by M.K. Eelaventhan, July 27, 2019
Riots against the Tamil population in Sri Lanka have been a recurring event since 1956, commencing from our protests against the Sinhala Only Act. The year 1958 was on a larger scale covering the entire island. The keynote event was the burning of the chief priest of the Panandura Kandaswamy Temple.
Petrol was poured on him and he was burned to ashes. This moving incident was related by Mr. Velupillai, the father of Pirapaharan, who was seated on his father’s lap. Pirapaharan was only four years old at that time, but this incident had a permanent impact on him.
In 1961, when Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi performed satyagraha against the government imposition of Sinhala in the Tamil Eelam area covering the northern and eastern provinces, Dr. E.M.V. Naganathan was hit by a baton. His head was bleeding and the baton was broken. In Batticaloa, Mannar, Vavunia and Trincomalee, the link between the north and eastern province, was attacked, injuring the leaders. Mr. Ehamparam, one of the leaders, died of a heart attack following the incident.
In 1977, there was another major attack on Tamils throughout the island. Even when the seasonal rain failed, the Sinhala hoodlums’ attack on Tamils continued with more drastic events to follow. In this context, it must be mentioned that the author of this article was a victim of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 1979. Mr. J.R. Jayawardene, the all-powerful executive president, declared in unmistakable terms his intent to wipe out terrorism on or before December 31, 1979, but the anti-terrorism act continues unabated to this day of 2019. That is a long period of more than 20 years.
I was kept in prison in the Jaffna Old Kachcheri and the Army Camp incommunicado for three months and, at the end of three months, the army chief, Mr. Wijeyatunge, the nephew of Jayawardene, called me to his office and said that there was no evidence to show that “you are not a terrorist” nor the supporter of LTTE. I was, however, adamant on the issue of Eelam and posed a question, is it a sin to be a supporter of the Tamil Eelam cause? He then smiled and released me by sending me in an army van.
In 1981, the Jaffna Library, then one of the best libraries in Southeast Asia, was burned to the ground, resulting in the loss of some of the ancient historical and religious documents. The then-powerful news media, Eelanadu, was also burned in a cold, calculated manner to deprive Tamils of the news.
Mr. S. Sivanayagam is the former editor of Saturday Review, Tamil Nation and also the author of “The Pen and The Gun.” His masterpiece and magnum opus is “Sri Lanka: Witness to History.” This book covers his journalistic memories from 1950 to 2004. According to him, the riots from July 24, 1983 broke out with unexpected and indescribable brutality. For one week, organized groups ran amok and destroyed, plundered, set fire to houses and factories, killed and humiliated innocent and defenseless victims, while parts of the security forces (Army, Air Force, Navy and Police) not only let this happen but, to some extent, incited the disturbances or participated themselves.
Sufficient evidence exists to prove that the riots in the last days of 1983 by no means occurred suddenly and spontaneously. On the contrary, the carefully prepared plan (by the government or parts of it) for the destruction of houses, shops and properties of the Indian and Ceylon Tamil population seemed to have existed long before the riots actually began.
Moreover, the settlement activities of thousands of refugees from the plantation areas of the central highlands, who made their homes in the areas around Vavunia, Mannar and Trincomalee, after the disturbances of 1977 and 1981, had long been a source of irritation to the government. The government planned to expel these settlers. Both aims were achieved.
Though violation of the curfew and plundering was to result in shooting without warning, these governmental actions did not have the effect of re-installing law and order. “We cannot shoot our Sinhalese brothers,” a lot of soldiers said that “99% of the soldiers are, in fact, Sinhalese.” So the terror gangs—not held back by anyone, took over the streets. According to witnesses, even pupils of a large Buddhist college participated in the riots during the first few days in Colombo (the reference was to Ananda College) which is retrieved from the Introduction to Sri Lanka in Ruins, Sri Lanka Coordinating Center, Kassel, Germany.
What a Norwegian Tourist Saw—Daily Express, London. A tourist told yesterday how she watched in horror as a Sinhalese mob deliberately burned alive a busload of Tamils. And she said other tourists described how women and children were murdered in the same way. Mrs. Eli Skarstein, back home in Stavanger, Norway, told how she and her 15-year-old daughter Kristen witnessed one massacre. “A mini bus full of Tamils was forced to stop in front of us in Colombo.” She said a Sinhalese mob poured petrol over the bus and set it on fire. They blocked the car doors and prevented the Tamils from leaving the vehicle. “Hundreds of spectators watched as about 20 Tamils were burned to death.” Mrs. Skarstein added: “We can’t believe the official casualty figures…hundreds, maybe thousands, may have been killed already. The police force of 95% Sinhalese did nothing to stop the mobs; there was no mercy. Women, children, and old people were slaughtered. Police and soldiers did nothing to stop the genocide.
News Statesman-London reported under the title “Who will help the Tamils?” as below:
“Sri Lanka is burning again. Several hundreds of Tamils have been killed in the past week and at least 20,000 of them have been made homeless. Now the Sri Lankan government says that it is creating an emergency committee to provide food and shelter for the Tamil refugees.
“Tamils can be forgiven if they do not show much gratitude for this act of charity for this horrible violence, in which Sinhalese lynch mobs roamed the streets of Colombo, killing anyone who happened to be a Tamil, is a direct fault on the Sri Lankan government itself.
“In the massacre that occurred on July 25, all of the prisoners held in B3 and D3 were massacred and killed. Among the 35 killed were three of the stalwarts belonging to the Tamil Elam Liberation Organization—Selvarajah Yogachandran alias Kuttymany, Nadarajah Thangavelu alias Thangathurai, and Ganeshanathan, known as Jegan ss). The prison is located in a densely populated and poor area of the city. Mr. Mervin Wijayasinghe, secretary to the ministry of justice, told us that on July 25, a noisy and violent crowd collected in the vicinity of the prison. They were shouting and rioting and a highly charged atmosphere was created.
“One of the 18 murdered prisoners was Mr. Somasundaram Rajasundaram, a medical practitioner of the Ghandian Movement, whose case was featured in the Amnesty International newsletter of July 1983.”
The writer of this article would like to conclude with what Mr. S.A. David, president of the Ghandian Movement, had to say, “On July 25th 1983, Sinhalese prisoners attacked the detainees in the chapel section of the prison and murdered 35 persons, among whom were Kuttymani, Jegan and Thangathurai. From eye witness accounts, Kuttymani’s eyes were gouged and his blood drunk by his attackers. After killing six Tamils, including Kuttymani, in one wing, the attackers killed 28 Tamils in the other wing. A boy of sixteen 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 Buddha in the yard of Welikade Prison, as a minister so aptly described, as a “sacrifice to appease the bloodthirsty cravings of the Sinhala demons.” Some who were yet alive raised their heads and asked for help, but were beaten down to death in the heap. The attackers then made entry into the other wing through an opening in the first floor, but the jailers there refused to give them the keys and persuaded them to leave.