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Concerning April 1956
Tamil Information, 1 October 1985
It was the 5th April, 1956. Almost a 30-year old memory. I was journeying to Colombo from Jaffna, and had boarded the night mail at Kokuvil, one station north of Jaffna. I had found myself a comfortable corner seat in a 3rd class compartment, and in those days, (as it is probably even now) securing a corner seat in a Jaffna-Colombo train was no mean achievement. When the train grated to a halt at the Jaffna station, the sight that met my eyes puzzled me.
Instead of the usual bustling and jostling with people charging in with upraised bags and baggage there was a kind of mute inactivity. People were talking in whispers or gazing at the train with a look of vacant doubt, and most of them making no attempt to get in. What had happened ? I leaned out of the window and collared the nearest man at the platform. It appeared that there was "trouble" in Colombo, he said.
What kind of trouble, I asked him. He did not know. No one seemed to know. Even the train was taking a long time to make up its mind, to move, I shrugged my, shoulders, and sat back. The young blood in me told me that whatever trouble it was, it should be well within my capacity to manage. Besides, I was in no mood to throw away my hard-earned corner seat. But I was wrong.
History was made in Ceylon that day. A new sordid chapter had begun. The seeds of division of the country was sown that morning in Ceylon. That was the day the "Sinhala Only" Act was passed. That was the day that Sinhala mobs, for the first time, began to lay their hands on Tamils with' impunity. That was the day Tamil leaders who sat in silent Gandhian non violent 'protest in close' proximity to the Parliament building — were surrounded by a hostile mob and set upon with stones. That was the day when the ruling' Prime Minister S.W.R.D.. Bandaranaike ordered 'a helpless Police force not to interfere; the day when Sri Lankan governments began the process of sanctioning violence against Tamils, a process which today has culminated in open State War against them.
All that, I was to know only later. Hugging the pillow that 1 carried, I went to sleep, in my corner seat, unmindful of history, unaware that I was to have a brush with Death the next morning. That brush with Death came when a gang of ruffians got into the train at Ragama looking for Tamils to assault and kill. Almost pushed out of a moving train, if I managed to survive without loss of life or limb, it was probably. a combination of tenacity and good luck that saved me. But I had learnt my lesson on that morning of 6th April, 30 years ago, a lesson that all Tamils continue to learn to this day : Death by violence could come to you in Sri Lanka for no other reason than that you are born a Tamil. That is a terrible feeling to live with, in one's own country, in the land of one's birth, the land in which one's ancestors had lived, and sometimes ruled, for centuries.