One Hundred Tamils
of the 20th Century
Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan K.C.
of some leading Ceylon Tamils
to the Constitutional and Political Development of Ceylon during the 19th
and 20th centuries -A. Jeyaratnam Wilson ]
the Forgotten Aspect of Ramanathan's Life Work by
M.K.Eelaventhan, May 2001..
stand on Battle of the Sites for the First University
to 1930 Donoughmore Constitution
On Land &
Territory Supporting Plantation
Two Statues -
but different inscriptions
belittled, Arunachalam sidelined, and the beginning of broken pacts and
... Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan’s entry into public life was at the instance of Maraithiru
Arumuga Navalar in 1879. In 1911, he was chosen as candidate to contest and fill the vacancy that arose in the legislative assembly for
the All Ceylon Educated Members seat. He was elected. The other contesting candidate was a member of the Sinhala community. The Sinhala Muslim riots take place in the year 1915. The Governor declared martial law. This was harsh.
Ramanathan at the behest of his compatriots left for the United Kingdom. The voyage
was in the submarine infested waters (of World War I) and his truimphant
return was celebrated with a lot of fanfare by being hand drawn in a “Vel Cart
- Ther” by the then Sinhala leadership.
However, within a period of four years he recognised that events were moving in a direction he did not agree with. In 1919, Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, his younger brother was elected as President of
the Ceylon National Congress. As is the eastern tradition Sir
Ponnambalam Arunachalam sought his brothers’ blessings to which Sir Ponnambalam
Ramanathan cautioned him and said “Thamby go ahead, but take care you will presently meet with a storm which will hurl you off the chair".
Contribution to Hinduism
.... in my view the most significant contribution of Sir Ponnambalam
Ramanathan to his religion, Saivaism, was the renovation of the Ponnampalavaneswarar Temple
at Kochikade. The Temple was built by his father Ponnambalam. The structure was of sand bricks and mortar.
Ramanathan took it upon himself to reconstruct the temple at the very sight in granite. The architectural splendour is no less than what is seen in the Temple built by Raja Raja Cholan the great. The
Thanjai Peruvudiyar Kovil.and Raja Rajans son Rajendra Cholan’s
Gangai Konda Cholapuram. The architectural splendour is unrivalled in Sri Lanka.
Ramanathan's stand on
of the Sites for the First University
Ramanathan was an assertive member of the University movement. It is in recognition of his contribution that a hall is named after him
at the Peradeniya University, in gratitude. There was a difference of opinion between him and his brother Sir. P.Arunachalam over the choice of
siting of the university.
Ramanathan was of the opinion that the site should be elsewhere, other in a Sinhala dominated location. Sir P.Arunachalam favoured Peradeniya, for its excellent ambience. This is discussed in an article written under the heading “The Battle of Sites".
This gives an inkling into the thought process of Ramanathan. i.e. the domination of the majority community in the field of education. Sir P Arunachalam became
closer to the views held by
Ramanathan very much later.
to Donoughmore Constitution
...He made another risky voyage to Britain to protest on matters concerning the proposed Donoughmore
reforms that were proposed in 1930. His pleas with the British about the Donoughmore proposals failed. He returned a defeated, dejected, lonely
man in early 1930, following his failed attempts to amend the basis of franchise, introduced into
the Donoughmore Reforms. His arrival was cold-shouldered and ignored...
The (Sinhala owned) Ceylon Daily News... had this to say ... on his death.
“ Unluckily in later years his increasingly reactionary outlook caused by his resolute opposition to the Donoughmore Reforms and the extension of franchise and by the
communalism, ... coloured his political thinking. The subsequent course of history has shown the error of these views but time has also softened our view of the man who held them and enable
us to judge his earlier efforts for his country at their proper worth. In spite of his later years of apostasy the greatness of Sir
Ponnambalam Ramanathan and the magnitude of his achievement in the service of this country was universally recognised.
Sixteen years after his death a grateful people erected a statue to his memory”
However, it is my view that Ramanathan's resolute opposition to the Donoghmore
reforms was his most treasured contribution. It was an out come of his total comprehension of what was in store for his community. It was mature, lucid and said so firmly
and with conviction... It is this phase that influenced later Tamil leaders...
(Indeed) it is the substance of the controversy that prevails
His invaluable contribution to the Tamil community became emphatic and purposeful
when he realised that unwittingly or otherwise, the community was being marginalized. His view of the Donoughmore Reforms was summed in a punch line “Donoughmore means Tamils no more “
His difficulty was with the replacement of the franchise that made only the educated eligible
by a universal vote. The expansion of the voter base immediately set in motion a change in composition of the Legislature and the cabinet. He eloquently stated-
“The Donoughmore Reforms was a sin before God and man. I see an ugly mob in the streets.”
