3 October, 2023


Violence Against Tamils At Peradeniya University: A Portent?

By Rajan Hoole

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Count Down To July 1983 – Part VI

Before we quit this chapter, we will take a closer look at events in Peradeniya University between 11th May – 10th June 1983. These events have in retrospect an important bearing on the violence of Black July. Their occurrence overlapped with attacks on Tamils in various parts of the country and particularly Trincomalee. The similarity of methods seems more than a co-incidence. We also see how the gullible and those wanting to be heroes on the cheap were readily drawn into a vortex of hate, while those dissenting were most often reduced to silent spectators. We are fortunate in being able to draw upon an excellent report prepared by a committee of inquiry appointed by the Vice Chancellor Prof. B.L. Panditharatne. The members of the Committee were Kenneth M. de Lanerolle, Dorai Calnaido and Mrs. T.K. Ekanayake.

The incidents

On the afternoon of 11th May 1983, by broad daylight in a very public place – the entrance to the University where Galaha Road branches off from the Colombo Road – the Sinhalese lettering on the plaque, with University of Peradeniya written in all three languages, was defaced. Some paint with cement-like substance had been used. The action was undoubtedly witnessed by many, but no one testified as to the actual culprits. Rumours were then spread that the defacement was the work of Tamil students. The report alludes to, and we heard separately, that Tamil nationalist slogans and posters were found in the University and outsiders had come in and made threats that they and their supporters among the students would teach the Tamils a lesson.
That night, some Tamil students were watching a Tamil film in the Science Faculty canteen. At 9.30 P.M. the males among them were dragged out by a group of Sinhalese students led by W.A.D.T. (Thulsie) Wickremasinghe and A. Ekanayake – both of them 4th year science students from Arunachalam Hall. The Tamils were accused of defacing the Sinhalese lettering on the plaque, and were forced to deface with black paint the Tamil lettering on the name boards from Galaha Junction to the Arts Faculty. This was followed by attacks in several student halls of residence.

According to the Report: “Throughout the night of the 11th, gangs of students rampaged along the road and made mayhem in the halls. Yet the Security Service (which believes only in ‘acting on information received’) saw nothing and heard nothing. We are left to wonder why these blind and deaf men remain on the pay-roll of the institution. During this critical period what authority existed within the campus was in eclipse. Not only did the Security Service signally fail in its duty, but wardens and sub-wardens appear to have abdicated their responsibility. Here was a situation which could not be handled by the University’s own structures. Yet were serious attempts made to call in the Police?…. The only happy feature of these disturbances was the kindness shown by several Sinhala students to the victims by warning them of possible attacks, advising them how to avoid them and agreeing to look after their belongings in their absence. One outstanding gesture of compassion was made by a Sinhala boy who had led Mr. Navaratnam away to safety after he had been mauled and abandoned in front of Wijewardene Hall.

The main attacks on students on the 11th night took place at Hilda Obeysekere hall (HOH), James Peiris Hall (JPH) and Marrs Hall (MH). HOH was attacked about 9.45 PM by students armed with staves and parts of furniture. They were from other halls looking for particular students, some of whom were pointed out by fellow Sinhalese students. “….they were aided and abetted by students resident in the hall who pointed out rooms occupied by Tamils and generally helped in the identification of victims. In the process of discovering their suspects, the attackers were not averse, however, to threatening and doing bodily harm to other Tamils interrogated and when they forcibly entered their rooms.

A particular target was a first year engineering student P. Balasooriyan who was editing a Tamil magazine and was accused of being a ‘tiger’. In trying to escape Balasooriyan jumped down a floor and injured himself. He was then identified by two fellow first year engineering students, Shantha Ratnayake and Bandara, and was assaulted by several students including a batch-mate W.M.V. Fernando. He was later found sweating and kneeling on the floor. Amidst the clamour of the mob demanding that ‘Tiger’ Balasooriyan be handed over to the Police, the Warden Dr. K.N.O. Dharmadasa contacted the Vice Chancellor and Balasooriyan was handed over to the Police the next morning. The CID later exonerated Balasooriyan.

The Report adds on this ‘tiger episode’: “The sub-wardens of Hilda Obeysekere Hall do not appear to have correctly assessed the situation on the night of the 11th. Evidence has been placed before us that the assaults and harassment of many Tamils had taken place prior to and concurrently with the very long drawn-out ‘tiger episode’. A prima facie case by appropriate authorities does not appear to have been made against Balasooriyan before taking a very serious step of sending him to the Police…. Dr. Dharmadasa himself admitted that their prime concern was to defuse the situation… Had a less hasty step been taken, regarding Balasooriyan, it would have saved the authorities and his 300 accusers the ignominy of learning (later) that the ‘tiger’ was only an ‘unoffending cat’!

