26 September, 2018

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Count Down To July 1983

By Rajan Hoole

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Dr. Rajan Hoole

“… In tragic life, God wot,
No villain need be! Passions spin the plot: We are betray’d by what is false within.” – George Meredith, from Modern Love

Stirrings in the Press

From about mid-May, 1983, the time of the bye-elections in the South and local elections in the North – both violent in different ways – there was a steady build up towards a very violent denouement. The more repressive the Government became and the more it detained under the PTA, the greater the vacuum in the North. While the LTTE, which was already established, acted according to a pattern, there were newer groups announcing their existence through acts of anarchy in protest over every provocation by the Government. Developments in Trincomalee formed a key element in the build-up and will be dealt with separately. The Press in Colombo too contributed to this build-up by its one-sided coverage of events, which remains a problem to this day. Yet, up to the eve of the violence there were also some hearteningly objective pieces in the Press. But this almost totally disappeared after the July violence. The seeds of how civil society in the South went into a shell after the violence, could be discerned in the faltering way it was behaving before it.

Black July 83 -  Boralla | Photo - Chandraguptha Amarasingha

Black July 83 – Boralla | Photo – Chandraguptha Amarasingha

During May there were attacks on Tamil students at the University of Peradeniya by fellow Sinhalese students, resulting in an exodus of the former. The Island editorial of 16th May titled ‘Time for some sane thinking’ reflected:

“In the face of growing communal tension and phobias… the country is pitched headlong into a confrontation with ugly truths which are bound to increasingly strain our collective tolerance and patience in the days to come. The days ahead are bound to be pregnant with the possibility of unrest and all sections within the Government and outside should be alert to this… A case in the point is the situation at Peradeniya where the detection of a student allegedly in possession of some subversive leaflets had been converted into an excuse for an attack on Tamil students in general …

“It is important that the offensive against the Northern gun men should not deteriorate into such a charade, for this kind of victimisation is one of the reasons for the bitterness harboured by the Tamil people.”


It was also pointed out that there is nothing very remarkable about the possession of such ‘subversive literature’ as many, especially journalists, got them by post. The talk about ‘subversive literature’ shows how ill-informed the Press was about something that happened 4 days earlier in this country’s premier centre of higher learning. No such literature was found in the University. A first year engineering student editing an innocuous journal was handed over to the Police as a ‘Tiger’ and later exonerated. We will examine the episode in some detail later in this chapter (see 4.7).

Following the Army’s running amok in Kantharmadam, Jaffna, after the local elections on 18th May 1983, the same editorial writer wrote on 25th May:

“While it would be naive to expect the Government to withdraw the Army from the North, the authorities must be careful to see that the Army itself is not guilty of terror against helpless people for sins committed by a minority. In any political solution to the National Question, the Government has to carry the people of the North with it and this cannot be done if they are further alienated.”

The tone of these editorials suggested impending danger, but were not altogether without hope: If the State and the security services maintain discipline, keep a sense of balance and stay above the law, things could be remedied. But two months later, after the worst was over in July, the same writer on the 29th July struck a note of helpless despair:

“There is an incubus of shame which every nation will have to carry on its conscience till the end of history, and what has been happening since Monday will be Sri Lanka’s
till the end of time”.

Much had indeed happened in-between. What had initially occurred in Peradeniya, would have been passed off by many a casual observer as an unplanned outburst. But this was evidently not the opinion of the dons of the University. A crisis meeting of academics of the Arts Faculty was held, presided over by the Dean, Professor Ananda Kulasooriya. It was the dominant feeling that there was a planned attempt by agents to subvert the rationale and identity of the University. A resolution was adopted to have the authorities declare Peradeniya a ‘multi – racial’ university (Island 25.5).

At that time agents, who will be identified later, had blamed Tamil students for the tarring of name boards and the putting up of multi- lingual posters. A don observed that it was unbelievable that Tamil students would have dared to do such things. About that time a senior don in English studies told a visitor that things did not look good as agents had been seen about the place carrying lists of names.

Following the election violence in Jaffna on 18th May, where a soldier was killed and the Army ran amok, there was sporadic violence against Tamils. Three days later, two military policemen boarded the Jaffna train when it stopped at Anuradhapura and attacked Tamil passengers. The Police informed an army officer who took the men into custody. Also a series of anti-Tamil posters came up in Anuradhapura town. Peter Balasuriya reported in the Island that a special police team was trying to track down those responsible. Similar attacks were repeated by ‘unknown persons’ a few days later, while the train was moving in the Anuradhapura area. Rajaguru, DIG, Jaffna, said that no one complained. The people did not expect the Police to pursue these matters and saw little point in complaining. At this point no organisation other than the UNP or having the blessings of the UNP was in a position to do work of this kind. Anuradhapura was also the home of the Rajarata Rifles who were involved in the incident in Jaffna.

