INDICTMENT AGAINST SRI LANKA
SINHALA ONLY LAW - 1956
Text of Official
Language Act, 33 of 1956]
"All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to
equal protection of the law." - Article 7, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
"The first Constitution of Ceylon was drafted by an Englishman, Lord Soulbury and
adopted by an Order in Council rather than by a constituent assembly. It remained in force
Section 29 of the Soulbury Constitution protected the rights of minorities. It read 'No...
law shall... make persons of any community or religion liable to disabilities or
restrictions to which any persons of other communities or religions are not made liable;
or... confer on persons or any community or religion any privilege or advantage which is
not conferred on persons of other communities or religions.' Despite this
constitutional provision the
Official Language Act was adopted in 1956 providing that
'Sinhala Only' shall be the official language...
In the eyes of the Tamils, they were discriminatory provisions adopted by the majority
population which placed their language in an inferior position, (and) required them to
learn the majority language... It also became more difficult for Tamils enter government
Policies concerning the use of Sinhala, inter alia, have seriously lessened the
opportunities of Tamils for government employment. The government should adopt a
system for recruitment for government service which provides equal opportunities for all
persons regardless of ethnic origin." - Virginia Leary: Ethnic Conflict and
Violence in Sri Lanka - Report of a Mission to Sri Lanka on behalf of the International
Commission of Jurists, July/August 1981
"Almost the first act (of the newly elected Bandaranaike Government) has been the
passing of the 'Sinhala Only' Bill
against the unanimous opposition of the entire Tamil
people who wanted a place of honour for their own language. Thereby
this Government has struck a grievous blow at the unity of this country, which stands
The members of this Government on the other hand have charged the Federal Party with
endeavouring to divide the country... A federal solution within proper limits, and
subject to proper safeguards, far from dividing a country which is already divided, is one
of the best known methods of bringing about unity in a divided country.
If democracy means anything, if human rights mean anything, no national minority proud
of its language and culture can ever subscribe to the proposition that it should in
respect of matters affecting its vital interest accept the dictates of a majority
nationality merely because it is a majority.
If this were so, it would amount to the tyranny of an impersonal majority... since this
question affects the Tamil nationality vitally - I do not say the Tamil-speaking
nationality - the Government cannot seek to impose anything, which is the result of a
unilateral decision by the representatives of the Sinhalese people, on the Tamil people
without doing violence to the elementary principles of democracy.
Even our British rulers listened to what we had to say before they framed proposals for
constitutional reforms. They might have thought some years ago that some of our demands
were extravagant but they did not say, "The condition under which you come here is
that you shall not talk of independence."
How much more important it is for the head of a democratic government to listen to the
representatives of the Tamil nationality, particularly when the Sinhalese have expressed
no intention to rule over the Tamils. The primary duty of the elected representatives of
both sides is to arrive at a negotiated settlement......it is only after the Sinhalese leadership has rejected the minimum rights consistent
with the dignity and self respect of the Tamil people that the people as a whole will be
justified in adopting other methods of resistance.
In such an event, it will not be
struggle organised by the Federal Party but a national struggle of the entire Tamil
Such a struggle is bound to bring a lot of suffering to our
people but that would not deter us if we are satisfied after long and patient negotiation,
that the Sinhalese leadership is not prepared to acknowledge even the barest human rights
to which we are entitled.
If there is such a denial then it will be necessary for the preservation of the soul of
the people that they should struggle against tyranny, irrespective of consequences rather
than submit or surrender."
