Incidents that led to the Black July, the communal violence out broke in Sri Lanka

 A Scene a destroyed street during the riots of Black July 1983 Picture Source: Wikipedia

Black July which out broke in 1983 was the climax of the dramatic incidents which occurred during a period of time creating tension among Sinhala and Tamil communities. The incident has ended up creating a black scar on the face of nation and because of the rebound reactions, Sri Lanka has suffered a 30 year war and still trying to find a proper way to reconciliation among the two ethnic groups torn into two parts.

The Incidents which Gave Way to Black July   

-Source: Wikipedia

After the colonial period a majority of government jobs were held by Tamils, although they were a minority of the country’s population. In 1956, the Sinhala only act was introduced. This new act replaced English with Sinhala as the nation’s official language. For which Tamil Sri Lankans felt that they were deprived of their rights. 

The 1958 anti-Tamil pogrom and riots in Ceylon, also known as the 58 riots, refer to the first island wide ethnic riots and pogrom to target the minority Tamils occurred. The riots lasted from 22 May until 27 May 1958. The estimates of the murders range, based on recovered body count, from 158 to 1,500. Although most of the victims were Tamils, majority Sinhalese civilians and their property was also affected both by attacking Sinhalese mobs who attacked those Sinhalese who provided sanctuary to Tamils as well as in retaliatory attacks by Tamil mobs throughout the Batticaloa and Jaffna districts. The events of 1958 shattered the trust the communities had in one another and led to further polarization.

Throughout the 1960s, protests, and state repression in response, created further animosity.

After that, more than 75,000 plantation Tamils who became victims of racial violence and were forced to relocate to parts of North and East Sri Lanka. The events during the pogrom radicalized Tamil youths. convincing many that legal and constitutional means to achieve independence would never work, and armed insurrection was the only way forward. Many such Tamil activists began to join various Tamil militant groups to fight for separate statehood.

In 1972, the policy of standardization, which restricted Tamils' entry into universities, strained the already tenuous political relationship between the elites of the Tamil and Sinhalese communities. The quota affecting political representation became another cause for contention between Sinhalese and Tamil people. 

There was also a series of ethnic riots in 1981, the renowned public library in Jaffna was burnt down by a violent mob. Until 1983, there were similar incidents of low-level violence between the government and the mushrooming Tamil militant groups. There were many murders, disappearances, and cases of torture attributed to both sides. 

On 23 July 1983 at around 11:30 pm, the rebel LTTE ambushed the military patrol near Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka and Killed 15 soldiers in total.  

The decision was made to hold the funerals, with full military honors, at Colombo's General Cemetery, at Kanatte, a large crowd, including around 3,000 people from the Wanathamulla slum, started gathering at the cemetery, angered by news of the ambush, which was magnified by wild rumor.

By the time the plane carrying the bodies arrived at Airport at 7:20 pm, the crowd at the cemetery had swollen to more than 8,000. The crowd wanted the bodies to be handed over to the families rather than to be buried at the cemetery. Violence broke out between the crowd and police, and the riot squad was summoned. The president then decided to cancel the military funeral and hand the bodies over to the families.

 A section of the crowd marched up various parts of the Colombo streets, where they attacked and looted Tamil properties and set them alight. Members of criminal gangs came to join the ensuing chaos. 

Although the violence began as a spontaneous reaction by Sinhalese mobs who had gathered at the Colombo cemetery where the bodies of the soldiers were to be buried, they were later joined by elements associated with Sinhalese political activists involved in the organization of the riots. During the early stages of the riots, it is alleged that the local police and military stood by and did nothing. Numerous eyewitness accounts suggest that "in many places police and even military personnel joined the rioters".  by 26 July the police and army were out in the streets taking action against the mobs, and most of the violence died out. The government extended the curfew to prevent violence from spreading to other parts of the country.

An illustration drawn to show the gravity of Black July

The reporting from the witnesses clearly testimonies the graveness of the events out broke.    

London's Daily Telegraph (July 26) wrote:
Motorists were dragged from their cars to be stoned and beaten with sticks. Others were cut down with knives and axes. Mobs of Sinhala youth rampaged through the streets, ransacking homes, shops and offices, looting them and setting them ablaze, as they sought out members of the Tamil ethnic minority. A mob attacked a Tamil cyclist riding near Colombo's eye hospital. The cyclist was hauled from his bike, drenched with petrol and set alight. As he ran screaming down the street, the mob set on him again and hacked him down with jungle knives.

Paul Sieghart of the International Commission of Jurists stated in Sri Lanka: A Mounting Tragedy of Errors, two months after the riots, that: 

Clearly this (July 1983 attack) was no spontaneous upsurge of communal hatred among the Sinhala people – nor was it as has been suggested in some quarters, a popular response to the killing of 13 soldiers in an ambush the previous day by Tamil Tigers, which was not even reported in the newspapers until the riots began. It was a series of deliberate acts, executed in accordance with a concerted plan, conceived and organized well in advance.

Although the outbreak was sudden act the sparks of the devastating flame was a gradually formed mistrust between Sinhalese and Tamils which was backed by certain political activities during that era. However, the result was the 30 years of war between Sri Lankan army and the LTTE. Still the scars of mistrust are visible between two nationalities and will take a long term of reconciliation process to reunite the trust which lost long before.

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