Sirimavo Bandaranaike

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Sirimavo Bandaranaike
සිරිමාවෝ බණ්ඩාරනායක
சிறிமாவோ பண்டாரநாயக்கே
Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranayaka (1916-2000) (Hon.Sirimavo Bandaranaike with Hon.Lalith Athulathmudali Crop).jpg
Prime Minister of Sri Lanka
In office
14 November 1994 – 10 August 2000
President Chandrika Kumaratunga
Preceded by Chandrika Kumaratunga
Succeeded by Ratnasiri Wickremanayake
In office
22 May 1972 – 23 July 1977
President William Gopallawa
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by J. R. Jayewardene
Prime Minister of Ceylon
In office
29 May 1970 – 22 May 1972
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor General William Gopallawa
Preceded by Dudley Senanayake
Succeeded by Position abolished
In office
21 July 1960 – 25 March 1965
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor General Oliver Goonetilleke
William Gopallawa
Preceded by Dudley Senanayake
Succeeded by Dudley Senanayake
Leader of the Opposition
In office
9 March 1989 – 24 June 1994
Prime Minister Dingiri Banda Wijetunga
Ranil Wickremesinghe
Preceded by Anura Bandaranaike
Succeeded by Gamini Dissanayake
In office
5 April 1965 – 25 March 1970
Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake
Preceded by Dudley Senanayake
Succeeded by J. R. Jayewardene
Leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party
In office
Preceded by C. P. de Silva
Succeeded by Chandrika Kumaratunga
Member of the Sri Lankan Parliament
for Attanagalla
In office
5 April 1965 – 1980
Preceded by James Obeysekera
Succeeded by Lakshman Jayakody
Personal details
Born (1916-04-17)17 April 1916
Ratnapura, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka)
Died 10 October 2000(2000-10-10) (aged 84)
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Political party Sri Lanka Freedom Party
Spouse(s) Solomon Bandaranaike (1899–1959)
Children Sunethra

Sirima Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike (Sinhalese: සිරිමා රත්වත්තේ ඩයස් බණ්ඩාරනායක, Tamil: சிறிமா ரத்வத்தே டயஸ் பண்டாரநாயக்கே; 17 April 1916 – 10 October 2000), commonly known as Sirimavo Bandaranaike (the suffix "vo" denotes respect[1]), was a Sri Lankan stateswoman who was the modern world's first female head of government. She served as Prime Minister of Ceylon and Sri Lanka three times, 1960–65, 1970–77 and 1994–2000, and was a long-time leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

Early life

Sirimavo Bandaranaike was born Sirima Ratwatte to a prominent Sinhalese family who resided in the Kandyan hill country of what was then known as Ceylon, as the first of six children in the family.[1] Her ancestors held high offices in the courts of Sinhalese monarchs, and her father, Barnes Ratwatte, was a member of the Ceylon Senate.[2]

While Sirima was educated at St Bridget's Convent in Columbo[3], she remained a practising Buddhist for her entire life.[1] After leaving school, Bandaranaike became involved in social work, as she distributed food and medicines, organised clinics and developed village industries.[1]

In 1940, Sirima was married to Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike, a Oxford educated colonial government minister.[2] Their wedding was dubbed "the wedding of the century"[2], but caused a sensation within the Ratwatte family, as Bandaranaike was not considered to be an "acceptable" family.[2] Sirima's marriage, however, was noted to have helped break down social barriers in Sri Lanka over the years.[2]

Political career

Husband's premiership

Sirima was noted to have persuaded her husband to resign from government, resign from the United National Party, and establish the Sri Lanka Freedom Party in 1951.[1] She campaigned for her husband during the 1952 parliamentary election, as her husband campaigned across the country.[1] While the SLFP only won 9 seats during that election, Bandaranaike won his seat in Parliament.[1]

Sirima became the SLFP's leader, after her husband was assassinated by a Buddhist monk who opposed his advocacy of Western medicine over traditional cures.[2] She became leader after desperate pleas by the SLFP to assume the party's leadership.[1]

