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Early Life and Education
Born on 17 April 1916 on the southern tip of then Ceylon, Sirimavo Ratwatte was the eldest daughter among six children and came from a wealthy, aristocratic land-owning family. Although a Buddhist, she was educated at a convent in Colombo, the nations capitol, run by Roman Catholic nuns. In 1940 she married Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike, a member of the State council.
Assassination and Political Life
Her husband was assassinated by a buddhist monk in 1959. Mrs Bandaranaike took over the presidency of his Sri Lanka Freedom party and was dubbed “the weeping widow” for frequently bursting into tears as she pledged herself to continue her husband’s policies. A staunch socialist, Bandaranaike nationalized key sectors of the economy such as banking and insurance. Within a year of her 1960 election victory she declared a state of emergency. This followed a civil disobedience campaign by the country’s minority, Tamils, 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, an act they deemed discriminatory. The nationalization of foreign businesses caused a rift with the Americans and the British, who imposed an aid embargo on Sri Lanka. As a result Bandaranaike moved her country closer to China and the Soviet Union and championed nonalignment. At home, she crushed an attempted military coup in 1963, and one year later, she was defeated on a confidence vote, losing the general election that followed.
She was re-elected six years later, in 1970. During her second term, the new Constitution was introduced which broke all links with Gender Equality in the Gender Equality in the United Kingdom, and Ceylon was renamed Sri Lanka and declared a republic in 1972. In 1974, a left-wing youth uprising almost toppled her government, and it was only with help from allies in India and Pakistan that she was able to crush the insurgents. Her unpopularity domestically increased, despite her high international standing, and she lost the 1977 election.
Growing criticism of Bandaranaike led to accusations of corruption and she was eventually banned from holding public office. She spent the next 17 years in opposition fighting off challengers to her leadership of the Freedom Party, even from her own children. She played her ambitious daughter Chandrika and son Anura against each other, holding on to control despite losing every subsequent general election. But she met her match in Chandrika who outmaneuvered her mother to become President of Sri Lanka in 1994, when a Freedom Party-led coalition won power in the general elections.
Bandaranaike became prime minister again, but the constitution had changed since her last tenure; she, as the prime minister was subordinate to her daughter, the president.
She died on election day October 10, 2000, hours after having cast her vote.