Feature Article

Remembering 35th Black July with Tamil resolve

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 24 July 2018, 07:51 GMT]
This week, Eezham Tamils in the homeland and the Tamil Diaspora mark the 35th anniversary of the collective trauma of the ‘Black July’, the SL state-sponsored genocidal pogrom that claimed the lives of more than 3,000 Tamil residents in the south of the island in 1983. The key lesson learned throughout the years of the pogroms, massacres, genocidal war and finally the post-war structural genocide, which is aimed at dismantling the existence of Eezham Tamils as a nation, is a hard reality. The genocide originating from the Mahawansa mind-set always gets its way, not because of the strength of the Sinhala nation, but mainly because the external State actors sustaining the Colombo-centric approach, is that lesson. Thus, the collaborationists and the negotiators among the Eezham Tamils were always doomed to failure, Tamil political observers in Jaffna commented.

Only a leadership which is oriented towards righteousness and principles, as well as being determined to operate transcending the spheres of influence and the manipulations of the powers, could once again restore the lost parity of the nation of Eezham Tamils in the island, they further said.

The long-due solution to the national question and justice to the genocide-affected nation have always been snatched away from the Eezham Tamils as the powers want to sustain the status quo even at the cost of a genocidal annihilation of Eezham Tamils.

The first injustice of the current international order after the post–World War II was committed by the colonial British.

The Soulbury Commission ‘failed’ to recognise a political system, which could guarantee the parity of the peoples constituting the island as demanded by the Eezham Tamils.

It was this intended failure that culminated in the creation of the unitary state of genocidal Sri Lanka in 1972.

In the meantime, Eezham Tamils, as they had warned the Soulbury Commission, experienced the discriminatory Sinhala-only policy and the pogrom of 1958 before the advent of genocidal Sri Lanka.

In 1964, Lord Soulbury and Tamil politician C. Suntharalingam exchanged letters on the subject.

In his response to Suntharalingam, Lord Soulbury said: “In the Constitution which I recommended — there seemed to me at the time to be ample safeguard for minorities — but section 29 has not been as efficacious as I had hoped — and I now wish that I had recommended a “human rights” clause as in the Constitution of India and elsewhere. [...] I am afraid that I can only counsel patience — and vigorous participation in the work of the House of Representatives. You might imitate the Irish party in our House of Commons before Ireland was separated from us.”

In his reply, C. Suntharalingam raised the following: “After all, we went under the British independently of the Sinhalese, and frankly we feel we have been wronged by the Britain in handing us over, though unwittingly, to Sinhala chauvinists who boastfully proclaim that the Sinhalese have taken the place of the British in Ceylon. [...] Surely the Mother of Parliaments should not be prudish about the Statute of Westminster as not to enact suitable amending legislation. Must She not restore direct to us by the Act of British Parliament the liberty which we lost direct to Western Foreigners in the field of battle — the last being under the British, as late as October 1803, when the Eela Tamil Chieftain, ‘Pandara Vannian’ finally fell?”

Soulbury was not prepared to recognise it, but was reiterating that a federal solution would be ‘cumbersome’ to operate and an independent state for Tamils ‘would not be viable’.

“[A]ssuming the continuance of Sinhalese ‘persecution’ your countrymen might be driven to separate, as Ulster has separated from the Irish Republic, and federate with South India. The relation of Great Britain and Ulster would not be dissimilar. I have no idea as to how you would regard such a development. But the suggestion of it would certainly put the wind up the Sinhalese. I occasionally mentioned the possibility of it to D.S. Senanayake when I was discussing the report of Ceylon's Constitution in the Spring of 1945, and it put the wind up him.”

The unitary constitution of genocidal Sri Lanka, enacted in 1972 without the mandate Eezham Tamils, also removed the section 29 safeguards mentioned by Lord Soulbury.

