast with the continuing subsistence crises on the continent and contributed to attract Indian immigrants whose numbers eventually exceeded that of the indigenous Tamils of the North and East.
The colonial state backed the planters’ interests because its budget depended on custom duties paid by that sector. For want of a survey and settlement on Indian lines, the administration was unable to lay the basis for a general land tax. The only taxation based on agricultural production was the very unpopular paddy tithe, levied by tax farmers or commuted to a fixed payment, which was finally abolished in 1892. This is in obvious contrast with India, where the taxation of agricultural produce was the mainstay of the budget and a decisive factor in the development of rural discontent and of the nationalist movement.
The ‘plantocracy’ was very influent in government circles just as in ‘sugar islands’ (at the beginning civil servants were quite often involved in the planting industry, and later, the Planter’s Association became the most powerful lobby in the country). They successfully agitated for cheap land, public roads for their private use and an abundant supply of cooly labour. The government devoted a substantial part of its budget and of the labour provided by poll tax commuters to the building of roads and later railways in the plantation areas. It promulgated in 1840 an ordinance proclaiming as Crown Land any uncultivated or irregularly cultivated land (such as by slash-and-burn cultivators) for which nobody could furnish a written grant, and sold it for a song to the prospective planters. When these Crown lands became scarce, European and Ceylonese middlemen entered the game and prompted the villagers to part with the remaining lands. A new legislation establishing a system of land settlement failed to arrest land alienation, which restricted the living space available for village subsistence cultivation. Moreover, indiscriminate deforestation by plantations led to soil erosion and silting of paddy fields, drying of springs, scarcity of fuel wood, and scarcity of grazing grounds for cattle. Thus landhunger and environmental problems in Ceylon were much more the result of plantation expansion than in India, where agrarian relations were closely intertwined with the various taxation systems.

The supply of stable and obedient South Indian cooly labourers, very often from untouchable castes, was ensured through the activity of kanganies, usually elder labourers who were given advances by the planters to recruit new workers whom they controlled through indebtedness (and not under an indenture system like longer distance migration to Mauritius and the Caribbean): in that respect only, Indian as well as Ceylonese colonial authorities considered that Sri Lanka belonged to India as much as Assam. The travel and working conditions were appalling until the end of the XIXth century, when the conversion to tea and the intervention of the colonial authorities slightly improved the situation. From 1901 onwards, population growth was more rapid than elsewhere in South Asia; until the 1930s, the continuing immigration of Indians, either supervised by the planters, or spontaneous (notably in urban employment) was an important contributing factor. A comparative study of Indo-Lankan migrations in the long term would probably suggest that there was more continuity than commonly supposed with the movements of the pre-plantation period, when at the request of the kings, the aristocracy and the monasteries, coolies and skilled workers came over to work in the fields and the workshops of the Kotte and Kandy kingdoms. The big difference during the British period was that the new masters openly discouraged the integration of the immigrant workers in the local rural society, and eventually decided to organise their mobility to suit their own needs. The final turning point occurred in 1939-1940, when India decided to ban the free flow of migration to and from Ceylon in retaliation for discriminating measures against Indian workers in Government employment in the wake of the great depression.
In the British imperial system centered on India, Ceylon occupied a marginal place, but the economic links with the continent were significant, through the activities of the same banks, managing agencies and export-import firms. Indian businessmen were present in the rural credit market (the Nattukottai Chettiar from South India), the rice and the textile trade (the Borah and the Sindhi from Western India) and the retail of imported goods (Muslim merchants from Kerala). Their competition was resented by the Sinhala traders, especially the Karava from the west coast, and contributed to tensions including severe anti-muslim riots in 1915. Communal violence was until then almost unknown in Sri Lanka, and in any case less common than in India. The 1915 events, caused by conflicting economic interests as much as religious differences, were a portent of things to come.
The exclusive emphasis on plantation agriculture led to the neglect of peasant subsistence agriculture. Paddy cultivation suffered from the lack of concern for irrigation and the abolition of corvée labour by which the reservoirs and channels used to be cleared and repaired. Any attempt at restoring the hydraulic works of the dry zone was foiled by the persistence of malaria until the 1940’s, and the competition in the town and plantation rice market of cheap paddy produced in India and Burma. Even the abolition of the paddy tax in 1892 did not substiantally improve the condition of the subsistence peasantry, nor increase rice productivity. As a similar stagnation occurred in the heavily taxed paddy producing areas of eastern India (in contrast with the development of Punjabi agriculture), the responsibility of the plantation system on one side, and the zamindar system on the other, are probably not the only factors responsible.

There is a tendency to overstress the rationality of the British raj in South Asia. Recent research has shown that there was a large amount of improvisation, expediency and contradictions in the colonial practice both in India and Ceylon. But in the latter country the authorities had at their disposal a much denser network of civil servants, better communications and information systems, and therefore more efficient tools to impose their policy. The nationalist answer to British raj has been constructed as the major trend in XXth century India’s history, until some Cambridge-based historians started to question that exclusive emphasis on the basis of local level studies in political mobilisation. In comparison, Sri Lanka’s path to freedom has usually been described as relatively smooth, uneventful, and rather parochial: but if the emphasis is put on India’s regional and not national history, the difference is less obvious.
In both countries there was an attempt by a section of the British administration in the second half of the XIXth century to restore the authority of the traditional elites. The services due to temples and to Kandyan chiefs were registered and caste hierarchies were acknowledged by some officials, especially in Jaffna (although they were never recognised in censuses as in India). A conservative brand of Buddhism was encouraged and an attempt at ‘moralising’ social practices was made by condemning polyandry, and exposing corruption in the administration of temple properties. The decay of the Kandyan aristocracy was attributed to alcoholism (which the British had themselves fostered by encouraging the opening of taverns up-country for fiscal reasons), and Government Agents, like Revenue Officers in rural India, imagined they could restore the ‘natural leaders’ of the people to their former position.
At the same time the dynamism of the westernised low-country élite was censured exactly like that of its Bengali counterpart. Its economic success was condemned as speculative and exploitative of the peasantry, and its pretensions to represent the nation were denounced as unauthentic. Its members were barred from access to the higher administrative posts while at the same time English missionary schools and the professions were liberally open to these so-called ‘brown sahibs’. Members of this new bourgeoisie were ethnically diverse and divided into rival coteries, but had much in common: English was their second or often first language, coconut or rubber property their favourite investment, law or possibly medicine the career to which they destined their children.
As in India (and more especially Bengal), religious revivalist movements were started by members of the élite in an attempt to counter missionary influence in education. As early as the middle of the XIXth century, Arumugam Navalar tried to recreate a Hindu saivite tradition in Jaffna; by the end of the century, the Anagarika Dharmapala played a major role in the development of a Buddhist revival first supported by the theosophists (who were also active in India during the time of Annie Besant and B.G.Tilak) and later emancipated from their influence. Dharmapala kept close links with Eastern India where he spent a large part of his life restoring the sacred places of Buddhism.
Again as in India, the period of the First World War witnessed an upsurge of nationalist militancy and a stiffening on the part of the colonial authorities, a face to face which could erupt into open conflict. The first centenary of the cession of Kandy in 1915 provided such an opportunity, but it is rather the panic of the colonial authorities than any intentional plot which was at the basis of the troubles. The execution of rioters and the emprisonment of the main Sinhala leaders of the nationalist movement aroused the sympathy of large segments of the population, including Tamil moderates, at a period when in India the Congress and the Muslim League came together against the raj; but it did not lead to a vast non-cooperation movement comparable to that which challenged British rule in India after the 1919 Amritsar massacre. In the early 1920s, the colonial authorities in Ceylon were able to manipulate the potential rivalries between the communities to break the movement, by imposing for a decade a communal system of representation more or less modelled on the system set up in India at the same time, where they similarly manipulated on a wider scale communal differences.

These events are not very different from those which encouraged the growth of the Indian mass movement. Among the deeper causes for the different trajectories of the national movements in India and in Ceylon, the length and depth of the colonial impact may be a contributing factor, as also the lack of leaders as determined and cohesive as the westernised Indian brahmins. The gap between the anglicised elite and the local dominants was possibly wider in Sri Lanka, and the kind of mass mobilisation which made the non-cooperation movements so impressive in India might have beeen more difficult to organise in Ceylon. Finally, Colombo was certainly not a place where political debates as lively as in Calcutta or Bombay would normally take place, and the Ceylon National Congress founded in the aftermath of the 1915 repression remained a weak organisation, riven with factional rivalries. Coterie was also a characteristic of local Indian politics, as shown by the recent studies of the ‘Cambridge school’ of historians of India, but the national leadership of the Indian Congress proved able to rise above parochial interests.

Four specific factors in the Sri Lankan situation require special mention. The first is that the British chose to make Ceylon a showcase of gradual home rule. The second is that even if Ceylon welcomed Gandhi and Nehru, its élites generally regarded developments in India with some diffidence lest they should impinge on Ceylon’s independent ways; in the 1930s and 1940s, the group led by D.S. Senanayake who was to become the Prime minister at independence, was quite clear on this point. Moreover, anti-Indian sentiments were fuelled by the national-populist propaganda of party and union leaders such as A.E. Goonesinha, who accused immigrant workers of being responsible for the large scale unemployment in urban and plantation areas during the depression, and Indian traders (especially the Chettiar) of depriving Ceylonese owners of paddy, coconut and rubber properties of their lands. These developments are exactly parallel to those which led to the separation of Burma (another Buddhist country) from India, but they never took in Ceylon a violent turn as in Burma, probably because the Ceylonese élite had then chosen the parliamentary way which gave them better prospects for political advancement than crisis and confrontation.
The third factor is the lack of social tensions in the rural world comparable to those which underlay Gandhi’s mass mobilisation. After the abolition of the paddy tax, in spite of the repression of slash-and-burn cultivation, of the persistent depressed state of paddy cultivation, and of the landhunger resulting from plantation expansion, there was until the depression no widespread peasant discontent, because most peasants could draw some advantages from the opportunities created by agricultural expansion in the plantation sector, especially in small holdings. When the depression set in, the villagers whose numbers had been inflated by an early population growth found themselves deprived of these opportunities or even thrown out of employment. The dramatic malaria epidemic of 1934-35 owes its deadly character to the fact that many peasants were undernourished. To counter the prospect of an impending crisis, both the colonial government and Ceylonese leaders such as D.S. Senanayake were quick to revise the land policy hitherto biassed towards the estate sector, along the lines suggested in 1929 by the Ceylon Land Commission. Land redistribution to peasants in the wet zone, and later the large scale restoration and creation of hydraulic works for paddy cultivation in the dry zone, with at the same time, the first lines of a Welfare State being set up, with free dispensaries and schools, all that succeeded in defusing peasant unrest to an extent unheard of on the continent.
The fourth distinguishing factor is that in Sri Lanka the British upheld a taxonomy based on so-called ‘racial’ and linguistic categories, while they reinforced in India a taxonomy based on caste and religious categories. Some of the reasons behind this choice are obvious – the fact that Buddhism gave no legitimacy to caste distinctions, and the weakening influence of traditional elites notably in the Kandyan regions after the repression of the 1817-18 rebellion. But it should be noted that even if in Jaffna the British actually upheld caste discriminations (notably under the ‘proconsulates’ of Dyke and Twynham who administered the peninsula during most of the XIXth century), they never gave it an official sanction. In a country where education was more encouraged than in most parts of India, and where the colonisers entertained serious hopes to convert to Christianity a significant section of the population, language was seen by the rulers as a more immediate marker of identity than religion; but at the same time the use of English relativised that marker. The construction of ‘race’ as the major category provided a convenient way out, not only because it fitted with the European ‘xenology’ of the time, but possibly because its very imprecision allowed inclusive or exclusive manipulations under a pretence of scientific formulations.

The transfer of power by the British to the Sri Lankan élite was a long drawn out exercise. A Legislative Council established during the XIXth century had been opened to unofficial representatives elected on a narrow and communal basis. The enlargement of the electorate in the 1920’s under Governor Manning had left the communal system intact, the colonial motto being then ‘divide and rule’ in Ceylon as well as in India. But in the late 1920s, the Donoughmore Commission, sent to the island about at the same time as the Simon Commission to the sub-continent, suggested a different course: the abandonment of separate electorates, the universal franchise and a system of limited home rule and dyarchy. While the Governor retained law and order, justice, finance and foreign relations, a Board of Ministers (without a Prime Minister) elected by a State Council was to manage home affairs, education, health, agriculture, industries and communications. The reforms were adopted in 1931 – well before the provincial devolution of 1935-37 in India. Sri Lanka thus served as a test case of gradual decolonisation, possibly to show the Indian nationalists the benefits they could gain from a collaboration with the raj.
The political class reluctantly accepted the new system. Universal suffrage compelled them to play the electoral game, without giving them full responsibility, and even its supporters such as the trade unionist Goonesinha lost their influence when confronted with the emergence of a marxist movement led by the Lanka Sama Samaja Party. The communal system of representation died hard and led many politicians to revive caste, religious or ethno-linguistic loyalties to ensure vote banks for themselves. The rise of communal politics in the 1930s was in a way the outcome of the majority rule implicit in a representative system in which the institutions did not provide for a measure of federalism. Some leaders of the Tamil minority in Jaffna induced their people to boycott the elections for two years, and they later advocated an equal representation for all the minorities (about 30% of the population) and the majority. On the other side of the deepening divide, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike started a communal movement, the Sinhala Mahasabha, reminiscent of the Hindu Mahasabha in India, without hovewer acknowledging any filiation.
But at that stage there existed in Ceylon no separatist movement comparable to that advocated by Mohammed Ali Jinnah. During the Second World War, whereas the collaboration of the Muslim League with the British, in contrast with the Quit India movement of the Congress, paved the way for Pakistan, the good relations of D.S. Senanayake with the British and his ability to integrate the Jaffna Tamils into the political system, ensured the independence of Ceylon as a unitary state. On the other hand, the Ceylonese leadership (mainly Low-Country Sinhalese), partly in order to gain the support of the Kandyans, excluded the Indian immigrants (especially the plantation Tamils) from land distribution and from some government jobs. India retaliated with a ban on migratory movements, and a serious crisis developed in the plantation sector in 1940. At independence, most of the immigrants were disenfranchised and became stateless; their fate remained for decades a major bone of contention between India and Ceylon.
Furthermore, the movement towards complete independence of Sri Lanka followed a path very different from that of India and Pakistan: the new opportunities created by the war had practically opposite effects. After 1942, the island became the headquarters for the anti-Japanese war in Southeast Asia. The economy benefitted immensely from various contracts, from the demand for rubber and graphite. In addition, a planning apparatus was set up which laid the basis for a welfare state which was to become a hallmark of the Sri Lankan polity after independence: agricultural prices were guaranteed for the producer and controlled for the benefit of the consumers; public services were better organised, the health and education systems were given a sounder footing, malaria was partly eradicated by systematic spraying of DDT.
On the political side, the extensive powers given to the military, far from arresting the march to independence, encouraged it: the unfailing support given by D.S. Senanayake to the war effort made him appear as the perfect partner in view of the transfer of power, at the very moment when the Quit India movement threatened the British raj on the continent. In a way, Ceylonese independence from India was guaranteed by the same circumstances which provided for the creation of Pakistan, and was prepared by the same man who presided over the August 1947 transfer of power. As early as June 1944, Lord Mountbatten, then commander in chief, persuaded the war cabinet to examine a draft Constitution submitted by D.S. Senanayake. The report of the Soulbury Commission sent to Ceylon by the end of 1944 served as a basis for a negociation which lasted for three years – not because there were actual obstacles, but because the Attlee government chose to give priority to the burning Indian issue. Ceylon independence was therefore proclaimed only in February 1948, although it had matured during a longer period than on the continent.
Compared with the violent conditions that prevailed in India, Pakistan and Burma, the transfer of power in Sri Lanka appeared as a transition as smooth as had been the take over the Low Country in 1796 and that of Kandy in 1815. Defence and cooperation agreements ensured that Britain kept an influence on foreign relations and economic affairs. The more radical nationalists such as Bandaranaike, and the marxist leaders who were becoming popular, could therefore describe the operation as a case of non-genuine decolonisation.

A comparative study of the history of Sri Lanka and India is relevant not only for the understanding of modern developments in the island. The study of Sri Lankan history can also shed some light on certain aspects of Indian history and contribute to its critical examination. If one considers India as a unit throughout the modern period, the history of Sri Lanka appears as basically specific: the limited relations between India and Sri Lanka have always been of a nature different from those between the centre of India’s power (be it Delhi or Calcutta) and any of its peripheral parts. If on the contrary the focus is on the regional aspects of the Indian world, there are more similarities for example between Kerala and Sri Lanka than between Kerala and Rajasthan. Again in the words of G.C. Mendis (op. cit. p. 17),  » as far back as 1831, Colebrooke (…) considered a knowledge of Ceylon helpful for an understanding of India. »: although hardly fulfilled, the project remains valid.

