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Black July: Tamils vow to rise again

[MISC, Saturday, 4 July 2009 10:56 One Comment]

By Satheesan Kumaaran

This year while commemorating the victims of Black July ’83, the Tamils are without a leadership and Sri Lanka continues to hold nearly 300,000 Tamils in internment camps while detaining over 10,000 youths in undisclosed locations under severe torture by Sri Lankan State armed forces. The Tamils’ this year vow is to continue the path of LTTE through political means to secure the right to self-determination, urge the global community to bring the Sri Lankan state to book for launching the genocidal war, and to secure the release of all the Tamils held by the Sri Lankan state.

Twenty-six years ago, the Sri Lankan State-sponsored pogrom against Tamils resulted in the deaths of 3000 people and property damages of over $300 million U.S. The days between July 24 and July 30, 1983, were tragic and unforgettable for the Tamils. It is the month the Tamils commemorate as a black day, and it is the month for the Tamils to take an oath as to what actions would they need to take against the perpetuators of the crime.

Although the Tamils have no sovereign state despite that nearly 80 million Tamils are living all over the world, and one can comfortably argue that Tamils are everywhere, they are always working hard to empower their home countries through their hard work.

Tamils have no legal state recognized by the UN. When thousands of Tamils died in broad day light in Sri Lanka, their brethren around the world could not extend a hand other than coming to the streets urging their adopted countries to help. However, almost all these countries supported the oppressive Sri Lankan State rather than helping the oppressed claiming that they could not act against another sovereign State, even though Sri Lanka conducted state-sponsored pogroms and other forms of violence, which killed over 100,000 Tamils on the island, and over 30,000 Tamils were killed within a matter of days in May 2009. Now, all the Tamils are held in Nazi-style camps in Vavuniya and over 10,000 Tamils have been taken to secret locations for further interrogations and their whereabouts are still unknown.

Diaspora Tamils take up the cause

Despite the ground situation as it is now, with the LTTE defeated militarily in May 2009, the Tamils are still victims of state violence. Tamil media outlets are getting constant death threats from the state-sponsored paramilitaries. Tamil MP, doctors, hospital directors, and many more are taken into custody with the allegation that they are Tamils and they would be a serious threat to the national security. Further, Sri Lankan armed forces are shooting and killing Tamils in their controlled areas, even inside the internment camps despite their claim that they crushed the

Tamils’ Eelam ‘dream’ militarily. In this juncture, the Tamils world over have the moral responsibility to continue the path of Tamil liberation from where the LTTE stopped; so, the LTTE has put the weight on the Diaspora Tamils to win the freedom of Eelam Tamils.

This year, the Diaspora Tamils have taken the oath with the slogan “Rise Again”, and they are holding peaceful rallies in their home countries demanding their governments not forget their political demands saying that the world community should help them attain the right to Tamil self-determination, help release all the Tamils held by the Sri Lankan State, and help bring Sri Lankan State to task for the genocidal war against the Tamils.

It is worth discussing what happened to Tamils on the island while they were engaging peacefully demanding right to self-determination before the war broke out between the Tamil militants and the government armed forces. Many people believe that the root cause for the violence in July 1983 was the death of thirteen Sinhalese soldiers in Jaffna, although violence against Tamils has been ongoing since 1956. The tragic events of July 1983 drew international attention to the region, and India’s central government directly intervened in support of Sri Lankan Tamils.

Wounds cannot be healed

On May 11, 1983, two months prior to the July 1983 violence, Sinhalese students in Peradeniya University attacked Tamil students. For three consecutive days, Tamil students experienced the brunt of the Sinhalese community’s hatred. University authorities, intellectuals, and the country’s ruling authorities did very little to stop the violence against the Tamil students.

The old students witnessed the university administration’s and authority’s unprecedented conduct at the time. Tamil students were asked to attend the lecture sessions during these periods even though the Tamil students felt they needed to get away from the University to their homes to reflect on what had happened to them from May 11 to May 13, 1983. The University authority failed to provide the Tamil students with a safe environment to continue their studies.

The motive of the attacks on the Tamil students was to evict them from the university permanently. The unprecedented behaviour of the university administration helped the attackers reach their aims. Almost ninety-five percent of the Tamil students left the university and returned home. Even after this exodus, the university continued to conduct lectures and exams. The university authority had shown little, if any, sympathy towards the Tamil students during this time of crisis.

The death of thirteen Sri Lankan soldiers in Jaffna on July 23, 1983, ignited the hatred of the Sinhalese general public towards the Tamils. Sri Lankan armed forces retaliated with a non-stop attack from July 24 to July 30 on innocent Tamil civilians who had never committed any crime except having been born Tamil. These attacks included the looting and damaging of Tamil-owned properties. GoSL officials refused to step in to control the riots against Tamils claiming that the Sri Lankan State was failing.

