By K T Rajasingham, ‘Asian Times,’ Singapore, 2002
The ethnic holocaust of 1983 was the last of the anti-Tamil program ingeniously devised, applied and implemented by the Sinhalese political leaders in the government for a “Final Solution” before embarking on full scale state-sponsored terrorism through military-adventurism.
President Jayewardene said in reference to the TULF in his interview with the Daily Telegraph (London), of July 12, reproduced in the Sunday Observer on July 17, “They used to speak on behalf of the terrorists. But now all that is going to cease. As long as TULF remained in parliament, its members would be consulted on political issues. But on terrorist issues, these we are going to deal with ourselves, without any quarter being given.
“I have tried to be effective for some time but cannot. I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people now. Now we can’t think of them. Not about their lives or of their political opinion about us.”
In a week’s time, or little later, Jaffna people learnt exactly what the president meant by the statement he made in his unguarded moment to Ian Ward, the British journalist.
It was here that the president disclosed that, he would call a round table conference of party leaders, including the former prime minister, Srimavo Bandaranaike, whose civic rights he had stripped for seven years. As to the purpose, he said that whether or not they attend the conference or accept his proposals, he would still go ahead with anti-terrorist measures. On Amnesty International, he said it was important to note that its key office bearers in Sri Lanka “were all communists”.
He then came to the most memorable part of the interview: “I have tried to be effective for some time, but I cannot. I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people now … Now we can’t think of them. Not about their lives, or their opinion about us. Nothing will happen in our favor until the terrorists are wiped out. Just that. You can’t cure an appendicitis patient until you remove the appendix.”
On July 19, 1983, President Jayewardene issued an emergency order imposing censorship on the press and restricting the movement of journalists around the country. Furthermore, earlier in July, Jayewardene had promulgated the Public Security Act, permitting the security forces to immediately bury or cremate dead bodies without post mortem examination, inquest or judicial inquiry of any kind.
Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi instructed her additional Foreign Secretary (East) K Shankar Bajpai, to summon Bernard Tilakaratne, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner, and convey India’s concern about the emergency regulations.
The regulations were gazetted on July 3, 1983, and were criticized severely in the Indian press. Subsequently, A C S Hameed, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, summoned the Indian High Commissioner, S J J Chhatwal, to his ministry and explained why the regulations had been invoked. He told the commissioner that the regulations aimed to free the armed forces from having to spend time at judicial inquiries. As the Indian High Commissioner was not convinced, he sent his report to New Delhi, denouncing the regulation.
Tilakaratne, reacted to Bajpai by saying, “My God, Mr Bajpai, this interference.” Then it was reported that, he asked, “Is this the view of the Tamil Nadu state government, or of the Center?” Bajpai told him that, it was the concern of the Indian government, at the highest level.
After the meeting, Bernard Tilakratne telexed Bajpai’s warning to Colombo. President Jayewardene was annoyed with India’s concern. “Just prior to the outbreak of the riots, the Indian Government, through an official spokesman, Shankar Bajpai, Secretary [East] at the Ministry of External Affairs, had expressed concern at some hard measures announced by the Sri Lanka government in response to political violence in the north of the island. The latter had responded rather testily to this Indian initiative and protested that it was an unwarranted, but deliberate and wholly unacceptable, attempt to interfere in the country’s internal affairs.” J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka: A Political Biography- Volume Two: From 1956 to His Retirement (1989)by K M de Silva and Howard Wriggins, pages 567-568.
The government-owned Daily News of July 21 carried the headlines, “Colombo reacts angrily to Indian meddling.” With prodding from the government, editorial writers went to town with titles like, “How come Big Brother?” – Daily News, July 22, and “Big Bully” – Sun, July 22, 1983.
In the meantime, the Sri Lankan government got a backbencher to raise the matter from the floor of parliament and Foreign Minister Hameed replied as follows, “We respect the cardinal principle of the Non-Aligned Movement of non-interference in any country’s internal affairs. We hope our good neighbor will adhere to this.”
Subsequently, on the instruction of President Jayewardene, Hameed summoned the acting Indian High Commissioner R N Abhyankar, to his ministry and conveyed the government’s displeasure on India’s position, stating that it amounted to interfering in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka. Hameed warned that it would damage the good bilateral relations between the two countries.
Shankar Bajpai, additional secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs, clarified to Bernard Tillekeratne, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner, that India was merely conveying its concern about the emergency regulations, which allowed the disposal of corpses without inquest. He added that they were closely watching developments in Jaffna, which could have repercussions in India. It was all in polite, diplomatic language that could not be faulted.
Meanwhile, Lalith Athulathmudali the Minister of Trade and Shipping, delivered a speech in parliament on July 21, remarkable for its close resemblance to Jayewardene’s interview, published 10 days earlier, “As far as the government is concerned, what it thinks is correct for the Tamils, it will carry out. Whether you participate in the round-table conference or not, whether you support us or not, we will implement what we want to implement. The government will go ahead with what it thinks is correct to bring an end to terrorism.
“In the process, innocents may suffer. We will do our best to avoid it. I think the SLFP wants to fight terrorism and I am not convinced as to the reasons why they are backing out of the round table conference. As a Sinhalese-Buddhist party, how can you refuse to participate in a conference of this nature? How will you face any election, or the people, if you do not come forward to eradicate terrorism? I call upon you to join hands with us to suppress these fascist terrorists. I also call upon the Communist Party and MEP to join the government in its solution to terrorism. I must tell these parties, Sarath Muttetuwegama and Dinesh Gunawardena not to confuse the security issue of the north with the Tamil problem. These problems are encountered by all Tamils. The government is very conscious of this. Come to the round-table and we will find solutions to the whole problem.”
The TULF MPs did not attend parliament on July 22, 1983, stating that their terms of office had lapsed. They instead, attend the TULF annual convention held at Mannar. They resolved that the TULF should not talk to the government in the future, because the Tamils had been let down at every turn.
According to the dictates of Colombo, the army began to unleash terror in the Jaffna peninsula. The Sri Lankan army behaved like an occupying force operating in enemy territory. The government’s imposition of strict censorship on all news relating to Tamil people and the operation of the army in Tamil areas, helped the army to inflict collective punishment on Tamils.
On July 22, the army in Jaffna abducted three Tamil girls and took them to their camps, but the news spread that army personnel had gang-raped them and subsequently, one of them had committed suicide.
Earlier on July 15, on a tip-off about Charles Anthony, alias Seelan, the number two man of the LTTE, the army arrived and encircled Meesalai near Chavakachcheri. On warning of the arrival of a company of army men, Seelan, along with Aruna, Anand and Ganesh, decamped on bicycles. Soldiers spotted them and opened fire, and Seelan, who was already a casualty with an injured kneecap from the Chavakachcheri police station attack, had to abandon his bicycle and run through a paddy field, to give a slip to the chasing army men.
While on the run, it was said that, Seelan was further injured by gunshot and he was unable to run. He first requested, according to reports, that he be shot and killed by his men, before he fell into the hands of the Sri Lankan army. When his comrades-in-arms hesitated, Seelan told them that he could not bear the agonizing pain any more and could not move fast, therefore he ordered Aruna, his childhood friend from Trincomalee, to shoot and finish him off.
When Aruna hesitated, he screamed at him, “Shoot me, I don’t want to get into their hands alive.” Aruna, in the end, is said to have placed the barrel of his rifle on Seelan’s forehead and shot him. Later, it was said that the LTTE was determined to avenge the death of Seelan and it was planned in such a way, very minutely, to take revenge on the Sri Lankan army.
The Colombo press was highly elated by the death of Seelan. Evidently, the army in Jaffna, under Brigadier J G Balthaazer, had made an intelligence break into the movements and safe houses of some key LTTE men.
On July 23, around midnight, a group of LTTE men, including Prabakaran, Kittu, Iyer, Victor, Pulendran, Chellakili, Santhosam and Appiah, in all totaling 25 Tiger cadres, buried powerful landmines in a hole dug by the telephone department, at Tirunelveli, close to the Jaffna University, and waited on both sides of the road for the army vehicles to pass through.