The Island also reported (25.5.) that the Government Agent (GA) was to be replaced by three cabinet ministers, including Lalith Athulathmudali, to assume control over administration and security in Jaffna. On 30th May, Sabaratnam Palanivel, a young man driving a van was stopped, dragged into the Valvettithurai army camp, shot dead and his face was run over by a vehicle. Following the violence in Vavuniya involving the killing of two airmen and the burning of shops on 1st June, violence against Tamils erupted in several parts of the South and Trincomalee.

*To be continued..

*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder” published in Jan. 2001. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here

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Latest comments

  • 7
    0

    What has happened has happened.

    Forgiveness is needed, but do not forget and do not live on it for your rest of your lives and pass on to your next generations. History must be analysed to change progress in the right direction to avoid repetition of the past.

    As a Sinhalese, I am sad and pained of what we did to the Tamils. The situation is changing slowly and surely and it is time to grasp the positive progress sensibly without creating another and more of July 1983.

    It may be slow, and issues cannot be changed overnight. It takes long time to change the establishment that thrived for nearly 70 years.

    There are lots of lethal worms there and the miscreants must be silenced by the genuine patriots who subscribe to a just Sri Lanka.

    Let us find unity in diversity. If not possible, unity within internal democratic decentralisation . Diversity embraces power sharing and there is no fear to embrace in this modern world.

    • 1
      8

      Dankotuwe Manike:

      I don’t know who you are. but, don’t think lkke an idiot.

      communal riots have happend every where in the world. One Tamil guy wrote in a blog, he left Sri lanka because of communal riots in 1950s and he landed somewhere in Great Britain to find out on that paricular week every thing that city was not working because of, I think, Catholic and christians were killing one another.

      anyway, July 1983 was what LTTE wanted. They used human psychology and they instigated it. LTTE after that replayed it in Aranthalawa, Kandy Temple, Anuradhapura temple and in many places but they could not duplicate it.

      Becuse, just don’t respod unconciously to half truths of goebble – type propaganda.

      Just try to think.

      • 7
        0

        Dear Jim,

        “July 1983 was what LTTE wanted” says you. Let us therefore be controlled by the LTTE, and not by reason!

      • 7
        0

        [Edited out], are you still in denial of what your hoodlums did to the innocent women, men and children in 1983? You bloody sakili bugger, someone should find you and skin you [Edited out]. You have no regrets for killing innocent helpless people who were murdered in cold blood. This is the only low class language you will understand you gutter rat. Go and sit on a stake and rotate you scoundrel

      • 5
        1

        jim softy dimwit

        A gang which on the left side of the photo trying to break into a shop. Are you the sixth person from the left.

        What did you loot from the shop? Maybe gingelly oil from Jaffna, sack of rice imported from the moon,…. ?

      • 0
        1

        [Edited out]

    • 1
      0

      LTTE were scum, but they fought well. VP had tactical brilliance, too bad for him, he could not outfox modern technology. The killing of Rajiv Gandhi was his biggest mistake; after that point, India could not support an ethnic state under the leadership of LTTE. The 911 attack changed the paradigm on terrorism; the Eelamists could only sway foreign governments so much to condemn Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan Armed forces were always capable, yet until MR arrived, there were organizational and other issues. The strategic alliances formed with India, China, and Russia were important in winning the war, as they provided weapons and intelligence. Unlike CBK, I do not think MR was ever interested in devolution. Rather, his goal was to build up the armed forces and with the alliances in place, deal the decisive blow at the correct time. We finally had a leader as cunning as VP, so it was only a matter of time before the big blow was struck.

  • 2
    0

    Dr. Rajan Hoole

    RE: Count Down To July 1983- Count Down to Sinhala “Buddhist” Kristallnacht, “Crystal Night”

    “The Press in Colombo too contributed to this build-up by its one-sided coverage of events, which remains a problem to this day. Yet, up to the eve of the violence there were also some hearteningly objective pieces in the Press. But this almost totally disappeared after the July violence. The seeds of how civil society in the South went into a shell after the violence, could be discerned in the faltering way it was behaving before it.”