During the incident the Warden had been shown a bag containing some blocks, rubber stamps and a Tamil magazine that were considered proof of Balasooriyan’s involvement with the ‘Tiger Movement’. It turned out that Balasooriyan was openly editing and selling a cultural magazine Pudusu (‘New’) which he had started while at school in Mahajana College, Tellipalai. Much later Balasooriyan joined the NLFT, a small left group started by Viswanandadevan, also a product of the Engineering Faculty, Peradeniya. The NLFT was noted for its pungent criticism of the ultra- nationalism of the Tigers. Balasooriyan later went to Britain. It further highlights the ridiculous nature of the incident at HOH. It was this that led to reports of subversive literature in the Colombo Press. Evidently, in the country’s premier university where about 25% of the students and staff were Tamil speaking, the authorities had no way of verifying the contents and nature of some writing in Tamil!

At Marrs Hall ‘C. Maruthainar was trod on so mercilessly that he defecated, while a Sinhala batch- mate who had helped to identify him averted his eyes’. E. Sritharan who was hiding in the ceiling fell down, suffered four broken ribs, damaged vertebrae and was hospitalised. S. Nagendran was assaulted for the crime of contesting the Medical Students’ Association elections by a group of students led by Dr. S. Gamage, a passed out dentist, staying in the Hall illegally.

Mr. M. Sivasangaram, a lecturer in economics and a cripple, was living in room No.1 on the ground floor of Arunachalam Hall. The ramp which he used to move from one level to another in his wheel chair was taken away by students on the 11th evening. Perturbed by this he left Peradeniya with the bulk of the Tamil students on the 12th. Three members of the staff (K. Selvarajah, instructor in electrical engineering, K. Jayanthakumaran, lecturer in economics and R. Navaratnam, lecturer in geography) stayed behind.

About 9.00 P.M. on the night of the 12th, the three staff members were pulled out, taken to the roundabout near Arunachelam Hall and attacked. The first two managed to escape from them, Jayananthakumaran with a fractured and bleeding nose. Navaratnam was dragged along the road and was injured in his knees and shoulders by being beaten with bamboo poles and a belt. Thulsie Wickremasinghe, the fourth year science student identified earlier, was the man with the belt.

On the 13th the attackers had become bolder. The Teaching Hospital is just outside the University, bordering the Medical Faculty at Galaha Junction. Here it was thought safe for the Tamils to reside outside and attend by day. But the student assailants committed trespass by broad day light to attack Tamils on those premises, even though notices warning students about their conduct had been put up. Two final year medical students, V. Muralitharan and K.R. Saseendran, were caught near the house officers’ quarters, forcibly taken under the railway bridge on Galaha Road and were severely assaulted. The man whipping with the belt was again our hero, Thulsie Wickremasinghe.

The Tamil students later began to come back after the university authorities set a deadline for 31st May for their return. There were then sporadic attacks and attempts at arson in Akbar- Nell and Marrs Halls. Notable however were the very similar masked attacks on Tamil students at Arunachalem Hall and James Peiris Hall on 4th and 5th June respectively.
The Report also observed that this was the first time that the University had been affected by communal tensions from outside.

Salient Features

The Report cites the memorandum of Dr. Premasiri, Director of Student Welfare: (1) the seats of trouble are in the Halls and (2) that there is an anti-Tamil element working insidiously in the University; and adds, “This view is expressed quite independently of him, by us in our Interim Report.” Apart from Dr. Premasiri, the Report names Dr. Ashley Halpe as one of those who provided crucial information for the Inquiry.

Modus Operandi

The modus operandi of the assailants had some striking similarities to the far greater violence of July 1983:

* The start of the violence was a real or contrived provocation. But a plan and preparations were ready in advance.

* Students attacking a particular hall came from outside armed with lists of targetted students. Residents mainly helped in locating the victims.

* Even though the ring leaders were widely known, it took the university authorities four weeks to suspend Wickremasinghe and Ekanayake, and that was after a masked attack on returned Tamil students in Arunachalem, the hall in which the two resided.

The Security Service behaved as though it was what the powers that be wanted and did nothing. The Police were apparently not called on the 11th and 12th May. When a medical professor called the Police on the 13th, the day the Medical Faculty and Teaching Hospital came under attack by broad daylight, the Police apparently told him (p.23 of the Report) that the D.I.G’s authority was needed (even though the Teaching Hospital was outside the University).

The Purpose

(Page 5 of the Report): “The purpose of the campaign was to evict the Tamils from the Campus. In complete defiance of authority and acting with blatant violence, the attackers succeeded in achieving their ends”.

Mixed motives and effects of Propaganda

The Report notes (p.6): “At some points, personal grudges appear to have taken precedence: jealousy at examination performance, some earlier quarrel, an inferiority complex etc.” It says on p31: “Among the remarks hurled by the Sinhala inquisitors at their victims are some which give the impression of an uninformed – even childish – attitudes towards the Tamils of this country;’ Tell Amirthalingam to build you a university in Jaffna!’ ,’ You are tigers!’,’ You belong to the Gandhiyam Movement!’,’ You must learn Sinhala; don’t speak in Tamil or English!’ and so on”.

Refutes Justification for Attack

Some justifications for the attack too have similarities to those given for the July 1983 violence: – viz. provocation by Tamil separatists and the inadequacy of the response from the State.

The Report observes (p.29): “It may be argued that the students who staged this campaign against Tamils were forced to do so because the authorities had done nothing to counter subversion in the University. Not one iota of proof has been produced that the authorities had been apprised of such a situation nor is there any evidence that they had heard such complaints and ignored them.

