Youth in Rebellion by dfgh4bnmu


									  The following article was written in August 1971 and was published in December 1971
                      In WORLDMISSION Volume 22, No 4 (Winter 1971-72) New York.

Youth in Rebellion
by Charles Fernando (1)

University students took up brushes and red paint to rename their residence halls "Leon Trotsky
Hall", "Maxim Gorky Hall”, “Lenin Hall" etc. Defeated candidates and their supporters were
molested, while others ransacked the offices of a major newspaper they thought was capitalist.
The new Prime Minister had to appeal for calm. They were not rebelling - not yet! The
enthusiasm of some may have exceeded bounds, but in May 1970 they were only celebrating the
land-slide victory of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike.

They had cause for joy. As is quite usual for this country that has enjoyed universal franchise
since 1931, 85 percent of the voters had turned out, and their voice was clear. The UNP
(National Party), which had ousted Mrs. Bandaranaike in 1965 suffered a shocking defeat,
falling from 72 seats to a mere 17. Mrs Bandaranaike’s SLFP (Freedom Party) scored 90 seats.
Her coalition partners, the LSSP .(Trotskyite Party) won 19, and the CP (Moscow Wing
Communist Party), 6.

The new United Front promised "a grand social revolution." From a government with an
overriding majority of 115 amidst 151 elected representatives, and a cabinet grouping many
more convicted Marxists than any other in the "free" world, one hoped for just that.

The victory and the enthusiasm created could not but remind one of the occasion when the Prime
Minister's husband, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, rode into power in 1956. At the time of a
Buddhist-nationalist revival, he had mobilized the frustrations and aspirations of the rural
masses; three years later he was assassinated by a Buddhist monk.

And now in 1970, the problems were more economic, but the forces were similar. And the
difference - they were younger ... not really the peasants, but their sons and daughters, a few of
them teachers or Buddhist monks. At the very start they bad warned Mrs. Bandaranaike: "We
shall support you, but if you fail us ... then ... that shall be the end." But little did she expect that
these same forces that brought her to the reins of power were really and truly going to rebel in
less than a year, plunging this calm and beautiful land into bloody civil war.

India and Pakistan rushed helicopters and pilots. While Indian frigates lay at anchor off shore,
Indian soldiers took over Colombo International Airport to free the Ceylonese for combat. Spare
parts for Bell Ranger helicopters used by the Ceylon Air Force were rushed from the United
States. The British acted as middle men in the purchase of six more helicopters from the United
States at "nominal rates." Armoured cars and ammunition were airlifted from a British base in
Singapore. Russia stepped in with material, and especially six MIG-17 fighters, service
personnel and instructors. More artillery and ammunition came from Yugoslavia and Egypt.

In a strange way a "progressive, leftist" government had to call upon the armed forces to repress
a rebellion of leftist youth.

It was coming

The 100-day post-election grace period was ending, but the new government showed itself more
cautious than ever about reforms advocated during the campaign. They asked for peace and quiet
to think out solutions. But the youth, especially had hoped for action. Slogans began to appear on
the walls: "Revolution!" "Damn the whole lot, and we will begin anew."

In a country with a fairly well-developed political conscience, where even the 18-year olds vote,
where the first organized strike dates back to 1890, and where militant revolutionary trends have
built up a tradition of working in a parliamentary democracy, everyone enjoyed a sense of
freedom, whether of organization or of discussion. Toward the end of 1970, a strengthened
police force did break up some "clandestine" meetings of youth, detaining some for questioning -
but in fact the political leaders did not take these rumblings too seriously.

But by February 1971, the government sensed that things had gone too far and new laws were
being prepared to meet the threat of insurgent movements and of violent insurrection. Those
guilty faced the death penalty. On March 6, some leftist groups attacked the American Embassy
in Colombo, causing material damage and stabbing to death a Police Inspector. About the same
time handbombs exploded in a building of the main university and in a village killing five young
people who were making them. Police searches led to the discovery of arms caches in university
buildings, while intelligence reports indicated approaching violence.