On this day information about Sellakili and a few others was fed to the army, but it ignored an order not to go out on night patrol and went out in a convoy of two vehicles in search of Sellakili. Suddenly, the patrol was asked by radio to shorten its route and return to base early. The “Four Brave Four” codename for the convoy of a jeep and a truck carrying an officer and 14 soldiers was on patrol at the time.
On returning, the convoy went to Jaffna market, Naga Vihara, Nallur, Kopay and then to Urumpirai. When at Urumpirai, the convoy contacted Gurunagar Camp and informed that everything was normal, and proceeded to Kondavil, Kokuvil and was on its way to Kalviyankadu.
At Thirunelvely, the jeep exploded as it went over the telephone hole and all six soldiers in jeep were blown up. The following truck braked and the men inside jumped into a hail of fire of SMGs, G-3s and rifles from the waiting Tigers. The ambush was brief but a total of 13 army men died and two were wounded. Also, Sellakili was killed in the campaign with a mysterious bullet to the chest. No clear picture emerged regarding his death in the highly successful ambush as far as the LTTE was concerned.
The Tigers’ joy was short-lived when they found out that Sellakli, the key LTTE member who planned the ambush, had died. Saddened, the Tigers collected the weapons of the soldiers and also removed the body of Sellakli to their hideouts, to be later given a hero’s cremation.
Meanwhile, Corporal J R A U Perera managed to slip away unnoticed, with gunshot injuries, running with a bleeding leg to the Kondavil bus depot, where he telephoned the Gurunagar army camp about the incident. Immediately, Northern Army Commander Brigadier Balthaazer sent out a search party, which later reported the deaths of the 13 soldiers.
The massacre of the 13 soldiers, the single biggest loss sustained by the Sri Lankan army at the hands of Tamil militants, opened the flood-gates to the genocidal approach of the Sri Lankan armed forces and the government.
The following day the army went on a rampage in Jaffna, killing more than 41 people and injuring 100 civilians. In Manipay, the army shot and killed nine people, including six schoolchildren. The army indulged in an orgy of rioting, looting, arson and murder. Ordinary Tamil civilians waiting for buses as well as pedestrians on roads were shot and killed.
The 13 soldiers killed were all Sinhalese and the majority of them were in their early twenties, and one was just a teenager. The news of the killings reached Colombo on the afternoon of July 24. The army wanted a military funeral with full military honors. The president acceded to their request and the government decided to fly the bodies to Colombo for cremation, on July 24, at the General Cemetery, at Kannatte, in Colombo.
But, there was an unexplained delay in bringing the bodies to Colombo. Meanwhile, people began to congregate and thousands tried to surround the private residence of President Jayewardene, located in Wards Place, Cinnamon Garden. Subsequently, the police tear-gassed and chased them away. When the bodies finally arrived, they were in blood-soaked polythene covers, instead of in coffins.
Previously, as press censorship was in force, news about military activities as well as deaths and casualties of soldiers and police was not reported in the mass media. But the government issued a communique on July 24, stating its intention of arranging a cremation with full military honors for the soldiers, giving details and the circumstances under which they had died with their names, for publication. The communique gave a twist to the deaths, as an act of racial killings.
Large crowds, including relatives of the deceased, turned up at the cemetery, at Kannatte, in Colombo. After some time, the crowd turned restive.
While a section of the government leaders was busy organizing the funeral arrangements, another section of leaders, evidently was busy organizing an anti-Tamil program.
“The second story begins to surface at some time in the week beginning the 17th of July. There were cryptic declarations that ‘Sinhala heroes’ were being got ready for some great exploit. Those who took these seriously were anxious about violence organized by extreme racist groups, but unable to do anything specific to avert the unknown danger. On the night of July 24, bands of people gathered for the unruly demonstration at Kannatte, and then proceeded to set upon any Tamils they could identify on the street; they proceeded to Tamil shops and dwellings in the vicinity, mainly in Borella, attacking and burning, and then spread the action towards Timbirisgasaya.
“The program had begun. It began literally at the end of the road, Ward Place, where J R Jayewardene has his residence, and where he was that night, with his house guarded by special military unit and armored cars and tanks. There is evidence that those officers who had kept the president informed of what was happening had been certain that a curfew would be imposed once. It was not.” Sri Lanka: The Holocaust and After by L Piyadasa, page 79.
Eventually, the government agreed to hand over the dead bodies to the relatives for cremation or burial. On July 24 Ranasinghe Premadasa, the prime minister, announced in the National State Assembly that, consequent to requests made by the relatives of the deceased officers, the bodies would not be brought to the cemetery, but arrangements were being made to deliver them to the relatives the following morning. Therefore, it was clear that there was to be no funeral at Kannatte on July 25, yet the false report of the government brought thousands to Kannatte and thus the week-long orgy of the “Final Solution” commenced.
By then, it was past 10 at night and the crowd went berserk, attacking Tamil shops and houses. Violence was to continue the following day.
On Monday, July 25, all papers splashed in their headlines, the killing of the 13 men. But the Sun had a significant addition, after printing the official communique, it came out with another news item – “Meanwhile, according to authoritative sources, the funeral with full military honors will take place today. Sources also said that, the funeral ceremonies to be held last evening were postponed because the bodies arrived to Colombo late.”
On the morning of July 25, it was quiet clear that there was to be no funeral at Kanatte, but due to the false report of the Sun and its Sinhalese paper Dawasa, thousands did gather at Kanatte and there were 49 deaths and 209 cases of arson after the crowd went on a rampage.
Also on this day, the Tamils who were being kept at the maximum security prison at Welikade were attacked and 35 of them, including Thangathurai, Jegan and Kuttimani, were hacked to death. On July 27, in a second prison riot, Tamils being held on suspected terrorist activities, were attacked, and another 18, along with Dr Rajasundaram, were beaten to death.
President Jayewardene, a Sinhalese supremacist, was silent as his ministers Cyril Mathew, Gamini Disanayake, Ananda Tissa De Alwis and his Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa were at the forefront in implementing the “Final Solution” program against Tamils. It was a week of shame.
“The government was silent during the days of terror. It sat silent when one of the most horrendous crimes of the country’s history was being perpetrated in Colombo’s high security Welikade prison. On July 25, while the city lay under a total curfew and helicopters circled the prison roof, between 300 and 400 armed men including criminals from outside and prisoners massacred 37 political prisoners: the dead were all Tamils, held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, who had been transferred to Colombo for ‘security’ reasons. Among the dead were Kuttimani and Jegan, both symbols of the Tamil resistance. Two days later, without government silence being broken, the same macabre nightmare was re-enacted, and 18 political prisoners were butchered in the prison, including the Gandhiyam Society’s Dr Rajasunderam. A senior minister later said that the Sinhalese were only ‘pacified’ after the massacre at Welikade.” The State Against the Tamils appeared in the Sri Lanka Racism and the Authoritarian State by Nancy Murray, page 105.
Later, investigations revealed that these barbaric repeated attacks on Wellikade prison would not have occurred without the tacit approval of the government and the National Security Council. The men and women responsible for these tragic incidents were never mentioned or named at any time. The prisoners who were blamed for this ruthless repression were also never identified individually, but they were identified collectively. Up to date, successive governments have failed to take any attempt to investigate this horrendous crime.
“On July 25, Sinhalese prisoners of the high-security Welikade prison broke into cells housing Tamil prisoners linked to the Eelam campaign and belabored 25 [it should be 35] inmates to death. The raiders had armed themselves with axes and firewood and went about their task mercilessly. Among those who died that day were Thangathurai and Kuttimani. The latter had his eyes gouged out. In August, the previous year, the two had been sentence to death, along with Jegan [who was also killed in the prison], and Kuttimani declared triumphantly on the deck then: ‘Kuttimani will be sentenced to death today, but tomorrow there will appear thousands of Kuttimanis. They will not be innocent like me, but more vigorous.’ He also expressed a desire to donate his eyes so that they may see the birth of Eelam. The Sinhalese prisoners had remembered the statement very well, when they pounced on Kuttimani. The prison guard tried to restrain them, but army troops inside the jail mockingly pointed their guns at the guards. The attackers had got the green signal. Two days later 17 more Tamils were massacred in a similar savage attack.” Tigers of Lanka: From Boys to Guerrillas M R Narayan Swamy, page 94.