Background to the attack

One reason why the University had remained insulated from the communal violence outside until 1983 was that the Left was strong in the universities. Even though there had inevitably been a certain amount of communal polarisation, it had been possible to discuss the ethnic issue quite openly without rancour, and many lifelong friendships were made across communal divisions. During the December 1982 Referendum there had been major clashes in the University along UNP and anti-UNP lines. It was a turning point. The UNP Government had secured itself by this stratagem of the Referendum a further six years in office with no effective opposition. In reinforcing its brand of absolutism, the right wing sections in the University received a shot-in-the-arm where they could act with impunity with the forces of the State backing them. This was happening throughout the country. This was the context behind the attacks. The Report gives strong indications of planning behind the attacks:

We have therefore to conclude, that there is no substance in the accusations made by the chief actors in this drama when they confronted the Tamils on the campus, and that the slogans and defacing of the plaque were part of the strategy to implicate the Tamils, and so to precipitate unrest in the University”. (p. 25)

Apart from the nature of the simultaneous attacks on the 11th night, another feature is pointed out in the Report. It says, “We have noted with some misgivings the role of the President of the Peradeniya Students’Union before and after the night of terror (the 11th), his assignment in the halls of residence, (at meetings, which we understood, were unauthorised,) his solicitude for the victims of the campaign [i.e. the suspended perpetrators], and his ubiquitous presence at focal points of the campus during the disturbances.

Tell-tale signs of UNP involvement

Although the Inquiry Report did not comment on this, its own evidence points to UNP involvement. What took place on the 11th, 12th and 13th on the campus was organised criminal assault with intimidation and danger to life, with the authorities unable or unwilling to make any impact on the situation. Yet no attempt appears to have been made to summon the Police (p.7). We may take it that the Vice Chancellor did not call the Police. When the Police were called to intervene by a medical professor, they avoided the issue by bringing in the fictitious need for the DIG’s clearance.

This is extra-ordinary because the Police were involved by the University only to take into custody and interrogate for terrorist links an innocent Tamil victim. On the other hand Thulsie Wickremasinghe was brazenly open in his belt- wielding assaults on three successive days. No attempt was made to check him. The Tamil students who fled were given a deadline to return leaving the belt-swinging-hero free to start the mischief all over again. Wickremasinghe appears to have been extremely confident of the impunity he enjoyed.

Those who have been through Peradeniya over the decades would know one thing for sure. Whenever there was a disturbance within the Campus that the Government considered a challenge to itself, the Police were promptly dispatched with riot gear, virtually to camp inside. The Vice Chancellor had little say in the matter. Why the indifference on the part of the Government and the Police this time? Why the silence of the Vice Chancellor on what action he took regarding summoning the Police to protect the Tamils? Did he try and did someone dissuade him?

The Jayewardene Government was extremely sensitive to what was going on in the universities. In Chapter 11 we will see the alacrity and violence with which the Government interfered in Kelaniya University in 1978 when student elections showed poor support for the Government. Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe intervened personally with a view to influencing the elected representatives. The Government was undoubtedly far more concerned about Peradeniya. The experience at Kelaniya does indicate something about the prominent students going about with impunity causing havoc, while ‘what authority existed within the campus was in eclipse’. The latter was something Jayewardene would hardly have tolerated for three days, leave alone four weeks, unless it was sanctioned by persons having his confidence.

A particular feature of the violence shows through in the 18 students identified by the Committee of Inquiry against whom punishment ranging from 1 year’s suspension to dismissal was recommended. 13 of them were from medicine-related courses (medical – 9, dental – 3, veterinary – 1), 4 from science and an engineering first year. Nearly all of them are from courses to which competition is high with the students tending to have an elitist outlook and being significantly more receptive to ideas of the Right. There was none found guilty from the Humanities. Also in earlier years the Engineering Faculty had far healthier traditions such as welcoming freshers instead of ragging them. We may also note that the Press, which leans towards the UNP, did not touch in any depth the horror of what happened at the University.

It is also of interest to note that there were very senior persons at the University, who were also highly influential in the UNP hierarchy. The vice-chancellor’s brother was N.G.P. Panditharatne, the powerful UNP Secretary General. Also influential with the UNP were Professors K.M. de Silva and G.H. Peiris. K.M. de Silva co-authored a biography of Jayewardene. We have no doubt that Prof. B.L. Panditharatne did not want to go down in history as the vice-chancellor who presided over the ethnic cleansing of the University. Neither would have any of the others relished the distinction of being professors in such an institution. It was perhaps this inhibition that prompted some kind of action. Although there was no public note of indignation against the attackers who were well known to the authorities, restorative measures were put into motion, although they were long delayed and inadequate. We also understand that the Report of the Committee of Inquiry was suppressed, apparently on the grounds that one person in the three-member committee did not sign. Mrs. T.K. Ekanayake, who was then the principal of Girls’ High School, Kandy, resigned from the Committee of Inquiry at the latter stages on 14th November 1983. There is an indication in the Report that her place was taken by Mrs. Chandra Ranaraja at the Vice Chancellor’s request. However, the final report of 6th December 1983 was signed by only two of the three members. They were Kenneth M. de Lanerolle (Chairman) and Dorai Calnaido (Member). As to Jayewardene’s personal interest in universities, we may note that during his presidency, he was also minister of higher education!

