Obituary: Lalith Athulathmudali

NEWS that Lalith Athulathmudali had been assassinated in Sri Lanka has shocked those who remember the peace-loving person they befriended at Oxford University in the 1950s, writes Patrick Renshaw. His death personalises the terrible ethnic tragedy which has overtaken the island in the last decade.

He first came into my life when he entered my room at Jesus College, where he was selling Labour Club membership. Being in his second year he was already a prominent personality. Later that term the Suez war and Soviet invasion of Hungary coincided, events which shaped the political values of a generation.

Lalith was active in all the protests. But he was also the first person from the Third World I got to know well and so helped shape my attitudes there too. Peaceful in everything he did, he was nevertheless quietly forceful in a characteristically Buddhist way. Reading law, he was determined on a career at the Oxford Union, like several other distinguished Sri Lankans before him. In a generation which included such notable debaters as Brian Walden, Peter Brooke and Tony Newton, he was successively secretary, treasurer and librarian and became president in Hilary Term 1958 - the first Jesus president since the end of the Second World War. I recall in particular a debate in which he and an invited Bryan Magee took on another invited guest, Oswald Mosley - a debate which seems more resonant now given the fact that racial bigotry eventually ended Lalith's life.

He never made any bones about the fact that his colour helped his political career at Oxford, since he could always play the role of the token black. His fellow countryman Lakshman Kadirgamer who became president of the Union the following year, was a Tamil and their respective careers were to be shaped by the ethnic conflict which later hit Sri Lanka.

They returned home both of them expecting to become lawyers and politicians quietly shaping the destiny of their newly independent nation.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015

Lena Dunham
News

Angelina Jolie
News

Richard Dawkins
News
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London

Prince Philip, aka the Duke of Hazard, is to be awarded a knighthood by Australia, a decision that has been criticised as "anachronistic" by politicians.

PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our Client has been the leader ...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project