Black July
August 7, 2008 6:28 AM   Subscribe

Groundviews has posted a collection of writing about the July 1983 and 1958 riots in Sri Lanka.
Articles written to remember the anti-Tamil riots of July 1983 and 1958. This content was submitted to Groundviews in July 2008, 25 years after the riots of 1983 and 50 years after those in 1958.

Over 9,000 visitors read and engaged with this content from 23rd to 30th July alone. Nearly all submissions were exclusive for Groundviews and came from award winning poets and novelists, senior Government Ministers, Members of Parliament, renown scholars, human rights defenders, civil society activists, artistes, senior civil servants, a former Secretary of Defense and others.
posted by chunking express (3 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Great post. Ceylon/Sri Lanka is one of the more depressing ethnic stories of modern times. When the island became independent in 1948, it was (by the accounts I've read) a kind of multicultural paradise; I'm sure there were the usual tensions between different groups, but people got along. Then the fucking politicians decided to use ethnic rivalry as a cheap and effective way of getting support, and the majority Sinhalese rammed through a Language Bill in June 1956 making Sinhalese the only official language. Tamils rioted in protest, and the stage was set for decades of escalating violence. I wish the site had some memoirs about the '50s, but the 1983 ones are grimly compelling reading. I recommend starting with this:
We cross the river and turn left at Grand Pass. Near the Muslim burial ground, the route ahead is a mass of orange flame tinged a strange blue. Oily black smoke billows up from a small intersection, completely obliterating the road. The fire smells sharp with chemicals and our eyes water. My father approaches to within fifty metres and stops, steadying the bike with one foot. A nearby factory manufacturing moth balls has been attacked; huge chunks of snow-white camphor have been dumped in the middle of the road and set alight. There’s no way around.

My father revs the throttle, holding the bike on the clutch. He’s wearing a full-face Stadium helmet with visor, so his face is protected, but my brother and I have open-faced Centurion helmets. Twenty-five years and I still remember those helmets. Telling us to hold tight, close our eyes, and hold our breath, my father pops the clutch and guns the bike down the road, straight for the inferno. Between the piles of burning camphor and the roadside ditch is a small gap, maybe two or three feet wide and my father is aiming for this spot. In spite of his instructions I keep my eyes open, determined to experience this movie-like adventure. I jam my face down against the back of my father’s bike jacket, leaving a two-inch gap between his shoulder and my visor through which I squint. The bike hits the gap at full throttle, the world is all flame and smoke and there’s an instant of heat on my bare arms and legs as we blast through, hearts pounding, sucking in clean air on the open road beyond.
posted by languagehat at 8:11 AM on August 7, 2008

I don't know if you've read it yet, but Some Reflections arising from Ethnic Riots discusses the 1958 riots.
posted by chunking express at 8:40 AM on August 7, 2008

There should be a greater distinction between "Tamil" and "LTTE". The crux of the conflict is not the Sinhala-Buddhist desire for sovreignty of Sri Lanka. It was a reactionary movement that occurred when the Bloddy Brits were in power. Before independence, they divided the land so that the elitist English speaking/Jaffna Colombo tamils can share power in independent Sri Lanka with elitist English speaking Sinhalese. The problem was, a large majority of the tamil and sinhalese were not English-speaking which was completely rejected by Bloody Brits. They all wanted indpendence from the Brits hoping that there would be an arrangement between Sinhalese leaders and Tamil leaders. Tamils did not call themselves Sri Lankans even at that time. Things have not improved much since 1919, but they have certainly got more complicated. Regardless, when you have ethnic cleansing and class wars, you get this kind of a response.
posted by johannahdeschanel at 10:04 AM on August 7, 2008

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