*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

  • 17

    Where is this Thulsi Wickremasinghe now? Did he join the military? The police force? Did he help in burning the Jaffna Library?!!Or burning Tamils in Colombo?

  • 6

    Dear Karl,

    This article gives almost all the facts very accurately; I’ve been cogitating on a couple of places where minor corrections may be in order.

    Yes, Thulsi W. was the villain, and Lanerolle was very specific in saying that if, when the report was published, Thulsi had been allowed to sit his final exam, his results should be withheld. Instead, (I think with a Second Lower in Physics) he was made an instructor. Later he served in the same capacity in the Ruhuna University, in Matara. After that, I wouldn’t know; it can’t surely be this quite distinguished man – well not quite distinguished enough for Wikipedia, apparently:


    I didn’t realise that Wikipedia did this sort of thing.

    The excerpts from Lanerolle are sufficient to illustrate the flowery style adopted by the English scholar:


    Now, that’s interesting. Tissa Jayatilleka says that he has a copy of the 1983 report. I read through it all: the personal copy of Dorai Calnaido (who I believe was a Malayalee) which came to me through Rev. Paul Caspersz of MIRJE. Oh, gosh, he’s still with us:


    Anyway, to get back to Lanerolle on Thulsi Wickremasinghe: there’s quite a bit of psycho analysis of the symbiotic relationship between Thulsi W. and Ekanayake in it. If that report is published, it may well sell well, quite readable it was.

    • 7

      While the author of a book strives to be accurate with his facts as the times and circumstance permit, there will invariably be more to be said, and some of it of considerable importance. In Summer 2005 (four years after the book), UTHR(J) had the opportunity of meeting in Toronto Mr. Balasooriyan, and consulting others familiar with events in the mid-1980s. Additional information of considerable interest that also throws further light on the conduct of the university authorities at Peradeniya was published as:

      Supplement to UTHR(J) Special Report No.19: Part II

      University of Peradeniya – May 1983: When Majesty Stoops to Folly

      – The Beginnings of Mass Mobilisation for the Tamil Militancy, 9th September 2005


      • 0

        [Edited out]

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        [Edited out]

    • 2

      For Karl & Sinhala Man:

      SA is correct about the recommenation that Thulsie’s certificate for his final examination should be withheld indefinitely. Here is the relevant extract from the Lanerolle Report:

      “As regards (b) & (c), we accept entirely the evidence of the victim’s who are staff members. Mr Selvarajah recognised Wickremasinghe but had to find out his name later; on the other hand, Mr Navaratnam knew him as a fellow resident at Arunachalam Hall. Their evidence is completely convincing. We recommend that T. Wickremasinghe be expelled from the University [MF asks: Was he?] on the grounds that he has played a leadership role in the disturbances and, on account of his brutal attack on staff, is not a fit person to be in any institution of Higher Education. If he has completed his final examination, his certificate should be “

      • 1

        Dear Manel Fonseka,

        By now I’ve been told many things about you, but I have no contact details for you. May I suggest that you scroll down to the bottom of this article written by me. The last of the 129 comments here is by me and gives my mobile phone number, although I’ve been told that you find it difficult to hear what is said!


        I distinctly remember being present at a lecture by your late husband, Professor Senake Bandaranayake; I think it was at Peradeniya.

        Anyway, if you were to text me your e-mail address we could establish contact. I’m not particularly secretive with my contact details, but scattering them around is not particularly good form, I guess! And looking at the three articles I’ve written this year, you may even decide that I’m not worth knowing!

        • 0

          Sinhala Man

          Oh dear, I do wish you hadn’t ‘exposed’ me by giving my married name. My own is so inconspicuous as to be almost a nom de plume & has always been used for everything always except official documents. And it is something my husband always respected & was happy about — the great feminist that he was.

  • 4

    The Jaffna Library was burnt in 1981.The incidents at the Peradeniya Campus began in May/June 1983.But I am certain of one thing. Thulsie Wickremasinghe must have been encouraged by elements in the highest echelons in the Peradeniya campus set-up.It is not so much as enmity towards Tamil students but to make things really difficult for Tamil Academic staff!
    In all probability,Thulsie Wickremasinghe must have been rewarded by his handlers and who knows,he may be a War hero!

  • 15

    Dr. Rajan Hoole

    when I compare this excerpts from you book and the explanations and justifications given in the article you wrote about how Tamil Students of Yapapatuna university attacked science faculty students, it looks you are highly prejudiced and you write exactly with your Tamilness-mentality.

    Your justifications for what happened in Yapapatuna university is completely and totally tribalist. You favoured what Tamils did.

    with respect to what you explain that what happened in Peradeniya is also tribalist. YOu don’t have any idea (probably) about how they settle problems.

    I have seen in sseveral different times, how they solved the problems and how many times, University students were silent and not taking out side clues to make conflicts inside the university.

