Comparing Sri Lanka’s July83 riots to US 2020riots following murder of George Floyd
Posted on May 31st, 2020

Sri Lanka’s 1983 July riots” cannot omit to mention the killing of 13 Sri Lankan soldiers that presumably precipitated and justified the attack that came to be termed a ‘racial’ ‘ethnic riot’. No one thought to question how killing of 13 soldiers on 23 July by LTTE terrorists and an attack organized by the ruling government could end up getting classified as a racial/ethnic riot. Fast forward to 2020 – riots are taking place across US precipitated as a result of 4 US policemen killing 1 black American. These riots cannot be termed racial/ethnic either. There are many similarities to be taken from these two incidents while also providing some food for thought particularly the need to exonerate the Sinhalese who have been unfairly accused of attacking the minority Tamils, just as all white Americans should not be attacked for what happened to George Floyd. As can be seen from the riots across the US, many white Americans angered by killing of George Floyd joined the protests, just as many a Sinhalese braved the attackers to safeguard their Tamil neighbors and friends in July 1983. Ironically, July 1983 riots is also known as ‘Black July’.

George Floyd was killed by 4 policemen who were using excessive pressure with one policemen’s knee suffocating him to death. All this was screened live. Back in Sri Lanka in 1983 there were no smartphones to record what took and there was no social media to demand justice. George was black and the cops were white. In Sri Lanka, the oft spread narrative was that Sinhalese were attacking Tamils. This was far from the truth but it was politically advantageous for many and Sinhalese became the convenient punching bag for all and sadly continues still.

The US demonstrations that turned into riots that turned into looting, vandalism and anarchy had nothing to do with avenging the death of a black man. The rioters and attackers were not all black. The protestors were also white. How can looting shops, smashing shop windows and car windows or writing graffiti on churches avenge or bring back George Floyd or punish the killers? 

Similarly, 13 Sri Lankan soldiers were killed by LTTE. It was true, the soldiers were Sinhalese. 35 Sri Lankan soldiers had been ambushed and killed between 1981 and 1983. It was also true that the government in power decided to use the issue to create an ethnic issue and in so doing incriminated the Sinhalese unfairly. The thugs and governmental backers that attacked Tamil homes did so being brought in buses just like what is taking place in some states in US. President Trump also refers to them as ‘thugs’. The ‘thugs’ in July 1983 Sri Lanka had electoral lists of Tamils. That it was a government-arranged attack is clearly proven by the fact that the rich residential areas where Tamil friends of the government resided were given police/military protection. If this was some spontaneous anti-Tamil attack by Sinhalese, why would only the Government’s Tamil friends be safeguarded and how did they have copies of voter register? 

It was the same UNP government that started race attacks in 1978 after coming to power, burnt the Jaffna library in 1981 (attacks on Tamils after LTTE robbed bank & killed 2 policemen) and did not hold democratic elections in 1982. 

Just as many a white American felt angered and saddened to watch US police kill a man handcuffed and lying on the floor and joined the demonstrations to protest police aggression, the Sinhalese too boldly came out to safeguard their Tamil friends and neighbors from harm. It may not be savoury to the narrative to bring out these stories of friendship and unity but it is an injustice against the Sinhalese not to do so. For 37 years Sinhalese have been falsely accused of something they never did. Sinhalese did not attack Tamils. Organized thug gangs did.

Would the white Americans like to continuously be held responsible for George Floyd’s murder when none of them took part in it? How fair is the world to judge the white Americans for a crime committed by 4 policemen? Similarly, for what UNP thugs and their leaders in the UNP did, the blame cannot be credited to the Sinhalese just because the story is juicy and more sensational than laying blame upon the then UNP government. 

As we see footage of the rioters looting shops, breaking car windows, shop windows, putting graffiti all over churches, setting ablaze police stations, city halls etc — none of these acts are connected to George Floyd’s death neither are they an excuse or justification to loot and cause mayhem. During the 1983 riots many a Tamil home was looted by government patronized thugs who were not only Sinhalese but Muslims and Tamils too. Riots and anarchy provide early Christmas for any looter who doesn’t care what race or religion they belong to so long as they can grab anything valuable to be sold or pawned.

