Brian Senewiratne, Australia
Sri Lanka's Week of Shame
July 1983 Massacre: Long Term Consequences
23 July 2006
Despite all that has been published, I doubt if the
international community really knows what occurred in Colombo and the Sinhalese
South in July 1983, which shocked the world (alas transiently), and brought such
disgrace to Sri Lanka. In addition to being an appalling humanitarian outrage,
it was a watershed in the relations between the Tamil minority and the
Sinhalese-dominated Government, and signalled the end of an undivided Sri Lanka.
To appreciate the gravity of what happened and the responsibility of the then
President and Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL), it is necessary to have some
understanding of the background.
The stage was set for this, and the violence that has engulfed Sri Lanka, by
a series of highly
taken against the Tamil minority (18% of the population), by a succession of
Sinhalese-dominated Governments to whom the British handed over the country in
The first was the
disenfranchisement and decitizenisation of a million Plantation “Indian”
Tamils in 1949 in one of the worst acts of political vandalism in the civilized
world. Why? Essentially because they had voted for the ‘Left’ or for
Independents, but not for the capitalist parties that formed Government.
disenfranchising a million citizens who, by their sweat on the British tea
estates had put Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) on the map, was not only ingratitude,
but was not a great start for a democracy. The Tamils lost half their
representation in Parliament. A few Tamil politicians, seeing the writing on the
wall, split off from the Tamil Congress and decided to campaign for a Federal
Tamil State. The division of the body politic on ethnic lines had begun.
Blatant populist politics, at the cost of nation building, was to follow. This
took the form of discrimination against the indigenous (Sri Lankan) Tamils, to
get the electoral support of the Sinhalese majority (74%) as a ready means of
getting into power. The ‘policy’ of every Sinhalese party was
offering to adopt more and more anti-Tamil (and pro-Sinhalese) measures if
elected to power.
In 1956, S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike, in an act of blatant political opportunism,
changed the Official
Language from English to Sinhala (the mother tongue of the Sinhalese),
clearly disadvantaging the Tamils who had to learn a different language to
obtain or retain their jobs in Government service.
A series of non-violent protests by the Tamils were met by
Sinhalese hoodlum violence. Pacts made between the Tamil leaders and the
Government to address the problems faced by the Tamils, were
unilaterally abrogated by the Government, under pressure from extremist
elements of the Buddhist clergy who perceived Sri Lanka as a Sinhalese-Buddhist
nation, and political opportunists who saw such ethno-religious chauvinism as an
assured way to power.
Two years later a Buddhist monk assassinated Bandaranaike by since he was
showing signs of trying to undo some of the damage he had done.
In stepped Sirima Bandaranaike (1958), to succeed her assassinated husband. In
1961, faced with continuing non-violent protests by the Tamils in Jaffna (in the
Tamil North), she
moved in the Army
(99% Sinhalese) into Jaffna. It is the sort of stupidity that has created chaos
in Sri Lanka.
More discrimination was to follow. In 1972, Mrs. Bandaranaike, in an act that
was even worse than that of her husband, introduced
discrimination. Tamil students from the North had to obtain higher marks
than the Sinhalese to enter the University. She could not see, or was incapable
of seeing, the seriousness of excluding students from tertiary education for the
In addition to discrimination in language and education, the Tamils faced
obvious discrimination in employment, especially in government service, the
forte of the Tamils. There was also the continuation of a long-standing policy
of affecting a demographic change by relocating Sinhalese from the South to the
Tamil areas with obvious electoral consequences.
With the failure of Tamil parliamentarians to get the Sinhalese leadership to
address the problems faced by the Tamils, in the 1970s Tamil youths decided to
take up arms to force the Government to address the problems. It was, and still
is, a liberation struggle to free the Tamil people from discrimination by a
succession of Sinhalese-dominated governments. The resort to arms is the result
of the failure of the democratic process to address the problem.
The 1977 General Election saw Sirima Bandaranaike (Sri Lanka Freedom Party -
SLFP) replaced by J.R.Jayawardene from the other side of the Sinhalese political
divide (United National Party - UNP). At this election, the Tamils in the North
and East gave their politicians in the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) an
overwhelming mandate to establish a separate Tamil State, Eelam,
This election was followed by some of the worst violence unleashed on Tamil
civilians by government-sponsored Sinhalese hoodlums, which the newly elected
Prime Minister, Jayawardene, a long-standing anti-Tamil racist, did nothing to
control. Instead, he offered ‘war’ to the Tamils! Here is what he said,
“If you want a fight, let there be a fight; if it is peace, let there be
peace…..It is not what I am saying. The people of Sri Lanka say this”.
