Social Scientist. v 13, no. 143 (April 1985) p. 59.

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Colonialism in Sri Lanka


ASOKA BANDARAGE'S study of the specific features of colonial rule in the Kandyan

region ofSn JLanka over a 50-year period has a global concern : to seek out a theory' of underdevelopment of the Third World in the colonial and post-colonial era and thereby to eradicate its backwardness. This search leads her on to a critique of the existing theoretical frameworks of all the different hues; she rejects the imperialist and the nationalist approaches straight way and sides with the Marxist, especially the neo-Marxist explanations. However, none of the conflicting neo-Marxist theoretical tools fully satisfy her; hence she seeks to resolve the conflict in a somewhat eclecrical synthesis. •

With good reason Bandarage sets out to examine the pre-colonial economy of her region, marked by the coexistence of the communal shifting agriculture and feudal paddy cultivation. These*'distinct modes of production' were not confined to separate regions; indeed all villages comprised both(p. 32). The Buddhist clergy was transformed into the major class of feudal landlords with the acquisition of land, its egalitarian ideology notwithstanding (pp. 35-36).

The delicate ecological and social balance that the coexistence of these two modes of production had enforced was irretrievably disturbed by the British colonization of the country and the subordination of these modes to the production of coffee in plantations primarilv under European control. This stark economic reality could hardly be covered up by the British claim of having to establish their rule in Kandy in order to save the local populace from the oppression of their nonarch (p. 50). Thus was Sri Lanka integrated with the world market through the sale of its coffee;

but the siphoning off of the profits to the metropolitan country rather than being reinvested in Sri Lanka itself impeded its emergence as a developed capitalist country (p. 278). Colonialism subverted the old forms, both communal and feudal, and substituted for them private property rights of which Europeans were the chief bebeficiaries (an argument eloquently elaborated in chapter V). Even so the precapitalist forms of social and economic organization were never completely eradicated and the Sinhalese peasantry could not be reduced to a reserve force of landless agricultural wage labourers. For this purpose colonialism had to depend upon Tamil labour migrating into Sri Lanka. Bandarage hints at the origin ofTamil-Sinhala conflict in the differential levels of their development under the aegis of colonialism, but does not pursue the argument, it being of little concern to her main theme.

Bandarage lias graphically, almost Ivricallv, portrayed the intense conflicts generated bv tlie interaction between various sectors of the economy—the 'com-munalistic' sector of shifting cultivation, the settled paddy cultivation sector, tlie newly evolved petty commodity sector and (lie 'superimposed' plantation sector first

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