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Black July 1983: the Charge is Genocide
Black July 1983: An Epochal Episode In Tamil Freedom Fight
Dharakan, Brisbane, Australia
Early Ground Works for Genocide
Ceylon attained its independence from British colonial rule in February 04, 1948. Before the ink could dry on the new constitution, the Ceylon parliament seeded the “genocidal intent”, passing the Ceylon Citizenship Act No.18 of 1948, which deprived a million Tamils of Indian origin their citizenship. As predicted with remarkable foresight by “Thanthai” S.J.V.Celvanayagm in parliament during the debate on Citizenship Bill (1948), the next blow was dealt to the Tamils when the Sri Lanka Freedom Party Government of Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranayake enacted Sinhala Only Act as the Official Language in June 1956. A non-violent Satyragraha campaign launched by the Tamil Federal party in the northern eastern provinces, which paralysed civil administration, was ruthlessly broken-up using the army.
The enactment of this Sinhala Only Act, quite contrary to the hitherto official policy of recognising both Sinhalese and Tamil as Official languages, made Tamils second-class citizens in their country of birth overnight. Politically it was a masterstroke by the majority Sinhalese to deprive education and employment opportunities for the Tamils in the government and state corporations. The Tamils were humiliated to a degree that left generations of Tamils to feel rejected and politically marginalised.
The constitution incorporated in the Sinhala Only Act enthroned Buddhism as the foremost religion to be fostered by the state. Amendments moved by the Tamil Federal Party to the draft constitution demanding a federal constitution and parity of status for Tamil along with Sinhalese were rejected and defeated by the government. In protest, the Federal Party withdrew from further deliberations of the Constituent Assembly and boycotted it. As a mark of protest, Mr.Chelvanayagam resigned his seat in Parliament and challenged the government to hold an election to test the acceptability of the new constitution. He simultaneously sought a mandate from the Tamil people for the restoration of the defunct Tamil state and won the by-election by a landslide.
In 1970, the government of Mrs.Srimawo Bandaranayke (widow of Mr.S.W.R.D.Bandaranayake) rubbed salt into wounds by introducing the notorious "Standardisation" of education. This discriminate policy required higher marks from Tamil students for University admissions. This has removed even the last safeguards contained in the Soulbury constitution. This infamous constitution created the conditions for the political alienation of the Tamils and a deep wedge between the Sinhala and Tamil nations.
State Terrorisms and the Great Divide
Sinhalese ruffians broke up the peaceful Satyragraha by the Tamils to protest against the Sinhala Only language policy at Galle Face Green overlooking the Parliament in Colombo. This was followed by Island wide riots in which hundreds of Tamils lost their lives and property worth millions destroyed. The 1956 riots was the beginning of a series of racially motivated mass scale racism by Sinhalese covertly encouraged by successive governments and overtly supported by the security forces. These “Sate Terrorisms” sponsored with increased ferocity and venom was repeated in 1958, 1961, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1983 and continuing to this day in 2006.
In July 1957, Mr.S.W.R.D.Bandaranayake signed a pact with Mr.S.J.V.Chelvanayagam, popularly called the Bandaranayke- Chelvanayagam pact, of the Tamil Federal Party giving a measure of regional autonomy in spheres of land, language, education, and employment. However, the pact was torn apart by Mr.Bandaranayake under pressure from Sinhalese-Buddhist chauvinists. Foremost among them was no other than Mr.J.R.Jayawardena of the United National Party who undertook a march to Kandy in protest. A similar pact signed by Mr.Chelvanayagam with Mr. Dudley Senanayake in 1965 too met the same fate.
In 1975, confronted with the steadily mounting national oppression, frustrated with the failure of the democratic political struggles, the Tamil national parties converged into a single movement to fight for freedom either by peaceful means or by direct action or struggle". In the elections that followed the TULF received an overwhelming mandate. By fortuitous circumstances, the TULF also emerged as the official opposition in Parliament. Mr.Amirthalingam, as the Leader of the Opposition, started talking about an alterative to the Eelam demand and eventually settled down for District Development Councils. This experiment failed in the face of a chauvinistic and intransigent Sinhala government. In any case, the Tamils felt that the DDC was a “sweetener” and thus the Tamil leadership have been taken yet again for a ride by crafty Sinhalese politicians, especially by Mr.J.R.Jayawardena.
