S.P. Amarasingam on the 1977 Anti-Tamil Pogrom

by Sachi Sri Kantha, September 23, 2017

Front Note by Sachi

Available literature on the 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom in Sri Lanka is vast, compared to the 1977 anti-Tamil pogrom. Thus, I present below two observations made by Mr. S.P. Amarasingam, one of the respected journalists and attorney, of those days. Both appeared in the September 3, 1977 issue of Tribune; (1) Editor’s Notebook, and (2) Letter from the Editor.

S.P. Amarasingam

Mr. Amarasingam was the first editor who opened the pages of his Tribune weekly for me, to practice my English writing in my early 20s. Unlike 1983, Velupillai Prabhakaran and his LTTE group hardly receives any mention in the literature in 1977. At that time, the main Tamil scapegoats were Appapillai Amirthalingam (the leader of TULF, who was elected as the Leader of the Opposition) and his wife Mangayarkarasi Amirthalingam. Unlike Prabhakaran and his team, these two were not ‘certified terrorists’ by any definition. So, why did the 1977 anti-Tamil pogrom happen? In his analysis, Mr. Amarasingam stated, “In the ultimate analysis, the basic cause for the Sinhala-Tamil confrontations and violence is economic.” Like many Eelam Tamils, I seriously disagree with his answer. Why the intellectual properties (books) and cultural properties (temples) of Tamils were destroyed selectively by borrowing a page from German Nazis?

Being hesitant to blow my own trumpet, with reluctance, I mention that I was introduced in the Editor’s Notebook piece by Mr. Amarasingam, as “A young Tamil youth, S. Sri Kantha, whose article on the [1977] polls verdict on Eelam in the North and East appeared in the Tribune of August 27 has written with hot indignation to the Editor and we reproduce relevant passages from his letter…” Why I wrote to Mr. Amarasingam then? Forty years ago, I was mad at the so-called ‘prominent Colombo Tamils’ who projected themselves as representatives for all Tamils living in the North and East of the island, and bargain and barter to protect their business interests. I was somewhat thrilled by this unsolicited exposure to the public stage. In hindsight, while reading the second half of my scribbling of what Mr. Amaraingam had included in his editorial, I feel humbled now due to my then knowledge deficit on economics, and wooden prose. A passing reference to ‘Kanatte’ (a Sri Lankan English idiom, to grave, where the largest grave in Colombo is located) by me now seems to me as a gerophobic insult to socially respected senior citizens. You should note that these comments were that of a “24 year old youth”!

24 year old Sachi Sri Kantha

The ruling party at the time of the Aug. 1977 anti-Tamil pogrom was the newly elected UNP. Prime Minister mentioned was J.R. Jayewardene (1906-1996). The United Front Government mentioned was that of a coalition – the Sirimavo Bandaranaike (1916-2000)-led SLFP, the LSSP and the Communist Party, that ruled the island from May 1970 to July 1977. The Buddhist monk mentioned in the editorial as a hardliner was Ven. Maddihe Pannaseeha Thero (1913-2003), the then Head of the Amarapura Sect. In hindsight, the message included in Mr. Amarasingam’s editorial, as delivered by the then Prime Minister to the 1977 Manila Law Conference now reads like his party’s manifesto of the 1977 General Election, and almost all the intentions indicated in it were obeyed in breach, during his Presidential tenure from 1977 to 1988.

Amarasingam ended his ‘Editor’s Notebook’ thoughts with a last sentence: “The proposed Commission of Inquiry must do a thorough job of investigation.” In fact, J.R. Jayewardene did appoint a Commission on November 9, 1977, that came to be tagged as ‘The Sansoni Commission’, as it was chaired by former Chief Justice of Ceylon, Miliani Claude Sansoni (1904-1986), of Dutch-Burgher descent. The mandate for this Commission was framed between the timeline August 13th to September 15th 1977, to inquire about the incidents that resulted in death or injury to persons, destruction or damage of property of any person or state property. Thirty years later, Kishali Pinto Jayawardena reflected on the outcome of this Commission as follows: ‘though decidedly sympathetic to those persons of Tamil race who had faced death, injury and destruction of property during that period, [it] fell far short of a robust condemnation of the events. The few perpetrators that it identified were never prosecuted.’ [Sunday Times, Colombo, Feb.17, 2008]  The Commission proved to the Tamils that a token appointment of a minority guy to an elite position is nothing but a political ploy of Sinhalese ruling politicians to hoodwink the world that they are impartial; but the eventual outcome will be manipulated towards their favor by the political top dog who holds the power whip in his or her hands.

