My name is
Thiruchelvam. I am 60 years old. I have been a journalist for the
last 40 years. In Canada, I am working as a newcomer settlement
consultant. In addition, I am the chief editor of a magazine called
Tamil’s Information which I initiated nearly 18 years ago.
Before 1983 riots,
I was living in Colombo since 1969. I was working as a journalist
while my wife was a teacher. Our son was born and raised in Colombo.
Most of my neighbors were Sinhalese and we were living together
like brothers. I think I was one of the first families to experience
the violence. Twenty five years later, the shocking feeling still
resides within me.
Around 1 am, my family was already in bed. I got a phone call
from one or two friends saying that there was a group of people
coming towards my area with sticks, stones, and weapons. We did
not take it seriously since Tamils in Colombo were rarely targeted
in this manner. So, we assumed the mob would ahead out of the
city. Within a few minutes, my windows were smashed. About 30
people, mostly in their sarongs and using foul language, rammed
through our door. I quickly hid my wife and son under the bed.
Soon, they found me and held on to me. They began looting the
entire house and then damaged the furniture. I was panic stricken
as they barged into the bedroom where my wife and son were hiding.
Fortunately, they did not find them. Instead, they took all the
clothes and jewelry. One person held a knife to my throat and
asked for my ring. I gave it to him. As they let me go, the others
dissipated out the house and into other homes. A few remaining
went inside the kitchen and opened the gas in order to set the
place on fire. At that point, I got hold my wife and son and quickly
crept away as our house burst into flames. That night, we hid
in my neighbor’s home.
the 25th morning, my family and I along with many other affected
Tamil families gathered at the nearby St. Theresa Church. I contacted
my friends to explain the situation. However, they were quite
confident that they would not be targeted since they were residents
within President Jayawardene’s riding. As resident of the
President’s riding myself, I reaffirmed to them that they
urgently needed to evacuate their homes with their families and
valuables. However, they did not listen. Despite my warnings,
Mr.Chandralingham, principal of Bampalaipetty Hindu College, and
Mr. Somarthanath, the chief editor of Thenakaran paper, went into
work on the Monday morning. They did not make it back home in
time and their houses were burnt. Even more sadly, they could
not find their family members.
stayed at the church for nearly two days and then moved to a camp
set up at Therestin College. For the first two days, the government
nor security officials did not take any action to curtail the
violence or assist the victims. On the third day, a few refugee
camps were set up.
the next few days, I heard word of many killings. Many of my childhood
friends and contacts as a journalist were killed or burnt in the
streets. We did not even get the chance to attend a funeral.
the end of the week, I along with many other males within the
refugee camps decided to go back to our houses and collect any
remaining useful items. However, I was caught by two army personnel
as I walked a few blocks away from the camp. As they stood a foot
away from me, they asked me to remove my clothing and strip down.
I began removing my clothes and I was trembling since I was quite
sure they were going to kill me. At that point, I began lying
that I was actually a Sinhala. In Sinhala, I explained that I
was journalist and that I worked for Radio Ceylon. With those
words, they walked away. After escaping death so narrowly, I ran
back to the camp and hardly moved for the next few days. I wanted
to leave Colombo right away.
family and I decided to go back to Jaffna. Even my young son who
had grown in Colombo, was ready to leave. He could not believe
we were targeted simply because we were Tamil. I resigned from
my position as I planned to started my own daily paper in Jaffna.
I wanted publish the true stories as opposed stories based on
government press releases and restrictions.
my own paper began increasing in circulation through the Northern
province, I was continuously targeted with violence and imposed
to carry only articles proved or provided by the government. Despite
arrests and bombs, I continued to run the paper. On May 10, 1989,
paramilitary surrounded my house and attempted to kill me. Though
I was able to escape, they got hold of my only son and killed
him. They threw his body out onto the street.
my external contacts, Amnesty International learnt of my son’s
death and brought my wife and I to Colombo in thirty days. They
were our saviors. After recognizing that my life was not safe
in Colombo, they offered me in residency in Britian, Australia
a journalist, I read widely about Canada’s newcomer programs
and how they welcomed refugees from Sri Lanka after the events
of Black July. I wanted to be in country where I would be given
the opportunity to make a difference in the community. Thus, I
choose to move to Canada.
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