KALMUNAI ERA CONTRIBUTION TO EASTERN DEVELOPMENT 65 YEARS AGO , BY S.H.M. JAMEEL

The recent capture of Thoppigala and other areas in the East of Sri Lanka by the security forces, has liberated many areas affected by the ethnic fighting. The Government is endeavouring to develop the East under the “Eastern Resurgence” programme. The East which was considered backward in the distant past underwent almost a similar development programme 65 years ago, particularly in agriculture, also triggered by a war – the Second World War. With the ethnic conflict of the last twenty five years the progress of the East was badly affected. The people of the East, therefore, look forward to the new resurgence.

 
It is significant to record that the erudite scholar and renowned educationist Marhoom Dr. A.M.A. Azeez, contributed immensely and played a prominent role in the Eastern development in the early 1940s.
 
Dr. A.M.A. Azeez was the first Muslim officer of the prestigious Ceylon Civil Service. He was born in Jaffna, married in Colombo and lived at “Meadow Sweet”, 81, Barnes Place, Colombo 7. He had pronounced on several occasions that the urge to contribute his mite to the educational uplift of his community, which culminated in relinquishing his position in the Civil Service and assuming duties as Principal of Colombo Zahira College, took deep root in his mind during his days as Assistant Government Agent, Kalmunai.
 
Azeez arrived in Kalmunai and assumed duties as A.G.A. (Emergency Kachcheri) on 16th April, 1942. It was the period of the Second World War. All foreign supply lines of rice and other foodstuffs faced blockades, and the Japanese attack on Easter Sunday, 5th April aggravated the situation. The Japanese armada was spotted heading towards Ceylon. The Army headquarters was alerted and immediate action was taken to clear the Colombo harbour of ships that were berthed there and to hide them. The Japanese bombed various parts of Colombo and the suburbs lasting 20 minutes. (Azeez, who was attached to the Customs, had to sleep the nights in the Port with his driver Caldera by his side). On 7th April the same armada attacked the Trincomalee harbour. The colonial Governor Sir Andrew Caldecott placed the country on a war footing. There was a shortage of food and the AGAs were made responsible for food drives.
 
The Government of the day had to find ways and means of accelerating local food production. The Southern region of Batticaloa District was chosen as one of the areas to boost local food production.
 
The Batticaloa District at that time extended from Verugal Ganga in the North to Kumbukkan Oya in the South and the boundaries of Badulla District in the West – fairly a vast extent of area and a long terrain to manage. The area was administered by the Kachcheri situated in the Dutch Fort in Puliyantheevu in the town of Batticaloa, and the Government Agent in 1942 was an Englishman M.K.T. Sandys. To activate and accelerate the Food Production Drive, it was necessary to open an Emergency Kachcheri in Kalmunai. Azeez who at that time was holding the onerous and responsible position of Additional Landing Surveyor of Customs was chosen to be the AGA, specially selected by Hon. D.S. Senanayake, Minister of Agriculture and transferred at short notice with specific orders of accelerating food production. His dedication to service was very explicit when he readily agreed to relinquish his prestigious post and comforts of Colombo in order to travel the long way to Kalmunai.
 
Azeez came to Kalmunai in his Standard Fourteen car CE-1085 with his wife Ummu Kuluthum and their four year old daughter Marina Zulficar, together with his driver Caldera, housemaid Elisa and gardener Packianathan. Their son Mohamed Ali, who was four months old, could not be taken along and was left in the care of Mrs. Sithy Jabir A. Cader who was the younger sister of Mrs. Azeez (This developed a special affection to Ali by Jabir A. Cader until his demise). Their residence opposite the Kalmunai Carmel Girls’ English School was called “Gems” owned by Mudaliyar M.M. Ibrahim of Nintavur. A building in Market Road belonging to Dr. Osman of Sainthamaruthu housed the A.G.A.’s Office. Marina commenced her primary education at the Carmel Girls’ English School. She recalls with gratitude even today, the love and affection showered on her by the Reverend Sisters of the staff and Rev. Father Melican.
 