Pouring Oil on Cauldron of Racism
In 1978 yet another Constitution was enacted which tightened the enslavement of the Tamils further. The TULF like in 1972 walked out of the constitution assembly and took no part in its deliberations. In 1979 the Sri Lankan government enacted the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act to cope with the growing militancy, notably of the Liberation Tigers. This act and the subsequent crack down by the army of Tamil youths made the situation worse and confirmed the fears of the Tamils that the Sinhalese government was hell bent to exterminate them. The racial riots of 1977 and 1979 poured oil on an already burning fire. Most importantly, Sinhalese introduced the 1978 Constitution, which is still is in force, to accelerate the genocides against the Tamil humanity.
From 1979, because of the Sinhalese army occupation of Jaffna and the state terrorism let loose on the people, hostility began to grow and the emotional division between the Sinhalese and the Tamils became more acute. A group of highly organised young Tamil militants, first calling themselves the New Tamil Tigers and later The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 1976 emerged to confront the government terrorism by bearing arms.
Vanguards of the Tamil Liberation
In 1978, J, R. Jayewardene, the first Executive President of the racially named Sri Lanka, crowned himself with constitutional power and became like "Emperor Bokassa I". He introduced the 1978 constitution giving all power to the executive president created under that constitution and then declared himself as the first executive president. He was determined to suppress the voices of the freedom calls by Tamils via any means. He was ruthless to the Tamils people in the North and the East. He suppressed the Tamil minority violently and used his party members to organize riots against them – notably in July 1983 and these days of violence is known as Black July.
The “Black July” is attributable to some of Jayewardene’s notorious speech and newspaper interviews during his Presidency. By 1983, J.R. was going through his last term in office. At this stage, his ambition to generate ethnic cleansing of Tamil humanity became very evident with the Black July. He declared “war for war” slogans against the Tamils via an interview with Ian Ward of the London Daily Telegraph. He said, "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.” Two weeks after J. R’s interview with Ian Ward, a vicious widespread attack was launched on the Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka. On 24 July 1983, and the succeeding weeks, thousands of Tamils were killed. Tamil owned businesses scientifically extracted and burned. Some were burnt alive. Over a hundred thousand were rendered homeless. Widespread attacks against the Tamils in Colombo, Kandy, Matale, Nuwara Eliya, Badulla and elsewhere were executed by the Ste sponsored racism and terrorism.
J.R unleashed a new and more ruthless wave of massive violence against Tamil civilian population who were completely unarmed and innocent of any crimes. His choice of words and comments were tantamount to the Black July 1983. J. R, as the elected president, did not care for the lives of the people of Jaffna.'' Tamils regarded his comments not only as a license but also as an invitation to kill the Tamils.
The Tamil were killed in streets, inside houses, inside buses, cars, and everywhere and anywhere. Not to mention one of our own family members was thrown alive into a burning lorry and killed callously. I can still see the images of fire, death, property loss, refugee camps, and carnage through the state sponsored terrorism unleashed against the Tamil people.
Sri Lanka’s Bokassa (J.R) achieved what he intended to achieve – the genocides of Tamils. However, while he disappeared, his system of genocidal process carried on by the next clan – Ranasinghe Premadasa and Chandrika Kumaratunga. Despite of all protests the Constitution of 1978 survived and still remains in use as a “tool” of genocides against the Tamil people. In the perception of the Sri Lanka government, the claims of the Tamil people for the basic right of self-determination had assumed a dimension that demanded a response - but, strangely, a response that did not have regard for the lives of the Tamil people or for that matter, their fundamental human rights.
