Colvin the fighter | Daily News


Colvin the fighter

“…of all things that state may take away from a man there is one thing that which if you take away you cannot only not return, but can never compensate him for and that is his life…the idea is punishment instead of creating an opportunity for healing…it is an old and outmoded utterly unreasonable approach. Let us move away from the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. --Colvin R de Silva, speaking on the ‘Suspension of Death Penalty Bill’ 60 years ago -- (Hansard-1956: col. 548/564)

Colvin Reginald de Silva, was born exactly 113 years ago in Balapitiya on February 16; he served Sirimavo Badaranaike’s 1970-75 Cabinet as Minister of Plantation Industries and Constitutional Affairs. After his preliminary education at St John’s College, Panadura, he entered Royal College, Colombo. Colvin considered number one criminal lawyer in the island’s in 1940 and 50s, vehemently opposed the Capital Punishment, proving his humanist concerns which superseded a lucrative practice as a defender of criminals an area where one could earn higher fees only if the practice of hanging was in force.

One language, two nations; Two languages, one Nation

During the debate on Official Language (Sinhala only) Bill in Parliament in 1956, he stated, “… Do we want an independent Ceylon or two bleeding halves of Ceylon which can be gobbled up by every ravaging imperialist monster that may happen to range the Indian Ocean? These are issues that in fact we have been discussing under the form and appearance of the language issue… One language, two nations; Two languages, one Nation…”

Colvin professed anti-racist agenda

In his address to Parliament during the debate on Citizenship Bill introduced by D. S. Senanayake in 1948, depriving the Indian Estate labour their voting rights, Dr. Colvin said, “Racialism is a handy weapon of reaction. But I would remind this government, even though the reminder may prove historically useless, that there are weapons which reaction has handled in the past and which have been ultimately destructive of the reaction itself… we by opposing this, will also have taken the first step towards that ultimate consummation, namely, the ending both of this government and of the system which it represents and defends” -- -Hansard-August 3, 1948-[col. 1711]

Mark Anthony Bracegirdle, an Anglo-Australian Marxist revolutionary sailed into the island in 1936 as a trainee tea planter. Bracegirdle worked along with the inhumanely treated Tamil plantation labourers who lived in cattle shed type ‘line rooms’. He earned the wrath of European management for taking the side of labour during agitations. Dr Colvin R. de Silva was the president of the LSSP in November, 1936, who held a meeting in Colombo to introduce Bracegirdle, where he said: “This is the first time a white comrade has ever attended a party meeting. Comrades, you know we have a white comrade who wishes to address you.” Bracegirdle claimed unrivalled knowledge of the offenses of the planters and promised further outrageous exposures.

The British planting community won through upon Sir Stubbs, the Governor to deport the man who became a ‘menace’ to them. Bracegirdle went underground while the LSSP started a lobby group to defend him. N. M. Perera and Philip Gunawardena, two State Councillors on May 5th, proposed a vote of censure on the Governor for his moves to deport Bracegirdle without the advice of the Home Minister. The vote was passed by 33 votes to 7.

In the meantime, a writ of Habeas Corpus case was called before the Supreme Court. County’s leading civil lawyer, H.V. Pereira, appeared with 29-year old Colvin for Bracegirdle; On May 18 the SC made its order nullifying the deportation ruled by Governor, stating that the applicant had used his right to free speech, and Bracegirdle was freed.

Sacked by Sirimavo in 1975

The right-wing led by Felix Dias and Maithreepala Senanayake in Sirimavo’s United Front in 1975 were successful in convincing the Prime Minister that the Samasajists should be removed from the cabinet, [an act that repeated 1959’s removal of Philip and William the two leftists] In his address to the house on their expulsion, Colvin said in his usual fluent persuasive style, “…‘Destabilisation’, is an ominous word introduced into the world’s political vocabulary by that most sinister instruments of international subversion the so called CIA, of …USA… there is reason to believe that USA also is involved… behind major political changes. There are major social forces in action, colliding, re-grouping and realigning …our little island has become the focus of activity of international forces…the expulsion of US from Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia turned their eyes on Sri Lanka, which is well placed in relation to the air and sea routes of the Indian Ocean area…” – Hansard - September 1975

Colvin the wittiest

In 1947, Colvin won the Wellawatte—Galkissa seat comfortably. During 1952 Parliamentary elections Colvin was canvassing in Dehiwala. It was in the immediate aftermath of Sathasivam, the wife murderer was defended by Colvin, the unparalleled criminal lawyer of great distinction— when a constituent lady, a resident down Auburn Side shut the door blaring, “If people like you exist, no wife will be safe in this country”, for our witty man to rejoin, “Madam that’s a judgment on your husbands.” Satha won, Colvin lost. In 1956 he was returned to Parliament and in 1965 he contested his home base in Agalawatte and won it in 1965 and 1970, but lost along with all his Marxists colleagues in 1977.

During the war, they were jailed by the colonial government, but they broke jail and escaped to India, where, Colvin joined Indian Bolsheviks and wrote Articles under pen names ‘Lily Roy’ and ‘Govindan’.

Young Colvin was in mid-twenties when he was reading for his thesis, ‘Ceylon under the British Occupation’ at King’s College, University of London, he wasn’t a Marxist then. Responding to the famous British saying: ‘The Sun never sets on the British Empire’, he said: ‘That is because God does not trust them in the dark!’ Once visiting Sir Sydney Smith in Edinburg in connection with the Satahasivam case, the Forensic expert asked Colvin to demonstrate how to dress a lady in saree. While confessing his ignorance, the witty man continued, “Sir Sydney, we only know how to undress them!.” Colvin the revolutionary worked tirelessly for the benefit of masses— in 1987 at 80, he led protests against the ban on May Day rallies in Sri Lanka and suffered a serious burn injury to one of his feet due to a tear gas cartridge, which troubled him till his death on February 27, 1989.

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