By Rajan Hoole –
Sri Lanka’s Black July – Part 18
“Nero’s excesses were overtaken by disaster. Whether it was accidental or caused by the emperor’s criminal act is uncertain – both versions have their supporters. Now started [during the night of 19th July A.D. 64] the most terrible and destructive fire which Rome had ever experienced…The flames could not be prevented from overwhelming the whole of the Palatine, including [Nero’s] palace. Nevertheless, for the relief of the homeless, fugitive masses he threw open the Field of Mars… [He] also constructed emergency accommodation…and the price of corn was cut. Yet these measures for all their popular character, earned no gratitude. For a rumour had spread that, while the city was burning, Nero had gone on his private stage and, comparing modern calamities with ancient, had sung of the destruction of Troy.” – Publius Gaius Tacitus, from Histories
The original claim that the violence was highly planned came from none other than the Minister of State, Mr. Anandatisa
de Alwis, barely 48 hours after the violence had erupted. This was even before other ministers had thought about how they were going to explain this to the outside world. de Alwis addressed the Press after the weekly cabinet meeting on the morning of Wednesday 27th July. Here is what he said from the leading report in the Sun of 28th July, titled, “There is a Pattern in the Havoc”: “The similarity and the modus operandi in the execution of acts of violence shows a well organised and highly planned movement by anti- government forces. These attacks were not confined to a few places but were spread in many parts of the Western Province. There were no injuries to persons in general despite a few deaths resulting from these attacks. Goods were destroyed but there was no looting. The looting was done by the others who came later.” Indeed, violence of this description is none other than highly organised.
The Guardian (London) quoted de Alwis saying: “Some organised force has set this in motion, we have to find out who it is”.
Douglas Liyanage, the Competent Authority in de Alwis’ ministry put the planned nature of the violence even more strongly in a TV broadcast 4 days later on 31st July (CDN 1st August): “It is our belief that the Jaffna incident was only a trigger. This whole business was not planned in 48 hours.” In other words, the killing of 13 soldiers had little to do directly with the violence.
Jayewardene himself gave a very elaborate version of the master plan in his address to the UNP parliamentary group on the 4th August 1983 (CDN 5.8.83). This appeared to be a reversal from his address to the nation a week earlier, calling upon the Sinhalese to lay down their arms. According to Jayewardene, the first attack was to be on Tamil households and means of production owned by Tamils. Special instructions were given to avoid looting. The places and households to be attacked in the first stage were identified previously and given to squads that were going to strike. The households of Tamils were identified from electoral lists and institutions of production owned by Tamils were previously earmarked. Some university lecturers were the local leaders of this strategy. The elements responsible for the implementation of this plan had a dialogue with Northern terrorists and agreed to strike simultaneously.
Jayewardene further added that the island was divided into 3 sections with 500 agents in each section. The group leader’s task was to recruit the best known local thugs in a given locality and large sums of money were to be paid to them.
These claims by the Minister of State, his Secretary (called permanent secretary in former times) and Jayewardene himself give away a good deal. It may be argued that they were laying down this line so as to facilitate shifting the blame for the violence on to the Left. But why? For such a strong charge of elaborate organisation against the Left was easily discredited, and indeed the Police did not find a shred of evidence. Also many, including the IGP, knew that there was no truth in it. Organised communal violence is a very rare phenomenon – Nazi violence against Jews is one of those rare examples. One might for example say that the root cause of violence against Muslims in an Indian town was to do with speeches by Hindu extremist politicians. They already had a following of lumpen elements who would have rushed into violence watched by a lax police force. Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and members of the SLFP were widely blamed for the 1958 violence. But organisation and direct participation were not then suggested, not even by the Federal Party.
Following the 1977 elections, UNP thugs were let loose on the supporters of the defeated SLFP, while the Police and the Magistrates were asked to take a holiday. The election results were also being talked about as a victory for the Tamil separatists, and so the same mobs, in that holiday spirit, were instigated to turn on the Tamils and teach them a lesson. Individuals in the UNP were accused of complicity or inaction, but not then of organisation. Communal violence, however, continued to be used as a threat to deter Tamil separatism.
Thus if the Government wanted to blame the Left for the July 1983 violence, the purpose would have been served by simply saying that the Left wanted to create trouble for the Government and took advantage of the opportunity provided by the funeral of the 13 soldiers. That had a better chance of being believed. But there is no evidence of such an intention on the part of the JVP, which had a good case in court to overturn the Referendum. That would have given them a springboard to attack the Government democratically, which violence would have imperilled.
But de Alwis, Jayewardene and others in the Government spell out in detail a very elaborate plot. Though having a fair resemblance to reality it was an overkill for the purpose of blaming the Left. It would be inexplicable unless one takes it that the Government was conscious that the violence was indeed well organised and looked blatantly so to the causal observer. Moreover, there is little or no evidence of the Government in the first four days discussing how to stop the violence, while it was very much concerned about how to avert Sinhalese discontent from food shortages. The only testimony available to us from the books authored by Ratnatunge and Dissanayaka suggest indirectly that senior government members were talking about whom to blame for the violence and not how to protect the Tamils. According to Ratnatunge, a preoccupation at the first cabinet session on Wednesday (27th) morning was the suggestion to close down the Soviet (Russian) Embassy – the Left again. Following Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s telephone call placing the Government under compulsion to curb the violence, it is notable that the first person Jayewardene talked to was Alle Gunawanse (Sect.12.7) – an extremist rightwing monk accused of compiling hit lists of premises!
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
*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..