In July 1983, the Tamil Tigers ambushed a convey of Sinhalese army in the north and killed 13 Sinhalese soldiers. This attack itself was a retaliation for a gang rape of a Sri Lankan Tamil doctor by Sinhalese soldiers. The Sinhalese and their government used this as a trigger to unleash yet another genocidal act surpassing all the previous ones in its intensity and destruction of lives and properties. A panicked government of J.R. at the growing militancy of the Tamils and the cry for separation sought to defuse the situation by the 6th amendment to the Constitution by compelling all office holders, including Members of Parliament, to take an oath of allegiance to the unitary constitution. Unable to comply with this forced allegiance the TULF boycotted the parliament and later lost their seats. With the forced political exile and eventual marginalization of the moderate leadership of the Tamils by the constitutional amendment, the Tamil militant groups, notably the Tigers gained ascendancy. Today LTTE is the undisputed, authentic, and sole leaders of the Tamil people in the vanguard of the Tamil liberation war.
The many battles and the recent low intensity fight after four years of “talking to talk peace”, which assumed all the hallmarks of a conventional war between the Tamil Tigers and Sinhalese army, had established the fact that there are not only two separate nations but two separate armies as well. Since Black July 1983, the “great divide” between the Tamils and Sinhalese had further accelerated into two nations with two distinguished races, two armed forces, two cultures, and two traditions.
Count Down to Tamil Freedom
It is 23 years now from the Black July 1983. The Black July 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 by Sinhala government and politicians during the 25 years preceding the “epochal event” in the Tamil history. The genocidal riots in which Tamils were killed; maimed, robbed and rendered homeless are no longer isolated episodes. They are intentional act of “crime against humanity” that encouraged the Tamils to take up the arms to fight for their freedom. In fact, “Black July" is the start of full-scale armed struggle between the Tamil minority and the Sinhalese majority.
The black July was officially unleashed by the decision taken at the highest political level namely by the then president J. R. to "teach" a lesson to the minority Tamils. It was carried out by his hard-line and rightwing ministers such as Cyril Mathew and the local thugs who were aligned to the ruling party. This is the way the terrorism was introduced to the Tamils. The Tamils were taught violence by the Sri Lankan government. Now, the Tamils do not have any other choice other than using the “State Terrorism” to over power the “Sate Terrorism” to regain the freedom for the Tamils.
The Tamils are an ancient people with a history dating back to at least 2,500 years. The Tamil language, the lingua Franco of the Tamils, is one of the five oldest living languages of the world. The Tamil classical literature, popularly called the Sangam (Academy) literature (1st -4th Century AD) is a collection of poems of lasting quality and artistic merit. They reflect faithfully the high level of civilization and literary attainments of the ancient Tamils.
The Jaffna Kingdom was ruled as a separate polity both by the Portuguese presentation. This demand came to be known as 50-50 envisaged allocating 50% of the parliamentary seats to the Sinhalese and the balance 50% to the Tamils, Muslims, Burgers and other minority groups. This was rejected by the Soulbury Commission, which curtailed the legislative power of Parliament to "make laws for the peace, order and good government of the island". The then constitution provided that no such law should impose any disabilities, or confer any advantages, on members of any one community only.
Freedom Call Should Continue to the Finish
The genocidal operation planned and executed by the Sinhala government was the result of actions of a Sinhala -Buddhist majority which regarded the island as the exclusive home of Sinhala Buddhism and the Tamils as invaders from Tamil Nadu in South India. They proclaimed, "The history of Sri Lanka is the history of the Sinhalese race”. Thus, the Sinhalese encouraged the Tamils to divide from them. They treated the Tamils as a “threat” to them. Thus, the Sinhalese never considered the Tamils as equal within a “pluralistic” Sri Lankan community and this is the case now too. Ethnologically, the Sinhalese and Tamils are unique races and there are no commonalities among them. They cannot live within a nation as a united group. After all, the Sinhalese have asked the Tamils to go back to India.
