By Rajan Hoole –
Jayewardene’s failure to declare curfew thus appears in an appropriate setting. About 1.30 A.M. this same witness from the Left party saw the walls of TULF president M. Sivasithamparam’s house, which was on fire, collapsing to the ground. A little over a week later, this witness was placed under arrest along with other members of Left parties accused by the Government of being responsible for the violence.
From Jayewardene’s house fires could be seen in an arc stretching from Elphinstone Theatre in Maradana, all the way down the road to Borella and then to Narahenpita and Thimbirigasaya. In fact, from any window of his house Jayewardene would have seen roaring fires. The Police did not know what had happened, and, except for perhaps one or two in the hierarchy who were necessarily privy to the designs of those high up, were completely at sea. Late into the night the bursting of tear gas shells could be heard as the Police tried to disperse the crowd. About 2.00 AM on the 25th there was a lull.
The people living in Colombo’s residential areas from Colpetty and southwards to Mt Lavinia had in general no idea of what happened the previous night. People sent their children to school and went to work, and came to know that something had happened only upon seeing burnt buildings. Borella itself was quiet. From Kynsey Road junction on Ward Place to Borella junction, burnt out Tamil shops could be seen. Not far from Jayewardene’s place, there was a burnt out corpse. The skull was cracked and the charred remains of the brain could be seen. The victim was probably a poor man with a roadside stall who had slept on the verandah of a shop.
ASP Abeygoonewardene from Jayewardene’s security arrived at home in the early hours of the 25th morning. He expected a curfew in the morning and told his wife not to wake him up. His wife put him up at 6.30 AM telling him that there was no curfew on and the children needed to be taken to school at St.Peter’s. This he did, though surprised at curfew not being declared. He had to go later again to fetch his sons as the situation got worse.
A middle-aged scholar was walking along Ward Place in the morning towards Lipton Circus. The road remained sealed off between Kynsey and McCarthy roads. As though with clockwork precision pandemonium broke loose at 10.00 AM as the mobs arrived. A Tamil man driving a van was stopped, and the man escaped into a dispensary as the van was set on fire. In several places, Tamils getting caught were turned into human torches, as down Darley Road. At Lipton Circus the scholar met Linus Jayatilleke of the NSSP. The two wanted to do something to stop the violence against Tamils, and feeling helpless, they walked down Dean’s Road to the Centre for Society and Religion. Fr. Tissa Balasuriya was out on the road in his cassock trying to wave down a passing army truck to send some refugees who had come to the Church, to a refugee camp. They advised Balasuriya that this was not a normal army, and handing the refugees over to them would be like handing over sheep to the wolves. We mention this here because when Left parties were banned by the Government on the 30th as being directly responsible for the anti- Tamil violence, Linus Jayatilleke’s name went up on the wanted list. The scholar later joined a police officer to find out what was going on. Passing Town Hall they went up Turret Road and at Colpetty junction they saw shops on fire. A wine shop had been broken open and looters were helping themselves to liquor and to settees from a furniture shop. On Galle Road the heat was unbearable and they saw fires as far as the eye could see. Tamil shops and premises were being systematically burnt by trained squads. Where Sinhalese premises adjoined Tamil premises, appropriate precautions were taken. Whenever they finished with an area, the expression they used was “We have done the cleansing here” (“Api suddha kara”).
L. Piyadasa has recorded the following: “At the corner of Galle Road and Dickman’s Road, a unit of Jayewardene’s troops trained their weapons on six Tamils to prevent them from escaping and got the Sinhalese ‘heroes’ to batter them to death and burn their bodies.”
There was something very remarkable about what was going on. Not only had Jayewardene failed to declare curfew, but unlike the previous day when the Police were trying to take some action to control the riot, they were hardly to be seen, even though they then had greater manpower than the Army. There were regular army pickets on Galle Road, but they rather seemed to be in league with the squads of destroyers. Army trucks were going up and down Galle Road while the mobs cheered them, “Sinhala Hamudavata Jayawewa” (“Victory to the Sinhalese Army”)!
The scholar and the police officer then went south along Galle Road, passing mobs and army pickets, driving along the centre because of the heat from the burning buildings. When they came to the petrol shed by the side of Vivekananda Road, Wellawatte, they saw a sight which made them stop. They saw Mr. C. Kumarasuriyar, minister of posts and telecommunications in Mrs. Bandaranaike’s government of 1970-77. Dressed in trousers and a banian with hands tied, a mob was parading him, leading him by a rope. A policeman was seated impassively by the roadside holding his 303 rifle. Kumarasuriyar explained to a soldier in an army picket nearby that he had been a minister in the last government, and being a Tamil, he had been very much under threat from Tamil militants. The soldier dismissed him abusively with words to the effect, “Get lost you scum”! As though by design, there were no responsible army officers to be seen anywhere about.
