25 years later
Exactly 25 years ago this day the City of Colombo was
in flames, its skyline obliterated by billowing black smoke as
if to cast a veritable black mark on the conscience of an entire
nation which for just a brief moment lost all sanity and
bearings, the consequences of which we are carrying to this day.
The fateful landmine in Tinnaveli that claimed the lives of
13 soldiers triggered the worst communal riots witnessed in the
country irreversibly changing the course of its history.
The events that unfolded brought out the best in humanity
with a large number of Sinhalese risking their own lives to
protect their Tamil brethren while it also brought out the
animal to the fore in some.
State-sponsored mobs went on the rampage on a looting spree
while Tamil homes were attacked and set ablaze. Colombo was the
scene of anarchy and mayhem as the rabble took full control,
with the then Government totally abdicating its responsibility
allowing the mob rule to hold sway.
The carnage spread to other parts of the country with armed
goons - some said to have been encouraged by the ruling party
potentates - going berserk in a spree of murder and arson.
The conflagration continued for two whole days before the
Head of State appeared on national television, not to express
remorse and commiserate with the innocent victims, but to make
tacit justification for the dastardly crimes as ‘justifiable
anger’ of the majority community.
Some Government leaders are said to have remarked that “this
will teach a lesson to the Tamils”.
Many books have been written since then on the pogrom that
was unleashed on the innocent Tamil community with tacit support
from the Government of the day. Many questions too have been
raised as to the true identity of the real perpetrators and the
Lists were in possession of the goons beforehand which also
lent credence to claims that the attacks were not spontaneous.
There was extensive research too conducted on the whole national
question and the chain of events that led to the holocaust and
the underlining reasons as to why a minority of the Sinhala
community acted in the way they did.
Whatever may have been the driving force for this outrage the
country as a whole was placed on the dock and we were caste out
like a pariah by the international community.
It was left to subsequent Governments and particularly the
painstaking work of the late Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar to
redeem the country from this shameful blot on its conscience and
sanitise its image before the international community.
Black July however had left its bitter scars on the national
psyche. There was a mass exodus of Tamils to Western countries
which in the end resulted in a powerful diaspora that combined
to fund the war chests of the LTTE, which became a more powerful
It also paved the way for foreign involvement in the internal
affairs of Sri Lanka marked by the induction of a foreign army
in the country. It also saw the creation of a vociferous support
flank to the LTTE in Tamil Nadu.
It is to the eternal credit of the majority community that it
had put behind that dark chapter and acted in a mature way as
seen from its collective conduct to the more serious
provocations such as the attacks on the sacred Sri Maha Bodhi,
the Sacred Tooth Relics and countless other attacks on civilians
targets including the Central Bank bomb blast in 1996.
It is also an indication that the majority is prepared to
accept Tamils as their brothers and sisters and live together in
amity as one community despite this single abberation that cast
a pall over the Sinhalese as a whole.
The Government to its credit has succeeded in harnessing this
goodwill and have taken meaningful steps to give the minorities
their rightful place in the national polity with power sharing
as the ultimate goal.
The restoration of the civil adminstration in the East and
entrusting it to an organisation that was once an arch enemy of
the State based on the self same notions of discrimination is
itself a great achievement of the Government leading to
amalgamation of all ethnic groups as a cohesive unit.
It is the hope of all that this unity and brotherhood would
be cemented in more tangible forms in the future so that we
could all forget that day of infamy in Black July as a bad