The Ceylon Tamils

The following is an excerpt from Sri Kandasvamy Kovil about the role of the Ceylon Tamils in the British development of the Malay States:

“The Ceylon Tamils’ main areas of origin are the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka. The chief area of settlement of the Tamils in Sri Lanka is the Jaffna Penisula with Jaffna as its metropolis. The Jaffna Penisula was under Portuguese rule from 1620 and later in 1685 it came under the domination of the Dutch. The British took over control of the Penisula in 1795. It was only from 1850 that the British began to develop Jaffna and introduce English education – which became very popular with the Tamils. Soon bilingual schools (English and Tamil began to sprout all over Jaffna and it is said that within the radius of a mile there are found several colleges and schools for boys and girls in the town of Jaffna. These colleges and schools were soon to become the “factories” supplying the English Language trained man-power needs for the development of Ceylon and Malaya.

“After the Treaty of Pangkor in 1874, the British embarked upon the construction of roads, railways, schools, hospitals and government offices in the Malaya Penisula, to develop the country and to increase its revenue.

“It was to meet those early problems that Malaya looked to its older sister Ceylon for help and probably, the then Governor of the Straits Settlements secured the despatch to Perak of the 2nd division of the Ceylon Pioneer Corp. So it fell to the Ceylonese to survey the railways and to build and man them, to be apothecaries in the hospitals, to be technical assistants to qualified engineers and to staff the clerical services on which an expanding government was bound increasingly to depend.”


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