A state of emergency was declared and the armed forces called out to maintain law and order.
"The government shall not be intimidated," announced the Prime Minister. Appealing to values
of religion and democracy, Mrs. Bandaranaike said the country was "the depository of the
doctrine of the Buddha," having a culture and a way of life moulded by "the doctrines of
kindness, compassion and humanity," and was a place where adherents of various religions
"lived together in peace and brotherhood." She spoke of Ceylon's distinction in recent history of
the region in "changing governments regularly by democratic processes".

On April 2, the Prime Minister was ready to leave an opening by shifting the blame to
"reactionary forces behind the campaign who feared that the coming changes would affect them
adversely, and curb the undue privileges they had so far enjoyed." The government could not
effect the reforms as quickly as they had planned, she said, because they had inherited only
empty coffers from the previous regime.

Soon Mrs. Bandaranaike pinpointed the major group behind the crisis as being the JVP (People's
Liberation Front) "though there were other splinter groups with similar ideas and anarchist
objectives". She said they were "misguided youth, instigated by reactionary forces, backed by
big money and diabolical minds." It was a terrorist movement, she said, "hatched and nurtured in
the secrecy of the jungles - the work of power-hungry, blood-thirsty and treacherous schemers"
preparing for guerilla type of warfare and violent attack on public institutions.

As things were, no tactic was capable of winning them over. They struck on the night of April 5,
destroying police stations and taking over some, thus beginning the bloodiest war of Ceylon's
recent history.

It was only two months later in June that relative calm had been restored. Schools reopened, but
the universities remained closed a month longer. The curfew was relaxed, permitting people to
move about, but it still continued from 10 P.M. to 4 A.M. And the Air Force was dropping
200,000 leaflets over the forests asking the rebels who went into hiding to surrender immediately
or face destruction.

What is this JVP?

Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People's Liberation Front) is the name by which the rebels call
themselves. They have also often been called the Guevarists, a nickname used by journalists,
when the movement first began to show signs of its existence.

The real leaders are unknown to the public. The apparent leader is a 27-year old young man
named Rohana Wijeweera. He and some others were actually in prison when fighting broke out.

Wijeweera comes from a middle class family, and his father was a founding member of the
Ceylon Communist Party. Rohana Wijeweera was at the Patrice Lumumba University in
Moscow for four years studying medicine. There he developed contact with Chinese elements
and became pro-Peking and anti-revisionist. In Ceylon for a brief vacation in 1964, he found his
return visa to Moscow cancelled. He then worked with the Peking-wing of the Ceylon
Communist Party, but unsatisfied, left that in 1966, taking with him a small splinter group. In
contact with other such youth groups in urban areas and at the University, they began work in the
rural milieu.

Beginning more as anti-UNP (the party then in power), they quietly gathered sympathizers. In
five years an extremely well-developed cell system was established. Secrecy was guarded. One
member and only one member of one cell was in contact with a member in another cell. Masked
lecturers, sometimes even hiding themselves behind a curtain, conducted training sessions on
Ceylon's history, on the analysis of social, economic and political problems, and on the theory
and practice of armed warfare.

In August 1970, a meeting was held in Colombo, at which the rebels introduced themselves and
all they stood for. Toward the end of the year they announced themselves internationally. They
had for some time been showing signs of a well-organized communications system - the same
handwritten poster could appear in public places across the island in the course of one single

The movement did certainly exist for a few years. But the electoral campaign of May 1970 and
the period following gave it a certain specificity.

Were foreign powers involved?

Accusations about "imperialist" involvement were soon forgotten. Others began to point a finger
at the Chinese.

The only concrete step was the expulsion of the whole embassy staff of North Korea. No details
were available. They had however been apparently extravagant - running full-page
advertisements for months on end in the major newspapers on the revolutionary thoughts of Kim
Il Sung, and his actions too, not forgetting how he made hand-bombs.

Paradoxically, symbolizing its desire to go left, it was the present government which, soon after
coming to power last year, granted Embassy status to North Korea, together with North Vietnam,
the Provisional Government of South Vietnam and East Germany. It was at the same moment
that diplomatic relations with Israel were broken off, and the US-sponsored Peace Corps and
Asia Foundation were asked to terminate quietly their activities in Ceylon.

