On June 5,1956, when the “Sinhala only” bill was introduced in parliament, The Tamil Federal Party members led by chelvanayakam organized a non-violent Satyagraha protest on the Galle Face Green before proceeding to join the debate in parliament, facing the house. It was a symbolic protest.
As a response, the Sinhalese nationalist group Eksath Bhikkhu Peramuna organized a counter-protest and a mob representing this group attacked the Tamil protesters and was “responsible for unleashing riots that killed nearly 150 Tamils.
The police stood and watched as the Tamils were kicked,beaten and spat upon. Chelvanayakam was spared, but his colleagues were.
Appapillai Amirthalingam had been hit in the head with stones, C. Suntharalingam suffered a swollen neck after being attacked by a Sinhala thug.
As they marched into Parliament on June 5 evening with blood stained bandages, Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike remarked loudly: “Honourable wounds of war!”
The bill was passed with the SLFP and the UNP supporting it, with the leftist LSSP and Communist Party of Sri Lanka as well as the Tamil nationalist parties (Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi and All Ceylon Tamil Congress) opposing it.
Violently opposed by the Tamil-speaking minority in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), the passage of the bill was followed by rioting.
Tamil political leaders were attacked in a four-day riot that left more than 150 Tamils dead. The law limited the education and work opportunities for many Tamil youth. As a result, the Tamils started to push for a federal system of government with greater autonomy in the mainly Tamil areas in the north and east.
The Sinhalese leaders who call themselves moderate have also changed their colour. one such example is Dr. Colvin R. De Silva (a declared Marxist and a leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party)
This is what Dr. Colvin R. De Silva said in 1956,
“if you mistreat them (Tamils), if you ill treat them…. if you oppress and harass them, in the process you may cause to emerge in Ceylon, from that particular racial stock with its own language and tradition, a new nationality to which we will have to concede more claims than it puts forward now… If we come to the stage where instead of parity, we through needless insularity, get into the position of suppressing the Tamil … federal demand… there may emerge separatism.” (Dr Colvin R. De Silva, Opposition Member of Parliament, Hansard, June 1956).
The same Dr. Colvin R. De Silva after 15 years, accepted appointment as Minister of Constitutional Affairs in Mrs. Srimavo Bandaranaike’s government in 1970.
Rejecting the proposal for a federal constitution, he urged the Sri Lanka Constituent Assembly on 15 March 1971:
“Mr. Chairman, there is a Unitary Constitution in Sri Lanka. This has been there for a very long time… If we were to divide the country and unite once again we will face many problems as evidenced by our history.. .. I submit this proposal for a Unitary Constitution for approval by all sections of this Assembly”.
The 1972 republican constitution of Sri Lanka, which for the first time constitutionalized a unitary Sinhala-Buddhist state, was enacted without the participation or mandate of Sri Lankan Tamils. Sri Lankan Tamils were not a party and never accepted the one-sided constitution Sri Lanka enacted in 1972. Not only their political opposition was brushed aside but even the judiciary also played a game against legal challenges. When C. Suntharalingam waged legal battles in the island against the 1972 constitution, the courts played a game by first telling that they could not take up the case until the constitution is declared and thereafter telling that they could not act as they were bound by the constitution.
The 1972 Constitution abolished the Soulbury safeguards for minorities, entrenched Sinhala as the sole official language, conferred pre-eminence on Buddhism (as DS Senanayake had declined to), and made explicit the unitary character of the state (which the Soulbury Constitution remained silent on). The Constitution making process of ’72 ignored the moderate (non-federal) six point platform presented in Mr. Chelvanayagam’s letter to the PM, which was not even accorded the courtesy of a reply.
The Amirthalingam trial-at-bar involving the 1972 constitution in which 64 lawyers argued for Mr. A. Amirthalingam who was tried under Emergency Regulations by the Sri Lankan state, it was none other than Murugesu Thiruchelvam, Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam’s father, who actually took up the argument that the 1972 constitution was invalid or could not be applied to Tamils.
There was yet another side of the legal battles in which the Privy Council that had some responsibility and Britain that was the root cause for the evil of the unitary state in the island, also have failed the Sri Lankan Tamils.
Reacting to the 1972 Constitution, S.J.V. Chelvanayakam said,
“The Constitution has given everything to the Sinhalese and has given nothing to the Tamils.”