To quote this article:

Meyer E., 2013, « On the specificity and relevance of Sri Lanka in the history of modern South Asia », in Sri Lanka & Diasporas, http://slkdiaspo.hypotheses.org/1756 

 

Vote du Conseil des Nations Unies pour les droits humains (version française)

Par une résolution intitulée « favoriser la réconciliation et l’établissement des responsabilités à Sri Lanka » (A/HRC/22/L.1/Rev.1), adoptée par 25 voix contre 13, avec 8 abstentions, le Conseil encourage le Gouvernement sri-lankais à mettre en œuvre les recommandations formulées dans le rapport du Haut-Commissariat aux droits de l’homme sur les conseils et l’assistance technique qui pourraient être offerts au Gouvernement sri-lankais dans ce contexte et les recommandations et conclusions qui y figurent, s’agissant en particulier de la création d’un mécanisme de recherche de la vérité faisant partie intégrante d’une approche plus globale et inclusive de la justice transitionnelle. Il lui demande de mener une enquête indépendante et crédible sur les violations présumées du droit international des droits de l’homme et du droit international humanitaire. Il demande une nouvelle fois au Gouvernement sri-lankais d’appliquer efficacement les recommandations constructives formulées dans le rapport établi par la Commission des enseignements et de la réconciliation, et de prendre toute mesure complémentaire nécessaire pour honorer ses obligations légales et l’engagement qu’il a pris de prendre des initiatives crédibles et indépendantes pour garantir la justice, l’équité, l’établissement des responsabilités et la réconciliation pour tous les Sri-lankais.
Le Conseil encourage d’autre part le Gouvernement sri-lankais à coopérer avec les titulaires de mandat au titre des procédures spéciales et de répondre officiellement à leurs demandes encore non satisfaites, notamment en leur adressant des invitations et en leur accordant l’accès voulu. Il engage le Haut-Commissariat et les titulaires de mandat au titre des procédures spéciales concernés à fournir des conseils et une assistance technique au sujet de la mise en œuvre des mesures susmentionnées en consultant le Gouvernement sri-lankais et avec son accord. Enfin, le Conseil demande au Haut-Commissariat de lui présenter un compte rendu oral de la situation à sa session de septembre 2013, et un rapport complet suivi d’un débat sur l’application de la présente résolution, en mars 2014.
Ont voté pour (25) : Allemagne, Argentine, Autriche, Bénin, Brésil, Chili, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Espagne, Estonie, États-Unis, Guatemala, Inde, Irlande, Italie, Libye, Monténégro, Pérou, Pologne, République de Corée, République de Moldavie, République tchèque, Roumanie, Sierra Leone et Suisse.
Ont voté contre (13) : Congo, Émirats arabes unis, Équateur, Indonésie, Koweït, Maldives, Mauritanie, Ouganda, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Thaïlande et Venezuela.
Abstentions (8) : Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Éthiopie, Japon, Kazakhstan, Kenya et Malaisie.

Présentant le projet de résolution intitulé «Favoriser la réconciliation et l’établissement des responsabilités à Sri Lanka» (A/HRC/22/L.1/Rev.1), les États-Unis ont indiqué qu’ils appellent les autorités de ce pays à prendre des mesures pour instaurer une paix durable après 27 années de conflit. Le projet de résolution reconnaît les réalisations et souligne les défis qui restent à relever, notamment en matière de droits de l’homme et d’état de droit. Le projet de résolution encourage le Gouvernement de Sri Lanka à mettre en œuvre les recommandations constructives de sa Commission des enseignements et de la réconciliation, ainsi que celles issues du rapport de la Haut-Commissaire. Les États-Unis se sont dits prêts à soutenir Sri Lanka dans ces efforts. Enfin, le projet de résolution souligne le rôle constructif du Haut-Commissariat et des titulaires de mandats au titre des procédures spéciales, qui fournissent l’assistance technique et encouragent le Gouvernement de Sri Lanka à coopérer.
Le Pakistan a observé que Sri Lanka a pris des mesures pour mettre en œuvre les recommandations de la Commission des enseignements et de la réconciliation. Le Pakistan est préoccupé du fait que le projet de résolution contient des éléments provenant du rapport du Haut-Commissariat aux droits de l’homme, lequel ne tient pas compte du processus de réconciliation interne en cours. Le rapport du Haut-Commissariat, non conforme aux dispositions de la résolution 19/2 qui demandait un rapport sur l’assistance technique, contient des recommandations qui outrepassent son mandat. Dès lors, le projet de résolution, qui se fonde sur un rapport dont la crédibilité est mise en doute par le pays concerné, ne peut être vu comme une base raisonnable pour encourager ce pays à adopter une attitude constructive. Depuis 2009, date de la fin du conflit, Sri Lanka a fait de grands progrès en matière de réconciliation, en informant de façon constante le Conseil des progrès accomplis. Pendant 30 ans, le pays a subi le terrorisme international financé depuis l’étranger. Le Pakistan estime que Sri Lanka doit disposer de suffisamment de temps et d’espace pour mener à bien son processus de réconciliation. Il ne doit pas être soumis à des décisions arbitraires. La situation sur le terrain n’appelle pas de mesures urgentes du Conseil. Ce dernier ne doit rien envisager qui soit contraire à ses propres objectifs. Le projet de résolution créerait un mauvais précédent et aurait un impact négatif sur la réconciliation nationale. Sri Lanka a maintenu ses institutions démocratiques tout au long du conflit, il faut aider le pays et non pas le critiquer.
L’Inde s’est inquiétée de la lenteur dans la mise en œuvre des recommandations de la Commission des enseignements et de la réconciliation sri-lankaise. La délégation appelé Sri Lanka à accélérer ce processus, y compris les enquêtes et la reddition de compte. En tant que pays voisin, l’Inde a estime que Sri Lanka doit entendre les appels de la communauté internationale.
L’Irlande, au nom de l’Union européenne, a également appelé Sri Lanka à mettre en œuvre les recommandations de la Commission des enseignements et de la réconciliation et à coopérer avec les mécanismes des Nations Unies. Compte tenu des faibles progrès réalisés, l’Union européenne estime que la situation de Sri Lanka devrait rester à l’ordre du jour du Conseil. En conséquence, les États membres de l’Union européenne se prononceront en faveur de la résolution.
Le Monténégro a estimé que le projet de résolution constitue une avancée importante susceptible de mettre la population sri-lankaise sur le chemin d’une paix durable. Le Gouvernement doit agir en faveur de la promotion de la justice, élément essentiel d’une authentique réconciliation, comme l’a souligné la Haut-Commissaire.
La Suisse a affirmé sa préoccupation quant à l’établissement des responsabilités et au processus de réconciliation à Sri Lanka. Le projet de texte prévoit d’intensifier les efforts en ce sens. La Suisse se félicite de la réaffirmation du rôle des titulaires de mandat. Pour la Suisse, il s’agit d’une résolution «importante et constructive».
La Sierra Leone a rappelé qu’elle avait elle-même connu dix ans de guerre civile, au terme de laquelle elle avait opté pour une réconciliation véritable. C’est la raison pour laquelle elle appuie un texte qu’elle juge équilibré. La seule manière de susciter une véritable réconciliation est de mettre un terme à l’impunité et d’établir les responsabilités.
Le Brésil a déclaré suivre de près la situation des droits de l’homme à Sri Lanka. Des difficultés subsistent et des progrès sont constatés, notamment dans la restauration des infrastructures et le relogement des personnes déplacées. Le Brésil reconnaît les efforts consentis par les autorités sri-lankaises. L’examen périodique de Sri Lanka par le Conseil, en 2012, démontre la volonté de coopération de ce pays. La Haut-Commissaire devrait accepter l’invitation à se rendre à Sri Lanka, car la coopération doit aller dans les deux sens. Le Brésil appelle Sri Lanka à mettre en œuvre les recommandations de la Commission des enseignements et de la réconciliation, pour prouver l’engagement sans équivoque de Sri Lanka en faveur des droits de l’homme.
Le Venezuela a dénoncé la sélectivité et la partialité de plus en plus préoccupantes du Conseil, au détriment surtout des pays en développement. Le Conseil ne doit pas agir sans le consentement des pays concernés. Depuis le rétablissement de la paix, Sri Lanka a témoigné de son engagement en faveur des mécanismes des droits de l’homme, notamment en donnant des informations régulières sur les progrès accomplis. La mise en œuvre des recommandations de la Commission des enseignements et de la réconciliation ne doit pas être le motif d’une ingérence étrangère. Ce projet de résolution ne se fonde pas sur le dialogue véritable, clé de voûte du Conseil. Le Venezuela est préoccupé du fait que cette résolution crée un précédent et renoue avec les pratiques déplorables du passé. Ce projet de résolution ne favorisera pas la réconciliation et la paix, car il n’obéit pas au principe d’universalité et d’objectivité, qui doivent régir les travaux du Conseil.
L’Équateur a déclaré qu’il avait toujours condamné les violations des droits de l’homme, indépendamment des faits et des auteurs de ces actes. La situation des droits de l’homme à Sri Lanka doit s’améliorer, cela est indéniable, notamment en ce qui concerne le traitement des minorités ethniques, estime-t-il. Cependant, le pays a pris un certain nombre d’initiatives, en particulier la création d’une Commission des enseignements et de la réconciliation. C’est la raison pour laquelle l’Équateur votera contre le projet de résolution.
Sri Lanka a déclaré que le projet de résolution la concernant est «inacceptable» en raison, notamment, de son caractère intrusif. Le paragraphe sur les progrès accomplis ignore toutes les mesures positives prises par le Gouvernement, en particulier la réhabilitation de près de 12 000 anciens combattants, dont 594 enfants soldats, ou encore les avancées économiques et politiques dans le Nord du pays. Le projet met l’accent sur des allégations non avérées et sur lesquelles Sri Lanka a déjà répondu dans le cadre de l’Examen périodique universel, a ajouté le représentant. Les paragraphes opérationnels sont politiquement motivés et prouvent la partialité des rédacteurs de la résolution. Certains dispositifs s’appuient, par exemple, sur le rapport de la Haut-Commissaire qui outrepasse le mandat que lui a confié le Conseil, a encore déclaré le représentant sri-lankais. D’autres paragraphes affirment tacitement que les mécanismes et processus nationaux mis en place sont déficients, alors qu’ils sont récents et n’ont pas encore fait leur preuve. D’autres paragraphes imposent à Sri Lanka de coopérer avec le Haut-Commissariat et ses mécanismes en violation, des résolutions 60/25160/251 de l’Assemblée générale et 5/1 et 5/2 du Conseil. Sri Lanka dénonce également une attention incompréhensible sur son pays, alors qu’il y a de nombreuses violations des droits de l’homme ailleurs dans le monde. Si la politisation et la création de processus parallèles perduraient, le Conseil subirait le même sort que la défunte Commission des droits de l’homme, a prévenu la délégation.
L’Indonésie a déclaré que, dans cette période de transition difficile, Sri Lanka devait bénéficier de l’aide de la communauté internationale, ainsi que du temps nécessaire pour mener à bien son processus de réconciliation. L’Indonésie se félicite de la détermination de Sri Lanka et de son engagement indéfectible en faveur des droits de l’homme, en dépit des grandes difficultés qu’elle rencontre. L’Indonésie a souligné l’engagement constructif de Sri Lanka avec le Conseil, comme en témoignent le grand nombre de recommandations acceptées lors de son Examen périodique et ses engagements volontaires. L’Indonésie appelle Sri Lanka à ne pas relâcher ses efforts et continuer à renforcer la crédibilité et l’efficacité du processus de réconciliation.
La Thaïlande a applaudit les efforts consentis par les auteurs du projet pour trouver un terrain d’entente entre toutes les parties. Elle s’est cependant dite préoccupée par le fait que le projet se fonde sur des éléments tirés du rapport du Haut-Commissariat, qui outrepasse son mandat. La Thaïlande n’est donc pas en mesure de soutenir ce projet de résolution. Sri Lanka a coopéré constructivement avec le Conseil et doit continuer à mettre en œuvre les recommandations de la Commission des enseignements et de la réconciliation.
La République de Corée a pris note avec satisfaction des efforts accomplis par Sri Lanka. Rappelant son expérience de pays colonisé puis déchiré par la guerre, elle se félicite de la création de la Commission des enseignements et de la réconciliation, prenant note des engagements gouvernementaux en faveur de la mise en œuvre de ses recommandations. Elle se félicite aussi de la décision d’organiser des élections dans les provinces du Nord. La République de Corée comprend que Sri Lanka doit s’approprier ce processus d’établissement des responsabilités, les organes des Nations Unies devant jouer le rôle qui leur incombe dans ce processus. Elle votera contre le projet de résolution.
Le Japon a souligné l’importance de tenir des débats constructifs au sein du Conseil afin de faire progresser les droits de l’homme. Il se félicite des progrès accomplis par Sri Lanka tout en constatant que de nombreuses difficultés persistent. À titre bilatéral, le Japon se félicite du fait que Sri Lanka se dit prêt à relever tous les défis, en organisant notamment des élections dans les provinces du nord. Il exhorte le Gouvernement à mettre en œuvre toutes les recommandations qui lui ont été faites, y compris pour l’établissement des responsabilités. Pour toutes ces raisons, le Japon s’abstiendra lors du vote.
Les Maldives estiment qu’il faut établir les responsabilités s’agissant de toutes les violations des droits de l’homme commises par toutes les parties, de même que promouvoir la réconciliation et aider Sri Lanka. Le rapport de la Commission des enseignements et de la réconciliation sri-lankaise est au cœur du processus de renforcement des institutions. Les Maldives estiment que la résolution n’est pas nécessaire à ce stade, Sri Lanka devrait avoir le temps et l’espace nécessaires pour mettre en œuvre les recommandations issues de la Commission et de son Examen périodique. La coopération avec la communauté internationale permettra de travailler de manière constructive et dans le respect mutuel.

On trouvera la version anglaise de ce texte officiel à l’adresse suivante :
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13167&LangID=E

Bref commentaire (EPM):
On soulignera un certain nombre d’explications de vote intéressantes, notamment celles de l’Inde, du Pakistan, de la Sierra Leone qui souligne son expérience de dix ans de guerres civiles, et du Venezuela qui défend la ligne définie par Chavez et que le gouvernement sri-lankais a toujours soutenue. On notera que le Qatar, qui pourtant cherche à travers Al Jazeera à se construire l’image d’un pays attentif aux questions humanitaires, mais qui par ailleurs exploite les migrants et migrantes sri-lankais, s’est prononcé contre la motion. Enfin, sauf erreur de décompte des votes, la Corée après avoir annoncé voter contre la motion s’est prononcée en faveur de celle-ci.

Les fantômes du passé (suite) par Eric MEYER

La macabre découverte à la fin de l’année 2012 d’une fosse contenant plus de 140 corps dans l’enceinte de l’hôpital de Matale, tout près du poste de police de cette petite ville située au nord de Kandy, a suscité une émotion considérable et une quantité d’hypothèses contradictoires. Selon les enquêteurs, les squelettes portent des traces de torture, et l’inhumation remonte probablement à la fin des années 1980, lorsque les jeunes rebelles singhalais du JVP ont affronté les milices gouvernementales. Mais des politiciens locaux se sont empressés d’imaginer d’autres explications, comme pour faire retomber la chape de silence sur « les années de terreur » : la répression par les Britanniques de la rébellion anti-coloniale de 1848, les effets d’un glissement de terrain, ou d’une épidémie meurtrière comme la malaria de 1935, ont été évoqués. Inversement, un député du JVP (qui est rentré dans le jeu parlementaire) a rappelé les massacres perpétrés par les forces spéciales de la police et de l’armée dans divers camps en 1989, notamment à Suriyakanda, plus au sud. Un observateur averti de la politique sri lankaise, d’origine tamoule, a même évoqué prudemment l’hypothèse d’une implication de membres haut placés de l’appareil militaire dans le massacre de Matale, les rebelles singhalais ayant été victimes des mêmes pratiques utilisées ultérieurement contre la rébellion tamoule par les mêmes services (http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/15975).
Quiconque a lu Le fantôme d’Anil (Anil’s Ghost), l’excellent roman de Michael Ondaatje, écrivain canadien d’origine sri lankaise, paru en 2000, ne peut manquer d’en rapprocher l’exhumation de Matale. Anil, médecin légiste née à Sri Lanka, envoyée par la Commission des Droits de l’Homme des Nations Unies pour enquêter sur les origines d’un massacre, à peine débarquée à l’aéroport, prend contact avec la terrible réalité de Sri Lanka (Le fantôme d’Anil, traduction de Michel Lederer, Paris, Editions de l’Olivier, 2000, page 17)
« Et pourtant, les plus sombres des tragédies grecques étaient bien innocentes comparées à celles qui se jouaient ici. Têtes empalées. Squelettes enfouis dans une fosse au milieu des fèves de cacao à Matale [l’original anglais est plus précis : ‘Skeletons dug out of a cocoa pit in Matale’] . Pendant ses études universitaires, Anil avait traduit des vers d’Archiloque : ‘Selon les lois de l’hospitalité de la guerre, nous leur avons laissé leurs morts pour qu’ils se souviennent de nous’. Ici, il n’y avait pas de gestes semblables à l’égard des familles des morts, pas même la mention de l’identité de l’ennemi »
A ce jour, seuls quelques écrivains, cinéastes et artistes sont véritablement parvenus à exprimer l’intensité de cette violence extrême qui a traumatisé la totalité de la société sri lankaise. Le public connaît mieux les films que les œuvres d’art, mais il nous faut signaler ici les œuvres du plasticien Jagath Weerasinghe, archéologue de profession, co-fondateur d’un collectif d’artistes contemporains (www.theertha.org)
L’exhumation du passé de Sri Lanka ne fait que commencer. L’histoire de la violence reste à écrire. Elle concerne tout autant les Singhalais que les Tamouls. Les implications politiques d’une telle recherche sont lourdes de conséquences. Un tel travail de mémoire demande du temps et du courage – les historiens de la France de l’Occupation, ou ceux de la partition de l’Inde en 1947, en font l’expérience. Mais les chercheurs ne peuvent s’y dérober. Sinon les fantômes du passé continueront de hanter l’île.
Eric MEYER

Nouveau rapport sur Sri Lanka de la Commission des Nations Unies pour les Droits de l’Homme

Un nouveau rapport sur Sri Lanka daté du 11 février 2013 vient d’être mis en ligne par les services du Haut Commissaire aux Droits de l’Homme des Nations Unies, en prévision de l’examen de la situation des droits de l’homme dans le pays lors de la 22ème session qui se tiendra à Genève du 25 février au 22 mars 2013.Il comprend notamment une analyse critique des réponses et non-réponses apportées par le gouvernement aux recommandations de la LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) dont le texte avait été pris comme base d’évaluation lors de la 21ème session de l’organisation.
Le texte de ce rapport dans sa version anglaise est disponible ci-dessous:

A-HRC-22-38_en

‘Gamperaliya’ (village upheaval) in the Kägalla district, by Eric Meyer, Inalco, Paris

Nous publions ci-dessous le second article inédit d’Eric Meyer sur l’histoire de Sri Lanka à la période coloniale. Il s’agit de matériaux pour l’étude micro-historique des bouleversements survenus dans la société villageoise (c’est le sens du mot singhalais ‘gamperaliya’) d’une localité du district de Kägalla, sous l’impact du développement d’une plantation de thé et d’hévéas.
This is the second in a series of unpublished papers by Eric Meyer on the social history of Sri Lanka during the colonial period. It provides material for the micro-level study of village social upheaval (it is the meaning of the word ‘gamperaliya’ in sinhala) in a Kägalla district locality under the impact of the development of a tea and rubber estate.

