Black July 32 years ago
Posted on July 24th, 2015

By Dharman Wickremaratne

Thirty-two years ago – from July 24 to July 30, 1983 – took place one of the biggest massacres in Sri Lanka’s history.  The perception of the Tamil people was that Black July 1983 was a crime well-planned by organized groups linked to the then Government.

Dharman Wickremaratne

Writen By Dharman Wickremeratne

According to official Government statistics the number of those killed was 471 while the number injured was 3,769. The number of robberies was 3,835.  However, unofficial reports say that the number killed was 2,000 and the number of Tamils displaced was around 150,000.  Of the buildings destroyed were 8,000 houses and 5,000 commercial establishments.  The value of property damaged or destroyed was estimated to be nearly 300 million U.S. dollars.

During the past half-a-century successive Governments reached various agreements with Tamil parties on what they called the Northern question, the North-East crisis, the ethnic issue, Tamil Eelam and Federalism. An armed campaign to secure a separate state commenced in the early 1970s causing the deaths of nearly 60,000 people both in the North and South due to the terrorist actions of Tamil separatist groups during the past three decades.

The UNP Government signed the Indo-Lanka Accord with India on July 29, 1987 hoping to end the conflict.  As a result nearly 100,000 Indian troops arrived in Sri Lanka between July 1987 and March 1990 and launched military operations against LTTE terrorists in the North and East but they proved unsuccessful.

In the same period the JVP launched its second insurgency to protest against the Indian intervention among other issues.  Consequently 41,813 people were killed in the South.

dharman02The Jaffna Public Library after it was set on fire and destroyed during the District Development Council Election of 1981

However, 19 years later President Mahinda Rajapaksa succeeded in militarily crushing the LTTE on May 19, 2009 thus ending a 30-year armed conflict.

Fifty eight years ago, in August, 1957, the Federal Party (which was formed under S.J.V. Chelvanayakam’s leadership in 1949) announced its decision to stage a hartal and satyagraha to protest against the Official Language Act.  The first step towards solving Tamil separatism was the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact signed on July 26, 1957. Earlier on June 26 secret talks were held between Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and Federal Party leaders at Horagolla. Thereafter discussions continued at the PM’s office on July 9 and at Rosmead Place and the Senate on July 14.

dharman03.President Jayewardene and Minister Cyril Mathew (who was accused of directing the violence against Tamils)

The decisive meeting took place on July 25, 1957.  The Pact was signed the following day but it was never implemented due to vehement protests.

After Tamil separatists assassinated Jaffna’s SLFP Mayor and the party’s Chief Organiser Alfred Duraiappah on July 27, 1975 tensions increased in the North.

On May 24, 1981 during the District Development Council Election the PLOTE (People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam) assassinated UNP Candidate A. Thangaraja. Six days later two policemen on duty at an election meeting were shot dead.  Reacting in anger pro-government gangs set fire to the four storeyed-Jaffna Public Library building (constructed in 1935) which had many invaluable books and around 97,000 hand-written manuscripts.   Before and on the day of the District Development Council election several UNP Cabinet Ministers, including Gamini Dissanayake and Cyril Mathew and MP Gamini Jayawickrema Perera  were sent to Jaffna.

In July 1982 four policemen were killed at Nelliadi junction, Jaffna.  In October of the same year terrorists attacked the Chavakachcheri Police Station killing three policemen before escaping with weapons seized from the station.

dharman04aPolice Superintendent Abdul Gafoor chasing away crowds at the General Cemetery, Borella on July 24, 1983.

Also, 1982 was the year when the UNP held the infamous referendum to extend its term in Parliament and secured 54.7 percent of votes.  In October of the same year a Presidential Election was held and President Jayewardene won by 52.91 votes.  Large scale violence and vote rigging occured during both the referenduim and the election.

When Opposition Presidential Candidate Hector Kobbekaduwa went to cast his vote he found that it had already been ‘cast’ fraudulently.

On July 15, 1983 the Army opened fire at Chavakachcheri killing Tiger terrorists Charles Lucas Anthony alias Seelan (a close associate of LTTE chief Prabhakaran) and Ramanadan Arulnadan.  The Tigers decided to avenge their deaths by planting landmines at Thirunelveli Road.

On the night of July 23, 1983,  a squad of 15 soldiers (Four Four Bravo Patrol) led by 2nd Lieutenant A.P.N.C. De Vas Gunawardena attached to ‘C’ Company of the Sri Lanka Light Infantry’s First Battalion, Madagal, were engaged in a road inspection. They travelled in jeep No. Army 4889 and Truck No. 26 Sri 3193.  They had been also been ordered to arrest Sellakkili another close confidante of Prabhakaran and report to the Army Camp at Madagal.


