Enactment of Sinhala Only Law - 1956

Place: Ceylon | Date: 19560000

By: Virginia Leary

The first Constitution of Ceylon was drafted by an Englishman, Lord Soulbury and adopted by an Order in Council rather than by a constituent assembly. It remained in force until 1972.

Section 29 of the Soulbury Constitution protected the rights of minorities. It read 'No... law shall... make persons of any community or religion liable to disabilities or restrictions to which any persons of other communities or religions are not made liable; or... confer on persons or any community or religion any privilege or advantage which is not conferred on persons of other communities or religions.' Despite this constitutional provision the Official Language Act was adopted in 1956 providing that 'Sinhala Only' shall be the official language...

In the eyes of the Tamils, they were discriminatory provisions adopted by the majority population which placed their language in an inferior position, (and) required them to learn the majority language... It also became more difficult for Tamils enter government service...

Policies concerning the use of Sinhala, inter alia, have seriously lessened the opportunities of Tamils for government employment. The government should adopt a system for recruitment for government service which provides equal opportunities for all persons regardless of ethnic origin.

Virginia Leary: Ethnic Conflict and Violence in Sri Lanka - Report of a Mission to Sri Lanka on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists, July/August 1981