By Rajan Hoole –
Count Down To July 1983 – Part VII
We have confirmation from different sources that it was the UNP that was behind the campus violence. Thulsie Wickremasinghe, the main ringleader, has been identified as a UNP agent. He, it is said, was given good positions later by the Government. Qadri Ismail who was then a student at the University and was later in turn a journalist with the Island and Sunday Times, confirmed that the violence was a UNP affair. He also added, “Strangely enough, it was the JVP that worked hard to get the Tamil students back”. It also signifies a vacuum where the traditional opposition was ineffective. The UNP had created a situation where only the extreme-right or the extreme-left, which was not averse to the former’s methods, could thrive. In the South the vacuum was filled by the JVP from the violent Left. In the North- East it was to be the LTTE representing the extreme Tamil Right.
The ideas that surfaced at Peradeniya in May were those which emerged from the mouths of attackers at the end of July. Those who had destroyed Tamil houses down a road were heard saying, ‘We have cleansed this place!’ It suggests that at least by May 1983, an influential section of the UNP was planning for the big show while also laying down the line for those who still had some sanity left.
It is also worth noting that the attack on the Tamil students at Peradeniya marks a deliberate shift in political violence by the UNP. The document Communal Violence July 1983 put out by the Civil Rights Movement lists previous attacks on university students: – viz. Vidyalankara Campus (March 1978), Katubedda Campus (April 1978), Polgolla Campus (February 1979), Vidyodaya Campus (March 1979), Colombo Campus (March 1980), Kelaniya University (June 1980). (Note that subsequently all these campuses of the former single University of Ceylon, became independent universities; e.g. Vidyalankara Campus became part of Kelaniya University.)
These attacks were concentrated in the 27 months from March 1978 to June 1980. Parallel to this there were several UNP mob attacks against trade unions during this period, culminating in June 1980 when unions preparing for the general strike were attacked. Also in the same month there was a brutal attack on the teachers at Maharagama Training College. The CRM document says on the attacks on students, that thugs were brought from outside and the Police too participated in some of the attacks. Moreover, when the unions were attacked ‘no police protection was afforded to the pickets’.
The attacks here were not communal, and, had the clear purpose of breaking the opposition to the Government’s introduction of an open economy. There were no similar attacks on students for nearly 3 years after June 1980. We may therefore take it that the attack on Tamil students at Peradeniya flowed from a general decision about dealing with the Tamils taken at the highest levels of the UNP hierarchy.
In the next four chapters we will deal with these developments one by one. They are the developments in Trincomalee, the build up of opinion among the Sinhalese where sentiments were becoming violent resulting in the unbridgeable gap between the Sinhalese and Tamils, the assault on legality and a momentum, already observed, to resort to extra-judicial means in dealing with Tamil activists.
Before we proceed, we may observe that there had always been a segment of Sinhalese extremists having in mind communal violence as a means to dealing with the Tamils. The following is an extract from one of the pamphlets sent anonymously through the post, about the period of the 1958 communal violence, to the Government of Ceylon (vide back cover of Tarzie Vitachi’s Emergency ‘58). Its ultimate aim was to have the major cities in the South free of non- Buddhists. It stated:
“Be warned. Death is at your doorstep. Act now and join us in our struggle for freedom from Tamils and other aliens such as the Muslims, Malays, Burghers, etc.., all of whom can go to the Northern and Eastern Provinces if they want to remain in Sri Lanka.”
At that time they were quite happy to concede the North-East as alien territory. In 1983 the UNP was the chief refuge of these tendencies, which Jayewardene encouraged and played with. When in 1980 the TULF was in two minds about accepting District Development Councils, we learn very reliably that Jayewardene applied pressure on them saying that some people in his party were planning communal violence. Such violence did materialise in August 1981 in which Jayewardene himself admitted UNP involvement.
When the DDCs were found to be without any real power, on Gamini Dissanayake’s initiative the Jaffna DDC Chairman, Mr. Nadarajah, was invited to talks at Queen’s House at which Jayewardene and Athulathmudali were also present. Athulathmudali told Nadarajah bluntly that there was no question of devolution. The strategy was to buy him over by offering money for a few projects such as a stadium. Mr. Nadarajah firmly refused. The last such talks took place a week before the July ’83 holocaust. Nadarajah was gunned down by the LTTE in Jaffna in 1988.
*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