By Rajan Hoole –
Sri Lanka’s Black July – Part 36
In discussing the violence of July 1983, we have adduced four different kinds of testi- mony. The first kind are testimonies consis-tent with the violence having been planned by the Government, but do not imply it, however tantalisingly close to doing so they may seem. That concerning Gunawanse’s role is of this kind. So are Jayewardene’s attitudes to declaring cur- few, the Government’s inaction regarding stop- ping the violence, Jayewardene’s call to the Sin- halese to lay down their arms and so on. Also in this category are the statements of Anandatissa de Alwis.
A second kind points to Government com- plicity in the violence once it started. Testimony of this kind is damagingly plentiful.
A third kind of testimony tells us that the Government was driving towards a violent blow up. A number of statements and actions in the run up to the July violence indicate that the Government’s thinking on the Tamil problem was to place the Law in abeyance and teach the Tamils a lesson. The attack on students at Peradeniya University and Jayewardene’s Daily Telegraph interview belong to this category. It was also the thinking behind the violence of 1977, 1981 and the arson in Jaffna during the 1981 DDC elections. The evidence here is very strong, but it does not imply any systematic organisation.
The fourth kind points to definite evidence of planning. The instances are few but crucial. One is the mobs in Colombo on the 25th going street by street not just with electoral lists, but also processed and assigned lists, certainly pre- pared well in advance by JSS agents in the pro- fessional sectors – e.g. the media. Another is the arrangement of transport and assignment of mobs to other areas where they could not be identified. Then we have important ministers around Colombo – e.g. Lalith Athulathmudali, Mrs. Sunethra Ranasinghe and Ranil Wickremasinghe – not being available to their constituents and perhaps looking over things elsewhere during the violence, and then offer- ing the same truthful but ridiculous excuse that miscreants from elsewhere had invaded their electorate. Such actions did not come from a few hours of planning or from a spontaneous tele- pathic resonance among UNP members. Note also the uniformity of the initial attacks in widely separated areas.
A further important instance of advance planning is to do with the Welikade prison mas- sacres. In the first attack there were on the one hand brutal and merciless attacks on Tamil pris- oners, and on the other, a careful handling, with- out causing hurt to the two senior prison offi- cials who intervened. Elements had been picked in advance and instructed on keeping certain things under control. Further, there is the defi- nite involvement and the key role of Jailor Rogers Jayasekere.
He was a careful and cautious behind-the- scenes operator. He was not a hot-head, but was extremely discreet and careful never to be caught in the wrong. He was far from being the type to organise a mob at short notice through instiga- tion and expose himself. The Tamil PTA detain- ees who shared the Chapel Section with more than 800 others were totally in the dark about what was coming. Rogers Jayasekere’s close in- volvement with the UNP in Jayewardene’s former electorate of Kelaniya is well-known.
Less known is his discreet involvement in pick- ing prisoners for settlement in Manal Aru (Weli- Oya) where we have good reason to believe that Ravi Jayewardene was a key player (see Sect. 20.5). The close UNP involvement in the prison massacres is also suggested by Athulathmudali’s and Wickremasinghe’s negative attitude to se- curing the safety of the survivors, after the first massacre.
Another indication – though not proof – of planning, is the strange reasoning of some min- isters (e.g. Athulathmudali, Mathew and a strong hint of it in Wickremasinghe) after the violence, that unfair commercial advantages possessed by Tamils had been neutralised. Here they were recommending themselves to a par- ticular constituency as having achieved some- thing on behalf of the Sinhalese – they were quite happy to hint that they were behind it. One may note here the closeness of the UNP to Sinhalese mercantile interests who opined (or were en- raged) that the SLFP’s nationalisation policies had favoured their Tamil competitors. Similar kind of thinking lay behind the planned attack on Tamil students at Peradeniya 70 days earlier (see Sect. 4.7), with a close similarity in the modus operandi. The planned attack on Gandhiyam which matured over several months, plans to extend PTA provisions to cover Tamils of plantation origin who had settled in the North-East and forced deportations of the latter from Trincomalee a day before the July violence (Sect. 5.6), fall into the same kind of thinking.