Gamperaliya in the Kägalla district
Material for the historical study of a Kandyan village in its relations with a plantation

The selection of the H*** village and G*** estate was the result of my previous research (1975 to 1978) into the archives of the Kägalla district, which showed the special interest of three localities in which plantations had developed inside a village area and for which detailed information pertaining to the British and even the Kandyan period was forthcoming: the Rangalla village / Yatideriya estate, near Bulatkohupitiya ; the Dorawaka village / Madeniya estate near Warakapola ; and the H*** village / G*** estate near Kägalla. It appeared that the first two areas were too large and too populated to be studied in depth, and that no estate documents were available. H*** had only 49 houses, and I had access to G*** estate (state-owned since 1975) and its records.
After a careful study of the written documents of the British colonial administration in the Sri Lanka National Archives in Colombo and the kacceri record room in Kägalla, a house to house survey was made, in August 1979, with short interviews, which helped to draw genealogical charts and a village plan (together with documents of the Survey Department including an aerial photograph), to figure out the secular trends of the high and low land market in the village by comparing paddy tax registers (especially 1881) with the cultivation officer’s data (1979), and to check written information regarding land sales by villagers to the estate. Further data was collected in the estate records including an old plan. Interviews with members of two influent families, and in the nearby villages of A*** and T*** with elders, a monk and a head teacher, elicited the local view of the history of the area. Much later, additional precise information was found in a sinhala ola leaf manuscript of the Dissawe Lekammitiya of Hatarakorale kept in the Peradeniya University Library.
The enquiry revealed a case of social revolution in a Kandyan village very similar to what the well known Sri Lankan writer Martin Wickramasinghe had depicted for a southern low-country village in his novel Gamperaliya (Village upheaval). Among the few village monographs on Kägalla district, Tamara Gunasekara’s Hierarchy and Egalitarianism located further east near Aranayake provides a wealth of fascinating material often similar to that of H*** ; some comparison can also be made with Jayantha Perera’s Nuwaragama in the same area, and in the Central Province with monographs by Newton Gunasinghe and Kalinga Tudor Silva. The present paper made up of half-worked material, is provisional and focusses only on social history ; it does not pretend to be a piece of scientifically founded ethno-history. Only the initials of names of localities and village families are given, while those of public officers and professionnals are mentioned in full.

Overview of the village history before 1900:
By the mid-18th century, Mawata pattuwa, where H*** village is located, was crossed by the main path (still locally known as the king’s road, Raja mawata) connecting the Dutch-occupied low-country with the Kandyan kingdom, which ran distinctly south of the present Kandy road built under the British in the 1820s. Between the line of forts at Ruanwella, Menikkadawara, Arandara, and the Leuke – Attapitiya area under the Balane pass leading to Kandy (and the minor Balatgomuwa pass leading to Gampola), it was a rugged and circuitous route crossing rivers on creeper footbridges (edanda), with ascents and descents, blocked with thorny checkpoints (kadawat) – the ideal place for guerilla warfare, which enabled the kingdom to resist the attacks of the successive European powers until 1815. Owing to its strategic importance, many villagers along the path were enlisted as warriors, scouts and spies in time of war by the governor (Dissawe) of Hatarakorale, in the so-called nanayakkara and atapattu services. Such was the case in H*** village, whose Radala caste lord, bearing the honorific Tänannähe, was in 1747 the mohottala, secretary to the Dissawe (the powerful military chief Leuke Dissawe the elder), in charge of the organization of the military service. The Dissawe Maha Lekammitiya, rewritten under the orders of Leuke at the beginning of the reign of Kirti Sri (december 1747), bears testimony to his political will of reinforcing the atapattu organisation of Hatarakorale, the bulwark of the kingdom facing the Dutch territories : it provides an updated list of the families attached to the military service in the different villages of Hatarakorale. Following the usage of the Lekammitiya, we shall apply in this study the term Radala to the families listed as such in 1747, which were clearly distinguished from the families of soldiers of a lower grade, styled Hewayo.
In the same H*** village there were three families of Hewayo, two of Naide or Rate caste (now Goyigama), the K*A* naide and the W*A* naide and one of Padu (now Batgama) caste, N*P* aya. Ralph Pieris (1956 : 302) wrongly states that the title -nayide is reserved to respectable persons of artisan castes : according to the 18th century onomastic the suffix was generally applied to hewayo of ‘good’ caste, while the suffix -pediya or -aya was frequently but not always applied to hewayo of Padu caste, and -dewaya to hewayo of Vahumpura caste. Whatever their caste, surnames of the hevayo generally alluded to their military prowess or duties (in this case : Victorious Chief ; Defender of the City). Three families from the neighbouring village of A*** were also involved in the military service : a Radala nanayakkara, R*, and two hewayo, R*A* naide and W* pediya, while a W* family hailing from a third village, D***, was serving in a special unit of lancers.
After the British accession, the Radala family members (who then sported the full patabändi name of S* M* M* instead of Tännanähe) were spared together with the other Hatarakorale chiefs who followed Molligoda Adigar in his support for the British during the 1817-1818 rebellion. But they lost most of their power with the abolition of the rajakariya system after 1833, the banishment of Molligoda, and the abandonment of the old Raja mawata when the British opened a cart road to Kandy about 5 miles to the north and established their administration in the new town of Kägalla. They however retained substantial headmanships in the 1850s (division officers and paddy tax assessment officers in Mawata pattuwa). They continued to reside in their small manorial house (walauwa), enjoy the product of their paddy fields and chena lands, and exert an authority over some families of the village through the control of land. The paddy tax receipts (wattoru) of the 1860s show that in addition to their paddy fields they possessed rights over chenas cultivated with hill paddy by the N*P* family, but that the former soldier families K*A* and W*A* had their independent properties (paraveni pangu). Other families that do not appear in the 18th century lists are mentioned in 1882 : one (H*R*) was that of a long established high caste Vedarala (medical practicionner) who possessed substantial fields and gardens : his traditional occupation made him independent from the service system and the Radala lord ; another (H*K*) was that of a group of poor oboe players, Berava by caste, from a neighbouring village.
In addition, the S*M*M* retained a measure of control over the neighbouring village of D*** which had been given them as nindagama by the Kandyan kings, and they enjoyed the services of its (mainly Padu) families (18 pangu + 1 high caste paraveni panguwa), which consisted in cultivating the fields of the reserve (muttettuwa) and delivering its produce, but also included personal service such as carrying the baggage of the proprietor on journeys. In the late 1860s ans early 1870s, the colonial policy makers, following the Indian example, decided to foster the interests of the hereditary aristocracy : the administration undertook to register the services due by tenants of so-called feudal villages to their lords. At the enquiry, the S*M*M* could not establish their rights to services in H*** village (the enquiry mentions : « nindagama, sannasa lost, services prescribed ») but they succeeded in having the entirety of the large village of D*** recognized as their nindagama, in spite of the absence of sannas (written grant). The fate of some their caste fellows in the neighbourhood was worse : in the village of A***, the nindagama claim of the survivor of the local R* family was « rejected by reason of long desuetude ». On the contrary, some families belonging to the ordinary soldier class during the 18th century were on the rise : the R*A* who hailed from the same village of A***, had obtained from the colonial administration posts of headmen and paddy tax evaluators (wibadde lekam) in the 1860s, and they were able to register a small nindagama under their name at the Service Tax enquiry early in the 1870s.
However the fortunes of the S*M*M* family were already declining : in February 1873, the head of the family, Kiri Banda, was heavily indebted to a Chettiyar moneylender of Kägalla, Kaliappa Chetty, who obtained the judicial sale of all the family property, advertised in detail in the Ceylon Government Gazette : 11 paddy fields and 3 gardens in H*** , 7 paddy fields in D***, together with « the services or rajakariya due from the tenants of the ninda village D*** as noted in the Service Tenures Commissionner Registry ». It is likely that a part of the land was purchased by a member of the R*A* family, Appuhami, who appears in the Grain tax commutation register of 1882 as proprietor of one of these paddy fields ; but the rest of the lands were still registered under the name of S*M*M* Kiri Banda and his brothers Ukku Banda and Punchi Banda, who together owned a considerable extent of 5 amunam 4 kuruni of paddy fields in H*** . However this property must have been mortgaged to outsiders, and R*A* Punchi Appuhami appears in 1898 as the proprietor of another of these paddy fields purchased at a fiscal sale. As regards the family property in the village of D***, they were acquired by a member of another Radala family of the area, B* Banda, who attempted to have these lands surveyed in 1888.
The reasons for this state of things are not given but allusions in the colonial diaries of the time, and in today’s village talk, regulary mention alcoholism : Kägalla town, the new district capital, was easily accessible from the H*** area. The new Kandy road opened by the British was lined with licensed taverns which sold local arrack and imported whiskies, to the great benefit of low-country renters and the colonial budget. There were also unlicensed gambling dens, which became famous in the early 1860s when a low-country adventurer, Sardiel, known as the Robin Hood of Ceylon, scoured rich travellers and squandered his plunder in these places. Another new activity in the town was linked with the establishment of local courts : proctors, surveyors, notaries, most of them outsiders, swarmed around them, and the Kandyan villagers became an easy prey to their speculative activities. It is likely that the S*M*M* brothers became embroiled in this environment.
The 1880s mark a turning point in the agrarian history of the district. The coffee crisis led the British planters to turn to new products, first tea, and later rubber, which could be planted on former chena lands at mid-elevation. The Assistant Government Agents were instructed to survey highlands and effect ‘chena settlements’ and later ‘forest settlements’, reserving an area for the villagers and declaring the rest Crown eventually for sale to planters (Meyer 1996 : 197 sqq and further publication on chena settlements and forest settlements in Kägalla, on this site). The highlands of the Mawata and Kandupita pattu, south of Kägalla, were never settled, but some of them were surveyed in 1880 and after, under the orders of Government, by private surveyors styled ‘chena surveyors’, as in the case of M*** (the chena plan 300 carefully drawn in December 1880 by young Philip Francis Ondaatje – the grandfather of Michael Ondaatje, shows the detailed location of fields, gardens and chenas). It is likely that the survey attracted the attention of the Kägalla landed interests. But the sale of land to planters started only some 20 years later, when a new local administrator, Bertram Hill, lifted the restrictions put by two successive Assistant Government Agents, F.H. Price and Walter Davidson, who wanted to keep Hatarakorale for Kandyan villagers as « the garden of the East » and to direct the planting interests towards the Kelani Valley in the south of the district. The first isolated sales occurred in 1894, and the movement accelerated in 1898 to pre-empt an attempt at enforcing the new waste lands ordinance promulgated in 1897 to stenghten the hands of the administration against land speculation.

Land sales and estate formation.
By 1900, land speculation was in full swing in Hatarakorale (Meyer 1992, and detailed study fortcoming on this blog). The careful but useless survey and settlement enquiries of the 1880 and early 1890 were a thing of the past, branded by civil servants in Colombo as « chena unsettlement », and successfully challenged in the Courts of law. Chena land was being sold cheaply by villagers, who had no written title against the Crown, to planters, through intermediaries, who pocketed substantial speculative profits, and the planters began to open the land and force the hands of the administration. A new ordinance passed in 1897 to clear the mess and strenghten the rights of the Crown led to the progressive establishment of a Land Settlement administration : but it remained understaffed, was busy in other parts of the country (Matara, Kurunegala), and considered it was too late to intervene in Kägalla. The formula adopted in that district was to issue ‘Certificates of Quiet Possession’ (CQPs) delivered by the Assistant Government Agent after enquiry with the local headman: the Crown withdrew its claim to the land (usually upon payment of a paltry sum by the planter) and left the planter to settle with the villagers and the intermediaries without guaranteeing title against them. Of course deals of that kind entailed a lot of underhand pressure and corruption, a certain amount of uncertainty too, and big firms of Colombo lawyers became experts in the game, which could be very profitable or prove ruinously expensive. When the Government Agents were cooperative, it was all the better for planters : it was the case with successive Agents for Sabaragamuwa, the superiors of the Assistants at Kägalla, especially E.B. Alexander and Thaine.
In the H*** area, two would-be planters, Fellowes and Harper, started to buy village land and build up bit by bit what was later called G*** tea and rubber estate. But it was a long drawn out affair, and in March 1912 when the plantation was opened nothing was settled. By that time, the planters had hired the services of the former surveyor P.F. Ondaatje, now a lawyer, to apply for a CQP. In the words of the Colonial Secretary writing to the Government Agent of the province of Sabaragamuwa, « G** estate is entirely made up of lands purchased from natives. To effect the formation into a Company, a clear title is required (…) As the Surveyor General cannot undertake a survey of the area without very serious detriment to his other work, and as it is not desirable that an application of this nature should be met by Government with a mere expression of its inability to give the required information, the Controller of Revenue suggests that the Assistant Government Agent should make as careful and minute an enquiry as possible without a survey into the respective rights of the Crown and the villagers with a view to arrive at an approximate valuation of the claims of the Crown. When this had been done, it may be possible to arrange with the promoters of the Company for its purchase by them of the Crown rights and thereafter to issue to them a CQP.» The Agent instructed his assistant at Kägalla in February 1913 : « I gather that the Company are anxious to get a Crown title quickly. I should not waste much time over tax receipts »
It was an uphill task described two years later in the diary of the Assistant Government Agent (27-28 October 1914) : « The estates were in a frantic to get a CQP, as a company was in process of formation, and through their representations, my predecessor had to cover the whole ground and make a report as to the probable settlement, in the absence of the Surveyor General’s plan. This he did relying on the estate plan. I have now to go over the whole ground again with a plan issued by the Surveyor General. All this land is now planted up with rubber, and there is nothing to distinguish the land purchased from villagers from the land purchased from the Crown. However with the assistance of the individual who acted as intermediary between the estate and the villagers when the lands were purchased, considerable progress was made. »
During the war years the file was shelved, and then retrieved in 1922. In a letter sent to the Assistant Government Agent, P.F. Ondaatje, who has become a sort of specialist in these muddled land issues, explained that « it is not possible to reconcile or identify the names and extents of the lands appearing on the CQP plan with the names and extents of the chenas purchased by the estate on their several title deeds ». Finally a list of 50 lands were advertised in the Ceylon Government Gazette (20.10.1922), and in March 1923, the CQP was issued, at 20 Rs an acre for the 270 acres for which the purchasers could not prove private title, and free for the 68 acres coverered by tax receipts. E.B. Alexander and his colleagues in Colombo minuted : « this is a piecemeal settlement but better than none at all (…) ; in view of the long possession by the claimants, I consider the price per acre fair ». But this settlement covered only a small part of the estate, which according to the Ferguson planting directory of 1939 finally consisted of 689 acres in tea and 484 acres in rubber, and distributed handsome dividends in the 1920s (10% to 40% yearly)
The various enquiries revealed that S*M*M* Ukkubanda attempted to uphold his feudal rights in D***, while the villagers wanted to sell direct to the estate. A petition received from D*** villagers complained that he « uses to come forward and claim as proprietor or landlord a share of the petitioners’ and other lands. Some months ago, one of the petitioners, R. Setuwa, sold some of his lands : at this instance the said Banda came and took a share of the proceeds of the sale at 10 Rs an acre… ». But Ukkubanda’s business was of a wider magnitude. He was actually employed as a broker by the planters (together with another middleman, a Muslim trader). The collection of G*** estate deeds still kept in the estate office in 1979 show that Ukkubanda was paid a commission on most sales, plus batta (a sort of fixed salary) of 1 to 1.50 Rs a day, or sometimes a measure of rice. The same collection of 37 deeds shows that P.F. Ondaatje supervised all the sales, which span a long period, from 18.09.1894 to 8.10.1919 for the main portion of the estate, but extend until the end of the 1920s for A*** village. The amount paid to villagers was 10 Rs an acre in the beginning but rose to 45 Rs for the last sales. According to the testimony given me in 1979 by Kiri Ukkuwa, an old villager of A*** born around 1900, the first A*** villager to sell was Kattandiye Bandiya in 1915, he himself sold in 1928, Ondaatje acting as legal adviser and one ‘Wanumara Nilame’ (perhaps a nickname for Ukkubanda, meaning something like the forest destroying squire) as middleman, getting 12 Rs and a bushel of rice per month.
But all the villagers did not sell all their lands. In his testimony, the rich son of a Batgama villager from A***, H.S. Jotipala, said that only the poorer and more submissive villagers sold all their highlands : a few families on the contrary resisted the temptation of easy money, transformed their chenas into vegetable and fruit gardens and invested in the purchase of new lands the profits obtained from the sale of these products on the Kägalla market. As a result, the village was not enclaved by the estate. In H*** the situation was quite different : all the chenas of the S*M*M* family were sold, together with those of their dependents, the N*P* family, of another family of low status, the H*K*, and of one of the Goigama families, the K*A*. Two other high caste families, the W*A* and the H*R*, do not seem to have sold their chena lands (maybe they had none), but on the whole the village was practically restricted to its paddy fields and resident gardens, surrounded by tea and rubber lands of the estate, like so many villages in the area (see the annexed map).
For the S*M*M* it was the end of the road. The descendants left the decrepit walauwa and obtained as landless paupers an allotment of land in a dry zone colony in the 1950s. A son, S*M*M* Sadi Banda came back with his sisters two decades later and attempted with little success to revive the family’s pride and to revamp the walauwa. Some of their remaining paddy fields had been acquired by the R*A*, now the biggest landowners in the area, who built a modern house on the outskirts of the village, puchased lands to plant coconut and rubber, started a manufacture to smoke rubber sheets, and opened a boutique cum bakery in the village. But a large part was purchased by the H*S*, a Batgama family from A*** village, who settled in H*** and built for themselves the second largest house in the village. The other families in the village either carried on paddy and garden cultivation on a small scale and attempted to supplement the poor income they had by seeking casual employment outside the village (for example in Kägalla town, or in seasonal employment in the dry zone colonies) ; or they obtained regular employment in government service after independence ; or they took contract work on the estate, and by the mid 20th century many were employed as rubber tappers and timber sawers.
This case may be compared with that described by Tamara Gunasekara of the decline of D* Nilame, who was also the scion of a military Radala family in the nanayakkara service (according to the Lekammitiya) controlling the access to Dolosbage above Aranayake. But there are differences between S*M*M* and D* Nilame which can be inferred from reference to mid-19th century Kägalla diaries unknown to Tamara Gunasekara : D* Nilame’s father was suspected to have harboured Keppitipola, the head of the rebels, in 1818 ; after his release he lost all his authority, was never given a headmanship, nor recognized as ninda lord; with the early opening of coffee plantations in Dolosbage, his chena lands on the top of the hills were engulfed in the estates with the connivence of the local chief headman, a pseudo-Kandyan of low-country origin who had usurpated the name of Molligoda ; at that time (the mid 1850s) the Nilame was described as an upright old gentleman, who attempted to resist the encroachment by the estate on his lands but was helpless for want of support from the colonial authorities. When in the 1870s the British undertook to uphold the rights of the Kandyan aristocrats, it was too late, the ninda status of the Nilame lands were not recognized, and his son had become an alcoholic. The end of the story as told by to Tamara Gunasekara by local villagers is that the ruined walauwa was acquired by a former Batgama servant of the lord, who had obtained employment as an overseer (kangani) in the coffee estates, and that the whole village had become by the mid 20th century controlled by members of that formerly ‘low’ caste.
In the H*** area, the large tea and rubber plantations were opened half a century later than the up-country coffee plantations. But the enterprise of the Batgama villagers was similar to that of their Aranayake brethren : by the end of 1861, S*P* Tikkira of D*** repeatedly petitioned the British administration (he went to Colombo for that), to have his newly asweddumized paddy lands and newly planted coconut and arecanut gardens in A*** recognized as private. The rise of the Batgama entrepreneurs (Gunasinghe 1990 : 63), which is often connected with business opportunities during the Second world war period, has at least in the Kägalla district much older roots, especially among the hewayo families. These local cases confirm the better known example of the family of Nuwarapassa Hewayalage Keerthiratne in the Rambukkana – Kadugannawa area, where they became affluent by developing their own plantations at the beginning of the 20th century. In the words of N.H. Keerthiratne who gave me an interview in March 1978 : « These people were not given any responsible position in the country. Their job was planting. For that there is no objection. So we started planting, coconuts, any other things, vegetables, we began planting and making money (…) Even those caste minded people wanted money, so they had to come to these people who were making money ».

