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Devakumar Mahadevan

During 1983 riots, my family was living in Colombo. I was the eldest of four children. My father was a lecturer at the Medical College. We were targeted in the 1977 riots however it was not to this extent. I heard my father say many times that Tamils had been facing racially motivated problems as far back as Independence. With Black July, we truly felt scared to be Tamil.

It all happened quite quickly. I remember that my father was in the backyard when the thugs were storming through the lanes with weapons on hand. My little sister was nearby. As I looked out the window, a man ran up to him and began swearing in Sinhala. He was yelling that the dirty Tamils should leave Colombo. He cornered my father and was ready to kill him when my sister ran in front. She cried that he was her father in Sinhala. My heart stopped beating at that moment. He was shocked by my sister’s action and slowly put down his machete. He finally cursed and told them to get lost. With that word, my father grabbed my sister and ran. I cannot imagine what I would have happened if my sister did not try to protect him.

As he and few others prepared to burn our house, everyone managed to escape and hid in various parts of the areas. Looters scrambled though the house taking what they can before it was set on fire. That day, the house my father built for us was burnt to the ground. The house we grew up in was completely gone and we were homeless.

Around 8pm in the evening, the looting continued however the streets were clear of the thugs. I later learnt that my mother tried asking the Sinhala neighbor for protection however they turned her away. Out of sheer desperation, she walked to the Police station and begged for help. She explained that all the Tamils in the area were hidding and awaiting help.

Finally around 10pm, the Police arrived. They made a loud announcement at that they would provide protection. Slowly, people started to come out. I rejoined with my family. We were all sent on a lorry to a camp set up at the Ratmalana Air Base.

I remember my parents and many other parents overcome with complete sadness when they arrived there. It finally hit them as to what had happened. Two hundred Tamils were all cramped into a space that could only hold seventy five. There was not any place to sleep nor was there any food to eat. Visitors were not allowed inside the area nor any NGOs which attempted to help us. If someone wanted to give us food, they had to throw packages over the fence.

When we were given the option to leave, we took it. I did not have much choice. We lost everything. When arrived on ship in Jaffna, there was a huge crowd awaiting to help and support us. We then made our way to Velanna which was my mother’s village.

After the riots, the Medical school requested my father to return. He hesitantly accepted the offer however he went back by himself. Soon after, my parents sent me to India to pursue my studies and protect me from any troubles Tamil youth were facing at the time.

In India, I met my wife and a few years later I moved to Canada. When I look back to my memories of Sri Lanka, it is always bittersweet. I still miss our house and the life we had. The feelings of betrayal will never wash away.

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