In reality, the Sinhalese people did not say “this”. Jayawardene did. It was not
the first or the last time that his blatant racist attributed to the Sinhalese
people things they did not say or want.
Jayawardene’s government had some virulently anti-Tamil Ministers, in
particular, Cyril Matthew, Minister of Industries and leader of the so-called
Trade Union wing of the UNP, in reality a bunch of hoodlums used by Jayawardene
as a mode of governance. Matthew and several of his ministerial colleagues had
their own private armies, goon-squads, who set themselves above the law.
Jayawardene went on to create the position of Executive President with sweeping
(dictatorial) powers and then promoted himself to the post. What he offered the
Tamils by way of a devolution of power was far less than that offered by any
other Sri Lankan ‘leader’. While the TULF still struggled “to explore a peaceful
solution” – a strategy that had demonstrably failed, the Tamil youths reacted by
stepping up armed resistance.
Jayawardene responded by banning the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
“and other similar organisations”. The ban was allowed to lapse after a year,
but replaced (1978) by the most draconian legislation ever enacted in Sri Lanka,
the Prevention of Terrorism Act. This abrogated all legal and constitutional
safeguards with regard to arrest and detention. Suspected “terrorists” could be
held without charge or trial for up to 18 months, and confessions obtained by
whatever means were admissible in Court.
Jayawardene went on to increase the ‘security forces’ in Jaffna, which now
behaved like an Army of Occupation. The result was unmitigated repression and
brutality of the Tamil civilians, Jayawardene’s policy being to terrorise the
civilians into submission.
Tamil militant youths were the only people prepared to stand up to this
repressive Army. Army convoys and patrols were regularly ambushed. Unable to
track down the militants, the Armed Forces retaliated against Tamil civilians.
For example, on 18 May 1983, the ambush of an army convoy resulted in the Army
going on the rampage in key residential and commercial areas in Jaffna. On June
1st, a similar ambush resulted in the Navy setting fire to Vavuniya.
In Colombo, there were rumours that the Government was about to “teach the
Tamils a lesson”. There were even rumours of a ‘final solution’ to the “Tamil
problem” . How and when this was intended to be achieved, and by whom, was
It probably was very clear to President Jayawardene. In an interview to Ian Ward
of the London Telegraph (11 July 1983), he said,
“I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people now. Now we cannot
think about them, not about their lives, or of their opinion about us”.
Soon after the events that started two weeks later, it became very clear that
the ‘final solution’ had been meticulously planned by the likes of Minister
Cyril Matthew, and the extremist Buddhist monk Alle Gunawanse, a close associate
of President Jayawardene, and others of their ilk. The plans included obtaining
electoral lists of Tamils and where they lived, organising Sinhalese ‘goon
squads’ for the intended ‘action’, and arranging for the release of Government
vehicles for their transport. The result of this invisible planning was soon to
be seen in the streets of Colombo.
On the night of 23 July 1983, the LTTE ambushed an Army patrol in Tirunelvely,
Jaffna. In the explosion and shoot out that followed, 13 soldiers (Sinhalese)
were killed, as were some LTTE cadres. In the hours that followed, the Armed
Forces went berserk in Jaffna, killing some 51 innocent Tamil civilians,
including 7 passengers in a van in Manipay. Some hours later, the Navy ran riot
in distant Trincomalee, killing Tamil civilians at random and burning down Tamil
The authorities in Colombo decided to publish, broadcast and televise news about
the soldiers being killed by the Tamil Tigers but blacked out the reprisals by
the armed forces on Tamil civilians. In an even more inflammatory move, it was
decided to have a mass public funeral for the soldiers in Kanatte, the main
cemetery in Colombo, on Sunday 24 July.
Thousands of people arrived at the cemetery but the bodies failed to appear.
Having been kept waiting for several hours, the restive crowd was told that the
funeral had been cancelled. Large sections of the crowd dispersed towards busy
Borella town near the cemetery. Within minutes, Tamil establishments in Borella
went up in flames. There is some evidence that those responsible for the attacks
on Tamils in Borella were not those who were at the cemetery. This raises some
worrying possibilities which President Jayawardene had no intention of
investigating: he probably knew the answer.
