Did Tamil language have official status under British rule?

There is much ado about Sinhalese denying the status for Tamil post-independence. The better question is,did Tamil language have any official status from 1832 to 1948 to warrant a grievance? Was Tamil used at all in an official capacity during British rule? No. If Tamils were never officially enjoying the use of Tamil language how can they claim that the Sinhalese have denied what they were enjoying? The other question is how did opposition to the Sinhala Only Act in 1956 end up with SWRD Bandaranaike agreeing to sign a devolution pact – how did devolution end up the solution for language rights?

 The nation was built & ruled by Sinhale kings and it was the Sinhale language that prevailed officially. When the Kandyan Convention was signed the chieftains ceded powers of the entire island of Sri Lanka.

 The Kandyan Convention was signed by those representing the Sinhale nation and the British. If there had been a separate kingdom functioning independently wouldn’t the British have signed a separate agreement with them too? This more or less nullifies the notion of a separate and independent Tamil kingdom prevailing which did not belong to the entire island and certainly beckons the new constitution to ensure that the island nation is not demarcated to be separated or divided under whatever liberal terminologies the constitution drafters are attempting to do.

 The British having taken over the entire island brought in their form of governance, culture, education, legal systems etc. Prior to this we had our own indigenous forms of governance just as all other nations who territories and lands were taken over by Christian colonial invaders.

 During British rule English was the medium of instruction in the superior schools from kindergarten to college. Schools that taught English produced English speaking locals most of whom had converted to Christianity and these became the elite of society and to whom the British were to hand over eventual administration. The British made sure the minorities were given privileges above the majority.  

 Lord Macaulay said “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour but English in tastes, in opinion, in morals and in intellect”. The same applied to British Ceylon as well. We call this breed of people kalu suddas, another name for these clones are brown sahibs and there are plenty of them and their minds need to be decoloniized so as to appreciate their own.

 “It has to be frankly recognised that the effect of the English school successfully and efficiently conducted on those of the native community must be one ofdenationalisation.” (Bridges report 1911)  

 “it was formerly the policy of the Government to make the natives learn English, rather than to make the public servants learn Cingalese [Sinhala]” (Evidence of Major T. Skinner, Select Committee, 1850: 294).

 “It is significant that in Ceylon the native languages are far less used than in India for the transaction of public business, and in the law courts the proceedings are conducted in English” (Clarence 1899: 439).

 According to Rev. Cordiner, only one British official had mastered Sinhala, the language of the majority of the islanders (1804) he was John D’Oyly (1774-1824), who had a mastery of spoken and written Sinhala and who became Chief Translator (1805-1816) to the government.

 In 1805 Samuel Tolfrey of the Civil Service, who came to the island in 1801 with D’Oyly, was interested in Sinhala and wanted to do a dictionary to assist Europeans to learn Sinhala for various transactions.

 In 1802, regulations were drafted which made competency in local languages mandatory for promotions within the Civil Service. Sinhala and Portuguese were the languages in which proficiency was required.

 It appears that the British prior to leaving decided to create a little mischief among the local elite to whom they would hand over governance and true to their divide and rule policy began infesting the minds of the elite politicians with new demands, grievances, rights etc none of which the British would hear of giving under their rule. An example of that mischief was the manner British separated Tamils as Ceylon Tamils in 1911 when before that time the category was Tamil (the British regarded all Tamils with their roots to Tamil Nadu). The usage of the ethnic category known as Ceylon Tamils came only after 1911. The census of1881, 1891 and 1901 is the best evidence of this. The All Ceylon Tamil Congress emerged in 1944 while it was only after independence that the ITAK – Tamil Nation party was formed in 1949 falsely carrying Federal Party name in English.

 Having being saddled with these headaches it is only our own that have confounded matters into worse proportions creating situations out of nothing.

 If Tamils say their rights have been denied. They must first showcase that they were enjoying these rights. Under colonial British rule Tamil did not receive any official status so if Tamil had no official status under the British what is all this fuss about?

 Shenali D Waduge



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This entry was posted on February 16, 2016 by in Uncategorized.
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