It is relevant to quote from the Hansard page 1350 of 1928. which reads as
“Then with regard to the universal suffrage, they give us 1,500,000 votes mostly of the
Sinhalese community. I have no complaint against the Sinhalese. Long may the
Sinhalese live Sir. But out of these 1,500,000 voters how many will vote? Not more than 50,000 or 60,000 will vote, because they cannot vote properly at a secret ballot. When the voters come, they in the nature of things will put in their own countrymen. I once heard the great Gladstone in Edinburgh during his Midlothian campaign. I was on the same platform with him
when he told us:
“I expect every Englishman to be an Englishman, every Scotsman to be a Scotsman every Welshman to be a Welshman and every Irishman to be an Irishman”
Every nation will have their own leaders and those leaders will speak for a particular nation and espouse their cause generally. Otherwise, there will be confusion and conflict. Now then, is it not natural for a
Sinhalese man to vote for a Sinhalese gentleman of his constituency? Then who will be the representatives in
the Legislative Council? Most of representatives of
the Legislative Council would be Sinhalese gentleman. I bear no ill will towards them.
I believe that the minority and majority community should prosper. Then if the council constituted, as it would be under the new scheme of election, elects the ministers would it not be a
death blow to the minority communities? How can I agree to that? Are we to be just and righteous?
Or are we to treat politics as a game for competition? I say I find this difficult. This is not mentioned here.
If it is said that the legislative council should elect ministers as it stands now I will say
all right, but some people would say, “Not as it stands now but according to the wishes of the Donoughmore Commissioners”, I say No that will not do. That will work the greatest possible harm to the minorities...
If we accept the Donoughmore recommendations, we will see that there is death to the minority communities and that we should not be a party to that."
He was firmly of the view that Communal Representation should be the basis of elections to the legislative council. The report submitted by Sir P. Arunachalam to the Governor also stresses this view.
Ramanathan in ending his speech on Donoughmore Reforms said
“I think Sir I have said all that I need say considering the exceedingly difficult task that I had to perform, standing on my legs and speaking for such lengths of time it would have suited my personal feelings better if I have said
' let things drift, wherever they may' but Sir unfortunately I am not bred that way. To the last
breath of my life; I shall raise my voice against tyranny and for the suppression of falsehood. That is my reason for speaking at such length. "
On Land & Territory
It appears appropriate to quote from the Memorandum, Ramanathan submitted to the British
Government on the Donoughmore Reforms.
“The birth right of every human being is the territory, the family, the language, the tribe, the society and the religion into which he was ushered into by God.
Equally illegal and sorrowful is the political extinction recommended by the Commissioner of
the Burgher, Mohammedans, Indian and Western Province Tamil
Communal representation was granted to these communities by the
Order in Council of 1923
which provided that there should be 12 officials and 37 non officials of whom 23 should be elected territorially and 11 communally and 3 nominated. This constitution
[the1923 Order in Council] placed the Ceylon Legislature on par with The House of Commons....The then secretary of state,
the Duke of Devonshire as the mouthpiece of His Majesty’s Government; gave a distinct pledge in his dispatch to Governor..."
Ramanathan was acutely conscious that a defined territory was basic for identification of a people.
Any tinkering with the identified traditional areas inhabited by the Tamil
people was not to be fiddled about with. I believe in current terminology this
would be described as
'Demographic Engineering'. We see the beginnings of moves in this direction in
the 'Nachchaduwa Scheme', as early as the latter part of the second decade of the 20th century. Here the Sinhala leadership did alter a Tamil electorate to that of a Sinhala one.
Ramanathan along with other colleagues in the state assembly vehemently opposed these moves. The idea of the need for a clearly demarked land area therefore could be traced to no lesser person than
Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan...
In the history of the Eelam struggle
S.J.V.Chelvanayagam stressed the value of land for the Tamil community. His lieutenant
Dr.E.M.V.Naganathan in his inimitable style said in Parliament
“Birds have their sanctuary animals have their wild life reservation but Tamils do not have a territory of their own"
It was a statement that came from his inner depths - from a man who was frustrated that his community were
literally from their bearings.
C.Vanniasingham a founding member of the Federal Party, President of the Tamil Arasukkadchi and an
M.P., a puritan, and a devout adherent to SJV had observed that on every occasion
on which the Tamils were at
the receiving end of a thrashing,
they were able to seek refuge in the North and East. If these provinces failed to provide a haven, a sanctuary for the Tamils, which way can they
turn except to drown themselves in the sea.
...Mohammed Ali Jinnah the father of Pakistan, a legal luminary along with being a freedom fighter
in his address to the students of University of Aligarh in 1942 said the following
“ Oh you Muslim youths, we are not a minority but what is the use of declaring that we are not a minority, we are undoubtedly a nation but a Nation cannot be created in vacuum. We must have a clear demarcated territory of our own, and govern it. The greatest task that has befallen upon us since the fall of the Mogul Empire.”