Let’s not forget that with an election looming in the US, the political opposition is all out to destroy the image of the current leader. Much as we may like or dislike him, we cannot overlook the political opportunism that must be taking place. Just like busloads of thugs were transported to attack Tamils by the UNP government, bus-loads of rioters are alleged to be transported in US too. There are some amazing similarities in these two disjointed incidents. 

In such a scenario it is impossible to call it an ethnic riot or a riot by Sinhalese against Tamils. Just like the riots taking place across the US cannot be classified as a racial riot. Today, one incident is enough for the mischief vultures to play havoc. This is why most often the false flags and fake stories are being actually funded to cause mayhem by those that have ulterior motives and agendas. It is without a doubt that the July 1983 riots was a well-organized attack but the May2020 unfortunate incident that happened to George Floyd may not have been planned but as a result of government inaction, the mischief makers manipulated and made use of the situation to their advantage. It takes just one stone and a thrower and the rest will be re-written by history. 

History must record the George Floyd incident as simply a murder by 4 US cops on their own. Linking the incident to the disproportionate arrests and harassment of blacks by US administration is left to the US Govt. But certainly the 4 cops deserve their due punishment. 

History has recorded Sri Lanka’s 1983 July riots unfairly. This injustice to the Sinhalese cannot continue and we hope that the Tamil families who were helped by their Sinhalese friends come forward to undo the injustice to the Sinhalese. We have waited 37 years for justice to prevail and still waiting.    

The International Commission of Jurists in their report claims that though the official death toll was 387 – out of this 50 dead were Sinhalese. Their deaths have never got media attention neither has the fact that the ICJ report also includes that some Tamils had destroyed their homes/businesses to collect insurance to facilitate applying for refugee status and lied their way abroad. 

Sinhalese do not have to apologize for July1983 just as white Americans don’t have to apologize for George Floyd’s murder but the UNP Govt has to as do the Minneapolis police dept & their superiors.

One incident in 1983 is used as a battering ram against Sinhalese but the over 300 attacks by LTTE terrorists against unarmed civilians never get media attention.

Shenali D Waduge

One Response to “Comparing Sri Lanka’s July83 riots to US 2020riots following murder of George Floyd”

  1. Ratanapala Says:

    How Sinhala Buddhists were made scapegoats in July 1983!

    The killing of 13 soldiers In Jaffna and their burials led to a few minor incidents around Borella Kanatta on 24 July 1983. This by eye witness accounts including those of A T Ariyaratne, did not amount to much and had already subsided by the time he arrived in Colombo from his home outside Colombo. By midnight 24 July 1983, all this was over.

    I was living in Borella at the time while employed at CTC (Ceylon Tobacco Company) Services Ltd. In the morning of 25 July, around 7:30 am I was on my way to the office, I was confronted by crowds breaking into Tamil Shops in Borella, while the Army and the Police stood aside witnessing what was taking place and not taking any action. I made my way to the office in Kotahena and passed through, Punchi Borella, Maradana and Panchikawatta. These areas were peaceful.

    The around 11:00 am from the vantage of our office building we saw smoke billowing in several areas of Colombo. Around 1:00 pm the management decided to send us home until further notice. By the time we were on the road, we witnessed wide-scale attacks, ransacking and burning of Tamil properties taking place all over Colombo. Literally, Colombo was burning and executive action to impose a curfew came only around 4:30 pm when the riots have reached Ambal Café in the heart of Colombo, only a few hundred meters from the President’s Office in Queen Street / now Janadhipathi Mawatha.

    Later it turned out that all these attacks were the work of organized thugs who came equipped with electoral registers looking specifically to find Tamil businesses and dwelling place.

    It is now common knowledge that it was UNP goondas who attacked and killed Tamils in Colombo during the July ‘83 riots. It is also common knowledge that it was the then President J R Jayawardene who allowed the riots to continue unabated for a full day before a curfew was called to stop the rioting. On this day J R Jayawardene was under severe pressure from the army after the killing of the 13 soldiers in Jaffna, to take effective action against the LTTE terrorists in the North. His solution was to divert attention and use his Goon Squads to attack and kill the Tamil residents in Colombo and other major cities and thereby avert the wrath of the army.