Villagers and the estate:
The relations of the villagers with estate superintendents and workers were definitely bad from the beginnings : in his diaries the Assistant Government Agent wrote that « here also the villagers complained about the shooting of their cattle. It seems that the cattle do not always stray on the estate. They are sometimes driven onto the estates and then they are shot by the watchers and consumed by the Tamil coolies. In connection with this particular estate some time ago there was a suspicion that all the stray cattle of the neighbourhood gravitated there. » (28 october 1914). Ten years later, reporting on a complaint of the G*** superintendent against the T*** village headman, he commented « This superintendent owing to his keeping a fierce and quarrelsome dog and for other reasons appear to have made himself unpopular with the villagers » (8 june 1925). Then a villager complained that the superintendent had put barbed wire on the way of his house and the planter complained « that the villager corrupted his coolies by illicit sale of toddy, gambling dens, receipt of stolen estate produce, and admitted having put up the fence by way of retaliation » (20 june 1929). During these first two decades, very few villagers worked on the estate, many who had sold large extents, according to R*A* testimony, lived on the product of their sales. The feeling of being surrounded by hostile people was as common among planters surrounded by villages as among villagers surrounded by estates ; but actually estate workers became regular customers of villagers who sold them fruits, vegetables, drinks, and sometimes employed them on Sundays ; the relations between them were not so bad, and it is precisely the connexion that made the planters nervous (Meyer 1992b)

The rubber slump of the 1930s and the malaria epidemic of 1934-1935 changed the situation. Many Tamil coolies were dismissed, and the area was badly hit by malaria. A new superintendent (Harvey) opened his dispensary for village patients (while the local headmen had done nothing to relieve them), and employed villagers for relief work to build roads across his estate. But still the relations were tense between villagers and estate, especially regarding cattle trespass and the use of paths across the rubber sections replanted with young trees (Kägalla diary 27 october 1936). With the stoppage of Tamil cooly immigration after 1939, casual employment of villagers for rubber tapping expanded and became regular during and after the war. Together with connected activities, such as timber sawing, the manufacture and smoking of rubber sheets, estate employment was after independence a major resource for them, and the relations with Tamil labourers reduced in numbers but long established were improved, some of them working in the village.

But G*** estate and its Tamil labourers came under threat after 1970. During the April 1971 insurgency, the area was controlled by young revolutionaries who regrouped there before attempting to launch a Long March to the north of the island; in 1977 rowdies from the Kegalla town came down to attack the Tamil workers and murders were reported ; again in 1983 and 1989 violence erupted and led to cases of arson. The estate was taken over by government in 1975, and employment reserved for villagers selected on the basis of recommendations by the local member of Parliament, and after the violence of the 1980s its activity was much reduced. Finally its management was given on lease to an Indian Goverment-controlled investment company.

Unpublished sources :

Satara Korale Lekam Pota, Maha Lekam Mitiya, sk 1669 [= 1747 C.E.].
copies : Colombo Museum Library (ms. J13, 76 folios and AN5, 34 folios) ; Peradeniya, University Library, (ms. 277674 and 277649 [Satara Korale Lekam Mitiya donated by L.B. Kobbäkaduwa Ratemahatmaya to F.H. Price, Assistant Government Agent Kägalla, 18 August 1887]) ; London, Royal Asiatic Society Library. On the lekammiti, see H.A.P. Abhayawardene’s Lekammiti Vimarshanaya, especially chapter 7.
[According to the colophon of ms 277674, the Disawe maha lekam mitiya was written on Unduvap saka 1669 (i.e. at the very beginning of king Kirti Sri’s reign), at the request of Leuke Dissave, upon enquiry by Haloluwe Mohottala (his secretary in charge of military services), to replace a damaged manuscript. It listed the military services rendered to the king’s governor, the Dissawe of Hatara Korale, by the military families of Hatara korale, according to their localities of residence (korale/pattu). I suppose that the document has been kept by Molligoda Adigar, successor to Levuke, after the Bristish take over of the kingdom, and has been perused by John D’Oyly to write his Sketch of the Constitution of the Kandyan Kingdom ; it was later handed over to Loku Banda Kobbekaduwa, chief headman of Galboda/Kinigoda where the manorial houses of Leuke and Molligoda were located. L.B. Kobbekaduwa made copies for the then Assistant Government Agent Price, well known in his time for his close connection with Kandyan aristocrats (he built for himself a walauwa in the town of Kägalla…), and Bell’s report mentions it without giving any details. Olas 11, 26, 27, 29 and 31 cover the area. We acknowledge the help of Ven. H. Dheerananda (presently professor of history, Peradeniya University) for decipherment of the manuscript.]

Service Tenures Register, Kegalle district
Kägalla kacceri record room.

Grain Tax Commutation Registers, Paranakuru Korale, 1881-1892
Sri Lanka National Archives, Colombo (33/7291)

Wattoru [hill paddy tax receipts] (1860 to 1886)
Sri Lanka National Archives, Colombo (30/ 540)

Ceylon Government Gazette 1.02.1873, p. 147 and 20.10.1922 (7291), p. 1366
Sri Lanka National Archives, Colombo

Chena plan N° 300 (1880)
Kägalla kacceri record room

Chena Cases (1898)
Sri Lanka National Archives, Colombo (30/615)

G*** Estate Settlement (1912-1923)
Sri Lanka National Archives, Colombo (30/540)

Preliminary Plan n° 727
Sri Lanka Survey Department, Colombo

Diaries of the Assistant Government Agent Kägalla (1854 to 1939), especially :
1854-1864 : lists of wibadde lekam candidates
1863 : reports on the election of vel-vidanes
22.10.1861 / 4.10.1862 : petitions of D*** villagers
19.11.1888 : project of a survey of D*** village
27/29.10.1914 : inspection for the G***’s Certificate of Quiet Possession
20.06.1929 : enclosure by G*** estate of village lands
27.10.1936 : estate roads
Sri Lanka National Archives, Colombo (30/2 sqq)

Private records of the G*** Estate (1903-1930)
– estate plan showing extension by purchase of minute lots (circa 1915) [reproduced here]
– accounts showing sums paid to intermediaries for land purchase
– check rolls showing employment of villagers

List of H*** village lands kept by the Cultivation Officer of T*** (1979)

Fieldwork from 4 July to 10 September 1979 in the villages of H***, T*** and A***, with the assistance of Mr. Mallawa ; the late Travis Siriwardena (Malpendeniya) generously extended his help during that period. House to house survey of H*** families with short interviews and drawing of genealogical charts and village plan (paddy fields, houses and gardens), detailed interviews of village elders, of the chief monk of T***, of the headmaster of the school of A***, of senior members of the R*A* and H*S* families, and of the superintendent of G*** estate.
Interview of N.H. Keerthiratne (march 1978, Rambukkana). Excerpts from this document will be quoted in further papers on entrepreneurship and caste; it may be published in full if permission is obtained from the family.

Published studies

Abhayawardhena (H.A.P.), Lekammiti Vimarshanaya. Colombo, Department of National Archives, 2009 [sinhala]
Bell (H.C.P.), Report on the Kegalle district of the Province of Sabaragamuwa. Colombo, Government Printer, 1892.
D’Oyly (Sir John), A Sketch of the Constitution of the Kandyan Kingdom. Colombo, 1929 ; reprint Tisara press, 1975.
Gunasekara (Tamara), Hierarchy and Egalitarianism. Caste, Class and Power in Sinhalese Peasant Society. London, Athlone Press, 1994.
Gunasinghe (Newton), Changing Socio-economic Relations in the Kandyan Countryside. Colombo, Social Scientists Association, 1990
Meyer (Eric), (1990),« Aspects of the Sinhalese-Tamil Relations in the plantation areas of Sri Lanka under the British Raj ». Indian Economic and Social History Review , 27, 2, p. 165-188. Meyer (Eric) 1992a, « From Landgrabbing to Landhunger : Highland Appropriation in the Plantation Areas of Sri Lanka during the British Period », Modern Asian Studies 26 (2), 1992, p. 321-361. Meyer (Eric) 1992b, « ‘Enclave’ plantations, ‘hemmed-in’ villages and dualistic representations in colonial Ceylon ». Journal of Peasant Studies 19 (3 & 4), pp. 199-228. Meyer (Eric) 1996, « Paddy, garden, chena, plantation. Was there a peasant strategy in the Kandyan Regions of Sri Lanka before 1940 ? » in Robb (Peter) Meanings of Agriculture. Essays in South Asian History and Economics. Delhi, O.U.P.,p. 182-227. Pieris (Ralph), Sinhalese Social Organization, the Kandyan Period. Colombo, Ceylon University Press Board, 1956.

Two remarkable literary works:

Martin Wickramasinghe, Gamperaliya (1944) is a fascinating novel in Sinhala (recently translated in English under the misleading title Uprooted, Colombo, Sarasa, 2009) which depicts the decline of a walauwa family in the South, whose fate is very similar to that of the S*M*M family.
(see also the excellent filmic adaptation of the novel by Lester James Pieris 1964)
Michael Ondaatje, Running in the Family (1982) is a fictionalized novel in English drawing from the memories of a family of surveyors and lawyers active in Kägalla at the time of the opening of G*** estate.

We reproduce in the uploadable document the northern half of the G*** estate plan, drawn about 1915, when the estate was already open but still in the process of absorbing additional village land. Estate tea is shown in yellow and estate rubber in light brown.
We have added (for the H*** village only, on the basis of their present situation) the paddy lands in blue, the village gardens with houses in dotted brown. H*** is in the centre of the plan with its walauwa, the houses of the other villagers are scattered in the gardens, to the north for the W*A* family, to the west for the K*A* and H*S* families, to the south-west for the H*R*and N*P* families, to the south-east for the R*A* and H*K* families.
A*** and T*** villages are on each side, M*** and D*** villages further south, themselves surrounding or surrounded by the southern half of the estate.
Notice the extremely irregular and discontinuous limits of the estate made up of small bits of chena lands, the village paths that intersect the estate blocks, the rubber and tea very close to paddy and gardens. 20 years later, the estate had extended and straightened its limits on the east, but the A*** village continued to resist its extension on the west.

Pour télécharger le document / to upload the document :

Gamperaliya in the Kägalla district 3

The 1934-1935 Malaria Epidemic in Sri Lanka, by Eric Meyer (Inalco, Paris, France)

Avec cette étude, nous commençons la publication d’une série d’articles et de documents inédits portant sur l’histoire sociale de la période moderne à Sri Lanka. Ces travaux pourront être cités en respectant les règles de la licence Creative Commons Attribution énoncées dans cette page.

This paper is the first in a series of hitherto unpublished articles and documents dealing with the social history of modern Sri Lanka. These papers may be quoted according to the rules of Creative Commons Licence

 

The Malaria Epidemic of 1934-1935 in Sri Lanka*

 

‘The remedy for malaria is in the pot’ (an Italian proverb)

 

In a country in which epidemics were less common than in India, especially after the beginning of the 19th century, the sudden outbreak of epidemic malaria which probably killed one hundred thousand people, mostly children, created a national trauma. It contributed to shatter the already battered traditional local powers, it hastened the process of formation of a ‘welfare state’, it led the elites to ‘discover’ the peasant condition, and initiated among the villagers the first signs of self assertiveness.

From a more theoretical angle, the epidemic, which can be defined as a social crisis within the economic crisis, raises a series of issues connected with the controversy about the dramatic decrease in mortality rates after 1945, which has been attributed either to anti-malarial measures, or to a social policy raising the rural standard of life.[1] To what extent was the epidemic the result of climatic, epidemiologic, economic or human factors? The question is not limited to the Sri Lankan case: interesting parallels can be drawn with Mediterranean areas before the 18th century, with contemporary South and South East Asia and other Indian Ocean countries such as Mauritius.

This preliminary study is partly based on printed reports published as Sessional Papers just after the epidemic by the Director of the Ceylon Medical and Sanitary Services (Dr Briercliffe), by a malariologist from India sent by the Colonial Office (Col. Gill), by the Special Commissionner for Relief of Distress (H.E. Newnham) and by the different Government Agents and their Assistants in the affected areas.[2] But the same officials provide more detailed and more authentic informations in their diaries and private papers: those of Newnham which are kept at Rhodes House, Oxford, and are also available in the CO 54 series at Kew, are very useful; those of the GAs and AGAs are unequal but in any case very revealing: the best are D.B. Seneviratne, Special Assistant for Kurunegala, and F.C. Gimson, Assistant for Kegalla. The Colombo press, the relations of the debates in the State Council, and the minuted correspondence between the Governor and the Colonial Office provide useful information on the political impact of the epidemic. At the grass root level, an unsystematic attempt has also been made to collect some oral evidence in affected localities in the Kegalla district, but the epidemic seen by the people it affected is still to be researched and would certainly alter the incomplete picture which is offered in this paper.[3]

 

The epidemic in stages

In 1934, after five years of economic depression, a very severe drought affected the coconut triangle, its northern fringe, and to a lesser degree the hill region and its western fringe – the rubber belt. Paddy cultivation came to a halt for want of water, just as vegetable cultivation, which had been much developed by villagers during the depression years to replace casual estate employment. Many coconut trees withered and broke down. In the North Central province, most tanks were dry, buffaloes starved to death. Impoverished Kandyan villagers who had gone there during the depression years drifted back to the south.

Malaria, which was endemic in the dry zone, became more severe than usual, and it combined with the failure of harvests to result in deaths of undernourished children and elder people by mid-1934. In September, malaria progressed southwards in the Kurunegala district but remained unnoticed by the authorities, in spite of the fact that the Medical Services had just then started a ‘resurvey of malaria incidence’ among school children.[4]

The malarial outbreak of October 1934 was sudden, simultaneous and general. Although medical services tabulated the sudden growth in the number of out-patients at rural dispensaries, they were slow to realize its nature and extent. During the first week of October, the epidemic developed in the Maha Oya basin and the localities at the junction between the north-south and the east-west roads, such as Alawwa, Polgahawela and Warakapola. But the Government Agents and their assistants were informed only between the end of October and mid-November, and for a couple of weeks they considered that the situation did not call for special action. By the end of November, the epidemic extended towards the Colombo and Kandy districts, and in December it reached the Ratnapura district, probably from the South East where malarial endemicity was as high as in the North.[5]

The decision to organize relief was taken at Kegalla on 4.12.34, at Kurunegala on 7.12, at Kandy and Matale on 10.12, at Ratnapura on 15.12. Rice distribution was started at Kurunegala on 18.12. At that stage, the epidemic began to be perceived as a national calamity: the press which mentioned it first on 16.11, monitored its development after 4.12, when State Councillors raised the question at the Assembly; newspapers gave it prominence at the end of December, when various social workers and young Colombo students went to the affected districts to provide assistance.[6]

They were struck by the tragic sight of whole families, even whole villages, down with fever, of undernourished babies and children carried off by hundreds, especially where owing to illness or distance no one could visit the affected people.[7] Even those who could be carried or dragged themselves to local dispensaries were a pathetic sight: they were huddled together around, shivering with fever, wrapped in gunny bags, waiting for hours under the sun. They came back with small quinine bottles, which they shared with the family and neighbours, but many could not bear the strain of the journey back and laid on the roadside, where they could hardly get any help, because trade had come to a standstill, and foodstuff could no longer be purchased on credit at the boutiques.