Another heart-wrenching narration is expressed in Sri Lanka: Island of Terror – An indictment by E M Thornton and R Nithyaanandan: “Perhaps the most revolting of all the atrocities committed during the reign of terror was the slaughter in their prison cells in the high-security prison of Welikade of 35 defenseless Tamil detainees allegedly by the Sinhalese fellow-prisoners on July 25. That they were actually murdered with the active participation of prison officers was confirmed by Mark Tully of the BBC.
“According to other Tamil prisoners who survived, a crowd of 400, including Sinhalese prisoners, jailers and other unidentified men in civilian dress, broke into the section where the Tamil prisoners were held. The jailers unlocked the cell doors and the Tamils were attacked with knives, crowbars, axes and iron bars with sharp points. Most of the prisoners were hacked or clubbed to death. Those killed were nearly all political detainees imprisoned under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Among them was Sellarasa ‘Kuttimani’ Yogachandran, leader of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization and a political writer and Ganeshananthan Jeganathan both under sentence of death.
“In speeches from the dock at their trial two men announced that they would donate their eyes in the hope that they would be grafted on to Tamils who would see the birth of Eelam. They were now jeeringly reminded of the vow by their attackers, then forced to kneel and their eyes were gouged out with iron bars before they were killed. One report from a surviving prisoner adds that Kuttimani’s tongue was cut out by one of the attackers who drank the blood and cried, ‘I have drank the blood of the Tiger.’ S A David, on his escape from prison added further horrific details. A boy of 16, Mylvaganam, who had been spared by the attackers, was crouching in terror in his cell. A jail guard spotted him and stabbed him to death. Then the 35 dead were heaped in front of the statute of Gautama Buddha in the prison yard like a ‘sacrifice to appease the blood-thirsty cravings of the Sinhala demons’. Some who were still alive, added David, ‘raised their head and called for help, but were beaten down death in the heap’.
“A S David, who survived, wrote the whole tragic story of Dr Rajasunderam’s last moments in the Tamil Times, of November 1983. At 2:30 on July 27, David and his party heard shouting outside and armed prisoners were seen scaling the walls and breaking down the gates to the compound.
“The rest of the Tamil detainees broke up the tables and chairs, used them as weapons and fought desperately against the attacking criminal goon squads for their lives. Though the Tamil detainees were greatly outnumbered they succeeded in keeping the attackers at bay until after the surprise arrival of the army belatedly and dispersed the attacking criminal mob with tear gas. Subsequently the detainees were lined up against the wall and the soldiers took aim to shoot them but suddenly they were stopped by the commander who ordered them to brought down to the yard outside. Outside the yard was littered with corpses of the fellow prisoners brutally and mercilessly killed by the criminal gang. It was a miracle that the remaining Tamil detainees escaped death. On the same day the remaining Tamil detainees were evacuated to the high security prison in Batticaloa, in the Eastern province.
“Nearly 40 prisoners armed with axes, swords, crowbars, iron pipes and wooden legs appeared before the door and started break the lock. Dr Rajasunderam walked up the door and pleads with them to spare us we were not involved in any robberies or murders and as Hindus we did not believe in violence and as Buddhist they should not kill. The door suddenly opened and Dr Rajasunderam was dragged out and hit with an iron rod on the head. He fell among the crowd.” Pages 65-67.
The government of Jayewardene simply rejected action to prosecute the killers in the massacre of the Tamil prisoners and an official silence was maintained. On November 16, 1999, however, news of the gory killings at Welikade Prison was exposed by the retired Deputy Commissioner of Prisons, R N Jordan. In a news item that appeared in the government-controlled Daily News, dated December 16, 1999, with the headline “Gonawala Sunil executed plan to massacre 53 Tamil prisoners in 1983”.
“Retired Deputy Commissioner of Prisons R J N Jordan has revealed that the plan to massacre 53 Tamil detainees held in custody in the Walikada Prison in 1983, was executed by the notorious underworld character, Gonawala Sunil, a criminal who was convicted of having raped a 14-year-old girl and later released on the presidential amnesty, before the 1982 presidential election.
“Mr Jordan in a letter which was published in the Island newspaper of September 3, 1999 states: ‘The very group which planned to attack Tamils also gave permissions to attack and kill the Tamils in prison without any hesitation. But this group was very careful not to tarnish the image of the then government. Towards this end they planned out another strategy.’
“Minor change in the plan. It was envisaged that the Tamil prisoners should be murdered by fellow Sinhala prisoners, who were members of the underworld and were loyal to the UNP hierarchy.
“These underworld characters were provided with the list of Tamil prisoners in advance. After these murders were carried out, security forces were expected to enter the prison cells under the pretext of saving these Tamil prisoners.
“At this juncture, notorious underground character Gonawala Sunil was selected for the task. He was none other than a criminal who was convicted of having raped a 14-year-old girl and later released on a presidential amnesty before the 1982 presidential election.
“This very Gonawala Sunil agreed to execute the plan by sending his trusted colleagues into the prison with the same list. Higher officials attached to the prison allowed their entry.
“The attack got under way on noon July 25 and was done by dawn of the 26th as planned. Simultaneously the attacked on Tamil prisoners, too, was carried out successfully between 2 and 5 pm same day. The entire operation was narrated to the ministerial team throughout the night of July 25. The mob left the scene by the next morning.
“The Annual General Meeting of the ‘Retired Career Senior Staff Officers Association of the Prisons Department’ took place on Friday, August 20 ,1999, where the contents of this publication were discussed and roundly condemned as having been given a diabolic twist to the role of the prison staff so far as the murders were concerned. Present at the meeting were all the senior officials including the Acting Commissioner in service in July ’83. [The writer had retired in 1979 and attended as vice president].
“There was a magisterial inquiry into the murders and the public have a right to get the real picture. There is, in my opinion, also an obligation by the Justice Ministry to publish comments for public knowledge in the faces such diabolical accusation against servants carrying out their duties.
“Finally, just as a little of the events described indicates, I wonder whether there could be another hidden hand motivating the necessity for the exhibition of this unfortunate episode yet again. It looks all rather sinister to my mind.”
Even after the publication of this news item, the government under President Chandrika Kumaratunge failed to institute action against those allegedly involved, according to the news item. R N Jordan came forward to disclose the above information, which assures that the criminal Gonawila Sunil was hired by a group, who were very careful not to tarnish the image of the government.
On publication of this news the government should have instituted criminal investigations to find out details of the group behind hiring Gonawila Sunil. The police should have been instructed to meet Jordan and to made him make a statement. Action should have been taken to investigate the details of the higher prison officials who abetted and aided in the gory murder of Tamil prisoners, by allowing entry to the gang members of Gonawila Sunil. Also, action should have been taken to find out the names of the gang members engaged by Gonawila Sunil. Finally, who were those ministers to whom Gonawila Sunil and his group narrated the entire operation?
The P A government failed to institute action immediately after the publication of the news item, and the most intriguing feature in this sordid episode related with Gonawila Sunil was another news item that appeared on May 20, 2000, again in the Daily News – “Kotte Sunil dies in shoot-out”. The news item read as follows:
“An underworld leader, Kotte Sunil, who escaped the Kelaniya Police shooting on May 3, where four gangsters were killed, was yesterday morning killed in a shootout with a special police team attached to Nugegoda Police division.
“According to investigations directed by the Western Province [South] D I G Jayantha Wickremaratne, Kotte Sunil was killed at his residence at Mission Road, Kotte.
“D I G Wickremaratne said that the special police party cordoned off the area where Kotte Sunil was living and attempted to arrest him without firing at him. But immediately on seeing the police team, Kotte Sunil threw several hand bombs at the police team. Police had to open fire killing him on the spot, D I G Wickremaratne said.
“Earlier, four members of the underworld gang were killed in a shootout with the police party at Gonawela in the Kelaniya police area. They were identified as Pugoda Gallege Rohan Chamith Perera, W D Chaminda Tilak, H Don Sumith Sujeewa and K P Hercules Priyadharshana.