    “A case in the point is the situation at Peradeniya where the detection of a student allegedly in possession of some subversive leaflets had been converted into an excuse for an attack on Tamil students in general …”

    Sinhala “Buddhist” Kristallnacht, “Crystal Night” Against the Tamils for July 1993.

    Sinhala “Buddhism”: Sunday Night Sil,and Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday Night Kills.

    Kristallnacht (German pronunciation: [kʁɪsˈtalnaχt]; English: “Crystal Night”) or Reichskristallnacht [ˌʁaɪçs.kʁɪsˈtalnaχt], also referred to as the Night of Broken Glass, Reichspogromnacht [ˌʁaɪçs.poˈɡʁoːmnaχt] or simply Pogromnacht [poˈɡʁoːmnaχt] ( listen), and Novemberpogrome [noˈfɛmbɐpoɡʁoːmə] ( listen), was a pogrom against Jews throughout Nazi Germany on the 9–10 November 1938, carried out by SA paramilitary forces and German civilians. German authorities looked on without intervening. The name Kristallnacht comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues had their windows smashed.

    Estimates of the number of fatalities caused by the pogrom have varied. Early reporting estimated that 91 Jewish people were murdered during the attacks.Modern analysis of German scholarly sources by historians such as Richard J. Evans puts the number much higher. When deaths from post-arrest maltreatment and subsequent suicides are included, the death toll climbs into the hundreds. Additionally, 30,000 were arrested and incarcerated in Nazi concentration camps.

    Jewish homes, hospitals, and schools were ransacked, as the attackers demolished buildings with sledgehammers. Over 1,000 synagogues were burned (95 in Vienna alone) and over 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed or damaged. Martin Gilbert writes that no event in the history of German Jews between 1933 and 1945 was so widely reported as it was happening, and the accounts from the foreign journalists working in Germany sent shock waves around the world. The Times wrote at the time: “No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenseless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday.”

    The pretext for the attacks was the assassination of the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan, a German-born Polish Jew living in Paris. Kristallnacht was followed by additional economic and political persecution of Jews, and is viewed by historians as part of Nazi Germany’s broader racial policy, and the beginning of the Final Solution and The Holocaust.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kristallnacht

    • 1
      4

      Amarasiri:

      “Additionally, 30,000 were arrested and incarcerated in Nazi concentration camps.”

      This is an important point. Extensive use was made of state resources by the Nazis to exterminate the Jews via an elaborate process of dehumanization. This included disenfranchisement (citizenship and job rights), identification (yellow stars), euthanasia, forced ghettos, labor camps, and finally, gas chambers. With the exception of the Army in the North and East, state resources were not used by the Sri Lankan Government to attack the Tamils. As outlined in the “Final Solution” it was the goal of the Third Reich to eliminate all Jews, so as to ensure the “racial purity” outlined in the Nuremberg Laws. Only after Tamil militancy reached a saturation point did attacks on Tamils begin in earnest. In the final analysis, German antisemitism was unprovoked, whereas Sinhalese nationalism was reactionary in nature. Simply comparing “Kristallnacht” to “Black July” distorts the larger picture.

  • 6
    0

    I was a resident in Colombo at that time and an eye witness to the 1983 July riots unleashed on lives and properties of Tamils. After the local government elections were concluded in May 1983, JRJ publicly announced that he is going to roll up the electoral map. Incidents of violence had started in Trincolmalee, Kurunegala and Ratmalana. Good Sinhala friends had warned us of an impending riot. Tamils at that time met Mr. Amirthalingam and told him to take it up in Parliament and try to diffuse the situation. Amir told them that JR is a good man and will not allow it to happen and forgot about it. For this lapse Tamils should not forgive Amir, who is well known for his arrogance. I thought like in previous riots, Colombo will not be affected due to the pressence of foreigners. But things went out of control and the whole world witnessed the carnage committed by Sinhala zealots.

  • 2
    3

    There will never be another race riot in Sri Lanka. Keep in mind, many other countries have also seen race riots. For example, Singapore, England, France, and of course India. We are not the Middle East, where extreme violence is endemic to the culture.

  • 7
    0

    For all its faults, I wish we’d have had the Internet in 83. Perhaps then the people would have found out about the unjust violence perpetrated by the SL Army and by the LTTE on innocent people.

    Such knowledge would have prevented mass support for both of these groups of thugs, and prevented the calamity that befell us.

