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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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