Published: June 6, 2023
Last updated: September 1, 2023
June 6, 1957
Tamil teachers versus Muslim teachers
Dahanayake, who turned down the invitation to go to Mannar, instead opted to visit Kalmunai in the Eastern Province. The Eastern Province had, in mid-May, become a festering spot for Tamils and Muslims over education. Tamil parents at Nintavur complained about the appointment of a Muslim as headmaster, refusing to send their children until a Tamil headmaster was appointed.1 The strike lasted for two weeks and ended when the Muslim MP of the area asked the parents to send their children back to school, assuring that he would bring the issue to Dahanayake’s attention.2
Dahanayake was already aware of tensions between Muslim and Tamil teachers. In early May, he called for a round-table conference after receiving a deputation of Tamil teachers who complained of degrading conditions for Tamil teachers at Muslim schools due to government policy.3 In 1956, the education ministry introduced “Muslim schools” as a category of government schools. The alleged effect was that junior Muslim teachers subordinated senior Tamil teachers at Tamil-medium Muslim schools. There were furthermore rumors that Tamil teachers would be replaced by Muslim ones.4 The deputation asked Dahanayake to separate the two communities at Muslim-majority schools. He responded by urging the Tamil teachers to change their attitude vis-à-vis government policy if they wanted to effect any change and to not get into a dispute with the Muslims.5
Though Dahanayake’s visit was not explicitly to address Tamil-Muslim tensions in schools, the conflict perhaps contextualizes the reactions to his arrival.
Dahanayake arrived at Kalmunai on the night of June 5. The next day, he met a deputation of Sinhalese teachers who informed him of a number of difficulties they faced. After this, he visited a proposed site for a Sinhalese school, accompanied by the MPs for Kalmunai and Pottuvil.6 During the visit, Tamil-speaking demonstrators waved black flags and called for him to leave. Things turned slightly violent when a demonstrator threw a sandal at Dahanayake and another tried to hit him with a flagpole. When he went to the town hall, he was shouted at by school children. He then went to the temple and vihara, where the children continued to shout at him and demonstrators swarmed his car. After this, he went to Kalmunaikudy, where he was again greeted with protest, this time in the form of black flags. Attempts to remove the flags failed, so the venue was changed to a reading room.7
At the reading room, he was received by Muslims at Kalmunaikudy. He was thanked by the Kalmunai MP, M. S. Kariapper, for his work in support of “Muslim rights.” In response, Dahanayake claimed that “ninety nine per cent” of Kalmunai supported the government, and that the Muslims more generally stood with the Sinhalese in favour of the Sinhala Only policy.8 However, in parliament, Vanniasingham would later claim that the black flags were actually put up by Muslims and that the sandal was thrown by a Muslim, demonstrating the opposition of Muslims to the Sinhala Only Act.9
Over two thousand Muslims at Kattankudy were awaiting the arrival of the minister, but at the last minute, he cancelled the visit. In a letter to the Ceylon Daily News, Kariapper confessed that he advised Dahanayake not to go to Kattankudy after receiving reports that large Tamil crowds had lined on the road from Kalmunai to Kattankudy to stone Dahanayake as he passed through.10 However, the newspaper reported that the road to Kattankudy only had a few black flag wavers.11
After attending several receptions by Muslims, Dahanayake left Kalmunai the next day, exclaiming that “the Muslims of the Eastern Province… are wholeheartedly and enthusiastically on the side of the Government.”12
Of the three ministerial trips to the Northern and Eastern Provinces in June 1957, Dahanayake’s was the least eventful. Unlike Mannar, Kalmunai was an electorate whose MP was a member of the government and, just as importantly, an ex-Federalist. Dahanayake had first visited the Sinhalese community, and was furthermore on positive terms with the Muslim community in Ceylon. The same could not be said for his relationship with Tamils, whom he had condemned as one of “three deadly enemies of the Sinhalese people” during his election campaign and accused of holding back Muslims in education.13 While he moderated his rhetoric as a minister, his pro-Muslim and anti-Tamil leanings nevertheless emerged when he overtly took the side of Muslims in educational disputes. Finally, unlike in Mannar (and later, Jaffna), there were no Federal Party politicians in Kalmunai during the visit, likely because it was neither one of the party’s electorates nor a Tamil-majority electorate.
One ministerial trip to the north and east remained: Jaffna. Jaffna, being a predominantly Tamil area,14 would see a more formidable reaction to a government official’s arrival.
- The parents argued that the school was donated to the government with the intent that it would be a Tamil school, but Muslims were recently taking over. “Protest Over Appointment of Muslim,” CDN, May 16, 1957.
- “School Strike is Over,” CDN, May 29, 1957.
- “Tamil and Muslim Teachers to Talk it Over,” CDN, May 7, 1957.
- “Q.C. on Treatment of Tamil Teachers,” CDN, August 22, 1956. Such allegations may have been justified as Dahanayake, in a letter to a Muslim teachers’ association, promised to contravene government policy and ensure that only Muslim teachers would be appointed to Muslim schools. “Muslim Schools Exception,” CDN, June 10, 1957.
- “Tamil and Muslim Teachers to Talk it Over,” CDN, May 7, 1957.
- The school was a replacement for one that had been dynamited by Tamil rioters during the June 1956 ethnic riots. “Kariapper M.P. on the Federalists,” CDN, June 11, 1957.
- “Dahanayake in Kalmunai,” CDN, June 7, 1957; “Stormy Reception for Minister,” CDN, June 7, 1957, quoted in “Kariapper M.P. on the Federalists,” CDN, June 11, 1957.
- “Dahanayake in Kalmunai,” CDN, June 7, 1957. The latter claim is challenged by, for example, the presence of Muslims at anti-Sinhala Only demonstrations. For example, “Black Flags Flown: Schools Are Closed,” CDN, June 6, 1957. Dahanayake’s pro-Muslim stances likely related to the good relationship he had with Muslims in his electorate, Galle.
- Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, vol. 28, col. 380-381. On the other hand, Kariapper accused Tamils of having thrown the sandal. “Kariapper M.P. on the Federalists,” CDN, June 11, 1957.
- “Kariapper M.P. on the Federalists,” CDN, June 11, 1957. These claims must be seen in the context that Kariapper was an ex-Federalist who was vehemently against his former party and its activities. The rest of the letter serves as a scurrilous diatribe against the Federal Party.
- “Dahanayake in Kalmunai,” CDN, June 7, 1957.
- “Dahanayake Sums Up,” CDN, June 8, 1957.
- “Dahanayake Names ‘Three Deadly Enemies’,” CDN, February 10, 1956; “Tamils Obstructed Muslims Progress,” CDN, February 14, 1956.
- Though it was not a Federal Party monopoly as the Jaffna MP was G. G. Ponnambalam of the All-Ceylon Tamil Congress.