He challenged the might of the British
Commemorating the 52nd death anniversary of a national hero Charles Edward Victor Seneviratne Corea
On June 9, 1962, before C.E. Victor S. Corea was laid to rest in the Chilaw cemetery, Speaker R.S. Pelpola, representing Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike and the government said, “ Chilaw has had the rare distinction of producing two of the greatest patriots who served in the country’s legislature, C.E. Corea and his brother C.E. Victor S.Corea who won the hearts of our people with their fearless campaign to achieve Independence for our country.”
C.E. Corea, entered Royal College, and excelled in the academic and sports fields. He was a debater par excellence. Considered one of the best schoolboy bowlers in his time, he played in the Royal College team for six years. He played in the famous 9-run Royal-Thomian cricket match and took the wicket of the Thomian who bowled him out ! He passed out as a Proctor following in the footsteps of his illustrious father, joined the Chilaw Bar and rose to eminence in his profession.
His younger brother Ernest, studied at S.Thomas’ College, entered Medical College and passed out as a doctor. The youngest, Victor, also schooled at S.Thomas’ College and passed out as an Advocate of the Supreme Court.
C.E.Corea, rose to fame, as a brilliant lawyer and a politician par excellence whose skill in arguing was not second to any of the British with whom he clashed often in the country’s legislature. Some of his ideas were original and his arguments, forceful. He founded the Chilaw Association which became so virile and so valid that its criticisms of government policy made a tremendous impact in his fight against imperial onslaughts and excesses.
Victor Corea, at every turn warned the British that their days in Ceylon were numbered. He named his residence “Sinhapura” and his letterheads carried his crest in gold print showing a Lion resting the head on its forepaws, rays of the sun in the background and the challenging caption, “ Awake not the sleeping Lion King “.
He started his own printing press and published the Sinhala journal, “Lanka Tharuna Handa” to inculcate a feeling of nationalism and a distaste for what was alien and foreign as was done by Mahatma Gandhi in India. He fought fearlessly against any issue that oppressed his people. When the villagers of Merawela were suddenly prohibited from earning their livelihood with limestone and the business overnight was vested with the government, the senior men of the village turned to Victor Corea who championed their cause and won their rights to resume the business.
During the Sinhala-Muslim riots of 1915, Victor Corea fought shoulder to shoulder with his brother and other leaders, for the release of the fighters of the Temperance Movement and for the Reform of the Constitution in order that Ceylon could free herself from autocratic imperial rule. Victor Corea and his brother C.E. Corea protected the Muslims in the Chilaw area from the wrath of the Sinhalese. The Corea brothers were responsible for completely exonerating the people of Chilaw from paying damages which was a penalty imposed on all the citizens of Ceylon. They both championed the cause of national unity and were acclaimed in Jaffna as outstanding leaders with C.E.Corea having the rare distinction of being the only Sinhalese to be elected President of the Jaffna Association.
As a politician, Victor Corea challenged the might of the British Government when he opposed the iniquitous Poll Tax requiring every male in Ceylon, above the age of 21 to pay the British government two rupees as Poll Tax. Victor Corea refused to pay it in 1921 and wrote to the Governor that according to their law he should be arrested. Orders were issued to arrest Victor Corea, and during his month’s stay in jail he was expected to break into small pieces, huge boulders stacked by the side of the road, exposed to the view of the public, under the heat of the scorching sun.
Even though he suffered unbearable pain he did not complain but continued to perform his tasks. When orders came from the governor that Victor Corea be given a bed to sleep on and European food of his choice he refused to accept any form of special treatment and subjected himself to the punishment imposed on prisoners in general. When large crowds, came from near and far to see the spectacle of an Advocate of the Supreme Court fighting the cause of his countrymen, the British, realizing that Victor Corea was gaining unprecedented popularity as a national hero, decided to abolish the Poll Tax and release him.
When Mahatma Gandhi, visited Ceylon, he specifically wanted to visit Chilaw and meet the Corea brothers. At a banquet hosted by the Corea brothers in “Sigirya”, the beautiful home of the Corea family, Mahatma Gandhi personally handed a poster to Victor Corea in appreciation of the campaign he spearheaded at a national level in Ceylon.
When the beating of hewisi in the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy was stopped on the orders of the Government Agent, a Britisher, because it was a source of disturbance it was Victor Corea, a Christian who rose in protest asking the G.A. to shift his residence and that the hewisi continue in accordance to tradition. If the Diyawadana Nilame was not prepared to beat the hewisi in defiance, he vowed that he would come to the Maligawa and beat the hewisi himself. Since Victor Corea, by that time was known to be a man who would live up to his word, the G.A. withdrew his order. The beating of hewisi has continued ever since.
Very few people of the present generation are aware that Victor Corea was a pioneer of the Labour Movement in Ceylon. When A.E. Goonesinha formed the Labour Union, anticipating some form of resistance from the government to curb its activities he wanted a bold and courageous President. Victor Corea was the popular choice and under his stewardship he gave the Union astute and fearless leadership.
At the zenith of his popularity Victor Corea, chose to contest a relative, E.W.Jayewardene (President J.R.Jayewardene’s father) for the Colombo North seat in the Legislative Council of Ceylon. He won the fiercely fought election with an overwhelming majority in 1924. He was a founder member of the Ceylon National Congress along with C.E.Corea, E.W.Perera, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Sir P.Arunachalam, Francis de Zoysa and others. It was the greatest political force in the country at the time, inspired by its counterpart in India, the Indian National Congress.
Although a Christian, Victor Corea initiated the construction of two Buddhist temples in Chilaw which cemented a strong bond of friendship between the two religious faiths. He was by tradition closely associated with the Munneswaram temple and also handled their legal affairs.
On December 2, 2008, Chilaw paid a fitting tribute to C.E. Victor S. Corea by having his statue unveiled adjoining the District Court of Chilaw.
-C.E.Victor S.Corea Commemoration Committee