30 May, 2024


Black July: The JSS Goon Squad Regime

By Rajan Hoole –

Sri Lanka’s Black July – Part 23

Rajan Hoole

We now come to a powerful reason for more or less the entire UNP being involved or lending complicity to the planning and execution of the pogrom of July 1983. To begin we describe the very powerful machinery for intimidation and thuggery maintained by the ruling UNP. What follows is a summary of the document prepared by Mr. Wimal Fernando of the Movement for the Defence of Democratic Rights during the July 1983 holocaust. The document titled ‘The Campaign of Intimidation and Thuggery’ is based on information collected during the presidential election, the referendum of late 1982 and the equally violent bye-elections of 18th May 1983, two months before the July violence.

The document shows how thugs were brought into the party and given nominations, particularly in areas where the UNP felt insecure. A mixture of intimidation and thuggery and a shameless use of state patronage were used to browbeat the opposition. The bye-election in Mahara, in the Gampaha District, held on 18th May 1983, is described by Fernando as a ‘veritable war’. It was contested on behalf of the SLFP by Mrs. Bandaranaike’s son-in-law Vijaya Kumaratunge. Jayewardene wanted the election won somehow or the other and nominated Kamal Jayakody for his ‘prowess at thuggery’. A supporter of Kumaratunge’s was shot dead while talking to him and even the Police were made to arrest several of Kumaratunge’s polling agents. He lost by 45 votes.

A timber dealer Vincent Perera was nominated by the UNP in 1977 to what was for 30 years the safe seat of the late Left leader Dr. N.M. Perera. As MP, Vincent Perera’s illicit timber felling became public and notorious. A measure of his effectiveness is that this electorate of Yatiyantota gave the Government the biggest majority for the Referendum in the Kegalle District.

The summary which follows will concentrate on the environs of Colombo and it can be readily checked that the document is quite descriptive of where the goon squads for the July 1983 violence came from:

Campaign of Intimidation

The campaign of intimidation of the opposition and the ordinary people which was systematically carried out and maintained throughout the UNP reign, has two tiers:

1. By using the legal means of the Police, Army and the Law (Emergency Regulations, Security Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act are outstanding examples).

2. By using extra-legal intimidation groups such as thugs. These groups are organised,

a. In general under the MPs in their electorates specially as youth organisations or selected members of their party organisations. Almost all the MPs have them.

b. In their trade union organisation the J.S.S. which has branches for the various sectors:

eg. Jathika Bank Service Union (J.B.S.S.), Jathika Educational Service Union (J.E.S.S.), Jathika Transport Service Union (J.T.S.S.), which together form the J.S.S. Their head office is the party head office at Kollupitiya: Sri Kotha. The president of the J.S.S. was formerly J.R. Jayewardene and now [in 1983] Cyril Mathew is president.

The groups operate at two levels:

1. At their various work sites and ministries, mostly directed against their co-workers who are of the opposition trade union.

2. As squads of thugs used as commandos to attack various protest actions. Usually they appear suddenly, attack with bicycle chains, iron rods and once or twice with knives or bombs, and disappear as quickly. They use mostly government vehicles: e.g. buses of the Ceylon Transport Board, vehicles belonging to corporations. Police in those cases usually do not interfere if present or conveniently appear after the incident. Nobody has ever been prosecuted yet. Those thugs usually do not work at their work site, but enjoy enormous privileges (they sometimes challenge authorities of the various concerns such as corporations & ministries).

Also outside the J.S.S. there are other squads of thugs, who are otherwise employed like the municipal workers of Colombo (C.M.C.), rickshaw-drivers or common thugs whose major occupation is to live on kappan (protection money) organised under politicians.

One of the election promises of the UNP in their election campaign in 1977 was that they will send the Police and the Armed Forces on leave for 7 days after the elections, and allow the people to take their revenge on all the politicians of the then governing party, corrupt officials etc. It had a certain public appeal because of the deep hatred that people felt towards the repression, corrupt practices, nepotism and injustices of the regime of the 70- 77 years. This promise was kept to a certain extent by J.R. Jayewardene. The Police was not actually sent on leave. But the widespread and extended attacks on the opposition after the 1977 elections were not stopped or checked for more than a week. But when it extended to attacks on Tamil estate labour, the Police intervened on orders from the Government. [Our note: This is a widely accepted, but simplistic reading of the 1977 violence – see Sect. 2.6-2.8.] This pattern was carried out throughout its rule with various alterations to suit the needs of time, place and ability. We now take a brief look at the deployment of goons in places in and around Colombo, which are relevant to the July 1983 violence.


R. Premadasa, Prime Minister, Minister for Housing and Local Government

Sirisena Cooray, Mayor of Colombo

M.H. Mohamed, M.P for Borella, Minister of Transport

Mallimaratchi, M.P. for Kolonnawa, District Minister, Colombo

Anura Bastian, M.P. for Colombo South, Deputy Minister

Premadasa himself does not participate. It is well-known that he has more or less organised the whole of the lumpen element in the Pettah and the surrounding areas, especially his native place Kehelwatha (Plantation Estate). Most of the pavement hawkers, small time boutique keepers especially in the Central Bus Stand and the rows of shops alongside the pavements are well- organised and even pay into his electoral fund monthly. Aloysious Mudalali, a small time boutique keeper in former days, but now a big time gambling house operator as well as businessman leads them. Sirsena Cooray’s thugs are mostly given jobs as municipal workers, and are on call for Premadasa. M.H. Mohamed has his gangs especially for Borella, but also in the CTB (Ceylon Transport Board). These thugs had a struggle with the Chairman of the CTB, Mr. Gamini Wijesekera, over discipline. The Chairman resigned because the thugs were backed by the Minister and the Deputy Chairman, Mr. Bawa. It is said that Mr. Mohammed’s son owns more than 30 private vans operating and competing with CTB buses, especially on the route from Borella to Fort. Mallimaratchi himself has his own gang from Kolonnawa. He was very active during the Referendum. Anura Bastian, a favourite of J.R.’s, went around visiting the polling stations in the Colombo South electorate during the (1982) Referendum with a pistol in his hand. He even threatened Mr. Nadesan, the well- known lawyer. He got a promotion as a Deputy Minister soon after the Referendum.


