Black July 1983: the Charge is Genocide
The Precursor 1983 Black July
- Esan Satkunarajah writes to Amnesty International
23 July 2006
Rue d'Arlon 39-41
July 23rd 2006
The precursor to what was to befall on Tamils on Black July
July 23rd 1983 was a sad and unforgettable black day for
the Tamils. Many people including local and international historians
still believe the 13 Sinhalese Solders killed by the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was the main reason for the 1983 July
riots and pogrom against Tamils in Sri Lanka.
this belief, the gap between Sinhalese and Tamils widened well
before the July 83 riots due to the unprovoked attack on the Tamil
students by the Sinhalese students in Peradeniya University on May
11th, 1983. The May 1983 attack on the Tamils students in the
University had a greater damaging effect on the Tamils and their
sense of belonging to Sri Lanka.
I was at the University of
Peradeniya studying first year science at that time. The ugly face
of Majorityism cropped up in a leading educational institution in
Sri Lanka for the very first time.
I did not realize that
the precursor to the 1983 July pogrom would take place in a leading
educational institution like Peradeniya University. I had a feeling
of shock and numbness as I witnessed the educated Sinhalese
students’ violence against their fellow Tamil students first hand.
It was doubly shocking and horrifying to witness those Sinhalese
students, many of them our own batch-mates, whose hands were soaked
with Tamil blood and flushes. Tamil students experienced the brunt
of hatred by the Majority Sinhalese students’ community for 3
consecutive days. The University authorities, intellectuals, and the
country’s ruling authorities did very little to stop the violence
against the Tamil Students during those 3 days.
I was living
and sharing a room in James Peries Hall in the Peradeniya residences
with 3 of my colleagues. The UNP leading student wing of Peradeniya
had planned their blood-thirsty attack on the Tamil students
meticulously. Weapons like steel rods, cycle chains, wooden rods
from broken chairs and tables, knives and ropes were gathered and
well hidden in many surrounding places where they could easily be
accessed for the attack which was about to take place against their
fellow Tamil colleagues.
Tamil students including myself
were unaware of what would be the worst night of our lives in the
educational institute where we were living and studying with our
wonderful dreams and hopes about our futures.
A fist year
engineering faculty student Balasooriyan who was a co-editor of a
University Tamil Magazine was accused of being “Tiger” just because
he prepared a cartoon with a picture of a dove in a cage chained to
a large metal ball.
This picture actually was famous in Sri
Lanka at that time, as Amnesty International (AI) used this picture
and lobbied around the word to free the political prisoners. The
Colombo media angrily reacted to the AI stand and accused them as
being biased towards to the freedom fighters then. That was enough
for Balasooriyan to be accused of being a member of the Tigers.
In sharp contrast to what he was accused of, the magazine
Balasooriyan was a co-editor of was critical of the Tigers and their
methods of struggle. In spite of this fact, Balasooryan was beaten
up by the Sinhalese students and including his own batch-mates. The
university authority handed him over to the Criminal Investigation
Department (CID) in Colombo and he was taken to Colombo for
interrogation and he was assaulted severely by the CID for several
days before he was released without charge.
As a continuation
of this event many Tamil students were attacked and beaten up
severely with all kinds of weapons by the fellow Sinhalese
batch-mates and other students in the University for three days,
some of them even fell from balconies to escape the attacks and
broke their legs.
The University administration’s and the
authority’s conduct were unprecedented at that time. Tamils students
were asked to attend the lecture sessions during these periods even
though the Tamil students felt they needed to go away from the
University to their homes to reflect on what had happened to them
from May 11th to May 13th, 1983. The University authority failed to
provide the Tamils students with a safe environment to continue
The motive of the attacks on the Tamils
students was to evict them from the University permanently. The
unprecedented behavior of the university administration helped the
attackers to reach their aims. Almost 95% of the Tamil students left
the University and went back to their home. While the majority of
the Tamil students stayed in their home the conduct of the
University was unprecedented again as they conducted the lectures
and even the yearly exams. The university authority had shown very
little if not, no sympathy at all towards the Tamil students at that
time of the crises.
1983 July witnessed thousands of Tamils
being killed and hundreds of them burnt to death by the Sinhalese
mobs, which were well aided by the state forces. Many hundreds of
Tamils also lost their hard earned properties and they were made
refugees over night in their own country by their fellow citizens
and sent back to Jaffna from the Sinhalese area. The Sinhalese
government and its law enforcing agencies did very little or nothing
to prevent this pogrom against the un-armed and innocent Tamils.
My whole perception of being a proud citizen of Sri Lanka changed
forever. I arrived at the stark realty that no matter what if we are
not prepared to stand up to the Sinhalese hegemony then we would
have many May 11th attacks against us and many riots like July 1983.
I was much more than convinced that our legitimate plights should be
brought to the attention of the International Community (IC), the IC
should be educated enough to see our sufferings in the hands of the
Majority Sinhalese, the IC should be lobbied to stand with us to
find a just and fair solution.
We Tamils are united and
strong wherever we are living, we Tamils stand up against the
second-class treatment we receive in Sri Lanka, we stand up against
the Sri Lankan state oppression, we are united in seeking
International Community assistance to free us from the chauvinism of
the Singhala nation. We want to live with freedom, we want to live
with dignity, we want to rule ourselves in our homeland and look
after our own affairs like any other people in the world.