Sri Lanka

By S. A. David,
President of the Ghandiyam Movement
And an Eye-Witness

The Sri Lanka government rounded up hundreds of Tamil Activists resisting the government attempt to establish a mono-ethnic-mono-religious [Sinhala-Buddhist] state in Sri Lanka. Most of them were engaged in non-violent programs to provide alternate opportunities to the dispossessed people. Ghandiyam’, one of these non-violent groups, was engaged in a program to resettle victims of the government sponsored mob attacks on them. David, the president of Ghandiyam’, was arrested in April 1983, for his involvement in the Dollar & Kent Farms, a privately funded farm project to resettle the displaced Tamils. In July 1983, he  faced the government sponsored mobs inside the prison where he was held. He escaped this state-sponsored murder and this is his is story.

There were two violent massacres in the Welikade prison in Colombo, during which 53 Tamil prisoners, arrested on suspicion of terrorist activity, were killed.

In addition to other prisoners, there were also in the jail at this time 73 Tamil political prisoners who had been arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. These people had been detained originally in army custody at Panagoda Army Camp, but recently had been transferred to the Welikade prison.


In the massacre which occurred on July 25th all of the prisoners held in B3 and D3 were massacred and killed.

On July 25, 1983 the Sinhala prisoners attacked the detainees in the Chapel Section of the prison and murdered 35 persons, among whom were Kuttimani, Jegan and Thangathurai. From eyewitness accounts, Kuttimani’s eyes were gouged and his blood drunk by his attackers. After killing six Tamils including Kuttimani in one wing, the attackers killed 29 Tamils in the other wing. A boy of 16 years, Mylvaganam, had been spared by the attackers, and was crouching in a cell. A jail guard spotted him and stabbed him to death.

The 35 dead were heaped in front of the statue of Gautama Budha in the yard of Welikade prison, as Minister Athulathmudali so aptly described as “a sacrifice to appease the bloodthirsty cravings of the Sinhala demons.”

Some who were yet alive raised their heads and called for help but were beaten down to death in the heap.

The attackers then made entry into the other wing through openings in the first floor but the jailers there refused to give the keys and persuaded them to leave.


Twenty-eight Tamil detainees in this wing were transferred to the ground floor of the Youth Ward and nine of us were accommodated on the First Floor.

All was quiet on the 26th. On the 27th at 2:30 pm there was shouting around Youth Ward and armed prisoners scaled boundary walls and started to break open gates in the youth Ward. Nearly 40 prisoners armed with axes, swords, crowbars, iron pipes and wooden legs appeared before our door and started to break the lock.

Dr. Rajasundaram walked up to the door and pleaded with them to spare us, as we were not involved in any robberies or murders and as Hindus we did not believe in violence and as Buddhists they should not kill. The door suddenly opened and Dr. Rajasundaram was dragged out and hit with an iron rod on the head. He fell among the crowd.

The rest of us broke the chairs and tables and managed to keep the crowd at bay for half an hour. The army arrived and with tear gas dispersed the crowd. Then the 2 soldiers lined up 8 of us and were taking aim to shoot when the Commander called out from below to them to come down. Then the soldiers chased us down and all who escaped death were lined up on the footpath in front of the youth Ward. As we walked out, we saw corpses of our colleagues around us and we heard prisoners shouting that it was a pity we were allowed to live.

We were ordered to run into a mini-van and removed out of the prison compound and loaded into an army truck. We were ordered to lie face down on the floor of the truck and a few who raised their heads were trampled down by the soldiers. All along the way to Katunayake Airport some soldiers kept cursing the Tamils and Eelam, using obscene language. We were kept at the airport until early morning. We were refused even water. We were then taken into an Air force plane, ordered to sit with our heads down until we reached Batticaloa Airport. From there we were taken in an open van to Batticaloa prison. We felt we had returned to sanity and some measure of safety.

- Mr. S.A. David, the president of the Ghandiyam movement.