    • 4

      Mr. Jim Softly,
      Prejudice that risks causing unfairness to others is something we must all fight against, but too often, alas, fail. The comment facility provided by CT is a good forum for discussion when used responsibly. If you could provide instances of what you allege, then the readers would be the best judges.

    • 4

      jim softy

      “I have seen in sseveral different times”

      What you have seen is NOT university but some MariaKade night school that you attended to learn a little bit of English.

      How come the stupid dimwit jim softy talk about things happening inside universities that he has not even visited in his dreams.

  • 5

    Thulsi Wickremasinghe is a professor now
    The way I remember he just got a normal pass and not second lower.
    Professor S. Sivasegaram wrote about May 11th incident also in

    I was a student at that time and was attacked. My friends were asked to remove all their cloths and attacked in front of the Perdeniya police station on 11th of May 1983. Unfortunately we did not any thing about the inquiry commission and no one asked for mine or many other student’s statements. I have to admit this. Even if someone asked us to give evidence we would have avoided because we had one more year to finish our courses.

    • 3

      Thanks, “PeraOldStudent”,

      I’m pretty sure that you’re right in all your observations.

      I was a guy who was never really under threat; and I knew it. I was a dozen years older than other undergrads, but more than all else, I was a Sinhalese. I can well understand that you wouldn’t have given evidence even if you had known that Lanerolle was going to do a proper job.

      I’d been doing so much denouncing of violence that I was told that I’d better give evidence, even if only to encourage others to come forward. I vouched for no more than I really knew, but I guess it helped a little, to confirm that there had been a lot of planning by the perpetrators.

      Yes, Thulsi probably got only a pass degree. I had seen those New Jersey Professor photographs, but couldn’t believe he’d gone so far. In the University, I had seen him just about thrice; after he acquired notoriety we tried to catch a glimpse of the hated guy. Yes, he was a big and handsome guy, but he has much to answer for.

      But let him be; let us learn the lessons, and I really am beginning to feel that this report could, after all be published, although books don’t sell much. Why not a downloadable soft copy, even if funding has to be by those who download?

      • 2

        Thanks Sinhala-Man for giving evidence. All affected Tamil students should have given evidence. However reality was different. One good example was the way Tamil students in Science faculty behaved. After they returned to campus, all Tamil students wanted action against those attackers specially against Wickremasinghe and Ekanayake. As mentioned in this article, University authorities suspended those two after a longtime. Consequently all science students protested by boycotting their classes. After considering their future Tamil students in Science faculty also participated in that protest. Story doesn’t stop here. Then secretly gave an explanation about their protest to University authorities.

        Yes it is a good idea to publish that report. Downloadable copy is a good idea.

  • 12

    I met the Warden Dr KNO Dharmadasa who let me talk to Balasooriyan. There was pressure on KNO from an agitated group of students demanding that he handed over Balasooriyan to the police, and Balasooriyan was aware of it. Although the security personnel were there, KNO was not keen on handing over Balasooriyan to the police. But, given the situation, he was not in a position to set Balasooriyan free either.

    Above is how they handle problems. They let it settle itself and do not make a big fuss about it as it can lead to more hatred and conflicts.

    But, what Rajan Hoole says is different.

  • 4

    I entered Peradeniya a few years later; the JVP was holding sway then. One Bakmedeniya at the engineering faculty was opposed to the JVP’s on-campus politics, and some pro-JVP students, seeking support of Tamil students, lied to them that this Bakmedeniya had participated in the earlier attacks on Tamil students in 1982/83. But senior Tamil students told me that Bakmedeniya was in fact one of the Sinhalese students who had supported fellow Tamil students. Rajan Hoole’s account on the same issue elsewhere (UTHR’s website?) validated that, I believe.

    • 2

      Bakmeedeniya passed away some years ago of serious illness.
      I can vouch for your statement about him.

      Jim Softly
      I agree with you on KNO.
      I have recorded my account of events concerning Balasooriyan more than once. The charges against KNO are unfair.

      I was with Balasooriyan from the time that KNO encouraged me accompany him to the VC’s residence, and I kept him company at the Security Office until early next morning.
      The police arrived to arrest him in the middle of a university inquiry of sorts which took place in the presence of Dr Kasynathan (now in Melbourne), who relieved me.

      • 1

        Thanks, Prof.Sivasegaram.
        Sorry to hear Bakmeedeniya passed away.

  • 3

    There is one mistake about N.G.P. Panditharatne (the UNP Secretary). His sister, Nanda, is still around, and before finally submitting this I’ve had a 57 minute chat with her. They are a Buddhist family from Haldummulla, but they live in Bandarawela.

    She was a Maharagama Maths Trained Teacher and married one of her batch mates, Oscar Panditharatne, who was a younger brother of Prof. B. Leslie A. Panditharatne. That is a Catholic family from Pitipana, Negombo (near the Jetwing Lagoon Hotel). There is a caste difference.

