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Reproduced here is the Introduction to, and the table of Contents of, ‘Lest We Forget: the tragedy of July 1983’. The book was published on the 25th anniversary of the events and introduced at a commemorative event conducted by the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies. It may be obtained from International Book House at 151 A Dharmapala Mawata, Colombo 3. Further information may be obtained from the publisher at newpet@sltnet.lk or 037-2225884 or 011-2330742.

INTRODUCTION

The events of July 1983 were a watershed in Sri Lankan history. At its simplest, there was an attack on Tamils in Colombo and elsewhere in the country, an attack that seemed to have at least some official sanction. This was evident not only from what seemed official resources to which the attackers had access, but also the reaction of the President, J R Jayewardene. In his first address to the nation, several days after the attacks started, he declared that the attacks were the reaction of ‘the Sinhalese people’ to the violence of Tamil terrorists. His first official response then was to introduce legislation that had the effect of driving from Parliament the elected representatives of the Tamils.

This had two predictable consequences. The first was the wider perception that the attacks had official sanction, which led to an even greater outbreak of violence on the following day, July 29th. The second was the superseding of the Tamil United Liberation Front by terrorist movements, most notably the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. And the events of July seemed to justify this, for it suggested that the Sri Lankan state was a racist oppressive state against which violence was justified.

This perception has continued, fuelled by the enormous resentment felt by many Tamils who fled the country at this time and later. Though after July 29th the government called a halt to such violence, and though this has never been repeated in the quarter century that has passed, it is understandable that many Tamils, especially those who left in 1983 or soon afterwards, see Sri Lanka through the prism of 1983. They, and their descendants, feel understandably bitter, and have striven since to ensure that nothing of the sort can happen again. This has led to support for the concept of a separate state, as canvassed most effectively by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and hence continuing funding of what is now one of the most ruthless terrorist organizations in the world. A collateral result of this perhaps has been total ruthlessness in dealing with other Tamil groups, for the Tiger determination to ensure a monopoly of support is fuelled by the enormous financial and political rewards of such a monopoly as far as it concerns the Tamil diaspora.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2010
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