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Jayasekera, Pathira Vasan Jinasena (1970) Social and Political Change in Ceylon, 1900-1919, With Special Reference to the Disturbances of 1915. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25501/SOAS.00033903

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Abstract

The relationship between social change and political behaviour among the Sinhalese is the theme of this study. By the end of the nineteenth century Sinhalese society had undergone considerable social and economic change under the impact of Western rule. Among these who had benefited most from these change were social groups which had traditionally occupied a lower social status. It was primarily from these groups that a new elite emerged challenging both the forces of tradition and the restraints of foreign rule which obstructed social and political mobility. For the emerging wealthy and educated sections of the Buddhists the revival of Buddhism provided a means of social and political mobility. The cultural consciousness and the national sentiment associated with the revival of Buddhism were, however, unable to overcome either the traditional social differences or the forces of Westernization in order to produce an effective political weapon against foreign rule. The early political demands of the Sinhalese were essentially a challenge to the privileged position enjoyed by the traditionally dominant Goyigama elite. The first major reforms brought to a climax the conflict between this elite and the Karawas who, with prosperity, had emerged as the strongest contenders to positions of political prominence. The Temperance Movement revealed how the new elite made use of the government excise policy to exert popular influence and assert political leadership while at the same time safeguarding their economic interests. The disturbances of 1915 illustrated the cumulative effects of the economic changes. As regards the masses the disturbances were essentially a reaction to different types of economic strain. The religious and social movements, which were closely linked with the interests of the emerging Sinhalese commercial class, had directed economic grievances and rivalries along communal cleavages. Thus, the Muslims, who were the dominant commercial community and the strongest rivals of the Sinhalese businessmen, became the target of attack. Political ideas hardly influenced the behaviour of the crowds. The new political leadership played no part in the actual disturbances. But the reaction of the officials to the disturbances brought into sharp focus the political conflict between the British rulers and the new Ceylonese elite. Despite the bitterness created by the hostile attitude of the rulers, the new elite was not prepared for a direct confrontation with British rule. Their own interests and aspirations and: the conflicts arising out of social and ethnic differences had a mediating effect on their challenge to foreign rule. The National Congress that emerged in 1919 was not only confined to a small group of educated and wealthy men but vas also limited in its aims and objectives. The materials for this study were drawn from official sources missionary collections, private papers and diaries, contemporary newspapers and journals - both English and Sinhalese - and caste and religious tracts.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier): https://doi.org/10.25501/SOAS.00033903
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2020 17:23
URI: https://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/33903

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