    It is also common knowledge that after his victory at the General Elections in 1977, Jayewardene wanted to remain in power for an extended period, if necessary by terrorizing the general electorate. For this purpose, every minister in his administration was encouraged to form and develop their Goon Squads with the idea of intimidating the electorate prior to any subsequent election in Sri Lanka. In this fashion R Premadasa his Prime Minister, Gamini Dissanayake, Lalith Athulathmudali, Ranil Wickramasinghe the present Prime Minister, Ananda Tissa de Alwis, Cyril Matthew, M H Mohammed and others went on to form their own Goon Squads.

    These Goon Squads were used most effectively in subsequent elections to intimidate, terrorize, maim or kill political opponents. viz; the 1980 District Development Council Elections, and the 1982 infamous” the Pot and the Lamp Referendum. They were the very ones who attacked Dr Sarathchandra and also Rev Maduluwawe Sobhitha Therotoo. How the democracy in Sri Lanka deteriorated during this period is also common knowledge and is a subject that is well researched and documented.

    These Goon Squads were equipped with electoral lists and they knew in advance where their political opponents lived.
It is now common knowledge that the mini-riot that originated at the Borella Kanatta on the day of the funeral of the 13 soldiers ended at Narahenpita around midnight the same day. However, the organized and systematic torching of Tamil trading establishments and residences commenced the following morning at Borella junction. The riots and the burning continued throughout the day through Punchi Borella, Maradana, Pettah and finally on to Fort, and unabated till they reached the Ambal Café in the heart of Fort at 4:00 PM – just a few meters away from where the now infamous President of Sri Lanka had his office. It took Jayewardene 10 hrs to impose a curfew and get his Goons off the streets. Goon Squads armed with electoral lists went from house to house, this time looking for Tamil residents. Goon Squads saved the day for Jayewardene by taking the army who was breathing fire on his scrawny neck to take firm action against rising terrorism in the country.

    Once the curfew was in place, on four consecutive days, four very significant statements were made over the Television – Rupavahini Channel. While a shocked populace waited for the Executive President to address the nation, the UNP government and the Church plotted behind the scenes to place the blame entirely on the shoulders of Sinhalese Buddhists.

    This is how it was done. While the curfew was in place the following took place.

    1. Most Ven Madihe Pannaseeha Maha Nayake Thero was asked to address the Nation first. Naturally, the Mahanayake Thero requested the Nation to have patience and be calm. The nation was angry but it was in no mood to go on a killing rampage. By getting him to address the nation J R Jayewardene got the world to believe that the Mahanayake Thero was really addressing the Sinhalese Buddhists and that they were responsible for the pogrom.

    2. The second was made by J R Jayewardene (the man with the professional mourner’s face) – DB Nihalsinghe had to dress him for this occasion and it is mentioned he had a task to get his face in one place for the occasion to make him look more Presidential. He justified the riots as the justifiable anger of the Sinhalese for the killing of the 13 soldiers in Jaffna. Here he clearly laid the blame for the pogrom on the Sinhalese. It must also be noted that UNP Goon Squads and every shade of hooligan, Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim and other took part in the universal phenomenon of looting that followed throughout the island. In many instances old scores were settled, regardless of ethnicity, taking advantage of the deplorable and unfortunate situation.

    3. The third statement was made by R Premadasa the Prime Minister a servant of the Wijewardhana clan. He said that behind the riots was a coup organized by a Naxalite Terror Group. This was a diversionary attempt to put the blame on the pseudo-socialist group led by the Catholic – Vijaya Kumaranatunge who was masquerading as a Buddhist at that time.

    4. The fourth and final statement was made by Ananda Tissa de Alwis the then Minister of Communications and Constitutional Affairs. He said the next stage of the coup would be for Sinhalese Buddhists to attack Sinhalese Christians. His was the voice of the Christian Church who would finally go to convince the world that Sinhalese Buddhists were the highest common denominator of what happened and responsible for the carnage.

    The curfew was lifted on Friday 29 July 1983. People who had to stay indoors came to the streets to buy essentials groceries with simple bags in their hands. It was on this day the second phase of the conspiracy was unleashed on the populace on this day. Calls went on all major transport arteries emanating from Colombo saying that Tigers have landed at the Fort Railway Station and are now on the attack. Personally, I witnessed the people and the Police running with dread in their eyes. What followed and the carnage that took place made 29 July 1983 to be called Black Friday.

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