This is just one example of what has become the battle cry of the Sinhala-Buddhists sole and exclusive claim to the whole of Ceylon. The issues of the Tamils were nurtured, refined and exploited by successive Sinhalese political leaders who sought to perpetuate their rule over the Tamils. Thus, Sinhalese devastated the land, destroyed ancient temples, burnt valuable libraries, and nearly annihilated the historic Tamil race. The idea that Tamils’ freedom must be restored and continued does not warrant further justification. The freedom fight, either by violent or non-violent means, should be based on nation-state model. Our struggle is primarily an ethnic and political struggle. The Tamils should not continue to talk with the Sinhalese who do not recognise the homeland and the self-determination of Tamils. Please, no more talk with the Sinhalese.
The continuation of the freedom fight without “talk in talking peace” is the one and only method for the restoration of Tamil freedom. Therefore, the people of Tamil homeland, both in and outside, must make efforts and learn to believe in our freedom, as indeed we must internalise the habit of freedom lobbying. It will be too much for the faint-hearted and too incomprehensible for those with no firm appreciation for Tamils and their rights.
Many self-fish minded people assume that Tamils follow the non-violent method because Sri Lanka’s enormous population, international support and military strength leave no other choices for us. These people believe that we should accept the Sri Lankan government and its empty promises. Certainly, believing the Sinhalese and their government will lead to a complete demise of the Tamil humanity. The Tamil have gone through non-violent path and failed time and time after in the past 58 years. Tamils cannot have genuine peace talk with the Sinhalese. Any involvement in a random and “not so serious” peace talks will be a serious mistake on the part of Tamils. Whether one has confidence in the freedom fight whereby virtue results in happiness - or whether one views the situation from a purely political standpoint, the philosophical understanding here is that one cannot achieve wholesome goals if one does not rely on wholesome methods. Even if peace talk could guarantee us freedom with justice tomorrow, we must firmly continue the freedom fight until we feel freedom in our hearts and minds. Until we can get such a guarantee, our freedom fight will be a powerful instrument for achieving our goal – the homeland and self determination for Tamils.
Brighter July is Just Nearing
Our freedom fight so far shows how our fighters struggled for the past 23 years to bring things together – our homeland, our economic development as well as our culture, religion and political institutions. Confronted with Sri Lankan government genocidal intent and actions, including the actions of the international community with their bias and aggressive political policies, and in the absence of any acceptable solutions to our grievances, Tamils have no other option but to mobilize and face the "aggressor" head-on.
All Tamils have a universal responsibility to fulfil the demand for freedom of Tamils. It is a duty that we all incur simply by the fact of our birth as Tamils. If we do not live up to that birth-duty, then we are not worthy of being Tamils and we are unable to act in a way that does justice to our heritage. Not only is there nothing ruder and base than being unable to live up to one's birth-duty, even from a worldly point of view, one scarcely merits the life of humanity that one enjoys.
Truth is on Our Side and It Will Win Us
Our homeland and cultural tradition were preserved and enhanced over thousands of years by the Tamils of early generations, who considered these more precious than their own lives. In modern times, these traditions have a close bearing on the well-being of the entire humanity. If we allow the Sri Lankan government and Sinhalese to destroy this Tamil tradition, it will be a great loss not only to the Tamils in Sri Lanka, but also to the Tamil humanity as a whole in the world.
Having ascertained this reality, it should be said that the Tamil heritage cannot be protected unless we have complete freedom and unless equal parity and power balance is maintained by preventing the destruction of Tamil homeland. Therefore, the ultimate goal is not just political freedom for Tamils. Rather, our ultimate goal is the preservation, maintenance and development of the sublime cultural traditions of the Tamil nation. However, without proper means and favourable conditions, it is not possible for us to fulfil this responsibility. We must therefore first undertake the liberating Tamil homeland immediately. Unlike the freedom struggles of other peoples in other countries, our struggle must continue with a sense of urgency, as we cannot wait for yet another generation for our freedom. We must plan and revitalise the freedom fight with the popular people support in order to achieve a concrete result no later than 2010. We must recognize that truth is on our side and, with this conviction; we must engage ourselves in a search for a brighter July ever.