On his maiden experience Azeez states: “The best way to understand the nature of life of the people living in a particular region is to reside amongst them. Being accustomed to only the urban style of living in Colombo, living among the cultivators of Kalmunai was a new, rich and rewarding experience. I understood their pattern of living, habits, customs, traditions and also constraints in their economic development. I began to realize the importance of farmers in the economy of this country. Earlier I was unaware of the importance of the role played by the villagers in the political, social and cultural life of the Muslim community”.
 
Food Production
 
The main objective of setting up the Emergency Kachcheri was to accelerate the food production and Azeez handled this task very efficiently. His area of administration was Karavahupattu (Vanniah: M.S. Kariapper); Sammanthuraipattu (M.M. Abdul Majeed); Akkaraipattu (W.H. Kanagaratnam); Panamapattu (A. Sinnalebbe) and Wewagampattu (L.B. Madurawa). This is the entirety of the present Amparai District. The post of ‘Vanniah’ was equivalent to the present Divisional Secretary, but had wider powers and more responsibility. The Chief Irrigation Officer was M.M. Ibrahim.
 
The first meeting convened by the AGA was held at the Kalmunai Rest House on May 6, 1942. At the meeting that began at 9 a.m. and lasted till 5.30 p.m., it was resolved as follows:
·         State land to be distributed for clearance and cultivation
·         Grant of Rs. 20 per acre to be paid for clearance and 21/2 bushels of seed-paddy per acre
·         Rehabilitate abandoned village tanks and channels
·         Encourage systematic paddy cultivation in already existing vast extent of fallow paddy fields
·         Establishing Government-run goat farms in Malwatta, Nintavur and Thirukkovil
·         Establishing poultry farms in Maruthamunai, Sainthamaruthu and Palamunai
·         Assistance to the private sector to start goat and poultry farms
·         Subsidies for cultivating highland crops
·         Establishing a model agriculture farm
 
A week after this meeting, Land Kachcheries commenced, and at the first Land Kachcheri held, state lands were distributed as follows:
 
Pottanaveli, Irakkamam                         130 Acres
Usaraveli, Irakkamam                              50  
Anaivilunthan, Sammanthurai                 100
Mottaiyandaveli, Sammanthurai                60
Pooranpuri, Karaivahu                            200
Kayattiyadi, Nintavur                             100
Pallaveli                                                 50
                                                           690 Acres
 
The allocation of land in this manner exceeded 12,000 acres in one year. The Daily News of 29.3.1943 reported that 12,270 acres of land had been distributed in the district for paddy cultivation, which included 4,000 acres given to farmers of Akkaraipattu, Kolavil, Thambiluvil and Thirukkovil. 1,520 acres were allocated for highland crops and 30,000 acres of hitherto uncultivated paddy fields were brought under the plough. The District was soon emerging as the granary of the East, which was accomplished with the completion of the Gal-Oya Development Scheme in late 1940s and early ‘50s. Today the Amparai district contributes to 62% of paddy production from the Eastern province.
 
A model farm of 475 acres in extent was established at Chengatpadai in Nintavurpattu to train farmers in modern methods of cultivation. Crops cultivated in this farm included paddy, sugar cane, banana, kurakkan, maize, ground nuts and a variety of vegetables. The labour force was 1,000. A separate division to introduce the methods of irrigation adopted by the Jaffna farmers also functioned here.
 
Harvest Festival
 
In order to celebrate the accelerated production in agriculture, a Harvest Festival was organized in this farm. Azeez was the Chairman and M.S. Kariapper (who later became an M.P. and Cabinet Minister) the Secretary of the organizing committee. The Kalmunai District Harvest Festival and the Agricultural Exhibition were held from 27.3.1943 to 2.4.1943. The harvesting was at the Chengatpadai Farm and the exhibition was at Kalmunai Esplanade. The Agricultural Exhibition continued for a week and displayed agricultural and handicraft products.
 
The occasion was graced by the Minister of Agriculture and Lands D.S. Senanayake; Home Minister A. Mahadeva; State Councillors D.H. Kotelawela, A.R.A. Razik and A.S. Dharmaratnam; Director of Agriculture E. Rodrigo and GA Batticaloa V. Kumarasamy. D.S. Senanayake was conducted on a 5 mile procession along bumpy agricultural roads in a cart drawn by an elephant owned and used by A.S. Dharmaratnam, MSC for Batticaloa South, from Akkaraipattu to Chengatpadai Farm. It was used in the course of inspecting cultivated acres in the Akkaraipattu Division, which was followed by hundreds of gaily decorated bullock carts carrying a large number of people. The Minister said that he would never forget the memorable drive and that he had thoroughly enjoyed it.
 
