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The Madulla massacre by the British (9th of Dec. 1817)

A letter to Mr. Peter Hain

I have herewith attached a petition to you. I hope you will seriously consider it. I did also write to your predecessor, late Hon. Mr. Fatchett on the same issue in June 1997. I also sent him my two books on the subject of British rule of the Kandyan kingdom. They are a shortened version of the long story available in the big volumes of Colonial Office papers in the archives at Kew. In case you need to look at them, those books are available both at the British Library, and at the SOAS library of the London University. The names of the books are: (a) The Rebels, Outlaws and Enemies to the British, and (b) The Kandyans’ Last Stand Against the British. There are many other books on this subject by British colonialists, the two contemporary ones being, Dr. Davy’s, An Account of the Interior of Ceylon, and Dr. Henry Marshall’s, Ceylon. No matter what books you look at, you will find that, without exception, all of them validate the case I have made out for an apology from the Crown to the descendants of the Sinhala Buddhist Kandyans, who were the singled out victims of colonial brutalities.

Your lingering interest in our country is evident from the many statements you have made on the present crisis in our country. I refrain from commenting on them as our Minister of Foreign Affairs has already done so. However, the important matter of justice on the part of HMG still remains to be discharged, despite the fact that the Kandyans did initiate their request as long ago as 1834.

You were one of the staunch supporters of the majority in South Africa. You were instrumental in exposing the many brutalities committed on them by the minority Africaaners. They even tried to frame you for bank robbery at Putney. I too have occasionally stood with the small group outside Trafalgar House on my way home from the Library. I too took part in the demonstration against your arrest by the police outside Putney police station. I too was imbued with the sense of justice you then preached from the platforms of the Liberal party. I hope that the same sense of justice has not forsaken you, now that you are a minister of Her Majesty’s Government.

The case for an apology to the descendants of the Sinhala Buddhist Kandyans stands out like a sore thumb. I hope you will initiate the necessary steps towards discharging this long-ignored obligation towards the descendants of an oppressed and repressed people, who are now threatened with further erosion of their inheritance by Indians your colonialists planted in their lands.

As a doughty fighter against oppression from any quarter, it is incumbent on you to put right this long saga, and enhance the confidence the Sinhalese have on Her majesty’s Government. I hope you will not be found wanting in this respect.

Best wishes

Copy to: H.E. High Commissioner, Cbo.Yours sincerely,
Durand Appuhamy.
Negombo, Sri Lanka.

By Durand Appuhamy
Many British citizens know that their government very seldom accedes to any demands made by its ordinary citizens, more so, if such a demand emanates from abroad. Therefore, as I have done many times before, let me make this a polite request. It is not a request for a statement of regret full of empty words bereft of any remorse. This is a request for an apology from the Crown, of the same mould and gravity, as was tendered to the Canadian Indian Tribal Chiefs in the mid l980s and to the Maoris in 1990. The basis for the apology is the same as in the cases of Canadian Indians and the Maoris of New Zealand — the repudiation of treaty obligations and the atrocities committed by the colonial British. In the case of the Kandyan provinces, those iniquitous and outrageous brutalities lasted from 1816 to 1848. This overdue gesture of atonement would enhance Britain’s strident advocacy of Human Rights and democracy throughout the world, and justice would have been done to Sri Lanka’s downtrodden Kandyans.

The Convention of 1815 was signed in Kandy between equals. The Governor represented the British Crown and the imperial government. This is why a Crown apology is in order. The Kandyan Chiefs represented themselves and their people. The Kandyan kingdom was ceded (not conquered) to the British without any conditions or undertakings on the part of the Kandyan Chiefs. The quid pro quo on the part of the British was the solemn promises and undertakings they enshrined in this document. This was a deliberate deception from the beginning. Thus, it was no surprise that the British subsequently broke their promises, and proceeded to demolish the Kandyan kingdom itself. Leaving aside for the moment the many other colonial depredations, one of which I shall describe below, this international deliberate deception of a trusting nation alone deserves an unreserved apology from the British Crown.

Let me start this exposition with a quote from the Cabinet papers (Jan 1914) of Sir Winston Churchill. "We are not a young people with inocent record and a scanty inheritance. We have engrossed to ourselves — an altogether disproportionate share of wealth and traffic of the world. We have got all we want in territory, and our claim to be left in the unmolested enjoyment of vast and splendid possessions, mainly acquired by violence, largely maintained by force, often seem less reasonable to others than to us" (from Clive Ponting’s Churchill pl32). This is a rare and frank admission of the unacceptable and unjustifiable basis of British colonialism by an arch imperialist. The colonial edifice in Ceylon was built on the blood-soaked Kandyan lands. This, then, is also the basis for my request for an apology from the Crown.