“In this instance, a special police team led by Inspector Muditha Nishantha circled the area where the gang was hiding and attempted to arrest them. The gang thought that a rival group had come to attack them and opened fire. The police retaliated, killing all four gang leaders who were living in a bunker. The most wanted gang leader ‘Kotte Sunil’ escaped during the shoot out. Senior S P Gamini Karunatilake with Chief Inspector Nimal Ratnayake, H Q I Mirihana police and S I Malagoda are assisting in the investigation.”
The story looks unobtrusive, but within the lines it is clear there is a mysterious streak. Gonawala Sunil and his gang were gunned down and those behind the operation had managed to buy the silence of the culprits permanently. Why? It amounts to concluding that the group that engaged the services of Gonawila Sunil and his gang were still alive and kicking and wielding power and position and still able to get rid of those who could speak against them.
Jayewardene led a corrupt and unprincipled regime. He, with his closest colleagues, destroyed virtually all serious political opposition. On the other hand, his cavalier approach towards matters saw his authority and power over his own government apparatus slip away rapidly. His narrow-minded obsession with Tamil militants challenged his authority, which fell into the hands of his ministers.
When it became clear to the assembled crowd at the Kannette cemetery that there would be no funeral there, the crowd became restive and began looting and burning in every direction. Liquor shops owned by Tamils and Indians were looted. The Indian-owned chain of liquor shops – Victoria Stores – was looted and the mob got drunk.
At 2 pm, curfew was clamped on Colombo. The curfew was imposed in other districts at 6 pm on the same day – July 25.
The factories of Indian industrialists were razed. Factories belonging to A Y Gnanam, the only Sri Lankan industrialist to have received a loan from the World Bank – the business chain belonging to Maharajah Organization – and the Indian-owned textile mills of Hidramani Ltd, where more than 4,000 Sinhalese were employed, were gutted. K G Industries belonging to K Gunaratnam, a leading Jaffna Tamil businessman, who owned several theaters in Colombo; Hentley Garments, one of the biggest garment exporters and several other large textile and garment factories were set on fire. Anything that belonged to Tamils, either Tamils of Sri Lanka or Tamils of Indian origin, were marked off for arson.
The Indian Overseas Bank, as well as Bank of Oman, were set on fire. Many cinemas belonging to Tamils in Colombo and its suburbs were razed.
Rioting spread to the provinces the next day. Gampaha, Kalutura, Kandy, Nuwera Eliya, Matale and Trincomalee were the worst affected regions. In Trincomalee, the Sri Lankan navy went berserk and razed the market.
The violence, according to victims and international news agencies, was vicious and bloody. In Colombo, several groups of rioters went from street to street, armed with voters’ lists and with detailed addresses of every Tamil-owned property. They attacked and destroyed precisely those factories, commercial venues and houses owned by Tamils. The police and armed forces, who were almost exclusively Sinhalese and Buddhist, either joined the rioters or stood idly by.
Earlier, when the racial riots broke out, Jayewardene was silent and took no action to curb the violence. At this point, S Thondaman, the leader of the Ceylon Workers Congress and a senior influential minister in Jayewardene’s cabinet had to prevail on him to declare a state of emergency.
“Thondaman drove to the Presidential Secretariat. President Jayewardene was thoroughly shaken. Thondaman urged him to declare a state of emergency. President Jayewardene was hesitant. ‘Will the forces obey my order?’, he kept asking. Thondaman felt he had been fed with discouraging reports. Some officials were physically shivering with fear. Thondaman has to reassure President Jayewardene that everything was not lost.” Out of Bondage: The Thondaman Story by T Sabaratnam, pages 133-134.
This was Tuesday, July 26, and still Jayewardene had failed to take any action to stop the ongoing violence in the country. “J R himself has been criticized for not imposing a curfew as soon as the riots broke out. But the fact is that even when the curfew was imposed neither the army nor the police seemed willing to enforce it. More inexplicable was his silence for about three days when the country was waiting to hear him on the radio and see him on the television. J R’s own explanation, given on several occasion would have had any influence on the rioters. It was a confession that, within a few months of his election as president for a second time, his authority had been eroded by an upsurge of violence.” J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka: A Political Biography – Volume Two: From 1956 to His Retirement (1989) by K M de Silva and Howard Wriggins, pages 564-565.
Jayewardene the fox was said to be lying low until the program was completed. In Kelaniya it was reported that the men of Industries Minister and the MP of Kelaniya, Cyril Mathews, were in action. The general secretary of the government trade union – Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya (JSS) – was identified as the leader of the gang that was responsible for death and destruction in Colombo, especially in the Bampalapitya, Wellawatte areas.
In the Pettah area the gang that destroyed 442 shops and which was involved in murders was alleged to be led by the son of Aloysius Mudalali, the prime minister’s right hand man.
On Wednesday, 27 July, a second massacre of Tamil political detainees and remand prisoners was carried out. They killed nearly 18 Tamil prisoners. “We are convinced that the massacre could not have been carried out without government and National Security Council authorization and preparation at a level which would have guaranteed immunity from prosecution and public investigation. The men and women responsible for the conspiracy to commit this atrocity were never named, nor were those organized and directed it. Fellow prisoners of the murdered persons who were set up to commit some of the killings, and provided with weapons [and what else], were collectively but not individually identified, but no one was charged.” Sri Lanka: The Holocaust and after by L Piyadasa, pages 81-82.
The chauvinistic mood of the Sinhalese leaders is clearly described by Nandadeva Wijesekera, who was formerly a Sri Lankan ambassador, in his book, The Sinhalese.
“The Tamil struggle for a separate state grew from strength to strength. The assault against the military increased. Causalities both military and civilians began to increase. In 1983, the Sinhalese unable to bear the massacres any longer, attacked the Tamils in Colombo and elsewhere, who up to then were allowed to live without hindrance or assault of any kind. The Sinhala passion became enraged and arson, looting and assault followed until the army intervened to suppress the uprising. The Tamils in Colombo and other cities began to leave for refuge in South India and some influx of refugees emigrated to European lands.” – page 541.
Meanwhile, the US State Department warned US citizens against traveling to Sri Lanka and said it was deeply concerned about the rioting. On July 28, 80 opposition MPs belonging to the Labor Party supported a motion in the House of Commons sponsored by Labor party member David Nellist. The motion said, “In the light of the persecution of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka, of the reports of mass murder, of extraction of confession under torture and of burial of bodies without inquest following action by the security forces, we call upon the government to cancel the state visit of President Jayewardene scheduled for October.”
The Undersecretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Ray Whitney in his reply said, “The House must be grateful to the Honorable Member for Coventry, Southeast [Mr Nellist], for at least giving us the opportunity to debate Sri Lanka and our relations with the country at this serious and crucial time in the history of that republic.
“When Her Majesty the Queen paid her second visit to Sri Lanka in 1981, one of the purposes was to commemorate 50 years of adult franchise in Ceylon and Sri Lanka during which the governments repeatedly changed – governments of widely-varying complexions ruled, many of them paying lip service to the same false god that the Honorable Member of Coventry, [Southeast] worships – The god of Marxism. My Honorable friend the Member for Northampton – South [Michael Morris] pointed that out.
“The honorable gentleman referred to the dictatorship in Sri Lanka. There is no dictatorship there. There is a thriving democracy, which has a serious problem with its minority. Therefore it needs understanding, cooperation and help from us, and that is what it will receive, on the basis our long-standing relationship with the people and successive governments of Sri Lanka.
“… I confirm to the honourable gentleman that we collaborate with the police force of Sri Lanka, as we do with the police forces of many other Commonwealth countries. We are proud of that. In reply to another question, I can tell the honorable gentleman that there have been no specific request over the past 10 days.
“The honorable gentleman then asked if we would cancel the state visit of President Jayewardene – I am pleased to tell him we shall certainly not cancel the visit. President Jayewardene will be an honored and most welcome guest. His visit will give us an opportunity to discuss with him the problems of his country and if there are ways we can help, we shall certainly do so. Those are the ways of democracy. They are not the ways of Marxism. They are the ways we offer, the ways to a peaceful, prosperous and free Sri Lanka.”
