This year we are commemorating the sixty sixth anniversary after gaining independence.
Hence, it is high time for us to contemplate as to whether we have made good use of the independence which our forefathers won after much struggle. Our forefathers had wrested the Independence. It was not a gift or a donation. A gift or a donation is something which is offered to someone who needs it by someone who possesses it. It is to be given willingly. We are the owners of our country and not the foreigners. They snatched it by force. We had to struggle for independence.
What is independence?
The definition given in the dictionary for an independent state is “a state or a country which is free and not controlled by another country or nation.” Hence, if a country is independent it should be called a sovereign state. According to Ernest Barker “sovereignty is illimitable. Hence one country should not intervene in the affairs of another country. Ultimately and as a last resort sovereignty is the constitution itself- the constitution which is the efficient and formal course of association which brings it into being, which forms and defines the purposes and methods of its operation.” The personal scheme of the Constitution is permanently present. Day by day and year by year, it acts continuously and without interruption as the paramount control of the whole operation of the state.
Secondly, however, and subject to the ultimate sovereignty or the constitution, there is the body which makes ordinary law. In this context we may consider whether Sri Lanka had achieved this status when she gained independence on February 04, 1948 and if not what more should be done to be fully independent.
A monarchical “Folk State”
Except for the South Indian invasions which took place from time to time, Sri Lanka remained an independent state until the Portuguese invasion which took place in 1505. Sri Lanka was a monarchical ‘Folk State’ ruled by kings starting from Vijaya and ending with Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe. These kings were independent and possessed the highest possible authority. Most of them were acceptable to the people. The people believed that these kings followed the principles of “Mahasammatha” meaning consent and agreement. There is historical evidence that the kings who acted contrary to the general will, were ousted by rebels.
" The king was not a dictator. He had three ministers to advise him and to assist him in governance. There were twelve governors for the provincial administration and eighty four officers to look after the smaller units or districts. Presumably the king had followed the principles of democracy. "
Period when the principles of sovereignty were followed
The reign of King Parakramabahu the Great can be sighted as an example of a period when the principles of sovereignty had been followed. Although the kingdom was shifted from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa consequent to the Malabar invasions, the prosperity of the country had been maintained during this period. The king was not a dictator. He had three ministers to advise him and to assist him in governance. There were twelve governors for the provincial administration and eighty four officers to look after the smaller units or districts. Presumably the king had followed the principles of democracy.
However, after the invasion of Westerners –initially by Portuguese in 1505, followed by the Dutch and the British- we lost our sovereignty as the invaders not only interfered in the internal affairs of the country but also forced us to live and behave in their way.
The Kandyan kingdom
The Kandyan kingdom collaborated with the British expeditionary forces against the Dutch who were evicted. By 1876 the colonies under the Dutch were administered by the British East India Company by the military governor. Due to the arbitrary administration of the British East India Company by the military governor, the abolition of the Rajakariya system and the introduction of a new tax system on crops a revolt rose in the low country and it lasted for over six months. This revolt was suppressed without much difficulty. Certain reforms were introduced and in 1802 Ceylon became a Crown Colony. Since then the British planned to capture the Kandyan provinces. They invaded the Kandyan kingdom in 1803 and in 1804 but were defeated by the Kandyan King.
The attack on the Kandyan kingdom
In 1803 British troops under the command of General Dowell attacked Kandy. These attacks were subdued but the enmity between the Kandyan aristocrats and King Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe developed from the execution of chiefs from Sabaragamuwa the assassination of Adigar Pilimatalawwa and most especially the cruel punishment imposed on the family members of Ehalepola including the young hero, Madduma Bandara. It is said that Madduma Bandara faced death bravely saying that he bled his last to enrich the Kandyan soil with the blood of a hero whose name will be remembered as long as the Sinhala nation lasts.
The entire kingdom wept for weeks and the people were waiting to take revenge on the king. Simultaneously a gang of British traders who were on their way to the hill country were captured and on the orders of the king they were mutilated and driven back to Colombo with the mutilated parts tied around their necks. This was sufficient provocation for an onslaught on Senkadagala and this ended the sovereignty of the Kandyan people which they enjoyed for 2357 years. These incidents are evidences that we could have remained independent without waiting until February 1948.
The Kandyan Convention
The British fomented a revolt by the Kandyan aristocracy against the Kandyan monarch which resulted in the 1815 Kandyan Convention whereby the whole country came under British rule. The struggle against the colonial power began in 1817 with the Uva rebellion when the same aristocracy rose against the British rule in a rebellion in which villagers participated. They were however, defeated. An attempt was made again to rebel when the Kandyan peasants who were stripped of their lands by the Waste Lands Ordinance and the enclosure movement which reduced them to penury.
In 1848 the abortive Matale revolution was led by Hennadige Fracicso Fernando (Puran Appu) and Gongalegoda Bandara. This was the first traditional step towards abandoning the feudal system. The masses were without the leadership of their native king who was deposed in 1805 and the chiefs who were either crushed after the Uva rebellion or collaborated with the colonial power. Consequently, the leadership passed the Kandyan provinces into the hands of the ordinary people for the first time.
" The Buddhist revival was aided by the Theosophists led by the American Col. Henry Steele Olcott who helped in the establishment of Buddhist schools injecting the modern secular Western ideas into the Buddhist thought stream "
The Buddhist revival was aided by the Theosophists led by the American Col. Henry Steele Olcott who helped in the establishment of Buddhist schools injecting the modern secular Western ideas into the Buddhist thought stream. Revolutionists such as Anagarika Dharmapala started linking Buddhism into a Sinhalese ambience creating a Sinhala Buddhist consciousness. In 1919 the Ceylon National Congress was founded to agitate for greater autonomy. A number of Youth Leagues were formed by young men and women who followed the path of Anagarika Dharmapala. The South Colombo Youth League got involved in the Suriyamal Movement and revived it on a new anti- imperialist war basis.
It was after a history of such circumstances that Lanka gained independence in 1948. In spite of gaining independence the country which was exploited by the Western rulers remains to be rebuilt and developed socially, culturally and economically. During the post- independent period Sri Lanka lost the opportunity to build the country. Nearly half of the sixty six years long period, Sri Lanka had to engage in a war to suppress the separatists Tiger terrorists. This is the fifth Independence Commemoration Day after defeating Tiger terrorism bringing the dawn of a new era of development during which the ordinary citizen of this country look forward to true independence- politically, economically , socially and culturally.
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