26th October 1997


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History of the Celylon Police

When racial and religious feelings ran high

The following is yet another excerpt in our continuing series of excerpts from the book The History of the Ceylon Police, by former Inspector General of Police A. C. Dep.

Talwatte Murder Case — 1899.— On the 21st January, there was a procession in Kandy connected with the presentation of a valuable casket by the Burmese to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth. Kiri Banda Talwatte with his newly married wife and a few other ladies were present to witness the perahera.

Just then 14 Hockey players of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment were being marched along after a match. Three other soldiers of this Regiment who were chasing some Burgher girls created a disturbance. The ladies stepped back and Talwatte went forward and was attacked. He was raised up from the ground in a stunned condition and was taken home. He became unwell at night and died.

An Inquest was held and Mr. Kindersley reported that death was due to a fracture of the skull accidentally caused. There was great dissatisfaction over the verdict and the Governor ordered Mr. De Saram, the District Judge to hold an inquiry. His verdict was that, "Kiri Banda Talwatte died from the effects of a blow on his head given by a soldier who has not been identified". The Attorney-General who reviewed this case had this to say about the soldiers who served in Ceylon. "Instances of assault by English soldiers upon natives are almost unknown in Ceylon. During the 13 years I cannot recall a single case in which a British soldier has been convicted in a Ceylon Court of such an offence''.

Other incidents.— In 1899, Lieutenant Buist was attacked by 3 men at Mount Lavinia when he was travelling in a rickshaw. The soldiers took revenge by invading houses after lO.OO p.m. and attacking the inmates. At Mount Lavinia the soldiers were in the habit of going to 'native' houses for arrack. When the people shut their doors against them, they pelted stones on to the roofs.

Rifle Parade Ground was again the scene of trouble between the Malays and the Military. This time Colonel Savage objected to the presence of two coffee sellers at the edge of the ground as they frightened horses. The Inspector-General refused to interfere but the Superintendent of Police, Colombo, as an act of courtesy agreed to assist. However, the earlier interference was not forgotten. "It will be remembered that Major General Mr. Justice forcibly drove out the Malay population who for many years enjoyed the privilege of using the Rifle Parade Ground as an open space - sending Sikh soldiers armed with sticks and canes to assault them, by which act a good deal of racial and religious feeling was excited."

Attack on European soldiers at Kelaniya.— In 1901, Lieutenant Sewell and some soldiers went to Kelanimulla to bathe. Being a quiet spot they bathed nude in the river. Some Sinhalese for living in the vicinity assaulted Lieutenant Sewell for doing this. Sewell and his companions were loathe to make a formal complaint but all the same the Attorney-General was consulted. He made this observation of the character of the Sinhalese. "It is to some minds a completely harmless thing to swim about in a river in a state of nudity in an out of the way place like Kelanimulla but the Sinhalese man, while he is often guilty of many acts of indecency looks with special abhorrence upon bathing in a state of complete nudity. He will not do it even when by himself and unseen by anybody."

Riots.— In early March 1896, the District Engineer of Galle (Mr. R.G. Carte) with the Government Agent (Mr. Elliot) took measurements at the mouth of Modaella Canal at Gallepiadde. On the 14th March, Mr. Carte went to the spot with his labourers to start work. Henry Perera, alias Lanti Perera, tried to stop the work. Lanti went up to Carte held him by the coat and tore it off. Whereupon Carte felled Lanti with a blow from his fist. Lanti got up and ran away. Shortly after, he returned to the spot with 50—60 others and attacked Carte and his party. Carte fought his way through this gang and reached his vehicle and drove off to Galle.

Carte charged Lanti and 20 others with rioting and assault. The Superintendent of Police (Mr. Rudd) watched the interests of the prosecution while Mr. Dias Abeyasinghe defended the accused. Lanti was fined Rs. 50/- while the others received sentences of a month each.

The Kalutara Bo Tree Riot—1896.— This Bo-tree had grown unnoticed on the ramparts of the old Dutch Fort at Kalutara.

When the stones of the crumbling walls were removed for the Railway Bridge this plant was noticed and a wall was built round it and a charity box was placed by it. This tree rapidly grew up and gained in veneration. During Wesak, lights were displayed on this tree. These lights distracted the attention of the Engine Drivers and accidents nearly occurred. The tree began to be considered a danger and its removal was contemplated. This tree grew near the Southern end of the bridge.

A rumour was out that the Government would remove the tree on the 26th November, and nearly 2,000 gathered close to the tree to oppose the move. People who gathered had been sufficiently worked up on this question by persons who addressed them before the 26th. The crowd in consequence was boisterous and defiant in attitude. The Mudaliyar of the place warned them and asked them to be quiet. But they persisted in their attitude and Constable Appuhamy arrested a man named Baba Appu. The crowd attacked the Constable causing him injuries and rescued Baba Appu. They next attacked the Sergeant and 6 or 7 Constables present and made them seek shelter in the Police Station. They had however captured two of the offenders. They then made attempts to force their way into the Police Station and met with resistance. The Assistant Government Agent (Mr. Brodhurst) then arrived and told the crowd in very firm language that the Government will not tolerate such actions and ordered the Police to load their rifles. It was also known that reinforcements were on the way. The crowd then dispersed and there was peace and quiet in the town after 4.00 p.m.

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