President General Ershad of Bangladesh cancelled his visit to Sri Lanka scheduled for July 27. The Australian Minister of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs instructed his officers to ease immigration rules for Sri Lankans affected by communal violence and to give top priority to sponsorship applications already lodged by Australian citizens for the entry of Sri Lankan relatives affected by the disturbances.
The Sri Lankan cabinet met on July 27. The ministers blamed the TULF and Amirthalingham for the riots. Cyril Mathew insisted that Amirthalingham should be arrested and put behind the bars and the TULF be banned.
President Jayewardene declared that he would bring an amendment to the constitution to proscribe any political party that advocated the division of the country. Those found guilty of violating the provisions would be liable for imprisonment and confiscation of property. Jayewardene told the cabinet that a measure of this nature would take the steam out of Sinhalese anger.
The main concern of Jayewardene was to pacify the Sinhalese. The Cabinet Secretary GVP Samarasinghe and Legal Draftsman P A K Rodrigo were told to draft the constitutional amendment. The amendment required every Sri Lankan to swear allegiance to the unitary constitution. The cabinet adopted the draft with minor changes.
On the request of Gamini Disanayake, Ven Elle Gunawanse, the Tamil-baiter monk, who was actively behind the Buddha Perumuna, met Jayewardene that afternoon. The saffron-robed monk emphasized the need for the president to go on the air and speak to the Sinhalese and assuage their feelings. The Buddhist clergy urged that the president should step in to ban the TULF and send more troops to the north for a more ferocious army campaign against Tamil terrorists.
Even though shaken at the beginning of the program, Jayewardene was calm, composed and collected, when he addressed the nation on July 28, to break his silence. In a four minute and 50 second address, he solemnly promised to safeguard the rights and privileges of the Sinhalese community. He purposely refrained from expressing either regret or sorrow for the tragic turn of events in the country. He had no word of sympathy for the victims of the holocaust. He tried to justify the anti-Tamil violence as an act of retribution for the death of 13 Sinhalese soldiers. As president of the country, he did not feel any obligation towards the Tamils. He did not speak as the president of Sri Lanka, but as a Sinhala president. He was bent on pacifying the Sinhalese. He did not order the security forces to bring about law and order and normalcy in the country.
Instead, he warned that under the proposed new law, those refusing to disavow separatism would suffer loss of property, as well as their travel documents and be debarred from public examinations. The tone of the speech fueled a new impetus in the mobs to embark on fresh violence, which flared with new vigor despite a lull after the second Welikade prison attack.
“No person shall directly or indirectly, in or outside Sri Lanka, support, espouse, promote, finance, encourage or advocate the establishment of the separate state within the territory of Sri Lanka.” There was not a single word to console the Tamils, the victims of the violence orchestrated by the government leaders in connivance with the Sri Lankan armed forces, police and the majority Sinhalese ethnicity.
After his speech, the orgy of murder, arson and looting flared up again, all over the country. Furthermore, Jayewardene said that he had received information on July 26, that there was a possibility of foreign involvement in the communal rioting. Therefore, accepting such a possibility that there would be attempts to overthrow the government by force, the government issued a distress signal on July 27, to friendly countries through the Foreign Ministry.
On July 27, the Indian parliament – Lok Sabah – met in response to “Calling Attention”, regarding reported attacks on the Tamil-speaking people in Sri Lanka and on the residences of the acting High Commissioner and other staff members of the Indian High Commission.
P V Narasimha Rao, the Minister of External Affairs, made a statement on the floor of the House. His tone was restrained and calm. He said that the violence in Colombo had involved some members of the Indian mission and fortunately there was no loss of life. Referring to reports that the Indian Overseas Bank and the State Bank of India had been burnt, he said he was trying to verify the reports and get more information.
Reaction to the riots in Sri Lanka came from the four corners of India. Janata Party leader Raj Narain said that the prime minister should send Indian armed forces to Sri Lanka to check the massacre of Tamils. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N T Rama Rao expressed his profound anguish at the disturbances. Karnataka Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hedge expressed shock and said that the center should take appropriate action at the highest level. An all-party delegation from Tamil Nadu urged Indira Gandhi to press for UN troops for Sri Lanka. C T Dhandapani, the DMK member of parliament, asked New Delhi to sever ties with Sri Lanka.
The reaction in Tamil Nadu was predictable. The Chief Minister, M G Ramachandran, asked the Indian Prime Minister to raise the issue in the United Nations Assembly. Both the ruling AIDMK and the opposition DMK organized mass demonstrations and thousands of Indian Tamils took to the streets, in a show of solidarity and sympathy with the Tamils in Sri Lanka.
The Indian Lower House of parliament denounced Colombo for its inaction and complicity with the rioters. MPs appealed to Indira Gandhi to take stern action and stop the killings.
The Indian Rajya Sabah also discussed the rapidly deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka. A special meeting was called by a number of opposition parties to discuss the events unfolding in Sri Lanka. V Gopalasamy of DMK, Tamil Nadu, urged that India should come forward to recognize the Tamil Liberation Movement, just as it did the PLO. He also proposed breaking diplomatic ties with Sri Lanka and requested to send back the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in India, “who is the agent of the blood-thirsty government”.
M Kalyanasunderam, from Tamil Nadu, said, “an attack on the Tamils is an attack on India”. He suggested that India should give political asylum to Tamil youths and that it should also give them facilities to travel to states all over the country to tell people what was happening in Sri Lanka.
In response to the debate in the Rajya Sabah, the External Affairs Minister, P V Narasimha Rao, assured the House that, “[a] this not a party matter and the government does not treat it as such; [b] that the entire nation is one on this issue and are fully aware of this implications and repercussions; and [c] that the government will take stock of the deteriorating situation since it is fraught with dangerous consequences for our own country as a close neighbor to Sri Lanka”.
In response to the debate in the Indian parliament, the Cabinet Secretary, P C Alexander, conveyed the contents of the speeches of the Indian MPs to Indira Gandhi. They discussed ways and means of pacify Indian MPs in particular and the masses in general. In the end, Indira Gandhi asked Chatwal, the Indian High Commissioner for Sri Lanka, who was incidentally in New Delhi, to rush back to Colombo. She had consultations with Rao and cancelled her scheduled trip to Madras on July 28 and decided to talk with J R Jayewardene.
Indira Gandhi held a telephone conversation with Jayewardene on Thursday July 28. The Presidential Secretariat released the following excerpts of their conversation:
Indira Gandhi: I am sorry and also concerned over the reports I have received here of the rumors of the murders of the Tamil-speaking people in Sri Lanka and questions are now being asked in Lok Sabah which is now in session.
J R Jayewardene: I am also equally concerned and I am taking all possible measures to contain rioting and its consequences.
Indira Gandhi: I have no doubt about that, I wish I could help by providing food and other essentials.
J R Jayewardene: Thank you very much for your kind offer. I will let you know if it is necessary.
Indira Gandhi: President, would you mind if my External Affairs Minister Sri Narismha Rao travels over to your country and is it possible that you could have discussion with him.
J R Jayewardene: I will welcome your External Affairs Minister.
On July 28, All India Radio announced that Rao would visit Colombo as special emissary of Indira Gandhi for an on the spot survey of the situation.
The Sri Lankan president’s frustration over Gandhi’s interference in the affairs of Sri Lanka was clearly expressed by his biographers as follows:
“With J R and the Sri Lankan government greatly, if temporarily weakened politically at home, and more internationally, Mrs Gandhi proceeded to extract every possible advantage from the new situation. Two days after the outbreak of the riots, J R had a telephone conversation with her on the situation in the island. The upshot of the fateful conversation was that he found it necessary to accede to pressure to host an official representative from India, sent to examine the situation in the island on the spot, and report back to her.
“An Indian Cabinet Minister, P V Narasimha Rao, the Minister of External Affairs, was rushed to the island for this purpose. Narasimha Rao arrived on July 26 accompanied by a small group of officials including Shankar Bapji. Parts of Colombo were still in flames when Narasimha Rao met J R, at President’s House in Colombo.” J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka: A Political Biography – Volume Two: From 1956 to His Retirement (1989) by K M de Silva and Howard Wriggins, page 568.
(Note Indira Gandhi had a telephonic conversation on July 28, ie, on the fourth day after the eruption of the riots and Narasimha Rao and his party arrived in Colombo on July 28, late in the evening and they met J R Jayewardene on July 29 at Ward Place, the private residence of the president and not at President House, the official residence.)