"Colonialism is not a thinking machine nor a body endowed with reasoning faculties. It is violence in its natural state. It will only yield when confronted with greater violence" (Fanon: The Wretched of the Earth p48). This brute force was employed in Kandy to reduce the inhabitants to savages and to dehumanize them. Everything was done to wipe out their traditions, customs, culture and religion. Mind you, the Kandyans were promised that this would not happen, and that their customs and traditions would be maintained (cl. 4, 8 of the Convention). However, Kandyan villages and farms were burnt down. Their paddy-fields were scorched. Their cattle slaughtered and their fruit bearing trees were simply chopped down. Starved and ill, they were finished off with the gun as if they were stray dogs in a stranger’s land. British civilians then flocked in to take over their lands, clear the virgin forests, and convert them to cash crops for the benefit solely of the settlers and their financiers in Britain. To the Kandyans, the most concrete and the foremost in value was land. This land not only gave them their daily bread but also their dignity. It was to preserve this land that they fought off successfully three western imperial nations, Britain included. Now having ceded their country to trickery, they remained helpless against the planters who insolently trampled over their lands and their rights to their lands.

Theravada Buddhism was their state religion, protected and promoted by their kings who ruled the country from 2300BC. It was part and parcel of their ancient civilization of over two millennia. It had come down to the Kandyans in its pristine glory, surviving the vicissitudes of temporary schism and persecution. Therefore it was natural for the Kandyans to seek warranties from the British for its protection and patronage by the colonial government. The British gave an unconditional warranty that Buddhism would remain inviolable (c1.5 of the Convention). The British knew fully well what this warranty entailed, because they have, indeed had, nearly twenty years of experience of Buddhist religion and popular Buddhist practices in the maritime province that had been under their control. However, it was a swindle of the first order: Governor Brownrigg later admitted that he gave this assurance merely to gain control of the Kandyan kingdom. The British evangelists, who were not a party to the Convention of 1815, and therefore had no right to interfere with it, then waded in. They condemned Buddhism as heathenism and its rituals and practices as barbaric idolatry. They easily persuaded the colonial government to violate the inviolability of Buddhism solemnly agreed to in 1815. Deprived of government support, the colonial government expected Buddhism to fade away into oblivion. It was following Sade’s advice to the imperialist in De Juliette, "take their god from the people that you wish to subjugate, then demoralize it; so long as they worship no other god than you, and has no other morals than your morals, you will always be their master" (p324). The Kandyans did perceive their ineluctable drift to serfdom and servitude. They sought their freedom and their self-respect. It was quite clear that the British interloper had acted fraudulently. He had to be ejected from the lands of their fathers. As Justice Hardinge Gifford suggested at that time, the British should have abandoned Kandy to the Kandyans. This was too galling for the colonial governor Brownrigg. He was determined to maintain his reputation and that of the Crown "unsullied and unimpaired". He decided on using brute force to subjugate the Kandyans. Thus began the first Kandyan bloody struggle for freedom. The intruding British it as a rebellion against the Crown.

There were some colonial functionaries who suggested the extirpation of the whole Kandyan race, which Hardinge Gifford condemned as "too revolting to humanity to be entertained even for a moment". Nevertheless, Brownrigg was determined to rely solely on the exercise of force and the effects of terror to subjugate the Kandyans. He threatened with extermination the refractory and the disaffected.

The colonial army officers carried out governor’s determination with ruthless efficiency. A few examples will suffice to prove my point. Maj MacDonald was the first to resort to arson in the Badulla district. In revenge for Govt. Agent Wilson’s death, he burnt down to the ground all the peaceful villages near Hausanvella. It was their fault that those villages happened to be located near the place where Wilson died. He plundered and destroyed their cattle, grain and other property. He then informed his Governor " this act of severity, I trust, will not be disapproved of" (CO 54/56 7th Nov. 1817). It was, in fact, approved and praised by the governor and was held out as an example for others to imitate. This scorching of the earth soon became the main method of oppression.

Lt. J. Maclaine of 73rd Regiment was a notorious sadist. Before the House of Commons Committee on Ceylon 1849/50, Col. Braybrooke reported that Maclaine hung the Kandyan prisoners without any trial, and particularly relished having them hung up outside his quarters, while he had his breakfast.

Capt. Fraser, Brownrigg’s aide-de-camp, one night killed nineteen and took ten prisoners. Seven of the latter were executed without any trial, and the other three were forced into service as his guides. His men hung up the bodies in the roadside ambalama (a wayfarers’ rest) at Godamunne. The blood from the corpses polluted the nearby river and made it unusable by them the next morning.

