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History needs to be corrected: July 1983 – UNP attacked Tamils not the Sinhalese

The impression made with each commemorative year of the 1983 riots is that the violence and mayhem were committed by the Sinhalese public. This is far from the truth. The Sinhala public have been declared guilty by default for lack of voice by local media, Sinhala organizations, and academics to demand that the story be set straight. It is time for an apology to the Sinhalese for having to been made to apologize for something which the Sinhalese never did. Ever since the 1980s the Sinhalese lost but entire villages and army camps, busloads of Buddhist priests shot dead, buses full of children and women blown up, unarmed injured soldiers fired upon by LTTE and if none of these killings led to violence against Tamils we are not ready to accept 1983 riots for the killing of 13 soldiers. That violence was committed by UNP and the UNP must apologize for it.


Q: Why do Tamils vote for UNP when all riots were instigated by UNP?

A: Majority of Tamils are living in Western nations because of this & LTTE!

1977 riots:

In debating incidents that occurred in Sri Lanka it is important to take the context and background to them. That 1977 riots again under UNP government according to the Sansoni Commission report was due to the TULF leadership fostering a climate of hostility and TULF refusing to compromise on issue of a separate state while Chelvanayagam himself declared “My advice to the Sinhalese leaders is to allow us to go our way ..” (26 March 1977).

1983 riots:

It is beyond doubt that the riots that ensued following the killing of 13 soldiers on 21 July was organized by the then UNP government using thugs and underworld figures who were of all ethnic groups and motivated to loot and destroy. Just because an unsavory bunch of characters unleashed by the UNP ended up destroying lives and property while the Sinhalese people bravely gave shelter to Tamils, why were there no stories covering the kindness of the Sinhalese who shared their homes, fed and gave clothing and kept the jewellery of their Tamil neighbors. What happened instead was to run a guilt trip on the Sinhalese. This important piece of information has been purposely left out of every commemoration held on Black July.

Those commenting on Black July must realize there is a background to the story. No one should assume that LTTE was the innocent party and were targeted by the Sri Lankan Army or the State without reason.

  • Early 1970s India clandestinely trained Sri Lankan Tamil youth in armed guerilla warfare in India. 35 such Tamil groups were secretly trained to destabilize Sri Lanka. Jain Commission report following assassination of Rajiv Gandhi confirmed officially India’s role in clandestinely training Sri Lankan Tamil youth in armed warfare.
  • The Tamil New Tigers (TNT) was a militant Tamil organization founded by 18 year old Velupillai Prabhakaran on May 22, 1972 (this proves that India both trained and supplied weapons to TNT)
  • 1st victim of LTTE – Mayor of Jaffna Alfred Duraiappah shot dead on July 27, 1975 by 21 year old Prabakaran himself (guns available with LTTE/Prabakaran shows India trained & supplied them)
  • Tamil New Tigers rechristened as LTTE in 1976
  • Vaddukoddai Resolution calling upon Tamil youth to take up arms adopted on 14 May 1976 (role of India in this Resolution yet to be investigated)1981 October 15
  • 2 soldiers killed in Stanley Rd, Jaffna
  • Between 1981-1983 nearly 35 members of the armed forced had been killed by armed militants1983 July 23
  • Saturday 11:30p.m. army patrol in Thirunelveli is ambushed near Jaffna. A road side bomb was detonated. LTTE fighters fired at the convoy killing 1 officer and 12 soldiers. 2 other soldiers succumbed totaling 15 deaths.1983 July 24 to 28
  • Riots begin following the funerals of the 13 soldiers held in Colombo1983 July 24
  • Decision was taken to have the funeral in Colombo. The crowds that gathered were from the wanathamulla slum area and it was these who began the violence1983 July 25
  • mobs were led by people with voter registration lists in hand torched Tamil homes, looted and destroyed Tamil businesses (showcases riots were organized by UNP government in power)
  • Police are accused of standing and watching (incidentally the Inspector General of Police was a Tamil and the 6 next in line senior officials were all Tamils too)
  • In Welikade prison, 35 Tamil political prisoners who were awaiting trail under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, were massacred
  • Monday, only at 6p.m. President JR Jayawardena announced a curfew.1983 July 26
  • UNP Govt imposed strict censorship of media
  • Estimates of Tamil deaths vary from 387 (official figures) to 3,000 Tamils1983 July 28
  • Thurs, President JR finally makes a state address1987 May 26
  • Operation Liberation, soldiers had Prabakaran trapped in Vadamarachchi but India orders his release1987 July 29
  • Indo-Lanka Accord signed between Rajiva Gandhi and J R Jayawardena under curfew1987 July 30
  • IPKF Indian soldiers arrive to disarm LTTE boasting they would do so in 72hours

Role of Media

  • Responsible for fueling tensions. Both Sinhala & Tamil media guilty of slinging hate messages against each other none of which the Sinhala or Tamil public shared.
  • “The rioters seeking out Tamil homes and burning them had a particularly detailed knowledge of who lived where and who owned what.”  
    – London Times, 8 August 1983
  • “Clearly this was not a spontaneous upsurge of communal hatred among the Sinhala people – nor was it as has been suggested in some quarters, a popular response to the killing of 13 soldiers… It was a series of deliberate acts, executed in accordance with a concerted plan, conceived and organised well in advance.”
    – Paul Sieghart; ‘Sri Lanka: A mounting tragedy of errors’; International Commission of Jurists Report, March 1984