The police officer explained to the scholar, “My God, he was the first attesting witness at my wedding!” and made to get out. The scholar stopped him, “It is of no use, they would not hesitate to kill even you”. They decided to go to the police officer’s house in Dehiwela and get through to Fr. Neil Dias Karunaratne, a priest who was in contact with Charmaine Vanderkoon, Jayewardene’s daughter-in-law through her first marriage to his son Ravi, and the mother of his grandson. On reaching home and finding the phones out of order, and unable to move along Galle Road, they drove through Hill Street and High Level Road to the place of Charmaine and her husband Ricky Mendis. The officer told her, “You are a Tamil and the Tamils are absolutely helpless”. Ricky wondered with concern why Air Force helicopters were not patrolling the main roads from the air to disperse the mobs. The police officer responded that soldiers were on the streets, but they were doing nothing.
Just then a jeep arrived with an armed escort. Coincidentally it had been sent by Jayewardene to remove his daughter-in-law to the safety of his house. The police officer asked the scholar to join him, to report Kumarasuriyar’s plight to Jayewardene. The scholar declined, saying that he did not want to get involved with Jayewardene. In due course Jayewardene rushed an army patrol to the scene. Kumarasuriar was saved in the nick of time as the mob, having paraded him, was about to club and burn him. He had suffered such a shock that he was warded in the Colombo Hospital ICU.
Minister Montague Jayawickrema who lived close to Jayewardene had spent the weekend at his estate, and had become aware of the trouble only upon entering Colombo on Monday evening. He was identified with Dudley Senanayake’s faction in the UNP. A senior UNPer had come to see him that afternoon and missed him. As he was going back he saw some of Montague’s neighbours. He told them that Jayewardene ‘has unleashed the hounds and now he cannot call them back’!
Other testimony regarding the violence
The first reports of organised violence on the 25th following the mid-night lull came from Narahenpita about 5.00 AM. Goons with electoral lists visited Tamil homes and smashed up property. In Colombo South, Dehiwela and Mt Lavinia, known UNP figures were seen leading mobs. In School Avenue, Dehiwela, a Tamil member of the UNP who stayed at home, saw his party colleagues coming with a mob to attack Tamil houses. Later, Minister Lalith Athulathmudali admitted in passing to an eminent Tamil whose house was burnt, that had he been told he could have saved the house. Athulathmudali said that he was at Vanderwert Place, Dehiwela, on the 25th morning.
Many prominent UNPers and UNP agents were identified leading the violence on Monday (25th). There were Sangadasa and Aloysius Mudalali’s son, both Premadasa’s agents, in the Pettah-Maradana area. A JSS man who brings children to Ladies College in a school bus led a mob that came to Ward Place where Jayewardene lived. Piyadasa identifies Srinal de Mel, the JSS Secretary, in the Wellawatte area.
A mob went down Sunshine Avenue, Dehiwela, and came back to the top of the road after being told by residents that there were no Tamils living there. A police sergeant sent them back saying that there were about 3 Tamil houses there. The mob was from Maharagama.
A Tamil who knew several ministers had moved from further south to Castle Lane, Bambalapitiya. As things got worse on Monday several displaced persons were with him in that house. He first telephoned Gamini Dissanayake. Mrs. Dissanayake told him that her husband had gone out. This was evidently to protect the house of S.C. Chandrahasan. He then telephoned Ronnie de Mel and found that he had gone to meet Jayewardene. When he telephoned Festus Perera, the person who answered, after having said that the minister was not available, offered to take down a message. He left a message asking for urgent help. That night a police vehicle came to his house, and an inspector asked if he had called the minister. A police sentry was then placed on the top of the road.
Those with him did not run short of food, because two boys of Indian origin who were fluent in Sinhalese joined the looters and brought back enough food. It was these two boys who scouted on Friday 29th and brought back the information that cars were being stopped on Galle Road and people were being burnt.
On the morning of Tuesday 26th, the Army Commander, Tissa Weeratunge, drove along Galle Road from Army HQ to view the damage. Towards the end of Colpetty, near Bambalapitiya, they encountered a mob trying to set fire to Gnanam’s Building. Gnanam was a successful Tamil businessman. They also noticed an elderly man of some authority who seemed to be in charge of the mob. The army patrol stopped. Since they could not arrest the whole lot, Major Sunil Peiris went to arrest this man who seemed to be the leader. Some in the crowd took alarm and informed the Major that the gentleman concerned was “amethi thuma” – that he was the ‘honourable minister’. That was how Major Peiris became acquainted with the Hon. Cyril Mathew, minister of industries and scientific affairs. Peiris then noticed a car nearby with the minister’s security.