Ceremonial scythes specially made for the occasion by expert Kandyan craftsmen were used to reap the first ears of paddy at the Harvest Festival. At the auspicious hour of 10.45 in the morning on 27.3.1943 the AGA Azeez handed over scythes to each of the distinguished guests. The ceremonial reaping of the first ears of paddy in the Wellankuda plot of the Chengatpadai Farm took place before a large gathering. The visitors reaped the first ears of paddy and they handed over the sheaves to Azeez. Afterwards Senanayake and Mahadeva pounded paddy as the grain was collected and put into the mortars by Muslim women. D.S. Senanayake, mounted on an elephant, was taken in procession through the Farm to the reception shed nearly a mile away. A field lunch prepared from rice and other produce grown on the farm was served. This was the first ever such festival held in the Eastern Province and this event received glowing wide publicity in all the leading newspapers of the day.
 
“A very shining example as to how careful planning, encouraging guidance and consistent efforts could contribute to the success of accelerated growth of food production in the country is the Harvest Festival and Agricultural Exhibition taking place now at Kalmunai” was an editorial comment in the Observer of 29.3.1943.
 
In the afternoon the visitors were taken from the Kachcheri, the extensive premises of which were planted with yams, pulses, vegetables, chillies and onions, to the Kalmunai Show, where they were received by Vanniyar Mudaliyar M.S. Kariapper, who invited the Minister to declare it open.
 
The products of the Department of Agriculture and Department of Commerce & Industry were also exhibited. In the Agriculture Stall were livestock exhibits from the Akkaraipattu Animal Breeding Centre and various exhibits from the Karadianaru Farm School.
 
D.S. Senanayake in his address said that after the panic of the Japanese raid it was felt that they should look for food in the Eastern Province, and appealed to the people of Batticaloa. He wished to draw the attention of the visitors from Colombo to the great achievement of Azeez and others. When there was a possibility of starvation he felt that they could not do better than appeal to Kalmunai. He further stated that he had also felt that if they could utilize one of the Muslims in the Civil Service the people would co-operate and do their best. When Azeez came here he was able to get the co-operation of the Tamils and the Muslims, and he hoped that the co-operation would continue.
 
A. Mahadeva said that he was glad to note the complete harmony between the Tamils and the Muslims, and hoped that these friendly feelings would continue.
 
The Governor, Sir Andrew Caldecott, in a message congratulated the cultivators of Kalmunai and thanked for the rich harvest reaped (Message reproduced in this publication).
 
As the war ended this Farm was closed down and the land was returned to the owners. I am overhelmed with emotional joy, when I now find that the harvest festival took place in the plot of land called Wellankuda which was for a very long time cultivated by my father and today owned by my sisters.
 
The mission of Azeez in realizing the objective of the Kalmunai Emergency Kachcheri was very successful. The southern part of the Batticaloa District began the march of becoming a supplier of rice to other parts of the country. The grateful farmers named a mass of paddy lands of about 500 acres in Sagamam situated 5 miles away from Akkaraipattu as “Azeez Thurai Kandam” which perpetuates his memory to this day. M.M. Hussain Vidanayar (Village Headman) (father of Marhoom M.H.M. Ashraff) was in the forefront in encouraging cultivation in this ‘Azeez Thurai Kandam’ and in the distribution of land thereof. In the process of distributing this land, he was bitten by a snake and was confined to bed for six months. The whole hearted support given and sacrifices made by persons of such calibre to Azeez, made the region boast of being the granary of the East. This enabled the poor landless farmers to become owners of paddy lands.
  
 
Education
 
The Ceylon Muslim Scholarship Fund that has helped thousands of students during the last six decades to pursue their higher studies was inaugurated by Azeez in 1945. This Fund was in one way the culmination of a process that he started while serving as AGA at Kalmunai. Azeez was convinced that a community which suffered due to poverty and illiteracy could only be uplifted through providing educational opportunities backed by financial assistance. With this in view he formed the Kalmunai Muslim Educational Society in 1942.
 
