27 May, 2019

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

By Rajan Hoole 

Rajan Hoole

As indicated above, there are different versions and impressions about what happened at Kanatte on the 24th evening. We give below crucial pieces of testimony, which help to fill some glaring gaps. The first is an eyewitness account by a responsible member of the Ceylon Mercantile Union and is extracted from a statement issued by the General Secretary, dated 23rd August 1983:

“According to our member’s statement, he had first gone to the funeral parlour of A.F. Raymond & Co. near Kanatte cemetery, in the afternoon of Sunday, the 24th July, on a message given to him by the Police, as he was a close relative of one of the soldiers killed in Jaffna the previous night. The relative had been informed by the Police at about noon on Sunday that they could take the dead soldier’s body for removal to their home town. Later that evening, they and the relatives of other soldiers who had been killed in Jaffna who had assembled there were informed that all the bodies would be brought for burial at Kanatte that evening.

“They went to the cemetery, accordingly, and a huge crowd had assembled there. While they were waiting for the bodies to be brought for several hours, the relatives of the dead soldiers had objected to the bodies being buried at Kanatte. A clash with the Police in the cemetery had taken place when the graves were being closed by many of those who had objected to the burial at Kanatte.

“Later that night, a high official of the Ministry of Defence (said to be General Attygalle) had announced that the relatives would be allowed to take the bodies from Army Headquarters to their respective home towns or villages. Our member had been taken to Army Headquarters thereafter in an Army truck with other relatives. They had removed the body of their dead relative in the early hours of Monday (25th July) for burial in their hometown.

“Our member stated that he had come to know that attacks had taken place on Tamil owned shops at Borella, and other places on Sunday night, only after he had gone to the Army Headquarters around midnight. Before that he had heard hooting from the direction of the Borella junction when he was on his way to the Army Headquarters. He was positive that at no time, throughout the period of about 8 hours that he had been near or inside the Kanatte cemetery, had he heard or noticed anything amongst the people assembled there or amongst the large number of army personnel and police who were there, which indicated that reprisals against Tamil people or their property were being contemplated. The only resentment that had manifested itself at the cemetery was against the contemplated burial of the bodies of the dead soldiers at Kanatte.”

This statement clears up several points. One is that, the mood at Kanatte was, if anything, anti-government. Those living closeby towards Rajagiriya had also testified that the dominant cry they heard was the demand for giving the bodies to the next-of-kin.

Also significant is the hooting from the direction of Borella, supporting some of the testimony we had from others. In Sri Lankan culture, hooting is a phenomenon resulting from the meeting of two groups at cross-purposes. For example, hooting would occur when a group of student demonstrators is confronted by a police barrier. It is also notable that the witness had not come to know of arson at Borella while he was in the area.

This witness had said more that was not in the statement throwing light on who wanted the funeral at Kanatte. The authorities had initially lied to the relatives that the bodies were mutilated beyond recognition. This will be taken up in Chapter 12.

The witness had gone to Raymond’s, bordering the cemetery, to collect the body of his nephew who was a victim of the ambush in Jaffna. It was he who had taken a plank and had pushed ASP Gaffoor. This was the man described as a Troskyite protester in some accounts. The founder-general secretary of his union is Mr. Bala Tampoe, a one time Troskyite (LSSP) parliamentary candidate for Colombo Central, who in 1960 narrowly lost to Premadasa. Another element in the Trotskyite story is featured below.

As to the goings on at Kanatte we received further testimony from student sources who later founded the Independent Students’ Union. On hearing of the funeral, six of the students had gone to Kanatte, intending to start a protest against the Jayewardene Government. Some of these students had split from the Communist Party (Youth Wing) in protest against what they regarded as the inadequate response of the Party when they clashed with the JVP. At Kanatte three of these students made powerful speeches. They told the crowd that the soldiers have come here in coffins, not because of the Tamils, but because of J.R. Jayewardene’s dictatorial government!