Meanwhile, the Tamil demand for independence was advanced under the leadership of Thanthai SJV Chelvanayakam. The underlying principles of the future Tamil struggle were conceived in Vaddukkoaddai Resolution, which received the democratic mandate of Eezham Tamils in the 1977 General Elections, the last ever democratic elections to take place in the island as far as the right of self-determination of Eezham Tamils is concerned.

The second injustice was committed by India, during the times of its pro-Soviet Non-Alignment times as well as during its tilt towards the USA in the Post-Cold War era.

In August 1983, Indira Gandhi, the late Prime Minister of India, recognised the Black July pogrom as genocide. She wanted to arm the Tamil militants to checkmate the US-friendly UNP regime.

However, she was not prepared to intervene or exert pressure on the SL State against the 6th Amendment.

The Indian betrayal to Eezham Tamils reached its climax with her son and successor Rajiv Gandhi signing Indo-Lanka Accord with the genocidal State to ensure its annexes securing the strategic interests of New Delhi.

Amirthalingam, who resisted the 6th Amendment, which followed one month after the Black July pogrom of 1983, should have demanded Ms Gandhi and her successor Rajiv Gandhi to force the SL State to dismantle the Amendment. On the contrary, taking the advice of India, Mr Amirthalingam chose to take part in the elections in 1989 (Although he lost in the polls, he was appointed as a ‘national list’ MP finally succumbing to the 6th Amendment).

As the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) stepped up the armed struggle, the physical genocide that started off as pogroms in the South took the shape of massacres, enforced disappearances, economic blockades, and finally a genocidal war on the de-facto state of Tamil Eelam.

However, the LTTE restored the parity of status and political power through the armed struggle and entered into an internationally mediated peace process with the intention to achieve a negotiated political settlement to the underlying conflict.

It was at this juncture, the third injustice of the international order was committed against the nation of Eezham Tamils by the US bandwagonism, formally joined by Norway, the UK, the European Union and Japan. From the so-called Oslo Declaration to the alleged moves of surrenders, this group of the State actors, who tagged themselves as the Tokyo Donor Co-Chairs, committed Peace Crimes against the Eezham Tamils.

The US bandwagonism unilaterally strengthened the unitary State and its military capabilities, imposed punitive measures on the LTTE, which represented the Eezham Tamils. It tilted the status quo in favour of the genocidal State paving way Colombo's genocidal war against Eezham Tamils.

The fourth injustice of the international order is still being committed by the same actors manipulating the United Nations, its Human Rights Council and influencing the successive Human Rights High Commissioners.

In effect, a sophisticated denial of genocide has been carried out by the Geneva-discourse, which manipulated the scope of human rights by equating the GoSL and the LTTE in a war crimes narrative. The target was to achieve ‘US-Sri Lanka consensus’ in geopolitics. It was achieved through the talk of ‘reconciliation’, ‘transitional justice’ and ‘development’.

As far as the Eezham Tamils are concerned the physical genocide that started off since 1956 and continued until 2009 through pogroms, massacres, enforced disappearances and finally the genocidal war, was only a forerunner to the real annihilation of the nation of Eezham Tamils in the island.

In fact, the Eezham Tamils independently waging the armed struggle managed to defend themselves from the real annihilation.

Thousands of Tamil survivors of 1983 Black July reached the homeland in the North-East seeking immediate security. Many of them eventually fled the island to Tamil Nadu state in India, Europe and elsewhere, consolidating what is today known as the Tamil Diaspora.

The Tamil Diaspora has a moral duty to defend the independence of the mainstream Tamil polity.

The Sinhala Establishment learned to commit pogroms against other ethnicities by attacking Tamil-speaking Muslims 103 years ago in Puththa'lam in 1915. The tendency was again witnessed earlier this year.

The Tamil Diaspora and the emerging mainstream polity of Eezham Tamils in the homeland need to learn from the past how to defend its homeland by forging strategic alliances between the peoples on the ground and elsewhere.

The explanation that the electoral politics of genocidal Sri Lanka is needed to block others from exploiting the political space is a fallacy. That argument has lost its validity in the post-war scenario bereft of leadership like that of the LTTE. As long as Tamils do not have mainstream political leadership that spearheads the struggle beyond the electoral processes of the genocidal State, this explanation is self-contradictory.

