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Pirathanya Arulpirabakar

I and the employees of Kirubananthan’s Textiles thought that living in Colombo was the safest to live and work but Black July has changed mine and many other people’s minds.

I was 24 years old when the 1983 July riots happened. It was just an ordinary work day at Kirubananthan’s Textiles when suddenly a man informed us that there were some problems in Borella [on July 24th]. But we didn’t take this seriously because we assumed that the Sri Lankan police would protect us. In about 2 hours, we closed because we were terrified in knowing whether the man who warned us must have had a point. Just when an employee, Vasanthan, gave the key a last twist to close Kirubananthan’s Textiles, a jeep filled with about 8-9 people including 3 Buddhist monks were approaching us. Those 3 monks commanded the others in the van to attack us! One of the Sinhala man got out a large brick and threw it to poor Vasanthan. It hit him right on the forehead so you could see all the blood gushing non stop. Afterwards, we knew that it was just the right split second to, “RUNNNN!” Not only us, but many other Tamil people who saw Vasanthan dripping uncontrollably with blood ran for their lives too.

We headed for the house that we lived in since we thought that it was the safest place to hide; until we found out that the house owner’s 2 children were rowdies who supported Singhalese and all the 8-9 people in the jeep were running towards us. The house owner said, “Don’t worry about my sons, I can handle them but you still better run for it because I can’t stop all those armed men running towards you.” We ran heading for the door but the house owner informed us that the men were heading for the door as a result; she said to jump out the window. This was a very hard obstacle because about 15 people were pushing and shoving trying to get through. At last when we all got through, there was a big brick wall about 7 feet tall blocking our passage way. We all realized that if we couldn’t pass over this wall, we would all be goners. Luckily everyone was able to easily hop over the brick wall as a piece of cake except a little 14 year old boy was struggling to jump to the other side. Fortunately, my cousin was there for the rescue and helped the little boy pass over. Next we all continued running for our lives except then I looked around realizing that my cousin was no where in sight.

I ran back to the front of the house to look for my cousin. I saw him in the house held on by a man. The wife of the man was coming closer and closer with a big stick by the side of her. I heard the man demanding his wife to hit my cousin. Fortunately another storeowner living just in front came to my cousin’s rescue in the nick of time. He said, “STOP! He is my boss’s son so I order you to stop this instant!” (What he said wasn’t true) Without delay, they let him go and my cousin looked back at that man and whispered a little thank you. Providentially the man was a mixed cultural man and if you saw him you wouldn’t even guess he was Tamil.

As we were running and running, we noticed that we passed another city. We were lucky that many people in this city did not know about this riot or else we would have been in big trouble! When my cousin saw the city that we ended up in, he noticed that his friend lived here. This wasn’t just an ordinary friend, this was a man who knew people in the top level of polices and the army. We instantly explained to him about this riot and how much trouble we and the other Tamils were in. At that minute, he called the sergeant and the sergeant said, “I am terribly sorry but we don’t have control of Borella so I advise you not to go there!” After that, he picked us up on his jeep and dropped us off at Petta. Petta was where all the Tamil storeowners were. With the needy help of my friend, we got to stay in his store’s attic for safety. It wasn’t pleasant at all because we couldn’t make at least one little peep or someone would have found us. The attic was lit dimly so that no one would recognize the bright light in the attic. It was so boring in there and unluckily, we stayed there for almost 5 hours!

Out the window, we could see people carrying knives, stones and everyone was running for their lives just like we were just some hours ago. At the same time, people were carrying their possessions but then others were stealing it away from them. But unusually, people were now running to only one side. News then spread that the Tamil Tigers were coming from the opposite side. By the looks on their faces and the speed of their legs, I could see that they were scared, actually very very terrified. Right then, we knew that it was safe so we ran in the direction of the Tamil Tigers and ended up at Kottanchnai camp. We were there for a few days and we already faced difficulties like washroom breaks, starvation, medication and privacy. At long last we got out of the camp and got a chance to go on a cargo ship to go to Jaffna. Finally we arrived to Kankesanthurai Harbour and that is when I realized that I am alive and safe.

Black July was the biggest and scariest journey ever and I still get the chills just thinking about it. It has brought sorrow to many people and I hope that now we will never face anything like this ever. The killings of innocent Tamils still continue, as long as the power hungry Sinhalese politicians show their venom in promoting communal violence. It will take a miracle for the Tamils and Sinhalese to live in harmony.

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