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Vel Velauthapillai

I was 12 years old when the 1983 July riots happened. My father, Sellaiah Velauthapillai, worked as a medical officer near Trincomalee. I was staying with my grandparents since I was studying at Victoria College which was located 16 Km north of Jaffna.

On July 24, 1983, following a regular visit to me, my father was returning home to Trincomalee. I woke up around 5:30 AM in the morning on that day, and rode my bicycle with my father to drop him at the bus stand at Chulipuram junction. The first bus was a CTB (Ceylon Transport Board) bus, and fortunately, he was able to catch it. No one knew at the time but it actually saved his life. The next bus was a mini bus, which is usually operated by individual owners. Unfortunately, my best friend, Gobi’s, father got on this bus.

Around 8:30 AM, people in my village started to panic as news of Sinhala army killing men in the bus heading to Jaffna began to spread. Sinhala army means the Sri Lankan army. Almost everyone in my village called them as the Sinhala army. Our family was shock stricken. We didn’t know what happened to my father since he left around 6:00 AM and the incident happened around 7:00 AM.

Later, we learned that Sinhala army in a military truck from the Mathakal camp went through Chankanai and to Manipay was indiscriminately firing on both sides of the streets. When the Sinhala army men arrived at Manipay, they stopped a bus with passengers. The soldiers asked everyone inside the bus to get down. When the passengers got down, the soldiers asked the males to line up on one side and the females on the other. Then soldiers started to spray bullets from their automatic rifles and around 10 Tamils men were killed and rest of them was injured. Sinhala army randomly also shot everywhere they went in Jaffna that day. The CTB bus escaped the Sinhala army firing in Manipay and Jaffna, and my father returned to home safely.

However, my best friend was not fortunate enough like me. His father, Mylvaganam, was killed by the Sinhala army. His father was a very nice and soft-spoken person who worked in a bank in Jaffna. When his dead body was brought back to home, I went to my friend’s home with my grandfather. My best friend Gobi was shocked and crying all the time. His father’s body was brought in and placed on ‘paadai’ which was constructed with coconut leaves. It was not even possible to get a decent coffin at that time because all the stores were closed due to the random attacks on Tamil civilians. I still remember the sad day, and I can completely understand the pain my best friend and his family went through. The Tamil community always kept very tight relationship. I think there were around 200 people at my friend’s house that day. Everyone was fearful, angry, and talking about the riots and the Sinhala military atrocities all over the Island.

Around a week later, many of my uncles and their families returned from Colombo. They arrived at Kankesanthurai via ship. Almost every one lost their belongings and went through severe hardship in escaping from the riots in Colombo.

I used to play cricket and soccer at a community center close to my home. We used to have two playgrounds- one for school kids between the age group of 12 – 16 years and another for above 16 years. Many youths used to play in the second ground. After the massacres and riots, the youths stopped playing. They secretly talked in small groups and they started to disappear one by one. They were joining Tamil armed groups to fight against the Sinhala army. In the coming months, Sinhala military surrounded my village several times as they beat, killed and captured randomly youths and brought them to Colombo in buses.

My friend Gobi and I continued to study and grow up in the same village. The Sinhala army round up stopped once the Tamil fighters restricted their movements. However, this led to army shelling and aerial bombings. Several things have changed however the Sinhala army atrocities remained unchanged. After years of losing relatives and friends and escaping from Sinhala army shelling, it became the normal way of life in Jaffna. Sadly, it still continues.

I moved to Canada in 1997. My father worked until his age of 60 and he passed away at the age of 62.

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