Mathew then went off in a huff to his friend and patron, President Jayewardene, and demanded that Major Peiris should apologise to him. When Jayewardene conveyed this to Peiris at Army HQ, Peiris replied that there was nothing he needed to apologise for, since it was his duty to uphold the law, and he had no way of knowing that the gentleman concerned was a minister. Jayewardene dropped the matter. It seemed that Mathew had been doing his own patrol on Galle Road, picking out premises that had escaped the ravages of the previous day.
The Army Commander had returned from Jaffna on Monday morning. But from the 25th morning when the organised violence began, there are no indications that the Army was given any orders to quell the violence. The Army stood indifferently, indulged in instigation, or actually joined in the violence. One could hardly have expected the Police or the Army to have done anything remarkable when Cyril Mathew and the JSS were on the streets. T.D.S.A. Dissanayaka cites several instances of the Police opening fire. But he too no doubt read the minutes of the secret conference held at Police HQ on 13th June 1958, which his father had attended as DIG Range One. The minutes of this conference to discuss the failure of the Police to quell the communal violence in May 1958 are given in Tarzie Vittachi’s book. It is said in the minutes: “The I.G. [S.W.O. de Silva O.B.E.] said that the Police must once and for all get out of their heads the question of firing in the air or over the heads of mobs. The experience of every country had been that it was worse than not firing at all.”
A remarkable feature of the violence in July 1983 was that Jayewardene spent a good deal of his time in Army Headquarters and in the Army Commander’s room, issuing next to no orders. Was the Army Commander overawed by his Commander-in-Chief into doing nothing? Curfew was always declared when it was too late, and then too not enforced. On Monday when violence broke out in Colombo, curfew was declared from 2.00 PM, after the worst was over. In Kandy the Police had been anticipating trouble, but curfew was declared on Tuesday evening after the mob had rampaged. Mr. Thondaman, a cabinet minister representing the Hill-Country Tamils had on Monday morning gone to see Jayewardene under escort and had told him that there were reports of trouble brewing in the Hill-Country and wanted him to declare curfew. Badulla erupted on Wednesday and Nuwara-Eliya on Friday. There was no curfew on. Jayewardene’s constant refrain had been “Who is going to enforce the curfew?” Thondaman quotes him as having asked, “Will the Army obey?” (CDN 30.07.99).
Thondaman’s Daily News (30.07.99) article also confirms information from other sources and tells us something of Jayewardene’s movements on that day.
Jayewardene had been at the Presidential Secretariat (old Parliament and Senate) on Galle Face on the 25th morning. He and Thondaman were later joined by Dissanayake and Ronnie de Mel. This suggests that he then went to Army HQ which is close by for the Security Council meeting in the afternoon. Bradman Weerakoon was with him in the Army Commander’s room when the news of the prison massacre came in.
In every area the violence had been sudden and brief. Professor Valentine Joseph, senior university don who had served long enough to teach fathers and sons, could see the fires at Borella on the 24th night. After a lull, hoodlums rushed to his home late on the 25th morning shouting his name. He had to run carrying his most precious documents and work, while his home was set upon. He recounted, “By evening they had finished with us all!”
Part one – Sri Lanka’s Black July: Borella, 24th Evening
Part two – Sri Lanka’s Black July: What Really Happened At Kanatte?
*From Chapter 9 of Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To be continued tomorrow ..
Damma Asoka / July 26, 2013
Rajan Hoole, Thank you for REMINDING us and marking the beginning of the 30 year war in Sri Lanka.
The beginning of the war should be ENGRAVED in a MONUMENT and our history text books so that it will never be forgotten or REPEATED. It is MORE important to remember and pay attention to the BEGINNING of the war than the end of it, because if we had done so then, there would not have been a 30 war that destroyed almost 80,000 lives and displaced a million more over 30 years. But the Sri Lanka state has NOT learned any lessons.
The so-called riots of July 1983 which saw attacks on the Tamil minority was a POGROM – organized by segments of the State and Jayawardene regime to distract people from the illegitimacy of the Jayawardene regime. After that the LTTE grew and became a monster – in the name of liberating Tamils from the Sinhalaysa.