    • 7
      0

      sinhalese buddhist – hats off to you buddy. I respect your comment about both. LTTE was created to defend the Tamils, but it turned on the very same people it was created to protect. Thank God, one is gone but we need to work on the other to keep the leash tight.

      • 2
        0

        Tamil from the north

        “sinhalese buddhist – hats off to you buddy. I respect your comment about both. LTTE was created to defend the Tamils, but it turned on the very same people it was created to protect”

        AND,

        Ethnically cleansed Tamil Speaking Muslims from the North after several massacres.

        Forgotten People – The Evicted and Displaced North Muslims of Sri Lanka (English)

        Published on Jun 1, 2013
        The Evicted and Displaced North Muslims of Sri Lanka. The expulsion of the Muslims and other nations from the Northern province was an act of ethnic cleansing carried out by the Tamil militant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) organization in October 1990. In order to achieve their goal of creating a mono ethnic Tamil state in the North Sri Lanka, the LTTE forcibly expelled the 72,000 strong Muslim population from the Northern Province.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9JV60McNQ9o

        • 1
          0

          Amarasiri, this beautiful country was marred by hatred from all sides of the divide. That is the very reason I said, one evil (LTTE) has been wiped out and one to be put on a tight leash. The northern Muslims still cannot claim their lands and businesses back as this country has not yet matured. Idiots on all sides are still talking about the vanquished LTTE/SL military and Tamil Ealam. Idiots still don’t understand this nonsense is over and they need to move on. The Muslims should go back and claim their land back, the many Sinhala bakers who baked bread there should also go back and take their businesses back. People need to accept one another. Tamils and Sinhalese invaded this country and took it from the natives, now they are busy arguing about who came first. Who gives a damn, if you go to another land learn to live in peace with the other. I live in beautiful Canada…….we have people from all parts of the world……….we don’t have race riots and killing in the name of religion. We co-exist happily with all. Even the Tamils and Sinhalese most times get along here…….even in marriage. Dirty politicians rig the elections, put poison in people’s heads and watch the fun. Enough of all the nonsense.

  • 2
    0

    In Peradeniya it all began on Wednesday, the 11th of May, around 8.00 p.m. when the little T.V. in the Science Faculty canteen was showing the weekly Tamil film; a 14 T.V. – colour or black and white? I just can’t remember, and I wasn’t there. But by Thursday we all knew the details.

    Carefully planned it was; preceded by the “maduruwa” (mosquito) book illustrating how Tamil medium A. Level Examiners were awarding extra marks. Minister associated with the campaign: Cyril Mathew.

    Having lived through all that, July 1983 didn’t take us by surprise. Some of us may have done what we could to counter the coming violence, and, looking back, we know that it was not something that any one of us could have prevented. But J.R. Jayawardena certainly could have acted in such a way as not to have allowed all that racism to spread.

    Let us put all that behind us; not much purpose disputing what happened. Only, we must make sure that those trying to fan communalism again must be stopped.

    Dear “sinhalese buddhist”, internet instead of T.V.? Would it have made a huge difference? I’m not so sure. It is true that we have the possibility of picking up bits of information, but does that necessarily mean that many have a clear over-view of what is happening the world over? Alas, no! Proof? Donald Trump!

    • 0
      0

      It is a pity that the de Lanerole Report of the Committee/Commission of Enquiry into the May Events was supressed by the government. It named names of people who should have been exposed for their villainy.

    • 1
      0

      I managed to get a copy of the main report but not of the accompanying appendices. about two years ago I contacted the woman (a university administrative office if some kind) who was secretary to the commission to try to get copies of the other documents. She was still upholding the ban on them, unfortunately, which is a greAt pity. I wonder if Rajan Hoole has had access to them?

      • 3
        0

        Manel Fonseka

        Please approach National Archive, which I understand retains all Sri Lankan commission reports.

        The government also refused to publish 3 commissions’ report on disappearance between 1987 and 1989. These three reports were do not contain all deaths/disappearances however 35,000 were identified including perpetrators.

        Nothing happened since. Anuradha Ratwatte prevailed over the commission and CBK. His reason was that there was a war in the North hence publishing the report would upset the armed forces and counter productive.

        Some years ago, Kishali Pinto Jayawardena published a book on (all commissions) the subject, however not in detail.

        • 0
          0

          Thank you for the suggestion, Native Veddah.