The thinking that the external powers would need Tamils at some point to checkmate the Colombo establishment is also a spoiler because it inherently expects a political solution from such negotiations.

The real political space of Eezham Tamils lies outside the systems of electoral politics of genocidal Sri Lanka and outside the grooming spheres of the influencing and manipulating geopolitical State actors, their trade union and their NGO outlets.

* * *

Eyewitness account by Gandhiyam David, a survivor of 1983 Welikade massacre

The late Gandhiyam David, interviewed in 2012 by TamilNet, gave an eyewitness account on how he faced the SL State-sponsored pogrom against Eezham Tamils inside the Welikade prison on 25 July 1983.

His interview follows:

* * *

International Commission of Jurists in 1984: ‘Sri Lanka: A Mounting Tragedy of Errors’

The late Paul Sieghart, a renowned human rights campion who was the chairman of the executive of the Council of Justice, the British section of the International Commission of Jurists, in a report titled ‘Sri Lanka: A Mounting Tragedy of Errors’ issued in March 1984 noted that the Sri Lankan Minister for Industries and Scientific Affairs, Cyril Matthew, who was also the leader of the principal UNP trade union, was behind the pamphlet titled "Sinhala People - Awake, Arise, and Safeguard Buddhism".

Following are some excerpts from the report by Paul Sieghart:

The first serious communal violence erupted in May 1958 (while an SLFP Government was in office); the next came in August 1977, soon after the present UNP Government was elected; then again in August 1981; and most recently in July/August 1983. The intervals between these episodes have become shorter; their extent over the Island has become wider; and the violence has become more intense.


In many respects, the Tamils' response to these events, and to the more chronic discrimination to which they feel subjected, has been remarkably restrained. One of the most striking features of the episodes of communal violence, for instance, has been the lack of retaliation by Tamils against the Sinhalese in their midst, with the result that virtually all the victims on each of these occasions have been Tamils.


Undoubtedly, an independent Tamil State (the expression Tamil Eelam is increasingly going out of fashion among moderates) symbolises the aspirations of some Tamils. Professor Leary and Mr. Moore have dealt adequately in their reports with the legal arguments which have been advanced for it, based respectively on the right of self-determination and on the proposition that Tamil sovereignty has never in fact been abandoned, and I express no view of my own on either of those questions.


The attitudes of successive Sri Lanka Governments since Independence to what they sometimes call "the Tamil question" have displayed some curious ambivalences. There have, for example, been several negotiated "Pacts', each welcomed as heralding the final resolution of all ethnic problems, but for one reason or another they never seem to have been fully carried out. Sri Lankan Governments are always careful to include Tamils in their administration: the present one has three Cabinet Ministers, the Attorney-General (who also served in the previous one), the Inspector-General of Police, and several other high officials. But even that does not seem to be enough to reassure the Tamil community of the benevolence of their Island's elected government.

There is of course one recent event that was scarcely calculated to instil such confidence. The last outbreak of communal violence began on 24 July 1983. For day after day, Tamils (of both the "Sri Lankan" and "Indian" varieties) were beaten, hacked or burned to death in the streets, on buses, and on trains, not only in Colombo but in many other parts of the Island - sometimes in the sight of horrified foreign tourists. Their houses and shops were burned and looted. Yet the security forces seemed either unwilling or unable to stop it - indeed, in Jaffna and Trincomalee, some members of the armed forces themselves joined in the fray, claiming an admitted 51 lives. Seen from the Tamil point of view, either the Government had lost control of the situation, or it was deliberately standing by while they were being taught a lesson. The first massacre in Welikada jail took place on 25 July, and claimed another 35 lives. The second - allegedly foreseen by the prison staff came two days later, and claimed another 18. Not until the very end of that second episode was a special army unit sent in, to save the lives of the few remaining Tamil political prisoners.