First term

During this time Sirimavo was brought forward as legitimate successor to her husband's party leadership and she entered politics. In 1960 M. P. de Zoysa Jnr stepped down from his seat in the Senate (appointed upper house of Parliament) paving the way for Sirimavo to be appointed as a member of the Senate from the SLFP. She led her party to win the July 1960 elections on the pledge to continue her husband's policies, notably the Sinhala Only Act, and to proceed with repatriation of the estate Tamils to India. On 21 July 1960, as a Senator she became prime minister, thus becoming the first female prime minister in the world.[4]

During the campaign in the July 1960 elections, Bandaranaike toured the country and made emotional speeches, frequently bursting into tears as she pledged herself to continue her late husband's policies. That earned her the title "The Weeping Widow".[5][2]

Bandaranaike was a socialist who continued her husband's policies of nationalizing key sectors of the economy, such as banking and insurance, and also nationalizing all schools then owned by the Roman Catholic Church in 1961.[6] Bandaranaike was on a roller-coaster ride from the moment she took office. Within a year of her 1960 election victory she declared a "state of emergency". This followed a civil disobedience campaign by part of the country's minority Tamil population who were outraged by her decision to drop English as an official language and her order to conduct all government business in Sinhala, the language of the majority Sinhalese. This they considered a highly discriminatory act and an attempt to deny Tamils access to all official posts and the law. This led to an increase in Tamil militancy which escalated under succeeding administrations.

Further problems arose with the state takeover of foreign businesses, particularly petroleum companies, which upset the United States and Britain; they ended aid to Sri Lanka. As a result, Bandaranaike moved her country closer to China and the Soviet Union and championed a policy of nonalignment. At home, she crushed an attempted military coup by Christian officers in 1962 and appointed her uncle William Gopallawa Governor-General of Ceylon. In 1964, she entered into a historic coalition with the Marxist Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP). At the end of 1964, she lost a vote of confidence. The SLFP coalition was defeated in the 1965 elections, ending her first term as Prime Minister.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike with Soviet Union Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin, Senior Advisor (Foreign Affairs) to the Prime Minister Tissa Wijeyeratne and her son Anura Bandaranaike

Pact with India

Under the terms of the 1964 agreement with India, 600,000 Indian Tamils were to be repatriated, while 375,000 were to be granted Sri Lankan citizenship. By 31 October 1981, when the two countries were to have settled this issue, India had taken more than 300,000 persons as repatriates. Sri Lanka had granted citizenship to over 185,000 plus over 62,000 post-1964 offspring. Over 207,000 Indian Tamils in Sri Lanka before 1964, plus nearly 45,000 offspring, were granted Indian citizenship but still awaited repatriation. In the wake of the July 1983 anti-Tamil violence, some in this latter group are being processed for repatriation or have emigrated to India.

With the lapse of the 1964 agreement India declined to consider any more applications for citizenship. The government of Sri Lanka believes that the 1964 pact remains in force until the citizenship cases and permanent residence of all Indian Tamils covered by the pact have been settled. The All-Party Conference has agreed that the government should grant Sri Lankan citizenship to stateless Indian Tamils who did not apply for Indian citizenship and were not granted Sri Lankan citizenship under the 1964 agreement.[citation needed]

Second term

She regained power after the United Front coalition (SLFP, LSSP, and the Communists) won the 1970 elections with a large majority. But after just 16 months in power, the government was almost toppled by the 1971 JVP Insurrection of left-wing youths. Bandaranaike had disbanded the government's intelligence service, suspecting that it was loyal to the opposition United National Party (UNP). Thus there was no warning of the uprising, and Sri Lanka's small army was caught off guard. The army mobilized its reserves and held the capital, but some outlying areas were occupied by the insurgents. The government was saved by military aid from both India and Pakistan, thanks to Bandaranaike's skillful foreign policy. In those tough political years, she turned herself into a formidable leader. "She was the only man in her cabinet", one of her officials commented during the height of the insurgency.

Her second term saw a new constitution introduced in 1972, replacing the Soulbury constitution. Ceylon was renamed Sri Lanka and became a republic. The 1973 oil crisis had a traumatic effect on the Sri Lankan economy: the government had no access to Western aid and her socialist policies stifled economic activity. Rationing had to be imposed. Bandaranaike became more and more intolerant of criticism and forced the shut-down of the Independent newspaper group, whose publications were her fiercest critics. Earlier she had nationalized the country's largest newspaper, Lake House, which has remained the government's official mouthpiece. Bandaranaike enjoyed continued success in foreign affairs. She was chosen chairwoman of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1976, and hosted the Movement's conference, attended by numerous heads of state. Despite her high international standing, she was losing Sri Lankan support rapidly amid allegations of corruption and against the background of a rapidly declining economy.

