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Chelliah Paskaran

My name is Chelliah Paskaran. In 1983, I was 21 years old. I grew up in Jaffna and I moved in 1981 to Colombo in order to study at the National Institute of Business in Colombo. I boarded with friend in an apartment above a jewelry shop in Borella. Like most shops in the area, the jewelry shop was owned by a Tamil man.

On July 23rd, my friend and I were having lunch at a coffee shop when a few other friends notified us regarding the ambush on the Sinhala

soldiers. We soon heard word that the funeral would take place in Kattane which was only two kilometers from Borella. That night, I woke up to the sound of honking trucks and the smell of smoke. As I looked out my window, I found the street below filled with angry men and many monks scurrying in and out of the stores as they looted and destroyed surrounding property. Across the street, a shop was on fire and many other shops were being splashed with petrol. Though I wanted run, I realized I would not be able to escape the mob gathering in the street. Soon, the jewelry shop below us was set on fire as well. Luckily, it was a cement building, the fire did not travel up to our apartment but we laid awake through night in our smoke filled room.

When the morning broke, the mob was gone however the street was still filled with a cloud of smoke. Though we were unsure of how the day would unfold, I decided to leave the apartment along with the others in the area who were surprisingly continuing with their day-to-day routine. Since I had an exam, I felt I had no choice.

First I visited my sister in Kotena where I dropped off some of my important documents. However, when I arrived on campus, I learnt that classes were cancelled. One of my friends who also came to write the exam, dropped me off at the bus stop. I later learnt that his house was burned down. At the bus stop, I met another friend who was later gashed in the mouth with screwdriver on route to his house.

I took the first bus that was going in the direction of Kotena. As I traveled on the bus, I saw many shocking scenes. Tamil people being chased by others. A well known Tamil textile shop was being looted and looters walking leisurely away with their finds. A car was turned over and set on fire. Suddenly, the bus was stopped by a mob. Few Sinhala men got on the bus and asked many of the passengers individually questions in Sinhala. I realized they were asking if any Tamil people were on the bus. I sat in anguish fearing that they might question me in Sinhala. Since many of them responded back in Sinhala, they got off and let the bus through. Though, I was not familiar with the area but I got off before the next stop. Lucky enough, I was near a lane, which led to the back of my sister’s house.

Just when I thought I was out of danger, we heard angry mobs gathering and rushing down my sister’s lane. There was loud banging and yelling at the door. I hurried my sister’s family to escape. We jumped the back wall and into a neighbor’s back yard. The neighbors were a Muslim family and they hid us in their house until the mobs left. Soon after, my sister’s family took refuge at a camp set up at the St. Benedict Church while I stayed with another Muslim family friend.

A few days later, I decided to leave Colombo with my sister’s family when I heard that Tamil people were being sent on cargo ships to Jaffna,. Before I left, I went back to my apartment to get my books and other belonging since the violence had significantly declined. However, most of my belongings were destroyed by the smoke. On the way back to the camp, I suddenly heard shootings afar. Members of the army were yelling after Tamils and shooting at them. This day was later named as Black Friday.

Though I survived Black July, I continued to face violence in Sri Lanka. Like many young Tamil males, security officials would question and assault me under the suspicion of terrorism.

In 1984, I reached my breaking point. My brother and I were randomly rounded up along with 400 people other males between the age group of 20 and 40. We were held like prisoners for more than 21 days in Colombo prison camp. Though I try to forget those memories, I still get nightmares about living in those unsanitary tight quarters and not knowing what would happen next. Sadly, I was one of the lucky ones. Many were tortured while others were detained for more than two years.

Soon after my release, I moved to India and then to Canada in 1988. Though it pains to have left Sri Lanka, I am grateful that my two children will never have to face the same violent experiences that I had encountered in my youth.

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