On July 25, after the midnight lull, mobs led by people with voter registration lists hand-torched Tamil homes and looted and destroyed Tamil businesses. All traffic was searched, and any Tamils found were killed, maimed, or burned alive. The many policemen deployed throughout the city stood by and watched. Witnesses recall lorry loads of armed troops leisurely waving to looters who waved back.

Tens of thousands of homeless Tamils sought refuge in schools and places of worship. In Welikade prison, thirty-five Tamil political prisoners awaiting trial under the Prevention of Terrorism Act were massacred by Sinhalese prisoners with the complicity of jail guards using spikes, clubs, and iron rods. The violence spread rapidly throughout the country, engulfing towns like Gampaha, Kalutara, Kandy, Matale, Nuwara Eliya, and Trincomalee. The Indian Tamil town of Kandapola, near Nuwara Eliya, was completely wiped out.

On July 26, the GoSL imposed strict censorship on media reports on the anti-Tamil violence. Word spread of Sri Lanka’s state of disorder as eye witness accounts and photographs taken by returning tourists illustrated the scale of violence.

On July 27, seventeen more Tamil prisoners at Welikade Prison were hacked to death just two days after the first prison massacre. The surviving 36 prisoners were transferred to other prisons. Rioting continued and the curfew was extended. Witnesses to the violence reported that charred corpses of Tamil victims lined the streets of Colombo, some mutilated with “X”s.

On July 28, President J.R. Jayewardene addressed the nation for the first time since the anti-Tamil pogrom started, only to fan the flames of anti-Tamil sentiments by stating that anyone who advocated for separatism would lose all “civic rights”. He stated, “…the time has now come to accede to the clamour and natural request of the Sinhala people to prevent the country from being divided.”

On July 29, Tamils in Colombo began evacuating by cargo ship to Jaffna. Hundreds more internally displaced persons waited anxiously for the next cargo ship to transport them to Jaffna.

Tamils no longer trust Sri Lanka

The Tamils no longer trust Sri Lanka. Even the racist statements by the former Sri Lankan leaders show that the Tamils can longer co-exist in peace with their Sinhala counterparts because Sri Lankan leaders failed to embrace the Tamils through fulfilling their political demands. Tamil leadership was not asking for a separate state, but they were asking for federal structure of government by allowing them some powers to govern themselves. However, the Sri Lankan majority met the peaceful demands of Tamils through violent means. The Tamil militants were not born from the sky, but they were created by the Sri Lankan state.

After such a bitter war from 1983 till 2009, over a million Tamils fled the country, half a million as internally displaced persons with the island, and the wound imposed on the Tamils after killing over 130,000 Tamils, left another 30,000 women widowed and tens of thousands of more living as orphans. This is a great tragedy and the Tamils the world over carry the wound inflicted by the Sri Lankan State, and it is pathetic to hear that the Sri Lankan leaders talk of co-existence at this juncture while they refuse to change their unitary form of government even after such a horrible war between the two nations on the island.

So, the question of co-existence is a far distant reality as the Tamils who carry the wounds caused by the Sri Lankan state remain fresh and festering.

It will be a horrendous error to put the pressure on the Tamils to forget and forgive, but the global community should put the pressure on the Sri Lankan State to grant autonomy for Tamils keeping in mind that the Tamils do not want to fall victim of another Black July of 1983. So, Black July is an unforgettable month for Tamils in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. What February is to Black people around the world, July is to Tamils.

Tamils take this month to reflect and remember. Moreover, this year’s commemorations falls just a month after the LTTE was defeated militarily in Vanni while hundreds of thousands of people are held inside the internment camps, and hence, Tamils take this month to hold the rallies in the world with the slogan ‘Rise Again’, to urge the global community to take more political and diplomatic initiatives to exert pressure upon Sri Lanka to grant autonomy for Tamils, so that the Tamils can live in peace with freedom and justice in their homeland.

(The author can be reached at e-mail: satheesan_kumaaran@yahoo.com)

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One Comment »

  • bm said:

    Dear,
    The people in the IDP camps waved flags & fired crackers when the news came" prabakaran" dead.
    100000 of sinhala, Tamil & Muslims waved flags got a relief -I didn’t see a single Tamil in Colombo is worrying about it.
    Now no body extort money from Tamil businessmen, no body abduct child’s of Tamil families- no child soldiers
    No bus bomb blasts- no civilian killing
    If you think this not good better come to Sri Lanka & fight back – rather than trying to so IC that you have problems in Sri Lanka & going to save your refugee visa’s.
    Dear sir -you are using the logo of most ruthless terrorist organization in the world – who have killed largest ever number of Tamils more than any other in the world
    Better you come and see here – no body is worrying about you -even though you are been anti Sri Lanka for your personal benefit’s.
    Wish you all the best. May triple gems save you.