          • 2
            0

            Manel Fonseka

            Here is the details of Kishali’s book:

            A Legacy to Remember: Sri Lanka’s Commissions of Inquiry 1963-2002

            A Reference Guide to Commission Reports with a Tabulated List of Recommendations Edited by: Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena

            Rs. 350.00

            Law & Society Trust
            No. 3 Kynsey Terrace
            Colombo 08, Western, Sri Lanka, 00800

            Phones
            Tel: 94 11 2684845 / 94 11 2691228 / 94 11 2684853
            Fax: 94 11 2686843

            Email Addresses lstadmin@sltnet.lk

            http://lawandsocietytrust.org/home.html

            Please read:

            Victims of Disappearances – Still Waiting for Justice in Sri Lanka

            by M.C.M. Iqbal

            M.C.M. Iqbal is a retired senior civil servant of Sri Lanka who had been Secretary to several Presidential Commissions of Inquiry, two of which had been on disappearances of persons. Later he was a Consultant at the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.

            http://www.afad-online.org/voice/
            march2011/nf_victims.htm

          • 1
            0

            Manel

            You can access this from internet:

            STILL SEEKING JUSTICE IN SRI LANKA
            RULE OF LAW, THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
            AND COMMISSIONS OF INQUIRY SINCE 1977
            KISHALI PINTO-JAYAWARDENA
            JANUARY 2010

            http://humanitariansrilanka.org/
            newchapdf/IHR/Sri%20Lanka_final_3.pdf

      • 0
        0

        Manel Fonseka,

        “She was still upholding the ban on them”

        Even the RTI won’t help but might still be worth a try just to see what happens.

      • 1
        0

        Dear Manel Fonseka,

        I read the entire report, with about 4 other undergrads. Took us the whole of one night. At that time I thought that it was one of only two copies spared from the fires – as ordered by then Vice Chancellor, Prof. Leslie Panditharatne, who is still with us, teaching Geography, I should think in that American National College Place.

        If anyone is really interested I’ll find out more accurate details. I vividly remember certain sections of it: Kenneth de Lanerolle’s writing style was rather unconventional for a report; that helped the V.C. get it rejected.

        • 1
          0

          Manel Fonseka,

          What I read through was the entire report, evidence given verbatim, interspersed with Lanerolle’s sometimes corny comments. For example the Chief of Security, one Yoosuf, had said that on the night in question, he saw nothing, heard nothing. Lanerolle wondered why the University “should employ such deaf and dumb people.” See what I mean about style?

          But let me tell you that he had done a thorough job and had correctly identfied the villains. Chief was Thulsi Wickremasinghe. But nobody was punished.

  • 0
    4

    What Jim Softly says is true. The tamil politicians always wanted the riot because that was one way of getting their eelam. This is why Amir did nothing. It is only if they can convince the world that the tamils and sinhalese can never live together that the international community will intervene. After the 1983 riots all sinhalese were considered criminals and when you travel abroad and they see you are a sinhalese and look at you as a criminal. All that is happening now is also leading to such a situation. Vigneswaran talks rubbish in Jaffna and what he says is printed in the newspapers He does not mince his words he asks for separation, what separation in a small country like sri lanka. Already in Jaffna all work is carried on in tamil and if you do not know tamil you can not read any official document. Go to the land registry all entries are in tamil. So I do not know what they are complaining about. The army is necessary because there is a lot of lawlessness among the youth. If you talk about raping that is also being done by the youth. We saw ladies riding their bicyles at 9.30 pm withhout any fear. If the army was a problem could they do it. Even in Colombo we do not do that.

    • 2
      0

      “he asks for separation,”

      don’t use the internet to tell lies.Wignesvaran has only asked for federalism.

      Show us where he has asked for separation?It is jayalalitha who has asked for separation while quietly trying to steal our fish for her malayali businessmen friends exports.we can disregard that womans insincere utterances.

      however when jayalalitha mentioned separation wiggie praised her,so he may be playing a double game.Sumanthiran made the record clear by stating TNA wants devolution,not separation.wiggie is not a seperationist as you claim.

      • 2
        0

        shankar

        How is you poster boy?

        “don’t use the internet to tell lies.Wignesvaran has only asked for federalism.”

        msd is on LSD, long time junkie, hence does not know the difference between separate state and federalism. msd is not alone not knowing the difference between the two.

        Just ignore him.

  • 1
    0

    The tendency to run down tamils – as a minority has not decreased politically.
    The hate speech bill is a forward looking measure, if implemented.

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