    Oscar later did an external G.A.Q. and entered Peradeniya University, many years before me. He helped me quite a bit, early on, with my GAQ Philosophy. He had yet other brothers; the most distinguished academic being Rev. Fr. Dr Harold Panditharatne, who was my Philosophy Guru for the final 9 months of my Aquinas GAQ preparation, which was two years’ of intensive work – it’s no fun being an external student! Dr Harold Panditharatne was Rector of the Catholic Seminary at Ampitiya, Kandy. Wonderful man, absent-minded; Karl Popper (one of Rajan Hoole’s heroes, apparently) visited Sri Lanka about 1980 and stayed with Fr Harold.

    Of course Rajan Hoole is not far wrong. At the time I was at Peradeniya (1982 to 1986), Oscar’s daughter, Ransirini, was at Girls’ High School, Kandy. When Nanda visited Kandy she used to stay in the Meewathura “B House” where Vice Chancellor Leslie used to live. Today, Nanda told me that she had met brother-in-law, Leslie, just a week ago. The VC Lodge is too large a palace to be occupied by any family! I’m sure that the connection was strong enough for Leslie to have known Nanda’s brother, NGP.

    Upali Panditharatne was the son of another brother, who lived in Haldummulla. He was a year junior to Rajan Hoole at Gurutalawa and Mt Lavinia, and was later on the Board of Governors of S. Thomas’ (2000 to 2008) and died in 2011, leading to all this:


    Here you will see a 1963 car which was given to Nanda Panditaratne by her brother NGP. I bought it from her in 1995:


    I bought it from Nanda, who had been given it by NGP. Three years running now, we’ve been to the Pannala race track, and then spent the night at the Jetwing Lagoon Hotel, in Negombo, the home area of Prof. Leslie Panditharatne.


    Clicking a second time on that link may give you a picture of the car; which is not what this comment must be about!

    Anyway, the other possible mistake pertains to the President of the Peradeniya Students’Union. What has been said may have been applicable to the UNP Union boss. Ran Banda Wanasinghe, who was the President of the Student Council, was from the JVP and I remember him doing all that he could to contain the violence. I’d like others who were in Peradeniya at the time to comment on this.

    Almost the first thing that happened when I entered the University was Student Union Elections in December 1982. The UNP students clashed with the then dominant JVP union people. The JVP won, but a Committee comprising retired Justice C.V. Udalagama, someone whom I can’t now recall, and a Mr Lloyd Perera inquired in to this clash. Udalagama held with the UNP (naturally), but Lloyd Perera (a Marxist he was said to be) submitted many pages of point by point dissent. By the end of 1983 both the Lanerolle and the Udalagama Reports were with us, with few knowing what each was supposed to deal with. As Dr Hoole reports, the Girls’High School Principal, Mrs Ekanayake just refused to sign the Lanerolle Report. She didn’t specify where she disagreed.

    The authorities decided to implement the Udalagama Report around September 1983. Severe punishments for the JVP. They hit back, I remember by plastering the University with accounts of Udalagama’s past:


    Scroll down half a page there.

    My memory is of a JVP that was non-racist at the time they, and Vikremabahu Karunaratne’s NSSP, were banned for having supposedly caused Black July 1983 Islandwide.

    As for the reference to Mrs Chandra Ranaraja, Mayor of Kandy, I remember meeting her with two other undergrads to plead on behalf of the JVP student leaders who were to be punished. On this we could not move her, but it was her husband, Shelton Ranaraja, M.P. for Senkadagala, who alone of the UNP parliamentarians, defied President J.R. Jayawardena when legislation to push Amirthalingam and others out of parliament was presented.

    • 3

      I was a Physics student at that time. I also one of the victim at Mars hall on that fateful day. So many things went against us. However there were several people tried to help us. Yes, JVP at the university was not definitely not racist and their members were helping Tamils. Tamils in Akbar hall was saved mainly because of JVP.
      I also have a good memory of Shelton Ranaraja during that time. After we returned to Peradeniya (we felt unafe), we tried to meet all university senate members and discussed our issues. I was in the group who met Mrs. Ranaraja (who I believe was a senate member at that time). While we were talking to her, Mr. Shelton Ranaraja walked into the room and got involved in the discussion. he was honest and clearly understood our problems. He also promised us to help in various ways. I don’t exactly remember what happened at the end. However we felt that we were safe and reassured when we left his office.
      Another remarkable person was Dr. Willi Senanayake who was lecturer at the Physics department. We returned at the end of May 1983 and faced several incidents against us specially in the nights. Many JVP students members, Dr. Senanayke and few others spent several sleepless nights to help us. Eventually Dr. Senanayke was forced to leave the university and currently living in Australia.

      • 1

        Dear Skanthakumar,

        While we are waiting with bated breath for new revelations and details from Bala Vigneswaran, Pera Old Student and Bandula Idamegama, may I tell you something that will give you joy. Having read all the nice things that you have said about Shelton Ranaraja, I telephoned his sister, Sunethra, and read it all to her. She was happy to hear your appreciation, which confirmed what she already knew about her brother. I related the context (she doesn’t use a computer, claiming to be a “village woman” who had followed the same Kundasale Agriculture course as Maithripala Sirisena had done later).

        She surprised me by saying that this “Justice C.V. Udalagama” (younger people may get confused because there is an yet active Justice by the same surname) was her mother’s brother. He was a very strict man, and she was rather afraid of him!