What then is the significance behind violence that was planned as opposed to unplanned? The difference arises from the corporate character of the post 1977 state. The possibility of planning such violence came with the Government’s far- reaching control over the judiciary and the law enforcement machinery – the Police and Army – to a degree that was unprecedented. If one feels uneasy with the idea of the Government plan- ning communal attacks, one only needs to look back at the 1982 Referendum: On 28.10.82 Ranil Wickremasinghe spoke of an opposition con- spiracy in Parliament. The same day Jayewardene obtained undated resignation let-ters from UNP MPs. In early November, Jayewardene announced the ‘Naxalite Plot’ and the 4th Amendment to skirt parliamentary elec- tions, and about the same time sealed Aththa (The Truth) – the only opposition Sinhalese daily. He then crippled the opposition by placing nearly all the active SLFP campaigners under detention.
All this was accomplished under emer- gency regulations through having pliant se- curity commanders in place. Further aid came from organised goon squads. The main out- lines of the drama had been planned in ad- vance. The repressive laws had also been put in place with such contingencies in mind. What happened in July 1983 was an extension of the same idea used in dealing with the op- position. No earlier executive head had the ability to use the state machinery in such a planned obnoxious manner.
A further point to note is that we have in- quired into the July 1983 violence independently of the violence of August 1977 (see Sect.2.6-2.8). The same cabinet, with minor changes, had pre- sided over both. Putting the two together gives us a clear picture of the motivations for both. The clearest evidence of the instrumentality of the new UNP regime emerged in the Sansoni Commission proceedings. This was, however, obscured in the final report. With the July 1983 violence, many of the Tamils who were active in the Sansoni Commission were silenced and much documentation was destroyed. Conse- quently, civil society organisations in Colombo, which issued statements after the July 1983 vio- lence, in the main, exonerated the Government (see next chapter).
We might say in conclusion that pogroms, as a means of dealing with the Tamils, had been a permanent fixture in the mindset of the UNP rulers and of their ideological base. In August 1977, the government was new and they relied mainly on commissars in the Police, who had placed themselves at the disposal of the new rulers. In July 1983, however, the UNP had its own machinery in place and the commissars played it more discreetly.
To be continued..
Part four – Sri Lanka’s Black July: The Cover Up
Part five – 30th July 1983: The Second Naxalite Plot
Part seven – Black July: Thondaman & Muttetuwegama
Part nine – Tamil Merchants In The Pettah – Post July 1983
Part eleven – Sri Lanka’s Black July: The Question Of Numbers
Part fourteen – Circumstances Leading To The Magistrate’s Inquest
Part fifteen – Welikade Prison: The Second Massacre: 27th July 1983
Part seventeen – Welikade Prison Massacres: Postscript
Part eighteen – July 1983: Planned By The State Or Spontaneous Mob Action?
Part nineteen – July 1983: Ranil Wickremasinghe Followed Cyril Mathew
Part twenty one – Events Of 24th July: What Were The Army’s Orders?
Part twenty two – Black July: Further Evidence Of Advance Planning
Part twenty three – Black July: The JSS Goon Squad Regime
Part twenty four – Institutional Implications Of The JSS And Black July
Part twenty seven – Black July: Justice Of Peace Gonawela Sunil And The Killings In Prison
Part twenty eight – Prison Massacre And The Alitalia Hijacker Sepala Ekanayake
Part twenty nine – Black July: Further Indirect Evidence Of State Involvement
Part thirty – Blak July: Remarks & Testimonies In Retrospect
Part thirty one – Black July: Some Missing Threads
Part thirty two – Black July: Alle Gunawanse – A Missing Link?
Part thirty three – Black July: Relation Of Events At Kanatte And The Tiger Friday
Part thirty four – Black July: JR Confers With Alle Gunawanse And The Search For A Scapegoat
Part thirty five – Black July: Indira Gandhi, Gunawanse And The Left
*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To be continued..