Black July 1983: Have we learnt a lesson? Monday, July 29, 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of the nastiest day of the last week in July 1983, when ethnic violence was triggered following the killing of 23 soldiers by the LTTE on July 23, 1983.  In an organised attack on unarmed Tamil civilians, mobs in [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Letters to the editor


Black July 1983: Have we learnt a lesson?

Monday, July 29, 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of the nastiest day of the last week in July 1983, when ethnic violence was triggered following the killing of 23 soldiers by the LTTE on July 23, 1983.  In an organised attack on unarmed Tamil civilians, mobs in Colombo used voter lists to identify homes of Tamils residing in the city and suburbs. The violence spread to other parts of the country.

Tamil shops and homes were attacked by unruly mobs that destroyed life and property while authorities turned a blind eye during the first four days. Some 400 lives were lost.

Security forces, strangely not receiving orders from the top were significantly ineffective. Apart from the dead, more than 50,000 were left homeless and confined to camps, while many Sinhalese braved threats from hooligans in sheltering their neighbours and friends. Thousands of Tamils migrated to the West seeking refugee status.

J.R. Jayewardene, who became the President in 1982 with the help of 90% of Tamil votes, interviewed by a British reporter [Daily Telegraph- London, July 11, 1983] in early July 1983, a week before the carnage said, “… I am not worried about the opinion of Jaffna people now… Now we can’t think of them. Not about their lives or of their opinions about us. …The more you put pressure in the North, the happier the Sinhalese people will be here…”

The interview was reproduced in the State run, Sunday Observer on July 17, 1983. Analysts believe the July pogrom points to one conclusion; more than a provocation of Sinhalese masses, it was a prearranged attack carried out by an influential group in the government.

July 1983 changed the lives of people in numerous ways. The gruesome acts of massacre, arson and looting were allowed to last a week: Why did the authorities fail to punish the culprits, who in many instances were identified as supporters of certain ministers? Why was there no proper plan to compensate the victims?

The Presidential Truth Commission on Ethnic Violence from 1981 to 1984 that inquired into ‘July 83’, did little to find answers to these serious questions. But it exposed some gaps in ethnic coherence. It questioned the government’s mishandling and issue of dangerous ‘messages’ that effectively prompted violence.

When the House met for the first time on August 4, and when the Opposition raised the Welikada issue, where 53 Tamil inmates were massacred on July 25 and 27 criticizing the government for failure to prevent the catastrophe, Prime Minister, R. Premadasa said “One Sinhalese prisoner also had been killed…”– Hansard; Aug 4, 1983: col. 1285

With the introduction of regulations on June 3, 1983, under the Public Security Ordinance, allowing the clearance of bodies without a judicial inquest by police officers of the rank of ASP and above; indiscriminate arrests made under PTA and deaths in police custody; the rigged 1981 DDC elections in Jaffna where senior ministers campaigned with supporters from South, it became clear that the government was not following a path of compromise. It was seen as a strategy to gain political power by any means,which left the Jaffna youth doubting and southern extremists ‘raring to go’..
Addressing the nation on the 28th afternoon, after a four-day silence, President Jayewardene said, “…we feel that there is an attempt to lead this violence for the purpose of destroying the political and economic progresses that this government has been able to ensure for our people… in 1976 Tamil politicians initiated a movement for separation of our motherland, it became violent …innocent people were murdered…members of Armed services, Police and politicians were assassinated. Because of this violence by the terrorists, the Sinhalese have reacted …”

The next morning, July 29, saw the worst violence of the week. Finally on this occasion the Police and forces moved in fast to restore order. Here is a relevant excerpt from a BBC interview with President Jayewardene in August, as quoted in the editorial of ‘Times of India’ on August 10, 1983, “…Asked why troops did not fire at rioters…he has said, ‘I think there was a big anti-Tamil feeling among the forces. They also felt that shooting the Sinhalese, who were rioting, would have been anti-Sinhalese, and actually in some places we saw them encouraging [rioters]’.”

Perhaps JR thought any attempt to halt or suppress the carnage would lead to serious trouble. His government which held power only due to a referendum that extended the term of office for another six years was losing popularity. He knew that if he stopped this passage there would be a clash with the Security Forces that could eventually be some sort of threat to his authority. Without allowing that to occur, he let a situation that was intended, to worsen into terrible unrest.

Have we learnt the lessons from past autocratic oppression?

K. K. S. Perera, Panadura

Fulfil the promises made to pensioners at least in Budget 2014

The anomaly in the pensions of public servants who retired before 2006 has still not been solved although many promises have been made. The President in his 2005 Mahinda Chinthana election manifesto under sub-head ‘Respected Senior Citizens’ said, “I will not allow Senior Citizens who have devoted their lives for their children and the country to be lonely. Their pensions will be increased in line with the public servants salary increases. Anomalies in the present pension payments will be rectified and the pension system will be amended to reflect the self-respect of the pensioners…”

These promises were repeated in the 2010 version of the Mahinda Chinthana also. The dignity of the pre-2006 pensioners has been worn down due to the ever increasing cost of living. Most of the pensioners are suffering from some illness or another and in some cases their wives also. Thus they are unable to cope with the high cost of drugs, medical care and transport. Many have died while waiting for the anomaly to be rectified.

On January 14, 2010, the President told the pensioners who were invited to Temple Trees that the anomaly arising from the salary increases granted to public servants would be rectified in the “next budget”. Many budgets have been passed since these promises were made but the state pensioner’s anomaly remains un-rectified.

We are unable to understand why the President cannot keep his promises and why Senior Citizens who have served the country with commitment and dedication are treated with scant respect.

Hope the President will at least do justice to the pensioners in the 2014 budget.

U.D.R.F.De Silva, Mattegoda

Duty free watches: Some timely advice

About a month ago on my way to Italy I bought a luxury Rado watch from the agents at the duty free shop at the Bandaranaike International airport for US$ 1,695 assuming it was a good price as most Rado watches sell for US$ 2,000 or more. On my way back I was in transit at the Dubai Airport where out of curiosity I dropped in at the duty free shop that is selling luxury watches including Rado. To my surprise the same watch was being sold for US$ 1,395.

I checked to see if it was a special price and the answer was no. When I got back to Colombo I called on the agents to find out why their prices were US$ 300 more than the Dubai duty free price. They gave me an unacceptable explanation which was that they were buying it from the Singapore agent at a higher price. If that is so why should they buy from them?

Also that is not a satisfactory answer for the customer since whether they are telling the truth or not I have to pocket out the extra 300 dollars. I am sure their other watches too must be overpriced. If the duty free price is 300 dollars more than the recommended price then the price in the open market must be exorbitant!!

I checked the price of this watch with the same model number on the Internet and to my surprise it is sold for US$ 1,395 with free delivery in the US, I suppose.

So after my experience at buying a watch from the duty free shop at BIA, I advise anyone planning on buying a watch there to please do your homework on the prices of these luxury watches by calling the relevant duty free shops at airports like Dubai and Singapore. Otherwise you may be paying an exorbitant price not knowing that you could purchase it elsewhere at a much lesser price.

Dr. Ajith Fernando, Via email

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