Jayawardene’s home is only a stone’s throw away, and there is not the slightest
possibility that he could not have seen Borella on fire. However, there were no
orders from him to the police or the armed forces to stop the arson and murder,
nor was a State of Emergency declared. With the number of police and armed
forces on the streets, there is no question that they could have controlled the
situation if they had wanted to, or were ordered to.
The mayhem rapidly spread across Colombo. By Monday 25 July, much of Colombo was
on fire with looting, arson and destruction of Tamil homes, Tamil property and
the systematic killing of Tamil civilians, spreading in all directions from
Colombo. The violence went on for three full days and nights, peaking on
Wednesday 25th July. It ebbed the next day when the Indian Prime Minister,
Indira Gandhi, sent her Foreign Minister Narasimha Rao, as her Special Emissary
While all this was going in the streets, Tamil political detainees in the
Welikada prison in Colombo were massacred by fellow (Sinhalese) prisoners (25th
July). It was repeated two days later. In all, some 53 Tamils were killed. They
included a friend of mine, Dr. Rajasunderam, secretary, Gandhiyam movement, a
registered society for community and social service, supported by Oxfam (UK),
World Council of Churches, Christian Aid, Bread for the World (Germany),
NOVIB(Holland) and many other organisations. Appeals for help to stop the
massacre made to the police by the Acting Superintendent of the prison, C.T
Jansz, a man of integrity (I know this since he was a former classmate of mine),
Despite extensive damage being done to Tamils and their property by Sinhalese
hoodlums directed by Jayawardene’s Ministers and some of the Buddhist clergy,
there was no sign of the President. He was, in fact spending much of the time in
Army headquarters, in fact in the Army Commander’s room, but issued no orders to
stop the mayhem. Presumably, he did not want to prevent the ‘final solution’.
Finally, on Thursday, 28th July, he broadcast to the nation. It was one of the
most irresponsible statements ever made. Trying to shift the responsibility to
the Sinhalese people, he said that,
“Because of the violence by terrorists, the Sinhala people have reacted…”
Going on to defame the Sinhalese people, attributing to them what was in his
vicious, racist and evil mind, he added,
“….the more you put pressure in the North, the happier the Sinhala people will
be here…..Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy.”
What is remarkable is that the Sinhalese people tolerated this evil man for more
than a decade and did not demand an apology for insulting them.
Jayawardene’s Minister of National Security, Lalith Athulathmudali, nearly wept
in faked political grief, at the sight of Sinhalese having to queue up for
bread. Not a word of sympathy or concern from either the President or his
Minister(s), to the devastated Tamil people being slaughtered and burnt alive.
The direct result of this irresponsibility was that on the following morning,
Friday 29th July, “Black Friday”, a completely fabricated story was deliberately
spread in Colombo that the Tamil Tigers had invaded Colombo. This was all part
of the ‘final solution’, since that afternoon, Sinhalese hoodlums, encouraged by
their President’s speech the previous night, unleashed a spate of murder, arson
and destruction which dwarfed anything that had occurred before.
Some months later, in a booklet published by me, The July1983 Massacre.
Unanswered Questions, I summarized what had occurred.
“It would be revolting and unprofitable to recount details of the acts of
barbarism committed by Sinhalese mobs. All that the author, a full-blooded
Sinhalese , can say is that for the first time he has felt ashamed to be a
Sinhalese. It is not that one identifies oneself with the hooligan mobs, but
there is a collective sense of responsibility for the behaviour of one’s
countrymen – hooligan, barbaric or civilized. He who watches while a fellow
human being has his limbs cut, belly slit open, petrol poured on and burnt to
death, is only marginally less guilty than he who does it. In the General
Hospital, Colombo, desperately ill Tamil patients had their intravenous drips
disconnected and were thrown out of the wards because they were Tamils. Tamil
doctors had to take refuge in toilets to avoid assault”.
The final count was some 3,000 Tamil civilians killed, thousands of Tamil homes,
businesses and industries destroyed (note, Minister Matthew was the Minister of
Industries), and hundreds of thousands, including professionals, leaders in
commerce and industry, and others of high standing, went into refuge camps. If
Sri Lanka expected these people to remain in the country, the country was in for
As I have said, in a disgraceful attempt to implicate the Sinhalese people in
this outrage, their President, in his broadcast, claimed that the violence was
the “natural reaction” of the Sinhalese people to the killing of the 13
soldiers. The facts were that the majority of Sinhalese people were horrified at
the carnage and many risked life and limb to shelter and save the terrified
Tamils. Had they not done so, the death toll would have been far higher.
