112th Birth anniversary on Feb. 16 and 30th Death anniversary Feb. 27
“The only lawyer produced by the nation whose revered name can be invoked without incongruity on par with that of H.V. Perera, the undisputed colossus of our country’s legal scene”- Prof. G L Peiris delivering keynote address at death anniversary
Doctoral thesis and British Empire
Colvin was only 27 years old when he researched and presented to the London University ‘Ceylon under the British Occupation’ his thesis ; It proposed the position he was designed to take against British colonialism and its rule when he was back in his motherland, although he was not as yet a Marxist/Trotskyite. In a famous remark, later into politics he said: ‘The Sun never sets on the British Empire: for God does not trust them in the dark’
In the class struggles Colvin was one person of whom it can be stated that as a rule he led from the front. An outstanding criminal lawyer and a statesman of indisputable honesty and integrity, ‘comrade’ Colvin abundantly displayed his well acquainted legal acumen and argumentative skills in and out of Parliament.
In cricketing parlance, there are ‘Batting all-rounders’and ‘Bowling all-rounders’, as much as there are Lawyer Politicians and vise-versa. But Colvin was unique, for he excelled equally authoritative in both the ‘crafts’.
Speaking at the debate on Official Language (Sinhala only) Bill in 1956, Colvin said,
“…Do we want an independent Ceylon or two bleeding halves of Ceylon which can be gobbled up by every ravaging imperialist monster that may happen to range the Indian Ocean? These are issues that in fact we have been discussing under the form and appearance of the language issue…One language, two nations; Two languages, one Nation…” Pleading for parity of status for both Sinhala and Tamil languages,
“If you refuse to help a section of our people of a specific racial stock, having their own separate language, their specific and particular culture, traditions and history, if you deny them their language right then you are running the risk of hammering them in the future into what they yet are not. Today they are but a section distinctive by reason of their particular racial stock and language, from the Sinhalese within the Ceylonese nation. But if you mistreat them, if you ill-treat them, if you misuse them, if you oppress and harass them, in that process you may cause to emerge in Ceylon, from that particular stock with its own particular language and tradition, a new nationality to which we will have to concede more claims than it puts forward now. It is always wiser statesmanship to give generously early instead of being niggardly too late.”
He had his preliminary education at St. John’s College, Panadura, and secondary at Royal College, Colombo. The intransigent Trotskyite leader passed away exactly 30 years ago, on February 27, 1989 in Colombo, both anniversaries falling in the month of February.
"It was Colvin who held on his shoulders the major load in winning the historic habeas corpus case, humiliating the British legal fraternity, state authorities and the powerful white planting community"
Bolshevik-Leninists Party and ‘Lily Roy’
Under the Defen ce Regulations of the British government he was held in Bogambara Prisons during WW II, along with four other leaders of Marxist LSSP who opposed the War calling it an imperialist’s struggle. They escaped from prison and became an exiles in India. There, Colvin joined Indian Bolsheviks and formed a new party, Bolshevik-Leninists Party of India and Ceylon. He had to go underground to avoid capture by the British government in India and assumed the name “Govindan”; and continued his work writing Articles under a pseudonym ‘Lily Roy’.
The oldest political entity in the island, Lanka Sama-samja Party [LSSP] at its inauguration in 1935, chose Colvin as their first president. He and his colleagues Dr. N.M. Perera and Wickremasinghe;Philip, Lesley and Edmond were dedicated Trotskyite young men who studied in England and the US in early 1930s – radicals from the elite classes they learnt Marxism at London School of Economics and at Wisconsin. Colvin, the 28-year old advocate speaking in English at the inaugural meeting of LSSP, held at Lorenz College hall on December 21, 1935, referred to the public meetings held simultaneously by the new ruling partnership of Ceylon National Congress [CNC] and A. E. Goonasinghe’s Ceylon Labour Party [CLP], in support of latter’s candidacy, he said,
“…and with the Jayatillakes and Senanayakes travel the rump that is miscalled the CNC; this organization of landowners had acted in the name of the people for the establishment of its own exclusive power. The meeting of the CLP and the Trade Union Congress reminds me of nothing so much as a travelling circus in which the central turn is always played by the same clown”.-- Ceylon Daily News--23/12/35-[Courtesy Archives].
