My experience on July 24th, 1983 - a Colombo Student Recollects

by Bala

[We urge the readers to write down the facts known to them so that future researchers may be able to use them to evaluate the events that shaped the history of the Tamil people.

We must realize that we have reached a crucial stage in our freedom struggle.

Our leadership has secured an area where Tamils rule themselves. The next stage is to secure it, build on it and obtain international acceptance and recognition.

A good team of researchers should write that history.

Every Tamil has a role to play in this endeavor. He or she must record what he or she knows.

Sangam would like to constructively help this process.]


Like thousands of other Tamils who lived in Colombo, I also have a story to tell about July 1983.

At that time, I was a University of Colombo Law Faculty Student. At that time, in the Colombo University Law Faculty there were around 30 Tamil Students. The Medical Faculty also had Tamil Students, but it was in Kinsey Road in Borella.

I was boarding in a Burgher ladyís house behind Summit Flats (Don Carolis Ave) with some other faculty students. In that house, in another room, there were some working people.

On Sunday, July 24 we heard about the Thirunelvely attack and talked about that, but didn't pay much attention about it because we are very busy on preparing for the next dayís exam. Around 7.30 Sunday night I went to the Saiva Hotel at Thimbrigasaya Junction to have my dinner with one of my junior batch-mates. When we having the dinner, we were discussing about the exam in Tamil. In the middle, my friend told me that all the people sitting around us were staring at us. I told him to ignore that. But a waiter, an old man, came to our table and whispered "Thambimar, situation is not good. Have your dinner quickly and go to your room." After that only, we realized something was wrong. We asked the same waiter to pack some string hopper parcels for the other boarders and rushed to our room and told the others about the situation and advised them not to go out. After discussing about this, we went to bed.

Next morning around 5.30 one of the boarders in the next room, who had left for work on his motorcycle, returned. When we saw his face, we realized something bad had happened. He told us that all the Tamil shops in the Thimbrigasaya Junction, including the one in which we had had dinner, were burnt. We didnít know what to do. We have to go to the University because at 9.00 o'clock we had an exam paper. At that time, Mrs. Chandrahasan was one of our lecturers and head of the department for the Law Faculty.

Some of our batch (or college) mates were living in Moratuwa, Wellewatte, and Narahenpita. One of our batch mates who were living in Narahenpita flats was attacked that night. We thought that they cannot come for the exam and decided to go to Mrs Chandrahasanís house and ask her to stop the exam. We walked to her house around 8 a.m. and told our situation and asked her to stop the exams. Then Mr. Chandrahasan told us that he had talked to J.R. and he had told him that the riots were only around the Kanata area, but everything would be OK. Mrs. Chandrahasan told us that, as the exam had been scheduled already, they could not stop it, but she assured us that, if anybody could not sit the paper, she would do something for them and asked us to write the exam.

From her house we went to the University and found that everything seemed normal. The roads were busy with vehicles and we saw most of our batch mates had already arrived. We were very happy to see them, but we had a discussion and thought of skipping the exam. We were not in a mood to write the exams, too. But later we decided to write the exam and went into the exam hall.

While I was writing the exam, I ran out of paper sheets. I called for extra sheets. When I got the sheets from one of our Tamil lecturers, I noticed her hands shivering. I looked up and asked her what had happened. Instead of talking she just gestured for me to look outside. When I looked I saw smoke all around the University. I couldnít continue writing the answer papers and went out of the hall. Fortunately, at that time the University of Colombo Student Council was in good hands. It was led by a leftist Group called the Pathirana (later Mr. Pathirana was killed by the JVP) Group which was very friendly with us. They told us they would protect us and asked us not to worry. But how could we stop worrying? We asked them whether they could arrange some accommodation within the Campus compound.

But after some discussions with the University authorities, the Student Council told us that we could stay in the University Hostel situated close to Dhummulla Juction. They arranged a University van and asked us to get into the van. Sinhala boys stood on the footboard of the van. While we were going towards the Dhummulla Juction, around 11.30 a.m. we saw a car burning, and thugs attacking an Indian restaurant (Shanthi Vihar.) The thugs stopped our vehicle and said they wanted to search for Tamils. The Sinhala Students who were in the footboard replied in filth and told the driver to drive on. My heart was almost stopped. We were hiding among Sinhala students.

The Acquinas Hostel was within a hundred meters from the junction. We were taken there and were locked in a room and ordered by our Sinhala friends not to come out of that room. ( I have to mention about this Student Group. They were against the JVP Student Union and very friendly towards Tamils Students. This Group was fully eradicated by the JVP later). I think the curfew was clamped down in the afternoon and the University announced that it was closed and asked all the students to leave the University premises. At the hostel a Sinhala student was talking about attacking us, but he was brought before us and was kicked severely by the Pathirana Group as a warning for others. The other Sinhala students were also busy going home or taking part in looting outside. Some students also brought some looted items to the hostel. Pathirana went out to collect some food and came back with some food and terrible stories. I think we stayed in that hostel one night and, after the Hindu College camp opened, we were dropped at the make-shift refugee camp that was set up there.

On July 29th I went from the refugee camp to my room to collect my ID card. From my room I walked towards the Acquinas hostel to see my Sinhala friends. Then one Sinhala lady came running towards me and told me not to go in that direction. She told me "Putha me patha ende eppa. Kottia Awa". But I kept walking and saw Pathirana and the group were standing at the gate and watching outside. Right away Pathirana scolded me and asked me to go to the room quickly and told me about the Kottia Awa story. He told me that he had seen nine Tamil bodies on that day and refused to let me go to the refugee camp on that day. But I told him my friends at the camp would be worry about me. Then Pathirana and his Group walked with me from Bambalapitia to Hindu College, posing as a group of Sinhala thugs singings Sinhala baila songs and waving. Pathirana visited us several times in the refugee camp and visited us even in Jaffna when we were struggling after the displacement.

While this student group protected the Tamils students, some Sinhala students of the Law Faculty and the Medical Faculty attacked the Tamil students.


Posted July 24, 2004