See also, my end note below, for a few details about the fate of Merrill Kariyawasam (the then rookie UNP MP for Agalawatte), who spewed venom against Tamils in the parliament, when the anti-Tamil riots was raised at the parliament. Italics as well as words in bold font are as they appear in the original.


Editor’s* Notebook [Tribune, Colombo, September 3, 1977, pp. 2-4]


Colombo, Aug. 31

This country is still in the throes of one of the most traumatic socio-political upheavals of the twentieth century. There have been many such upheavals since the turn of the century, but only a few of them were violent. The Sinhala-Muslim riots of May 1915, the Sinhala-Tamil riots of May 1958, (with a dress rehearsal in 1957), the anti-Government (the Establishment which included the LSSP and CP) Insurgency of April 1971 and now the anti-Tamil holocaust of August 1977, were

violent, involving loss of human lives and property. There have been other lesser upheavals with manifestations of violence but they did not have the impact of the riots of 1915 or 1958. There is no doubt that 1977 will lead to far-reaching consequences either for good or evil depending on what the Government and the major political parties do and say.

There have also been other ‘revolutions’ in Ceylon on the socio-political front which were not attended with any violence. But, we are not concerned with these however important they may be. Nor are we concerned directly with 1915, 1958 or 1971, though every one of them has intimate links with the current anti-Tamil violence. The unravelling of deep-seated animosities that led to the anti-Tamil outburst two weeks ago involves an investigation of profound importance but that is a task that must be undertaken by the historian, political scientist and the sociologist. Political journalists can only draw attention to significant trends and preach the customary homilies on what should be done and what should not be done.

One important factor that many seem to have forgotten is that, in the ultimate analysis, the basic cause for the Sinhala-Tamil confrontations and violence is economic; in the chronic economic under-development of the island and the frustrations that stem from people seeking government jobs. During the last 20 years the economy has also suffered serious setbacks as a result of poor prices for the country’s main export crops – tea, rubber and coconut – and the continuous rise in the cost of all imports. Together with this, the population has grown at a rate of around 2.5% while economic growth has see-sawed between 2% and 4%. On this rate of population and economic growth, the back log of under-development has not been cleared and the demands of the new generations with greater consumerism have not been met. The net result is that there are too many young people (and even older people) wanting ‘suitable’ jobs, but there are not even ‘unsuitable’ jobs to dole out. In the absence of dynamic economic growth and development, frustrations, fears and bitterness easily spark off communal passions that have been deliberately nurtured in the hearts and minds of the Sinhalese and Tamils (and also of the Muslims) on the slightest provocation.

The manner in which Sinhala, the official language, was manipulated to deny jobs to Tamils through discriminatory practices and also to ensure a kind of monopoly to Sinhalese, without any considerations for merit, laid the foundation for bitter resentment among the Tamils and also the far among the Sinhalese that if the language policy (and its administrative manipulation) were altered in the slightest they would not get the jobs that were getting (and even lose some of those allotted to them). Coupled with this, standardization was forcibly thrust upon the United Front Government through a radala-led Sinhala chauvinist organization (now shedding crocodile tears for the sufferings of the Tamils). The ex-PM and her government adopted a whole host of other measures suggested by this neo-fascist racialist organization to restrict employment of Tamils in all government services and even in the mercantile sector.