The well known poet Abdul Cader Lebbe in his book titled “My Biography” writes as follows:-
 
“I taught at Natpiddimunai a village near Kalmunai. Azeez and I moved closely with each other. On many evenings we met in his residence at Kalmunai and exchanged ideas and views. Once during the course of our discussion, Azeez declared: ‘There is nothing to be proud of about me alone being a Civil Servant. More Civil Servants should appear in our society. The only way to achieve this goal is to develop our children through higher education. We do not now need a separate University to achieve this. Our students should gain entry to the present University. The only way to achieve this is to encourage the students by setting up a Muslim Scholarship Fund’.
 
We both deliberated and resolved to set up in Kalmunai an organization called Muslim Educational Society to achieve this objective. Dr. M.M. Meeralebbe from Sammanthurai and Mr. M.M. Mohamed from Kattankudy, owner of the textile shop, Mohamed Sons at Kalmunai (father of Prof. M.A. Kareem of Peradeniya University) were selected as Secretaries to this Society.
 
Monthly meetings of this Society were held in each of the Vanniyarh divisions from Panamai to Kattankudy. One such meeting was summoned to inaugurate the Muslim Scholarship Fund. This meeting was attended by many including M.S. Kariapper and was held at the residence of Sheriff Vidanayar in Kalmunai Kudy. Dinner too was served at this meeting. Azeez explained the objectives of the day’s forum. He called upon me to explain the objectives in detail, which I did. The resolution was unanimously adopted. The Muslim Scholarship Fund was inaugurated on this very day”.
 
Azeez as the President and Treasurer of the Kalmunai Muslim Educational Society, sent out printed appeals for assistance. He mentioned the following in the appeals sent:
 
“This Society was inaugurated recently to develop the educational needs of the Muslims in Ceylon in general and Kalmunai in particular. Funds are now needed for:-
 
  1. To set up a Secretariat
  2. To establish an English medium High School in Kalmunai with sections for Arabic and Tamil.
  3. To offer scholarships free or on the basis of loans to students in the Kalmunai district for their secondary and higher education.
  4. To devise ways and means to achieve the objective of the society on receipt of sufficient funds, the Executive Committee would decide as to the disbursement of this fund.”
 
However, the continuation of this programme was interrupted due to the transfer of Azeez back to Colombo. When Azeez was transferred back to Colombo and the Ceylon Muslim Scholarship Fund was started in 1945, the Kalmunai Muslim Educational Society decided to merge with the Ceylon Muslim Scholarship fund as it had a wider perspective covering the whole country. The first donation to the Ceylon Muslim Scholarship Fund was therefore the transfer of Rs. 2,306.70 from the Kalmunai Society.
 

 

Comradeship

Azeez lived in Kalmunai only for a short period from 16th April, 1942 to 10th January, 1944, after which he was transferred back to Colombo as Deputy Food Controller and again within a month to Kandy as AGA. During this short period he transformed the attitude of the people towards a Government Agent to the surprise of the people. This was an era, when the GA was looked upon as a petty king. No one dared to sit in the presence of a GA and everyone respectfully moved to the edges of the road whenever his vehicle or even the vehicle of a Vanniyah passed by. The ‘Residency’ was out of bounds to the people. Azeez was entirely a different man. He spoke very politely to every person coming to meet him; accepted and honoured the invitations for weddings and attended many funerals. Every Friday he attended for his Jummah prayers at mosques in different villages. An illustration would be his driver Ibrahim, who was from Kattankudy and joined

 
Azeez three months after his arrival in Kalmunai to replace Caldera. He served with loyalty and dedication until Azeez’s demise. Even thereafter, he lived with Azeez’s elder son Ali, and died in 1996 at Ali’s home in Bolgoda at the age of 80 years.
 
