Douglas Devananda recalls Welikada jail massacres of July 25th and 27th 1983

N. Thangathurai and Kuttimani Yogachandran amidst prison guards

By Gagani Weerakoon

Black July 1983 -1

Kathiravelu Nithyananda Devananda, was in the cell facing the gallows of Welikada Prison when he heard the commotion outside the prison walls on 25 July 1983, just two days after the infamous Black July began.

“We did not know what was happening at the time, and I was watching the commotion taking place on the road outside the prison premises. That was before they actually came in.

I do not want to go into the details of harassment unleashed on the Tamil prisoners by Sinhalese extremist prisoners with the complete blessings of prison officials,” Nithyananda who is now known as Douglas Devananda recalled.

He took the name Douglas during his affiliation with the group, Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS). While recalling dark memories, Devananda was a bit hesitant to relate all the details of what happened during the two or three days that made life behind bars a near encounter with death.

“What was done was done, and we should let bygones be bygones. If I go into detail as to what exactly happened it will cause some unrest. Whatever calm that prevails in the country at the moment should not be disturbed. What we should do is to learn from the past and move on,” he said.

Devananda was arrested twice in the 1980s under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and was held in various prisons in the country. At the time of Black July 1983, he was imprisoned again after a bank robbery at Thirukkovil.

“On 25 and 27 July 1983, around 53 Tamil prisoners were massacred by Sinhalese prisoners. Some of the prominent figures among the rioting Sinhalese prisoners included Sepala Ekanayaka who was involved in the infamous aircraft hijack incident. I along with 27 other Tamil prisoners survived the riots,” Devananda said, while noting he was transferred to the Batticaloa Prison along with other survivors later on.

He said, as he remembers, Kuttimani Yogachandran, N. Thangathurai, Muthukumar Srikumar, Gnanamuttu Navaratnasingham , Philip Amirthanayagam and Kandiah Rajendran (Robert) were some of the Tamil prisoners who were massacred during the prison riots. Some 41 Tamil political prisoners including Devananda escaped from the Batticaloa Prison on 27 September 1983. He fled to Tamil Nadu in India.

The rest is history