This economic discrimination against the Tamils operated through the official language, standardization and district quotas, MPs chits and a whole lot of administrative devices must be viewed in the background of nearly fifty years of officially sponsored colonization of Tamil areas. This colonization was one-sided and partisan. Whilst Sinhalese were planted in Tamil areas with huge government subsidies, Tamils did not enjoy any rights in Colonisation Schemes in Sinhala areas. In some ‘buffer’ zones a few Tamils were thrust in as colonists in a Sinhala scheme as a propaganda smokescreen, but every time there was communal tension these Tamil colonists have been driven away after being robbed (many have been killed). The Tamils have therefore developed a sense of insecurity that the Government was using the Land Development Ordinance to promote racial and territorial genocide. Unless this sense of insecurity is removed, the frustrations of the Tamils will keep growing. The cry for Eelam came as a last desperate slogan of Tamil frustration.

Sinhala sentiments, on the other hand, has been aggravated by atavistic prejudices among the Sinhalese who have, in recent decades, been persuaded to look upon Tamils as ‘invaders’ who pillaged Buddhist temples and had destroyed ancient Sinhalese civilization. The Sinhalese also fear that the separatist movement for Eelam would seek to merge the north of Ceylon with the neighbouring Tamil Nadu in South India, barely 12-16 miles across the Palk Straits. All this and more has been repeated ad nauseam by politicians of various persuasions. The case for the Sinhalese and the case for the Tamils has been proclaimed from many housetops, but at the moment what is important is not arguments for and against Eelam or any other concept but a way out of what is regarded as an impasse that has led to so much violence, arson, looting and displacement. (Sri Lanka will now have a permanent refugee problem if a solution is not found for the communal tensions and confrontations).

The Prime Minister, apart from the statement he made on August 18 in the NSA when the Leader of the Opposition Amirthalingam raised the matter of the communal violence on an adjournment motion, has maintained discreet silence. He had however shown a great deal of personal interest in alleviating the sufferings of the refugees and more importantly taking very necessary steps to bring the situation under control. However in a message, the PM sent to the World Peace through Law Centre Conference, the Prime Minister gave an inkling of the kind of solution he had in mind for the communal imbroglio in Ceylon – a stand consistent with the manifesto of the UNP. His message to the Conference merits attention.

“ On the occasion of the World Law Day, and at the very commencement of my Government’s term of office, it gives me great pleasure to state before an international forum dedicated to the promotion of human rights in the world, my Government’s programme and policy in regard to the protection and enhancement of human rights in Sri Lanka. By a happy coincidence, my Government which on the 21st of July 1977 was elected by universal franchise, complete its first month in office on World Law Day.

During this month, I have presented to the National State Assembly a comprehensive statement of the policy of my Government with primary emphasis on human rights, the economic emancipation of the poor and the moral regeneration of our society.

At the general elections just concluded, my party sought, and overwhelmingly received, a mandate from the people, for the establishment of a just and free society in Sri Lanka.

In Sri Lanka, we have a pluralistic parliamentary form of democracy. However, as with every democracy, in the absence of public vigilance, the institutional safeguards of human freedom tend to become eroded. My Government does not believe in the achievement of economic prosperity at the cost of human freedom.

It is for this reason that my Government intends to give the highest priority to the redress of the unfortunate erosions, in the recent past, of institutional democracy in Sri Lanka. Through immediate constitutional reforms my Government intends to restore, to the status of involability, the universally recognized fundamental human rights, enshrined in the Universal Declaration.

My Government is profoundly committed to the absolute independence of the judiciary, free of political control as a pre-requisite for the guaranteeing of equality before the law and equal protection of the law for the people. To this end, it is proposed that the executive be divested of any means whatever of interfering whether directly or indirectly with the course of justice. It is further proposed that all extraordinary judicial tribunals before which individuals may be tried under discriminatory rules of procedures and evidence be abolished. My Government has also pledged to review the cases of persons already so tried and punished.

My Government believes in a clean and open administration and therefore deprecates the practice of resorting to legal formulae designed to screen governmental and administrative action from scrutiny by the Courts.

My Government rejects the practices of arbitrary arrest, detention without trial of suspected offenders and all forms of inhuman treatment of prisoners.