Under the Soulbury constitution, election would have been held in 1975. However, the government had become very unpopular. Bandaranaike used a clause of the 1972 constitution to delay elections until 1977. This did not help and in the 1977 elections the United Front was routed, winning only 8 seats.


Bandaranaike held her own seat in 1977, but in 1980, she was charged with abuse of power, expelled from parliament, and banned from office for seven years.[7] Her rights were restored in 1986, and she ran for the post of President in 1988, but was narrowly defeated.[7]

Third term

In 1994, the SLFP-led coalition won the general elections. Chandrika then outmanoeuvred her mother to become prime minister; and then was elected President the same year. Bandaranaike became prime minister again, but constitutional changes in the years since her last term meant the office has been transformed into a mostly ceremonial post.[8] Despite the office's lack of powers, Bandaranaike was noted to have wielded great influence among her party's faithful supporters.[9] She remained in office until August 2000.[8]

Bandaranaike died on 10 October 2000, as she was heading home after casting her vote in the parliamentary election that was held on that day.[5][10]

Personal life

Bandaranaike was the widow of Ceylon's 4th Prime Minister, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. She had four children: Chandrika, Sri Lanka's fourth President, Anura, former speaker and cabinet minister[5][11], and Senethra, who was not involved in politics, and worked in philanthropic endeavours.[7]

It was noted by the BBC in 2000 that Bandaranaike and Chandrika did not get along, largely due to leadership issues.[5] Chandrika was known to be keen on Bandaranaike leaving, in order to make way for a younger face.[5]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Rettie, John (10 October 2000). "Sirima Bandaranaike". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 February 2018. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Sirimavo Bandaranaike". The Daily Telegraph. 11 October 2000. Retrieved 15 February 2018. 
  3. ^ Jeyaraj, D. B. S. ""Stateswoman" Sirimavo made history as the world's first woman prime minister". The Daily Mirror. Retrieved 14 February 2018. 
  4. ^ "1960: Ceylon chooses world's first woman PM". BBC News On This Day. Retrieved 13 February 2018. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Sirimavo Bandaranaike: First woman premier". BBC News. 10 October 2000. Retrieved 12 February 2018. 
  6. ^ "Ceylon: Sinhala Without Tears" (subscription required for full story). Time Magazine. 5 May 1961. Retrieved 12 February 2018. 
  7. ^ a b c "Sirimavo Bandaranaike; World's First Female Prime Minister". Los Angeles Times. 12 October 2000. Retrieved 13 February 2018. 
  8. ^ a b Ganguly, Dilip (10 August 2000). "World's First Woman Prime Minister Resigns". ABC News. Retrieved 13 February 2018. 
  9. ^ "Veteran Sri Lankan PM resigns". BBC News. 10 August 2000. Retrieved 13 February 2018. 
  10. ^ Dugger, Celia W. (11 October 2000). "Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka Dies at 84; First Woman Premier". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 February 2018. 
  11. ^ "Sirimavo R.D. Bandaranaike (prime minister of Sri Lanka)". BRITANNICA-Online. 

External links

  • The Ratwatte Ancestry
  • The Bandaranaike Ancestry
  • Golden memories of a political prodigy
  • Website of the Parliament of Sri Lanka
  • New York Times: Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka Dies at 84; First Woman Premier
  • Sirimavo Bandaranaike
  • The resolute woman who put Sri Lanka firmly on the political world map
Political offices
Preceded by
Dudley Senanayake
Prime Minister of Ceylon
Succeeded by
Dudley Senanayake
Prime Minister of Ceylon
Position abolished
New office Prime Minister of Sri Lanka
Succeeded by
Junius Jayewardene
Preceded by
Chandrika Kumaratunga
Prime Minister of Sri Lanka
Succeeded by
Ratnasiri Wickremanayake
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