The students wanted to lead the crowd to Jayewardene’s residence. As the crowd streamed out of Kanatte, the students thought that they were in control. But when they came out, the students realised that the situation was beyond their control. The students left. One of them went to the Borella bus stand, took a bus and went home to Battaramulla.

We may thus conclude that the attacks on Tamils at Borella came mainly from a source different from the main actors at Kanatte. The next witness is from a leading Left party. He had been out of Colombo on a party matter and returned late on the 24th evening. He went to Dean’s Road, Maradana, and as the situation deteriorated, became worried about some Tamil party colleagues who were then in Colombo. In the night, he went with some Sinhalese colleagues to scout the Maradana area. They witnessed mobs indulging in arson. Then some colleagues drew the attention of the witness to a man who seemed prominent in the crowd. The witness had not known the man earlier, but got to know him subsequently. The man was Sangadasa, a UNP municipal councillor and a close associate of Prime Minister Premadasa. The time was, the witness recalls, a little after midnight. This was the earliest instance in the night of 24th July, where we have received direct testimony of a government mob at work.

*From Chapter 9 of  Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power  – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To be continued tomorrow ..

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

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Latest comments

  • 1
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    What is troubling is the UNP and the SLFP, both democratically elected governments are ready to use the minorities as the sacrificial lamb to prop up yheir troubled governments. This becomes quite easy to achieve when latent racism and chauvinism are not dealt with as in our country. Sometimes it makes one lose all belief in a democracy in a country such as ours.
    Maybe all the minorities should get together with the majority and strengthen Rajapakse’s hand so that he becomes effectively a dictator who doesnt need to fear elections.

  • 0
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    When is this post-mortem going to end Dr hoole?

    OK, ’83 July was a bad episode Dr Hoole, but what caused it?

    You should ask yourself the question as to how the number of casualties of 83 July compres with LTTE Tamil and Sinhala murders of civilians, monks and Jaffna Muslims, not to speak of Buddhist religious monuments including the Dalada Maligawa.

    Why are you keeping on trying to play the victim? Didn’t science teach you to look at facts objectively, no matter how bad they appear from a personal, vested interest vantage point?

    83 July is long gone and there were much worse events between that and 2009. Think again.

    • 1
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      They still talk about the Nazi holocaust 70 years after the event ! There is nothing wrong with that !

      Besides this is NOT Dr. Hoole writing again and again but simply CT republish a book written by (which is not available in print) remember 30 years since those events !

      There are plenty of monuments to the atrocities of the LTTE and “justice” has been given to the LTTE with their total destruction.

    • 0
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      I hope, for all our sakes, you are not REALLY a coroner.
      Fancy listing atrocities that happened AFTER the event you are protesting about what u call a post-mortem on,
      in a response to your own question: what CAUSED the event? !!!!!
      That’s like saying to a corpse just interred in the ground and covered over: Look at all the blades of grass and beautiful flowers that have been smashed up just because u died and had to be buried!

      • 1
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        My analogy re corpse, grass & flowers should b scrubbed. Totally wrong!

  • 0
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    The coroner.
    CT apparently had to get permission to republish Rajan Hoole’s book which was written sometime ago.yes, it does stir uncomfortable memories and some may squirm. But given the recent climate of attacks against Muslims and Christians, perhaps we need to have our eyes re-opened.

    • 1
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      The attack on the Muslims will happen.! When it is convenient for the rajapakses!

  • 0
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    It is not only the gov.goons who attcked Tamils. There were some Tamils from Slave Island who attacked Sea street.I remember like yesterday then our dishwasher from Slave Island came to work after the riots with about ten thick gold chains around his neck. Also they only tageted rich Tamils and not poor from Slave Island or kotahena.

    • 0
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      Still trying to convince yourself that the holocaust of 1983 didnt happen I see.