As the North Koreans were about to leave aboard a Russian Aeroflot jet, the Chinese
Ambassador appeared at the airport to say a final good-bye. The Chinese were rather indifferent
to the whole crisis, but made good a little while back by offering a major interest-free loan.

The arms used by the rebels were either handmade ones, or those stolen from police stations. No
foreign arms were discovered.

Characteristics of the JVP

They are rural and traditional Sinhalese. The major trouble spots were in the area stretching from
the north central down south slightly westwards. There was less trouble on the west coastal belt
north and south of Colombo which is less traditional.

They are young. Calling up volunteer reserves for the armed forces, the government asked for
those over 35 years of age, and that with reason. The rebels were 80 percent or more from the
age group under 25, which forms 60 percent of the population. In addition to the unemployed
youth, there were among the rebels many college-age students as well as young teachers. Young
girls were active members.
They are alive to certain problems, You could meet a young boy or girl at a bus stop or in the
waiting room of a government office, and the person would begin speaking about these problems
to you, a complete stranger. They see a bleak future ahead and are frustrated. They are
unemployed, or at least they know that will be their lot when studies are complete. They see the
situation worsen. They are self-confident, ready to discuss, or at least to speak out. They can
quote Marxist thinkers with ease. Some of them might even reject all religion as superstitious,
while others may still be "religious."

They are nationalist. Independence was achieved in 1948, but they show the country as being
still unable to guide her own destiny. They want to break away from the past - and according to
them today is still the past. They no longer want to be "colonial" in spirit or in their way of life.
They condemn aid from the World Bank, capitalism, miniskirts, looseness of morals and the
Westernized Ceylonese all en bloc. But they would still use a French scooter to rush to a
meeting, or a Japanese tape-recorder when need arises. They do however show a certain ascesis
and discipline, neither drinking nor smoking, and saving money for the movement. They may be
confused, and quite ambivalent, yet probably they are searching for a real Ceylonese identity.

Their ideology is vague. They were at one stage accused of being CIA agents. Though also
called Che Guevarists, they may have more of Mao than of Guevara, with elements also from
Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il Sung, Castro or Debre. They seem to have some
contact with similar movements in the Middle East, Latin America, North America and Europe.
They condemn the "Western imperialists", Russia, Yugoslavia and the "bourgeois non-aligned
nations of the Third World". They claim however to be non-aligned and fully local. And it is
clear that they are revolutionaries who broke away from the established Left - from the
Trotskyite LSSP founded in 1935, and from the Communist Party founded a few years later and
now existing in two sections: pro-Moscow and pro-Peking. The new revolutionaries blame the
old Left for being too sectarian, foreign-oriented and linked to bourgeois ranks, only to be
accused in return of "middle class adventurism" or of "not being part of scientific socialism but
potentially fascist and terrorist."

But that ideology is dynamic. They seem to derive their power not so much from their plans, still
so vague, be it for popular power or for restructuring the economy. The movement rather thrives
on the frustrations and idealism of the youth. They see that neither the Right nor the Left has
offered a solution. In fact they think these only aggravate the situation. For them, the only way is
to put down everything and begin anew. They are not quite sure how, but all that provides
enough motivational power. Members have confidence in their leaders, and some leaders are
middle class youth with their romanticism and utopias - which might well be the realities of

They are a new agent of change. This is not a peasant revolt. The peasants may aid the rebels
materially - after all, these are their sons and daughters. They might even sympathize, but
generally things end there. The JVP has been attempting links with the stateless Indian workers
on the tea plantations, but that is only a start. The rebels have little in common with urban
workers, who are well organized into the trade unions of the old Left. But they do have
sympathizers among these, and in the administration too.
As a group, the rebels are thus clearly youth ... students, landless young rural workers, or
workless rurals ... in rebellion; people who benefited from a system of free education now
rejecting the system that could not absorb them; a more nationalistic element demanding a still
greater role than in the past; breakaways from an established Left, they are a new Left; young
boys and girls ready to shed their blood after years of drag, when problems worsened and elders
remained slow. Landless, workless, future-less, we see them emerging as new agents of change.

Why this insurrection?