Today the same thing is happening with the Rajapassa regime distracting the people from the criminality and corruption of the Rajapassa family military dictatorship by attacking MUSLIMS.
While the Rajapassa regime celebrates the end of the war, the BEGINNING of the war in the CRIMES COMMITTED BY THE SRI LANKAN STATE against minorities has been forgotten.
justice / July 26, 2013
The July 1983 riots were the culmination of periodic massacres of tamils from 1954 onwards.They were not spontaneous.Successive governments since independence ignored massacres of tamils and suppressed information about them.
Jayawardena merely allowed the atrocites to happen nationwide.
kali / July 30, 2013
Which 30 years are you referreing top mate. The 30 years of terror by the Sinhalese Mobs during race riots of the 30 years of Freedom Struggle. You probably dont remember the first thirty years as you were too busy attacking innocent defenceless Tamils and killing. But then again you also dont accept the State Terrorism that followed the following 30 years.
Safa / July 26, 2013
JRJ will be remembered as the Hitler of Sri Lanka and one of the causes for 30 years of communal bloodshed. A bloody reputation for a man who appointed himself executive president hoping to transform the nation. After 30 years we have a nation limping forward with constitution in tatters.
Muliyawaikkal / July 26, 2013
JR was the most intelligent leader SL ever had.
May he rest in peace and may god bless him for his great achievements. We love you JR for showing the way.
das / July 27, 2013
True. JRJ’s regime was the only time any real development happened in SL, notwithstanding his constitution.
kali / July 30, 2013
You are a Ghost and a Blast from that very location may your soul rest in pieces not Peace.
Native Vedda / July 30, 2013
Muliyawaikkal is a devil’s advocate.
He is only trying his best to spur discussions.
We need more Muliyawaikkals than the other boring lot.
deep-thought / July 26, 2013
This is only an account of what took place, by a former Left comrade of mine.It is shocking, nevertheless.No investigation was ever held as to how it came about and how well it had been organised so that within a short time Tamil shops/establishments were ablaze. The usual theory is that Sinhala chauvinists led by a govt politician were at the bottom and some young persons in robes were going about with lists the following day.I was told this by a Tamil friend who was the Editor of a popular Daily afternoon paper.There could be some truth about such inputs. This cannot account for this whole detestable affair.The immediate cause given is the killing by the LTTE, of 13 soldiers in an ambush in Jaffna resulting from a planted mine blowing up their vehicle, and more particularly, the mutilation of their bodies, the bringing of the corpses to Colombo, and the delays involved which allowed people around from shanties nearby to gather in numbers,and the mishandling of the growinng tense situation by Inspector Latiff. these reflect the immediate situation.
One should not stop there. How did the LTTE gain the technology of planting mines, manufacturing them and also underwater sabotage which they later indulged in.Who funded them and armed them ? Why?Is it now not well documented that Indira Gandhi instructed RAW to train the SL Tamil militants which turned them into a fearful terrorist force?
Soon after the riots, who supported the refugee influx from estate areas? Who took them from the Estates in the dead of the night in lorries? Where were they taken? To Vanni and Tamil Nadu?India later argued that the refugees coming to India were very high (80,000 was mentioned early) and made that a cause for intervention.Wasn’t this a bigger plot to intervene by creating instability and attacks on Tamils claiming that people of Indian origin were involved? and other Tamils had kin relationship to Tamils in India?
Later, after an attack in Colombo, LTTE claimed the RAW had instigated them to do that.LTTE had perfect lists of Tamil establishments in Colombo and elsewhere from whom they collected taxes. Their role in 1983 July burning of Colombo and killing Tamils is now coming out. Like in the Rajiv Gandhi murder case, as Dr Subramanian Swamy,former Law Minister of India says, the real culprits have escaped in this case too.
President Jayewardene had gone to sleep early tat night,as I was told by a close associate, a high political figure, a senior Minister of State.That was what the household had told him. Prez JRJ thought there was foreign intervention.That was what reduced him to numbness. A man who was not ready for opposition, and suppressed it, was shocked. He failed on the occasion. He knew who the foreign party was but did not name it.It was implied when he called for military assistance from other countries except India. He said he wanted to avoid embarrassment to India.(Sinha Ranatunge, National University of Canberra). India later accused foreign elements for the MUMBAI attack. These aspects are the ones which need to be considered on this occasion.
PEACELOVER / July 26, 2013
Very sad to remember all these BAUDHA BARBARIANISM……. Because of that barbaric killing of innocent Tamils paved the way to take arm by the Hinduthamil GUYS and then, the MODA BAUDHDA SIN-KELYAS realized how stupid action they had against Tamil civilians in July 1983..