The concept of the political prisoner will be eliminated by guaranteeing to everyone, justice according to universal standards and in terms of the ordinary law of the land.

Safeguards will also restrict the ‘emergency powers’ of the executive to periods of genuine threats to national security.

My Government believes that the freedom to associate and the freedom of expression are essential to every other freedom.

Accordingly the formation and activities of political parties will not be curtailed in any way.

The freedom of the press will not only be guaranteed but active assistance will be extended to all political parties to publish their views.

The present state-controlled broadcasting system and the newspaper organisations will be freed from political control by laying down guidelines for the unbiased dissemination of information. The controlling bodies of these organisations will be broad based.

My Government is dedicated to the elimination of all forms of discrimination, in this task, the redress of the grievances of all ethnic, religious and caste groups will receive my Government’s urgent attention.

To this end, an all-party conference will shortly be summoned to consider the problems of the non-Sinhala speaking people and its decisions will be incorporated in the proposed constitution.

While moving speedily to restore and entrench the necessary legal safeguards for the promotions and protections of civil liberties my Government is acutely aware that institutional mechanisms in themselves will not ensure to the people the desired protection if in the administration of the law, persons in authority do not act in the spirit of, and with complete dedication to, the philosophy underlying these safeguards.

It is with this realization that My Government has set out to establish a Government and public service of determined and incorruptible men and women with a new moral commitment not only to efficiency but also to justice and fairness. In this endeavor persons in high office will be called upon to set the primary example.”

The PM’s message to the Manila Law Conference was an indication of what was in his mind. The Information Department release containing a Buddhist monk’s unbuddhistic solution to the problem probably represents the hardliner tough chauvinist Sinhala Buddhist opinion. Several UNP Ministers have made soft statements about the need to have a compromise solution. There have a whole host of statements and appeals asking everybody to be peaceful and calm. Many Buddhist organisations have pleaded for compassion – no doubt compassion for the Tamils.

What is needed is not compassion. After thrashing a man to an inch of his life it is pointless preaching homily on compassion. After killing the breadwinner (and looting everything the family had and setting fire to the house) what is needed is not compassion for the victims. In religion, compassion must be shown to the sinner and not to the victim.

The slip the TULF leaders made in indulging in bravado talk about Eelam was utilized to punish a whole community with a ferocity that has left permanent scars. Many Sinhalese with victorious glee now want the TULF to climb down, eat humble pie and repudiate Eelam. This cannot be expected of even enemies in defeat. There are victors or losers in modern battles or contemporary political confrontations. Those who want to find a solution to the problem must not expect an abject apology from the TULF or the Tamils.

The real test of UNP statesmanship will lie in making it possible for the TULF and the Tamils to forget about Eelam, at least for the movement. The UNP has decided to do away with standardization. This is a very big step forward. But the impact of this decision will be known in concrete terms only after the University admission selections in mid 1978. Not before, and the skeptical (and all Tamils are justifiably skeptical) Tamil will say that he must ‘wait and see’. Without waiting to see what the TULF will say or do the Government must include in the forthcoming amendment to the Constitution the constitutional guarantees envisaged in the UNP manifesto. A Round Table Conference would prove fruitful only after such a step has been taken.

The initiative must be taken by the Government to break the deadlock. The olive branch and an indication of the ‘package deal’ must be held out to the TULF and the Tamils. The TULF, for its part, will do well to maintain the kind of discreet silence its now deceased leader, S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, maintained on such occasions. It is true that the TULF has the democratic right to speak about Eelam. In this connection, we are reminded of a cartoon that had appeared some years ago in the prestigious weekly Punch depicting a memorial stone in a graveyard for a motorist with the inscription HERE LIES THE MAN WHO INSISTED ON HIS RIGHT OF WAY. Sinhalese chauvinists have, no doubt temporarily, succeeded in securing a victory in a graveyard, but if they do not want Draculas and Frankensteins to emerge, (not among from the Tamils but from the Sinhalese who ran amok), they must bring this unhappy state of affairs to an end in the self interest of the Sinhalese themselves.

