A Symbolic Moment of Ethnic Oneness at Independence Day, 4 February 1948

KLF Wijedasa, in The Island, 3 February 2021, with this title A Historic Day for Ceylon”

Duncan White, Lakshman Kadirgamar, Sharm Mustafa and Oscar Wijesinghe are seen in this picture which appeared in The Ceylon Daily News decades ago. Duncan White, Lakshman Kadirgamar, Oscar Wijesinghe and M.A.M. Sherrif  represented the four communities when they brought four scrolls to the Independence Square to be handed over to the Prime Minister  D.S. Senanayake to be read for the public to hear.


After 400 years of Western domination Ceylon, as Sri Lanka was known  gained Independence on the 4th of February 1948. Heralding the occasion four athletes from the four corners of the Island brought four scrolls to the Independence square to be handed over to the Prime Minister  D.S. Senanayake to be read for the public to hear.

The four reputed athletes represented the four communities. They were Oscar Wijesinghe (Sinhalese), Lakshman Kadirgamar (Tamil), Mohamed A Sherrif (Muslim) and Duncan White (Burgher). Arriving at the Independence Square they handed over the scrolls to young females representing the four communities. Swarna Amarasuriya (Sinhalese), Srimani Ramachandran (Tamil), Ayesha Zally (Muslim) and Phyllis de Kretser (Burgher). In turn the four damsels handed over the scrolls to the Prime Minister who read them over the public address system.

It was indeed a happy coincidence that in the very same year Sri Lanka made her debut at the greatest sporting spectacle in the world, as an independent nation. A team comprising three athletes and three boxers represented the country at the XIV Olympic Games in London 1948. No one ever dreamt that any of the participants would ever win a medal at the greatest sports festival after the Second World War. In the final of the 400m Hurdles event Duncan White of Sri Lanka, though beaten by Roy Chocran, USA to second place. lowered the existing Olympic record skimming over the hurdles in 51.8 secs. Thus getting the first medal to Independent Sri Lanka at an international sporting event. Commenting on the breath taking performance, the President of the Sri Lanka Olympic Association said that “White has done more for Sri Lanka in 51.8 secs than all the propaganda over 100 years”. This athlete was none other than one of the athletes who brought the scroll to the Independence Square on 4th February 1948.

Duncan White proved that his performance at the London Olympics was not a flash in the pan at the British Empire Games in Auckland New Zealand in 1950 (now known as the Commonwealth Games). His noteworthy performance of 52.5secs not only won the gold medal and the Empire Games record, but was just outside the world record for the event by one fifth of a second.

Subsequently the other three athletes too performed well for the country. Oscar Wijesinghe and M.A.M. Sherrif represented the country at the British Empire Games along with Duncan White. Oscar Wijesinghe, a Public Schools athlete, representing the University of Ceylon won the 100m at the All India and Ceylon Inter University Championships. He established a Sri Lanka record in the 100m in 11.0 seconds in 1949 (The writer too equalled this record in 1955).

Lakshman Kadirgamar won the 110m Hurdles event at the Public Schools Meet and later won the Nationals in 1951. At the All India and Ceylon Inter University Athletic Meet too he won the above event. He finally became the Foreign Ministers of Sri Lanka.

*****  ****


  • KLF Wijedasa was an accomplished sprinter and was senior to me at Peradeniya University in the late 1950s. He, too, represented Ceylon in Athletics with some success.
  • Lakshman Kadirgamar was assassinated by the LTTE in 2006  — the sniper using the neighbouring house of a Royal College man, a former cricketer at that, one Thalayasingham (who does not appear to have  been complicit because he was mostly immersed in drink according to gossip).



“Killing Kadirgamar,” 22 August 2005, New Yorker,  https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2005/08/22/killing-kadirgamar


The Independent in UK: “Lakshman Kadirgamar: The Tamil who took on the Tigers,” https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/lakshman-kadirgamar-the-tamil-who-took-on-the-tigers-305931.html

Tamil Guardian: “Man arrested in Germany over Kadirgamar Assassination,” 17 January 2019,  https://www.tamilguardian.com/content/man-arrested-germany-over-kadirgamar-assassination


Filed under accountability, British colonialism, communal relations, cultural transmission, democratic measures, economic processes, education, ethnicity, governance, heritage, historical interpretation, landscape wondrous, life stories, LTTE, Muslims in Lanka, patriotism, performance, politIcal discourse, power politics, power sharing, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, tolerance, unusual people, world events & processes

8 responses to “A Symbolic Moment of Ethnic Oneness at Independence Day, 4 February 1948

  1. Sanath jayatilaka

    We did not attain INDEPENDENCE on this day. We remained subject to Buckingham Palace dominion status. The Queen continued to be sovereign and laws were passed by our Parliament in the name of the Queen. British bases continued, our highest court was the Privy Council. It is only in 1972 that we became a sovereign state.

    • When the British were asked [by Banda and co] to vacate their bases in Ceylon aka LANKA they did. yYes there were a few archaic limits ….BUT the limitations were limited.
      What is displayed here is a strand of LEGAL PEDANTRY that is not uncommon within the middle class circles of my generational cohorts. Let us hope that the younger generations are better versed in this domain.

  2. Sugath Kulatunga

    KLF must be congratulated for recalling the memories of this great event which also portrays the communal harmony which prevailed then. I was privileged as a Boy Scout to be inside the Hall as an usher, but missed the events outside.

  3. I have a question (answers from all comers welcome). Here it is.

    How widely welcomed was Independence? Were celebrations held all round the country? Were ordinary people actually happy to see the British go?

    We know for certain that some groups felt threatened by the arrival of independence. The Indian Tamil community, for example, and the planting community (both European and local). There was lots of migration among the well-to-do who could afford to start again abroad.

    What, if anything, was felt by ordinary folk, the peasants and fisherfolk and the rest? Were they in favour? Were they against? Were they indifferent? How do we know?

    I am very interested in anything anyone can tell me on this subject.

    • So, too, am I …. so readers from eevery which spot with solid ethnographic data and/or personal views are encouraged to note short commens HERE and to send longer essays to me at mrober137@gmail.com –with first rights to THUPPAHI [but no exclusive claims]
      In this regard NOTE = https://thuppahis.com/2020/05/10/michaels-testimony-for-ve-day-in-britain-8th-may-1945/ …. WHERE I refer to one background influence THUS: ” … the insidious impact of Movietone News[11] or Pathe News[12] whenever we lads went to the urban cinema – cinema halls which also hosted numerous members of the urban working class. The cinema events opened with God save the King and we (mostly) stood up in respect. What insidious power that! Most of us – but not the Marxists – were being Anglicized and Westernized without being conscious of the process.”

  4. Fair Dinkum

    I enjoyed reading the essay and comments. Thank you. My understanding is that Ceylon was granted Dominion status in 1948 meaning Britain retained control of foreign affairs and national security but not other areas. Banda somehow managed to bypass it.

  5. Pingback: Duncan White: Trinitian, Hurdler and Trailblazer for Ceylon | Thuppahi's Blog

  6. Pingback: “Remembering Lakshman Kadirgamar: Sri Lanka First | Thuppahi's Blog

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