By January, the drought still prevailed, and contrary to the soothing pronouncements of the colonial authorities, mortality increased and reached a peak which was considered as ‘unprecedented’. At that stage, patients were affected by their third or fourth fit, and worse, cases of deadly cerebral malaria became common. Hospitals were unable to cope with the sudden influx of people, and undernourishment was general in the affected areas, in spite of rice distribution by the authorities. In some localities, restiveness and even revolt erupted, because of discrimination and harshness in the provision of relief: with the support of the press and of some members of the State Council, people denounced the apathetic and corrupt behaviour of the headmen and of some members of the medical and sanitary services.

The epidemic became a political issue and the situation called for a political answer: a special Commissionner for Relief, H.E. Newnham, was therefore entrusted with the task of coordinating relief operations by different services, of touring the affected districts and issuing communiqués for the press. Relief works (on roads, tanks and channels) were organized, free midday meals provided for school going children, milk centres opened in some villages. By early April, the authorities fearing the development of what they called a ‘dole mentality’, attempted to stop rice distribution and to put more people to relief works. The epidemic seemed to subside, and the people celebrated avurudda in a misleading atmosphere. Suddenly by mid-April the epidemic was again on the increase and many deaths occurred due to lung complications; it subsided after a few weeks in the malarial epicentre (Kurunegala, Kegalla) but took a virulent form in hitherto unaffected areas of the Central Province (especially Kotmale), Ratnapura, and Uva. Relief camps became malarial hotbeds, where unfeebled workers were an easy prey to the disease.[8]

During the last six months of 1935, mortality slowly decreased, but local outbursts occurred in the Kegalla and Ratnapura districts, and Matara was eventually affected in 1936. Elsewhere, by early 1936, better harvests and the resumption of employment in the plantations restored more normal conditions. But the impact of the epidemic was not to be forgotten, especially during the forthcoming 1936 election campaign.

 

The selective impact of the calamity.

As a rule in such a case, there is a tendency to interpret or even rig vital statistics to suit a political agenda: while the raj attempted to minimize the disaster, the nationalist press did the reverse. However, the data tabulated by the General Registry and checked by the Relief Commissionner are generally regarded as reliable, with perhaps an underestimation of deaths among the underpriviledged and the inhabitants of out of the way hamlets. Belated registration of births and infant deaths must have been rather frequent during mortality crises. But on the whole, population statistics were the second best in Asia after Japan. The registrars were paid according to the number of notifications they received, and heavy fines were imposed in cases of non-registration – during the epidemic, there were even examples of such penalties inflicted on helpless survivors.[9]

The malaria zone was populated in 1934 by about 3 million people, about 55 per cent of the population of Ceylon. Out of them, about half were affected by the disease: in health centres, 4,290,000 consultations were registered in excess of previous years. From September 1934 to December 1935, 254,968 deaths were registered in the island, 68 per cent more than the average figures of previous years: this represented about 100,000 excess deaths.[10]

The impact of the calamity was very unequally felt, according to geographic areas, to economic sectors, to age, gender and social status.

Medical authorities trying to explain the epidemic by purely natural causes stressed its location in three river basins (Deduru Oya, Maha Oya, Kelani Ganga) and they claimed that its seriousness was proportional to the proximity to these rivers – which is inaccurate: many seriously affected ‘Village expansion allotments’ were located in the interfluves. Others pretended that villages off the main roads were the worst hit – but roadside bazars were the first and most affected spots and might have diffused the infection. Available data is not detailed enough to give a definite answer at the village level, but at the division (korale) level, the picture is clear enough. When compared with the 1931 census, and taking into account the outmigration of a proportion of the estate population between 1931 and 1934, the core area of the epidemic is made up of Galboda and Kinigoda korale (in Kegalla), Weudawili hatpattu (in Kurunegala), and Tumpane korale (in Kandy).

According to socio-economic sectors, mortality among local villagers was much worse than among plantation workers – the reverse of the situation prevailing before the depression (see table 2). This feature was noticed by many contemporaries and it fuelled controversies regarding the origins of the epidemic and the repective merits of village economy and estate economy.[11]

Epidemic malaria is a killer of infants and children. The food situation for many of them was already marked in ‘normal times’ by deficiency diseases (notably skin infections before the main paddy harvest in January). During the epidemic, mortality of babies (less than 1 year) more than doubled (from 172 to 370 per thousand) in the whole of the island. In the core area, the massacre was terrific: during 1935 almost 50 p.c. of the newborn babies perished in the Kegalla district, and in the Kurunegala district more than seven out of ten. Later enquiries held in 1937-38 in Kurunegala on a random basis gave similar or higher figures (863 per 1000 for 1935, 311 per 1000 in 1936). Mortality of children between 2 and 5 years increased more than five times during the six worst months of the epidemic.[12]

Excess mortality of women was hardly noticed at that time but is in evidence in the statistics: while the female percentage in the number of registered deaths was usually between 49.5 and 50 per cent in normal years, it reached in 1935 53 p.c. in Kegalla and Kurunegala.[13]

For want of reliable class and caste statistics in colonial Ceylon, it is very difficult to assess the differential social impact of the epidemic in a scientific manner, but qualitative and micro-level data is not lacking. Class-wise, it is clear that the poorer village families who used to live on credit without spare foodstuffs were the most affected; recent migrants who had severed their everyday solidarity links with the family and village to settle in new peasant allotments (often without proper irrigation facilities) were especially hit by drought and illness.[14]

Caste-wise, the picture is more problematic, but the issue is certainly challenging.[15] Anyone familiar with the local characteristics of the mid and up country Kandyan districts cannot fail to notice a correlation between the core area of the epidemic and the districts with the largest non-Goyigama groups.[16] The large paddy cultivating villages, especially in Kurunegala and Kegalla, were very often populated by different communities loosely categorized during the colonial period under the large term Duraya or more restrictive term Batgama, but actually differentiated into specific endogamous subgroups according to locality or occupation. Many of the smaller villages located in the hills, with little paddy cultivation but extensive chena and palm tree tracts, were populated by members of the more homogeneous Vahumpura caste, especially on the borders between the Central, the North Western and the Sabaragamuwa provinces. The first affected villages in the Kurunegala and Kegalla district, located between Potuhera and Rambukkana, were all Vahumpura and Batgama. In the Kegalla district, in a list of 50 most affected villages compiled by the Assistant Agent, approximately 15 were mainly Goyigama, 20 Batgama, 8 Vahumpura, 5 multicaste and 2 undetermined. The villages thus mentioned were also those where discontent and request for help were most openly expressed. It is likely that villagers belonging to Goyigama families in the same areas were no less affected, but that they were better supported by headmen and that caste pride may have prevented them from claiming for public relief (a feature very apparent in the accounts of the 1868 epidemic mentioned in the next section). Superior headmen who acted as intermediaries with the colonial authorities were always of the Goyigama caste in the Kandyan areas, and every available information, including that provided by government sources, give numerous examples of open discrimination (which could affect as well Goyigama families belonging to adverse coteries).

But whatever glaring inequalities might have existed, they were not of such a magnitude as to create social upheaval or collective panic as in mediaeval and modern Europe: contrary to plague and cholera which are mainly urban calamities, malaria is a rural killer. Poor people died unnoticed in their huts, not in town streets; the scourge was first perceived as a collection of individual dramas rather than a global tragedy; it became an ‘event’ when outsiders and the media came in.[17]

 

Epidemiological factors

The epidemic is generally attributed to the conjunction of a dominant natural factor (an exceptional drought), of an underlying economic factor (poverty resulting from the depression in plantation areas), sometimes of a purely epidemiological factor (the cyclic activity of the blood parasit), and rarely of a migratory factor. But when one attempts to disentangle the interplay of these various causes, serious difficulties arise: every epidemic is a unique and complex event, and epidemiology is not of course an experimental science.

To start with, a summary description of the specific processes of malarial transmission in Sri Lanka is necessary.[18] Human malaria is caused by the development of plasmodium, a blood parasit, which reproduces itself in the organism of certain mosquitoes (anopheles culicifacies in Sri Lanka) the lifespan of which is short (one week to one month), the flight autonomy restricted (about one kilometer), but the reproductive power enormous under certain conditions. As a result, malaria is mainly an endemic disease, usually transmitted on short distances. It can take different forms according to the type of plasmodium involved: vivax can live in the human body for a couple of years, and its reproductive cycle is quick (three weeks); falciparum is less resistant (a few months if there is no reinfection) but is deadlier: it is responsible for cerebral malaria usually present in sudden outbursts.

The change from the endemic to the epidemic form happens when a large number of potential and actual human carriers is suddenly in contact with a large number of insect carriers, through the multiplication of mosquitoes, the weakening defences of human carriers or the exposure of people hitherto unaffected and lacking acquired resistance. Most epidemiologists in the 1930s considered that mosquito breeding was the only significant factor and was enough to account for the number of cases observed during the epidemic, but this view has been seriously challenged by later authors.

Breeding conditions had been meticulously analyzed well before the epidemic by two malariologists, Carter and Clemesha. They showed that culicifacies usually lives in dark corners and thatched roofs and lays its eggs in sunny shallow stagnant waters, especially the ponds left by dried up streams – a regular feature in the ‘dry zone’: when these characteristics extend to the rivers of the so called ‘intermediate zone’ and ‘wet zone’ as a result of the failure of the south west monsoon, an epidemic is likely to develop; stream irregularity is increased by heavy silting such as that resulting from the felling of forests for plantation development in the Kelani, Maha Oya and Deduru Oya areas especially after 1880.

Malarial eco/etiology is not only regulated by the habits of the mosquito, but also by those of the human carrier. Endemicity feeds itself: peasants when weakened by recurrent fevers tend to neglect cultivation and the upkeep of irrigation works; they reap short crops, and the resulting undernourishment lowers their defences against the parasite, while tanks and channels in disrepair are again breeding places. Plasmodium therefore lives as a parasit ot only in human blood, but also, metaphorically, in the channels of the paddy economy as a whole. Malaria is the specific scourge of rice ecology.

 

Some precedents of an ‘unprecedented epidemic’

It is not intended here to review the role played by malaria in the abandonment of the dry zone and the drift to the South West. What is significant for our purpose is that the establishment of malarial endemicity at the border between the dry and the wet zone represented a permanent menace for the population of the latter zone: most witnesses of the pre- and proto-colonial era, from Robert Knox to John Davy, noticed and often experienced to their cost the sudden changes in some salubrious localities turned into most unsalubrious places.[19]

Every epidemic was considered by its contemporaries as ‘unprecedented’, but the descriptions are actually very similar and this is rather an interesting case of repeated amnesy. For example, a detailed search into the Kegalla diaries and records reveals a deadly epidemic in 1854 after a drought in 1853 (the administration took no measures and the Agent congratulated himself for having collected the paddy tax as usual!)[20] The next serious outburst occurred in 1868: the Colombo press was informed by Baptist missionaries, and relief measures were taken for the first time, the acting Governor himself toured the affected districts (the eastern part of the Western Province then including Kegalla) and recorded his findings in an unpublished report.[21] The similarities with 1934-35 are quite striking : a severe drought followed by a sudden outburst of fever affecting two thirds of the population in mid-country areas, mostly children and women; ‘low caste’ people thronging the roads asking for help; entire families prostrated, people eating leaves and roots for want of rice, deaths resulting from combined illness and famine. As in 1934, the economic situation provided an aggravating factor: the opening of the Colombo-Kandy railway caused extensive unemployment among carters and other people living on the old road. Government help was organized on principles prefiguring 1935: rice distribution by headmen, opening of road relief works, the setting up of a fund to collect private donations, and an apprehension that aid would encourage ‘native laziness’. But medicalization was of course less advanced, although a few poorly managed temporary hospitals were set up by mudaliyars (notably the Dias Bandaranaikes), and most of the patients were treated by local vederalas. The event had a political impact – the reports published in the Colombo press had an echo at the House of Commons. Another interesting feature is that the question of the underdevelopment of villages as compared to plantation development was already raised – the answer suggested by the authorities being at that time that villagers should be encouraged to seek employment in the coffee estrates during the slack season of paddy cultivation.

A later and less serious epidemic is mentioned in 1874 in the Maha Oya valley, and the Government Agent of the Western province was blamed for his niggardly organization of relief.[22] The scourge again appeared in 1884-85 in the same valley, after a very severe drought and the failure of paddy crops. The Assistant Agent at Kegalla, Le Mesurier, prided himself of having quickly reacted, organizing rice distribution, opening road relief works, and encouraging planters to temporarily employ villagers on newly opened tea estates. After the epidemic, Le Mesurier again raised the issue of village development, stressing this time the usefulness of garden cultivation in case of paddy failure, notably in areas which had been reserved as timber and fuel reserves for the railway.[23]

His suggestions were not heeded, and a more serious epidemic broke out in 1892 in Kegalla after a bad harvest. When mortality was at its peak, it was said to be 67 per cent higher than in normal years. This time, the economy of the district had been transformed by the sudden development of ‘low-grown’ tea, but the villagers had little benefitted: most high land had been sold by the government or by various middlemen (including headmen) above the head of the villagers, and deforestation for the opening of estates had resulted in intensive erosion and the silting up of streams.[24] This favoured mosquito breeding, while the regular arrival of large gangs of Tamil workers who came through the most malarial areas of South India and Ceylon increased the number of potential human carriers and the frequency of reinfections. This time, the plantations were the hotbed of the epidemic and the working population on some estates was almost wiped out. Relief measures in 1892 did not match the seriousness of the crisis, the local administration took a fatalistic stance and blamed weather conditions – so that another outburst occurred in 1894.

During the next forty years (1894-1934), none of the malarial outbursts in Kegalla and surrounding districts were as serious as those of the previous forty years (1854-1894). Serious increase in mortality linked with undernourishment, malaria and also ankylostomiasis (which was not distinguished from other diseases before that time) and influenza, is mentioned in 1899, 1906, 1909-10, 1918-19, 1922-23, 1925, 1927-28 and 1931. For example, the superintendent of Trafford Hill estate in Kurunegala informed the G.A. that « malaria in 1925 was exceptionnally severe, not only on the estate, but in the surrounding villages (…) practically all the villagers have been striken down and many have died »[25]. In 1928, unusual cases of cerebral malaria were reported, and in 1931, seasonal malaria was said to be aggravated by the impoverished condition of the villagers.[26]

In spite of the rather impressionistic nature of the information on these precedents, some inferences can be drawn:

– the calamity of 1934-35 was by no means unprecedented in the wet and intermediate zones of Sri Lanka, where epidemics were rather frequent;

– mortality became less serious after the beginning of the 20th century, the village population being less dependent on their own paddy cultivation and more dependent on imported rice purchased with the sale of their labour or garden products;

– spatial limits of the epidemics were often the same, with the Maha Oya valley as the core area;

– drought and failure of paddy harvests were a necessary precondition; however, the available precipitation figures for the town of Kurunegala do not reveal a neat correlation between the failure of rains and malarial outbursts (see statistical appendix);

– at least in two cases, an economic factor was at play;

– a brutal disruption of ecological balance, and immigration of South Indian workers, played a role at least after 1880;

– relief operations were grudgingly started, often under the pressure of public opinion, by the administration which feared the development of a ‘dole mentality’.

Then where is the specificity of the 1934-1935 epidemic? First in its date: in the general context of the 20th century, a catastrophe of that magnitude seemed unlikely: more diversified economic resources appeared to provide a bulwark against weather vagaries, and a strict medical control of Indian immigration had been set up, the prevailing idea being that India, seen as the mother of epidemics, could no longer infect the island: nobody would believe that the island itself could shelter the germs of a calamity. Then in its size: never before had an epidemic extended over such a vast area and affected such a large number of people. Last and not least, in its repercussions in the public: it was the first time in Sri Lanka that an epidemic was represented as a major event.

 

Economic factors and climatic factors

In the malarial etiology, the weakening of human carriers is now considered as a decisive factor. If malaria actually receded in the intermediate/wet zones before 1930 because of better living standards and not of better weather conditions, then the economic depression of the 1930 which was most severe in the rubber and coconut areas would have upset the new balance between population growth and economic development, and allow the old sequence to get again moving, with a violence increased by the long time lag since the last epidemics. The recession brought about a regression of the peasantry to a state of vulnerability to climatic cycles. In a way, the epidemic would have resulted from a double drought: the crisis first dried out the supplementary resources drawn by the villagers of the wet zone from the plantation economy; they were thrown back to a condition similar to that of the dry zone villagers; then a non unusual climatic accident dried up the lands in the wet/intermediate zones, further weakening the peasantry and allowing increased mosquito breeding.

The estate sector in the epidemic zone was less exposed to the disease neither because the plantations were located far from the streams (they were actually the worst sufferers in previous epidemics), nor because estate workers were not in touch with malarial villages (the ‘dual’ structure of the economy is largely a myth, at least in these areas), but because of the better medical and sanitary facilities (including anti-malarial preventive work) in many estates after 1920, and owing to a regular system of food distribution set up or controlled by the plantation managers.[27]

While economic factors were stressed by several observers as a cause for the epidemic, including the Governor who linked the increasing rural poverty and malnutrition to landlessness as well as to the depression, the staff of the Colonial Office in London rather blamed population growth in a typically Malthusian style. [28] On the other hand, medical officials and some local administrators insisted on the primacy of epidemiological and climatic factors, which of course cannot be overlooked: the Galle district for example was spared both by the drought and the epidemic, but not by the depression. The Kegalla Agent argued that there was no abnormal distress in his district during the first half of 1934, as many rubber estates had resumed their operations and garden cultivation was not a failure there: according to him, the widespread distress in the villages could be attributed to the fact that the workers owing to their illness could no longer go to work.[29]

However, local cases from different districts contradict his views. In Kegalla itself, certain areas such as Walgam pattuwa (north of Rambukkana) were severely affected by unemployment since 1931; E.A.P. Wijeratne had obtained that Village Expansion Schemes would be set up there but in 1933 he had failed to get the road relief works he asked for; these areas were the worst hit by the epidemic in the district: there was a significant correlation between the list of localities most affected by unemployment in 1932, and most affected by the epidemic in 1935.[30]

In the Ratnapura district, well before the epidemic started, the Government Agent noticed the anaemic condition of children when opening a school at Palawela, a locality where unemployment resulting from the closing down of estates was at its maximum and where Duraya people were predominant. Ten months later when he returned from Europe after the epidemic, the Agent found that Palawela had been the most affected spot: the physical sequels of malaria and famine were still obvious and Newnham, who accompanied him, reported the opinion of the Headmen « who appeared to think that this was and should be the nomal condition of people of that caste ».[31]

Some up-country tea districts which had always been free from malaria were affected for the very first time: such was the case of the sparse villages of upper Bulatgama, close to Ginigathena, and of the denser rural population of Kotmale: in both areas, the villagers before the depression used to grow tea bushes, sell their leaf to bought-leaf factories, and do extra work on large estates to supplement their paddy: these activities completely broke down as a result of the Tea Restriction Scheme and the sale of coupons benefitted only the well-to-do landowners. In the Badulla district further east, conditions were different, but the result similar: the epidemic started in July 1935 in the area between Welimada and Bandarawela where the villagers had been deprived of their lands by estate development and were never able to raise their standard of living.[32]

The best example of the interplay between economic, social and climatic factors is provided by the case of the landless peasants of the Kegalla, Kurunegala and Matale districts, generally belonging to depressed castes, who were pushed out of their villages by unemployment in the coconut and rubber estates. They sought employment in the dry zone but came back by hundreds in 1934 to escape the drought, which eventually caught them up in the south. They might have been infected by plasmodium during their stay in the north, and could have played an important role in its diffusion.

