Courtesy Reuters

The People of Ceylon and Their Politics

THE lovely island of Ceylon, which had been a British Crown Colony since 1798, could have become completely independent in 1948 if its political class had so decided. In the vast, comprehensive arrangements which followed quickly upon the mission of Lord Mountbatten to India in the spring of 1947, the whole of the nineteenth century Indian Empire was liquidated. Burma, or the Burmese nationalists who spoke for Burma, decided upon complete independence. India herself, like the truncated Moslem state of Pakistan, left the ultimate decision for a future date, and has in 1949 formulated a new concept, that of an independent Republic as a free member of the British Commonwealth. Ceylon alone, of these once imperial territories, has firmly chosen Dominion status and apparently intends to remain there.

The reasons, psychologically speaking, seem to me more interesting than any statistical analysis could show. It would be quite easy to demonstrate that Ceylon's wealth derives largely from tea and rubber and that these great plantations are to a considerable extent under British control, depending upon British banking and shipping for their effective exploitation. It is also demonstrable that the racial and religious heterogeneity in Ceylon is such that the Sinhalese governing groups feel safer with British support. But behind and above such reasons there is one other which comes as something of a surprise to the American mind: that is, that Ceylon has an inherited, congenital and still quite lively fear of India.

This fear is ancient indeed: most of Ceylon's history consists of stories of invasions from India. The Ramayana, second in antiquity only to the Mahabharata, is the mythological and poetic narrative of a war in which the hero and god Rama made war upon the wicked Rawana, king of Lanka (Ceylon), to rescue his abducted wife Sita. For a thousand years, more or less, the Sinhalese kings, who were originally Aryan-speaking invaders from northern India, kept their capital at Anuradhapura or Polannaruwa and fought off invading princes from South India. (This era stretches

Loading, please wait...

Related Articles

This site uses cookies to improve your user experience. Click here to learn more.

Continue