Colombo, Identity, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Remember the Riots



This is the view from my home.

30 years ago, I was not even alive but if I had stood in this same place, looking in this same direction, I would have seen the black smoke choking the air, perhaps seen flames rising from building and cars; I would have heard the screams of the tortured and the victorious cheers of the mob; my nose would perhaps have filled with the acrid smell of burning rubber and wood, and I would stepped indoors, into the safety my ethnicity afforded me.

For the last two months now I have been immersed in 1983; that week of mayhem and bloodshed and misery, and I have looked upon this view with a renewed sense of home. I have met an old lady whose eyes filled with tears as she spoke of lost wedding photographs; a young man who talked of his father patrolling their street to keep everyone safe; a woman who longed for home after she fled to India; a son who spoke of broken parents and a daughter who remembered midnight feasts with her friends who came to hide.

The reality of Black July is a horror I cannot imagine, and yet have, vividly, through the stories I’ve heard. I have tried to imagine what it must be like to stand in a burnt garden, staring at the charred rubble of what was once my home; to find bits and pieces of my belongings scattered in the winds. I have tried to envision moving on from that and cannot.

Some people made new homes. Some rebuilt, some relocated, some preserved, some forgot. And some never regained. For some, home is still an elusive idea, a faded memory of safety and belonging. For that, for taking away someone’s home, their heart, their sanctuary, we must never forget.


Editors note: The author is part of a project, curated by Groundviews, that brings together leading documentary filmmakers, photographers, activists, theorists and designers, in Sri Lanka and abroad, to focus on just how deeply the anti-Tamil pogrom in 1983 has shaped our imagination, lives, society and polity.

The resulting content, featuring voices never captured before, marrying  rich photography, video, audio and visual design with constitutional theory, story-telling and memorialising, has no historical precedent.

The project is an attempt to use digital media and compelling design to remember the inconvenient, and in no small way, acts of daring, courage and resistance during and after Black July.

Read more here.