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Memories beneath the surface.. #BlackJuly 1983

Although thirty years have passed since the anti-Tamil pogrom of 'Black July' 1983, stories of the thousands of Tamil victims are yet to be unraveled.

The thousands that fled, many not to return for years and decades to come, all too often buried their painful memories as they struggled to make a new life for themselves in new lands as refugees.

Silenced Voices by www.blackjuly1983.com is a noteworthy archive. Yet it is striking that thousands of individual stories, of the many ordinary Tamils, remain unheard.

Thirty years on, these stories are starting to trickle out - even then, not from the victims themselves, but from their friends and loved ones, and most of all, their children and grandchildren.

As the Tamil nation marks this poignant anniversary, we have endeavoured to collate the small snippets of the nation's memories, that have been shared with the world via social media sites.

Despite the time that has passed however, there is little doubt that the personal anguish remains. Whilst those that shared their families' memories were keen for the stories to be heard, many we approached asked that they remain anonymous, out of respect for the deep privacy of their parents and grandparents in relation to their own experiences of Black July.

*Names changed on request, to protect victim's privacy.


Gajan* @Gajan98*, UK :

My parents refuse to talk about the details. But someone warned them, and they fled. When they returned, there was nothing.. #BlackJuly

Selvan Ratnarajah*, Australia:

"30 years ago this day my dad was dragged out of his car in the heart of Colombo whilst a government-incited mob baying for Tamil blood attempted to pour kerosene on him and set him alight. 3 months after the July 1983 pogrom which left up to 3000 Tamils dead and 150,000 homeless, the entire Rajasingham* / Ratnarajah* clan had left Sri Lanka forever and 3 years later I was born in Sydney – still very much a Tamil but an Australian. And that has made all the difference."

PraveenR* @praveen*, Canada :

My dad's life changed forever 30years ago, & hope some day he will have the justice he deserves before he passes on. Never forget #blackJuly

Maha Ramakrishnan, Malaysia:

This year I feel worse about Black July because its been bloody 30 years since. Lost my charming, mischievous, kind, loving, caring, responsible, successful, always ready to crack a joke, drink some liquor and gamble uncle in that pogrom. The first man I loved. He cared about the poor sinhalese, he might even have helped them -being super generous than most people. I remember him saying, the sinhalese were good people and that rich tamils in colombo had no respect for the poor sinhalese and should treat them better. He was shot by the sinhalese Sri Lankan Army while travelling with my cousin from colombo to the village. After being shot once, he got up from the ground and stood up and shouted to my pretty cousin sister to run from the Army and for that he was shot another six times. He passed away a few days later.

Pirathanya @thanya4eelam , Canada :

If it weren't for some kind hearts of some Sinhalese individuals during #BlackJuly1983, my dad and uncle wouldn't be alive to this day.

Emmanual* @heevn* , (location unknown) :

Shops in galle road set on fire, saw people looting shops. Lost my innocent father 2 gunshots. Horrified as a child remembering #blackjuly #83

Gopi Ratnam, UK:

Monday, 25th July 1983: A weedy 20 year old boy started his recently adopted routine journey to work at 6.30 AM. He walked to the bus stop near home (Daisy Villa Avenue, Bambalapitiya) and took a bus (No 112) towards Kotahena. It was a quiet morning and the bus was not crowded. He found a seat to sit and the journey up to the intended destination was pretty smooth. After he got down from the bus at Hettiyawatta bus stop, he walked towards the Colombo port. At the gates, he showed his identity card and entry pass and walked to the office premises. He signed on the attendance register and got into his office.

Within minutes he noticed people (workers) were gathering in groups and seriously discussing something. It was an abnormal scene because no one seemed to be working. Now the news had reached him as well i.e. the communal rioting started and mobs were after Tamils and their belongings. By mid-morning the flames and smoke from distant places were quite visible. His Sinhalese colleagues were also in panic and they wanted to get back home, before the government imposed curfew. Some were sympathetic to the boy who joined the company only few months ago. He hardly spoke the Sinhala language and his ‘freshy’ appearance was typical of a country boy from the north.

Some of his colleagues were certain that the boy was going to be in trouble. He was clueless and he didn’t understand the severity of the situation. At around noon, he was given a lift home by a people carrier which belonged to the company. During this journey, he saw buildings belonged to Tamils were on fire, but he managed to reach home unharmed.

Unlike two of his colleagues (Sivaraja and Giritharan) who were dragged out from a different people carrier belonged to the company, he survived. Otherwise he wouldn’t have written these 30 years later.

Sivakami R @Sivakami_R, UK:

Remembering my family's stories: my grandfather hidden safe by Sinhala colleagues, my uncle pulled off a bus for being ‪#‎Tamil‬ ‪#‎BlackJuly‬ 83


Dayalan @SivaDayalan, (location unknown) :

The incident that sparked & changed many our life happened 29 years ago few Km away from my house, I was 3 months old then. #BlackJuly83

Sinthujan Varatharajah, UK:


30 years ago people who spoke my mother tongue, shared my ethnicity, my culture, my skin colour and history, people who carried names like mine, ID cards like my father’s, pottus like my mother’s, started to embark on a journey of forced displacements and migrations following the apocalyptic violence of July 23. Northbound at first, in direction of their occupied homeland, they ran for their lives before bombings and assassinations struck home and made them run and swim east and westbound. Safety was seldom, sanctuaries compromised.

30 years ago we started to become refugees in our own homes and outside of those. Fleeing from house to house, from village to village, seeking shelter in bushes and jungles, filling trains, boats and planes to leave and return no more, hundreds of thousands of people who looked like me and spoke like me left home. Passports were issued, visas were stamped and goodbyes whispered.

Almost a third of a people fled their homeland. Villages, town sand municipalities counted dead and émigrés. Houses, streets and districts became deserted. Public spaces became public graveyards. Families were torn apart, social fabrics hollowed out. Grandparents, spouses and children were left behind. Family histories were turned into dust and traces of lineages were erased. Doors were locked and tragedies unfolded freely.

30 years ago we started to become diasporic. Tectonic plates shifting, satellites circling, endlessly moving. Unbecoming and becoming, collecting and disposing statuses. IDPs, refugees, stateless, undocumented, asylum seekers, tolerated, residents, naturalized, citizens, non-citizens, deportees and immigrees. Crossing borders and populations, linguistic differences and cultural cleavages, departing from the periphery to arrive in marginality, fleeing from persecution to settle with racial profiling.

Families split apart over continents, statuses, languages and social realities. Without bridges, without relief or escape ways, stuck in limbo, in transit, in exile, in translation, in temporality that became permanency. 30 years ago we started to have a higher refugee production rates than national GDPs, steadily climbing the global charts of violence and despair, competing in slaughter and blood flow.

We were driven away with no hope of a lasting return, chased from our homes, chased from our rights to belong and divorced from our geography.

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the single most devastating event that has coined the meaning of being Tamil in post=colonial Ilankai. Pushed, shoved, chased and persecuted away, I remember the onset of flights of hundreds of thousands of people who look like me, speak like me and remember like me, people who connect to a history of exclusion and genocide, second-class citizenship and asylum seeker experience.

30 years ago mark the beginning of the refugee - diaspora I belong to and that I’ve come to call home.