On Thursday evening, July 28, Narasimha Rao arrived on a special plane with Shankar Bajpai, additional Secretary (East) of the Ministry of External Affairs and was met at the airport at Katunayake by Shahul Hameed, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister.
Rao met J R Jayewardene at his private residence at Wards Place, Colombo over breakfast. Bajpai and Hameed were also present. Rao told the Sri Lankan president India’s concern for the lives and property of Indians in Sri Lanka. He brought to the notice of the president that the Indian Overseas Bank and 17 factories belonging to Indian businessmen had been burnt down in the first two days of the riots. He also explained the sentiments of Tamils living in Tamil Nadu, who were clearly enraged over the inhuman treatment given to their brothers in Sri Lanka.
J N Dixit, former Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka (1985-1989) during the Indo-Sri Lankan Agreement period and later former Secretary to India’s External Affairs Ministry in his Assignment Colombo, writes about the meeting of Narasimha Rao with the Sri Lankan leaders as follows:
“Jayewardene received Rao and gave him a factual description of the events and an assessment of their political implications. As a matter of courtesy, Rao also sought meeting with Prime Minister Premadasa which was granted. But Premadasa, who had serious objection to Rao’s visit to Colombo, through political tact to winds and acted churlishly. He kept the Indian Minister for External Affairs waiting in his ante-room for about 20 minutes before receiving him. This had its own ramifications on India’s attitudes.” – page 16
Later, Rao flew to Kandy and met with officials of the Indian High Commission. The Indian minister returned to Colombo that afternoon and held a round of talks with Hameed. The Indian External Affairs Minister told Hameed the sights he had encountered that morning, the horrifying sight of Tamils being killed and burnt. The Sri Lankan government refused permission to Indira Gandhi’s special envoy and his entourage to visit refugee camps, saying it amounted to interference by India in the internal affairs of the country. However, the intervention of India brought the Sri Lankan government to its senses.
The week-long attacks on Tamils began to subside after the visit of Narasimha Rao. By now, nearly 14 refugee camps had been set up in Colombo alone, to accommodate those Tamils, who had been rendered homeless or displaced. The figures rose from 20,000 to 100,000 Tamil refugees.
On July 31, All India Radio announced that Rao had returned to New Delhi and reported to Indira Gandhi that the situation in Sri Lanka had not been brought under control. The radio broadcast also spoke of the External Affairs Minister’s comments, that, according to his information, conditions in the refugee camps were not satisfactory. It also announced that India was willing to send security forces to Sri Lanka to safeguard Tamils.
After Rao’s return to India, Indira Gandhi made a statement in the Lok Sabah, saying that India stood for the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and that it would take all steps to help with humanitarian aid. She followed this up by sending medicine and dry rations. Ships were also made available to transport refugees from Colombo to Jaffna.
Several refugee camps were set up in Colombo and in the other parts of the country, and subsequently almost all refugees were shipped back to the Northern province for their safety. Nearly 2,500 Tamils were estimated to have been killed in the riots. Over 300,000 were uprooted and displaced.
The government failed to keep track of the killings and the arson. Thousands of houses and buildings belonging to Tamils were burnt down. It does not serve any purpose in documenting the gruesome details of the “Final Solution” initiated and carried out by the Sinhalese leaders and their goon-squads in the government of J R Jayewardene.
Tamils living outside the Northern and Eastern provinces were not given adequate protection by the government, they were attacked mercilessly and were shipped to Northern Sri Lanka. Through this shameless act, the government itself conceded the de-facto separation in the country.
Narasimha Rao, who returned to India in the early hours of July 30, made a statement on August 2 to parliament, on his visit to Sri Lanka. He reported on the areas of immediate concern, the number of people who were rendered homeless and displaced, the facilities provided to the staff of the Indian High Commission and their safety, and also about the property of Indian nationals. Rao said, “However, our concern has been not only about the safety of Indian nationals and their properties, but also on the sensitivity of the Indian people as whole, at reports of large-scale killings and destructions of property of people of Indian origin, some of them from the ‘stateless’ category, with whom we are bound by strong ties of culture and kinship.
“This is a human problem and we in India cannot remain impervious to the sufferings of large numbers of people in our immediate neighborhood, though separated by boundaries of nationality and citizenship.” He told parliament that the Sri Lankan government had sought India’s help to provide ships to transport displaced persons from Colombo to Jaffna, fuel oil and medicine to meet the immediate needs of those in the refugee camps.
Narasimha Rao also dealt with another issue that had arisen since his return. It was about a report that Sri Lanka had appealed for arms aid from countries, such as the US, the UK, Pakistan, China and Bangladesh. He said that while he was “not in a position to give details, but the House and the nation should know that there is substance in the report”.
He said that some papers had reported that the assistance was against “a foreign power, and that there are even reports that the Colombo press has projected India as the possible foreign power”.
He assured the House that the government was “looking into all aspects of these reports and is also in touch with several governments, including those specified in the press reports, to emphasize the nature of India’s concern at the existing situation in Sri Lanka and at the possible future course of developments, including foreign involvement in the region”. He further added, “The response of those to whom we have spoken is favorable.” He said that if Sri Lanka needed India’s assistance, that was a matter over which “the two governments will remain in touch”.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in New Delhi issued a statement denying that the Sri Lankan government had called for assistance from foreign powers against India. The Sri Lankan government also expelled the American correspondent of UPI, who had sent out the news. But Gamini Dissanayake, the Minister for Mahaweli Development and the sponsor of the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union, a rival plantation sector trade union to Thondaman’s Ceylon Workers Congress, said in a meeting, “If India invades this country, the Tamils will be killed and finished off in 24 hours time.”
When the government found out that the international community had began to condemn the heinous acts of the government, Jayewardene was quick to blame the Left political parties for the racial violence in the country.
Government-controlled radio announced on August 2 that the People’s Liberation Front (JVP), the Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP) and the Communist Party (CPSL) were behind the riots and proscribed them for the duration of the emergency with severe penalties, including death or life imprisonment and loss of civic rights on those entering or having contact with the proscribed parties or failing to report them to the appropriate authorities.
It was a ridiculous accusation to blame these parties to cover up the mischievous elements in the United National Party of Jayewardene, who implemented relentlessly the “Final Solution” proposals of the government. The radio further announced a list of 31 people to be arrested from the proscribed political parties, whereas 18 of them had already been arrested and the remainder belonging to the leadership of JVP and NSSP had gone underground.
On August 3, the government announced the convening of parliament for the next day to discuss the sixth amendment of the constitution, by which all parties advocating separation would be banned and severe penalties would be imposed on their members. It meant that the TULF, with 17 seats in parliament, would be banned.
On the evening of August 3, the Sri Lankan Broadcasting Corporation relayed a speech by President J R Jayewardene to his cabinet. He said that he had called for a roundtable conference of political parties on July 20. He said that he planned to discuss a solution to Tamil problems, including devolving more power to the Development Councils, the withdrawal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, a general amnesty to all those arrested under that act and the withdrawal of the army from the north. He lamented that it was unfortunate that all the political parties boycotted the talks and prevented him from discussing a solution to the problems of the Tamils. This was just empty talk, nothing less, nothing more.
In the meantime, the Constitutional Court, consisting of the judges of the supreme court, ruled that the sixth amendment, barring two sections, was not inconsistent with the constitution and it would be taken up for discussion by the next day, but it was unlikely that the TULF MPs, including the leader of the opposition, A Amirthalingham, would attend. If prisoners in a maximum security prison could be murdered on two occasions, who would guarantee the safety of the Tamil members of parliament in the parliamentary complex?
Meanwhile, on August 1, Shahul Hameed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, attended a ministers’ conference of the newly-formed South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meeting, held in New Delhi. The conference comprising India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives was inaugurated by Indira Gandhi.
When Hameed went to the meeting, President Jayewardene instructed him to meet Gandhi and ask her specifically about rumors that India intended to invade Sri Lanka. Earlier, Major-General Nalin Senivaratne, the former Sri Lankan army commander, who was at the Indian Imperial Defense Academy, had been informed by senior officers of the Indian army of an Indian plan to invade Sri Lanka. In turn, Nalin Senivaratne passed on the information to Colombo.