The migration causal hypothesis was advanced by some authorities on tropical medicine in London and was taken up by a few local observers such as H.R. Freeman, MSC for Anuradhapura, and H.E. Newnham, Commissionner for Relief but it was soon rejected without serious examination.[33] During the 1920s and 1930s, Sri Lanka witnessed an impressive development of its transportation system: the railway network was completed, bus companies sprang up everywhere, and transport between the wet and dry zones became cheap and easy; people in increasing numbers went to the dry zone to look out for work or to visit sanctuaries such as Anuradhapura, Madhu and Kataragama. The secondary malaria wave of April 1935 might have been due to migration of human carriers to unaffected areas, possibly in connection with New Year celebrations. Another festive occasion might have contributed: the British had restituted to Ceylon the regalia of the last King of Kandy, which were exhibited in the ancient capital between the 24th and the 27th of September 1934, attracting about 100,000 visitors – a few weeks before the outburst. The actual connection remains highly problematic; but the interest of the event lies in its interpretation: people were quick to attribute the scourge to the malediction of Sri Wickrama who had come back to haunt the scene of his crimes (on which British propaganda had always insisted to justify their rule).[34]

To sum up the interplay of causal factors, one can argue that the malarial crisis was the by-product of the failure of a colonial mode of development, which in Sri Lanka had not been able to sustain economic growth in the peasant sector: it became useless in shielding the village population against the usual climatic fluctuations as soon as economic fluctuations prevailed.

 

Relief administration between paternalism and welfarism.

 » I am not surprised that the long sin of omission on the part of the Government of Ceylon in regard to malaria has at least brought upon the island the inevitable Nemesis. » [35]

In this radical indictment, a former Undersecretary of State privately writing to his successor raised the issue of the responsibility of human errors even before it was openly taken up by Ceylonese and British politicians. It was generally admitted that the medical and sanitary services in Ceylon were not up to the reputation of the island as a ‘model colony’: they were highly bureaucratized, they gave scant attention to prophylaxy, and the cuts in public spending after 1930 made them rather stingy. In 1928, the same Ormsby Gore had reported after a tour of the Federal Malay States and Ceylon, that while in the former anti-malarial work was well organized, in the latter it was  » the most inadequate organization [he] had ever met in any tropical country: the mentality of Europeans and Cingalese [sic] in this matter was still 19th century. From the Governor downwards, they still regarded medical services as expensive provision for treatment of the sick and the minimum provision for preventing the people from becoming sick(…) Of course there is an antimalarial organization in Ceylon, tabulating varieties of mosquitoes and so on (…) but as for practical field measures (…) the anopheles mosquito in Ceylon is as effectively preserved and pampered as the sacred cow in India. »[36]

Other officials in London however tended to lay the blame at the doors of the Donoughmore system of administration and of the State Councillors who decided to reduce public spending on anti-malarial measures (43,350 Rs in 1931, 30,900 Rs in 1933).

But bureaucratic inaction and even bungling had a large share of responsibility in that state of affairs: for example, the oiling of rivers was done in the rainy season while mosquito breeding was maximal during the dry season; no general assessment of anti-malarial work was ever made, except in the plantations which had enlisted a retired member of the Indian medical service, Col. Clemesha. This specialist, as well as his colleague Dr. Rustomjee, director of the Antimalarial campaign, had warned the authorities by early October that a malarial outburst was likely to occur owing to the drought and that field dispensaries should closely monitor the situation: but their advice was not heeded and many sanitary inspectors continued to write fictitious reports. [37]

Once the epidemic started, the medical authorities were left with little means to fight it. According to optimistic reports, such as that of Col. Gill, a medical expert sent by London to cross-check the official view of the Director of medical and sanitary services, the « quick and complete mobilization of all the available resources was a remarkable and unprecedented feat ». On the other side, according to the testimony of E.A.P. Wijeratne, MSC for Kegalla, the work of the medical services, « though well intentioned, was desperately inadequate ».[38]

Grass root level information culled from unpublished diaries of officials on the spot tend to confirm the pessimistic view. The medical services pretended to be unable to bring relief (quinine and food for infants) to the doors of the people, for want of personnel, but they sent sanitary inspectors to the villages every ten days just to report: they came empty-handed because the Director considered them unfit to distribute medicine in accordance with a hierarchical view of medical power.[39] Considering that no relief centre was more distant than three miles from any village, he used it as an argument to refuse to issue more than small quantities to each patient, fearing leakage and corruption, while according to most testimonies valid villagers actually shared with neighbours what they got. Medical services discouraged every offer by welfare organizations or even planters of what they considered as amateurish assistance. Government Agents themselves had to use their authority to compel medical administrators to give milk powder to mothers unable to bring their prostrated babies to health centres, and the Commissionner for Relief eventually prevailed on the Director of Medical and Sanitary Services to allow the distribution of milk without medical prescription.[40] A constant preoccupation of the Director was to soundly manage his budget, which meant to manage it with extreme parcimony: he persistently refused to open eight badly needed temporary hospitals in the Kurunegala district. The local relief committee then decided to start them on its own funds, and an able Sri Lankan civil servant, D.B. Seneviratne, eventually succeeded in convincing his own superior (who was curing his health in the hill country) and the Director (whom he could join only at his Colombo club), to take them over…[41]

The subaltern staff was no better in many cases. Absenteeism, very frequent transfers, the refusal to stay on in the field after office hours, residence with the family in Colombo were common features, extortion was not unknown. Among obvious cases of bungling one can cite the Sabaragamuwa province district medical officer who reported on November 17th 1934 that the epidemic was over and no further aid was needed; and his colleague at Kurunegala who in March 1935 implemented an ambiguous circular of his Director in such a way that all the male patients of the temporary hospitals of the province were discharged, whatever their state of health: some had to wait in the streets for hours, some fainted on their way back home: D.B. Seneviratne who reported the incident had to compel the doctor to check with his superior in Colombo the meaning of the circular.[42] The failures and shortcomings of the official services paved the way for a flurry of private initiatives which were usually coldly received by the authorities. The chief medical officer at Kurunegala reported against the sanitary conditions at a private temporary hospital, which was found by the Relief Commissionner to be in a better state than most government centres. These private centres were generally started in localities where the government had decided that the situation did not warrant for the opening of dispensaries. When they were popular, the authorities wanted to take them over: such was the case at Kehelwatte (Kegalla district) where the take over of an hospital started by the Ceylon Buddhist Congress was vehemently and successfully resisted by the local villagers. The authorities criticized what they called the « rather primitive management » of the hospital, but it is obvious that what patients appreciated so much were the daily rounds of relief volunteers in the villages and the active presence of bhikkhus with a practical knowledge of ayurvedic medicine.[43]

In rural areas of the wet zone quinine was universally accepted as a remedy against fevers and there was no opposition to western medical practices as such. At the same time, a revival of traditional medicine was noticeable since the beginning of the century: it was linked with the Buddhist revival, and upheld by a section of the nationalist urban elite as an essential component of their ‘imagined’ tradition; while in the countryside, actual use of herbs was still practiced not in opposition, but in concurrence with that of quinine. Europeans generally regarded ayurveda with the utmost disdain, while South Asian civil servants were more open minded.[44]

The most significant and tragic episode of the attempt, to use the words of David Arnold, at ‘colonizing the body’, was the experiment of a new remedy for malaria (Atebrin Mussonate) by a group of European doctors working for the German firm Bayer (which was to get a bad name some time later with the experiments in Nazi camps). The Ceylon authorities gave them a free hand to use the very poor Batgama villagers of Madawa (in Kurunegala) as human guinea pigs. Out of its 246 inhabitants, 59 were already dead and only two children under two years were alive when the European party came on the stage: five doctors and their wives, soon followed by civil servants and journalists. On the very first day, a five years old girl died just after inoculation: women and children fled screaming; the ladies of the party brought them back … with sweets and chocolates – and a callous Government Agent commented: « I dont remember whether the experiment included children under five but in any case there were very few of them left…Of course the child was doomed before and the injection merely gave it [sic] the final shock. » A few days later, a surexcited journalist reported to the Commissionner for Relief a tremendous change in the village with exalted villagers singing the praise of the good doctors. During the next month, the London gutter press gave its own version of the event: German doctors and their wives became white heroes braving death in the heart of thick jungles to save unfortunate natives. But the experiment ended in utter failure with deadly relapses: in the words of the Director of Medical and Sanitary Services, Atebrin was a dangerous and useless hallucinogen which was in no case to be given to empty stomachs and to children.[45]

The above quoted cases do not entail a condemnation of the medical system as a whole, they rather demonstrate the contradictions between its unefficiency in a case of emergency and the rising expectations of the public for a full fledged Welfare State.

 

A reluctant experiment with welfarism.

Early 20th century colonial administrators were still mainly Revenue Officers with growing tasks of supervision (roads, schools and hospitals) but little direct involvement in welfare activities which were left to private initiative. In a few weeks, by the end of 1934, these principles were radically but reluctantly altered and colonial administrators became involved in relief operations concerning 55 per cent of the population, for which senior officers were ill prepared, while some of their junior subordinates, especially South Asians, were more enthusiastic but still rather ill equipped.

The Kurunegala district provides the best example of that state of affairs: with its 5,000 villages, it was among the most difficult to manage and indeed poorly administered and often rebellious until the latter part of the 19th century. With the rapid development of coconut cultivation, there were tremendous changes: active landgrabbing, mostly by the emerging bourgeoisie, immigration of workers from the coastal areas and of various groups of traders and moneylenders, such as the Nattukottai Chettiar from Ramnad. But the administration was not up to the challenge: it was interfering as little as possible (except in the case of the Land Settlement Department) and Kurunegala was by no means a coveted post for civil servants. The GA in October 1934, Harrison Jones, did his best to ignore warnings (such as that of Dr Marcus Fernando, on October 12th) and even facts: at the end of the month he noted in his diary:  » It will be dangerous to start relief works from Government funds here as there will be great demand if malaria spreads. » On November 16th, he wrote:  » My work has been lighter this week as I have ever known it. This is partly because I have had very little circuit work, partly because of the reduced output of work from the clerks, several of whom have been suffering from malaria. » So he found the time to go hunting with planters and to attend a reception in honour of Baden Powell in Colombo. In December, the meeting of the Sanitary Committee of the Province kept silent on the epidemic and its « most important task was to reduce the very high salaries [sic] proposed for the Polgahawela conservancy labourers ». On the 10th, the GA received relief funds and not knowing how to spend them he asked his junior colleague at Kegalla for advice. He eventually decided to distribute foodstuffs « in spite of the serious consequences these distributions can create », but he warned his headmen « to be hard and keep the lists small so that the really needy only get enough to keep body and soul together. » The results went beyond his expectations: some superior headmen cut the lists by half, others suggested to their subordinates that they would be rewarded if they reduced or stopped altogether food distribution.[46]

Even if other senior administrators were of a more competent and kinder type, the epidemic generally acted as a revelator of the inadequacy of the old style and of the increasing scepticism among elder officers deprived of their absolute power by the Donoughmore system. In the younger generation generally prevailed a dynamism born of the belief that they were building the future of the country. D.B. Seneviratne’s diary offers a sharp contrast with that of Harrison Jones: he had a previous experience as assistant settlement officer, which gave him an intimate knowledge of and direct access to rural society, an ability to by-pass the vanishing authority of headmen and to discount their reports. In a way, his style which was symptomatic of an assertive State welfarism, was no less authoritarian than that of his elders: he organized along quasi-military principles a large relief work camp at Ridi Bendi Ela – the first of that size in Ceylon.

In such a political context, the nomination of a special commissionner for relief was a significant step on the part of government. H.R. Freeman who had a long experience in the dry zone thus expressed the duties of Newnham:  » He will need to be in great measure a dictator, generous, and to say yes yes rather than no no. He will find a great fear of audit and general orders and will need to dodge these if he hopes to overcome the food need and the sickness ». As soon as he was commissioned, Newnham noted in his diary with a sarcastic humour: « My new job is likely to be that of a whipping boy in chief ». His reports and diary are indeed the best guides to follow the gestation of a new policy and to get a critical and balanced assessment of the shortcomings of a century of colonial raj.[47]

Warding off famine was his first aim. Never before 1934 was rice distribution by the State organized on such a scale. In rural society, mutual aid was the usual engine for social security and the usual tool of influence of dominant family groups who could manipulate debt links to their advantage. In 1935, the State took over that function from the rural elite whose wealth had been drained off by the depression or by its inability to preserve its command over men in a context of population increase, diversified occupations, and mounting influence of Low Country immigrants. Rice distribution became a sensitive issue, closely watched by the elected members of the State Council, who were very often people from Colombo with little links with the local elite. They denounced the delays in setting up relief operations, the ‘stop and go’ strategy adopted by Newnham and the general concern to distinguish between needy and greedy which led him to stop too early wholesale distribution.[48]

Among the most significant aspects of food distribution stands the role played by the school network. From that period onwards, schools became places where children received not only intellectual but also bodily nourishment. Schooling was already much more developed in Ceylon than elsewhere in South Asia (a rate of 50 per cent at the primary level is generally assumed); teachers were respected members of the community and at the same time independent from the headmen system. The distribution of midday meals started in May 1935; it had spectacular results: one could find out at first sight whether a child attended school or not. But soon problems cropped up: some meals were inadequate; reciprocal charges between teachers and headmen became common; common eating was frowned upon by the most caste-conscious families; and relief money was always short.[49]

Providing employment was the next task. The opening of relief works was satisfying in terms of financial principles, but it was criticized by those who wanted to prevent the ‘coolyfication’ of the Kandyan peasantry, and by others who on the contrary considered that these works unfairly competed with estate employment.[50] These considerations led the authorities to keep the pay under the level of the estate workers wages, but the pressure of public opinion and the state of destitution of the villagers often led to relax these rules.

Minor relief works were started before the epidemic in drought-affected areas, but large scale operations were undertaken only after February 1935. In July, almost 80,000 people were on the rolls (they were not simultaneously employed): the State thus became for the first time the largest employer after the planters. The popularity of relief works astonished many observers who had predicted that the Sinhalese villagers would soon bolt off and prefer enduring hunger to accepting work discipline. The stark reality was that, in the words of Kegalla villagers in May 1935,  » if we dont work, we shall starve to death « . Moreover, most relief works were socially and psychologically acceptable just as casual work on plantations because they were fitted to the rythms of village life, they provided small sums every day or week, there was no enforced attendance, they were within walking distance of village homes. Workers could understand and control the finality of their activity: they built roads and canals for local use; byways which had been neglected for ages were being repaired and expanded (825 miles of new local roads built in a year, ten times more than usual), and that especially in areas where plantation expansion had often hemmed-in the villages.[51]

There was an enthusiastic response at the opening of the works: the people came with their tools, village proprietors gave strips of land for road building free of charge – an unusual move which was explained by the authorities by the enhanced value of roadside ground. But there were more compelling reasons to counter the peasant’s obsessive love for land litigation: a new sense of collective action for a common cause, which was lacking among non-resident owners who generally claimed compensation (some villagers clubbed together to pay it themselves). Most works locally employed less than 100 people, but there was one attempt at developing a large scale camp near Nikaweratiya, at a site where the Irrigation Department had been planning for years to irrigate about 4,000 acres by a derivation of the Deduru Oya (Ridi Bendi Ela). The camp set up by D.B. Seneviratne employed up to 1,650 men (1,300 residing in the camp), well paid, housed, fed and entertained in a typically European camp style of the 1930s. The idea was to check leakage, corruption, jobbing, trafficking, which were becoming rife in small scale operations: some traders publicly boasted that all the relief money would eventually find its way into their pockets. And the flow of relief money led to local inflation so that the Relief Commissionner had to pass a deal with the principal rice importer in Colombo (Adamalee) to keep the prices down.[52]

The dynamics of relief works survived their stoppage by government: for example they were continued in the Puttalam area at the initiative of a local Village Committee member who employed 200 people for road repairs, and in some localities they might have been perpetuated through shramadana. To counter the plans to close down relief works, some villagers began to defend their rights: demonstrations were held before government offices in Kurunegala and Nuwara Eliya districts (in the latter case, 1,500 people from Kotmale were present). At that stage it was no longer the distress resulting from the epidemic but rather from the depression which was at stake. Relief committees by the end of 1935 were all confronted with the same problem: the epidemic had laid bare the roots of rural poverty; public opinion was set in motion; policy makers could no longer ignore it; there were political problems ahead.[53]

In a lenghty report dated 25.03.1935, Newnham clearly formulated the issues and suggested answers which at that time appeared innovative, but are now generally accepted as the standard approach to encourage rural development. According to him, the State could neither be permanent employer nor food supplier, but it should tackle the roots of underdevelopment and fight on several fronts at the same time. Undernourishment, poor health conditions, stagnant technology, fatalistic state of mind were linked together in a ‘descending spiral’ (a concept close to Clifford Geertz ‘agricultural involution’ and Daniel Thorner ‘built-in depressor’). The fight should be coordinated and planned at the district level by bringing together the different government services which tended to act independently. Finally Newnham falled in line with the new thinking of the 1930’s which put village before estate as the leading factor for the economic development of the island.[54]

 

Epidemics and politics.

