On July 25th,
many people used the word “trouble” in Colombo or “there
is trouble going on”. My younger sisters and I usually took
the school bus home, but that day my father said that he would come
and pick us up in his own van. On the way home that day, we gave
lifts to people on the way and dropped them off in Wellawatte or
Dehiwela. On the way, I remember seeing shops burnt, tires burnt,
mobs with sticks and knives.
was born and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It was my home.
In July 1983, I was fifteen years old and studying at
St Bridget’s Convent. We were supposed to be safe
in Colombo. If there was a riot, I always thought ‘they’
would make arrangements for our security. But that wasn’t
the case. When I look back on July 1983, I remember the
hurtful experiences. However as fifteen-year-old girl,
all I could think was, “No school!” because
they closed down the schools when the violence started.
I didn’t think that our life was going to be turned
As soon as we arrived home, we thought we would be safe. But this
was not so. We were renting at that time and the house was owned
by another Tamil man. Given the high risk of the situation, the
owner was asked to leave the house. Since we had lived in the same
house for more than 15 years and my dad was businessman, we thought
we were safe. But even our neighbours suggested that we pack our
things and stay elsewhere temporarily. We didn’t know where
to go. Some of our Sinhalese neighbours invited us to stay with
them. My mom and dad used to visit India very often and they had
very expensive sarees and jewellery. So we packed these things first.
But how much could we pack? So we packed the most valuable of our
possessions and gave them to our Singhalese neighbours who were
our good friends. I remember we used to share anything we cooked.
We moved into the home of another Sinhala neighbour who lived on
the same street. They suggested that my dad should be separated
from us, and live elsewhere as they were killing men mostly. He
left. As children, we were very young and confused. We wondered
where they were taking our father. A day or two later, we came back
to see our home, but the entire house was burnt to the ground because
it had been identified as a Tamil home. Finally, we saw our father
again, and thankfully nothing had happened to him.
police then arrived and suggested we go to a camp. So we went
to the Ratmalana camp. My mom left with only a night gown. She
had never left home in anything other than a saree, but that day
she had to leave in a night gown to Ratmalana camp. It was very
painful to see. It was not just us. The bus was full of other
Tamils as was the Ratmalana camp itself. It was only then that
we realized the seriousness of what was happening. We never thought
this would happen. We were born there. We were brought up there.
We lived there. We didn’t think that this was what “troubles”
meant. On the 29th, when we were at the Ratmalana camp. A rumour
went around that the Tigers were in Colombo. There was so much
tension. Our lives were uncertain. It felt as if we would be lucky
to survive through it all. We didn’t have any connection
with the outside world. We didn’t know which of our relatives
had survived. When we saw other people we knew in the camp, we
greeted each other by saying, “This happened to you too?”
We stayed on in the camp for over two months by sleeping on the
floor and eating whatever was available. When the camp got full,
we were transferred to a school, which acted as a camp. None of
our Sinhala neighbours with whom we had been so close invited
us to stay with them, which was very sad. Finally, a Sinhalese
driver who worked for my dad came and took us away from the camp.
We finally saw our relatives again.
of the bitterest experiences was when we went back to our Sinhala
neighbours for our possessions and they claimed that our goods
had been stolen.
after the riots, we left Colombo. In May 1984, we decided to leave
for India by ship. Our family went to Mannar and then to Rameswaram
where we registered as refugees. We couldn’t stay there
as it was overcrowded with Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka. Appa
had a friend in Madurai. So we moved and continued our studies
there. I went on to do a sociology degree there. We went through
difficult times in India. Appa’s business in Colombo had
been burnt and we had sold everything in Sri Lanka before leaving.
In India, he was not as active as he had been. So financially,
it was very difficult for us. . We went from being well-to-do
family to having nothing.
a Sri Lankan citizen, getting a job in Tamil Nadu was not easy.
So in 1990, I came back to Sri Lanka and started to work there.
It was a huge change in circumstances for us. With every bomb
that went off, the tension would escalate. In 1991, my parents
arranged for me to come to Canada. Soon after, I arrived in Canada
as a refugee.
my marriage in 1992, I continued my studies at Seneca College
and successfully attained a diploma in Social Work. I started
working as a Child Care worker and later found job as a Settlement
worker. Though it was financially difficult, I wanted to desperately
bring my parents to Canada. It was more difficult living in anxiety
about the security of my parents and sisters. My husband and I
were finally able to sponsor them in 1997. It brought me immense
joy to be reunited with them in our new home- Canada. Finally,
we were all safe.
working more than 15 years as a Settlement worker, I continue
to cherish every moment of my career. My experiences as a refugee
has helped me work closely with many new Canadians especially
refugees from Sri Lanka. By supporting them through their new
journey and in sharing in our experiences, it has helped me heal
and become a stronger person despite Black July.
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