When Hameed met Indira Gandhi that evening, she expressed her concern over the tragic happenings in Sri Lanka. Hameed told her that there were talks that India would invade Sri Lanka. She assured him that it would not happen.
Later, Indian newspapers published reports of such a plan – that in the case that Jayewardene declined the visit of the Indian External Affairs Minister, then India would invade. It was reported that India planned to drop paratroopers and capture airports, that the Southern command of the Indian army stationed at Secundrabad had been given the task of preparing the invasion plan and that all senior officers in New Delhi had been placed on alert.
Constitutional amendment number six was taken up in parliament, as an urgent bill on August 4, 1983, moved by Ranatunge Premadasa, the prime minister. It read as follows:
“Whereas Sri Lanka is free, sovereign, independent and a unitary state and it is the duty of the state to safeguard the independence, sovereignty, unity and the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka;
“And whereas the independence, sovereignty, unity and the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka has been threatened by the activities of certain persons, political parties and other associations and organizations;
“And whereas it has become necessary to prohibit such activities and provide punishments therefore;
“According to bill 157A. : No persons shall directly or indirectly, in or outside Sri Lanka, support, expose, promote, finance, encourage or advocate the establishment of a separate state within the territory of Sri Lanka.
“ No political party or other association or organization shall have as one of its aims or objects, the establishment of a separate state within the territory of Sri Lanka.
“ Any person who acts in contravention of the provision of paragraphs  shall, on conviction by the Court of Appeal, after trial on indictment and according to such procedure as may be prescribed by law, be subject to civic disability for such period not exceeding seven years as may be determined by such Court; forfeit his movable and immovable property other than such property as is determined by an order of such court as being necessary for the sustenance of such person and his family; not be entitled to civic rights for such period not exceeding seven years as may be determined by the such court; and if he is a member of parliament or a person in such service or holding such office as is referred to in paragraph  of Article 165, cease to be such member or to be in such service or to hold such office.
“In conclusion, the constitution is hereby amended by the addition, at the end thereof, the following schedule which shall have effect as the seventh schedule to the constitution.”
Article 157 A and Article 161 (d) (iii)
I, … do solemnly declare and affirm/swear, that I will uphold, and defend the constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and that I will not, directly or indirectly, in or outside Sri Lanka, support, espouse, promote, finance, encourage or advocate the establishment of a separate State within the territory of Sri Lanka.”
Parliament debated the bill for 13 hours, after suspending the standing orders and adopted it at 4 am on August 5.
Hameed and Thondaman advised the House to desist from such action. Thondaman told the House that, the result of such action against the TULF and the Tamils would result in the TULF hardening its attitude even further. He said that if the government was interested in any solution to the Tamil problem, then the government should be in a position to talk to the Tamil moderates, the TULF.
He added, “If you proscribe the TULF and force its MPs to quit parliament, then you will have no one to talk to. Maybe, you will have to talk to intermediaries.” Thondaman warned that proscribing the TULF would completely estrange the Tamils. Hameed, too, warned the government members of parliament. He said that banning the TULF would provide an opportunity for India to play a role.
Even though the Constitutional Court ruled that the two paragraphs of the sixth amendment were inconsistent with the constitution, the government made use of its two-thirds majority to pass the amendment to deprive members of the Tamil United Liberation Front their parliamentary seats.
The TULF MPs decided on August 6 not to take their oaths under the sixth amendment. They returned to Colombo on August 10 and on August 11, Amirthalingham sent a telegram to the Secretary General of the United Nations Organization, urging him to sent a peace-keeping force to Sri Lanka to safeguard the Tamils.
On August 13, Amirthalingham, M Sivasithamparam and R Sampanthan, the MP for Trincomalee, the TULF trio, left for Madras, India. There they met M G Ramachandran, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, and Muthuvel Karunanidhi, the DMK leader. Amirthalingham told M G Ramachandran of his intention of not going back to Sri Lanka as it was not safe there. Ramachandran arranged the government guest house in Madras for Amirthalingham and his wife.
Meanwhile, also on August 5, Indira Gandhi made a second telephone call to Jayewardene. She reminded the president of the importance and the urgency of finding a solution to the Tamil problem. Jayewardene told her that he had made arrangements to hold the All Party Conference on July 27 to find a solution to the problem, but unfortunately the conference did not take place due to the outbreak of the riots. He further said that he would send his younger brother, H W Jayewardene, an eminent constitutional lawyer, as his special envoy to talk with her.
On August 11, H W Jayewardene arrived in New Delhi and had two rounds of talks with Indira Gandhi. During his visit in New Delhi decisions were taken to institutionalize India’s role in seeking a settlement to Sri Lanka’s problem. Indira Gandhi offered her good offices to help to resolve the Tamil problem. She also offered to talk to the Tamil leaders, who were by that time in Madras.
On August 12, Indira Gandhi speaking in the Indian parliament, informed the House that H W Jayewardene, the personal representative of J R Jayewardene, was in New Delhi. In discussion with him, she said, she had conveyed the concerns of the Indian parliament and the people of India. Indira Gandhi told the House that the Sri Lankan president’s representative had mentioned certain proposals President Jayewardene had intended to place before the Roundtable Conference in late July that did not take place.
She said that she had given her view, “I expressed my view that these proposals may not meet the aspirations of the Tamil community. The Sri Lankan special envoy H W Jayewardene said that the Sri Lanka government was willing to consider any other proposals which would give the Tamil minority their due share in the affairs of the country within the framework of a united Sri Lanka.”
Indira Gandhi recommended discussions between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamils on a broad basis at a conference table. And for this purpose, India offered its good offices. “I gave my view that discussion between the government and the Tamil community on this broader basis would be useful and that a solution has to be sought at the conference table. I offered our good offices in whatever manner they may be needed. Mr Jayewardene expressed his appreciation of this offer made in the context of traditional friendly ties between our countries. He later informed me that his president welcomes the offer.”
The three TULF leaders in Madras met Indira Gandhi on August 14. Gandhi was very clear in her views. She told the TULF leaders that she could not and would not support a separate state in Sri Lanka. She told them that the Tamils should opt for something lesser, an autonomous region within a united Sri Lanka. Amirthalingham, who appreciated the position of India, readily agreed to Gandhi’s proposal without trying to find the aspirations of the Tamils in the North and Eastern provinces. He explained to Gandhi, “The separatist Eelam call was born out of the frustrating experiences the Tamils underwent under the chauvinistic rule of the successive Sri Lankan governments. If your excellency is prepared to persuade Jayewardene to agree for an autonomous state for Tamils, we would welcome it.”
He said that this, “has changed the picture, because the Tamil people, including his party, had lost confidence in negotiations and could not in any case have entered into them on the basis of a mere reiteration of earlier promises which were inadequate, but with India’s good offices, a basic change could be brought about”.
Indira Gandhi reiterated, “As I have said before, a solution to this problem has to be sought at the conference table and it is for the Sri Lankan government to decide how and when a conference with the Tamil leaders is to brought about.” She then went on to make a specific proposal: “I am prepared to send an emissary to Sri Lanka to facilitate this process. Now we can get in touch with President Jayewardene.”
Indira Gandhi was impressed with the discussions with A Amirthalingham. She invited Amirthalingham as a special guest for India’s Independence Day celebrations on the next day, August 15. He was accommodated on the dais at the Red Fort. Jayewardene, it seemed, was annoyed at the special treatment accorded to Amirthalingham and also for the strongly-worded statement she made.
Indira Gandhi made her third telephone call to Jayewardene on August 17. She told him that she would be sending Parthasrathy as her special envoy to meet the Sri Lankan president to start negotiations and to find a solution to racial problems.
Jayewardene, who was in the midst of an interview with Colombo-based Indian journalists at the time he received the call from Indira Gandhi, asked. “Who is this Parthasarathy?” He learnt that the 73-year-old Gopalaswamy Parthasrathy was a special advisor to the prime minister on foreign affairs, who was chairman of the government’s Policy Planning Committee and a member of the family that owned the Hindu newspaper of Madras.