Destroyed shops opposite the Fort Railway Station

About five minutes past 11.28 p.m. when the troops were passing the Urupirai junction their jeep was caught in a deafening explosion followed by relentless gunfire. The jeep was driven by Corporal G.R. Perera.  Only Corporal Upali Perera and Lance Corporal Sumathipala were able to escape from the 22-member Tiger terrorist group which sprang the ambush. Thirteen soldiers died in the attack.

Army Commander at the time was Lietenant General Tissa ‘Bull’ Weeratunge.  Arrangements were made to bury ther bodies at the General Cemetery, Borella where 14 graves had been for the purpose (Cpl. Upali Perera was mistakenly thought to be dead but survived with serious injuries).   The dead were 2nd Lt. Vas Gunawardena, Sergeant I.S. Tillekeratne, Cpl. G.R. Perera (driver), Lance Cpl. G.D. Perera and Privates A.D. Mathapitiya, M.B. Sunil, A.J. Wijesinghe, K.P. Karunaratne, P.G. Rajatilleke, S.S. Amarasinghe, G. Robert, A.S. Manatunga (driver) and J.R. Fernando.

Although it was announced that the bodies of the dead army personnel were to be brought to Borella on July 24, 1983 at 5.00 p.m. they were not brought until 7.00 p.m.  The crowd at the cemetery became restless. They reacted violently after Police Superintendent Gafoor ordered a baton charge on several of the mourners. This writer was an eye witness to the incident.

dharman06aLooters in Colombo

Angry crowds began attacking Tamil shops and houses in Borella and surrounding areas. These were happening at several places all over Colombo on the same night. Although earlier it was decided to take the bodies of the dead soldiers to their home towns, the decision was changed at the last minute and they were instead brought to Colombo.

It was only on July 26, 1983 – 24 hours after the rioting occurred – that President Jayawardene declared curfew in Colombo. By that time organized attacks on Tamil people were continuing in Colombo and nearby districts. There were strong allegations that Cyril Mathew, a powerful Cabinet Minister, was directing the violence. His supporters and others linked to the Government, armed with voters’ lists, were looking for Tamil houses to attack.

A trade unionist of the UNP-affiliated Jaathika Sevaka Sangamaya led the attacks in Wellawatte.  The violence in Mount Lavinia was directed by a UNP Municipal Councilor.  An underworld gangster organized the attacks in Pettah where 442 shops were destroyed and several were killed.

dharman07.Thugs roaming the streets

It was only on the night of July 28, 1983 – five days after the rioting – that President Jayewardene addressed the nation. Five days before, on July 18, 1983 the President in an interview with Daily Telegraph, London, said that he was not concerned with the views of the Jaffna people and that he could not think about them or their opinion of the Government.

After the rioting spread to Welikada Prison 35 Tamil Prisoners were killed at first followed by 18 others later.  A total of 53 Tamil prisoners were killed between July 25 and 27.  Among the victims were the founder of TELO (Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation) Kuttimani and Jegan, another pioneer of the armed Tamil militancy. Kuttimani had been earlier sentenced to death by the Colombo High Court on August 13, 1982 after being convicted of killing a police constable in 1979.

The curfew was relaxed in Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara after a few days but patrolling by security forces continued.  However a shooting incident involving three armed Tamil terrorists who had climbed the upper storey of a building near the Bo-Tree junction Pettah on July 27, 1983 caused tensions to rise again in Colombo and suburbs.

Incident at the Borella Bus Stand during Black July.

The rioting spread like wildfire throughout the country from July 24 to July 30 resulting in organized Tamil groups chasing away Sinhala families in the North to the South.  Hundreds of them were brutally killed in the North and East and their house and shops destroyed.  The remaining property was forcibly seized.

What the UNP Government did in response to international criticism about the Tamil pogrom was to proscribe by Gazette notification on July 31, 1980 three Left parties, which had nothing to do with the rioting.  President Jayewardene’s explanation was that the ban was imposed following reports that the Black July incidents were a conspiracy by leftwing extremists against the Government.

Accordingly, the JVP, the Communist Party and NSSP were proscribed.  The CP and NSSP leaders who went into hiding for a short time surrendered to the government. Thereafter the ban on their parties was lifted.

The JVP however did not surrender although there were national and international appeals to lift the proscription. Later the JVP engaged in clandestine political activity and in 1986 launched a second insurgency which ended with the deaths of 41,813 people including JVP Leader Rohana Wijeweera who was killed on November 13, 1989.

