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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.