        Thanks also for news of dear Dr Willi Senanayake, whom I remember running around on a Honda C90 motor-cycle doing all that he possibly could. He was very sincere, and a bit of an innocent. Rather a nasal voice, and starting almost every sentence with “Actually”.

        Also, don’t forget Arjuna Parakrama, now Professor of English in Peradeniya. In very poor health now, unfortunately. He had a room in Akbar Hall and used to write various protest pamphlets under the name “Rajan Perera”.

        What Bandula Idamegama (below) has NOT spoken of is how that idealistic brother of his was “disappeared”, probably ending in that massed grave in Matale.

        I could myself write about many of the other names that have appeared already in the linked documents, but coming from me they are bound to sound anecdotal. Also, most of what I say is known to all those who were interested; many did not WANT to know.

        What I’m hoping is that what Niran Nugara (whom I do not know) and I have said will catalyse a few Tamil students in to finally giving us ALL that they know. Thirty three years later, this will lead to greater understanding, and not witch-hunting. The effort required to Thulsi Wickremasinghe to justice is just not worth it. He has made a point of getting his publications on the web, so he is probably assiduously following these blogs, and let’s hope he still has a conscience to prick him.

        • 2

          Yes I missed to say about Prof. Arjuna Parakrama. Probably I considered him as one of us. The way he helped us during that time could not be explained in words. He was a great adviser for all of us. I didn’t have direct contact with him at that time but my friends used to say a good comments about him. Later in USA I was able to interact with him.
          We also used to act like Willie using “actually”.
          Last night I was talking to my friend Thaylan. He was telling me that not many know about Shelton Ranarajah but all remember only politicians like Cyril Mathew. What a unfortunate situation?

  • 5

    This article and the comments thereon are very good indeed. My sibling, namely Ananda Idamegama too was an undergrad at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Peradeniya when this UNP Government-orchestrated attacks against the Tamil undergrads took place, in the run-up to the 1983 Black July. In fact, he was one of those whose studentship was taken away by the Ualagama Commission. As far as I know, as a first or second year student, he was one of those who had gone all out to provide protection to his fellow Tamil students.It is indeed this racist incident that drew him to take up JVP politics later on. Incidentally, back then, the JVP was not a chauvinist party. Incidentally, the journo who is no more, Dharmaratnam Sivaram (Taraki)had happened to be an undergrad at the Peradeniya University, when this racist attack took place. Consequently, he too came to be transferred to the Jaffna University.

  • 1

    Pera Old Student.

    Thanks so much for all those links.I just took a walk down memory lane of life at Peradeniya where there was genuine Sinhala-Tamil unity before all the madness of 1983.


    Thanks for your write-up on those ugly incidents.Be Thou Forever!

    I am unable to explain Thulsie Wickremasinghes behaviour then as a student,especially in relation to his achievements later in Astro-Physics!

  • 1

    KNO-Prof:Sinhalese is married to a daughter[Sumangalika-if I remember right] of a former cabinet Minister-M.D.Banda in the National Govt:of Dudley Senanayake
    1965-1970.Sumi did English Hons and was a student of Prof:Ashley Halpe.
    M.D.Banda was a most honourable man in the same mould as Shelton Ranarajah.

    Perhaps,since 1983 was UNP instigated,KNO may have been seen in a different light.Dr.Sivasegaram who had first hand information of the events at Peradeniya has cleared the air.
    Prof:Sivasegaram had done a commendable job in those difficult times.

    • 1

      Dear Plato,

      I met Prof. Thiru Kandiah today, and he is the umpteenth person to have told me that many of the valuable things that I say get lost because I digress. However, it is true that Prof. Ashley Halpe worked very hard to reign in the violent incidents, and it may be that you could pay your tribute to his life on Wednesday, the 19th Oct 2016, in Colombo:


      Halpe nurtured excellence in English, but in our Special Arts Qualifying Year we had a “background paper” where KNOD taught us all about the Sigiriya Poems (and yes, we knew abut his father-in-law); the retired Ediriweera Sarachchandra made many welcome trips to Peradeniya to teach us Sinhalese Drama, Dr Thilainathan (who is referred to here) and Dr Poololasingham told us about the “Tirukkural” and the “Manimekalai” – which we were told was Buddhist inspired. It must be confessed that we didn’t take all that seriously, but we got to know these people.

      And there was this Indian scholar who talked to us about his poetry:


      Halpe arranged all this, but was himself self-effacin’g; yet he displayed nerves of steel in the crisis situation.

      There was so much that was still wonderful at Peradeniya, and I’m sure there still is!

  • 6

    I was a day student in the Science Faculty commuting from Kandy at the time of this incident, and this brings back memories of a very dark moment of my undergrad life. I am seeing excepts from the official investigation for the first. I must concur that the references to the actions of Thulsie, and the locations sited are accurate to the extent of what I heard at time (during the day of what happened during the nights before). Even using the belt etc. This was a crime and the accused were never charged and if found guilty, were never punished, and allowed to graduate.