Neither the Government nor even compassionate Sinhalese (Buddhists, Christians, Leftists) should expect any favourable reactions from the Tamils to the appeals of ‘prominent Colombo Tamils’ – such as those whose statement appeared in the last issue of Tribune and also in all the newspapers (and over the SLBC too) – or Colombo Tamil politicians like V. Kumaraswamy. A young Tamil youth, S. Sri Kantha, whose article on the polls verdict on Eelam in the North and East appeared in the Tribune of August 27 has written with hot indignation to the Editor and we reproduce relevant passages from his letter below:

As my article in Tribune (Aug. 27, 1977) has also been cited in the ‘Editor’s Note Book’ of that issue, I have the bounden duty to reply and clear doubts expressed by the Editor on the lines of economic prosperity of Eelam, to many of the readers, and detail out my point of view. Before I espouse my point of view, I like to expose some of the common features of the gentlemen, represented by 15 Tamil names, Tribune had listed in the last issue, who had appealed for peace. These so-called ‘Tamil residents in Colombo’ (better if they would have put, Colombo 7 and 3 or 5) have the following common features.

  1. Almost all of them have passed their prime (i.e. above 60-age level), just marking time for their last visit to ‘Kanatte’ (I certainly have respect for these distinguished citizens; if the wording is strong, please forgive me.).
  2. Their palatial mansions, located in spacious Colombo 7 and 3 or 5, had not been attacked or lotted by the unscrupulous elements, who went on rampage.
  3. Except for the two James’ (Rev. V. Mather and Mr. Rutnam), others have retired (or on the verge of retiring) from active life, just passing time by sending reports to press, seated in arm-chairs. They hardly come into contact with the younger generations, of the lower income group, from both the communities.
  4. All of them had their education in English – with their Sinhalese friends in the same class rooms and lecture rooms; and would have sipped Scotch whisky with the socially elevated Sinhalese group only.
  5. Most of their progeny are doing well, not in our Sri Lanka, but abroad, hence not exposed to the racial in-breeding tension prevailing here.

Are these retired Supreme Court Judges, Queen Counsels, Doctors, Retired Civil Servants and Business Magnates, who are going to form the nucleus of the future generation of Sri Lanka – Definitely no!

The writer, a 24-year old youth, claims to have the authority to speak on behalf of the down trodden frustrated youth (whom you depicts as ‘youthful fanatics’), being educated in swabasha, being victimized by standardization, and also in job opportunities (by Mrs. B’s Govt.), even after obtaining a Science degree from our own University of Sri Lanka.

Mr. Editor, I was of the opinion that you are really well informed and you wouldn’t have made statements like, ‘…the economy of the Jaffna peninsula is very much dependent on the gainful and lucrative employment of Jaffna Tamils outside – a large number in Sri Lanka and a very smaller number outside the country.’ Your statement, is true, partially, but not fully. If the ‘Jaffna economy’ is so much dependent on the rest of the seven provinces, how can the front pages of the dailies publish two column front page headings, such as ‘Jaffna Red Onions, Dried Chillies by sea’ (Sun, Aug.26, 1977), ‘Onions, beetroots airlifted to Colombo’ (Daily News, Aug. 29, 1977). These news items informed us that 10,000 lb of onions and 700 lb of beetroot were airlifted; 2,000 cwt. of dried chillies, 35 cwt pumpkins were shipped to Colombo, mind you, all coming from ‘economically depleted’ Jaffna peninsula!….’

This angry young man, (and there are thousands of them) then went to argue that Eelam was a viable proposition. In desperation one can find arguments to support any brief, and we will not enter into polemic about the viability of Eelam whose boundaries are yet to be defined. A displaced young Tamil, with nowhere to go, and who has been denied job opportunities, (after he had managed to obtain a university degree having gone through the needle’s eye of standardization and district quotas), has nowhere to turn except Eelam, the mythical haven of Ceylon Tamils.

