A point of departure

1983

Keep the memories alive

July 1983 was a turning point for many Sri Lankan Tamils to leave the motherland, and seek refuge in various countries including India, Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, United States of America, France, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand, and so on. Tamils who have either lost their family members or properties during the 1983 July pogrom, were forced to leave the land with endless haunting memories. Many of my beloved and blood relatives (brothers, paternal aunts and uncles, maternal aunts and uncles, and cousins) too have decided to leave Sri Lanka after suffering losses (of lives, identities and properties), displacement and trauma. One such relative has agreed to share his unforgettable memories of Black July with me, although he lives in a western country, he misses his home, going through never ending nostalgia, and haunting memories which don’t allow him to return to what he still calls a “home”.

I remember the month of July 1983 every year and its horror in Sri Lanka  30 years ago. We as Tamils lived peacefully in Bambalapitty, Colombo since 1950. On a peaceful day on 23rd of July 1983, we got up early morning to our phone ringing, and warning us of a mob attack of Tamil shops and homes in Borella that night after the ceremonial funeral of 13 army soldiers who were killed in Thirunelvely, Jaffna.  Although road blocks were set up, and curfew was imposed, killing and burning alive of Tamils in the heart of Colombo, looting of Tamil houses and shops continued unchecked. Some Sinhala Catholics and Muslims extended their helping hands towards the targeted Tamil community, but a larger portion of people from other communities remained silent! 

I have lost two of my closest friends including a shop owner. Despite fear and risk, I have decided to go and help the fellow Tamils who have sought refuge at a few camps set up in Hindu temples and halls in Colombo.  I was the last to leave from Colombo to Jaffna by ship, because I was nursing a Tamil woman who was brutally attacked and injured. Her father was killed, and her house was razed to the ground by fire and mob attack. She was physically and psychologically unfit due to unexpected loss of her beloved father. I tried to console her, but it was far beyond even trying. I managed to accompany her to Jaffna by ship on a long journey. After having handed her to relatives, I went to my house and I lived in Jaffna for awhile. But, continued discrimination and suspicion towards the Tamils in Sri Lanka, and not equally respecting my identity as a “Tamil” made me feel as a stranger in the same land! I have decided to leave Sri Lanka, and settle in a foreign land for safety, security, equality, respect, and mutual understanding and respect for my own identity” 

It’s noteworthy that many Tamils who have left the land or remained in Sri Lanka are reluctant to recall their memories of horror. These ghostly memories are beyond imagination!

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  • R.M.B Senanayake

    I am afraid the doctrine taught by Gautama the Buddha has been overlaid by a doctrine by Anagarika Dharmapala, Dr Nalin De Silva and Dr.Gunadasa Amerasekera which emphasize the nationalist ethos of the Sinhalese which they identify with Buddhism through the myth that Sri Lanka is the only haven for Buddhism and needs to be protected from its enemies.
    I don’t know whether the majority of genuine Sinhala Buddhists accept this new fangled Buddhism. What passes off as Buddhism is therefore not the original Buddhism which the world respects. Unfortunately the Buddhists who believe in the true teachings of the Buddha will not stand up in opposition. Buddhism is not activist. It is the same with the genuine Muslims who will not stand up against fundamentalist Muslims who preach hatred against others. But those who take to the sword will perish with the sword. It is the hope of all good men that evil will never triumph over the good in the long run. Good men must stand up and be counted if evil is not to gain ground although it will not triumph in the long run.

    • Manjula

      While the 83 riots are as bad and as black as anyone can ever imagine, bashing Buddhists as the sole culprits for the attacks is a little premature.
      It is probably motivated by AAnti-Buddhists taking this as an opportunity to bash Buddhism and Buddhists. I personally know many Christians and Catholics who were attacking Tamil and their shops/homes purely for opportunistic looting rather than with anything in mind. The comment here tr to squarely blame the Buddhists is too naive and opportunistic and shows the inability to see through the problem in analytical mind.

      I feel sorry that the RMBS’s comment is trying to hijack the forum from the core issue of the 83 riots to a pathetic anti-Buddhist agenda.

      Back to the topic, Just like the 83 memories, it will be balanced if someone highlights the memories, nostalgia, trauma, agony, missing home etc of nearly 100,000 innocent Sinhalese people right through 26 years of “well organised, well funded, orderly executed group of Tamil terrorist killers” with the well wishing of the enemies of Sri Lanka including Tamil diaspora, rather than few hundred uneducated disorganized, disarrayed and unsupported hooligans in just a few days. There is a huge difference in the two, not only the number of people who suffered who were just as innocent as those Tamil brothers and Sisters in 1983, but also the length of the agony and the cost to the nation. You need to be fair !

      My point is two wrongs don’t make it right and also wrong is wrong regardless of who does it. Blaming only one side will just keep the wound for longer without serving any useful purpose.