Funday Times

Gaveshaka begins a new series on patriots of Sri Lanka
Vital document hidden in a shoe
Imagine someone risking his life by taking a secret document hidden under his shoe at a time when the country’s foreign rulers looked at the natives with suspicion. This is exactly what patriot E. W. Perera (about whom we talked about when discussing the Lion Flag) did following the unreasonable and unjust punishments meted out to the Sinhalese leaders by the British administrators after the Sinhalese-Muslim riots in 1915.

A petty incident in Gampola town led to clashes following the Muslim traders in Kandy town not permitting any processions of Buddhists to disturb worship at their mosque by the noise of traditional drums and flutes. Stone throwing and jeering led to pandemonium and the clashes spread as a result of rumours spreading.

The government acted hastily calling in the military after Martial Law was declared. Troops brought from India did not understand the language or customs of the country. Leaders including F. R. Senanayake, D. S. Senanayake, D. C. Senanayke, D. B. Jayatilleka, W. Arthur de Silva, C. A. Hewavitarana, Charles Batuwantudawe, Piyadasa Sirisena, John de Silva, Martinus C. Perera and A. E. Goonesinghe were taken into custody. The charge against them was treason. Bogus allegations were made against some of them who, like Edward Pedris, were killed while others were imprisoned for life.

The Government’s conduct was condemned and a campaign was started pressing for a Royal Commission of Inquiry. A memorandum was drafted at a secret meeting held at the residence of E. W. Perera, initiated by Sir James Peiris and presided over by Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan. Before presenting it to the British Government, the support of the British Members of Parliament and the Press in England had to be obtained. It was the time of World War I. Sea voyage was dangerous due to the presence of German submarines, which attacked ships and destroyed them.

Abandoning a promising career at the Bar, E. W. Perera undertook the task of going over to England by obtaining permission saying he was going to do some research in the British museum.

To his advantage, the British treated him as a scholarly Christian Barrister rather than a national patriot. He was able to get a steamer passage and left the shores, carrying the memorandum to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, hidden under the show for fear of it being discovered and confiscated by the Police. While in England, he was joined first by Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan and later by Sir D. B. Jayatilleka. The mission was a success. The British government ordered the release of the leaders who were in detention. Several high officials were transferred. A new Governor, Sir John Anderson was sent to replace Sir Robert Chalmers with instructions to inquire and report to His Majesty’s Government.

E. W. Perera’s effort was greatly appreciated and he was thereafter referred to as ‘the Lion of Kotte’. The residence of his father, Edward Francis Perera, Proctor of Colombo was at Kotte. Born on 12 December 1875 at Unawatuna, Galle, Edward Walter Perera was educated at Royal College and was first editor of the Royal College Magazine. He served as a sub-editor of the newspaper, Examiner until he was called to the Bar in May 1900. Having gone to England for further studies, he became a Barrister in 1909.

A strong critic of the government of the day, he was a member of the first Reform Deputation (1910). He was a member of the Legislative Council - first as member, Western Province BH Division (1920) and then representing the Kalutara district (1924). As President of the National Congress, he led its delegation before the Donoughmore Commission in 1926/27. Sincere to his convictions, he opposed the granting of universal adult suffrage and broke with his colleagues in the Congress. He agitated for full freedom and formed the All-Ceylon Liberal Association with Sir James Peiris. However, he was elected Member of the State Council for the Horana seat (1931) by a majority of 12,432 votes. He lost the 1936 election.

He was a scholar and wrote several books. He died on 16 February 1953 at the age of 79. He was well known for the high standards he set in public and political behaviour and made a real and vital contribution to the political growth of the country.

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