Can we ever forget Black July - 1983?
The ugliest and the most barbarous event in the post-independent Sri
Lanka entered the pages of history 25 years ago. Some people ask why
these blackest events are being reminded ritually in the month of July
year after year.
I believe that it is of no other reason than to reassure ourselves to
see that such an event should never be allowed to recur.
The General Elections in 1977 brought about the strongest Government
in power since Independence with a five-sixth majority. The election
results provide evidence that no party since the Independence did ever
get such an overwhelming backing from the ethnic and religious
minorities of the country.
Mystery prevails how under such a Government with sympathy and
goodwill of the minorities, communal disturbances erupted within a few
months of it being installed in power.
The first communal clashes occurred on August 15 in the estate areas
of Sabaragamuwa. So, the events sporadically spread elsewhere in 1978,
1979 and 1981 culminating in the Black July of 1983.
The year 1981 witnessed the burning of the Jaffna Library with 94,000
books and the dirtiest ever the District Development Election. On July
23 1983 with the bodies of 13 soldiers having been brought to a single
place for cremation in Borella, emotions were allowed to run high for
the eruption of virulence and violence unprecedented in our recent
July 23 to 30 was the darkest week of the Black July where it was
officially estimated that 471 Tamils were killed, 8,077 of their houses
burnt, 3,769 persons injured, 3,835 cases of looting. Fifty three Tamil
prisoners in the Welikada jail were brutally murdered.
As a result of this event the biggest refugee problem erupted making
more than seven hundred thousand people homeless, unprecedented in the
history of our country, of which more than 400,000 were forced to leave
It was the Black July of 1983 which signalled the outbreak of the
on-going war in the North-East, with the virtual division of the
The war commenced with a military budget of Rs. 1.8 billion in 1983
and it has risen to Rs.117 billion by 2007.
In all, from both sides a little less than 100,000 may have been
killed by now - leave alone thousands of those who have been disabled.
Damage to property is incalculable. Ethnic relations completely
collapsed with mutual fear and suspicion between Sinhalese and Tamils
With Black July, dawned the era of gun culture, disappearances, child
soldiers, collapse of rule of law and erosion of democracy. Within the
first ten years of UNP rule from 1977, the draconian Constitution was
further strengthened with 16 further constitutional amendments - with
the two notorious 4th and 6th.
Amendments to the Constitution, whereby the General Elections were
postponed and 18 elected MPs from the North and East were removed from
the Parliament. The banning of CP, NSSP and JVP was a pretext for the
perpetration of all those Machiavellian acts of the JR regime.
With the Black July, fortunes of Prabhakaran dawned; all other Tamil
groups and parties being decimated or marginalised. The physical
elimination of all leaders of rival Tamil political parties gave way for
the emergence of Prabhakaran. Thanks to perpetrators of Black July the
most murderous, blood thirsty terrorist group in the world was given
The process of brutalisation and criminalisation of the present day
Sri Lankan society was commenced with the onset of the Black July.
In the history of our country, the entire Sinhalese people were most
unjustly portrayed internationally as the most barbarous ethnic group of
the modern society while the few perpetrators of those ugliest crimes
were allowed to escape unpunished.
It is still afresh in our minds how the Tamil people who were the
main victims of Black July voted at the 1982 Presidential Elections for
the Sinhala leaders just a few months prior to the Black July.
Despite the boycott campaigns of the TULF and other Tamil groups,
between 50 per cent to 80 per cent of the Tamil people went to polls in
the 1982 Presidential elections even in the North and East, the lowest
being in the Jaffna district with 50 per cent, still relatively high.
It is on record that 60 per cent of the Jaffna people who polled, in
fact voted for Sinhala candidates, the highest being obtained by Hector
Kobbekaduwa of the SLFP. The figures for the other districts were more
Vavuniya - 85 per cent
Trincomalee - 89 per cent
Batticaloa - 60 per cent
Digamadulla - 95 per cent
This was the response of the Tamils and Muslims in the North and East
to the Sinhala leaders. Let the people in the South remember this stark
fact of history.
All this goodwill evaporated with the Black July. The Tamil people
were driven to the clutches of the LTTE, thanks to the perpetrators of
Black July, engineered by those in power then.
The international image of Sri Lanka was completely tarnished. The
traditional Indo-Sri Lanka relations were strained to the lowest ebb. In
my view the emergence of terrorist, chauvinistic JVP in the South too
was a by-product of the Black July. How people in the South suffered
during the 1987-1990 period are still fresh in their minds and hearts,
with the killing spree by JVPers as well as Green Tigers.
In the first round the finest leaders and cadres of the CP, LSSP,
NSSP and SLMP were brutally murdered. Of course, they gave their live
for the cause of national unity and communal harmony. The killing spree
continued and thousands of UNP and SLFP supporters too lost their lives.
Can this black chapter of our recent history be forgotten or be allowed
to be obliterated?
Much water has flowed under the bridges of Sri Lankan rivers since
the Black July. We remain where we were having failed to weed out the
root cause of terrorism through the search of a political solution to
the national question. Even if we forgive those perpetrators of Black
July, we can never forget the event.
The writer is General Secretary Communist Party of Sri Lanka.