Unemployment is the major problem, with a population that has doubled to 13 million since
Independence, and continuing to grow at 2.5 percent a year. Usually a moderate figure around
600,000 is given as unemployed, but it can easily be estimated at 800,000 including those who
are really so for all practical purposes. This is out of an active population of a little over 4
million. What makes the situation really tragic is that the unemployed are mostly youth between
16 and 25 years of age, and over 14,000 are university graduates (while the universities produce
only 4,000 graduates per year). This is a young generation that expected a better life, and till
recently Ceylon was relatively prosperous by Asian standards. Now they must accept economic
backwardness as a fact.

World trade has had terrible repercussions on Ceylon's export economy. Three agricultural
products provide 90 percent of her foreign exchange (tea 63 percent; rubber 17 percent; coconut
10 percent). But there has been a steady decline in export earnings. Tea, which brought in 1,210
million rupees in 1965 got only 876 million in 1969, and the downward trend continues. Thus
exporting agricultural products at drooping prices, Ceylon must pay more for her imports with
rising world inflation every year. Strangely, even in 1970, 46 percent of her imports was food,
much of which can be produced in fertile Ceylon. Such anomalies must end, and the
neo-classical theory that free international trade is invariably an agent of economic growth will
have to be reconsidered.

There are other problems which may be termed more internal. Ceylon is actually a providential
State. Yet citizens deprecate their own institutions, not conscious of their privileges. Education is
free from the cradle until after the university. So are health facilities to all citizens. Food is
subsidized, and part of the weekly ration of rice is given free. The State bears part of the costs,
and makes an excellent network of public transportation available extremely cheap. Education
and health facilities are no doubt tremendously meaningful as social investments, for over 85
percent of the people are able to read, and write, and life expectancy has jumped from 30 years
around the 1920's to about 65 now. But in other sectors, the growing role of the State in social
welfare can and does conflict with objectives of increasing productivity, turning the citizens into
a mass of dependents. That is not socialism, but in a land where no one dies of hunger as nature
has been so bountiful, that would mean turning the State into a new God from whom one expects
With free education since 1942, Ceylon enjoys one of the highest rates of literacy in Asia. The
use of the vernacular as medium of instruction made the universities accessible even to those
from the remotest villages. But often the rural youth went to the arts faculties (history,
geography, philosophy, literature, etc). Education was free, but for many, their parents made
tremendous sacrifices and often borrowed money to pay the living expenses. Yet at the end of it
all they found their sons and daughters dreaming only of white-collar jobs. Employable skills
were few. And they did not like to go back to the fields. In not building up an appreciation of
manual work, the system was, as someone said, "producing unemployables."

Misadventure in the political field is a fact. Each new government is determined to show the
predecessors wrong, and at times malicious. Agreement on national priorities is hard to achieve.
The growing public sector was hardly productive, except often as a place for political appointees.
Private investment was scarce with fears of nationalization.

Corruption cannot be forgotten either. Employment was scarce, thus a struggle for survival. In
both public and private sectors, money, social status, political leaning, family connections and
bribes could throw open a career. Even for those already employed, manipulation and
exploitation were not rare phenomena. There were other forms of corruption too, especially in
the field of foreign exchange the country sorely needed. Some attempted to transfer their assets
abroad through the black market, while society ladies flew to nearby capitals abroad to buy
expensive dress materials or luxury goods to be smuggled into Ceylon. A greater part of Ceylon's
precious gems were actually being sold abroad illegally - the country losing more foreign
exchange than it could ever hope to gain.

The more immediate cause was disillusionment. The youth had hoped for a quick conversion to
socialism and radical measures.

A new Constitution had been promised for Ceylon, or Sri Lanka (the Holy Resplendent) as it
shall now be called, to become "a free, sovereign, independent socialist republic." The
Constituent Assembly did make progress toward this, but the needs of the people were more
immediate and down-to-earth.

The citizens were to participate in a reformed public administration through People's
Committees. But as plans were drawn up, it seemed that out of 12 members in. each committee,
11 were to be nominated by the Minister for Local Government; only three had to be from the
18-25 age group.

