still black after twenty years
23, 2003 - 11.15 GMT]
years down the road, memories of July 1983 still make Sri Lankans quiver.
Most now agree it was Sri Lanka’s ‘week
of shame’; it began on the 23rd of July and in fact has not
yet ended. State controlled media of the day described the events as an
ethnic disturbance. But discerning citizens knew what they were
witnessing was nothing short of a holocaust Sri Lankan style. The details of
the horrors and mayhem after two decades remain sketchy; they are not fully
chronicled for obvious reasons. They will however remain etched in the minds
of people both Sinhalese and Tamils. Most politicians to this day use
‘Black July’ in their regular rhetoric but go no further; it is clear
now politicians of the day crafted this pogrom against the Tamil people.
armed with iron poles, swords and gasoline systematically went about the
business of killing, looting and burning Tamil establishments and homes. A
trail of destruction and human misery was all that was left at the end, with
Tamil people being forced to seek refuge with their Sinhala friends and even
with strangers who protected them for months on end, while authorities
looked the other way, making little or no effort to stop the rampage.
riots were triggered off by a landmine attack in Jaffna, which killed 13
soldiers on July 23, 1983. No one at the time could have predicted the sheer
magnitude the riots would reach or that this would change the course of
history and cause Sri Lanka to become what it is today.
post Black July period saw a virtual exodus, scores of disgruntled Tamils
left for the West and neighboring India, others went to the North, young men
and women joined the militants. Black July strengthened militancy and the
Tamils’ resolve to do something about their grievances. The Eelam demand
began in earnest and a civil war raged on for 18 years, over 60,000 lives
were lost on both sides of the divide. The Sri Lankan dream if there was
one, was shattered. The economy came to a virtual standstill.
in Sri Lanka has always been a month when security was tightened in
anticipation of an attack by the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE).
July 2001 saw the most devastating assault on a soft target; much of the
country’s only international airport was destroyed by terrorists.
the Sinhalese racially prejudiced?
Sri Lankan lecturer of anthropology at Harvard, Professor Stanley Thambiah
caused quite a stir when he termed the Sinhalese ‘ A Majority with a
Minority Complex’ and the Sri Lankan Tamils ‘A minority with a Parity
Claim’. Professor Thambiah thinks the Sinhalese are chauvinistic. The
Oxford educated Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar himself a Tamil, in his address at
the 49th session of the UN General Assembly on September 26th
1994 said, ‘Let it never be said if it could ever have been said that the Sinhala
people are racists. They are not. They are absolutely not and I think this
election has demonstrated that so handsomely, that particular argument can
be laid to rest for ever’. Kadirgamar
was addressing the UN a month after his People's Alliance had won the General
Election on a pledge of peace with dignity for all.
two Tamil scholars Thambiah and Kadirgamar hold diametrically different
views about the Sinhalese and why? Professor J B Dissanayake of the
Department of Sinhala, in the Colombo University appears to have the answer;
Mr. Kadirgamar lives in Sri Lanka and better understands the Sinhala
culture. Professor J B Dissanayake in his book ‘Understanding the
Sinhalese’ says “one has to learn to decode Sinhala culture to understand
the contradictions, paradoxes, and other strange ways of behaviour of the
Sinhalese. Culture communicates says Professor J B, though in a silent
language. In Sinhala culture deeds more than words are used to communicate:
a genuine smile or a gentle bow of the head says more than words. This
perhaps explains why even after two decades, a formal apology has not been
made by the Sinhalese. It is then a cultural phenomenon; they would rather put
the past horrors out of their minds, than rekindle it by an open act of
years on Sri Lanka is still recovering. Thankfully open hostilities have
ceased and a fragile peace process has been in place for the past 17 months.
this twentieth anniversary of Black July, maybe it is time to look back.
Look back and ‘heal the wounds’, to establish the truth, repent and
reconcile, we as a nation need to make an honest attempt at peace.
should be accompanied by justice, otherwise it will not last. While we all
hope for peace it shouldn't be peace at any cost but peace based on
principle, on justice."
President of the Philippines
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Date: July 23, 2003 -11.00