Although they had known and worked with Azeez in the Kachcheri only for a short span of two years, the Administrative Officer Subramaniam, Office Assistants Razak, Yoonus and Ponnuthurai cherished their relationship until his demise. So was his neighbour Rajadurai of the Public Works Department and his wife Daisy. Similarly Maruthamunai Vellaikutty Kakka, Palamunai Vidanayar, Palamunai Pulavar and others with their families made it a tradition until their deaths to visit “Meadow Sweet” in Colombo and enjoyed the hospitality extended by Azeez and his family members. (Subramaniam’s son Kirupananthan, an eye surgeon, met Azeez’s son Ali in Jeddah in 1985 and they became very close friends, the former is now working in a hospital in Nigeria).
 
Azeez had very close connections with some families in Kalmunai. Among them was the family of M.M. Abdul Majeed widely known as Sammanthurai Vanniyar. The preliminary meetings to establish the Kalmunai Muslim Educational Society were held at his residence. He was the uncle (father’s brother) of Marhoom M.H.M. Ashraff. Another family was that of Mudaliyar M.M. Ibrahim who later represented Pottuvil in Parliament, and later as a Deputy Minister.
 
Blooming of Life Long Friendships
 
There were two personalities with whom Azeez was very close and cherished their friendship. One was the poet Abdul Cader Lebbe of Kattankudy (father of Dr. A.C.L. Ameer Ali of Murdoch University, Western Australia, a student at Zahira College during the Azeez era and my contemporary). The poet himself says:-
 
“My poem appeared in Dharul Islam, a monthly magazine from South India under the pen-name Athan. An avid reader Mr. Azeez was wondering who this Athan was.
 
It was an era when Mr. Azeez was kept at a high pedestal by the Muslims of Kalmunai because he was the first Muslim Civil Servant, who was an educationist well versed in Tamil and also social service minded. I casually visited his residence one day when he was serving as the A.G.A. On seeing me, he inquired from me who I was with a smile. I replied that I was a teacher at the Natpiddimunai Tamil School and lived in Kalmunai. There was a copy of the Dharul Islam on his table. That magazine carried a poem written by me in the first page. I had spoken out to him that I was writing poems in that magazine under the pen-name Athan. On hearing this he was overhelmed with joy, embraced and hugged me. Tears are pouring from my eyes when I write this. From this incident our friendship started growing. We continued to exchange our thoughts. Just two weeks prior to his demise, he had written a letter to me”. (A tribute by Abdul Cader Lebbe appears in this publication).
 
The other was the relationship with Swami Vipulananda which bloomed at Kalmunai. Azeez had met the Swami once in Jaffna in 1939. After this, he met the Swami together with the State Council Member V. Nalliah at Sinna Muhathuwaram in Akkaraipattu in 1943. Azeez used to meet the Swami either at Karaitivu his birth place or at Shivananda Vidyalaya, Batticaloa. This school at Kalladi Uppodai provided education to all sans caste, creed and religious differences. They used to have lengthy discussions on matters of education, literature, folk lore etc. Sometimes one would observe two chairs placed under the margosa tree opposite the Swami’s room around 5.00 p.m.. That was an indication that the A.G.A. was visiting the Swami that day. Azeez delivered a lecture to the students of Shivananda Vidyalaya on the invitation of the School Science Union on 24.9.1943. Mr. K. Kanapathipillai (later Principal) presided at this meeting.
 
Azeez had stated in many of his later writings that the discussions with Swami Vipulananda made him to realize more and more the importance of education to his community. He in course of time left the Civil Service to become the Principal of Colombo Zahira College succeeding Dr. T.B. Jayah in 1948. Azeez had confessed that the inauguration of the Ceylon Muslim Scholarship Fund and his decision later to accept the post of Principal of Zahira College were encouraged by the Swami. Azeez states as follows:-
 
“I received the opportunity of moving very closely with Swami Vipulananda during my stay at Kalmunai as the A.G.A. from 1942 to 1943 for a short time. He lived in his own village of Karaitivu a few miles away from Kalmunai. Later in 1944, he stayed with me for 12 days at my official residence ‘Mount Airy’ in Kandy. During this period he had resigned his Professorship at the Annamalai University in India and taken up an appointment as Professor of Tamil at the University of Ceylon. I closely understood the Swami during these 12 days. We had discussions
 
on many subjects. The ideas I brought forth at these discussions helped me a great deal in my later stages to inaugurate the Ceylon Muslim Scholarship Fund and to accept and discharge the duties of Principal, Zahira College, Colombo. He emphasized the importance of an Arabic-Tamil Dictionary and assured he could help in writing one. He told me all about the fame and praises of the folk-lore of the Muslim Community in the Eastern Region. He with his wide experience and great knowledge of the Eastern Province felt that assistance was very urgently needed for the socio-religious and educational uplift of the people irrespective of religious creed and communal differences. For this he believed leadership could come only from those with sound education, religious minded and with purity in heart and action”.
 