Cyril Mathew,M.P. for Kelaniya, Minister for Industries & Scientific Affairs.

Ranil Wickremasinghe, M.P for Biyagama, Minster of Education & Youth Affairs.

Kamal Jayakody, New M.P for Mahara

John Amaratunga, M.P. for Wattala.

Michael Joseph, M.P. for Ja-ela, Deputy Minster for Labour.

Cyril Mathew is well-known as a very hard man and is the most outspoken and virulent racist against the Tamils. Even J.R. called him the exhaust pipe of his party. He does not himself participate. He has his gang at Keleniya and he also commands the permanent squads of thugs of the J.S.S., who usually operate either from their work places or from ‘Sri Kotha’, the headquarters of the UNP. During university students strikes, some students were abducted, taken to ‘Sri Kotha’, kept there for more than a day, threatened with death, assaulted and later released. No action was ever taken. Ranil Wickremasinghe is also an outstanding supporter of thugs. During the Referendum, he himself participated. There was evidence against him that he went around intimidating and assaulting people. During the bye-elections also he was also active. One member of the SLFP group was shot dead. The leader of his thugs is Gonewela Sunil. Ranil is a relative of J.R..


Gamini Lokuge:New (’83) MP for Kesbewa

Paul Perera: New (’83) MP for Kaduwela

Gamini is a businessman of shady character, a supporter of the UNP, and a well-known thug even before he became an MP. He conducted a campaign of intimidation during the bye- elections and organised impersonations on a massive scale. Nine buses from Kesbewa depot and thugs from the Ceramic Corporation were used. They went from one polling station to the other casting the votes of mainly those who were in the Middle East (7000 in Kesbewa it is said). The polling agents were either scared, somewhere else or intimidated into silence. Paul Perera, chairman of the GCEC (i.e. Greater Colombo Economic Corporation, whose earlier chairman was the late Upali Wijawardene), and the main organiser of Gampaha District and Athanagala, conducted a well planned campaign of terror during the presidential election and the referendum. He was given free reign, since the SP was Udugampola ‘of Pavidi Handa fame’. The president himself backs this man. The situation was so bad, that Sirima withdrew all her polling agents at the referendum. The terror campaign of the Mahara bye-election was masterminded by him.

Corporations – Semi – government concerns under Ministers

Ceylon Transport Board

CTB Depot, Kesbewa: Nine buses and J.S.S.- members working here were used to vote during the bye-election. They were also used on various other occasions. They are members of the permanent goon squads.

CTB Depot, Ratmalana is considered the head office of the goon squads used against protests. They were directed against the pickets protesting against the White Paper on Industrial Relations. They threatened the lawyers of Mount Lavinia Court when they picketed.

CTB Mattakuliya: Buses from this depot were used in the intimidation of Supreme Court Judges (i.e. 11.6.1983). The logbook was stolen. The serial numbers of the buses were changed. Members of the regular goon squads also come from here.

CTB Thalangama: Supplying goons for various attacks.

CTB Maharagama: Goons from this depot came in buses belonging to this depot and attacked lady-teacher trainees of Maharagama G.T.C..

Ceylon Ceramic Corporation, Piliyandala

Srinal de Mel, the secretary of the J.S.S., comes from this place. This is one of the worst places with regard to the supplying of goons. They were extensively used during the 1982 Referendum and the bye-election for Kesbewa (18.5.83).

Also recorded in the document of Wimal Fernando are the National Savings Bank Head Office in the Fort and the Petroleum Corporation Head Office in Colpetty.

To be continued..

Part one – Sri Lanka’s Black July: Borella, 24th Evening

Part two – Sri Lanka’s Black July: What Really Happened At Kanatte?

Part three – Black July: ‘Api Suddha Kara’ – JR’s Failure To Declare Curfew

Part four – Sri Lanka’s Black July: The Cover Up

Part five –  30th July 1983: The Second Naxalite Plot

Part six  – Black July: The Testimony Of Lionel Bopage, Then General Secretary Of The JVP

Part seven – Black July: Thondaman & Muttetuwegama

Part eight – What Was Behind Tiger Friday – 29th July? -The Significance Of The Pettah

Part nine – Tamil Merchants In The Pettah – Post July 1983

Part ten –  Sri Lanka’s Black July: A Family’s Tragedy In Colombo

Part eleven –  Sri Lanka’s Black July: The Question Of Numbers

Part twelve –  Welikade Prison Massacres: The First Massacre: 25th July 1983

Part thirteen –  Welikade Prison Massacres: Testimonies Given At The Magistrate’s Inquest

Part fourteen –  Circumstances Leading To The Magistrate’s Inquest

Part fifteen – Welikade Prison: The Second Massacre: 27th July 1983

Part sixteen – Welikade Prison Massacres: Chief Jailor Observed Army Commandos Coming In

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 – Events Of 24th July – The Eve Of The Holocaust: Who Wanted A Military Funeral?

Part twenty one –  Events Of 24th July: What Were The Army’s Orders?

Part twenty two – Black July: Further Evidence Of Advance Planning

*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..

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  • 0

    Don’t you have anything else to publish? why don’t you publish the atrocities carried out by tamils and muslims against sinhalese? CT is clearly one-sided

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