President Jayawardene should have been lynched by the Sinhalese for trying to
implicate them in what was the work of his Ministers and their hoodlums.
As I have said, there is well-documented evidence that the anti-Tamil violence
was not spontaneous but carefully planned. Paul Sieghart in his Report of the
Mission of the International Commission of Jurists and its British Section
Justice, March 1984 concluded,
“Clearly this was not a spontaneous upsurge of communal hatred among the Sinhala
people It was a series of deliberate acts, executed in accordance with a
concerted plan, conceived and organised well in advance.”
Sunday, 24 July 1983, the day the mayhem broke, was the Esala Full moon, an
important day in the Buddhist calendar when many devout Buddhists observe “sil”
– setting aside the day for prayer, devotion and ‘holy living’. I do not know
whether the Buddhist monk, Venerable Alle Gunawansa did so. What I do know is
that on the following day he was seen in the front of a truck, yellow robes
tucked up, a list in his hand, pointing out Tamil homes for destruction by the
hoodlums armed with petrol in the back of the truck. It was ‘sil’ on Sunday,
kill on Monday’. I do not know whether he and his like-minded monks will attain
Nirvana, the final aim of Buddhists. What I would like to know is why he is not
in prison for the mass murder of hundreds of Tamils (or hanged, like his
predecessor, Venerable Somarama, who assassinated one man, Prime Minister
Let alone face the wrath of Buddhists in this so-called ‘Buddhist country’
supposedly dedicated by no less a person than Buddha himself for nurturing and
propagating his teachings, the ‘Alle Gunawansa’ type of Buddhist ‘monks’ have
rapidly increased in number. It is now common to see thousands of these
Venerable gentlemen in yellow robes roaming the streets in Colombo demanding a
return to war to crush the Tamils.
This prostitution of Buddhism has not been challenged by Buddhists like my
mother, half-Buddhists such as myself, or thousands of others who respect the
teachings of one of the greatest teachers of peace the world has ever known. The
time for a revival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka is long overdue. Velupillai
Pribaharan, the LTTE leader, remarked that if Jayawardene was a true Buddhist,
he would not be carrying a gun .
President Jayawardene went on to effectively ban the elected representatives of
the Tamil people in the North and East who had been given an overwhelming
mandate to work for a separate Tamil State. He tried to involve the Sinhalese
people in this totally undemocratic move,
“….the time has now come to accede to the clamour and natural request of the
Sinhala people to prevent the country from being divided”.
The 6th Amendment to the Constitution was passed on August 4th, 1983, by
Jayawardene’s completely dominated MPs (he had undated letters of resignation
from them). This basically required any person holding elected office to take an
oath affirming/swearing that he/she would not directly or indirectly, in or
outside Sri Lanka, support, espouse, promote, finance, encourage or advocate the
establishment of a separate state within the territory of Sri Lanka. The Tamil
MPs from the North and East ceased to be in Parliament.
President Jayawardene’s blatant lies about the Sinhalese people is just one
example of the deluge of lies that flow from Sri Lankan politicians and those
who support them. It is important to appraise the international community at
every opportunity, when these outrageous lies are uttered. This is not merely to
show what downright liars they are but to make the international community
skeptical of government propaganda which passes as ‘news’, and ‘facts’
(according to the Government). With the media under Government control (or
self-censored fom fear of closure or assassination of media people), the
international community form their opinion based on what freely flows from these
inveterate liars. A good example is the interview given by President Kumaratunga
to South African TV cited in footnote 4 where she says that the Tamils (who in
fact have been in Sri Lanka for 2500 years, probably much longer), are not one
of the original people of the country. Kumaratunga has been repeatedly called
the “mother of liars” with no action being taken for defamation. If she is the
‘mother’, there sure are many ‘fathers’.
The Tamil Tigers have been blamed for the July 1983 violence in that they
triggered it off by killing the 13 soldiers. However, as I have said, and many
have confirmed, the violence was pre-planned well in advance and if this did not
trigger it off, something else (or nothing) would have done so. It must also be
remembered that what existed in Jaffna was a ‘war situation’ – a “low-intensity
war” - whatever that may be. If Armed Forces set out on a patrol to seek and
destroy, and get killed in the process, it is a risk they must accept. If they
are outwitted and killed in an ambush, it is just too bad.