Mukerjhee an eminent historian in his book “Hindu Civilisation “states categorically
“Land is not only necessary for the expression of an ethnic group but also for its survival"
On the birth of India and Pakistan, the fate of the Hindu state of
Kashmir was in issue then and
the issue continues to
date. The Indian Constitution in spite of Kashmir being an integral part of India states in section 370 of its constitution that no one other than a Kashmiri
shall be permitted to acquire land in Kashmir. This basic safeguard was included in the Indian constitution to ensure that the demographic structure of Kashmir was not
The activity of
ULFA in Assam is
also worthy of note. Refugees from East Bengal are spilling over into Assam. The arrival of these refugees in very large numbers is unwittingly or otherwise, altering the indigenous influence of the local population in the affairs of state. The natural response is to resist
Supporting Plantation Tamils
Ramanathan’s perseverance for the Tamil cause did not confine itself only to that of the Tamils of indigenous origin but also to the upcountry
(plantation) Tamils. The
upcountry Tamil’s right to franchise was in
jeopardy. They were already earmarked for disfranchisement because of
Sinhala fear that the ethnic balance would be altered.
Ramanathan valiantly championed the cause of the upcountry Tamils.
He defended their right to voting rights in his speech in the
Legislative Assembly [Page 1791 Hansard Volume 111-1928]
“ The Sinhalese tossed in a storm 2,500 years ago were washed ashore on this island. How can they make up their minds and call for the
'Indians' to “Get Out “ The upcountry worker of India arrived in this island under different circumstances. The
Sinhalese would not kill a scorpion or a snake and choose to shoo them away.
(But) their conduct in this instance was not consistent with the Buddha Dhamma and Santhana dharma."
Ramanathan was around 78 years when he rose to the defence of the workers of Indian origin.
The problem continued to fester long after he was gone. The consequence of the deprived vote did provoke SJV to remark
‘It is their throats now. Ours would be the next “
C.N. Annadurai, the Dravida Munetra Kalagam (DMK) Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu said “They were being discarded like crushed oranges".
“ They were treated as if it was a horse deal” said, Dr.E.M.V.Naganathan. To refer to them in more current usage
it would be appropriate to say they were treated like “Karapincha”
Two Statues - but the different inscriptions
...The difference in the handling of the statues built for the
two eminent brothers is worth looking at.
There was hesitancy, reluctance by the (Sinhala dominated) Legislature in their appreciation of the contribution made by Sir P.Ramanathan.
This is reflected in the writing on the mount of his statute.
The inscription reads
" Knight, an advocate, a member of the Society of Michel George, Ceylonese representative of the Legislative Council. Erected on contributions made by the people.”
He died in 1930 and the statue was completed in 1915,
installed only in 1946.
As against this, despite Sir P.Arunachalam having established the Tamil League, a movement that was to echo the aspirations of the Tamil people,
the League died within two years of its establishment without much ado. Perhaps, because of his muted performance as against that of his brother who survived
him, the generosity of the inscription in his case is eloquent -
"Sir P.Arunachalam 1853-1924.Educationist, endowed with
political sagacity, able administrator, who dedicated his life in the service of the nation. He brought far-reaching changes by amendments to the Legislative Act. He served unceasingly for the establishment of the arts council. Memorial erected by a grateful Ceylonese
If the readers care to read a little into these lines they
would reach an assessment of the difference in attitudes in the evaluation (by
the Sinhala dominated legislature) of the contribution of the two brothers.
The purpose for which Sir.P.Arunachalam set up the Tamil League could not be followed through
because his life was cut short thereafter. On the other hand, Sir.P.Ramanathan was able to continue to express his views in this regard, which was in total harmony with that of his brother.
He was blessed with a few more years after his brother’s death and this gave him sufficient
time to campaign for the cause that was shared by him and his brother. Sir P.Arunachalam carried his passion of later years with him to his
death - and therefore, it was a passion that remained away from the view of the other camp. Sir
P.Ramanathan's bitter campaign in the latter years earned him the displeasure of the other camp.
Arunachalam sidelined, and the beginning of broken pacts and evasive proposals
Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam was side lined and Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan was belittled. In the
All Ceylon Legislative Assembly, the representation of the Sinhalese and the Tamils were at par. With the passage of a few years, the Tamil representation began to decline.
It is necessary to repeat that Sir
Ponnambalam Arunachalam held the office of President of the Ceylon National Congress. It was agreed that a Tamil was to be nominated to the Western Province Legislative Assembly. That nominee was to be Sir
Ponnambalam Arunachalam. This was later denied. The Ceylon National Congress by now had begun to be dominated by the
Sinhalese and Sinhala interests. Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam then broke away from this body to set up
the Tamil League.