Col. Hook was another monster. In May 1818, he burnt down all the villages between Kadulova, where his garrison was posted, and Yatavatta Pass in the Matale district. In his frenzy he also executed Mavatagama Nileme (a Kandyan Chief), the brother of the High priest at Asgiriya Temple in Kandy. In this instance, the Governor apologized for the outrage, and made restitution to the family.

This terror and wanton manslaughter visited every nook and corner of the Kandyan kingdom with monotonous regularity. Wherever any sign of hostility was reported, troops were let loose on measures of repression; houses were burnt, stores looted, women and children seized, any men captured were executed. "There was seldom a day passed but we had parties out scouting the country for distance around burning all they came across and shooting they could not take prisoners" wrote sergeant Calladine. Small detachments were authorized to put to death anyone who opposed the British, reported by Dr. Davy. The pillage, plunder and cold-blooded murder were so common that Dr. Davy was moved to write " such system of warfare as this, of which I have partially sketched in outline, had better not be given in detail". Even London Times on the 7 of Oct. 1818 declared Brownrigg’s brutal "method of conflagration" (a term used by his Gazette) as "dreadful measures".

The barbarous brutality committed by the colonial British on the Kandyans, can, of necessity, be only brief here. Anyone just perusing through the Colonial Papers of this period will find plenty of additional material on this matter to fill many volumes.

So what happened at Madulla? On the 9th of Dec. 1817, a few Kandyans armed with bows and arrows waylaid a convoy of provisions escorted by Malay soldiers in the forest near Tibbottugoda. In the ensuing melee the British lost both their provisions and their soldiers. Andavala Mohotalla who lived nearby, was the chief suspect for this raid. His property was destroyed, other buildings in the neighbourhood were all burnt, fruit trees were cut down, all stores were also plundered. Madulla was the next village. The people there feared the worst when five men were executed, and the houses of six headmen were also burnt down. Driven by fear, the villagers scaled the nearby rock and hid themselves in the cave there. What then happened was described by governor Brownrigg himself (General Report issued on 6th Jan. 1818); "having got information of the hiding place of the villagers, it was decided to surprise and seize them the same night. The rebels, as is supposed, to the number of fifty men were in the cave—which being silently approached by our detachment, small divisions, under Lt. L. and sergeant Murray, of 73 regiment were posted in the pathways at each end of the cave, while Capt.C. proceeded with the remainder of his brave soldiers, for the front. The alarm being given within, the inhabitants set up a hideous yell and rushed from the cavern. Twenty of them were killed by our troops and the remainder precipitated themselves down the deep declivity of the mountain, by which they must have severely suffered. In the darkness that prevailed, one woman and child were also killed". The original intention was to seize the villagers. Instead, the trigger-happy soldiers simply shot them on sight as they came out of the cave. It was for a similar shoot-to-kill policy that Prime Minister Blair tendered his apology to the Irish not long ago. The villagers did not attack the soldiers, and the British did not sustain any injury or casualty. To salvage their conscience, a bogus excuse was then issued, to the effect, that, because the army acted with due care to protect the women and children in the cave, many of the rebels were able to escape. No credibility can be attached to this statement, as they had already massacred twenty Kandyans in cold blood. Further it was this same army that had earlier seized and raped many women all over the Kandyan province.

In 1848, under governor Torrington, the colonial government staged a repeat performance of this wanton manslaughter of Kandyans. The House of Commons Committee Report (1849/50) gives a comprehensive report of them. I draw HMO’s attention to them also here.

Let me conclude my request in Fanon’s words. "Colonialism and imperialism have not paid their score when they withdrew their flags and their police forces from our territories——The wealth of the imperial countries is our wealth too——For in a very concrete way Europe has stuffed herself inordinately with the gold and raw materials of the colonial countries" (Wretched of the Earth p81). Reparation has got to be made not only for this daylight robbery, but also, for the numerous massacres committed on the way to their opulence. The Kandyans did articulate my request in 1846 in their petition to Queen Victoria in the following words: "the infringements of the promises and engagements, amicably made and entered into——is contrary to British Law, is in opposition to Equity, Justice and Impartiality of the British Government, and discreditable to its good faith". The case for a British Crown apology is overwhelming. Until such an apology is delivered, the present-day descendants of the Sinhala Buddhist Kandyans will carry the scars of victimization by British colonial pillage, plunder and wanton manslaughter. They shall not cease to press the British Government for an apology from the Crown.


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