I have already dealt with some of the myths e.g. that this was a spontaneous
reaction of the Sinhala people.
There are others that are more dangerous. One is that the genocide, murder and
destruction of Tamil lives, property and homes were a ‘one-off’ event in July
1983. Far from it. It was only the start. It has gone on with far greater
intensity, not in the Sinhala South but in the Tamil North (and elsewhere). It
is crucial for the international community to appreciate this and not be conned
by the likes of so-called “informed people”, Tamils at that, such as Dr
Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, who asserted (Social Justice 1998 No 135, p17) that
there has been no repetition of the carnage. There has been no ‘repetition’, the
carnage has continued, albeit in the Tamil North and East.
‘Informed’ Sinhalese, such as Dr Jehan Perera, talk equally arrant nonsense. He
tries to portray the problem as a conflict between two armed groups, the Sri
Lankan Armed Forces and the LTTE. He says, “as in the case of the riots, the
civilian population is more or less disengaged from the direct fighting, but
remain in the sidelines giving each other necessary logistical support” (Social
Justice, 1998, 135, p 27). The half million refugees in the North and East, and
the relatives of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians who have been killed in
these area will not agree with the learned doctor. I doubt whether they will
agree that they were “on the sidelines giving……logistical support”. I am not
sure whether this is frank ignorance or a mischievous attempt to decrease the
gravity of the genocidal killing of Tamils by the Sri Lankan government.
Whatever it is, it is dangerous nonsense.
The same killings in jail that occurred in the Welikada prison in 1983, have
gone on. The slaughter of some 900 Tamils in Army custody in Chemmani in Jaffna
in 1995 and the outrageous massacre of Tamil youths in a so-called
‘rehabilitation centre’ in the Sinhalese area, the ‘Bindunuwewa massacre’, are
just two of many examples.
The same destruction of Tamil homes and property has gone on at an even greater
intensity under Jayawardene’s successor, Chandrika Kumaratunga, from the other
side of the Sinhalese political divide. To point the finger just at President
Jayawardene or his UNP is neither fair nor accurate. The finger has to be
pointed at the entire Sinhalese political spectrum which, as I have pointed out
in several articles, is ‘anti-Tamil’. Differences, if any, are only in the
degree of ‘anti-Tamilness’.
The only protection the Tamils will ever have is if there is a separate Tamil
State. It is imperative that the international community appreciates this. When
George Bush’s representative in Colombo arrives as the US Ambassador and
announces that a Separate Tamil State is “unacceptable to the US”, he does not
know what he is talking about. For a start, the Tamils did not ask him for his
opinion. He does not have to live under a brutal racist regime in Colombo. These
visiting pundits should mind their own business and not, by their irresponsible
statements, support the hard-line anti-Tamil chauvinists in Colombo.
Interestingly and belatedly (after the damage has been done), the US seems to
have seen the light of day (at least for the moment). A visiting VIP from the US
has recently suggested a “loose federal arrangement” for Sri Lanka.
The same hard-line Sinhala chauvinistic stance has gone on, if anything even
more so. When Saravanamuttu claims (in the reference quoted) that “the political
agenda has moved far to accommodate devolution”, he is either talking nonsense
or trying to fly the flag for the People’s Alliance government of Kumaratunga
that followed Jayawardene’s UNP.
The fall-out and long-term consequences
The fall-out from the 1983 holocaust has been serious:-
The mass murder of Tamils in the Sinhala South in 1983 is the clearest evidence
that what is going on in Sri Lanka is genocide. It is a myth to believe that
this outrage constituted a single act of revenge (as Jayawardene claimed it
was), mob-hysteria or the likes. It was, as I have stated, a carefully planned
and conducted killing of Tamils which has gone on at least since the 1970s, was
‘spectacular’ (if that is the word) in July 1983, and has continued with much
greater loss of lives and property since then. To believe otherwise is egregious
Genocide has nothing to do with the numbers killed but has much to do with
intent. The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of
Genocide (to which Sri Lanka is a signatory), defines Genocide as an act
committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national ethnic, racial
or religious group. There is not the slightest doubt that the anti-Tamil pogrom
planned and executed by the Sri Lankan government in July 1983 (and since) has
The International Commission of Jurists Report (December 1983) which I have
cited earlier, says,
“The evidence points clearly to the conclusion that the violence of the Sinhala
rioters on the Tamils (in July/August 1983) amounted to acts of genocide.”
