I Wasn’t Around in ‘83

Anushka Wijesinha Meemure village, Sri Lanka, June 2013. Aamina Nizar for The Picture Press. “No one came to the house”, he said, “but I did get threatening phone calls in the middle of the night”. With so many Tamils staying in his house, I had asked him whether people came home to threaten him. I spent my morning today (July 23rd) with my grand uncle, Sam Wijesinha, a former Secretary General of Parliament and a veritable encyclopedia of information. I wasn’t around in ’83 and as we marked thirty years today, I was keen to hear from someone who was. …

The absolute silence at home: July, 1983

Tanuja Thurairajah Photo by P. Vijayashanthan The most vivid memory of violent conflict for me has been from July 23, 1983. I was 7 years old then, the same age as my twins today. Each time a word, something I read or hear takes me back to that day, the first image I see in my mind’s eye are white-streams from broken milk bottles on the black tarred roads, as my uncle drove us home from school. It was the longest journey back home and at that age there was no fear, only bewilderment. Once I got home everything was …

Silk sarees

Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai As I recall “Black July” 1983 on 23rd July 2013, 30 years have quickly passed by, but my memories of  “Black July” remain fresh and intact in my heart. On a Saturday morning, we heard the news about an ambush (13 army soldiers were killed) in Thirunelvely, Jaffna Peninsula on 23rd July 1983. As a family discussed the serious matter in detail. Following the official funeral of the 13 soldiers in Kanatte Cemetery in Colombo on 24th July 1983 (Sunday evening), we have received numerous phone calls via our land phone about the beginning of the pogrom on …

A card

Shanika Perera Click here for a larger version. ### First published on Groundviews on 23rd July 2013.

A moonlit walk

Devaka Seneviratne July 1983 was four years after I was born. Like many in my generation who were not directly affected by the events that took place, memories are hazy and disjointed. Black July is mostly remembered by faint memories such as the closing up of Lanka Medicals in Kandy, a shop that in those early days had a steady stock of Matchbox ‘dinky’ cars. My Uncle’s house in Bandarawela where we would spend holidays, had a neighbor whose car was set on fire. As a Sinhalese it is something that has at the back of my mind, made me …

Kesera Wittachy

Kesera Wittachy (42 years) Zürich, Switzerland ‘’What I remember most were the pyres; they used to put people in top of each other and put petrol and burn and that gives off a funny taste…. the smell. It’s like rosewater with burning hair and that taste that stays with you for years, months you just don’t get rid of it. Every time I have a nightmare and I see this, I don’t see pictures actually, I get a taste in my mind. When I think back it’s the taste of the burning bodies that I get.’’ Kesera, then 12 years …

Tharmini

Tharmini (40 years) Paris, France ‘The 1983 ethnic riots…. the Government directed by Sinhala chauvinism and the members of parliament were behind this pogrom, as well as behind the planned murders of the Tamil prisoners by the Sinhalese prisoners. I don’t believe in just saying, …the Sinhalese, the Sinhalese, pointing out to a common Sinhalese person and attacking him for this…but it is the chauvinistic Sinhalese Government spurred by a hatred of minorities, which even continues until this day, that is behind all this’’ Tharmini was just 10 years old when the 83’ riots broke out, and was living in …

Shobasakthi

Shobasakthi (46 years) Paris, France ‘‘When I looked out through my cell window again, I saw the jailors Rogers, Samitharatne and Palitha leading the Sinhala prisoners, who were leaping down the stairs like fishes jumping into rain – filled pools. Death was descending. Rogers opened a cloth bundle and flung out weapons, and the prisoners grabbed at them howling ‘Jayaveva’. The whole building was filled with screams of pain, howls of ‘Jeyaveva’ and the crowing of victory. 25 July 1983 was death day.’’* – Shobasakthi reading from his novel, ‘Mmmm’ Shobasakthi speaks to us about a very important day in …

Abdul Gaffar Mohamed Rafeek

Abdul Gaffar Mohamed Rafeek (53 years) Zürich, Switzerland “The atrocities that happened at that time cannot be expressed by words; escaping the situation was the only priority in our minds at that time. It was a dangerous and sad period. When each year the situation arises for us to revisit it during the month July, comes sadness, lethargy and yearning! ‘’Somewhere riots had broken out and the people were all running amok, scared to even divulge their identities. We were young at that time so we did not take it that seriously but the bus driver’s foresight was to drop …

Pushparani

Pushparani (63 years) Paris, France ‘’In 86’ I arrived in Colombo on my way to France. I stayed with a Sinhalese family. They were very caring. I still remember how they served me with fish curry and hoppers. Also, they had only one room and they gave it to me while they slept outside. Their house was small and they used to live in a ‘Thottam’ (Watte). When I came there initially I was a bit scared. On my way there we had to come through some paddy fields and we asked for directions from the farmers. They were very …