The statements made by ‘prominent’ Colombo Tamils and compassionate Sinhalese have a limited and specific purpose: they help to pour oil on troubled waters. Now that the waters have calmed down a little, compassion and pious proclamations of goodwill and good intentions are of little avail.

More useful and meaningful than these statements oozing compassion were the appeals from many trade unions and political organisations. One of the first notable of these statements came from the CMU and other Unions:

Eight of Sri Lanka’s powerful trade unions – the Ceylon Bank Employees Union, Ceylon Trade Union Federation, Ceylon Workers Congress, Independent Harbour Workers’ Union, Public Service Technical Officer’s Trade Union, Federation Union of Posts and Telecommunication Officers and the Ceylon Estate Staffs Union – while severely condemning violence have called upon the working class to assert themselves as best they can both individually and collectively to protect innocent people from violence and re-establish normal conditions.

The following is the text of the communique of the unions:

‘The above mentioned organisations of the Trade Union Coordinating Committee deplore and severely condemn acts of violence now taking place in various parts of the country.

Seizing on a clash that occurred in Jaffna between police personnel and members of the publish on 16.8.1977 anti-social and criminal elements in various parts of the country have launched a campaign of rumour-mongering and incitement to communal violence. The resulting acts of violence, arson, looting and robbery have already claimed a number of innocent lives and led to the loss of destruction of property and personal possessions.

Apart from the harm caused to the victims of this senseless campaign of violence the present state of disorder and the resulting curfew throughout the country have disrupted normal life. Goods are in short supply and unscrupulous traders have exploited the situation by raising prices to unconscionable levels. The public and the working class in particular, the overwhelming majority of whom are opposed to this continuing state of disorder have become the victims of a situation for which they are not responsible.

We call upon the working class and other sections of the population to assert themselves as best they can, both individually and collectively, to protect innocent people from violence and re-establish normal conditions.

In particular, we earnestly request everyone to discourage rumour-mongering and to refrain from repeating rumours they hear from others. The expression of views likely to aggravate the current situation should be strictly avoided.’

A very large number of other associations led by the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress, the Sarvodaya Movement, the Centre for Religion and Society together with other associations formed civilian vigilance and defence units to help the police and the armed services to restore normalcy. The Daily Mirror of August 27 under heading CIVILIAN VOLUNTEER DEFENCE UNITS TO HEP POLICE BID TO RESTORE CONFIDENCE IN HOMES stated,

The Civilian Volunteer Defence Units throughout the Colombo District came into operation yesterday. While assisting the police and armed services in their security operations, these units performed yeoman service by helping to restore confidence in the people alarmed by recent events, official sources said. The units were organized to operate street by street, lane by lane and flat by flat. Such organisations as the Rotary, Lions, Jaycees, YMCA and other religious organisations including Buddhist monks and Christian clergymen participated in the campaign to bring life back to normalcy in the troubled areas. Yesterday at a top level police con conference, all SPs, ASPs and OICs of police stations were told how these Units would assist the security forces especially during curfew hours.

Many Rotarians and Lions have placed their cars at the disposal of these Units to help take people to hospital in times of emergency and the Services when urgently required to transport their personnel. The Units would also organize foot patrols in areas isolated from the main roads and keep the security forces informed about any movements of suspicious persons. They would organize a system where information could be relayed to a person who would always be near a telephone or a vehicle ready to pass the information to a mobile patrol on the main road. The Units would also bring calm to those living in fear in their houses. Clergymen of all religious denominations would go round to the people affected by the recent disturbances and re-assure them that things were normal again. The police meanwhile were asked to intensify their patrols near shanties and arrest anyone found violating the curfew. Police sources said that the majority of mischief-makers had come from the shanties at Gandpass, Mattakkuliya, Pettah and the Wellawatte Canal banks. The Units in the Mount Lavinia, Dehiwela, Nugegoda and Kelaniya were also organized among the local citizens and were expected to come into operation today.