It is not just the killing but other acts of the GOSL that indicates genocide. I
refer to the PA government of Sirima Bandaranaike and her daughter Chandrika
Kumaratunga, creating famine conditions by severely curtailing the supply of
food, agricultural implements and fertilizer, fuel and even essential medicines
to the Tamil areas. The deprivation of food and medicines to civilians qualifies
as genocide under the 1948 Genocide Convention which I have cited.
The continued killing of unarmed Tamil civilians in the North and East by the
current Rajapakse government, its Armed Forces and paramilitaries (despite a
supposed Ceasefire) is a continuation of genocide. It cannot be anything else.
Since President Rajapakse’s election in November 2005, some 500 Tamil civilians
have been killed. This is about the same number that were killed in Colombo in
July 1983 (3,000 were killed in the rest of the South).
If genocide is what is going on in Sri Lanka, and of that there can be no doubt,
the Sri Lankan authorities, past and present, which have been responsible, must
be charged. Supporting Britain in the Falklands war or the US in the invasion of
Iraq, and similar ‘favours’, should not be sufficient to let Sri Lanka off the
Murder of Tamils in custody
As I have said, the Welikada jail massacre of Tamil political detainees has
continued and increased markedly. Under Jayawardene’s successor, Chandrika
Kumaratunga from the other side of the Sinhalese political divide, in just one
instance, some 900 Tamil civilians in custody, held without charge or trial by
Brigadier General Janaka Perera, ‘disappeared’, their bodies later found in mass
graves in Chemmani, Jaffna (1995). Perera was promoted and later sent to
represent his country in Australia. I faxed Kumaratunga, a person I know, asking
what message she was sending the Tamils in Australia. Was it that to make Tamils
‘disappear’ merits a diplomatic posting? He is now a senior Defence advisor to
The outrageous murder of Tamil youths in a so-called “Rehabilitation Centre” in
the Sinhalese area, is another. President Kumaratunga should have stated that
‘rehabilitation’ of Tamils does not exclude massacres by Sinhalese hoodlums.
There are simply too many of these scandalous events for me to even list them
out, leave alone describe them.
No Sinhalese leader from any political party and, even more disturbingly, a
single voice from any foreign government have demanded that these be
investigated. Instead, they supply even more weapons and funds for the GOSL to
murder its own people. They only highlight killings by the LTTE, attributing to
them some that are not even committed by them. It is this highly partisan stance
of foreign governments which is so disturbing, and which puts their own
credibility on the line.
Displacement and disruption of families
One of the most serious casualties of the 1983 holocaust has been the disruption
of Tamil families. Tamils have lost one of their greatest treasures, their
close-knit families and extended families, a feature of life in the North.
Parents in one country, a son in another, a daughter in yet another, scattered
all over the world, is one of the most serious things that has happened to Tamil
society. To relocate elderly people in an entirely different environment centred
on the TV set, has resulted in loneliness and untold misery. It results in major
adjustment problems and has disastrous medical (psychiatric) consequences. The
damage that has been done, and continues to be done, is immeasurable. A
succession of Sinhala governments have a lot to answer for. Other governments
have been branded as international pariahs for doing far less than what Sri
Lankan governments have done to Tamil families.
2. Economic damage
The immediate economic price of the 1983 holocaust was borne by the Tamils in
the Sinhalese South. Many lost everything they had, simply because they were
Tamils who had a right to be where they were. Lifetime earnings and savings have
been lost by thousands of Tamils because of Government-directed Sinhalese
hoodlum violence. The very least the GOSL could have done was to recompense them
financially for damage that was very deliberate, planned and executed
Let alone compensation, a young Minister in Jayawardene’s government who was
later to rise to a very high position, actually tried to justify the destruction
of the Tamil economic base in Colombo by saying that the Tamils got what they
deserve. “What they deserved”, in effect, means ‘for being too successful in
business’. Indeed, this could have been one of the underlying motives for the
(initial) destruction of Tamil property.
What has not been widely appreciated is that the greatest damage that the 1983
violence has done is to Sri Lanka itself. The country lost its greatest asset,
the wealth of its trained manpower and of able people which few, if any,
developing countries have been fortunate enough to have.
