By A Jaffna scribe
BLACK JULY -7
The communal riots against the Tamils in post-independent Sri Lanka first took place in 1958. The second unrest was experienced in 1977 and the worst was, as history recorded, in 1983 not only claiming the lives of hundreds of Tamils in the island but also destroying assets running into several million rupees in Colombo.
A large number of Jaffna Tamils who had established themselves in Colombo and only visited the Peninsula once in a while returned to Jaffna with only a suitcase containing whatever was left behind after mobs attacked their houses located in Wellawatte, Bampalapitiya and the areas where the Tamils were domiciled.
The Jaffna-based newspapers, particularly the ‘Eela Nadu,’ which was popularly known as the ‘Madras Hindu of Jaffna’ came out daily with special editions on the riots in the South and on the displaced Tamils camping at various places in Colombo.
Manikka Vinayagar temple
The camp that was set up at the Manikka Vinayagar temple in Bampalapitiya was packed with Tamils of Jaffna origin, who generally define themselves according to their caste and social standing. With the riots in Colombo, large groups of Jaffna people gathered at the Bampalapitiya temple, shedding their cast differences, often supported by their friends from outside with food and clothes.
With the increase in the number of internally displaced Tamils in Colombo, the J.R. Jayewardene Government which was in power at the time made arrangements for special trains between Colombo Fort and Kankesanthurai to transport Tamils who were at welfare centres setup in Colombo.
Apart from the Tamils living in Colombo who were directly affected by the riots, Tamils who arrived in Colombo from abroad, those who came from Jaffna on brief visits to attend to official matters and students staying for educational purposes were also badly affected.
K. Thirunavukkarasu who hailed from Kokkuvil, Jaffna had returned to Colombo on a holiday from his workplace in Malaysia and left with a parcel, given to him by a colleague to be handed over at a house in Pamankada.
The innocent Thirunavukkarasu, a pious Hindu who regularly wore holy ash on his forehead went in search of his Sinhalese friend’s house in Pamankada. But the holy ash on his forehead revealing his ethnic identity as a Tamil Hindu resulted in the innocent man being hammered to death by a group of rioters at the Pamankada junction. The innocent Thirunavukkarasu who didn’t realize the gravity of the riot, returned from Malaysia with the intention of travelling to Jaffna. Instead, he died at the hands of drunken hooligans.
The obituary pages of the Eela Nadu began to fill with the brutal murders of Colombo-based Tamils.
As the Government couldn’t deal with the internally-displaced Tamils in Colombo, planes and cargo ships were also arranged to transport the Tamil refugees from the capital.
On the instructions of the late Editor of Eela Nadu N.Sabaratnam, a young journalist had reached the shores of Kankesanthurai to get the exclusive interview from the very first Tamil displaced person from Colombo who reached Jaffna on a cargo vessel. It was anchored at the KKS harbour . The cub reporter eagerly reached a Tamil displaced person (IDP) who was among the first batch of IDPs to return on a cargo vessel to KKS. The reporter asked the IDP about his experience of the riots in Colombo. The IDP who was only carrying a shoulder bag along with him was infuriated by the reporter’s query and thundered, “What is there to describe? The bastards who put us through this will pay for this someday”.
An exodus to Jaffna
The railway stations from Vavuniya to Kankesanthurai were packed with relatives and friends who assembled on the already packed platforms to receive the grieving returnees from Colombo. The scenes at the railway stations within the Jaffna Peninsula were moving as the Tamil IDPs from Colombo began arriving in Jaffna. with tears streaming down their faces, it was like a mass funeral.
The Tamils who were victims of the ‘83 July Riots arrived in special trains to Jaffna, a reminder of the scenes which were similar to the Jews being transported to various detention camps in Germany during World War II.
The Jaffna homes were packed with friends and relatives who had arrived from Colombo as destitute persons. As it was also the Nallur festival season, the returnees from Colombo were seen in sombre mood, worshiping the deities in Nallur.
The schools in Jaffna were full of students who came from Colombo and Kandy schools. Certain Colombo boys even introduced rugby to the Jaffna boys, despite the tension that prevailed.
Not only the schools but even the Jaffna University, a premier university in Sri Lanka, had a good number of academics from Colombo and Peradeniya taking up residence there. The Medical Faculty of Jaffna also benefited immensely with the presence of a significant number of Tamil dons from Colombo and Peradeniya.
Following this forced return, there were even moves by the Tamil business persons who returned from Colombo to set up their enterprises in the peninsula.
A significant number of youngsters who were from the families victimized during the riots joined various Tamil militant movements and went crossing the Palk Straits to South India to be trained at various camps for Tamil militants.
The feeling of relief and the consolation of the ’83 July victims from Colombo were short-lived. Jaffna gradually turned into a killing field with the escalation of militancy in the region.
The ‘83 July Riots were the beginning of three decades of internal strife and marked the commencement of a politically dark period. Significant changes began to emerge in the orthodox life-styles of the Jaffna folks as they began taking wing to countries they have not even heard of before. In every sense, it was a turning point. courtesy: Ceylon Today