that in 1983 the whole of Colombo was burning. I can remember air.
The whole sky was filled with darkness and fire. This is story of
how a few others and myself survived the Welikade Prison massacre.
The prison was built
by the British in the 18th century. I was detained there under
the Prevention of Terrorism Act for withholding information. There
were 8 others there with me, including a catholic priest, Fr.
A. Singarayar, Dr Tharmalingham, who was the president of the
Tamil Eelam Liberation Front (a political party) and his secretary,
Mr. Kovai Mahesan. The group also included two people from the
“Ghandiam Movement”, Dr. Somasundaram Rajasundaram
and his associate MR. S.A. David. The two of them had been helping
the state Tamils who were settled in Vawania. The other members
of the group were Dr. Jeyakularajah, Rev. Jeyatilekarajah, and
Mr. M.Nithyanandan. They were all being detained under a various
We heard that there was an incident in Jaffna on July 23rd. We
also heard that bodies were being brought into Colombo on the
25th; and while those funerals were taking place at Kanette cemetery
the riots broke out. On the evening on the 25th, the nine of us
were put into the maximum security section of the prison, also
called the Youth Offenders Section.
Around this time,
there were also 65 other political prisoners held in another section,
called the Chapel section. From an aerial view this section looks
like a cross, that is why it is called the chapel section. It
has 4 wings and in one of these wings, they kept important political
prisoners like Kuttimani and Thangathurai.
I remember that on
the first day, the 25th, we were brought outside of our cell and
we could see that the whole sky was in smoke. There were big riots
taking place outside. We also heard that there was a lot of burning
and killing going on.
That evening, we a heard a lot of screaming and crying. We quickly
found out that there was an attack on the political prisoners
in the Chapel section. All the Singhalese criminals were let out.
They took whatever they could, and they were killing the Tamil
prisoners. 35 people were massacred on this day.
in the section we were in, there were nine cells on the first
floor. On the second floor there was an open hall with one gate
and one door. On the 26th, my group was moved up to the second
floor without explanation. We learned that the survivors of the
Chapel massacre were moved into the cells on the first floor.
Three people were placed into each cell. I heard many stories
at this time about the people who had been killed, but I can only
tell you about what happened to us.
the 27th, the attack took place on the building we were in. The
Singhalese criminals came and they broke all the locks. They came
inside and began to take us from our cells. Luckily, they were
unable to open up three cells, and as a result nine people survived.
we could hear what was happening on the first floor, and that
gave us a little time to prepare. On the second floor, we had
a small table that was used to pray and celebrate mass. We broke
this table and prepared to use its four legs as weapons to prevent
the criminals from putting their hands on the gates. However,
20 to 30 criminals came upstairs and they immediately broke the
padlocks and opened the gate. Dr.Rajasuntharam tried to reason
with them but he was dragged outside, and he was killed on the
spot. We immediately closed the gate to prevent them from coming
back inside. We fought with only those 4 legs for nearly half
the army came in and fired tear gas. It was a closed building,
so we were also affected, but they were able to chase the criminals
outside. The soldiers came in with guns to see whether we too
had done anything. We were asked to kneel down. We didn’t
know what was going to happen. We thought that they were going
to just finish us off! Luckily, a high ranking officer came and
he ordered us all to leave.
were affected very much with the tear gas. That was really the
first time I realized what tear gas was. Later, we were taken
down and we saw 18 or so dead bodies in front of the building.
After a few hours, the eight of us and the other nine survivors
from the first floor were taken to a truck. We were ordered to
lie down in the truck. We were kept lying down in the truck the
whole night without food. People were forced lie there not matter
what they had to do. People were urinating and defecating where
they lay. I can still remember that I only had a sarong and undershirt.
The following morning, we were taken out, handcuffed, and then
shipped in a small plane. Later, we realized that we had been
taken to the Batticaloa Prison. We were let go two months later.
family learnt of the massacre and even a funeral was held for
me because I was on the list of the deceased For a time, my friends
in India, who did not know that I survived, held many funeral
Philip Sinnarasa and his family is currently living in Canada
where he works as a settlement worker.
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