It is precisely at this juncture in 1922, that
Ponnambalam Arunachalam spoke:
“In the name of 'nationalism', in the name of cosmopolitanism I do not want my community to be reduced to the level of fish or foul nor red herring. I am determined to see that we raise our head and determine our future. I am aware that there are moves in certain quarters to intimidate me, but I refuse to succumb come what may. I shall raise my voice till the last against tyranny and oppression."
His fury continued in the same strain, and said:
“Who have done more for the welfare of All Ceylon than the Tamils? Who has fought more vigorously for the welfare of the Singhalese? In the dark days of 1915 when our Singhalese brethren were in distress and helpless who came to their rescue but the Tamils? That statue which was to be to the grateful memorial of the help rendered may as proposed in some quarters be flung into the sea “
Tamil minority has been deceived on numerous occasions after the restoration of their rights were promised. It is significant that this trend began very early
- in fact Ramanathan and Arunachalam along with several other Tamil leaders were at the receiving end of this breach of promise.
One of the doyens of left politics in the history of Sri Lanka, Dr. N.M.Perera was a man of academic distinction and erudition.
He noticed this phenomenon and said during the debate on the
Act in 1956:
“In point of fact if you go back to the history of this country you will find that the minorities have been betrayed at every possible turn. From the time of D.S. Senanayake when the Donoughmore Reforms came up, the minorities particularly the Indian Community were given certain promises that were broken. Then again when the
Soulbury Constitution too came up with similar concessions that were promised were broken right along. In the Indian Immigrants
Bill various promises were made over and over again with regard to the treatment to be given to the Indians, and every one of these promises were broken in implementation of the
Bill. In the light of that, are we surprised that the minorities are
gibing at the acceptance of these assurances?" [Hansard Language Debate 1956]
It is ironic that the very learned and seemingly honest Dr.N.M.Perera performed a similar breach when he was given the opportunity to rectify the wrongs he earlier cried for. It was not only he but also his entire clique of Red
shirts. Colvin R De Silva a stalwart leftist amongst them delivered the unkindest cut of all.
Senator Nadesan pleaded with him to retain section 29 a minority safe guard clause in the Soulbury Constitution in his
New Constitution of 1972, he thought he was very witty when he told Senator Nadesan Q.C. “Politics was the art of the possible”.
It is this very same Colvin who earlier held the view that if we went in for
one language we would end up with two nations and if we opted for two languages we would have saved the whole nation or be left with one nation or something to that effect
and and who said “If you thrust Sinhala down the throats of the Tamils, they would vomit it out like the
Irish", who later relished shoving Sinhala not only down the throat of the Tamil
people but who also ensured that it went right down.
Ramanathan's post 1915 frustrations are deliberately or otherwise not commented on or written of by several commentators. The exception, of course, was Mr. M.Vythilingam,
Emeritus Principal of The Hindu College, Chavakacheri. I had the privilege of being associated with the publication of this biography...
... Ramanathan was 64 years of age in 1915 and remained active and involved in public life till the ripe old age of 79 years.
It was a significant and very mature fifteen
years - and a disheartened fifteen years. He died in 1930. In the later years of
Ramanathan's life, differences in the political goals between him and the Sinhala leadership began to widen. It is not incorrect to describe that they began to polarise.
When Sir. P.Ramanathan, denounced the Donoughmore Constitution, K.P.S.Menon the Indian Diplomat and scholar, who served in Ceylon in the 1920’s said:
“One felt as a prophet had come from another world opening the eyes, stirring the hearts and shattering the illusions of, self complacent individuals”.
I was privileged to meet his son K.P.S.Menon who held office as Foreign Secretary of India in 1987, when
I met him to plead for help following the Vadamaradchi operation by the Sri
Lanka security forces.
During the course of our conversation in the South Block, New Delhi, I referred to what his father had to say on the occasion following
Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan's speech. He was taken by surprise and remarked, did he say so? As promised,
when I returned to Chennai I sent him a photocopy of the K.P.S. Menon's statement as
it appeared in Volume 2 of the biography by Mr. M.Vythilingam, Emeritus Principal, Hindu College Chavakacheri.
... the Right Honourable D.S Senanayake did describe
Ramanathan as “the greatest Ceylonese that ever lived”. [note by
- D.S.Senanayake was perhaps not unmindful of the personal debt that he
owed Ramanathan for helping to secure Senanayake's release from detention in 1915] And, Lord Rosebury a contemporary of Sir.P.Ramanathan is on record as having paid
Ramanathan the tribute of being “the most accomplished speaker in our empire "...