Eventually, the UNP Government introduced the 6th Amendment to the Constitution, claiming it was mean to ensure the country’s territorial integrity.  After an intense debate it was finally passed on August 8, 1983.

Opposition Leader A. Amirthalingam and other Tamil MPs leave Parliament, after having lost their seats

According to the 6th Amendment every MP should pledge not to support the establishment of a separate state. Since the TULF represented separatism all Northern Parliamentarians and two from the East did not sign the pledge. Consequently 16 MPs including TULF Leader Appapillai Amirthalingam and R. Sambandan lost their seats on October 23, 1983.

Anura Bandaranaike of the SLFP became Opposition Leader on November 8 the same year with the support of nine SLFP MPs and MEP Pariamentarian Dinesh Gunawardena and Communist Party MP Sarath Muttetuwegama.

As a result of Black July 1983 Tamil separatist organizations in the North established their base of operations in Tamil Nadu.  Thereafter within a decade the Indian Government under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s Leadership allowed the establishment of 110 terrorist training camps in India. The Indian Government openly gave them material and monetary assistance.

After the rioting nearly 100,000 Tamils sought political asylum in the West.  Thousands more fled by boat to India where they found shelter in refugee camps. Since then Tamils groups who left Sri Lanka have organized themselves as the Tamil Diaspora and continue to assist Tamil separatists directly and indirectly.(The writer is a senior journalist who could be reached at [email protected])



  1. Writen By Dharman Wickremeratne

15 Responses to “Black July 32 years ago”

  1. SA Kumar Says:

    Black July 32 years ago

    Dharman Wickremaratne well written thank you Sir.

  2. Christie Says:

    1983 ජූලිය ගැන ඉන්දියානු මොලසේදීමට ලක්වූ කියන කතා කියවනවිට මට දැනෙන්නේ දුකක් හා කනගාටුවක්. 83ට පෙර ඉන්දියානු ජඩයෝ ඉතාම කල්පනාකාරීව සැලසුම් යොදා තිබින. බටහිර රටවල සිටින ඉන්දියානු පරපොඉසිතයෝ හා බටහිර සමාජවාදියෝ ඉන්දියානු අදිරදයින් සමග එක්ව සින්හලයින් ම්ලේච්චයින් ලෙස හන්වඩු ගසා තිබින. කැනඩාවේ කොන්‍රඩ් බ්ලැක්ගේ, යූකේවල ගාර්ඩියන් ඔස්ට්‍රේලියවේ ෆෙයාර්ෆැක්ස් මේවායින් මුල්තන ගත්හ.
    ඉන්දියානු ත්‍රස්තවාදයේ මුල් අරමුනු දෙකක්විය.පලවෙන්න හැකිපමන ඉන්දියානු පරපෝසිතයන් බටහිරට පැටවීමය. දෙවැන්න සින්හල රට දෙකට කඩා ඉන්දියානු පරපෝසිත රටකුත් (උතුර,නැගෙනහිර හා මලේ) සින්හල සමාජවාදී (ජේවීපී රටකුත් ඇතිකර ඉන්දියාවට ඈඳාගැනීමය. 83 ඉන්දියානු කෙලිය හරියටම හරිගියේය.

  3. SA Kumar Says:

    All my Sinhala sakotharaya FYI,

    Incident at the Borella Bus Stand during Black July.- The gentleman (naked) still living with us(me) .


    Christie, I think you are lost in history. Dharman Wickremaratne, did not mention, what roll did Pranadase played and Pranadase’s GAHNI, oops sorry Pramadase’s wife played. Pranadase’s Wife, as soon as she got to know that the bodies of solders will be brought to Boralla, she accompanied by her body guards, (Common law criminals) went from shop to shop in Fort and Maradane and other suburbs told them if you do not pay me cash right now all your shops will be burned. After the riots were over, the shops that did pay the fee was saved and no one broke in to their shops. Now the readers can see how skillfully JR handled the situation and got the 6th amendment passed. Today do any article writer refer to the 6th amendment? No because they want to insult JR. Now what RANIL PUNK said few week ago, “I DO NOT NEED A CONSTITUTIN TO RULE SRI LANKA”. The value of 6th amendment is priceless. OBAMA MUSLIM told RANI PUNK FEW DAYS AGO that US will intervene militarily if MR attempts to bring back the 6th amendment. Under the instructions of the TAMILS FOR OBAMA he told the ELECTIONS COMMISSIONER THIRED GRADE PUNK MUST STUFF THE BALLOTT BOXES. I hope now readers can see, what OBAMA THE MUSLIM DID TO SRI LANKA.

  5. SA Kumar Says:

    how skillfully JR handled the situation and got the 6th amendment passed !!!

