28 May, 2022


Black July: Ethno-Political Conflict In Sri Lanka

By Imtiyaz Razak and Ben Stavis –

Dr.Imtiyaz Razak

Scholarly works on the Sri Lanka ethnic conflict suggest that communal riots in 1958, 1961, 1974, 1977 and 1983 in which Tamils were killed, maimed, robbed and rendered homeless were carefully designed by the Sinhala elites.This persistent pattern of violence set the stage for violent Tamil retaliation and efforts to secede.

The incident in 1983, known as Black July, is particularly well documented. Approximately two thousand Tamils were killed in July/August 1983 by Sinhalese mobs in an attempt to begin genocide (or at least ethnic cleansing) of the Tamils. Human Right Watch documented the cruelty of the 1983 .“state sponsored.” Sinhalese riots. .“Many neighborhoods were destroyed and nearly 100,000 Tamils in Colombo were displaced. Evidence suggested government collusion in the riots..” Further, an eye witness who rescued a Tamil employee of the state media company-Lake House described the cruelty of the day:

Well organized gangs that had the blessings of powerful Government politicians mainly from the city of Colombo began their orgy of murder, looting and arson in broad daylight while the Police and the Armed Forces appeared to be helpless. I remember taking a vehicle out of Lake House to Wattala, with my colleagues also taking a Tamil accountant at Lake House, Mr. Edward, who also lived in Wattala. Five colleagues and the driver were all Sinhalese and we kept Mr. Edward between us in the middle of the vehicle and at each 100 meters or so gangs armed with clubs, swords and knives stopped each vehicle and inspected them to see whether any passenger or driver was a Tamil. Smoke filled the streets of Colombo and while we were leaving Lake House a flourishing textile shop, Sarathas was being looted while the armed forces and police were turning a blind eye to the crime.

With respect to the state’s role behind the violence, the witness reported:

.…most notable matter that was observed was that the gangs carried official Householders Lists and stopped their vehicles in front of the homes or offices of the Tamil people. If the UNP Government of J. R. Jayewardene had not provided them with those official documents, how could the gangs have had access to them? It meant two things. The Government deliberately delayed the burial of the corpses of the soldiers on July 24 to plan an attack on the Tamil people in Colombo and the suburbs to provide their own goons with documents to make sure that only Tamils were attacked. Any other political party or group could not have managed both these things without State power.

Neither the Sinhala ruling elite nor state institutions openly condemned or took any meaningful immediate measures to prevent the violence against the Tamil civilians from spreading to the other parts of the island from Colombo.28 Instead J.R. Jayewardene, then President of Sri Lanka, referred to the mobs as a “mass movement by the generality of the Sinhalese people.” and praised the mobs as heroes of the Sinhalese people. Jayewardene.’s complicity was reflected in the interview he gave to Ian Ward, a British journalist, prior to the anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983:

I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna (Tamil) people now. Now we cannot think of them. Not about their lives or of their opinion about us. The more you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhala people will be here.… really, if I starve the Tamils, Sinhala people will be happy…

The Sinhalese atrocities against the Tamils continued unabated even after the notorious ethnic violence in 1983. According to Human Rights Watch, after 1983, tens of thousands of people ended their life in prison cell.31 Several studies accuse Sinhala politicians of institutionalized anti-Tamil violence and atrocities.32 S.J. Tambiah reported that the Sinhalese ruling elites hired some Sinhalese to butcher the Tamils.33 The evidence suggests that the Sinhalese who were hired by local Sinhala politicians to kill the Tamils are deprived and they did it for some economic benefits”

The article cane be found here

*A. R. M. Imtiyaz and  Ben Stavis ,Temple University – Journal of Third World Studies, Vol. 25, No. 2, pp. 135-152, Fall 2008

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Imti, Thanks for the article. Brave work for HR activism. Now for the comments you have incurred….

  • 0

    “I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna (Tamil) people now. Now we cannot think of them. Not about their lives or of their opinion about us. The more you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhala people will be here.… really, if I starve the Tamils, Sinhala people will be happy…” – J R Jayewardene

    It was true then, it is true today and would be true in the future. The Story does not end there.

  • 0

    Many talk about 1983 black July. Yes there are many Tamils were killed but many were look after by Sinhalese people. It is not majority common Sinhalese people did. It was done by thugs, thieves actually among them not only Sinhalese but also Muslims. They got benefit for it. The government didn’t get immediate auction.
    Now it is finish. But all they talking about what happened that day. No one talk about what happen after that. The LTTE and other terrorist groups killed thousand of innocent Tamils and Sinhalese. why they didn’t talk about that. Until terrorism was finished by SL Army in 2009. Many innocent people were killed by the LTTE and other Tamil groups. During 30 years. These people who talk about 1983 Black July they want to grow the gap of the Sinhlse and Tamils. They don’t like peaceful environment of Sri Lanka.

  • 0

    I hope we will not go back to that era ever again.

    Looking at the time frames this is the longest ever gap we are having since 1958 without large scale organized communal violence (20 years). This maybe the reason likes of BBS,SR .. were trying hard to incite another blood bath. Seems the section of majority community are blood thirsty or just plainly dumb.

    The majority community has lost human qualities, just look at the daily incidents any small altercation, violence is the method adopted for resolution. In order to change a concentrated effort should come starting from the top. Alcohol consumption/availability should be restricted. Deterioration of human qualities is evident every where, just take for an example where 8th grade boy was made paralyzed by a his class mate due to an argument over religion.

    Even after so much suffering and death for the past 30 years, we are yet to take lessons from our history.

  • 0

    Correction (30 years)

  • 0

    All these Human right business people never mention about how Sinhala People protected Tamils. How Tamil govt agents had got Sinhala Army to shoot and kill sinhala villagers and how they demonstrated their bodies to other sinhala people. How Tamils chased out Sinhala people over the years from the north and made North just monoethnic.

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