There is no doubt that these Civilian Defence Units have done a great deal to help the police and the armed services to end the panic which had stemmed from the violence. Although many units of the police, for reasons still unknown, were slow to react to the violence and looting, suddenly woke up to their obligations and thereafter discharged their duties in admirable style. The Armed Services have done well by the people, the government and the country. As we go to the press, the curfew has been lifted on an all island basis.

There is a great deal of speculation as to WHO HAS DONE IT? This will be recurring theme in these notes for many months to come. To set the ball rolling we cite a statement made by the Finance Minister, Mr. Ronnie de Mel (Daily News, 27/8/77), to provoke comment from our readers and to initiate a discussion on this very important matter, second only to the need to find an interim solution to defuse the tension and promote communal amity – a prerequisite to bring a lasting solution:

Some sections of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party were responsible for the present crisis facing the country, said the Finance Minister Mr. Ronnie de Mel yesterday at the foundation stone laying ceremony for the headquarters of the Government Officers Benefit Association at Sir Chittampalam Gardiner Mawata, Colombo.

Mr. de Mel said: (I am making this charge directly at the SLFP as there is enough matter to believe that they are responsible for turning the Jaffna incident which was purely non-communal into a communal clash. They may have intended by that to creep into power over dead bodies of people, but I would warn them that they are playing with the wrong Government.’

The Minister appealed to all sections of public servants not to believe rumours spread by defeated political elements, but to help the government in all possible ways to restore normalcy as soon as possible…’

This charge against ‘some sections’ of the SLFP has been made by many respon sible persons. Important and influential SLFP ‘elements’ have been taken into custody in connection with the recent violence. Reports reaching Tribune indicate that some sections of the SLFP and also some of the lunatic fringe of the ULF have participated in the violence. We cannot pronounce a verdict on the basis of such reports. The proposed Commission of Inquiry must do a thorough job of investigation.



Letter from the Editor* [Tribune, Colombo, September 3, 1977, p.1]


A very restricted and circumscribed Perahera took place this year instead of the mighty religious carnival which propaganda for domestic consumption has made out to be a world-shaking international event. But with all the global significance attached to the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy as one of the Meccas of the Buddhist religion, recent events in the town and its environs will be long remembered as the very antithesis of everything Buddhist. Historians and others will detail and elaborate on the carnage that was Kandy during the recent anti-Tamil communal violence, but we will confine ourselves to the mere thought of what Gautama Buddha would have to say from his Nirvana about the manner in which Sinhala Buddhist mobs were incited by Sinhala Buddhist ‘leaders’ to murder, loot, pillage and burn Tamils and their homes (after taking away all worthwhile movables). The same things and worse took place at other Meccas of Buddhist pilgrimage – Anuradhapura, Dambulla, Polonnaruwa, Kotte, just to mention a few. Before sane-minded Buddhist leaders and religious dignitaries could begin to issue statements and appeals to stop the carnage, the damage had been done. Blaming the TULF political leadership – is no excuse for the communal violence that was unleashed in a planned, deliberate and organized manner upon hundreds of thousands of Tamils. If the TULF and the Tamils had been driven to ask for Eelam in their bitter frustration, Sinhala communalists, with their communal violence in 1956, 1957, 1958 and 1977, have laid the basis and foundation for a divided Ceylon. To repair the damage done will take a great political tact and human sympathy. It will not be enough to talk of the Buddha dhamma or his maitri, but these must be practiced in a concrete manner. Buddhist organisations have begun to move and act, but there are Buddhist priests and others who seem to think that blood-curdling speeches and statements will bring the Tamils to their knees. One Buddhist monk, who seems to have the blessings of the Information Department, had demanded the permanent Sinhala military occupation of Jaffna and the complete Sinhala colonization of the areas which are the traditional homelands of the Tamils. It is such a policy that has brought about the present impasse. If the Tamils had also been given opportunities to ‘colonise’ Sinhalese areas under state auspices, it would be different. Nor can such policies they establish hegemony for a race in the modern world. There are innumerable examples in history to show that such unthinking policies have proved suicidal. The Prime Minister, Mr. J. R. Jayewardene, had, very correctly, requested the TULF leaders to desist from making inflammatory speeches that would provoke the Sinhalese, and he also gave a stern warning that ‘If it is peace it will be peace and if it is war it will be war’. Mr. Jayewardene is primarily the leader of the Sinhalese and only after that the Prime Minister of a multi-racial Sri Lanka. He has to keep his followers happy, but he has also an obligation to keep the unity of this country intact. This cannot be done by merely castigating the Tamils and the TULF – in spite of all the kindnesses shown to the Tamil refugees in their misery. He has also to restrain those of his followers who are inclined to indulge in communal outbursts which incite the Sinhalese fanatics to violence and also develop a sense of burning hatred against everything Sinhalese among the Tamils. The speech of the UNP backbencher, Merrill Kariyawasam, made in the NSA during the last debate was a racialist battle cry which the UNP cannot afford to endorse or even ignore. Kariyawasam spoke of Dutugemunu and that there was a Dutugemunu in the heart of every Sinhala. Such rhetoric is counter-productive and will make matters worse. Even if Mr. E.L .Senanayake’s history was cock-eyed and irrelevant, his condemnation of communal violence and the practical assistance he had rendered to Tamils in Kandy and elsewhere has endeared him to all. Everything must be done to end the communal hatred that has been stirred by rumours spread by designing persons. This kind of communal holocaust had been caused before also through rumours and it has been done now, and it is imperative that it should not happen again. It is time that it is recognised that the real crux of the problem is economic. Such rumours will not be believed if there is greater employment and greater economic development in which all communities participate.


