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Selvarajah Ramuppillai

I would like to share my fearful and horrified experience with the others on this period of violence. I was living in Wellawatte, Colombo and working at Longdon Place, Colombo. I was living with two of my brother-in-laws in a room at Wellawatte.

On July 23,1983 evening, after work, while we were walking along Borrella - Narahenpita road, we saw lot of police and other security forces lining up and in an aggressive mood. My friend, a Tamil as well, and I wondered what happened? We were afraid to ask anyone.

We reached Wellawatte safely. Then in the night we come to know about the confrontation between the Army and the Tamil militants ( LTTE) in Jaffna.

Next day, July 24, in the morning we were received some news about scattered violence and burning of Tamil owned shops in Colombo.

It was an indication that something big was going to erupt. We decided to go to work and stay in safe places anywhere.

I was working for a small company which did sub contract work for Mahaweli Scheme. While we were at the office, by about Noon, our Chairman told us that we couldn’t get out. We were two Tamils in there. There was violence all over and the Tamil people were killed everywhere. Police and Army were waiting and watching, but not taking any action to stop it.

The Chairman told us how on his way to the Mahaweli office, he saw one of his Tamil friend Draftsmen, lying on the ground bleeding, after being chopped up by the sword from the rampaging mob. Some Tamil engineers were killed and their cars were burnt.

Immediately, he closed his office and sent all the Sinhalese staffs. We two Tamils were remaining unable to get out. The Chairman was waiting for us to make a decision. We both requested him to leave us in the office quietly. We told him that we can survive without food for few days. As the washroom were in good condition, we told him that we could attend to nature's call and drink water to cover up our thirst and hunger.

He agreed to our request promptly. In addition to this, he talked to the next door house, who were very reliable people, to provide us at least one meal a day without being known to others. They helped us, and they were a gem of a people. A good human being knows the pain of others. They were Sinhalese people.

While we were inside, the same day the Sri Lankan government declared curfew, at about 2.00 p.m and asked the people to be inside their homes. This was announced through radios and TV. Though it was declared officially to show the world, but not implemented on the ground. We could see from our hideout, the mobs moving in vehicles, walking in big groups, carrying dangerous weapons, shouting and rampaging. Lot of Sinhalese people moving on the road with vehicles and walking about and “site seeing”, the burning of Tamil homes, Tamil business establishments, destruction of other Tamil properties and the dead and burnt bodies of innocent helpless Tamil men, women and children.

We came to know later from the victims that police and army were just waiting and watching, some instances they were helping the mobs.

On July 27 the curfew was lifted and the Tamil people started coming out of their hideouts into public places like schools, temples, churches etc. and later the government announced these as temporary shelters. These were fully crowded and had no washroom facilities. People were unable to attend to nature's call (washroom needs) for day, they were unable to get out of the shelters due to fear being get killed and as a result went with no food for days.

Our chairmen also came to us on July 27 and escorted us to a refugee shelter which was a very crowded school. Within couple of days around 20,000 refugees arrived. There was a shortage of everything. No food, no water, no washroom facilities and no clothes to change. Later, after a week’s time the food situation was improving, but not the washroom facilities.

On July 29 I wanted to go to my room to get some clothing. I managed to go to my room, but was unable to return back. The violence again started and lot of Tamil people were killed. However, we somehow managed to arrive at the refugee shelter safely. More new people arrived at the shelter after the new rise of violence.

That night there was an incident that happened in our shelter and people were running about in fear and as a result got injured. Among the injured were some Indian nationals. Indian Nationals were also targeted deliberately by the organized mobs. Among the refugees there were injured people who were afraid to go to hospitals, lying there in agony.

After two weeks, few thousand refugees were transported to another shelter due to the large volume. After one more week, charity organizations started transportation of refugees to our Tamil homelands, to the North, slowly.

While we were suffering in the refugee camps Sri Lankan President, Julious Jayawardena, was challenging the Tamils in his infamous speech, “If you want war, we can have war with you, if you want peace that also we can give it.”

This speech gave more fuel to the violence and many more Tamils were killed as a result.

Another interesting part I should mention here is that after we left our office hideout, the mob came the next day in search of us, while the office was functioning with the Sinhalese staffs. Seeing the dangerous weapons and the aggressive behaviour of the mobs, even the Sinhalese staffs ran away into hiding. This was told to us when we returned back to work.

Still, we are lucky to be in Canada now, at least in my later part of my life, a safe country with good and upright people. Canada gave us new life. Most Tamils who are in Canada now, might have died long ago if they stayed in Sri Lanka. We are very grateful to Canada, their people, and their leaders.

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