21 September, 2023


Blak July: Remarks & Testimonies In Retrospect

By Rajan Hoole –

Rajan Hoole

Sri Lanka’s Black July – Part 30

We have thus found that alternative explanations, which hold the general violence of July 1983, and the prison massacres, to have occurred spontaneously without a core of advance planning, are defective in every respect. As to the planning, we have further the testimony of Tamil UNPer Mr. Ganeshalingam, former Mayor of Colombo. The following is an extract from Victor Ivan’s article, “The best laid plans of government men…” in the Counterpoint of July 1993:

“The next question I put to him was whether Mr. Cyril Mathew had no connection with the incidents of July 1983.

His reply was that not only Cyril Mathew but all the main leaders of the Government at the time had a hand in it and that those incidents were planned and implemented by the Government.

“When I asked him what the Government’s aim was in doing it, he said the Government feared that the anger that was growing among the Sinhala people at that time against the Government might become an anti- Government insurrection, and that it was done to direct the people’s anger away from the Government. The Government did not expect that there could be such far-reaching consequences as have ensued.”

Mr. Hector Abhayavardana, who was then a leading intellectual in the LSSP was very clear that the violence had been well planned in advance. He observed, “This violence involved not only obtaining electoral lists, but also marking out the Tamil homes and assigning them to different squads. All these take time and organisation.” As to which section of the Cabinet was involved, he thought ‘it was the whole lot of them’. He was skeptical about Ronnie de Mel’s attempt to strike a dissenting note.

In opening this chapter we quoted Minister Anandatissa de Alwis’ statement of 27th July that the violence was “well-organised” and “highly planned”, which was backed later by his competent authority Douglas Liyanage in his broadcast statement that “this whole business was not planned in 48 hours”. Some months later, CMU leader Bala Tampoe went to de Alwis’ ministry on some business. The Minister, learning of Tampoe’s presence, summoned him to his office. Tampoe had been LSSP candidate for Colombo Central in 1960. Tampoe referred to de Alwis’ statement cited above and asked him sardonically, “So, were you trying to say that some mysterious external hand was behind the violence?” de Alwis made a momentary grimace with his lips, and after a short silence, observed, “But after that [statement of mine] it stopped no?” In other words, he was staking some credit for reining in the violence.

Indeed one cannot exclude de Alwis from complicity in the violence. He was after all the man in charge of government publicity. He could not have been kept in the dark. He was a senior party man getting on in years and was not in the running for the top job. He had a reputation for being relatively sane in that lot and was not regarded as a notorious goonda agent. Perhaps he realised that things had gone dangerously too far and came out with something close to the truth to rein in his own party men. Fixing the Left as scapegoats was perhaps a subsequent innovation.

Direct testimony of Cabinet involvement in the violence came from an individual very close to them. He had told our informant that before the violence there had been meetings in a closed circle on dealing with the Tamil issue. He added that after he realised what it was, he kept away. On other occasions, however, this individual gave a different version when confronted.

A measured indictment of the Government came in the form of a statement by the Ceylon Workers’ Congress, whose leader Mr. S. Thondaman was in the Cabinet (L. Piyadasa pp. 90-92 & Madras Hindu 13.10.83). It said: “There is substantial evidence to believe that the events of the last week of July are not a sudden and spontaneous outburst….It appears that a concerted attempt has been made by means of a carefully laid out plan over a long period of time to destroy the houses and belongings of persons of Indian origin in the professions and in trade. The objective of this exercise appears to be to deny this community all avenues of progress and condemn them to a permanent state of captive labour.” To our knowledge, the Government did not contest this conclusion, although Gamini Dissanayake gave a long response to another charge in this statement (see Sect.20.4).

A person outside the Cabinet who was by many journalists and political observers of the day identified as part of the ‘core group’ was the firebrand Buddhist monk, the Ven. Alle Gunawanse, who was behind the Bauddha Peramuna. We will examine his role in the next chapter.

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

Part twenty three – Black July: The JSS Goon Squad Regime

Part twenty four – Institutional Implications Of The JSS And Black July

Part twenty five – Black July: Ranil Wickremesinghe, Gonalwela Sunil And The Kelaniya University

Part twenty six – Black July: Army Hathurusinghe Prevented Police From Assisting Prison Victims Under Attack

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

*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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