July, a ‘cruel month’ of the year no more?




People celebrating Black July 1983

Has the terrible abomination, which was Black July, now ceased to exist? This is the question which the conscience-stricken among us need to ask ourselves. Whereas in former times, Black July was consistently commemorated every year by the state and progressive, humanistically-oriented sections of the Lankan polity, July 2009 has almost ended with hardly a murmur in the most relevant quarters about the ignominious outrage of 1983, which drastically changed the face of post independence Sri Lankan politics and triggered a local societal crisis of unheard of proportions.

It is as if the liquidation of the LTTE in mid May this year has made it unnecessary for the state and the more socially-conscious sections of civil society, to keep alive in the public consciousness, the inhumanity which the Tamil community suffered at the hands of racist hordes at that wrenching moment in the country’s political history. By saying this, the implication is not intended to be made that those mind-numbing events of July 1983 bore the hallmarks of what is popularly referred to as a racial pogrom. Far from it. Those sad events did not see the majority community in its totality unleashing murderous violence, for instance, against the Tamils. The shaming events of July 1983 could not be described as ‘ethnic strife’ in the true sense of the phrase because persons in substantial numbers from the majority community went to the rescue of affected Tamils and even provided them succour at the risk of their lives. It was not a question of one section of the people seeking the physical liquidation of another section. The ‘troubles’ of July did not ,certainly, take on the contours of a ‘civil war’. The barbaric hordes that sought to ‘teach the Tamil people a lesson’ were not synonymous with the Sinhala community.

However, it could be said with certainty that the riots of July 1983 were state-orchestrated to a degree and overlooked and condoned too to an extent by some government leaders of those times and that murderous hordes were systematically unleashed on the Tamil people and their property with the aim of doing them maximum harm. Accordingly, the Tamil people were singled out for attack and for this reason the riots should stand condemned by all persons of conscience in this country, as brutally discriminatory in nature, regardless of how long ago the tragedy occurred. This should be the case as long as national unity, democratic accommodation among communities, multiculturalism, and above all, humanity is valued by Lankan society.

The local polity could pretend now that Black July is of no significance, only at its peril. ‘The lessons of history’ need to be borne in mind lest ‘the mistakes of the past’ are repeated. Therefore, it is only right and advisable that Black July is continuously commemorated by particularly the state and the inhumanity which was ghoulishly visited on the Tamil community solemnly recollected by the total citizenry.

The law and order problem which was the LTTE may be no more but the National Question is remaining unresolved and we would be forgetting, once again at our peril, the fact that ‘Back July’ was and is profoundly symptomatic of this conflict that is remaining to be rectified by political means.

There is no need to repeat here the truism that the LTTE is not synonymous with the Tamil people. The majority of the Tamil people never backed the LTTE or condoned its campaign of terror and one cannot perceive why the murderous violence which was unleashed on the Tamils in July 1983 should now be treated as a disposable piece of history. Since the majority of the people in this country are totally opposed to the inhuman treatment of living beings, whatever their ethnicity and cultural roots, Black July 1983 should be continuously solemnly commemorated by Sri Lanka, unless the state is tacitly making it known to the public that the Tamils and their legitimate grievances are of no importance in current post-LTTE times.

It is quite some time since the Jews of the world acquired a state of their own and enabled some of their political aspirations to be met, but the ‘Jewish Holocaust’ is a dreadful episode in modern human history which the civilized world would dare not consign to the dust heap of history. This is mainly because the civilized world considers it advisable to keep the memory of the ‘Holocaust’ alive to enable humanity to recollect the invaluable lesson that inhuman violence should never be unleashed by sections of humanity against each other. Besides, the lesson is driven home that no social group should be victimized on account of its cultural identity.

The ‘Holocaust’ is commemorated today by the majority of Germans too who shudder at the thought of being identified with the genocidal Hitlerian regime which sought the physical elimination of the Jews in the early decades of the last century. ‘Holocaust’ commemorations are by no means a slur on the dignity of the majority of Germans who seek peaceful co-existence with the rest of mankind.

Much of this logic applies in Sri Lanka too. By unfailingly remembering Black July, we, the totality of Lankans, would be demonstrating our opposition to the unleashing of inhuman violence against innocent civilians, besides saying ‘no’ to the victimization of people on grounds of ethnicity and other cultural markers.

Such observances have nothing to do whatsoever, with the LTTE and its illegal agenda, which the state was obliged to deal with, with the coercive power at its disposal. But it must be ensured that social peace and ethnic harmony prevail and one of the most effective means to do this is to implant in the popular consciousness the need for the humane treatment of one’s ‘neighbour’ or the ‘other’, through the consistent remembrance of events such as Black July.

The need of the hour is not a self-righteous rejection of Black July but a rediscovery of its potential as an instrument of ensuring continuing social harmony. It is also a valuable means of remembering that the Tamil people are an integral part of Sri Lanka and that they should be kept within the national fold through a continuous recognition of their inherent dignity as humans.

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