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Today is the fifty-second Death Anniversary of George E. de Silva : 'Our George' of Kandy


George E. de Silva

by M.B. Dassanayake - Daily News, Wed Mar 12 2003

The fifty-second Death Anniversary of Apey George (Our George of Kandy) falls today (March, 12 2003). After his death the citizens of Kandy erected a statue at the 'George E.de Silva Uyana' (at the entrance to Kandy) to commemorate him, and at the foot of the statue are the following words: "In this monument as in the hearts of the people for whom he lived and laboured, the name of George E.de Silva is enshrined".

'George' was born at Matara and his father was "Weeradivakara Muhandieamage Cornelis de Silva, an erudite scholar and Ayurvedic Physician. George E. de Silva became a newspaper reporter, ran a vegetable stall for his livelihood and joined the Lorensz Tutory in Colombo and later passed out as a Lawyer in 1907.

With neither wealth nor family influence to back him he came to Kandy and practised as a Lawyer. He dominated the Kandy Criminal Bar for almost 50 years. His marriage was solemnized in 1909 at St. Paul's Church, Kandy to Miss. Agnes Nell from one of the conservative Dutch families and all forces of reaction were pitted against him. The Vicar refused to marry them, and it was left to Rev. W.S. Senior of Trinity College, Kandy to solemnize the marriage.

Freedom fighter

George was a freedom fighter for basic human rights, a champion of the down-trodden and proponent of Universal Franchise together with A.E. Goonesinghe, the Labour Leader of the 1930s. The grant of franchise for women was a personal victory for Mrs. George E.de Silva who was the organiser of the 'Women's Franchise Union' which gave evidence before the Donoughmore Commission. Since the introduction of universal suffrage in 1931 there has been a progressive increase in the participation of the people in the successive elections. It is sad to mention that this architect of Universal Adult Franchise, at the time of his death, was deprived of civic rights on an election petition filed by his opponent in politics Mr. T.B. Illangaratne.

Mr. de Silva was a Member of Parliament for Kandy for 16 years and Minister of Health during World War II. He was responsible for the D.D.T., Campaign. His political career started in 1921 when he first contested the Central Province Seat and again in 1924. He was successful in both these elections. This political fortunes turned in his favour with the formation of the Ceylon National Congress of which he was the President in 1929 and when the Congress decided to join the UNP, Mr. D.S. Senanayake proposed the resolution and 'George' seconded it.

George fought to achieve Independence for this country along with national leaders like D.S. Senanayake, F.R. Senanayake, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Sir Baron Jayatilleke, E.W. Perera, A.E. Goonesinghe and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike.

In 1931 he won the Kandy Seat which he held for 18 years. During his years as a Municipal Councillor he was responsible for many Municipal Reforms, the Slum Clearance scheme and the Peradeniya River Pumping Scheme. This was achieved in the teeth of opposition as the concept of utilising river water was new. He was influenced by the River Thames Water Scheme in the United Kingdom.

'George' demanded the return of the Kandyan Throne and the Crown of the last King of Kandy which was kept in England. This request was granted. He got back the King's Palace which was used as the residence of the Government Agent, Kandy and the last to occupy this building was Mr. E.T. Dyson, Government Agent, Kandy.

Minister of Health

In 1942 Mr. de Silva became the Minister of Health. At the time there were 127 State Hospitals, 66 of which were located in the planting districts. There were 61 hospitals for the rest of the island. He proposed to establish 250 Rural or Cottage Hospitals which he succeeded in doing. The eradication of malaria was his second concern and the third was closest to his heart 'Ayurvedha'. He was responsible for its inclusion in the government health service. His father Cornelis de Silva, an Ayurvedic Physician, must have inspired him. The establishment of the Bank of Ceylon and the University of Peradeniya were two of his greatest achievements.

Patriot

He grew up to manhood alienated from the cultural traditions of his native land.

He revolted against colonial attitudes and became a patriot. He respected the dignity of labour and admired the ideals of the Labour Party of Great Britain. He did not pay lip service to these ideals but practised them during his legal and political career.

His impact was the greatest in the Kandyan areas, where he was looked upon as a 'Path Finder', a true patriot who fought oppression and broke the stranglehold of the fuedal system. He is one of Sri Lanka's forgotten heroes. Few Lankans have left a greater mark on this country.

He was of liberal ideas. He seldom stressed one race or religion to prevent people thinking communally. He was a staunch supporter of the 'Provincial Council Bill' which was introduced by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in 1947 and accepted by the Government.

Mr. Bandaranaike, Chief Speaker at Mr. de Silva's funeral surpassed himself with a magnificent oration. He stated:

"George E. de Silva was a classic example of a man who fought through the social barriers of his time in the name of freedom - freedom not just for himself but for every man who like him suffered in the name of caste and class. Starting from difficult beginnings, he fought his way to become a leader of the people. In the mould of Abraham Lincolon, he was a man who travelled from the Log Cabin to White House".