    LANKAPUTHRA Please walk up !
    Already TULF got 100% Tamil vote for separation & become first a Tamil opposition leader in our histroy than JRJ passed 6A with blank paper signed his all MP.

    his skillfully ???

    Putha no more short cut .

    live & let live .

  6. SA Kumar Says:

    sorry Pramadase’s wife played- NOT TRUE
    my father had corner shop in Colombo 10 in 1983 & Mr/Mrs RP know very well my father as local shop owner ( call his name as epaddi NAME iya ) his shop also burned.

    Jayewardene and Minister Cyril Mathew !!! 1983 Heros !
    they achieved their object that is send Tamils to North.

  7. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    So SA Kumar, your hotel must have been the Saiver hotel which was located on Maradana Road. It was completely destroyed by riots. So Your story must have been similar to one written by Dr.Ruwan Jayathunga published just under this article in Sinhala. Get it translated by and read it. But in Ruwan’s story the shop owner got killed. I recommend you to read it.

  8. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    There are two distinctive categories of breeds among Sinhala people. They are called “BAYYAS” and “TOYYAS”. “BAYYAS” are the village people and TOYYAS are the town people who are frequently cross bred with remnant of European settlers in Sri Lanka. The thinking patterns, behaviours and attitudes are diagonally opposed to each other. It is obvious from the publications,that 1983 riots were planned, instigated and carried out by Toyyas while Bayyas always helped the victims. Mahinda is a Bayya and Ranil is a Toyya. So the election is a straight fight between Toyyas and Bayyas.

  9. Christie Says:

    Dear Lanlaputhra and others , what you are saying is another story propagated by Indian imperialists and colonial parasites, you may be one of them. I was in Colombo during those days. I saw how fires were burning from inside shops. It is hard to start a fire in humid Colombo. Tamils and other Indian burned their own shops, photos were taken and were sent to the media in the West.
    In Western cold countries where it is dry people fear fires and that is why they sent those photos to the Western media. Member of World Council of Churches played a big role against the Sinhalese including Sinhalese Catholics. World Council of Churches include a host of Churches the main ones being Uniting Church and Baptists. US Baptists missionaries were very active among Indian colonial Parasites and Jaffna Library is a good example of their work. That is why they the Indian colonial parasites set fire to the library blaming others to get sympathy from the West and portray Sinhala majority as Barbarians.
    Idi Amin who stood up to Indian Empire and Indian colonial parasites was hounded by Indian Imperialists.

    Wake up Sinhalese and see things as they are not from what Indian colonial parasites and their suckers’ say.

    How come 300,000 Indian colonial parasites went to Canada within a few years of 1983 and another 200,000 to other countries in the West and some of them are still stranded in India?

  10. SA Kumar Says:

    Thank you please let me know the link of article Dr.Ruwan Jayathunga
    They are called “BAYYAS” and “TOYYAS”- Agreed
    You are right My father never show any anger against any sinhala person even though his 60 years hard whole life shop work was burned left him to queued in Jaffna kachcheri for refugee relief( one saram & a shirt) 1983.

    live & let live !

  11. SA Kumar Says:

    But in Ruwan’s story the shop owner got killed.- My father’s two brother got killed (Thugs got them because riat Police tia gas against them).
    Ruwan’s story is story it TRUE !!!

  12. NAK Says:

    Lankaputhra, 6thA is a useless piece of leglation. It achieved nothing and will not in the future either.Every one who took oath according to the 6th A are not only freely talking about seperatism but demand a seprerate state too.
    6thA should have automatically disqualified anyone from holding office for it’s violations.

  13. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    SA Kumar
    I should say among Tamils also there are Bayyas and Toyyas. Toyyas are the Tamils politicians who hate Sinhala People
    Here is the link.


    NAK, We agree to disagree. Some one has to enforce the LAW. That was not done up to now 6th amendment enforcement will be done if MR wins the election. Read his interview to the Indian news paper.

    SA Kumar, we have to believe that your fathers two brothers were killed by Sinhala! You carefully left out their names and their shops address!

    Neela Maha YODA thanks fro the link. Yes, Cyril Mathew was a hero. And his father was too.

  15. SA Kumar Says:

    we have to believe that your fathers two brothers were killed by Sinhala! – I do not know How old are you ? this info not for you believe or not (polite manner) & Mother father ( He never hart sinhalese He always say cammakko or sikkakko- I hope this is take it easy in sinhala?) wend back 1983 to stated his business until I took him live with me.

    Cyril Mathew was a hero? He and other two minister are master minders of 1983 riots and achieved their objective to send out ALL Tamil from South.

    live & let live . We all have what you want now United Mother Lanka !!!

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