During the campaign, major reforms that were to touch the plantations (especially tea), industry
and connected management agencies had been mentioned. Nationalization of the banking system
was advocated too. But once in power, the government had to compromise with harsh realities -
we were dependent on foreign markets, and 96 percent of our tea production was for export. Too
radical a measure could be disastrous. Foreign debt was at a critically high level, making the
government more cautious about a takeover of foreign assets.
The weekly ration of subsidized rice had been halved by the former government. While not
being a direct cause, that action did favour a period of rapid growth in rice production so that
imports were reduced. Then came the electoral campaign and the present coalition promised the
restoration of the full ration of subsidized rice. This was implemented, but two months later the
Minister for Food was making an appeal: "If you think of the future of your children and of the
country, do not take advantage of this offer."

The previous government had been criticized for corruption and lack of austerity. They were
falling into the hands of Western powers, and of the World Bank, it was told. Soon the present
group was found to be compromising on the same issue. But above all, in a period of uncertainty,
the cost of living was spiralling and the vast spectacle of unemployment seemed only to worsen.
The Finance Minister introduced an austerity budget which was a step forward, but as someone
said, "It was an aspirin for cancer."

Promises were one thing and realities another. The youth lost all hope. It became worse still -
they did not blame the persons in power, but they began to question the very system, calling it a
"half-digested form of imported parliamentary democracy." Radicalism was no longer only
urban. Their ideology was also perhaps undigested, but it was drawing the youth together.

When, toward the end of last year I was interviewing rural youth around 18 years of age, they
were not afraid to speak out: "Ceylon's political system must be destroyed ...". "We must move
toward socialism through a revolution ...". "Down with imperialists and capitalists ... down with
pomp and fashions …forward the oppressed masses ..." "We need a revolution ... people will do
it one day." "The capitalist parliamentary framework must be shattered ..." "Let us get into the
battlefield for liberating the masses …”

And now?

The cost of the rebellion has been high. This year's budget deficit would have been around 200
million dollars. It shall now be much more with repair of damage to communications and public
property, with increased spending on the armed forces and on defense; with new spending on
prisons and rehabilitation camps; with overall losses in industry and in tourism.

But more central still is the human cost. The number killed stands around 3,000. Over 12,000
arrested youth are in prisons or rehabilitation camps, where attempts are being made to "win
them over to a democratic way of life." But will they turn more bitter still? And what of others
who have suffered in a hundred other ways, sometimes being subjected to excesses of the armed

But things seem to be moving now. Reforms of the education system to make it more
job-oriented are being introduced. Work is said to go ahead on a crash program for employment.
The “poya” (lunar) weekend has been abandoned, coming back to the international Sunday
weekend, tradition giving way to common sense. (The loss of four days in international trade
was a luxury Ceylon could ill afford.) A major committee has begun an inquiry into the
structure, organization and operation of the plantations and management agencies which play an
all too important role in the country's economy.

It is a time for action, for problems had been left unsolved too long. A period of austerity and
simplicity for all is a must, cutting down drastically on consumption. A higher rate of local
saving and investment must be favoured. Food production must increase for the quickest foreign
exchange saving is here. In the matter of exports, the priorities for the three major export crops
are not sufficiently clear. Diversification and the introduction of new foreign exchange earners in
the form of tourism, new products, and traditional handicrafts is imperative. So is an attempt to
draw all benefits from the sale of Ceylon gems. Other forms of corruption must be wiped out.
With 55 percent of the government outlays on social services, we cannot forget a serious review
of social welfare and public services to make them more realistic.

Let us admit it-the rebels were partly misguided. They do not offer concrete
solutions to everything. Instant solutions are non-existent. And the government has
tried to be loyal to the ideal of democracy, for in a police state such opposition and
rebellion would have been unthinkable.

But that does not absolve us. Youthful blood was shed in a sincere search for
solutions. Till now people had spoken of problems, but now we felt them in a violent
fashion with the shock of a rebellion. We may be in debt and in a foreign exchange
crisis, but that is no excuse for inactivity. There are millions ready to sweat that this
land may flourish again. What we need desperately is an ideology that can drive us,
that makes us take risks at the expense of privilege, that mobilizes all. And who shall
provide that?

         Charles Fernando is currently working on his dissertation for his Licentiate in
       Sociology at l’Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium. Earlier he was Assistant
       Secretary to the Ceylon National Synod.

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