 » It looks as though [the peasants] will not be content to starve unnoticed in future. »[55]

While the depression – an insidious phenomenon – had never been felt as an event by the peasantry (contrary to plantation owners and workers), the epidemic initiated a contagious consciousness in large sectors of the rural society of Sri Lanka. The movement was helped by the growing politicization linked to the introduction of universal franchise; it largely contributed to the demise of the class of ‘walauwa’ people who had hitherto been associated with the colonial system of administration. But it never resulted in the assertion of strong and independent peasant interest groups.[56]

The first reaction of people faced up against such a calamity was utter despondency, especially in areas where they were not familiar with malaria. Observers often met people who were so dejected that they refused to move to relief centres and preferred to die where they were. Some waited for a miracle, others prayed local deities such as Pattini, others organized pirith recitations by monks, but the available sources do not disclose any large scale movement of religiosity. More significant was the elaboration of myths to account for the event: some were grafted on odd news transmitted by the press or local gossip, others on traditional beliefs (the ban on beef consumption or the use of black umbrellas were said to have been broken), other on astrological computations; the interpretation attributing the epidemic to the return of Sri Wickrama’s ghost has already been mentioned.[57]

But political reactions went far beyond any other consideration after mid-December 1934. They were initiated by a motion laid before the State Council by A. Ratnayake, the member for Dumbara (6.12.1934), and seconded by E.A.P. Wijeratne, the member for Kegalla. The next day the press was full of details on the epidemic, and on the 8th, letters to the editors poured in. Just before Christmas, with the eye reports of journalists and social workers, there was a new wave of protest, which transformed itself into an anti-headmen movement.

In most of the recorded cases, the discontent was expressed with the assistance of outsiders and revolved around discrimination in the distribution of relief by headmen; in many cases, members of the Vahumpura and Batgama castes were the chief complainants. The most significant case is that of Talampitiya detailed in the appendix, but many similar incidents are reported in the diaries: when the member for Nuwara Eliya incited villagers against headmen, the bulk of the demonstrators were Batgama. In the Kegalla district, the people of Hewadiwela, Diwela, Atugoda and Dimbulgomuwa, all Batgama, were among the most assertive (in the latter case a demonstration was led by the local midwife); non-Goyigama villagers in the Ruanwella electorate complained loudly of the poor quality of relief rice, and were very receptive to the message of the Suriya Mal Society: when the LSSP was formed they would vote en masse for Dr N.M. Perera at the 1936 polls.

Such a readiness of these groups to demonstrate was not new, it was already noticed during the 1868 epidemic. But the socio-political context of the 1930s was quite different. They were given for the first time, with the vote, the feeling that their grievances could be seriously taken up; some families had become wealthy and had educated their children (such as N.H. Keerthiratne, who contested and lost in the Kegalla district); some openly claimed admission to the posts of superior headmen and police officers, from which they were traditionnally barred.[58]

The headmen system was not only contested on caste grounds; it had become unpopular among larger sections of the peasantry, possibly because with increased monetarization it had become more extortive, corrupt, arbitrary and servile; and the urban elite generally considered it to be adverse to its interests. The findings of different commissions found a welcome confirmation in Newnham’s reports: in the words of the editorialist of the Ceylon Daily News (16.03.1935):  » The latest report of the Relief Commissionner ought to convince the most stubborn sceptics (…) It is a severe indictment of the old system of government under which the Government Agents and Headmen were eulogized as the best friends and protectors of the Goiyas. The myth about patriarcal government will get a rude jolt from this painful disclosure. »

Officials as well as outsiders in the field during the epidemic were flooded with complaints against headmen, who usually pleaded ignorance for their inertia: such was the case in Rambukkana, where the Ratemahatmaya omitted for one month to report the outbreak, or in Hiriyala Hatpattuwa, where the Ratemahatmaya turned a blind eye to the suffering of entire villages and refused to visit the houses of some families who belonged to adverse coteries or depressed castes.

In other cases, minor headmen conveniently ‘forgot’ to inform certain co-villagers of the opening of relief works, or to tell them that no guarantee and no payment was required to obtain seed advances from government. A glaring example of such an attitude took place prior to the epidemic in Nikawagampaha, the remote northern corner of Hiriyala, where the villagers lived partly on irrigated paddy, partly on chenas which were always allowed free of charge. In preparation for a settlement which was planned for 1930 but was constantly postponed, the korala was to issue free chena permits, but he asked for fees, which the extremely poor villagers were unable to pay: a famine situation developed in 1934, and when a relief party visited the villages in December with a lorryload of foodstuffs, the survivors were reduced to eat boiled leaves and lotus bulbs.[59]

The behaviour of certain headmen was denounced well before 1934, usually by members of rival coteries who had their eyes on the post and never scrupled to use slander: many feuds ended before the Courts after affrays or even murders. What was new in the 1930s was that the rural representative institutions (Village Committees) were no longer under the exclusive control of the traditional dominant families: there were members of an emerging rural elite such as traders, small planters, petty civil servants and teachers, who were increasingly vocal. Clever Government Agent were able to make Headmen and Village Committees cooperate for relief operations. But most of them still favoured their Headmen and refused to associate Village Committees to relief work; they treated the opponents as « healthy rascals who menaced honest chiefs who refused to accede to their demands », and in the reports meant for publication they were full of praise for their « unpaid headmen who kept the balance between heart and mind ». Unpaid was the crux of the matter: the cost of paying a rural police would have been prohibitive, and its dishonesty and inefficiency would possibly have been worse. But as Newnham wrote it in his diary (17.05.1935), « supervision of the activities of village headmen in such areas by the normal machinery of government is impossible in an emergency. »

Of course every headman was not inefficient and corrupt: some played a major role in the opening of temporary hospitals, others were present when the Relief Commissionner and the Assistant Agent of Nuwara Eliya were greeted in the Kotmale valley by an unusual and peaceful demonstration of about 1,500 people who asked for work and succeeded in persuading the authorities that their claim was just and sound.[60] In many cases headmen must have been convenient scapegoats for the shortcomings of the colonial administration as a whole.

 

The ‘discovery’ of the peasantry

« The distress has focussed public attention on the condition of the peasantry and it seems now to be more generally admitted that their normal condition in the past has been far below what was satisfactory. Presumably this was known before but it is difficult to point to any comprehensive and concerted effort to do anything about it. »(Newnham) [61]

« Believe me, we had not up to this moment realized the poverty of our people (..) In more than 50 per cent of the houses the belongings of the whole household are not worth ten rupees. That shows that they have been living a hand to mouth existence, and the fact had not been brought to our notice. »(E.A.P. Wijeratne) [62]

Members of the ruling elite, British as well as Ceylonese, tended to ignore the actual condition of the people until the epidemic brought it at their doors, with the exception of a few outstanding personalities such as Dr.S.A. Wickremasinghe. In many cases, their ‘discovery’ was dramatized, consciously or not, for reasons of expediency in the socio-political context of the 1930s. As for planters, they opened for the first time estate dispensaries to nearby villagers, and sometimes started their own relief works or the distribution of food (for example in the Ginigathena area, and at Golinda south of Kegalla). Their new attitude was linked with a realization that the planter’s raj was over, that they had to live with their time and bridge the gap with the villages to get access to local labour and maintain local influence (but resentment among Kandyan peasants about the loss of their land could not be easily erased).[63]

The ‘discovery’ of the peasantry by the sons and daughters of the Ceylonese elite originated in a more genuine concern for their people. For most of these young people still at Colombo high schools or freshly returned from universities abroad, this was indeed a revelation and a shock, which led many of them to opt for radical positions. The Suriya Mal Society which was started as a nationalist organization to help Ceylon veterans soon transformed itself into a well organized group of dedicated social workers. Many of them were among the founding members of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, and they gained during the epidemic a first hand knowledge of peasant life which gave them a lot of arguments to denounce the collusion of what they called the ‘feudal class’ with the colonial raj and the conservative sections of the Colombo bourgeoisie.[64]

On the other side, elite families who had obtained a share of power under the Donoughmore constitution were anxious to disclaim all responsibility and save the newborn parliamentary system. Such was the case with D.B. Jayatilaka who tended to explain the calamity by the law of karma, and with D.S. Senanayake, who kept a low profile during the epidemic until the projects of rural reconstruction which fitted well with his ideas were set in motion with his full support. But the deadliest attacks against the Donoughmore system came from London and not from the radical left: they were led by a section of the Conservative press which charged the Ceylonese ministers with inefficiency or worse. The exchange of despatches between the Governor and the Secretary of State shows that they were really anxious that the system itself could be imperilled.[65]

The long-term sequels of the epidemic are well known: malaria became public enemy number one, and as soon as the financial situation was better and the technical means were available, by the end of the Second World War, the authorities enforced the plan delineated by Newnham by combining the extensive use of DDT with a social policy aimed at raising the standard of living in the villages.

Appendix:  The Talampitiya case. [66]

Talampitiya was a very large village (nearly 3,000 inhabitants in 1934) located on the borders of the Kurunegala and Kegalla districts; its lands were among the largest and most fertile paddy tracts of the region. Most of the villagers belonged to the Batgama community. Their ancestors must have been settled on these rich lands by the kings of Kotte or Kandy, to serve as bonded labourers and soldiers. These villagers had the reputation of being as hot headed as their Vahumpura neighbours but they were considered by the authorities as more depressed, and during the colonial times they were targeted by a host of rival Christian missions: Anglicans of the Ceylon Missionary Society came first and were rather unsuccessful; then Salvation Army officers tried to moralize people known for their addiction to toddy and arrack and their propensity for cattle stealing; Ceylonese Catholic priests were the last to come on the scene and they were more successful as they had no links with the British; however most villagers remained Buddhists.

The odd situation of missionary rivalry, which split up the solidarity of the powers, led the people to put forward their claims in an unrestrained manner and they eventually found in the Catholic priest, Father Fernando, an efficient spokesman. An educated priest (he spoke fluent English) coming from the assertive Karava community of the Negombo district, he had been residing for the previous ten years in nearby Hewadiwela where he was very popular for his powers of healing (he treated his patients free of charge). One of his successors who took up the neighbouring Kudagama shrine rose to fame in the 1970s (see his fascinating story in R.L. Stirrat’s excellent Power and religiosity in a post-colonial setting, Cambridge, 1992). His strong character put him into conflict with headmen, who depicted him as an agitator of loose morals, and with Rev. Walmsley, the head of the Ceylon Missionary Society for the Kandyan regions, who literally execrated him.

Talampitiya was located at the epicentre of the epidemic: official and private donations soon flowed through the channel of the Ceylon Missionary Society and of the President of the Village Committee who resided close by. But in January the system was changed and the local headmen were put in charge; a misunderstanding ensued, which resulted in most villagers being deprived of relief for one full month, precisely when the epidemic was at its worst. The headman seems to have reduced the list of beneficiaries along caste considerations, tretaining only 1/10th of the families (his favourites) and  forcibly putting to work 150 villagers, following the orders of the Government Agent who had noted (diary 6.01.1935): « It is true that poverty is exceptionnally great there and sickness has been as bad as anywhere: but they are people who must be got to relief work early ».

The discontent was so strong that for once the Catholic priest, the Buddhist monk, the Salvation Army officer and even the Anglican catechist went to the Kurunegala kachcheri to plead for the villagers on February 4th. The Government Agent then asked for a report from the very headman who was responsible for that state of things. A few days later, when the headman started rice distribution, the villagers, at the instigation of Father Fernando, refused it outright and decided for a mass demonstration at Kurunegala. On February 16th, 200 half-starved peasants headed by the priest walked to the kachcheri where the Relief Committee was sitting, and asked for an interview with the Government Agent, who refused to listen to their claims and dismissed them forcefully. The next day he sent to Talampitiya his assistant, D.B. Seneviratne, who found that the villagers had sufficient grounds for complaining. Rice distribution had actually been erratic, and the dispensary, where they were supposed to be treated, was closed, the health officer in charge having just left the drugs in the building. Hovewer the Government Agent did not act resolutely on this report and tried to water down the reponsibility of his headmen. At this juncture, the priest wrote to the press to give his version of the incident, and his letter attracted critical rejoinders by the Government Agent and Reverend Walmsley. Ultimately, the case was mentioned at the State Council, where strangely and unfairly D.B. Seneviratne was chosen as scapegoat and called ‘brown bureaucrat’.



* This paper was presented at the Sri Lanka International Conference held at Kandy in August 1997; the organisers are thanked for authorising its publication here. The Director and the staff of the Sri Lanka National Archives, especially Mrs Muttuwatte have been helpful in making their records available. An ealier and more extended version of this study appeared in French in 1982: E. Meyer, ‘L’épidémie de malaria de 1934-1935 à Sri Lanka: fluctuations économiques et fluctuations climatiques.’  Cultures et Développement  , 1982 n° XIV (2-3) pp. 183-226 and (4) pp. 589-638.

[1] P. Newman, Malaria eradication and population growth, with special reference to Ceylon and British Guyana, Ann Arbor 1965; S.A.  Meegama,  The decline in mortality in Ceylon since the end of the 19th century, London, Ph D, 1968 ;  idem, ‘Malaria eradication and its effects on mortality levels’, Population Studies 21(3)1967.

[2] Ceylon Sessional Paper (hereafter: SP) 22 of 1935 (2 vols); SP 23 of 1935; SP 5 of 1936.

[3] Newnham diaries and papers are in Colonial Office Records, Kew (hereafter CO) series 54/925 and at Rhodes House, Oxford. Government Agent’s (GA) and Assistant Government Agent’s (AGA) diaries are at the Sri Lanka National Archives (SLNA), Colombo and Kandy branch (Kurunegala, Kegalla, Puttalam-Chilaw, Matale, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Ratnapura have been studied in detail). The Settlement Officers (SO) diaries are also full of information for that period; the Ceylon Hansard, the Ceylon Daily News, the Ceylon Independent and the Times of Ceylon have been gone into.  Some information can be gathered in the private papers of E.A.P. Wijeratne, M.S.C. for Kegalla (SLNA), and in the interviews of the Michael Roberts Oral History Project. I have collected myself some oral information between 1977 and 1983 from Dr N.M. Perera (Colombo), Mr N.H. Keerthiratne (Rambukkana)  and some villagers in the areas south of Kegalla. On the historiography of the disease and on the colonial, nationalist and peasant discourses on malaria in Sri Lanka, see the recent critical contributions of K. T. Silva, ‘Malaria eradication as a legacy of colonial discourse: the case of Sri Lanka’, Parassitologia 36,  1994, pp. 149-163, and idem, ‘ « Public Health » for whose benefit? Multiple discourses on Malaria in Sri Lanka’,  Medical Anthropology 17, 1997, pp. 195-214, the latter not being available to me when preparing this paper. The references to material used in the present paper were given in more detail (in French) in E. Meyer, op. cit. (1982)

[4] Administration Report (AR) North Central Province 1935, Newnham Report p. 7, Kurunegala diaries, october 1934; SLNA 38/196, circular of DMSS to GAs, 21 september 1934

[5] Kurunegala and Kegalla  Diaries, october, november and december 1934, Newnham and Briercliffe reports, passim.

[6] Idem and Ceylon Daily News, december 1934

[7] Diary of the Assistant settlement officer Navaratnam, 6.12.1934:  » An old man who was lying prostrate on a veranda got up with difficulty, approached us and said: – Sir, give me some medicine, I am very ill (…) A woman came out of a house and said: – We are eight here and all down, there is no one to get us medicine. » see also Gimson Report appended to Newnham report, Sir Edwin Wijeratne papers at the SLNA, and Ceylon Daily News, January 1935.

[8] Diaries Kegalla, Kurunegala, Ratnapura and Nuwara Eliya for 1935 and Newnham report.

[9] Administration Reports of the Registrar General, 1930 to 1936; diary Kegalla, 18.07.35

[10] Briercliffe, Gill and Newnham reports

[11] Administration Reports of the Controller of Labour and of the Registrar General, 1935

[12] Briercliffe Report, p 39-45; Ceylon, Ministry of Labour, Report on the Economic Survey of Villages n°10 (1940), Kurunegala district.

[13] The remarks of a State Councillor (A. Rajapakse, MP for Dumbara) are up to the point:  » In the villages the practice when they have obtained some food is to give the lion’s share of it to the breadwinner. What is left is given to the children. And if there is something left, it is consumed by the mother » (Hansard 1935 p. 64). Compare with the callous and chilling comments of a GA (Kandy Administration Report 1936 p. B1): « The inapts have been wiped out » !

[14] Kegalla diary, december 1934 and january 1935; Newnham and Gimson reports, passim.

[15] see the controversial analysis of Janice Jiggins, Caste and family in the politics of the Sinhalese.  Cambridge, 1979.

[16] especially the following areas: Hiriyala south, Weudawili, Matale west, Tumpane, Yatinuwara, Bulatgama, Dolosbage, Kotmale, Kinigoda, Galboda, Paranakuru, and many parts of the Ratnapura district. Information compiled from the Kegalla, Kurunegala, Nuwara Eliya  and Ratnapura diaries

[17] Interview with the elders in the villages of Atugoda and Talewala, 10 miles south of Kegalla, in August 1979

[18] Sessional Paper 7 of 1927 (H. Carter, Report on malaria and anopheline mosquitos in Ceylon); W. Clemesha,  » Brief account of the natural history of malaria in Ceylon »,  Ceylon Journal of Science, D 3 (3), 1934

[19] R. Knox, A historical relation of island Ceylon, 1681, repr. Dehiwela 1958, p. 213; John Davy, An account of the interior of Ceylon and its inhabitants, 1821, repr. Dehiwela 1969, pp 57 and 266.

[20] Atherton report for the district of Kaigalle, 1854 (SLNA 10/177)

[21] CO 54/436, OAG Hudgson to Secretary of State, 10.08.1868, enclosure 4. See also Administration reports 1868 for Kegalla, Colombo and Ratnapura.