When Sinhalese political ‘leaders’, political opportunists and Sinhalese
extremists among the Buddhist clergy, decided to make life impossible for the
Tamils, forcing a million to quit the country taking their training, expertise
and wealth out of the country, they do not seem to have realised (perhaps they
did but did not care) the immeasurable damage they were ‘patriotically’ doing to
Some years ago, the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga wrote me a letter in
which she said that her greatest problem as Head of State was not having people
who could be entrusted to do a job of work. I was inclined to write back that
this pathetic situation was entirely due to the handiwork of her family (and
mine!), and that of Jayawardene and his cronies and thugs. To this we can now
add another family who had just taken over the country - President Rajapakse and
his numerous brothers who have surfaced from all over, supported by the thugs in
the JVP, and yellow-robed, not-so-clean-shaven men in yellow robes who are
defiling the name of Buddha.
I have been called a Sinhalese traitor for saying what has to be said and for
supporting the right of the Tamil people to live with equality, dignity and
safety in the country of their birth. If that makes me a traitor, so be it. I
would claim that the real traitors are those who, by their blatant ethnic
intolerance, have drained the country of its most valuable asset, its trained
manpower and expertise who are now enriching many developed countries, while Sri
Lanka heads towards a ‘failed State’, if it has not reached it already.
As talented Tamils, Sinhalese, and Muslims leave a country in which they see no
hope, Sri Lanka is left with the likes of Rajapakse (who before his election was
found to have ‘acquired’ some Rs 83 million from Tsunami aid – which he
reimbursed the GOSL when prosecution seemed certain), the JVP which did so much
damage to the people and infrastructure of Sri Lanka in 1988-89 for which they
should have been charged, and Buddhist monks who are on the streets making a
negotiated settlement to the highly destructive ethnic conflict impossible.
From my perspective, medicine, almost all of the Tamil doctors I have trained in
the seven years I spent in the University in Kandy, have left the country. This
is not entirely surprising when some had to take refuge in toilets during the
1983 Tamil massacre. These well-trained people (the keenest and best I have ever
trained in any country) are now in the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New
Zealand. They have been replaced by poorly trained products from obscure medical
schools in Bangladesh, the Philippines and worse, who know little medicine and
even less of the language of the people.
The economic damage done to Sri Lanka has been partly obscured by foreign aid
which is bolstering up a failing State. As the country sinks deeper and deeper
into debt, mortgaging many future generations of Sri Lankans to the World Bank
and IMF, the end will come. As these bodies, known for their callousness to
those at the bottom of the economic pile, tightens the screws on Sri Lanka
demanding that the country adopts impossible measures, the Sinhalese South will
be looking at a revolt of the ‘haves’ versus the ‘have-nots’.
At a recent international meeting, Victor Ivan, an outstanding Sinhalese
journalist and political commentator, was asked to comment on the Sinhalese
South. With a half-smile he said something like this: “It is finished. With a
corruption from the very top downwards, a corrupt judiciary, a corrupt police
(reputed to be one of the most corrupt in the world), an incompetent government,
intimidation and assassination of newspaper editors (attempts have been made on
his life), government manipulation of the media, and hoodlums running around
doing what they please, there is no hope. Amen.
The key to saving Sri Lanka, or what is left of it, is economic development of
all the areas, the Tamil North and East, and the Sinhalese South – areas that
have been devastated by neglect, a direct consequence of the centralisation of
power in Colombo, which in turn was a consequence of the British
Colebrooke-Cameron ‘Reforms of 1833, introduced for ease of colonial
administration. Until these completely inappropriate colonial constructs, that
have been proven failures, are dismantled as they were in Malaya, India and
several other former colonial countries, the future of Sri Lanka will be bleak.
It is economic development, not a genocidal anti-Tamil war that will rescue Sri
Lanka. Such development will not occur until the power to develop is removed
from the central (Sinhalese) government in Colombo and handed over to the people
in the area that have developmentally been seriously neglected. If this means a
division of the country, so be it. It would seem a better option to divide and
develop than attempt to hold together a failed British construct, and destroy
The 1983, and subsequent anti-Tamil, violence sends a very clear message that
the Sri Lankan Police and ‘Security Forces’ are not there to ‘secure’ the
Tamils. If the Tamils want security, they will have to provide it themselves.
