Black July 1983
“The opinion of the people of Jaffna does not worry me now….
We can’t think about them now. Not about their lives or their opinion of us….
The more pressure we put on the North, the happier the Sinhala people will be here….
…If I let the Tamils starve, the Sinhala people will be happy…”
– President J.R. Jayawardene, July 1983
On the night of 23.07.1983, the genocidal attacks against Tamils began in the capital Colombo. In the days that followed, the riots spread throughout the country. For seven days Tamils were attacked, their houses and shops were set on fire, shops were looted and thousands of Tamils were killed. In July 1983, about 3,000 Tamils were killed and more than 15,000 Tamils were displaced. Economically, the damage caused was estimated at about US$300 million. Due to these riots, many Tamils fled to other countries fearing for their lives and a large number of Tamil youth joined militant groups.
During the colonial period, many Tamils (especially from Jaffna) were very successful and had a high standard of education. For this reason, many English-speaking Tamils were in the civil service.
On 04 February 1948, Sri Lanka gained independence from Britain. At that time, many government posts were held by the Tamils, although they were a minority of the country’s population.
In 1956, the Sinhala Only Act was introduced. Until then, English, then with only 5% speaking, was the official language. Sinhala with 75% or Tamil with 25% were forbidden during the colonial period.
With the Sinhala Only Act, Sinhala became the official language of the nation. Protests by the Tamils and the Left parties against Sinhala policies met with mob violence leading to the 1958 riots. This act completely deprived the Tamils of the right to participate and thus the ethnic minority in the country was treated unfairly.
In the 1960s, protests and state repression caused further unrest in the country.
With the “Policy of Standardisation” introduced by the Sri Lankan government in 1972, access to universities for Tamils was restricted. The reason for this was to oppress and destroy the ethnic minority, the Tamils.
After the UNP (United National Party) came to power, there was more and more unrest in the country. The hostility was strengthened more and more on the part of the government.
By 1981, the government had achieved what it had set out to do with the Policy of Standardisation (1972). On 01.06.1981, the public library of Jaffna was burnt down. On that day, all places of knowledge of the Tamils were ruined. Sinhala fanatics started the fire, the police or the government watched and did nothing about it.
Black July 1983
On the night of 23.07.1983, riots and disturbances began in the capital Colombo against the Tamils. The homes, shops and businesses of the Tamils were set on fire and the Tamils were attacked and evicted. The rioters used election registration lists to find out the address of the Tamils.
81 out of the 92 flats at “Soysa Flats”, in Moratuwa, were attacked, looted and set on fire. According to the report, the Ratmalana industrial area, where the majority of businesses belonged to Tamils, was also attacked. However, shops and businesses owned by Indian business owners were not attacked. A total of 17 businesses were destroyed in Ratnalama.
The genocidal act was directed against Sri Lankan Tamils only!
On the other hand, many Sinhalese and Muslims saved the lives and property of the Tamils. Many Tamils had to flee the city. In the following days, the Tamils were accommodated in public buildings, temples or even with Sinhalese and Muslims.
The riots did not end on 26.07.1983 either. In Wellawatte, in Ratnakara Road 24 houses of the Tamils were burnt down. Tamils were living in another 3 houses, but renting from Sinhala owners. The belongings and property of the Tamils were taken out and these were then burnt in the middle of the road. These 3 houses were not burnt down.
In many parts of the city, the police merely watched as property was destroyed and innocent people (Tamils) were killed.
The violence spilled over into the second largest city, Kandy. At about 14:45 the “Delta Pharmacy” was in flames and a short time later many other Tamil shops were under fire.
On 27.07.1983, the riots reached their climax. In Welikada jail, 37 Tamil prisoners were stabbed to death by Sinhalese prisoners. According to survivors’ claims, the keys were dropped by the prison officials into the hands of the Sinhala prisoners.
Badulla, the largest town in the neighbouring Uva province, had been peaceful until then, but on 27 July 1983 at around 10:30 a.m. a motorbike belonging to a Tamil was set on fire. Around noon, more Tamil shops were destroyed and set on fire near the market. This eventually spread to residential areas of the Tamils.
Badulla was still in flames on 28 July and the unrest continued to spread. President J.R. Jeyawardene addressed the nation for the first time since the anti-Tamil pogroms on 28.07.1983, only to fan the flames of anti-Tamil sentiments by declaring that anyone who advocates separatism would lose all his civil rights. He declared, “…It is now time to yield to the clamour and natural plea of the Sinhala people to prevent the division of the country. The vigilantes set up makeshift roadblocks in villages across the island, they searched cars and buses for Tamil passengers. In one incident, a Sinhalese mob burned to death about 20 Tamils in a minibus while European tourists looked on in horror.
In the days that followed, Tamils in southern parts of the country, especially from Colombo, began fleeing to the northern city of Jaffna. Hundreds… Thousands of internally displaced persons feared for their lives.
The 1983 pogrom was the main reason for Tamils to flee their country in fear of their lives. Hundreds of thousands of Tamils were also gruesomely murdered in the years that followed.
For the atrocity 37 years ago or even for the genocide in Mullivaikkal in 2009, we have not got justice and recognition till date. In a state where basic rights and protection of these rights are only on paper, it is unlikely to get justice from the Sri Lankan government.
Genocide of Tamils continues even today
Even today, the genocide of Eelam Tamils continues on the part of the government, but in an invisible manner.
Land confiscation, planned Sinhala migration to Tamil areas is being carried out. Tamil land or forest land in Tamil areas is being expropriated to build residential areas for Sinhalese to displace Tamils.
Buddhist temples are built on Tamil temple land and it is alleged that Buddhist temples originally existed on the land.
Schools in Tamil areas are being closed to deprive Tamil children of the opportunity to go to school. This is the government’s ultimate goal, since 1956. If Tamils had a good standard of education and were therefore more educated, many Tamils would be in higher positions – and this would be a problem for the Sri Lankan government.
Worst of all, women who go to the doctor for a check-up or for a complaint are forcibly sterilised without the women’s instruction or consent.
This is also genocide!
The Sri Lankan government even today is bent on oppressing and exterminating Tamils.
Our duty is to fight for justice and recognition for all the atrocities committed by the Sinhalese and the Sri Lankan government that are still taking place today!