Interference by US
In his eloquent persuasive style Colvin enlightened the legislators in September 1975, following his removal from the UF Government by Sirimavo; on the impending dangers that could befall in the future, when he said,
“…‘Destabilisation’, is an ominous word introduced into the world’s political vocabulary by that most sinister instrument of international subversion the so called CIA, of …USA… there is reason to believe that USA also is involved… behind major political changes. There are major social forces in action, colliding, re-grouping and realigning …our little island has become the focus of activity of international forces…the expulsion of US from Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia turned their eyes on Sri Lanka, which is well placed in relation to the air and sea routes of the Indian Ocean area…”
-Hansard - Sep 1975
The Bracegirdle case
In 1936, an Australian communist, Mark Anthony Bracegirdle shook the British colonial government in Ceylon. Bracegirdle sailed for Ceylon, apparently to work as a planter in the tea plantations. Disgusted by the pathetic conditions suffered by the Tamil labour force, Bracegirdle spoke out openly against the colonial authorities who arrested him. Bracegirdle’s supporters in leftist parties appointed a legal team for his defence, which was headed by the 30-year-old Colvin. Ceylon’s foremost lawyer at the time, H.V. Pereira offered his services for argument, but it was Colvin who held on his shoulders the major load in winning the historic habeas corpus case, humiliating the British legal fraternity, state authorities and the powerful white planting community.
Opposing the Citizenship bill introduced by DS Senanayake government in 1948, which deprived the voting rights of Indian Estate population in the hill country’s tea industry, Colvin argued in Parliament,
“Racialism is a handy weapon of reaction. But I would remind this government, even though the reminder may prove historically useless, that there are weapons which reaction has handled in the past and which have been ultimately destructive of the reaction itself… we by opposing this, will also have taken the first step towards that ultimate consummation, namely, the ending both of this government and of the system which it represents and defends
Dr. Colvin first contested Wellawatte-Mount Lavinia in 1947 and won; but lost in 1952, as his legal career interfered with his politics. Sathasivam case preceded the election; canvassing in Dehiwala, a lady resident shut the door saying, “If people like you exist, no wife will be safe in this country” . Colvin rejoined, “Madam that’s a judgment on your husbands”. He won Agalawatte electorate from 1965-77, always competed on principles; results did not bother him. As a revolutionary, Colvin never retired in dereliction of his legal or political obligations, and until his demise a quarter century ago, he worked tirelessly.
"An outstanding criminal lawyer and a statesman of indisputable honesty and integrity, ‘comrade’ Colvin abundantly displayed his well acquainted legal acumen and argumentative skills in and out of Parliament"
Boxing with JR
He was also a good pugilist and boxed for Royal College along with his class mate and erstwhile friend [later political foe] JR Jayewardene; incidentally in 1925, the two met in the boxing ring in an inter-house bout. In 1987, in an unprecedented move President JR banned May Day rallies; age did not deter our revolutionist from displaying his fighting spirits when he decided to defy emergency regulations and lead from the front at Union place; but, ended in hospital when a tear gas canister hit him in the leg. Next morning papers carried photos of JR talking to his class-mate at the hospital bed: guess what the two octogenarians discussed! Boxing, Politics, …?
Colvin left behind a legacy of five and half decades of public life and revolutionary thoughts most of which are applicable and valid and even more significant in the current
The humanist revolutionary
Speaking on the bill for ‘Suspension of Death Penalty’ in 1956, he professed a permanent removal of the hangman, he said, “…of all things that state may take away from a man there is one thing that which if you take away you can not only not return, but can never compensate him for and that is his life…the idea is punishment instead of creating an opportunity for healing…it is an old and outmoded utterly unreasonable approach. Let us move away from the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”.
Colvin, the wittiest
The criminal lawyer became world famous when he successfully defended Sathasivam in wife murder case in 1951/52, but faced an embarrassing moment visiting Sir Sydney Smith in Edinburgh for a briefing. The Forensic expert, [Sir Sydney] invited him to demonstrate how to dress a lady in Saree. Colvin surprised the Britisher, by confessing that he had no idea, but the witty man continued,
“Sir Sydney, but we know how to undress them”.