“G Parthasarathy, the quintessential establishment man, was one of India’s most experienced diplomats and administrators. Having risen to prominence as a trusted confidant of Jawaharlal Nehru, he had retained much of that influence under Mrs Gandhi. In choosing him for this tough diplomatic assignment, she was signaling to Tamil Nadu and the TULF that she had picked a South Indian Tamil, albeit a Brahmin, who would be very sensitive to their concerns. To them it was a reassuring choice.” J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka: A Political Biography – Volume Two: From 1956 to His Retirement (1989) by K M de Silva and Howard Wriggins, page 569.
On August 18, Indira Gandhi informed the Indian Lok Sabah, “Yesterday, I once again telephoned President Jayewardene. I have offered to send a special envoy to meet President Jayewardene and others. During my telephone call last evening, President Jayewardene agreed to my suggestion. Accordingly, I have asked one of our distinguished and experienced diplomats, Shri G Parthsarathi, to undertake this delicate and important task. He will visit Colombo next week.”
Jayewardene reported to the cabinet on August 24 of Indira Gandhi’s offer to send Parthasarathi. Ministers Gamini Jayasuriya, Gamini Disanayaka and R Premadasa, the prime minister, opposed Indian mediation. Gamini Jayasuriya said, “If we accept India’s good offices we won’t be able to walk in the streets.” Jayewardene replied, “Mrs Bandaranaike is saying India should mediate. She says that the government should talk to the terrorists and she says Parthasarathi should be invited to Colombo and yet she is allowed to walk on the streets without any problem. The president had already invited Parthasarathi to visit Colombo.
Presidential Truth Commission
I was given only Rs75,000 though the state agreed to pay me Rs150,000 to rebuild my house – Sivagurunathan, a former editor of the Lake House newspaper Thinakaran (a Tamil daily) who had been affected by the 1983 riots said on Wednesday, that although the state compensation body had agreed to pay him Rs150,000 to rebuild his burnt house, they refused to pay him the rest after giving the first installment of Rs75,000.
R Sivagurunathan, a lawyer, was referring to the Rehabilitation of Persons, Property and Industries Authority (REPPIA) before the Presidential Truth Commission appointed to look into events of ethnic violence with a special consideration to events of 1983.
Sivagurunathan said that his house with all its belongings was burnt during the 1983 riots. Following this tragedy he moved his wife and children to his wife’s parental home in Jaffna. But in 1989, the LTTE took over this house to use it as a visa office and chased away his wife and children.
He said that there was not much he could do with Rs75,000 from REPPIA, so he obtained a loan from his office and started rebuilding his house. When he went to the REPPIA, they refused to pay the other half of the loan he had obtained at a 6 percent interest. He said that following the riots those affected were able to either claim compensation which was around Rs25,000 or request a loan and he had opted for the latter. “They asked me to apply again at a higher interest rate, but I did not want to get into further difficulties and now I live the life of a vagabond.”
He said that following the riots his family split. “From my house in Wellawatte I have at least a few chairs left , but from our house in Jaffna I didn’t even get a coconut shell,” he said. “Some people say that I keep smiling despite everything that has happened to me, but I am crying within myself and smiling outside.”
Sivagurunathan said that he felt that a reconciliation between the Tamil and Sinhalese communities was possible as the incidents of 1983 were engineered by certain forces and this was apparent from the fact that the people who went around burning houses had a list with them and knew exactly which houses to target.
A further curfew was not imposed until evening despite the turbulent events of that morning.
He said that newspapers had a big role to play and while the some Sinhalese newspapers fanned the fumes Tamil papers which focused on the feelings of the Tamil people also contributed to some problems.
During the 1983 riots, Sivagurunathan lived in Wellawatte at Ramakrishna Road opposite the Ramakrishna Mission.
On the evening of July 29, 1983,(Error Report: dates are mixed up) following the burial of 13 soldiers at Kanatte (factual mistake), there were disturbances in Borella and at Anderson Flats in Narahenpita. “I contacted my friend Tiruchelvam, who was working for another newspaper at the time,” he said. “He told me that his neighbors houses were being attacked. When I called him again, Tiruchelvam told me that his house was being attacked by rioters. I had no contact with him after that. He now resides in Canada.
“That night, I contacted many friends by telephone, many of them were crying.
“The next day I rushed to Law College, as I had promised some students that I would give them a lesson,” Sivagurunathan said. “As I was leaving, my wife asked me what she should do if anything were to happen. I told her not to worry because the president at the time was a former MP of our area, and he would not let anything happen.
“When I reached Law College, about five students were in class. I asked them if they were aware of the events of the previous night. I then bundled them into a few three-wheelers and asked them to go home immediately. I did not expect the situation to get as bad as it did ultimately.
“Before leaving home my wife had asked me to deposit some [sic] jewellery in a bank vault, so I walked up to the Fort bus-stand to take a three wheeler to the bank. But there were no buses or three wheelers and people were gaping at the sky.
“Nevertheless, I walked to the bank and deposited the jewellery. It was only when I came out of the bank that I realized that the Pettah area was ablaze and the sky was full of smoke. I immediately rubbed the ash off my forehead and went to my office. My efforts to contact home failed continuously and I was worried. I also contacted A C S Hameed and M H Mohammed who were both Ministers at the time.
“Curfew was declared at around 3:30 pm and after a long wait I received my curfew pass at around 5:30 pm. An office vehicle took me home through slave island where a man came out of a garage with a bottle of arrack, he was intending to finish his drink and throw the bottle at us but we managed to avoid him.
“When we reached Wellawatte, the shops were all closed. The driver stopped the car on the Galle Road without turning into my road because he was afraid of reprisal. As I started walking down Ramakrishna Road, I saw Cheliah Kumarasooriyar, a prominent politician, walking in his garden and I felt very happy. I thought that if nothing had happened to him, then we would be spared, too. Kumarasooriyar’s house was affected but he was not physically harmed. As I proceeded down the road, I saw household articles piled outside houses and set ablaze. I then met one of my neighbors, Mr Gunatilleke, when he saw me he said, ‘I say, you are coming only now, everything is gone.’ I felt terrified and began running to my house.
“All the doors to the house were open and flower pots were thrown all over, it appeared as though many feet had trampled them. Some parts of the house were burnt and through the open doors of some rooms I could see clothes piled on the beds.
“For a moment I thought that clothes had been put over corpses to cover them. I went in to the rooms although some of them were burning and checked if there was anything under the clothes, but there was nothing. On one bed the clothes were covering a veena.
“I knew that no one was injured or killed, so I went next door. My neighbor, Mrs Gunaratne, opened the door and told me, ‘Mr Sivagurunathan, don’t worry they are safe with me.’ It was only after I saw my family that I was satisfied.
“When I went back to the house, I realized that most of our belongings had been destroyed. Two cupboards full of books that I treasured and my Law College lecture notes were among them. It was a terrible blow to me.
“My child said that she had thrown some jewellery under a meat safe but we were unable to recover them. But I was able to save my wife’s bridal sari and some other valuable saris which she had put in a suitcase and hidden under the car.
“My family and I decided to go to the Ramakrishna Mission which was opposite our house. Although our neighbor Mrs Gunaratne did not want us to go, I felt that she may get into trouble if we remained.
“While we were at the Ramakrishna Mission there was a rumor that the mission may be attacked and we were relocated at the Saraswathi hall.”
Sivagurunathan said that during this time there were crowds of people in the vicinity of his house. He said the crowds had got off a train and had obtained petrol from the petrol sheds. He said that he was not exactly aware of where they had come from. He said that while he was trying to bring back their servant girl from Mrs Gunaratne’s house, there was a crowd gathered around a car parked outside his front house and some people were attempting to burn it.
He said that he was among the first to arrive at Saraswathi hall where refugees from the riot were housed. A camp was also set up at Hindu College where about 4000 to 5000 people were housed. “Space was scant and one day I slept on the roots of a tree,” he said.
He said that while he was at the camp he went to see his house again. This time the entire house was burnt and so was the car. I was able to get Rs500 for the burnt chassy he said. There were two or three chairs and a head of a dining table remaining. These he took with him.
Courtesy: The Island, October 26, 2001