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With majoritarian rule in place, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike campaigned to become Prime Minister with the promise of making Sinhala the country’s official language by dropping English and Tamil. In 1956, the Sinhala Only Act was passed, which resulted in the immediate loss of employment opportunities to Tamils in government and state corporations.

Without the ability to reject the legislation in parliament, the Tamil Federal Party protested through non-violent demonstrations in north eastern provinces with initial success. Similar violence occurred in Colombo where a group of 200 Tamils, including parliamentarians, nonviolently protested the bill. Attackers came and beat the protesters and threw stones at them. Police were told to not intervene unless they were attacked first, and merely looked on. The nonviolent protesters ended early as some of them were hospitalized, and the bill was passed.

In 1957, Chelvanayakam agreed to drop demands for a federal set up to accomodate Tamils, to drop the parity of status for the Tamil language with Sinhalese, and to drop plans for future nonviolent protests, in return for the status of Tamils as a minority language that would be used in the Northeast. The pact, known as the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact, was abrogated by the Prime Minister in 1958, under pressure from Sinhalese Buddhist monks. At the same time, the Prime Minister ordered that "sri" should be written in Sinhalese on all buses.

In 1958, Tamils protested the "sri" on all buses being written only in Sinhala, as it represented a continuation of the protest of the unresolved issues pertaining to 1956 Sinhala-only law. The train carrying Tamils on the way to their Federal Party convention was stopped, and the Tamil passengers were beaten. In Colombo, riots occurred in which hundreds of Tamils were killed, and thousands were wounded.

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