Merril Kariyawasam (1937-1989)

End Note by Sachi

Mr. Merril Kariyawasam (1937–1989) was a rookie UNP MP, who gained some notice in July 1977 General Election, for winning against the veteran politician LSSP MP Dr. Colvin R. de Silva. Among the 140 UNP MPs who were elected in that General Election, may be, he wanted some recognition in the media at the expense of grieved Tamils. He was an attorney by profession. One may call it retributive justice. On September 5, 1989, the same Kariyawasam was assassinated by the Sinhalese Deshapremi Janatha Vyaparaya (Patriotic People’s Movement), a terrorist front of the JVP.

An appreciation written by Kariyawasam’s elder sibling, Wimal Kariyawasam [Sunday Times, Colombo, September 19, 2010] presents a distorted story. This guy falsely attempted to link LTTE to Merril Kariyawasam’s assassination in Ratmalana. According to his cock-eyed story,

“The LTTE and the anti-nationalists were at their peak at the time. His involvement in the nationalist movement made him a target of the LTTE and the anti-nationalists, who masqueraded as patriots. These forces ultimately took away his precious life in a most dastardly manner.” [http://www.sundaytimes.lk/100919/Plus/plus_13.html]

In fact, in 1989, LTTE was seriously engaged in tackling the IPKF army in the North and East of the island, while JVP was spreading  terror in the Southern regions of the island. Subsequently I found the real truth in an item posted by Dharman Wickramaratne in July 22, 2015. This relates to the general strike of July 15, 1980, in which the then Jayewardene government sacked over 30,000 workers; and there was one death on that day. The victim was a Sinhalese worker Somapala. Here is an excerpt.

“Assistant Superintendent of Police, Colombo Fort area, N.I. Ratnayake in his report on the incident submitted to IGP Ana Seneviratne, stated: There were over 100 demonstrators opposite the Government Supplies Department on June 5 at 12.45 p.m.  At this time a group in jeep No.31 Sri 1111 which came from the direction of Slave Island started throwing sticks and stones at those who were picketing.  Then there was a sound of an explosion.  Six injured persons were hospitalized.  Agalawatte MP Merril Kariyawasam was seen seated on the front seat of the jeep which moved away from the scene before going past Lake House. One person died in the incident.”

Nine years later, in September 1989, during the second JVP insurgency, the Deshapremi Janatha Vyaparaya (Patriotic People’s Movement) assassinated Merril Kariyawasam as punishment” for causing Somapala’s death, according to DJV’s radio channel ‘Ranahanda’ (militant voice).”



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