For this to be done, the administration and security of the Tamil people and the
area they live in will have to be taken out of the hands of the Sinhalese
The same holds for development. The wanton destruction of the Tamil economic
base in Colombo (1983) and the extensive destruction of the economic base and
Tamil property in the North (1983 to this very day), makes it abundantly clear
that the Tamil areas will never develop until the ability to interfere/destroy
this is removed from Sinhalese hands. It is as simple as that.
Soon after the 1983 violence, I said that there could not be an undivided Sri
Lanka unless the Sinhalese tendered an unqualified apology to the Tamils for
what was done to them. Another Sinhalese, Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe, in his
last Pastoral letter in August 1983, just before his untimely death, said the
same thing. He called for an apology from the Sinhalese people to the Tamils.
By an ‘apology’, I do not mean the bogus apology tendered by President
Kumaratunga at a meeting to mark the 21st anniversary of the 1983 pogrom. She
declared, “Every citizen in this country should collectively accept the blame
and make an apology to the tens of thousands who suffered. I would like to
assign to myself that task on behalf of the State of Sri Lanka, the government,
and on behalf of all of us, all citizens of Sri Lanka to extend that apology.”
That is not an apology, it is political clap-trap. “Every citizen” (that
includes the Tamils – unless, of course, she considers Tamils to be non-citizens
) is not to blame for the 1983 pogrom. J.R.Jayawardene and his anti-Tamil
Ministers were to blame.
“Every citizen” is not to blame for the wholesale massacre of Tamils that
occurred in Jaffna in 1995. She, Chandrika Kumaratunga, President, Minister of
Defence and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, is to blame. Had she the
courage and integrity, she would have apologised to the Tamil people in the
North for what she did to them.
The blame for the massacres of Tamils does not rest on “every citizen” but on
two elite families – of S.W.R.D Bandaranaike (his wife and daughter), and of
J.R.Jayawardene and his cronies. To this can now be added another ‘non-elite’
family, the Rajapakse’s and their supporters among the ranks of the so-called
Marxist and the gentlemen in yellow robes.
I started by saying that an undivided Sri Lanka would not be possible until the
Sinhalese apologised to the Tamils. I said this nearly two and a half decades
ago, before the massive blood-shed and destruction that followed. Now, in 2006,
I am not sure that this will help. There has been too much Tamil suffering for
an apology, however sincere, to be adequate. The only ‘apology’ that the
Sinhalese people can make to the Tamils is to pressure the Sinhalese leaders
that the Tamil-speaking people have a right to develop the area they live in and
have the right to live as they want in the area they have lived in for
centuries. This is the only ‘apology’ that will make practical sense.
One of the most serious aspects of the on-going problems in Sri Lanka is that
the Sinhalese people are being deceived by their so-called ‘leaders’ (of all
political parties) and the Buddhist clergy, that a division of the country will
result in their destruction (or the destruction of the country). It is time that
it is pointed out to the poorly-informed Sinhalese, ‘fed’ with Sinhalese racist
propaganda, that a quasi-separate Tamil State already exists and has done so for
a decade. From all reports, especially the recent one by Professor Kristian
Stokke from the University of Oslo, this State is functioning very well, far
better than the corrupt, incompetent and chaotic State that the Sinhalese have
to accept as a ‘Government’. More important than all, is to point out to the
Sinhalese that this quasi-Tamil State, has not been and will not be, a threat to
It is time that it was pointed out to the Sinhalese that it is economic
development, not trying to make Sri Lanka into a Sinhala-Buddhist nation, which
will save the country from chaos. Such development will be impossible if there
is an unresolved conflict.
The time for a quasi-federal, pseudo-federal, or even a genuine Federal ,
Confederal or any similar arrangement, is gone. Today, the only option left is
the separate development of two vibrant nations – the Sinhala nation and the
Tamil nation. Once these two Nations are developed to their maximum potential,
then, perhaps in 50 years, a Confederation may be possible. Indeed, the
formation of a wider structure – the Confederated States of South Asia – to
include India, Pakistan, the Sinhala State, the Tamil State, Thailand, Singapore
and Malaysia, may be the way forward. If Europe, with its deep divisions which
have gone on for centuries, can do this, there is no reason why it cannot be
done in the Far East which has not had to face two devastating wars that Europe
The single factor which prevents such thinking where Sri Lanka is concerned is a
crisis in leadership in the Sinhalese South. Until this crisis is resolved and
the Sinhalese people find leaders of ability and integrity, the present chaos
will go on.