And not until the fifth day, on 28 July, did President Jayewardene finally appear on national television. In a brief address, he blamed the violence and destruction exclusively on the reaction of "the Sinhala people" to the movement for the establishment of a separate Tamil State, and announced a Cabinet decision to bring in what in the event became the Sixth Amendment, designed to ensure that even peaceful supporters of separatism could not sit in Parliament, and that "those who advocate the separation of the country lose their civic rights and cannot hold office, cannot practise professions, cannot join movements or organisations in this country."

In the course of that address, the President did not see fit to utter one single word of sympathy for the victims of the violence and destruction which he lamented. If his concern was to re-establish communal harmony in the Island whose national unity he was so anxious to preserve by law, that was a misjudgment of monumental proportions: I have yet to meet a single Tamil at any level in Sri Lanka or out of it who does not remind me of this glaring omission at the first opportunity. Nor are they reassured by the programmes for relief and rehabilitation of the victims which the Government has in fact since installed: at the time of my visit, six months later, around 10,000 homeless Tamils were still in refugee camps.

For months after the violence, the President consistently refused to hold any discussions with the TULF leaders, in or out of Parliament, unless they first formally abjured a separate Tamil State - something they clearly could not do, whether they privately believed in it or not, since they were bound by their party's explicit resolution of 1976 on which they had been elected.


There is one more political and social - albeit wholly unofficial - feature of Sri Lankan life which must be mentioned here, and that is the so-called "goondas". These are, essentially, organised gangs of hooligans available for hire by anyone whom it happens to suit to foment trouble in the streets. It is freely admitted that every major political party has its own rented or rentable goonda contingent: there are SLFP goondas, UNP goondas, and doubtless goondas serving other political interests. In private discussion, their employers seem to regard them as regrettable necessities on the political scene, and to play down the importance of the harm they can do; by contrast, those against whom their hooliganism is from time to time .directed are apt to play up their importance, and to describe them as "private armies", in the pay and at the service of named politicians. That they exist is not disputed: what is less clear is the extent of the damage they can inflict, and how it comes about that their paymasters seem to enjoy a surprising degree of immunity from prosecution.


Likewise, the communal violence which began in Colombo on 24 July 1983 bears every appearance of having been started by hired groups of goondas, and that led to much loss of life, suffering, and destruction of property. Yet here again, despite long-drawn-out police enquiries, no one has yet been able to establish the hand behind that initial episode, a matter to which I shall return in section 4.1 below.


After the 1977 General Election, Mr. Jayewardene's incoming UNP administration enjoyed an unprecedented majority of five sixths of all the Members of Parliament. That enabled it to amend the Constitution without a new Constituent Assembly, and by the following year to enact a completely new one, under which Mr. Jayewardene became President with very wide powers (see section 3.3 below). Like its predecessor of 1972, this Constitution accords "the foremost place" to Buddhism and declares Sinhala to be the only Official Language, though it adds that both Sinhala and Tamil are National Languages. It also includes a detailed catalogue of fundamental and protected individual rights.


If there is to be any hope of reducing the tensions between Sri Lanka's two main ethnic communities, some essential steps must be taken as quickly as possible: full and independent judicial inquiries into the origins and sequence of the tragic events of July/August 1983, and in particular the two massacres in Welikada prison which cost 53 lives; the publication of the results of all internal inquiries into killings by members of the security forces, the urgent completion of police enquiries into all such cases, and the institution of appropriate proceedings where the evidence warrants this (4.1); and a sustained effort by the Government in support of education for tolerance and the dismantling of the prevalent myths, for which the Sri Lanka Foundation and its associated Centre for Human Rights are especially well placed (4.3).

Support for a separate Tamil State is a consequence of the perception by the Tamil community of discrimination against them, reinforced by extravagant counter-measures against terrorism (2.6). But to outlaw that support, even if it is expressed peacefully and within the framework of an open democratic system, plays directly into the hands of the terrorists. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, by which that was done, is a clear breach of Sri Lanka's obligations under Article 25 of the ICCPR (3.5).

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