Today is the day that the Sinhala-only bill that led to the great bloodshed in Sri Lanka was introduced in Parliament.
The Sinhala Only Act was officially introduced in the Sri Lankan Parliament on June 5, 1956, by the government led by SWRD Bandaranaike under the name “Official Languages Act No. 33 of 1956”.
“Sinhala is the only official language of Sri Lanka”. With the passage of this Act, English, the official language of Sri Lanka, was abolished and Sinhala, the language spoken by the majority Sinhalese, was made the official language.
The bill, which was passed amid fierce opposition from Tamil MPs, immediately led to massive bloodshed in Sri Lanka. The bill also played a key role in the escalation of the ethnic conflict into an armed struggle.
In 1948, Sri Lanka gained independence from the British and gained Dominion status. In 1951, Bandaranaike left the United National Party and started a new party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. The party’s Mahajana Eksath Peramuna alliance won a landslide victory in the 1956 elections.
Within 53 days (June 5, 1956, June 5, 1956) of Bandaranaike’s cabinet, only Sinhala law was passed in the House of Representatives. The bill was supported by the United National Party. The Tamil parties, as well as the LSSP and Communists, voted against it.
Due to this bill, Tamils in government service were also forced to study Sinhala. Many Tamils in government service resigned in protest.
The law was also opposed by some Tamil and Sinhala left-wing members. Many struggles and initiatives were carried out under the leadership of SJV Selvanayagam. Government activities were disrupted in Tamil areas such as Jaffna, Vavuniya, Batticaloa, and Trincomalee.
It is noteworthy that Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party leader, had prophesied at the time during the parliamentary debate on this issue that “One language is two nations! two languages one nation!
In the midst of all this, Bandaranaike stood firm and implemented the bill. He thus laid the foundation for a massive bloodbath in the country.