Colombo, Human Rights, Human Security, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Remember the Riots

Mano Ganesan on his experience of the anti-Tamil riots in July 1983

Member of Parliament and Convener of the Civil Monitoring Committee, Mano Ganeshan, speaks about his experiences during the anti-Tamil riots in July 1983.


For more articles on July 1983, please click here.


    Majorities, minorities, hammers and nails!

    When people of different origins, speaking different languages and professing different religions inhabit the same country and live under the same political sovereignty, ethnic and racial conflict is the usual outcome. More often than not, this happens when the majority tries to impose its language, religion and cultural values on the minorities!
    There is an old saying: If your only tool is a hammer, then all your problems look like nails. In the ‘Aluth Sri Lanka’ that we live in today, our tools for problem solving consist of multi-barrel rocket launchers, migs, kafirs, white vans, goon squads and rigged elections. And the Tamils in the north and east and other parts of the country including journalists and the general public at large are the nails that are bombed into submission, abducted, beaten, killed and terrorized!
    The ‘Maanushika Meheuma’ or ‘Humanitarian Operation,’ an euphemism for the ongoing war is fought today as a scared and justifiable war! A war of good against evil, black versus white! But let us not forget the many shades of grey in between!
    ‘Fighting for peace is like copulating for virginity,’ is a pithy saying attributed to an American GI during the Vietnam war. This saying describes Sri Lanka’s predicament in a nutshell! Using military might to settle a dispute might seem logical in the short term, taking the peoples minds off the rising cost of living, but in the long term we are all losers!
    Maximum devolution of power is the only way forward. In Sri Lanka’s 60 year history, agreements were made but not implemented! Pacts were signed and abrogated! This time around, if the majority community does not agree to devolution, the country’s future will be quite bleak, and it will not be the beginning of the end, but the end of the end, and Sri Lanka will meander along as ‘A can’t be developed country,’ the ‘Sick man of Asia.’

  • A classic example of the conflict in hand; Mano Ganeshan, pro-tigers and ‘free media movement’ have a voice outside vanni. What about the right to an opposition in wanni ? According to them; FMM (saint), Army Commander (villain) & the Terrorists (brothers) !

    Lets also not forget to remember the 89-90 riots. Just because it did not involve Tamils we cannot push it aside, after all the loss of over 30 000 youth is far greater than the riots that get the media attention. This is real injustice!

    The similar can be applied to the 90 000 expulsion for the fescilitation of a nazi state, that even more recently, 1990.

    Ofcourse the many historical accounts are too numerous to mention. Lets also hope that the Sinhalese could also be able to live and persue legitimate aspirations in the North (and east) like many of us (certainly not all) Tamils enjoy outside Vanni.

    The fact that Jaela, Wattala, Kotahena, Kelaniya and the Galkissa-Wellawatte areas were places where mob-rule was evident, points to some Christians being involved. Those Sinhalese responsible were not confined to Buddhists. People other than Sinhalese may also have been part of certain mobs on the rampage.
    According to Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe killing of at least 83 persons, including the 13 soldiers on 23rd July, the attacks on police stations, damage by bombs on an aircraft, a passenger train, and government institutions, bank robberies and acts of arson on public property in the North, were such crimes. thousands both Sinhalas and Tamils have died and continue to die at the hands of the LTTE for over 25 years – not just one month. But the question is whether the world remembers them in the same way the Tamil victims of ’83 are remembered? Are they too not human beings?

    Time and time again some Tamils claim that the root cause is that The Sinhala-Buddhist desire to own the whole of Sri Lankan island for themselves alone.
    It is exactly the opposite that is true. Tamils started the separatism as far back in 1919 when British were in power. Then just before Independence, they wanted 50:50 so that the elitist English speaking Colombo 7 tamils (mostly Jaffna Tamils) can share power in Independent Sri Lanka with elitist English speaking Sinhalese. At that time about 94% of Tamils and Sinhalese in the country could not comminicate in English. That waa totally rejected by the British.
    Then there is frequest mention that Tamil Politicians sought Independence from British hoping that there would be a gentlemenly arrangement between Sinhalese leaders and Tamil leaders. The mention of the statement simply proves that Tamils did not call themselves Sri Lankans even at that time and they were totally thinking of Tamil.

    So this talk about Sinhalese leaders let them down and that led to LTTE terrorism is totally false. Tamils were always communal minded and that went from bad to worse as the country’s economy deteriorated and the size of the pie became smaller.

    Although the Sinhalese were about 80% in population, there was not a single major political party for Sinhalese alone. Even the SLFP had sought the tamils and this is evident from the fact that Alfred Duraippa was convinced to contest on SLFP ticket in Jaffna. Can any Tamil only parties claim that they sought Sinhalese to contest in their party name. Most Tamils votes since Independence to Tamil Only parties and they isaolated themselves.

    Although both Sinhalese and Tamils go to the same church, Holy Masses are conducted separately. Similarly although both Sinhalese and Tamils worship at Kataragama (Kathirgamam), they have two separate sections within the premises of the temple. Why didn’t the ‘devalas’ within most Buddhist temples keep up with the times and why don’t most Hindus worship at these? Why do Sinhalese and Muslims watch Hindi, Sinhala, Tamil and English movies and Tamils only watch Tamil movies?
    So do not blame the Sinhalese alone for your owm mischief.

    Even the most ardent tamil commentator who claimed that his mother was saved by Sinhalese in the 1983 riots and that his relation was killed by LTTE always blame Sinhalese and Buddhists. I do not know anything that we can do to make friends with these Tamils when even saving the life of the mother is not enough to earn a good name.
    It is not a crime to be a majority Sinhalese in this country.
    Tamils must overcome their identity crisis on their own. No amount of assistance would make them happy.

    YOu can compare this situation with Muslims in so called western countries. Immeadiately after the September 11 2001 attacks in America ALL Muslims were under suspicion for collaborating with the enemy in ALL western countries, Guntanamo bay, torture, assasinations, bombs and foreign invasions…..These are the countries that champion human rights, law and order, and civil liberties….These are the countries that TAMIL groups go and harbour and tell their sorry tales to….WHY does this happen…???
    I believe this is a common and universal human reaction…Either FLEE or FIGHT…In fighting there is violence.

    So to BLAME and castigate ALL SINHALA people and especially SINHALA-BUDDHISTS for what happened in 1983 is thoroughly unjustified.
    YES meny a Sinhala-Buddhists regret and apologise unconditionally to the Tamils.

    BUT what about the atrocities committed in the name of Tamil Liberation…Compared to INdians in Fiji Sri Lankan Tamils have nothing to complain about…

    Fijian Indians are 40% of the population in Fiji…But can not even own land…..

    So whether it be pre-tiger, post-tiger, pre-indipendance, post-indipendence, pre-colonial or post colonial some of us tamils have contributed immensely to this suffering. How many of us have really thanked and apreciated that although they cannot live in Vanni and North, we can anywhere in the country ?