The dead /destruction & looters

  • Official figures place deaths between 300-350 / unofficial numbers without names of dead are between 1000-2000.
  • International Commission of Jurists declared that 50 of the 350 dead were Sinhalese (this was never covered by media)
  • International Commission of Jurists report also declared that some of the homes/businesses of Tamils were self-inflicted (to collect insurance or make it easier to apply for refugee status) Some Tamils pretended to be victims and lied their way abroad.
  • The looters had no ethnic, religious or other factor except the desire to loot. Thus they were from the slum areas and included Sinhalese, Muslims and even Tamils. These looters were the ones that set houses & businesses on fire. These looters were all connected to the UNP politicos and it was they who gave them Voters List so they knew which homes were Tamil. This aspect is ignored. Also ignored from publication is the fact that Sea Street and roads where the upper rich eliteTamils lived were spared and no hooligans attacked these roads.

Role of India’s Raw in 1983 :

  • Role of RAW was to destabilize the JR Jayawardena government elected to power since 1977.
  • 1983 was that watershed moment that gave legitimacy to  clandestinely trained groups. We are well aware that todays conflicts arise as a result of engineered events and 1983 cannot be ruled out as being one such event.
  • The Jain Commission report suffices to put to rest the notion that LTTE and armed militant groups did not emerge after 1983. Sri Lankan Tamil groups were taken to India and trained clandestinely as far back as 1977 and then sent to Sri Lanka under the tutelage of RAW.
  • Arms, ammunition and other materials supplied by India were those that killed the 13 soldiers in July 1983 after numerous futile single shootings of soldiers & police did not generate the backlash that was part of the plan.
  • The refugee exodus to India provided an alibi for the Indians to intervene and was part of the stage-managed tactic.

Tamils & UNP:

  • The blame for the destruction of the Jaffna library and the July 1983 rests solely with the UNP Government.
  • There is no spontaneity when voter lists have been given to thugs and underworld gangs operating under the patronage of the UNP. JR took the opportunity to shrewdly shove the blame upon the Sinhalese without admitting the guilt of the government.
  • Who benefitted from 1983 will answer a lot of questions. It was the same recipients that longed for another 83 for these were golden opportunities. The statistics will reveal the beneficiaries. Today almost 1million Tamils live as either refugees or hold green cards and foreign citizenship. From this number and through other illicit and illegal activities, LTTE was able to make $250-300m profits annually.
  • There is little mention of the uproar inside the refugee camps where Tamils of all castes found themselves but did not wish to even in their common sorrow share the toilets with one another. The same scenario arose in the refugee camps after the final war wherein the army had to prepare separate toilet facilities for the Brahmin high castes. Even Prabakaran’s parents were attacked and had to be saved and taken care of by the armed forces.
  • We also seem to have forgotten what the JR Government did in 1982 by not holding an election but holding a referendum to extend the term of the UNP.

Other myths and inaccurate references:Blaming Sinhala Buddhists

  • The efforts to single out Buddhists and lay blame on them and create situations that divide Buddhists from the rest of the citizens in Sri Lanka are many.
  • Immediately after the riots Anandatissa de Alwis, Minister of Communications and Constitutional Affairs did not hesitate to add that Christians would be next target thereby creating the division between Sinhalese Buddhists and Sinhalese Christians. The media under non-Buddhist hands were quick to do the rest. Thus, the media shunned the brave efforts made by Sinhalese Buddhists to save the Tamils.
  • It is important therefore that the Sinhalese Buddhists do not shoulder any guilt or self-blame for what the UNP was instrumental at creating
  • Proof is in the pudding – it is because the Sinhalese Buddhists were not violent in 1983 and continue to follow the path of non-violence that even after LTTE mayhem and terror struck Sinhalese Buddhists even their places of worship and Buddhist clergy they did not react and attack.
  • A single incident (unrepeated since 1983) has taken the global stage over 3 decades whereas over 300 attacks by LTTE get little global attention or mention. Thus, if 1983 was a revenge attack for killing 13 soldiers why did the same revenge not take place for over 300 LTTE attacks?
  • Why do those that fund and sponsor commemorative events of 83 July not do the same for LTTE attacks?
Elusive gratitude

There is no need for the Sinhalese people to apologize for 1983. If at all any apology is due it is from the UNP Government. The people had nothing to do with the riots and those that eventually took part were ruffians belonging to all castes, creeds and religions for they had a field day looting businesses and homes.

What is also omitted from mention is that Tamils have always preferred to live amongst the Sinhalese. Even at the height of LTTE terror, Tamils did not desire to remain amongst the LTTE and even now post-conflict Tamils prefer to live amongst the Sinhalese.

Now into the 31st year since 1983 it would be nice if the Tamils came out with a public acknowledgement that 83 was not the fault of the Sinhalese (in particular the Buddhists) and also publicly acknowledge that the Sinhalese sheltered and looked after the Tamils and even their belongings. That gratitude and thank you has yet to be forthcoming and instead large sums of money is spent on funding commemorations aimed at demonizing the Sinhalese. In stark contrast in 1977, 10% of the population in Jaffna were Sinhalese and they were all chased out and did not get any refuge.

Shenali D Waduge

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