  • 0
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    Rajan get your pen and paper out to collect evidence in ””2013

  • 0
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    Elle Gunawansa Chandiya, a same like Gnasara Ponnaya now against Muslims and Christians… who started throwing 1st stone to Saivar Kade, started which after they have gone to Army HQ. Sinhalese are jealous of other, but they dont do to come to position like others… Minority is always working hard to earn with pressure as Sinhala Government dont give Jobs, while Majority Sinhala enjoy their good life in good positions, but remain the same economy level, but hard earned Minority comes up in life after sometimes as they work hard…. so this Sinhala fuckers are Envy of them, and then they put this GAYS to have problem. Talk to any Sinhala guys, even top Educated one talks like a cheap Jealousy talk they make. Buddah has said that ” survival of the Fittest” he says ” All are animals and we are lukcy to born as human” this is Satanic word,//

    • 0
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      Rod Atkins, Buddha did not say any of the things you state. When people try to reconcile, racist talk is no help

  • 0
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    I belong a generation of returnees lived through Japanese conquest of Malaysia during the Second World War 1941-45. To this day 73 years later we ex-Malaysians recall war-time experiences, especially the atrocities committed by the Japanese occupation forces especially against the Chinese . Some memories will not go away. The question is what we do with such memories of the past. The Chinese have not forgotten what they underwent under the Japanese in China and South-East Asia. Mainstream Japanese society has lived in a state of denial of atrocities committed and hence the tense relations and disputes in Sino-Japanese relations to this day. On the contrary in Europe after 75 years of war and conflict between France and Germany ending in 1945, the peoples of these countries have restored friendly relations and live in peace. That is because the people of Germany came to terms with the terrible atrocities committed by Hitler’s regime, except for a small lunatic fringe (Nazis). In schools and universities unlike in Japan the history of the war years is taught without bias.

    Memories of 1983 and the whole history of Sinhala-Tamil relations from 1948 will prevail come a hundred years with negative impact on building an integrated society in which justice and peace prevails. This will not happen until we teach the children of today of all communities, history and literature that humanizes, rid of myths and legends, focusing on human security, sovereignty and integrity. If we begin today and educate the children and youth of today for a multi-linguistic and multi-religious society than there is hope for this country some fifteen to twenty years from now. In order to do this the immediate task is to get rid of the thugs and anti-social elements who have taken control of power from Pradeshya Sabhas to Parliament.

    I deliberately do not use the much over used and hackneyed word reconciliation and nation building. The crimes committed in the name of both Sinhalese and Tamil nationalism is so horrifying that we have to find a new terminology in which to carry on the discourse.

    Thanks to Colombo Telegraph for reproducing these excellent records published by Rajan Hoole, who painfully researched and made every effort to be objective in his much acclaimed work “Sri Lanka:The Arrogance of Power” , published in 2001.

    Silan Kadirgamar

    • 0
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      Salute! Your analogy and comparisons are spot on….it’s a shame this country has lost a generation of men who walked the path of righteousness and stood up. Today we are left with a bunch scaly wags and scoundrels who would even sell their own mothers for a buck. Even god cannot help us….god left this place along time ago.

  • 0
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    NAK
    I dont know how old you were in 1983.All tamils were targeted-rich and poor.Your dish-washer, if Tamil, merely took advantage of the situation.

  • 0
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    I accidentally blogged a version of this under the axtract about the Welikade killings.

    Thank you CT for reprinting this extract here from ARROGANCE OF POWER.

    In fact I was going thru it yesterday for extracts from the Kenneth
    de Lanerolle Report on anti Tamil violence at Peradeniya Univ
    in May 1983 as someone “borrowed” the only copy I had access to (a copy obtained for a local HR body with great difficulty years ago, never returning it & I dont know how to contact him.

    IF ANYONE HAS A COPY could they kindly either make me a photocopy or email scan & contact me thru CT who prob have my email from my blogging. I will then work out with the kind provider how to refund costs. The Report will be deposited with the local HR organisation when I have finished with it.