    The information I can add to the story is that, subsequently I found out from my contacts in Kandy, that defacing of the University sign at the Galaha Junction, was carried out by a few (Sinhalese) outsiders, who had grievances to settle over a Tamil undergrad going after a girl they were interested in. There was no student involvement from within. Apparently one of the guys was sales rep for paint distributer. Another part to the story, I can recall was that the slogans written on the Galaha Road were all in Sinhalese, for example “Eelam onae” in Sinhalese.

  • 4

    Just politely I wish to say that I was the President of Tamil Student Association at that time, and I was in the thick of things.

    While I can add a lot to this conversation, may I put on the record that most of the engineering students in Akbar-Nell would have had faced serious problem problems had JVP students not protected them.

    • 4

      Bala, that is really very interesting. And yet JVPets were arrested on the pretext that they were behind the race riots. And Wijeweera went into hiding & was thus unable to appear in court against the Referendum result — the only action filed against it.

      It would be interesting to have more memories from you of this period.

    • 12

      Bala Vigneswaran ,

      But till we are built like angels — with hammer and chisel and pen,
      We will work for ourself and a woman, for ever and ever, amen.”

    • 3


      There are signs that we are zeroing in on the truth.

      These Hoole articles don’t usually attract many comments because they deal with carefully researched History. However, I’ve always felt that the are carefully read by many. But many new details are coming out; also, the pattern of Red Thumbs Down that is now emerging, and the most recent comments, two by Zoro at the top that have been edited out suggest that some people are getting worried.

      Now’s the time to speak out. Quite a few with clear memories, and a good deal of awareness of the signifcance of these events have got alerted. If you can give us details, give them NOW. Perhaps write your own article.

  • 0

    As an older Peradeniya hand from its halcyon days than the commentators in this forum I was quite intrigued by the discussion here and deeply saddened too. I am however very puzzled by the claims of many here that the UNP organized these attacks. I am not a fan of the UNP but I find this claim quite unbelievable. Why would they have a few of the henchmen in the University beat up a few Tamil students in the Engineering Faculty? What did they hope to get out of it? A more parsimonious explanation would be that a few overzealous Sinhala racists took it upon themselves to become vigilantes. I expect to be corrected but surely it was not the case that leaders of the UNP like Cyril Mathews etc gave orders to the UNP agents in the administration of the University and the student body like Thulsie W. to wack the Tamil students?

  • 0

    Dear Sinhala Man.

    So you met Prof:Thiru.Again you are sending me down memory lane!
    Pl.convey my regards to both Prof:and his wife Indranee[nee Kannangara].
    I have lost count on the number of occasions,they invited me for dinner,in the old great days!

    Bala Vigneswaran.

    Thanks for so being explicit.The JVP had Principles,though the UNP DISHONESTLY tried to foist the blame for the 1983 pogrom on the JVP!

  • 0

    Dear Sinhala Man.

    I wish I could have been able to pay my tribute to that great man Prof:Ashley Halpe. Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

  • 3

    Hello everyone,

    I have had occasion to read through all your comments,anecdotes etc.. on what happened at Pera U. May 11th and 12th, 1983. I have mixed feelings; on the one hand, it is very admirable that most of you have expressed sympathy for, and at the same time contributed your own views/analyses of what really happened back then. From the long line of preceding accounts, I cannot help but admire the courage and the lofty principles displayed by people like Mr. and Mrs. Ranarajah, Profs. Sivasegaram, Halpe, Senanayake, kasinader, Nawaratne Banda,and Premasiri. On the other hand, I must say with regret, that the attack on Tamil students and staff was, according to the findings of the Lanerolle Commission,’ a diabolical plan to rid the campus of the above ethnic group, and furthermore,this was hatched by a group of professors largely from the science Department, The late Dr. Dias Abeygunewardene in particular, along with their graduate student ‘henchmen’. Subsequently, another professor, now deceased, a well known born again Christian, is supposed to have tacitly defended the behaviour of one of those assailants in the attack. let alone the appropriate punishment to the culprits that never happened, the Lanerolle Commission report was never made public.

    To put things into perspective, Peradeniya University was established back in 1954 as a university for all ethnic groups, and one that would be ‘more open than usual.’ However, over the past few decades, one wonders whether this mandate has held true.

    As much as I commend and admire the courage of those who came forward to give evidence before the Lanerolle Commission, I would also like to sincerely appreciate the role of those who sheltered and protected Tamil students and staff during those traumatic days. In particular, I would like to unequivocally commend the humanitarian deeds of two persons- One Asanga, a then student at Jayatilake Hall,and presently, I am told, a professor in Buddhist Studies at a Sri Lankan University, for potentially saving the life of one of the three lecturers, and also Dr. Arjuna Parakrama, Professor in English, for sheltering that person during the days that followed.

    My prayer is that may there be mutual respect and love for one another in this one-of-a-kind university, let alone the country in general. Looking back, I have had the good fortune of being able to teach college- and university level courses on four continents over the past 28+ years, and I can proudly say that Peradeniya University campus comes out second to none in my humble estimate. May the university continue to uphold its values.

    As for my desire to share this small write-up, well……, I was that
    R. Navaratnam. Peace be with you all.

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