[22] Times of Ceylon, end of 1874; CO54/496, 4.02.1875

[23] Administration Report and diary Kegalla, 1885

[24] Administration Reports and diary Kegalla, 1892 to 1894; E. Meyer,  » From Landgrabbing to Landhunger: High Land Appropriation in the Plantation Areas of Sri Lanka during the British Period. »  Modern Asian Studies  26, 2, (1992) pp. 321-361. idem:  » Forests, chena  cultivation, plantations and the colonial State in Sri Lanka (ca.1840-1940). » in Richard Grove and Satpal Sangwan (eds.) Nature and the Orient, Essays on the environmental history of South and South East Asia. Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1998.

[25] SLNA 38/196, Holloway to Tyrrell, 17.01.1926

[26] On these 20th century outbreaks, see Briercliffe and Gill reports; in 1931, « relief measures became necessary where whole families were affected and the lack of ready money in the villages made the assistance which in normal circumstances is given by the neighbours difficult or impossible » (Administration Report Western Province 1931 p. A5)

[27] Gill report, passim; W. Clemesha, op. cit.; A. Meegama, op. cit.; Administration Report Controller of Labour, 1935; Newnham report § 16-19.

[28] « The population has increased under the Pax Britannica out of all proportion with the normal means of subsistence: the result in an unusual epidemic of that kind is an unavoidably heavy mortality » (Minute by Cowell on Newnham diary, 2.2.1935, CO54/926; see also CO54/926, despatch dated 31.01.1935)

[29] Administration report Kegalla 1934; Briercliffe report p. 27.

[30] Diary Kegalla August 1931, June 1932, February 1934; SLNA 25/20/19: Letter of E.A.P. Wijeratne to the AGA Kegalla, 31.01.1934; Hansard 1935, p. 19.

[31] Diary Ratnapura September 1934, July 1935, October 1935. Newnham diary September 1935.

[32] Briercliffe report p. 19;  Newnham diary February, March and July 1935; Administration Reports Nuwara Eliya 1925, 1934 and 1935; Uva, 1928.

[33]  » There is another reason for the spread of malaria. When people ill nourished as they have been for years owing to unemployment, that reason is that since 1929, hundreds of people from the wet zone, including especially Kegalla district, Kuriunegala district, Polgahawela, and many other coconut and rubber areas, have each year drifted to the malarial dry zone, especially Anuradhapura town, in the vain hope of employment. They have stayed there a day or two, a week or a month or two, and had to be sent back. The same thing has happened to them as to the stranded pilgrims and colonists from land settlement schemes and timber felling contracts in the NCP. These sick and demoralized people must have been a great source of propagation of malaria. » (H.R. Freeman in Times of Ceylon, 15.01.1935). See also the comments of Newnham on the plight of the Minneriya and Manampitiya colonists who were hit by the fall of paddy prices and came back to Kegalla and Matale (Newnham diary, 6.03.1935)

[34] on the history of transports in Sri Lanka, K.M. de Silva ed. History of Ceylon vol III, pp. 303-316; on migrations and malaria, C.L. Dunn, Malaria in Ceylon, an inquiry into its causes.  London 1936; R. Mansell Prothero, Migrants and malaria. London, 1965; on the celebrations in Kandy: Ceylon Daily News,  September and October 1934, Administration report Kandy, 1934.

[35] CO 54/924: private letter of Lord Ormsby Gore to Sir Cunliffe Lister, 18.12.1934

[36]  ibidem.

[37] Briercliffe report p. 71 appendix 2; Clemesha, op. cit.; notes by E.A.P. Wijeratne in SLNA 25/20/14

[38] Gill report p. 9, Newnham report p. 49, Wijeratne notes quoted above.

[39] on medical power see M. Foucault, The birth of the clinic: the archaeology of medical perception, New York, 1973; K.T. Silva op. cit. (1994 and 1997); and in the Indian colonial context, David Arnold, Colonizing the body,  Berkeley, 1993, which is by far the best work on the subject, but says little on malaria. Instructions of the DMSS are in his unpublished report of 10.1.35, CO54/925

[40] Diary Kegalla, January and February 1935; Newnham diary, January 1935; Newnham report p. 48

[41] Seneviratne diary, February 1935.

[42] Diary Kegalla, November 1934; Seneviratne diary, March 1935

[43] Diary Kegalla and Ceylon Daily News,  February 1935. On the use of ayurveda against malaria in dry zone Sri Lanka, see K.T. Silva,  » Ayurveda, malaria and the indigenous herbal tradition in Sri Lanka « ,  Soc. Sci. Med. 33, 2 (1991)

[44] compare the remarks of the European GA at Kurunegala on the ayurvedic hospital (« In accordance to long standing custom, dying patients are removed to government hospital ») to those of his successor, an Indian « At least it served to revive hope when owing to repeated relapses faith in quinine treatment was at a very low ebb » (Diaries Kurunegala, March and April 1935)

[45] Memorandum on the use of Atebrin by the DMSS, 10.05.35 in CO54/925; Diaries Kurunegala, 27-28.02.1935; Diary Newnham, March 1935; Ceylon Daily News,  28.03.1935

[46] Kurunegala diary, October 1934 to February 1935; Administration Report Kurunegala, 1935; Times of Ceylon, 15.01.1935 (letter of E.W. Jayawardene); Ceylon Daily News, 17.01.1935

[47] Newnham diary, 16.01.1935; State Council Debates reproduced in Times of Ceylon, 15.01.1935.

[48] Kegalla diary, December 1934; Newnham diary, January and February 1935; Gimson report annexed to Newnham report, p. 45.

[49] Newnham diary, February, April and June 1935; Senaviratne diary, January and May 1935.

[50] Puttalam diary, May 1935.

[51] Newnham report, p. 35 and 50; see also E. Meyer,  » ‘Enclave’ plantations, ‘hemmed-in’ villages and dualistic representations in colonial Ceylon ». Journal of Peasant Studies  19 (3 & 4), 1992 p. 199-228. Republished in E.V. Daniel, H. Bernstein and T. Brass eds, Plantations, Proletarians and Peasants in Colonial Asia, London, Cass, Library of Peasant Studies n° 11, p. 199-228.

[52] Seneviratne diary, April-May 1935; Newnham diary, April-May 1935.

[53] As expressed by the Ratnapura Agent in his diary (9.09.1935):  » We were like doctors prescribing medicine for a patient they had never seen and each of whom had different ideas of the disease. There was one thing however all were agreed on: all these educated men no longer young did not want to see the educated man still very young as the guide, philosopher and friend of everyone. »

[54] CO54/925 Report to the Home Minister on rural reconstruction by H.E. Newnham, 25.03.1935; Newnham report, p. 43; cf C. Geertz, Agricultural involution,  Berkeley 1956; D. & A. Thorner, Land and labour in India,   London, 1962.

[55] Newnham diary, 6.03.1935

[56] Mick Moore, The State and Peasant Politics in Sri Lanka. Cambridge, 1985; E. Meyer,  » Rural Society and the Bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka, 1880-1940. »  South Asia Research , 11,1 may 1991, pp. 40-59.

[57] Administration Report Registrar Cooperative Societies 1935, Kegalla diary, January 1935, Times of Ceylon & Ceylon Daily News,  January 1935

[58] Interviews of N.M. Perera, N.H. Keerthiratne, A.B.C. de Soysa by the author (1977-1978)

[59] Kegalla diary November 1934, Kurunegala diaries, December 1934 and January 1935, Seneviratne diaries, December 1934 to March 1935

[60] Newnham diary, and Diary Nuwara Eliya, February 1935. The Report of the Commission on the Headmen System, published as SP 27 of 1935, quotes several instances of oppression and corruption, and contributed to the general feeling that the system was ‘incorrigibl corrupt’ and definitely doomed.

[61] Newnham report p. 42 § 210.

[62] E.A.P. Wijeratne, speech before the District Planters Association of Kegalla, Ceylon Daily News, 22.02.1935

[63] Many details in Newnham diary; summary in Newnham report p. 28

[64] Kegalla diary, June 1935; Y. Amarasinghe, Trotskyism in Ceylon, Ph D London 1974; G. Lerski, The Origins of Trotskyism in Ceylon,  Stanford 1968.

[65] CO54/924 & 925; Ceylon Daily News,  15.01.1935.

[66] Kurunegala diaries of the GA (Harrison Jones), AGA (Bond), AAGA (Seneviratne), January to March 1935; Report of the GA published in Ceylon Daily News,  6.03.1935, letters to the Ceylon Daily News by Father Fernando, Rev. Walmsley and President of Village Committee, 26.02.1935 to 28.03.1935

Citation: Meyer E., 2013, The 1934-1935 Malaria Epidemic in Sri Lanka, in Sri Lanka & Diasporas (http://slkdiaspo.hypotheses.org/1251)

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The-Malaria-Epidemic-of-1934-1935-in-Sri-Lanka by EM

Autocritique de l’ONU

Un rapport interne de l’Organisation des Nations Unies (Rapport Petrie, rédigé à la demande du secrétaire général Ban) dénonce les faiblesses de l’Organisation et son incapacité à protéger les populations civiles tamoules durant la phase finale de la guerre entre l’armée de Sri Lanka et les LTTE en mai 2009. Ses annexes fournissent une abondante documentation qui sera indispensable à qui veut comprendre les événements et le comportement de la communauté internationale à l’époque et jusqu’à ce jour.
Les services officiels d’information des Nations Unies ont publié un communiqué à ce sujet, et donné accès au rapport Petrie qui devient de ce fait du domaine public: http://www.un.org/apps/newsFr/storyF.asp?NewsID=29355&Cr=Sri

On trouvera aussi une version antérieure de ce rapport sur le site suivant: http://cl.ly/05042e2R3031. Le lecteur attentif notera que plusieurs passages de ce premier document ont été ‘caviardés’ avant publication; ces passages sont restitués sur le site suivant: http://blog.srilankacampaign.org/2012/11/the-un-internal-petrie-report-into-sri.html
Sans préjuger du contenu du rapport et de l’exploitation politique qui pourra en être faite, qui ne sont pas à ce stade de la compétence de notre carnet de recherche, une lecture critique de la production de ces documents est du plus haut intérêt pour le chercheur en sciences politiques.L’extrait qui est présenté ci-dessous permet de se faire une idée de l’importance du rapport Petrie:

« United Nations failure
75. Cultural challenges: The UN can face significant challenges in retaining the essential support of a Government to help in delivering assistance while at the same time responding to serious violations of international law that may require the UN to issue criticism of the same Government. In the case of Sri Lanka, a number of UNCT and UNHQ senior staff perceived these challenges as dilemmas or as conflicting responsibilities : (i) choosing not to speak up about Government and LTTE broken commitments and violations of international law was seen as the only way to increase UN humanitarian access; (ii) choosing to focus briefings to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation rather than on the causes of the crisis and the obligations of the parties to the conflict was seen as a way to facilitate constructive engagement by the Secretariat with Member States; and (iii) UN support in the establishment of internment camps was seen as the only option for the UN to assist IDPs emerging from the Wanni, even if the IDPs were deprived of freedom of movement and the UN had limited access to them. Decisions at UNHQ and in the field were affected by an institutional culture of trade-offs. The tendency to see options for action in terms of dilemmas frequently obscured the reality of UN responsibilities. In fact, with its multiplicity of mandates and areas of expertise, the UN possessed the capabilities to simultaneously strive for humanitarian access while also robustly condemning the perpetrators of killings of civilians. It should have been able to push further for respect for international norms in the delivery of assistance to IDPs and avoid accusations of complicity in the detention of IDPs.
76. There was a continued reluctance among UNCT institutions to stand up for the rights of the people they were mandated to assist. In Colombo, some senior staff did not perceive the prevention of killing of civilians as their responsibility – and agency and department heads at UNHQ were not instructing them otherwise. Seen together, the failure of the UN to adequately counter the Government’s under-estimation of population numbers in the Wanni, the failure to adequately confront the Government on its obstructions to humanitarian assistance, the unwillingness of the UN in UNHQ and Colombo to address Government responsibility for attacks that were killing civilians, and the tone and content of UN communications with the Government on these issues, collectively amounted to a failure by the UN to act within the scope of institutional mandates to meet protection responsibilities.
77. The tone, content and objectives of UNHQ’s engagement with Member States regarding Sri Lanka were heavily influenced by what it perceived Member States wanted to hear, rather than by what Member States needed to know if they were to respond. Reflection on Sri Lanka by UNHQ and Member States at the UN was conducted on the basis of a mosaic of considerations among which the grave situation of civilians in Sri Lanka competed with extraneous factors such as perceptions of the role of the Secretariat in its relations with Member States and frequently inconclusive discussions on the concept of the Responsibility to Protect. In particular, the Security Council was deeply ambivalent about even placing on its agenda a situation that was not already the subject of a UN peacekeeping or political mandate; while at the same time no other UN Member State mechanism had the prerogative to provide the political response needed, leaving Sri Lanka in a vacuum of inaction.
78. Framework of action: The overall framework for UN action in Sri Lanka was not well- adapted to the Organization’s responsibilities, given the situation. Over the past 15 years, Member States and the UN system have agreed that peace, development and the protection of basic rights are deeply intertwined and mutually reinforcing and that they must be tackled together. Under UN auspices, Member States have adopted a range of interlinked standards that define UN protection responsibilities in situations such as armed conflict. These include: the international human rights law framework of civil and political and economic, social and cultural rights; the adoption of the Responsibility to Protect; and numerous resolutions by the Security Council on protecting civilians in armed conflict through the protection of international human
rights and humanitarian law. All UN entities, whether in the Secretariat or UNCT, are expected to support follow-up and implementation of these standards74; and UN action in Sri Lanka was being measured partly on this basis. And yet, the tools with which the UN can meet its responsibilities vary widely across different country-situations ranging from, on the one hand, Security Council-mandated missions designed for complex political and armed conflict situations to, on the other hand, the UN’s infrastructure in Sri Lanka consisting of a UNCT and RC designed primarily to support development.75 Although additions were made to the UNCT infrastructure in Sri Lanka to help it respond to the conflict, most notably the addition of the Humanitarian Coordinator role and the significant support of OCHA, the staffing composition and structural posture of the UNCT and UNHQ relative to Sri Lanka nevertheless remained largely unchanged. While the UN’s infrastructure remained static, the worsening situation was drastically changing both the UN’s responsibilities and the expectations of the UN’s role. The UN’s development and humanitarian branches were unsuited to the situation and unable to fully address the UN’s political and human rights and humanitarian law responsibilities; while it was these same responsibilities that became most fundamental to the survival of civilians.
79. Above all, UN action in Sri Lanka was not framed by Member State political support. In the absence of clear Security Council backing, the UN’s actions lacked adequate purpose and direction. Member States failed to provide the Secretariat and UNCT with the support required to fully implement the responsibilities for protection of civilians that Member States had themselves set for such situations.
80. Systemic failure: The primary responsibility for killings and other violations against the estimated 360,000 or more civilians trapped during the final stages of the conflict in the Wanni lies with the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. Under very difficult conditions, the UN succeeded in transporting some humanitarian assistance in convoys into the Wanni, in providing a degree of emergency shelter and relief to almost 280,000 survivors who were able to leave the conflict zone, and in positively influencing some aspects of Government plans for IDPs; exceptional attention was devoted to the situation by some senior UNHQ officials, including the USG-Humanitarian Affairs; and the Panel was inspired to find how far many individual staff in the field have gone in their efforts to uphold the principles of the Organisation. Nevertheless, the Panel’s report concludes that events in Sri Lanka mark a grave failure of the UN to adequately respond to early warnings and to the evolving situation during the final stages of the conflict and its aftermath, to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of civilians and in contradiction with the principles and responsibilities of the UN. The elements of what was a systemic failure can be distilled into the following: (i) a UN system that lacked an adequate and shared sense of responsibility for human rights violations; (ii) an incoherent internal UN crisis-management structure which failed to conceive and execute a coherent strategy in response to early warnings and subsequent international human rights and humanitarian law violations against civilians, and
which did not exercise sufficient oversight for UN action in the field; (iii) the ineffective dispersal of UNHQ’s structures to coordinate UN action and to address international human rights and humanitarian law violations across several different UNHQ entities in Geneva and New York with overlapping mandates; (iv) a model for UN action in the field that was designed for a development rather than a conflict response; (v) the most senior position in the field graded at a D1 seniority that was below the heavy responsibilities required of the position, and a corps of senior staff that did not sufficiently include the armed conflict, political, human rights and international humanitarian law and related management experience to deal with the challenge Sri Lanka presented, and who were given insufficient support; (vi) inadequate political support from Member States as a whole, notwithstanding bilateral efforts from all regions, and inadequate efforts by the Secretariat to build such support; and (vii) a framework for Member State engagement with international human rights and humanitarian law protection crises that was outdated and often unworkable, in part because it did not enable Member States to reach a sufficiently early and full political consensus on the situation and the UN response. »

Un recueil de textes sur Sri Lanka soulève des questions fondamentales

Un chercheur américain vient de publier un recueil volumineux de documents et d’études, censé apporter au lecteur une connaissance encyclopédique de l’histoire, de la culture et de la politique de Sri Lanka:

John Clifford Holt: The Sri Lanka Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2011; pp 772 + index, illustrations, $34.95

Gananath Obeyesekere, professeur émérite d’anthropologie à l’Université de Princeton, a publié dans la revue indienne Economic and Political Weekly un compte-rendu très critique de cet ouvrage, dont nous vous conseillons la lecture, sous le titre: ‘Sri Lanka Reader plans to do much and therefore achieves too little’: on le trouve sur le site Transcurrents, qui reprend souvent des notes de lecture et des études importantes concernant Sri Lanka:
http://transcurrents.com/news-views/archives/7615

Nous aurons l’occasion de revenir ultérieurement sur cette publication et sur d’autres ouvrages récents portant sur l’histoire de Sri Lanka, mais nous encourageons dès à présent nos lecteurs à réagir à la lecture de ce compte-rendu qui soulève une série de questions fondamentales concernant les interprétations de l’histoire de la domination coloniale et de la place de la violence dans la société contemporaine