    I absolutely disagree with the “coroner’s” reaction above. Post mortems are held to establish, as far as possible, the TRUTH. In the case of such a horrendous event (for want of a better word), this cannot but be an ongoing process to which many will contribute for a long time to come. And, it seems clear, that we have still not learnt from that awful period. Playing the numbers of X killed more people than Y just shows how far we still have to go. We must not only learn from remembering, whether July ’1983 was the result of spontaneous reactions, or a deadly, cynical plan by govt — sections of it, anyway. And thus whether, if we take right action, we can avoid allowing such tragedies to take place again.

    It was probably a mixture of both, but responsibility for it must fall surely on the shoulders of key Ministers & their leader.

    In fact I wonder whether anyone who was a Minister or MP in that govt, still living, has ever recounted what HE/SHE was engaged in during the days just before Black Monday or the ensuing week. I wonder why a mass of Tamil voters of this country have not demanded that least from politicians who still aspire to rule over them, before being called upon to vote again.

    When I saw the screaming front page newspaper main headline that Monday morning, in given what we had been hearing & seeing in that time, I immediately cried: “There’s going to be TROUBLE today!”
    The Daily News headline seemed to be a clarion call of some kind. Telling anyone who didnt know already, or who was waiting to be told publicly, that SOMETHING had to be done…. And, sure enough, about 10 am all over the place, the mobs “responded” – lists & petrol at hand.

    Thousands of people havent got around to writing their personal experiences of that time.

    Suddenly a memory emerges from those days. An Army Officer (schooldays friend), involved with evacuation of endangered people, came to see us the Tuesday afternoon of the riots.

    He said: ‘If these politicians just let US sit down with “the boys” (even HE used that benign term) we could clear things up with them — but “they” aren’t interested.”’

    Of course, I thought him unrealistic, or maybe he meant the security forces could defuse the current trouble. Together with responses from people like him & many other things we observed, we could not help but believe the “spontaneous” element was but a small part of July small 1983. Mob violence can be contained if reigned in soon enough…if there is a will.

    When we learnt that the funerals were to be held as a massive joint one in Colombo we almost KNEW what would happen…and what it was WISHED in higher levels, WOULD happen. The reponsibility for July 83 was the GOVERMENT’s and that should go down in our history books for future generations to know.

    Another memory surfaces: Some time after our Army friend left, a jeep (army?) came down our road carrying Clerk to the House, Sam Wijesinghe, & a former GA, W J Fernando. And Mr Wijesinghe (I mistakenly wrote Fernando in my first version of this blog–have since checked my diary), I think it was, said a strange thing to someone who stopped the jeep to speak to him. I recorded it in my diary but this is the gist:

    “It is small boys and girls…!”

    He meant: It w\s CHILDREN doing these things, setting fire, intimidating people, looting…. CHILDREN!”

    If just children, couldn’t they have been stopped easily?
    Why did he carry such a message? Or did he mean that even small children were involved. I wonder if he remembers this now? I believe he has a good memory.

  • 0
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    Me too was there. I my self and couple of other friends including a very close Tamil friend, we all went to see the burial. And we were teenagers and always looking for adventure kind of things. Love to throw stones at police. We really enjoyed that. We helped to close the 13 graves which were already dug and ready for burial. An Army officer pulled me by my shirt color and I identified him as Milinda fernando. He was one of my school friend’s cousins. Now he is the CO at kotalawala defense academy. Some one had threw SP gaffor’s cap and it fell near me. And I saw how SP ran for cover when people threw stones at him. All three forces generals were there with their wife’s. The first Tamil property burnt down was the Pushpa Ice Cream van at Senanayake Junction then the “Thosey Kade” opposite Borella Market. Lot more to say…then we came home and protected our friends family and the house which was the only untouched house in our neighborhood.

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