‘Black-July’ pogrom and police inaction – a response

There have been several articles and letters by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke, Mr. P. S. Mahawatte Anne Abayasekara, Mr. Dhanapala et al on the Black July pogrom. I was in Sri Lanka at the time and our family escaped harm. Since I had married an estate-Tamil woman and I myself came from a socially disadvantaged caste I was excluded from most Tamil circles. As such, I was living in a poor Sinhalese area where the people were friendly and protective. We were not on any ‘Tamil lists’.

However, we continue to ask: Who was responsible for the horror and violence suffered by so many innocent people? The government of the day acted in the most ignoble manner.  Mr. Dhanapala asks: Why didn’t the police, the accredited guardian of law and order, act? How is it that no Tamil police officer of the era has so far failed to come forward to explain their criminal negligence of duty?

It has often been pointed out that goons who had lists of Tamil addresses went around causing mayhem.  LTTE sympathisers had been visiting Tamil houses for many months prior to the pogrom, collecting money for its cause. The IGP and some of his deputies (DIGs) being Tamils, would have been on those lists. So, the existence of the lists and the money collection would (or should) have been well known to them. Mr. Nadesan (later Prabhakaran’s police chief) was a senior officer in the Colombo-Nugegoda area; he surely knew about what was going on.

Prabhakaran’s dissatisfaction with the disengaged Colombo Tamils was well known. Many Tamils simply refused to contribute or be intimidated while strongly supporting the TULF.

In my belief, the 1983 pogrom started as a spontaneous Sinhala reaction to the killing of the 13 soldiers by the LTTE. However, the uprising was immediately hijacked by parties who had the Tamil-household lists, to intimidate those non-conforming Tamil homes who did not contribute to the cause. However, they in turn were outnumbered and hijacked by even more horrendous goons, jingoists etc., who moved in to pillage and plunder.

If a senior Tamil officer (or any Tamil) who knew of these matters had come forwards with the facts, he would have been targeted as a traitor and eliminated. Even today, none would dare, because ‘Black July’ is a hallowed moment of anti-Sinhalese-angst among the Tamil diaspora and some righteous ‘liberals’ of Colombo.

What actually happened is less important than the emotional truth of the pain. Anyone who contravenes this icon of angst would be instantly outcast by most Tamils expatriates.  Since my family has always been outcasts, this matters little to me, and we mutually keep apart.

A panel of historians and social scientists should investigate the actual facts of ‘Black July’, even if such a research may reveal little. However, such an exercise should be purely to put history right, and NOT to ‘punish’ anyone. The country has been punished enough for many decades of horror since 1983. It is time to forget, forgive and move forward, rather than continue to use July 1983, or May 2009  as  ‘beggar’s wounds’ to attack and demonise Sri Lanka.

Sebastian Rasalingam

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