S.Nadesan Q.C., Sri Lanka Senate Hansard 26 June 1957
" We are completing by this (Sinhala Only) Bill an important phase in our national
struggle. The restoration of the Sinhala language to the position it occupied before the
occupation of this country by foreign powers, marks an important stage in the history of
the development of this island" - Phillip Gunawardene, Sri Lankan Cabinet
Minister, Hansard, 14 June 1956
"I pointed out that the result of forcing Sinhalese as
the sole state language for official purposes on an unwilling minority brought with it
great dangers.... If a minority feels deeply that an injustice and a great injustice has
been done it is likely to embark upon forms of resistance and protests. The possibility of
communal riots is not the only danger I am referring to. There is the graver danger of the
division of the country. we must remember that the Northern and Eastern Provinces of
Ceylon are inhabited principally by Tamil speaking people and if those people feel that a
grave and irreparable injustice is done to them, there is a possibility of their deciding
even to break away from the rest of the country." - Leslie Gunawardene, Sinhala
Opposition Member of Parliament, Hansard, 8 June 1956 (but 16 years later,
Leslie Gunawardene as a Minister in the Sri Lanka Cabinet voted for the entrenchment of
the Sinhala only law in Sri Lanka's new 1972 Constitution which
at the same repealed the safeguards in the
Soulbury Constitution against discrimination)
"Do we want a single state or do we want two? Do we want one Ceylon or do we want
two?.. These are the issues that in fact we have been discussing under the form and
appearance of the language issue... 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, Sinhala Opposition Member of Parliament, Hansard, June 1956 (but
16 years later, Colvin R. De Silva, as a Minister for Constitutional Affairs in the Sri
Lanka Cabinet secured the entrenchment of the Sinhala only law in
Lanka's new 1972 Constitution which at the same time repealed the safeguards in the
Soulbury Constitution against discrimination)
50 years later - Tamil an official language "only in name"
Balachandran, Hindustan Times, 12 February 2006
"....The Tamil-speaking population in Sri Lanka comprises Sri Lankan Tamils,
Indian Origin Tamils and Muslims. Together they are 26 per cent of the
island's population. But in the 9,00,000-strong public service,
Tamil-speakers are just 8.3 per cent. The rest are Sinhala-speakers.Out of
the 36,031 employees in the Police Department, 231 are Tamils and 246 are
Muslims. Since Sri Lankan Muslims are also Tamil speaking, the total number
of Tamil speakers in this vital department is just 477.
Wellawatte, a suburb of Colombo, is an overwhelmingly Tamil area, with
21,417 of its residents out of a total population of 29,302, being Tamil
speaking. But in the Wellawatte police station, out of the 156 personnel,
only 6 are Tamil speaking. The Sri Lankan armed forces are also almost
completely Sinhala or Sinhala speaking. The few Tamil-speaking personnel
there are Muslims, rather than Tamils as such..... There are only 166
official translators in Sri Lanka. And out of these, only 58 are
Tamil-speaking. But translators are required in large numbers because of the
existence of a massive linguistic barrier in the country.
In the Sri Lankan school system, Sinhalas learn through the Sinhala medium,
and Tamils through the Tamil medium. This is so even in the universities.
Very little English is taught, if at all, at any stage. This is the reason
for the massive linguistic barrier between the two major communities in Sri
Lanka, a barrier which has added to the distance between them since
independence in 1948.
Speaking to Hindustan Times on the state of affairs, the Chairman of the
Official Languages Commission, Raja Collure, said: "Successive governments
have failed to implement the constitutional provision in regard to the use
of Tamil as the second official language." This is regrettable especially in
view of the fact that Tamil had been made the second official language of
the country, through the
13th amendment, 18 years ago, following the
Accord of July 1987.
At that time, it was presumed that the acceptance of Tamil as an official
language would automatically lead to the recruitment of more Tamils and that
there would be no glaring ethnic imbalances.But Tamil has been an official
language "only in name" as The Sunday Times put it. Recruitment of
Tamil-speakers, especially ethnic Tamils, has been abysmally low.
If at all the state wanted to remedy the situation, it was only in respect
of the use of the Tamil language in official work. The accent was not on the
recruitment of more Tamils or Tamil-speakers.
In the latter part of the 1990s, President Chandrika Kumaratunga tried to
introduce an 'Equal Opportunities Bill' to redress the linguistic and ethnic
minorities' grievances in regard to employment. The statistics brought out
by it were telling. Notwithstanding the powerful case made out for such a
bill, it raised a storm of protest among the Sinhala majority, which
considered ethnic, linguistic and religious reservations as undermining the
unity of Sri Lanka and its destiny as a Sinhala-Buddhist country..."