I remember the day the riots first
started very clearly; I was eagerly waiting for the evening as
always to watch a popular TV serial Charlie’s Angels. I
overheard a conversation between my parents and figured that something
was wrong. I heard them speak about the burning of shops and looting
going on. Then we could see, from our balcony, lots of smoke in
certain parts of our neighborhood mainly where shops were located.
I saw ordinary Singhalese people and mobs carrying things that
were looted from those shops down our road. At the time, we did
not think that our house was in any danger and assumed that only
the shops and businesses were being targeted. As the hours passed,
the situation only got worse. That’s when we heard that
large houses owned by Tamils in our neighborhood were being targeted
At about 6pm that night, our house
became a target of the angry mob. Singhalese mob gathered in large
numbers in front of our house and broke into our parking garage
in the ground floor. The mob dragged our car out to the street
turned it upside down and set it on fire. My father owned a couple
of vehicles but only one car was parked in our house (the other
two were parked at my uncle’s house). The next target the
mob set their sights on was the Doctors office, which was closed
at the time. Finally, they came into our house breaking all the
windows and doors.
My father had decided not to leave
the house believing that it was impossible for us to escape as
we were surrounded by the mob. When the mob came into our house,
my mother, brothers and I hid under our dining table to protect
ourselves from the broken window glass and the stones being thrown
by the mobs. My father pleaded with the mobs not to hurt us. I
remember vividly a man hitting and breaking our TV with a long
stick. They broke all our appliances and started looting our house
in front of us.
Luckily for us, there were some
Tamil neighbors who had friends within the Singhalese mobs and
they pleaded with them not to harm our young family with small
children. They managed to convince the mob and take us to their
house for safety. We were all very scared and we stayed quiet
all night cramped into a small room. We were scared to speak in
Tamil in case someone heard us.
The next day my father’s
elder brother came looking for my father. They were hoping to
find safety at our house not knowing what had happened to us the
previous night. My uncle and his family jumped over their back
fence when the mobs attacked their house. His entire house was
burnt down to ashes including all their vehicles, my father’s
car and a bus parked there. They fled their home so quickly that
my uncle did not even manage to put a shirt on. He had inquired
from our neighbors and found the house where we were staying.
I can still see the pain and disappointment on my uncle’s
face when he saw my father.
Another day passed before my mother’s
aunt, a Catholic nun, came looking for us. She was very fond of
my family and begged one of her students to drive her to our house
to check on us. My aunt was also a teacher at Holy Family Convent.
My aunt was in tears when she saw our plight and she pleaded with
her student to take us all back to her convent. She only had a
small car and could not fit all of us in one trip. My mom and
my brothers along with my aunt made it in the first trip to the
convent which had become a refugee camp by then. When they went
back to get my father, we were very worried until they all made
it back safe. The roads were still not safe and on our way to
the convent we saw a lot of Sri Lankan armed forces and police,
who we knew played a role in perpetuating all of this violence.
There were many vehicles burnt on the street, we later heard Tamils
were burnt alive in their cars. We also heard that buses were
stopped and after asking non-Tamils to leave, the vehicles were
burnt with Tamils inside. The Convent had a school behind it and
thousands of Tamils refugees were living in the few small class
rooms. At the make-shift refugee camp, there were very few washrooms,
almost no showers and not much food available for refugees. I
saw anguish in my father’s face trying to manage with his
young family and small children under these difficult conditions.
Overnight we had gone from being well-off and secure to become
refugees. We were punished for simply being Tamils.
Several weeks passed by and my
father decided to go to Jaffna which was our ancestral home. Most
Tamils in Colombo and other areas outside the North East made
similar decisions to go back to North East of Sri Lanka. All my
uncles and aunts living in Colombo had taken refuge in different
camps. They all contacted each other and decided to go to Jaffna
together. As the journey by ship was very long and dangerous and
there were many young children in all our families, they decided
to borrow some money and rent a small bus for the journey to Jaffna
from Colombo. I remember this journey well; everyone was very
scared and we were all quiet until the bus crossed over at Vavuniya
into Tamil areas. Until then my mom and other aunts were not wearing
their traditional Tamil pottu on their forehead in fear of being
identified as Tamil.
The riots had a huge impact on
me and my family. My father never got the courage and confidence
to start his business all over again. He feared similar attacks
could happen to Tamils. Many years later he sent me abroad worried
over my safety as a Tamil youth. Today in Canada, I have my own
young family and I can not even imagine the horror my parents
and other Tamils had gone thorough. Looking back, I really appreciate
what we have in Canada. However, I am constantly reminded that
we are one of the lucky ones. We are here, alive and safe in Canada
while many others were killed brutally for just being Tamil; sadly
this trend continues even today.