Among the students of the Swami at the University of Ceylon were Professor Allama M.M. Uwise and the renowned educationist S.M. Kamaldeen. Pulawarmani A.M. Sheriffdeen of Maruthamunai studied under the Swami at Kalmunai in his special classes for Pandit and Vidwan courses. Muthaliph Vaithiyar from Sainthamaruthu was a close friend of the Swami.
 
(It is significant to note that Pandit T. Mailvaganam, who was the Principal of Manipay Hindu College, resigned from his post and renounced the world, and joined the Ramakrishna Mission as Swami Vipulananda. He was appointed as the Manager of Vaidyeshwara Vidyalayam which was the first school attended by Azeez in Jaffna. The Swami gave up this post in 1930 and joined the Annamalai University in India as Professor of Tamil. In 1933 he relinquished this post and settled down in Batticaloa to look after the educational activities of the Ramakrishna Mission and founded Shivananda Vidyalaya).
 
 
Communal Harmony
 
The farewell functions accorded to Azeez for his selfless service manifest the cordial and close relationship among all communities in Eastern Sri Lanka half a century ago. Functions were organized at Kalmunai, Sammanturai, Akkaraipattu, Kaluwanchikudy and Kattankudy. The main function was held at Kalmunai Rest House presided by State Councillor V. Nalliah and the farewell oration was by E. Rasiah, Attorney-at-Law and Vice-President of the Hindu-Muslim League. A separate function was organized for his wife at Methodist Girls Boarding School presided by Mrs. S.J.W. Alagiah and the oration was by Mrs. P. Kathiraveluppillai.
 
All these incidents depict clearly the cordial relationship that existed between the Tamils and Muslims of this region during those days. Azeez if lived today would be heart-broken to witness the ethnic divide between these two communities. He would never have dreamt of Muslims being slaughtered in their places of worship. It is perhaps just as well that he never lived to see the senseless and cruel dismembering of the Jaffna and Northern Muslim community, the community he was born into which helped shape the personality that he was to become.
 
During the short span of two years Azeez travelled the length and breadth of the areas under the purview of the Kalmunai Emergency Kachcheri, and worked long hours to put the district in the forefront as a leading producer of food. There are many who attribute this achievement as one of Azeez’s greatest, surpassing his successes in the Ceylon Muslim Scholarship Fund, Zahira College, Colombo and the All-Ceylon YMMA Conference.
 
Azeez continued to visit the East many times which he loved. In May 1960 with his family Azeez spent an extensive holiday travelling from Valaichenai to Arugam Bay. He met many old friends and colleagues and was seen reminiscing with cultivators and villagers with immense happiness.
 
Dr. Azeez developed an in-depth everlasting affection towards the people of the Eastern region despite his short stay there. This was well manifest in his enormous affection and love shown to his students from the East like myself at Zahira College, Colombo.
 
(S.H.M. Jameel hails from Sainthamaruthu and was a student of Zahira College, Colombo during the Azeez era. He graduated in Economics from the University of Ceylon in 1964 and later obtained the Diploma in Education from the same University and M.A. from the Jaffna University. He was Principal of Zahira College, Kalmunai and Addalachenai Training College. He was the first Registrar of the Eastern University and left due to unstable situation in the area. He retired as Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Cultural and Religious Affairs)
 
 
References:
 
1.     Diaries of A.M.A. Azeez – 1942, 1943 and 1944
2.     Copies of Minutes of Meetings, Notes, and Photographs with Index maintained by him for this period
3.     Daily News, Observer, Times – News items of this period
4.     Souvenir of the Harvest Festival, Kalmunai, 1943
 
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Azeez Foundation (1)Azeez Foundation (2)Azeez Foundation (3)
 

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