the Holy Family
Convent. As they tried to slip away from the violence swelling around
them, a crowd yelled and pointed at him. “There goes a Tamil
man! Catch him!” they yelled. Luckily, he was fluent in Sinhala
and yelled back in Sinhala, “Where?! Where?! Where is this
Tamil man?” They believed he was Sinhala and broke apart to
find other Tamils.
name is Inthiranee Suntharalingam. My husband, two daughters
and I survived the shocking violence of Black July. Prior
to the riots, we were living in Colombo for many years.
morning on July 25th, my husband’s co-workers at
the Paper Corporation were shocked to find him at work.
Given the violence they had witnessed on the streets,
they urged him to return home immediately. He took the
bus and picked up our youngest daughter at
By the time, they arrived at home. We could see smoke and fire ever
increasing from the direction of Dehiwala. We changed quickly and
planned to leave immediately. As we stood outside along with two
other Tamil families, we realized that there is no possible escape.
Tamil houses were being burnt lane by lane. Our lane was next. In
the direction of Galle Road, we could see many trucks filled with
men. Near the beach side, we heard that there was another big crowd.
we stood in terror, a Muslim family came to our rescue. They took
all the three families inside their home and hid us in their storage
room. Everyone huddled and sat in silence even through the sounds
of the mobs and the fire raging. After a few hours, the Muslim
family returned. They explained that a group of men with petrol
can and voters’ list on hand tried to verify with them whether
Tamil people lived in our house. They answered that we were on
vacation and that in fact they owned the house. They were able
to save our house from being burnt however the houses of the two
other families were burnt to the ground.
returned to our house that night. However, our neighbor asked
us not to turn on any of the lights and remain quiet until calm
had returned to the city. If they found us, we knew the Muslim
family and us would be in grave danger. The next day, our neighbours
found us a Police jeep to escort us to the camp which was set
up at the Hindu College.
we arrived at the camp, we were shocked to find many of our good
friends there as well. It was overcrowded with more than 16,000
Tamils from the Colombo 6 area. The families of doctors, teachers,
lawyers, engineers, government officials and many well know businessmen
took refuge on the grounds and in classrooms. Since houses were
also targeted through night, many of them escaped with only their
night gowns and sarongs. Through the support of external donations
from Tamil businesses and volunteered services of the camp refugees,
there was a single daily meal, medical services for the injured
and maintenance of the toilets. We were on our own without any
protection or assistance from the government.
July 29th, Black Friday, most of the killings took place. Families
from the camp went back to their house to collect any valuable
possessions such as photos and passports. However, many never
returned. One of our family’s friends and his son left early
in the morning. As word spread of the maiming of Tamils on the
streets and in buses, his wife ran to the gates and waited for
them. Through the night and into the morning, she stood there
looking intently out into the empty street. No one had the heart
to pull her away and make her understand that they were probably
killed as well.
hearing many experiences of the other refugees and realizing the
level of organization that was employed to execute the violence,
the wide consensus was that Colombo was no longer a place for
the Tamils. When forms arrived for transportation options to Jaffna,
Batticalo or Trincomalee, we accepted to take a ship to Jaffna
without a second thought about the livelihoods we had built in
were sent on a crowded cargo ship to Jaffna. Those who were inside
the vessel hardly had any room to move about. Without fresh air,
many were continually vomiting where they sat. Those who were
on sitting on top of the vessel were being scorched under the
summer sun and by the heat of the metal ground. After three days
without food or any maintenance of the unsanitary conditions,
the journey finally came to an end. Hundreds of Tamil volunteers
waited to take care of us at the harbor in Jaffna.
a few months, we sent our eldest daughter away to Zambia where
she got married and worked as an accountant. To make ends met,
my husband reluctantly moved back to Colombo and to take up his
former job at the Paper Corporation. However, anxiety took over
lives as we worried about each other’s safety. In 1986,
we decided to stay together in Colombo. With escalating violence
from the Sri Lankan Army in Colombo and the Indian Peace Keeping
Force in Jaffna, we realized we needed to leave Sri Lanka. With
an understanding of the growing prosperous Tamil community in
Canada, our daughter applied for self sponsorship in 1990. Soon
after, we applied as well.
I think back, I am truly grateful especially to the Muslim family
and Canada. We suffered only 14 days. However, many Tamils continue
to suffer in Sri Lanka without food or shelter every day. It is
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