On 25th of July this month , NO FIRE ZONE screened in Malaysia .. watch
Colpetty / July 27, 2013
I am happy Kumarasooriyar was admitted to the ICU and was safe. At the cardiology unit near Ward Place, the doctors were scared to admit Tamil heart patients because they said they could not take responsibility with an angry minor staff. In contrast Methodist Church Colpetty was open to all and Rev. Duleep Fernando, though suffering from a sharp kidney pain, picked up many stranded Tamils from the streets in his Morris Minor and brought them there and fed them. He even found other Tamil children to come and play with the frightened children.He was asking for trouble.
Private -thought / July 27, 2013
Dont say BauddhaBabarism and Moda Sinkalayas.I went in my vehicle the following day to Jaela with my wife and another girl to bring an Indian Tailor and his family including young children to safety and providedthem accomodation in part of my house and fed them for a month. I had to drop my wife and the girl at the top of the street and drive on as a crowd was ready to burn a cinema on the opposite side of the road. I came back crossed the road to the wrong side as soon as I saw my wife in the distance and got the whole family on and drove past the crowd which had by now set the cinema ablaze. This was not in a Baauaddha area my dear friend.
On my own street I watched a group of youngsters equipped with swords and knives running away when they saw my vehicle and reporting to a man in the shanty whom I knew as a Malay and a Muslim.
When I was driving with my wife by the side, my car was stopped by a group at Timbirigasyaya not far away from the Narahenpita side and I recognised many people who were former scavenger commmunity of Indian origin from the Melwatta slums among them. I knew them because they were employed as temporary day labourers for concreting my house.
I am not saying this to disparage any particular religion or group but to show that all the thugs and criminal elements had joined in the fray. Do not get swayed by one sided analysis.
Ellison / July 31, 2013
I’m a Sinhala Buddhist who helped 2 of my Tamil Colleagues’ families, even after they fled to England & Canada, subsequently.
‘Peace Lover’; You’ve done a Great Job to Keep Our ‘Name’ Clean.
I hate the LTTE and Sinhala chauvinism, alike. We all Sri Lankans are Equal.
Kumar Sriskanda / July 27, 2013
Good article. I did not know that C. Kumarasuriyar had worse experience than me. This is new to me.
So did JRJ think that India intervened to attack Tamils in Colombo? I do not get it.
BEN CASSIM / July 27, 2013
What do you expect from the man who was the mastermind of this cruelty , now Ranil is trying hard to play JR, dreaming he will be the next JR…
UNP need to go… completely out, now there are more to cross over , then Ranil can shift to The UNP HQ permanently , residence cum office …
,Hon.Sajith must Join the government too, and the rest of The Muslim MPs like Hon.Kabir Hashim , what a waste of a wonderful man , truly a gentleman & I honestly believe Mr.Azad Sally should put his difference with The President aside and he should rejoin the government , it was such a waste , the Muslims did not even care about him, it was mostly the Sinhala community who spoke on his behalf, some Muslims even tried to get a handful of few muslims into trouble because they were appealing for his release…
Ranjan / July 28, 2013
I would like to urge the writer to investigate and write about the fate of all those people who were involved in this heinous crime, Also their descendants. There will be a good lesson for the future of our nation.
Raj Sinna / July 30, 2013
Thank you very much to bring this detail information to public.
I am sure our present young generation will understand the mistakes done by earlier governments to thamil minorities, will try to build up a unified Sri Lanka.
david strange / August 3, 2013
JR WILL BE REMEMBERED AS THE ‘SLY FOX NOT FLYING FOX’— MAY HE ATTAIN NIBBANA IN THE NEXT LIFE AS A TAMIL.
iT WAS THE MESS OF POLITICS THAT THE PRESENT GOVERNMENT HAD TO CLEAR UP.i AM NOT A SINHALESE OR A TAMIL AND I FEEL SORRY FOR THE INNOCENT PEOPLE ON BOTH SIDES WHO HAVE HAD TO SUFFER BECAUSE OF POLITICS.
Priya / September 23, 2013
I am Sinhalese and saw these events as a young school boy.I saw an organised mob burning a house in ward place when the occupants were inside.Few hundred metres away there were armed soldiers who did nothing to stop that crime.I was really shocked as a youngster but was quite angry of the killing of 13 soldiers at the same time.This was a historical mistake of our country and that paved the way for a powerful separatist movement which made this hitherto peaceful country a place of bloodbath for many decades.We should never make these historical mistakes again.We should all together build a country where we all can live with peace and dignity.